Inspired Jiraiya/Tsunade fic. They're probably one of my favorite couples in Naruto. Hope y'all enjoy!
He sits in the garden by the koi pond, watching languidly as the carp circle around and around and around, their bright scales glimmering in the sunlight. He used to come here often as a boy, because watching the colorful fish soothed him, allowed him to empty his mind of all his cares and just be.
This place has memories attached to it, memories that he has not been brave enough to revisit again until now, memories that shaped the man he is today, though he is loath to admit it.
"What do you think about in there, eh?" Jiraiya says to the koi, not expecting an answer and not receiving one. "Must be tough, swimming all day. Where's the entertainment?" His eyes narrow. One of the carp begins gliding after another, slowly, but with purpose. Jiraiya recognizes the game, and he chuckles. "Go get her, big guy," he urges the fish he assumes is male. "But ladies are fickle, so don't be too disappointed when she kicks you out on your ass once she's finished with you."
"Giving advice to little fishies, Jiraiya?"
He doesn't bother looking over his shoulder to confirm her identity—he'd know that voice anywhere.
"Someone has to."
Her laugh is rich and sensual, a laugh that reminds him of spices and silk and he realizes he's missed hearing it. That's what a real woman's laugh sounds like, he muses, and promptly grows uncomfortable. These lapses are infrequent, but they still happen from time to time, much to his chagrin.
"Considering your track record, that someone probably shouldn't be you," she points out, and settles herself behind him, back to back.
She hasn't done that in a while.
"Shut up, hag. Your record isn't perfect, either," he counters, and feels a sharp stab of pain where she elbows him, though he manfully resists the urge to return the favor.
"If Dan hadn't died, I'd be married. That's more than you can say."
The tone of her voice is light, joking, yet he reads the sorrow beneath it, the bittersweet ache, and it sobers him. Some things you never get over.
"Marriage isn't for me," he scoffs, eyes on the pond. "I'm not the type to settle."
"You used to be."
Damn. Caught in his own lie. But wasn't his entire life a lie, perpetuated when he woke each morning?
As a novelist, Jiraiya loves irony. However, because he is versed in it, he knows to respect it. He knows to hold it at arms' length.
He knows that failure to acknowledge it invites disaster.
"I'm also a lot older, Tsunade-hime. I've changed."
It is a rhetorical question, but he is compelled to defend himself. He does not like the direction this conversation is taking. Better to steer it down another path. "Certainly. I've learned the benefit of keeping my options open." He accompanies the statement with a lecherous grin. She doesn't see it, of course, but she gets the gist.
Snorting, she says, "Pig," and then she shifts, turning her body so that she's facing his back. "How long has it been, Jiraiya? Thirty years?" She is referring to the last time they had met at the pond, and he does not fail to recognize that. "In thirty years, why haven't we settled?"
For a very long moment, he forgets how to breathe.
---"He's gone, Jiraiya…he's…oh God…"
Tsunade collapses against him, her arms around his waist, her tears saturating the collar of his tunic. The koi in the pond swim on oblivious, their fins neatly slicing through the water. Jiraiya tries to focus on them, but he can't.
Gently, he pries her arms apart and turns to embrace her in the proper way, feathering kisses in her hair as she sobs into his chest. He doesn't speak, yet he doesn't have to. Actions are louder, clearer, and she needs actions more than she needs words.
"I don't want to live…I don't want to be a shinobi…I don't care anymore…"
His arms tighten about her. "Shh…enough, hime. Enough. Just let it go."
And when she flees the village a day later, he is not surprised.
"I'm not sure about you, but I know why I haven't," she says, drawing him out of the memory. Pressing her forehead against him, she closes her eyes. "The one I wanted abandoned me like I abandoned him."
The silence is so profound that all he hears is the slight ripple of water, and the beat of his heart.
"You shouldn't be here," he says gruffly, though she makes no move to leave.
Jiraiya's brow furrows. He wants her. He's wanted her since they became teammates. Sure, she's flat chested and has a loud mouth, but for a reason he can't explain, he's attracted to her. Infatuated, really.
She shouldn't be here.
"What about Dan?" He wonders, and actually twiddles his thumbs because he needs to be doing something with them. "You love him, right?"
Tsunade grimaces. It's wrong; she shouldn't be here. She shouldn't. "I…yes. I do love him." She takes a step toward Jiraiya, the guilt written on her eyes. "I do." He is cross-legged on the ground, and she kneels before him, brushing tentative fingers across his cheeks. "I love him."
She shouldn't be here, and he ought to have pushed her away as soon as she kissed him, as soon as her hands snaked beneath his shirt, as soon as she straddled his waist and forced him down, next to the edge of the pond, those pink lips trailing fire over his skin…
He should, but he doesn't.
"I never—" He begins, but changes his mind and revises what he was about to say. "Every woman I've been with…every woman…I compared to you," he confesses softly, quite uncharacteristic of his normal, exuberant attitude. "And none of them came close."
None of them had her smell, her taste, her touch. None of them possessed her quick wit, her volatile temper, her strength. And, lord help him, none of them had her curves.
Jiraiya is writer. He creates. He weaves fantasies with words, and words are the flesh, the blood, the bone.
But words cannot recreate her, and he has not found the will to accept that. He has not given up hope that one day, he'll find the perfect model, and then he can stop searching. He can stop lying.
He can stop writing.
"I met this guy yesterday. I think he'll be a nice catch."
Jiraiya snorts. "Does he have a name, or is he just a piece of meat?"
Though it's childish, she sticks her tongue out at him. "Dan," she tells him, and he notices she's blushing. "His name's Dan." Dipping her fingertip in the water, she twirls it around, catching the attention of the koi, and they flock to her. "Like puppies," she remarks with a grin.
Jiraiya decides then and there that he despises him. Dan…what a dumb name. No Dan is worthy of her.
"Tch. Whatever," he says, and starts scribbling in his notebook.
He wants to stop. He wants to settle. He wants Dan to stay dead.
Her breath is warm on his neck. "Look at the fish," she whispers.
The male carp had finally caught up to the female carp, and they swim now side-by-side.
"Well?" She rests her chin on his shoulder and peers at him with her sharp brown eyes.
Jiraiya returns the gaze. "You're still a hag," he says, smirking, and he doesn't flinch when she smacks him.
"Asshole," she retorts, but she's smiling as she says it, and her mouth wouldn't be on his so fast if she was truly offended.
Maybe they've wasted thirty years, but at least those years are salvageable.
And in the pond, the koi circle around and around and around, their bright scales glimmering in the sunlight.