Foreword: No music for this one. Really, bring your own o.o


"I hated you..."
The Hokage Tower was always a place where things happen. Important things, like the beginning or ending of a mission, or the registration of a new baby's identity on records, or even when they ceremonially burn the registrations of dead citizenry and ninja alike. Decisions made there run the gauntlet, from big to small and everything in between or outside the limits. Entire nations have had the course of their histories changed forever by the things that happen there...

Today though, the Hokage Tower was going to be host to a far smaller, perhaps more significant event. It involved two men and a woman between them; a question to be asked and the answer that would settle things once and for all.

The first man was named Jiraiya; Konoha Jounin, amateur author extraordinaire and mentor to three of the loudest, most brilliant students that the Village had seen since he and his own teammates had been running around as Genin, stirring up seven levels of Hell and making the old ape's hairline recede by about an inch a year because of it. He came today, clad in all the trappings of his rank and reputation; the forest green flak jacket, the metal forehead protector, the shuriken holster, the heavy scroll and the myriad collection of weapons and techniques stowed therein. He wore them all for a lot of reasons.

He was supposed to have a mission today. If he was lucky, he would take it. If he wasn't lucky, he would probably end up dead or running. In any case, he steeled himself, wiping cold sweat from his brow and replacing his protector around his neck, where he usually wore it anyway. He pushed his way through the doors into the front lobby, walked right by the assignment room and bylined for the staircase. Within thirty seconds, he was on the fourth floor, stepping into the long, oppressive feeling hallway that lead to the Hokage's private office.

Jiraiya stopped there. He checked his vambraces, then placed his hands into his pants pockets and waited.

Eventually, the door opened, and the remaining components for the story stepped into view. The first was the woman, Tsunade, her hair ponytailed and her clothes the casual kunoichi's garb that was her own private trademark. Her own mission must have gone relatively easily, considering that she only wore that outfit when she didn't expect trouble. She noticed his presence with something akin to familial contempt; a parody of the response he wanted from her, but it was better than the look she had used to greet him when Nawaki died. He could live with it.

Behind her came the man, the final component of this tale, Dan. Like Jiraiya, he wore the full garb of a Jounin, but he had a healer's smile to accompany it. Falsely naive, he greeted the white-haired shinobi with a pleasant wave. Before either could speak though, Tsunade interrupted.

"Come to try and win me back, Froggy?" She asked, half-joking, half serious. She had been trying to distance herself from him ever since Orochimaru left. Jiraiya didn't blame her. He also didn't pay her any mind whatsoever.

"You," he said, suddenly drawing a hand and raising it almost accusingly at Dan. "Outside. Now."

Tsunade was death personified; her hand clenched, her legs tensed and she was already molding chakra. Dan, however, was the barrier that kept this from turning ugly; his arm shot out in front of her and an all knowing smile seemed to disarm her in an instant. He whispered sweet nothings that Jiraiya was glad not to hear, then stepped forward and placed his hands into his pockets as if he had been expecting this all along. For her part, Tsunade backed down, looking more curious than anything else.

"Why don't we take this somewhere else?" Dan asked as he passed Jiraiya by, leaving an unspoken, "I'll be waiting outside with a suggestion," to hang in the air as he did. Then he was gone, and Jiraiya was left shoving his hand back into his own pocket once again.

"Your taste in men sucks," he stated, blunt as a baseball bat.

Tsunade just smiled. Then said, "Break his skin and I'll break everything in your body."

Jiraiya gave her a cynical smirk. "I'm just looking out for my princess, Lady Tsunade."

With that, he gave a sardonic bow, then turned around and left.

"I never asked for your help!"
Dan's suggestion turned out to be a newly opened ramen stand on the curner of a street near the Academy; Ichiraku. Jiraiya followed willingly, and the whole walk there was spent in a kind of tersely balanced silence; Jiraiya boiled and Dan remained the picture of calm and reserve. The only words spoken were the occasional hello to passers-by. When they finally arrived, Jiraiya made it a point to drive Dan to the wall and corner him there. They both ordered--pork ramen for Jiraiya, some crap with tomato in it for Dan--and then, when they had finally been served and the owner's attention was drawn elsewhere...

"Enough o' the farce," Jiraiya suddenly said. "I hate your god damn guts."

