Author's Notes: Yes, I am a Jiraiya fangirl in denial of the direction of the current manga chapters. I don't want him to die! But I know he's going to. So I wrote this in order to try and comfort myself about ways Jiraiya could survive.

The Bet

It was a dream. Tsunade knew it was a dream, because Jiraiya was there, even though Jiraiya was in Amegakure on a mission that was as much as suicide, and thus couldn't be standing in front of her with that strange, wistful look on his face.

"Ah, Tsunade-chan," he said softly; he hadn't called her that since they were fifteen, and even then he'd only used the term when he was being serious. Other than that, it had usually been "no-breasts Tsunade," or "stick-girl" or something of the sort. He'd always been a little brat, and he'd just grown up into a big brat.

But he looked sad, and tired, and very old now. She noticed that he was wet; his white hair was plastered against his forehead and cheeks, the long tail sticking to his back and dripping on the ground. His clothes were sodden, too... and not just with water. There was blood on him.

Her heart wrenched. There were lines of exhaustion and pain set around his eyes and mouth. Oh god. Jiraiya...

"You should have made that bet, babe," he said softly, and the defeated finality in his tone made her choke, too overcome to protest at the term. "I wish you had."

She stepped forward, reaching out to him – like she never had before. "Jiraiya..." she choked out softly, needing to know. "Are you...?"

He stepped forward and took her into his arms. She didn't protest, for all that would have earned him a beating in real life. No, she couldn't do that, not now; not when she was losing him right in front of her eyes. He was cold; whether it was the water that saturated his clothing or something deeper, more mortal, she didn't know. She didn't want to know.

He sighed softly. "You'll manage," he told her, his voice oddly gentle. "You're a tough woman, and a good Hokage. I'll give you the victory you need. All it's going to cost you is one irritating old hermit." She choked at his words, too upset to protest, and felt a burning feeling in her eyes. He was so cold... it was as though she could feel him slipping away from her, from life, and she wanted to cling to him as tightly as she could, drag him out of this dream and back into Konoha, back where he belonged.

There was a moment of silence, and he tensed, his arms tightening around her. "There might still be time," and suddenly his voice was low, urgent. "Bet, Tsunade. Put everything you've got on it. Your title, your powers, your body, your self. Everything. Before it's too late."

Her eyes widened and her mind raced. "I... I bet," she said, and it was more a prayer than a gamble.

"Say it!"

"I bet everything... my title, my skills as a healer, everything I have... that... that you'll... die!" The last word was hard to wrench out of her throat. Jiraiya, die? The world would be a dark, cheerless, grim place without him. So empty.

He sighed and relaxed, smiling. The chest under her cheek... did it warm a little, or was it just her imagination? "Thanks, Tsunade. Keep an eye out for me, will ya?" Another squeeze of his arms, and Tsunade woke, staring at the ceiling in the dimness of her bedroom.

"Jiraiya," she whispered softly. "Come back. I need you and your idiocy."

She drifted through her daily duties, signing off on reports without doing more than glancing at them, spending far longer than usual composing an awkwardly-written letter to the daimyo of the Fire Country; it would have to be heavily edited, maybe completely scrapped and redone later. Her thoughts could only focus on Jiraiya – on the meaning of that dream, on her hopes and fears about his safety. On him. Damn it, Jiraiya, you pervert... I need you to come back. Don't die...

The sun dipped low, spreading rays of golden light through her office, and she kept going. The only other option was to go and get very drunk, and with the way she was feeling now, if she crawled into a bottle she'd never come back out.

It got dark. Shizune came in and lit lamps, and Tsunade found herself with little left to do, so she pulled out medical texts and began to read. She could study, at least. Distract herself by reading about things that had nothing to do with Jiraiya. The scroll she spread out was on childbirth. Absolutely nothing to do with an old pervert ninja and a mission to the Rain.

For first-time mothers, the importance of psychological comfort should not be overlooked, as mental relaxation and a release of stress will greatly ease muscular relaxation. In kunoichi mothers, chakra patterns should also be taken into account... She'd never had a child. With Dan, she'd hoped... But after his death, her cycles had continued with regularity. She remembered screaming angrily, when she found the blood between her thighs, the first time after his loss. She couldn't even have that memory of him! And while she'd taken other lovers, there had never been one she was willing to carry a child for.

...She wondered what her child with Jiraiya might have been like, and regretted always holding him at arms' length. He was a good lover; she'd overheard the women he'd entertained gigging over it afterward, and had always snorted contemptuously. What he could have done with her...

She found herself daydreaming about a blond child with red-marked cheeks, and flung the scroll across the room with a curse. Standing, she paced angrily, nervous tension and worry snapping through her. Jiraiya...

A wet slapping sound distracted her. It was coming from the window. As she stared at it, there was a flash of orange there, again; it moved too fast to follow fully, but it was roughly cat-sized. She moved to open the window, and a toad came sailing through to land in the middle of her office. A toad... She took a step closer to it, but it croaked warningly at her, then opened its mouth. Wide, and then wider – wider than an animal that size should possibly be able to manage. Then its entire body convulsed, as though it were vomiting.

And there was Jiraiya, lying on her carpet, bleeding on her carpet, with one leg twisted in a way that proclaimed it to be brutally broken, almost mangled, but his chest rose and fell, and dear sweet heavens, he was alive and he was with her and she thought she was about to start crying. Instead, she fell to her knees beside him, ignoring the mess, and went to work feverishly, pouring green healing chakra into him, straightening the broken leg, shouting for Shizune to get the best team of emergency medics they had, because Jiraiya was alive and breathing but there was no guarantee he'd stay that way, not with the wet sound in his breaths that loudly proclaimed a collapsed lung and the possibility that that broken leg had damaged his femoral artery, and the wet and the multitude of other injuries he carried...

But as she worked, before the hurried footsteps sounded in the hallway, his eyes opened to narrow, pain-filled, triumphant slits, and he smiled when he saw her. "Tsu... nade..." He wet his lips, grimaced at the taste of blood, but then smiled again. "You lose..."