You had never thought that it would come to this. Never. But just one day after Orochimaru had left the village, here he was again, insisting that you join him.
"Are you insane?" you demand of him as he stares at you in amusement. He has always found your anger to be a cause for laughter, and you HATE that. "How do I know I won't turn you in right now?"
He raises an eyebrow. "Me or Sarutobi-sensei? Is that the question? Which comes first- the team or the teacher?"
"We're not a team anymore," you spit out. "You're a murderer, a self-serving teme who isn't content without power."
Orochimaru laughs now, a malice-filled chuckle that fills your bones with something nearing fear. "After all that's happened, you still know me perfectly, Tsunade. I'd say we're still a team, whether you like it or not."
You scowl. "Get out of here, Orochi. You don't belong here."
He cocks his head. "Oh, but if this isn't a choice between Sarutobi-sensei and me… then it's a choice between the team and me." His eyes glint with triumph, knowing he's figured it out.
"That's ridiculous," you say, knowing it to be true. You remember back when you were little, the way you had a crush on Orochimaru and had put down Jiraiya and picked on him almost as often as he had done the same to you. The way the three of you had only been strong separately, on your own, until Sarutobi-sensei had taken matters into his own hands.
"You've got to learn teamwork," he'd sighed one quiet night after another B-rank mission. You were often assigned on B-rank missions, though you were only genin. And this time, as always, the three of you had fought alone, not working together for even a moment.
"I can't work with him," you had snapped, glaring at Jiraiya. He gave you a classic "I don't care" shrug and turned away. "He's always getting in the way."
"I'm just as strong as you," Jiraiya had protested, though you both knew how ludicrous that statement was. You'd been blessed with incredible strength and power beyond ANYTHING Jiraiya could ever hope for. In fact, you were the strongest of the trio, which bothered your crush, Orochimaru, a little too much for you to be proud of it.
"You're both annoying," Orochi muttered, looking as pissed off as he always was when you out-performed him on a mission.
"Say that to my face!" Jiraiya grabbed the taller boy's arm and yanked him around to face him. Faster than light, Orochimaru's eyes were narrowed and a kunai was at Jiraiya's throat.
"Get away from Orochi-kun!" you hissed, cracking your knuckles in anticipation for a fight.
Orochimaru regarded you coldly. "I can take care of myself." He hasn't forgiven you yet for making him second best.
Sometimes you think he'd have liked you better if you deliberately did worse than he on missions, but you're not just a regular girl with a crush. You're Tsunade, granddaughter of Shodaime and far too powerful to give it all up for a guy. Besides, he'd have thought you were patronizing him.
Sarutobi-sensei sighed an exasperated sigh. He didn't even bother telling Orochimaru to put down the kunai. After all, this happened on a daily basis. "What are we going to do with you three?"
"Promote us to jounin, so we can work alone on occasion," Jiraiya suggested. He earned on of your patented Tsunade-sock-on-the-heads for his trouble.
"Actually, the Nidaime has a suggestion. I was against it at first, but now I think it may be the only solution." Sarutobi-sensei led you into the woods.
"Like anything will help," Orochimaru muttered, ever the pessimist.
You determinedly ignored them and followed your sensei. You passed through a clearing when suddenly…
Sarutobi-sensei disappeared. A kage bunshin! Sensing danger, you looked up, only to see the trees sealing together into a giant wooden tomb.
"Genjutsu," Orochimaru decided. He brought his hands together. "Kai!"
You did the same, and weren't surprised to see that it doesn't work. The trees were no illusion.
Jiraiya didn't even bother with that. "Tsunade, break through the walls."
"Don't tell me what to do," you snapped, and then did it anyway. The wall of trees didn't even budge.
Orochimaru's eyes narrowed. "So this is what that old man thinks will improve our teamwork? He's going to pay."
Jiraiya looked up in surprise. "You think this is Sarutobi-sensei's doing?" You were about to punch him again, just for being so stupid, when he laughed and held up a hand. "Relax, I'm just kidding. Of course this is his genjutsu, and he must be somewhere nearby, repelling our jutsus."
