Author's Notes: Another New York Society story and, as far as I can tell, the last one. I've written in this series for all of the couples I support in Naruto. While I may do more if another couple comes to light that I really like, the closest I can predict to something new in this series would be a big all-couples story like Seasonal Society or another story for a couple I've already covered. I thought ending this with Jiraiya/Tsunade was appropriate, since they're the oldest.
As always, this story stands by itself, but I recommend reading the others in the New York Society series for full appreciation of the roles Naruto and friends fill.
Also, potential spoilers for recent chapters of the manga in that I am making assumptions about Tsunade's last name.
Written for the 50 Alternates challenge on LiveJournal, using the theme "gold rush."
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
New York City's gambling season was at its ripest between late March (when all the Christmas bonuses of the white-collars had been scattered to the tables) and early May (when the college students grabbed anything they had left from their work-study programs and hit the cards hard). Tsunade Senju's favorite time for playing was in the dead center of April, preferably between the hours of eleven o' clock at night and three the next morning.
As she walked out of the Hilton with a downturned mouth and lightened purse, she decided it had been a very good idea to leave her charge cards with Shizune and Sakura at the hospital. Starting the evening with only a handful of one-hundred dollar bills had been a sound call, especially since Tsunade was ending it with hardly a jingle of change in the pockets of her spring green pantsuit.
Oh well, she thought. At least she hadn't been busted by the cops. It really was a shame that table gambling was illegal in New York City.
Tsunade wished she had at least brought an umbrella with her in addition to the cash. The disadvantage to the city's prime time for betting was that it was always wet. She had a choice of options: she could get a doorman to hail her a cab, she could hold the suit jacket currently slung over her arm above her head while she hailed her own cab, or she could call Sakura at the hospital to bring Tsunade her cards and take convenient advantage of Sakura's cab.
The doorman was immediately nixed; Tsunade had nothing resembling a tip on her. After checking her watch and reading 2:40 AM, she determined that calling Sakura was also a bust. For starters, her former student would be just finishing her shift break to return to work or to go home. If it was the former, there was no way Sakura could leave, and if it was the latter, she would be irate that the little time she had with her husband of barely a year was to be shortened. Since Tsunade was too discouraged to deal with fury in its pink-haired, green-eyed form, it seemed the jacket was her final solution. Too bad, really. She had dropped several digits' worth of dollars on the garment.
"Burning the midnight oil, Dr. Senju?" a voice asked in joking tones just as she was shaking her jacket into proper shielding position.
Lifting her gaze, Tsunade was only marginally surprised to see a man of hair shocking in both its length and whiteness grinning at her from several feet away. He was perfectly dry and sheltered by, not the awning above the hotel's entrance, but a deeply coveted umbrella.
Her red-coated lips tightened into a more severe frown. Certainly it was too late for this. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He of the Long White Tresses smiled in discreet amusement, due to his unrevealed intentions or the fact that the three or four beers in Tsunade had caused her "here" to sound like "hair." Possibly both. "I thought I'd come visit," he said amiably, and the reason would not have been suspicious – they were, after all, quite a bit more than old friends – if it wasn't going on three o' clock in the soaked morning. "It's been a while."
"It's late, Jiraiya." Her head was pulsing. Soon the pulsing would turn into throbbing and, from there, pounding. After her retirement, Tsunade had grown very familiar with the stages of a headache. A headache, she had theorized, was a state of loser in agonizing form.
Jiraiya was not deterred by her terse refusal to enter into a reunion-themed conversation. "It is late. That's my point, Tsunade." When she merely stood hunch-shouldered in the mega-watt lighting of the front of the hotel, fingers pressed to her temples, he almost sighed. The cryptic messages would have to wait. "Come on, Princess. It's time you were in bed."
When he had her tucked snug and dry in the dark back seat of a taxi bound for her place, Tsunade retorted, "Do you have to talk to me as if I was a child?"
"Would you like me to talk to you as if you were a petulant teenager?"
One thing about Tsunade that Jiraiya had always been simultaneously fascinated by and enviable of was that her aging had certainly dragged its feet. In the thirty-five years she had worked in the medical field, one would think she would be wrinkled and drawn from the stress of life's preservation and loss. Yet she looked to be just exiting her thirties rather than entering her fifties. However, he noted with a writer's observant eye, in unguarded moments like this one, when lights from the streets outside the window threw her face into sharp relief, he could see little dips and wrinkles that weren't visible in the big picture that was Tsunade.
He steadied her with one hand and held the umbrella over her head again until they were inside her apartment building. Jiraiya shook the drenched canvas over the leaves of a potted fern just beyond the door as Tsunade watched him balefully.
