Title: Incarnations
Author: Sintari
Characters: Jiraiya, Tsunade
Rating: K
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.


Incarnations

The ceremony was long over. The paper lanterns were beginning to droop. Well wishers had long since ushered the happy couple out the door on their way to their honeymoon and perpetual matrimonial bliss. Only the misfit hors d'oeuvres sulked at the bottom of silver serving platters – broken crackers, bony chicken wings, brown strawberries. Most of the guests were either chatting in small groups or long gone, and the DJ was spinning old standards for the last few dedicated dancers.

"I remember this one from the year we became Jounin," Tsunade laughed. Her fingernails clicked against the sake cup when she picked it up, but her hands were steady.

Jiraiya chuckled, too, more at Tsunade than the memory of the song. Tonight she was a happy drunk.

"You used it in one of your books," she continued. "The main character – a strapping young man but with a bit of a lisp, if I recall, gathered up his courage and sang it to his lady love at a festival."

Jiraiya raised his eyebrows at that.

"I didn't know you read that one." The heroine had succumbed, too, and their subsequent tryst in the butterfly garden had been one of the higher points in Jiraiya's literary career. Incarnations had even won several awards.

Tsunade slid him a sidelong glance.

"I can't even count on two hands the things you don't know."

Jiraiya shrugged self-deprecatingly, grimaced a little.

"True enough."

"But she married someone else, and he died in a war," Tsunade went on. Once she sunk her teeth into a subject, she was worse than an Inuzuka with a bone. "And then their children met and almost got married, but something happened there, too. What was it again?"

"Ineko wouldn't say yes. She felt duty-bound to stay at home and take care of her old blind lisping father. So Taka married someone else."

"That's right! But finally, in their next incarnation, they worked it out. It all happened back in the ruins of that same old butterfly garden." She signaled for another bottle. "You always were the melodramatic one."

"Time is a wheel. It all worked out in the end," Jiraiya protested weakly.

"But not for Taka and Ineko, or the courageous Lisper and his Fair Lady."

"No." He took a sip of his own drink. "No it didn't."

They lapsed back into the companionable silence they had been nursing all evening. The good thing about drinking at a bar, Jiraiya thought, is that you are expected to look straight ahead.

Tsunade suddenly turned to him though, swiveling her stool, and gestured around the room with a slightly drunken wave of her arm. Her face was flushed but she still rode her barstool with the proficiency of a seasoned drinker.

"Why did we never do this?"

Jiraiya sat down the bottle of soy sauce that he had been rolling between his hands and looked at her.

"What? Get married? Well, I suppose you and Dan didn't because there was a war on. And me… well, I just never found the right woman."

Because it's you.

It's always been you.

"S'pose you're right." Tsunade was slurring now. Shizune would show up any minute to drag her home and put her bed. Soon she yawned loudly and sure enough, the younger medic-nin appeared out of the woodwork.

"This was nice," the love of his life commented to him before she went back to her tower and her duties and her life. "This has been a long time in coming. Naruto and Sakura deserve every happiness."

Jiraiya nodded at her, moved aside to allow her to slip off her barstool.

"A long time in coming," he echoed.

She stopped at the door, turned around and smiled at him again. Yes, she was definitely a happy drunk tonight.

"Jiraiya?"

He half smiled in answer.

"Incarnations has always been my favorite of your books."

He closed his eyes and opened them again. Completed the smile. Nodded at her.

"Good night, Tsunade."

"Good night, old man."

END