Orochimaru and you exchanged surprised, then mortified, glances. Jiraiya had realized something before the two of you. He's really not such a baka, you reflected then, just a loudmouth. Sometimes.
"Exactly," Orochimaru said quickly. "I'm surprised you figured it out." You looked down. It wasn't like you'd tell Jiraiya that he had gotten something first. And yet…
"So we're supposed to just sit back and bond?" you demanded. "Not happening."
"I've got a question." Orochimaru started to pace. "Why was Sarutobi-sensei against sticking us in here? He's never been against using…sadistic measures on us."
Jiraiya snorted. "Easy. He was afraid we'd all end up dead at the end."
You sighed. "How long are we stuck here, anyway? An hour? A day?"
"Well there's no sense in not training while we're here," Jiraiya decided. "Let's fight."
Orochimaru contemptuously turned away. "You're not a challenge."
Jiraiya's eyes flashed, and he had a shuriken out of his pocket in a flash. Orochimaru caught it easily, then strolled up the side of the walls of your tomb. But Jiraiya didn't give up. He flung several more shuriken Orochimaru's way, and Orochimaru caught every one.
You sighed as Jiraiya began to form hand seals. "Jiraiya, you baka, jutsus don't work in here. You're the one who pointed that out; can't you remember it?"
But Jiraiya was deaf to everything but Orochimaru's derisive laugh. He leaped into the air, grabbing onto Orochimaru's long robes in an attempt to pull his opponent down. They tore, and he fell hard.
Orochimaru's eyes flashed. "I liked those robes." He jumped down, looming over Jiraiya. "Now you're going to pay." He pulled out a kunai.
"Wait!" you shouted, a fear gripping you. Orochimaru had obviously reached the end of his chain, and you didn't want to know what he'd do now. One thing you knew was that Orochimaru is dangerous when angry.
Both of them looked at you, startled, and two things happened. The first was that Orochimaru's kunai slipped out of his hand.
The second was that Jiraiya, who was staring at you, failed to dodge it.
The blood spurted out of the side of his neck, and you rushed over to him. It WAS an accident, you reassured yourself. Even Orochimaru wouldn't go that far…
You pulled off your hitai-ate, cutting off a piece of the cloth with the kunai that now lay beside Jiraiya. You tied it around his neck, desperately trying to stop the flow of blood.
"Stop that." It's Orochimaru. He knelt beside you, ready to help for now. "You'll strangle him. Don't you have any medical skills?"
"Why would I?' you snapped. "I'm a fighter, not a healer."
Orochimaru shook his head pityingly. "You should have at least some basic knowledge, more than the academy teaches. You have the talent for it, you know."
You stared. "A compliment? Orochimaru, are you feeling alright?"
"Just help him," Orochimaru said roughly. Seeing your incredulous look, he explained, "I'll be dead, too, if Sensei figures out who killed him."
"Self-preservation," you said, satisfied. That sounded more like the Orochimaru you knew and loved. Then you felt Jiraiya moan underneath you and remembered your mission. "What do I do?"
Orochimaru instructed you in the molding together of the skin with chakra, and you are gratified to see that the skin seemed to be knitting.
Jiraiya began to stir, and Orochimaru moved to the other side of your prison, looking sullen. He doesn't want Jiraiya to know that he helped him, you realize.
Jiraiya's eyes opened slowly, and he smiled weakly. "Tsunade?" Then he seemed to remember what had happened. "Where is that teme??" he demanded, trying to get up. "I'll kill him!"
"You're not going anywhere," you told him, firmly holding him down. "Do you know just how close to death you were?"
"Because of him," Jiraiya spat out.
"You're also alive because of him," you scolded him. See his astonished expression, you added, "He's the one who showed me how to heal him."
"How could he know?" Jiraiya asked skeptically.
"I'm not stupid," Orochimaru snapped from across the room. "I know that it's best to have a well-rounded range of knowledge as a ninja."
"You're a nerd!" you realized delightedly. "I never would've guessed."
"I'm not a nerd." Orochimaru was sulking again. "There's a shinobi I know who's been teaching me everything he knows. He taught me basic medical skills."
