December fic, Sannin-style. Naruto isn't mine, and neither is the quote that inspired this. Concrit appreciated and adored.


"I thought I'd find you here." Tsunade's heels rang against the slick concrete floor of the ANBU locker room.

Orochimaru didn't look up at the sound of her voice, though his mouth did curve upwards in something that would have been a smile on anyone else. He took a piece of pumice from beside the sink and scrubbed away the bloodstains on his hands. He watched her from the corner of his eye; she didn't look tired, but Orochimaru had known her too long to be fooled by such a thin illusion. She couldn't hide her body language, and she couldn't hide the ache in her voice.

"You just got back from another mission. What was it this time? Political assassination? Gang war? Angry husband?" She leaned against the wall beside him and stared at the bloody water gathering in the bottom of the sink; the drain was clogged.

"ANBU missions are classified," he said lightly, and dropped his arm guards into the sink. A stack of bloody armor sat on the floor beside him, waiting to be cleaned.

"Some records are still public, if you know who to ask. Three assassinations in as many weeks- don't try to pretend you aren't taking an overload." She crossed her arms and glared at him. "What do you think you're doing?"

He tucked a stray tendril of hair behind his ear and peeled a piece of coagulated gore from his arm guards. It dissolved into blood and dirt in the bottom of the sink. "Using your family conections to investigate my records is hardly honorable, Tsunade-hime."

"I wouldn't have to if you'd just talk to me, damnit!" Her fist slammed into the wall, shattering the ceramic tiles. "What are you trying to prove?"

He finally met her eyes, which were bloodshot and sunken; her jutsu was wearing thin. He smiled, and she shuddered. "Nothing. I'm not trying to prove anything."

"Don't lie to me."

"I don't need a reason for wanting to test the limits of my growth."

Her mouth tightened into a hard, thin line and she crossed her arms. On her, the position looked defensive, not firm. "Neither does cancer, but everything else that isn't abhorrent to nature does."

He dropped his gaze back to the sink, shoulders shaking. A dry chuckle escaped his lips. "Am I a disease, then?" He stepped towards her, forcing her back against the wall. His arms came up to cage her in. "You're the physician, Tsunade-hime. How do you intend to treat me?" His breath was a cool whisper in her ear. "Just remember, what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger."

She could have broken him in half, but instead, her arms fell to her sides, palms flat against the tile. "I'd cut you out," she hissed, eyes narrowed. "Without a second thought, I'd cut you to pieces and burn away any trace of you."

"Could you?" He pressed forward to feel the warm softness of her against him. Her skin flinched at every point of contact between them. He had never made a habit of touching his teammates; he wasn't interested in being affectionate or abusive the way Jiraiya and Tsunade had been to each other. He tongued the curve of her ear, just to feel her reaction. Her whole body shuddered beneath his witha single, violent tremor. "I wonder, Tsunade-hime. Could you really?"

She squeezed her eyes shut. "I would."

He released her with a smirk, leaving bloody handprints on the wall beside her head. "I don't believe you." He went back to cleaning his gear as though he'd never touched her.

She stayed there for a long moment, staring at nothing. Then she pushed herself away and crossed her arms again. "You're a bastard," she said. "And I'm not a medic anymore."

He nodded, accepting both statements. "You're leaving, then?"

"You're not surprised?"

"We all have to leave eventually." His eyes flashed, gold and slit-pupilled. "Konoha can only offer so much."

She didn't look at him. "That's not- I thought we were friends once. Comrades, at the very least. But you never understood us, did you?"

"It works both ways." He tucked another errant strand of hair behind his ear. "We've learned all we can from each other. It is only natural that we should part."

The last shreds of her jutsu faded away; she was too young for the lines on her face. "Tell Jiraiya I said goodbye."

He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "He'll be hurt."

"What do you care?" She turned to leave, footsteps clicking sharply. She paused in the doorway and looked back at him. "Orochimaru. Cancer is a parasite- it kills whatever it feeds on. You'll go too far one of these days."

He gave her a thin smile. "That, Tsunade-hime, is precisely the point."

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"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." -Edward Abbey

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