"You're planning on coming upstairs, aren't you?"
He sent her a grin that would level the most hard-hearted Irish priests. Tsunade stood firm. "I could go," he admitted, "but it's late and dark and raining. Kids get brave on nights like this. You don't want me to get mugged, do you?"
Rolling her eyes, she managed to extract her keys from her purse while he jabbed the button on the elevator. In the car, Tsunade leaned against the mirrored wall as it ascended. "How was the tour?" she mumbled tiredly.
Some of his joviality ebbed at the question. "Long. Tiring." The word came out on a slow breath. "It takes some time to hit all fifty states. I learned they speak good English in Alaska though. I'd always assumed they printed my stuff in Eskimo or whatever."
As the doors parted on the eighth floor, Tsunade allowed him to lead the way down the hall and even handed him the key to get inside. "If you're so exhausted, why come here?"
"I missed New York." Above his sharp cheek bones rough with morning stubble, black eyes glittered at her back as she went about flipping on lights and bolting the door. "I missed the familiar sights."
"Still." She deposited her purse on the small foyer table with all the grace of a disgruntled she-bear coming home to its cave. "Don't you have some writing to do or something?"
"There was a signing at the Borders on Fifth," he told her casually as he leaned his umbrella against the table and placed the keys beside her purse so she could find them easily later on. "The tour officially ended with that."
Tsunade halted, a perfect freeze-frame in her process of rooting for aspirin through the cabinets in the kitchenette ahead. Turning slowly back to him, she bared a wince. "That was tonight?"
"Seven hours ago," he nodded. He regarded her unsmilingly for a moment, before his face cracked with a grin. "I guess you were having fun of the non-literature variety."
She was sincerely regretful that she had forgotten Jiraiya's engagement on Fifth Avenue. Her plan to welcome him home by merely being there – something she had rarely been available for during her working years – was officially ruined. "I'm sorry," she told him, weariness edging her voice.
Jiraiya's eyes softened in response. "It's fine, Tsunade. You know that."
"How was the turnout?" Resuming her search, the retired doctor paused long enough to plug in an electric kettle on the stove before locating a squat plastic bottle and unscrewing the cap.
"Just short of a Billy Joel concert," he said to her disbelief, watching her pop pills. "Actually, I think Billy Joel was there..."
"He was not. I think the press would've pegged him as a romance reader before now. Maybe Elton John," she smiled, taking down a pair of mugs from the cupboard for the tea she was heating. "But even he would wonder why a guy like you should be writing such campy crap."
"The lonely nights in the military," he joked in a lavish tone. "Craving a woman's touch, the understanding between two hearts..."
She snorted. "If you still eat the way you did five months ago, I understand your heart's a very messy place." Turning to the stove, she poured tea into the two mugs. As she gripped the handle of one, his rough palm fell over her wrist, rubbing over the slight protrusion of bone. Her eyes flew to his, amusement lingering. "What?"
Rather than verbalizing it, Jiraiya hunched over (quite far – he was considerably taller than her even while she stood in her favored high heels) and covered her mouth with his own. Tsunade's fingers fell away from the mug, the kettle continuing to steam beside them. When he pulled away, his smile was lazy, and her eyelids had drooped.
"It has been a while," she noted appreciatively.
With one hand he played with the bright strands of her blond hair and yanked the kettle plug from the outlet with the other. "Come on," he urged her quietly. "I bet we can remember a few things."
"At three-thirty in the morning?"
"I recall a few rendezvouses happening earlier than this."
There was something more comforting about his way of kidding her than the tea she had looked forward to drinking. Tsunade did not object when he twined his fingers through hers and took her into the bedroom. Even after his time away, he hadn't forgotten his way around her apartment. In the doorway, he turned.
"Shh." She went on tiptoe and kissed him, kicking off her shoes as he returned enthusiastic affection. "I think you have some pajamas hanging on the back of the bathroom door."
He took the cue well and disappeared into the adjoining room while she turned on a lamp on the bedside table, folded back the goose down comforter, and undressed.
When Jiraiya emerged from the bathroom again, holding the cotton drawstring pants he'd left there months ago rather than wearing them, only to find that Tsunade had stretched out on the bed in a pale chemise and fallen asleep almost instantly. Jiraiya studied her for a moment, not in the way he studied "material" for his books, but in the way he would evaluate a lovely painting or an intriguing moment caught in a photograph. He was intimately familiar with the way her largely impressive chest rose and fell with every breath.