Dan smiled. It wasn't a look of bitterness, nor was it a look of amusement or even sadness. "I know. It's not like you can surprise me," he began, suddenly snapping his chopsticks and glancing Jiraiya's way. "I can see the future, you know."

Jiraiya couldn't tell if he was joking or not. He didn't bother trying to humor it either way. "Whatever. Besides the fact that I hate you, I dragged your sorry ass here for a reason."

Dan was still smiling. "I lead the way, remember? And you obviously want to talk to me about Tsunade, so go ahead and get it out of your system."

Jiraiya grimaced. "Fine. Do you love her?"

"Yes." The answer was instant. Too quick for Jiraiya's liking. He asked again.

"Do you love her?"

"Yes." Again, too quick. Jiraiya finally reached out a hand and smacked Dan across the back of the head. Then he asked again.

"Do you love Tsunade?"

Dan seemed to pause this time, but only to rub the back of his head. "Yes," he said again, sounding a little more sincere this time. It was no longer a snap reflex. "I love everything about her. Even what's above the breasts." An obvious jab. Jiraiya didn't pay it any mind.

"Do you plan on being with her forever?" He asked.

"No," Dan answered. Jiraiya was too taken aback to slap him again. "But I'll be around until she starts to age, at least."

Jiraiya finally mustered the will to strike out again. Dan tilted his head aside and the fist only barely clipped across his ear, reddening it completely. In an instant, Dan was on his feet and Jiraiya attacked; his body twisted after the movement of his fist and his other hand planted onto the counter. Dan ducked and Jiraiya's feet landed soundlessly across the wall. Dan stepped out and Jiraiya threw himself feet first out of the booth after him. By the time he landed, there was only a puff of dust to greet him. Experience and instinct guided his eyes upward; Dan was springing from one building wall to the next, little more than a black and green blur with some lavender thrown in up top.

Kunai suddenly whirling in hand, Jiraiya was after him in an instant. Unnoticed even by their fellow shinobi, the two raced over the streets, with Jiraiya following Dan's steps almost move for move, until the darker haired man finally turned a corner the long way and vanished from sight. Jiraiya sought to cut him off at the pass; he landed on the side of a building, then leapt up onto the roof of the one across from it; a hospital. Mid-flight, a hand stuck out and caught the top of a fence. Jiraiya swung himself down with a flip onto the roof, then started forward again...

Dan blindsided him in mid-stride. A hand flew out from thin air, genjutsu dispelled and Jiraiya brought kunai to bear on reflex alone. Even at point blank, Dan dodged by tilting his head aside. With his hand clasped around Jiraiya's neck and mouth, he yanked Jiraiya from the roof and slammed him into the side of the water tower, hard enough that it left a dent in the shape of Jiraiya's head and back.

Chakra lit up and the end was at hand. Jiraiya pulled another kunai free and tried to stab Dan in the side of the head, but the other man was faster still; his free hand caught Jiraiya's wrist and twisted it around until the point of the kunai was less than an inch from Jiraiya's hand.

"Do you love her?" Dan asked, bringing the fight to an instant halt right as Jiraiya was making ready to drive a barely-formed Rasengan right into his ribcage. His response was muffled. Dan's hand was glowing blue; a chakra scalpel waiting to sever everything in the base of Jiraiya's skull and neck in one go.

Dan asked again. "Do you love her, Jiraiya?" His hand finally eased, just enough that Jiraiya could form words.

He didn't answer.

"Do you?"


Dan finally let go. Then he leapt back, and Jiraiya missed his throat with the kunai because of it. Dan went through several flips, then landed with a grace that was almost feminine; almost Orochimaru, but nothing so refined. When he straightened up, he faltered back two steps, then raised his scalpel-clad hand while drawing a kunai; a move that was more masculine. More like Jiraiya himself.

For the first time, Jiraiya was starting to figure out what Tsunade saw in this man.

"Do you love her enough to die for her?" Dan suddenly asked, though it wasn't with spite. It wasn't with anything in fact; he was unreadably blank.

Jiraiya's eyes narrowed. "What the hell are you getting at?" He suddenly shot back, making ready to throw the kunai.

"I do," Dan suddenly said. "And I will."

Jiraiya stared.

"I'm going to die protecting her. That's why I'm not going to be around to grow old with her. You're not going to grow old with her either, because she's not going to grow old at all."

Again, he asked: "What the hell are you talking about?"