His aroused grin was reduced by the sight to a more tender expression. With a hint of resignation in his sigh, Jiraiya stepped into the pants and slipped beneath Tsunade's sheets of a luxuriously high thread count. Despite her insatiable love of gambling, it seemed her life's occupation kept her well situated. Reaching across her body, slimness deceiving of the formidable physical strength she possessed, Jiraiya's paused just before turning off the lamp.
A paperback novel of medium thickness lay open to its place on the nightstand, the spine scarred from the positioning. Jiraiya wasn't sure whether to be to be flattered that she owned his latest book or insulted that she would treat it so poorly.
Casting the room into darkness, he settled on flattery and pulled his softly snoring lover of nearly twenty years against his side before following her into sleep
Tsunade woke up to the smell of coffee floating from the kitchenette into the bedroom. Jiraiya followed close behind it and passed her a full mug to make up for the tea he had coerced her into skipping last night.
She fuzzily recalled that there had not been any sex between them last night. Most of what she remembered involved a debate about how to go about getting home before Jiraiya had appeared as gentlemanly as could be (minus the characteristic teasing) and escorted her, umbrella and all.
"'Morning," he greeted cheerfully. "Feeling hungry?"
As she did remember that she had foregone dinner in favor of the blackjack tables at the Hilton, Tsunade thought ravenous a better word. "Yep." Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she ignored the askew hem of her chemise and gulped down the coffee. After a good shot of caffeine, she eyed him warily. "You didn't try to cook anything, did you?" She could just envision the destruction of her shiny Crate & Barrel cookware in his clumsy hands.
He laughed, deep and rumbling, and Tsunade had not known how much she had missed the sound while Jiraiya had been on tour. "The day I try to cook for you would mean my suicide, I'm sure. No, I was thinking we should hit Uzumaki's. I haven't checked in with Naruto in so long, and I hear he's serving breakfast now."
She met his awake gaze with her still sleepy one. "Why'd you find me last night, Jiraiya?"
His musings were disrupted by her somberly posed question. For a second, he looked at her askance – as though she couldn't possible be unaware. When Jiraiya decided that she obviously could, he chuckled quietly. "What makes you think I wasn't coincidentally strolling by? My place isn't far from there, you know. Maybe I was saving your reputation as a moral-bound doctor by chance!"
"Except," said Tsunade shrewdly, "you were coming from the wrong direction."
His features tightened as he comprehended his mistake. "I guess that's true. Well...to be honest, that hotel was the third one I checked before spotting you just in time."
"Why didn't you just wait until today to see me?"
"I told you before." Jiraiya sat next to her on the bed, still wearing only the black cotton pants. Every scar he had earned as a Marine was visible to her brown eyes. "I missed the familiar sights. And—" He plucked the emptied mug from her hands and set it on the nightstand beside his book to make sure she was giving him her full attention. "—I told you it's late. Too damn late."
"Late for what?" Tsunade demanded as he laid his head upon her minimally-clad shoulder. His fine white hair fell across his back, over her own, and tickled the skin not covered by the chemise.
Jiraiya was hesitant, but then he murmured, "Don't you think it's time we made this a little more permanent?"
The words felt like small stones dropping into her lungs one by one. "Do what?" She had meant to exclaim, but the response came out more weakly than expected.
"I'm not saying have a wedding," Jiraiya went on as if she hadn't bodily jerked under his head. "Well, I guess I am, but one of those court marriage things, not a big ceremony. Maybe an open bar afterward."
"You want to marry me," she echoed, her voice hollow.
"I'll take moving in to start with," he replied agreeably despite the fact that her lack of emotion was upping his heart rate to a level that was probably not recommended for someone his age. "We've always been good roommates, after all."
"Because." He took on a very frank tone. "I'm lonely. So are you. Otherwise you wouldn't have been reading my books while I was gone. I found the rest in your living room behind your medical books, by the way."
Her skin turned a rosy shade of pink that went poorly with her hair. This was, Tsunade managed to process, one of the rare moments in her life in which she was actually rendered speechless.
"To my merit, I think I've been very patient," Jiraiya added.
Tsunade took a deep breath. "Have I taken very long to come around?"
Straightening, he cupped a large hand to the back of her head. "Like panning for gold."
She stared for almost a full minute before a familiar ember she had forcefully banked for five months remembered how to burn inside. A smirk tugged at her lips. "How do we start off this living-together business?" she asked. "Besides refraining from killing each other."
Jiraiya stood and stretched as though he had stirred from sleep just now instead of an hour ago. On the end of a yawn, he suggested, "I could use a shower before we get breakfast."
Tsunade also escaped from bed and bypassed him, heading for the bathroom where his clothes were still piled on the floor. "So could I."
She left the door invitingly open behind her, and Jiraiya's wicked smile matched hers.