And Dan simply shrugged. Then he smiled, and told Jiraiya everything.

When Tsunade finally showed up, Jiraiya and Dan were back at the ramen stand. Though their food had long since gone cold, they had eaten it anyway. They made a show for her; Jiraiya gave them a half-hearted thumbs up, Dan was all smiles and Tsunade seemed to think that it was all said and done with. The matter settled, she gave Jiraiya a bland wish of good luck for his mission, then walked away with Dan. They were arm in arm.

Jiraiya turned long enough to watch them leave. Tsunade, in her own way, was moving further and further away from him with every step she took; not just physically, but elsewhere as well. Eventually, all he could see was a head of blonde hair leaned against Dan's shoulder. When he could no longer make even that out, he turned back to his empty bowl and huffed.

"There but for the grace of the gods go I."

Dan left him the bill. Jiraiya wasn't surprised.

"My body just moved on its own..."
It was raining that day. He knew not because he could feel, hear, smell or even taste it, but because he could see each individual raindrop. Everything moved as if it were in slow motion that day. Perhaps that was an effect of eating too many soldier pills, but Dan could count the drops into the thousands with how quickly he seemed to be moving.

In front of him, Tsunade seemed to be frozen in mid-air. She was landing, only the toe of her sandal actually touching the muddy ground that was their battlefield. Nearby, Morino bodytackled a Cloud kunoichi out of sight. Further ahead of Tsunade, Uchiha was leaping through the rain with his sword held high, but he knew and Dan knew and Tsunade knew that the blade would arrive too late.

So he moved.

Tsunade got one foot to the ground, the Cloud-nin beyond all three of them finished making seals and Dan rushed forward without a second thought; an irony, considering that it felt like he had a thousand years to decide on what he was about to do.

His hand lashed out, catching Tsunade in the arm and throwing her aside. Then, as she went sailing away, Dan turned forward in time to see the Cloud ninja's mask explode at the mouth; a lightning bolt slit through the raindrops, reducing them to miniature gusts of steam on contact as it branched, bent and twisted its way towards him.

Tsunade was safe though.

Dan smiled, and the next thing he knew, the world went white.

"I won't forgive you."
A year or two ago, the Sannin became the Ninin. Two months ago, Dan died. A week ago, the Ninin became the Ichinin; Jiraiya was the only one left.

And now he stood, staring down at a simple, barely decorated gravestone with stale, dead flowers laying across its base. They were a week old, bound together in a Konoha forehead protector.

"She cried," he stated, short and straight to the point. "From what that Ibiki runt said, she cried all the way home and from what I saw, she cried for another three days after that. Then she got drunk until she woke up with wrinkles under her eyes from crying so hard. Then she left."

It had taken him the whole week to muster up the courage to come here. Not because he feared the dead, but because he didn't really know what to say. Dan's calm presence had disarmed him before. Now his grave's utter silence left him struggling to find words.

"I made up my mind that day. I figured I'd kill you if you ever made her cry, but then you went and died anyway before I could do it." He paused, raising up a jug of sake that he had brought with him. Then he smiled. "Anymore, that's the only reason I hate you."

Without even blinking, Jiraiya pulled back and threw the jug right into Dan's stone. It hit, shattered and sprayed alcohol across Dan's name, slowly seeping into the cracks of each line and letter.

"I hope you're happy, you bastard."

Jiraiya never knew that Dan had died smiling.


Author's Note: Honestly? Not one of my best. But Jiraiya wouldn't leave me alone and I wanted to see Dan portrayed in a remotely positive way for once, so there you go. It doesn't fit into continuity with any of my other Naruto fics, but you can consider it roughly based on a snippet from Catch 22.

Ibiki got a cameo because the guy in the manga version of Tsunade's flashback looked like him. The other guy--the one with the sword--was an Uchiha because I couldn't think of anything else. Dan was able to manhandle Jiraiya for a simple reason: The guy had serious aspirations of becoming a Hokage. He had to be good. Likewise, I gave him medical talents to match up with Tsunade. And yes, the hospital he and Jiraiya had it out on is the same one where Naruto and Sasuke almost fought.

And the italicized stuff in between the lines? Most of it was lifted from manga scanlations of Naruto and Sasuke just before Sasuke's supposed death in the Zabuza arc. It didn't fit Jiraiya and Dan's relationship to each other; it just fit the fic, ya know?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed.

The Sh33p