"A tutor, then," you grinned impishly. "Perfect Orochi-kun has a tutor!" Somehow, over the course of your time in this wooden prison, your crush on Orochimaru had faded. Mostly.
"You're impossible," Orochimaru snapped, but it clearly wasn't as harsh as he had intended it to be. At your beckoning, he joined the two of you in the other side of the tomb.
"Now that that's all settled, let's get out of here," you decided. On either side of you, your teammates nodded their agreement. "What can we do in here?" You directed the question to Orochimaru, who smirked.
"We can use raw chakra and control it," he responded quickly. "Only hand-seals are repelled."
"Also taijutsu," Jiraiya offered. "We can use taijutsu and our shuriken and kunai."
"Exactly," you nodded. "Now, what is surrounding us?"
"Trees," Jiraiya said, obviously wondering what you're getting at. You weren't quite sure yourself, but you knew you were missing something. "Trees on all four sides."
"Five," Orochimaru said dryly, gesturing upwards.
Then it hit you, something so obvious that you would have realized it immediately if you hadn't been too busy fighting. "But the sixth side…"
Orochimaru realized, too. "Of course!"
"Wait…what?" Jiraiya asked, bewildered.
You ignored him in your excitement. "Jiraiya, Orochi, can you two climb up the wall?"
"Why?" Jiraiya demanded.
"Just do it," you ordered, and he bit his lip and nodded, then followed Orochimaru up the wall until they were both dangling upside-down.
You drew your fist up, filled your hand with chakra, and drove it down into the ground.. The whole floor before you cracked open, forming a crevice that went underneath the wall of trees. It was large enough for a human to walk through.
"I'll scout it out," Jiraiya volunteered, jumping down to the bottom of your makeshift tunnel. He ran underneath, and you heard his okay sounding from below.
You and Orochimaru walked through the tunnel for about five seconds, and then you were out of there, squinting in the bright sunlight.
Sarutobi-sensei and Jiraiya were waiting for you. "Congratulations," Sensei said. "You're a team." He walked away, followed by a protesting Jiraiya.
You and Orochimaru looked at each other. "Figures that we'd give Sensei exactly what he wants." You shook your head. But you were secretly happy. Today, you made two true friends.
Orochimaru nodded. "We'll have to take revenge, though. No one manipulates us and gets away with it."
You smirked. "Naturally."
The two of you sat in companionable silence, feet hanging into the crevice you'd made, for a long time. Finally, you broke the silence. "Thank you." Orochimaru raised an eyebrow in inquiry. "I think I'm going to learn more about medical nin and healing. If I do have a knack for it, I may as well try to use my talent."
"And I'm sure you'd be the best med-nin ever," Orochimaru said seriously. Then suddenly, he was moving closer and kissing you and you didn't push him away, caught in the moment.
When you parted, after an eternity, he gave you a sad smile. "Not quite appropriate behavior for a team. I won't do it again." Then he leapt into the trees, leaving you behind, bemused and more than a little shaken.
"That time…" Now, a much older Orochimaru stands before you, as smug as always. "That time if we had continued the relationship, the team would have fallen apart in a flash. Friendship is the only acceptable relationship for the most efficient kind of team. Now, again, the team comes first."
"There is no team anymore," you snap. "The team fell apart the moment you began with forbidden experiments."
"Then what's keeping you?" Orochimaru demands. "I know it isn't Jiraiya, because if you came with me, he'd join us in a flash."
You shrug, turning away from him. "All for the team, huh, Orochi? The Shodaime's granddaughter and Sandaime's student, the greatest medical ninja in Konoha and one of the Sannin will betray Konoha for the team." You spin around, eyes flashing. "I'm not a killer like you. I'm a healer!"
"Thanks to me," he murmurs, then, just like last time, he's kissing you again-
-Only this time, you punch him in the gut with all your strength, sending him crashing through your apartment window and down to the street below. He doesn't return.
"That's it, then," you hear a quiet voice from your kitchen. "Looks like you've made your choice, too."
You smile wanly and head to the other room, where Jiraiya's been sitting for the last few hours. "So much for the team."
Jiraiya gives you an intense look. "Like you said, there is no team anymore. Orochi's not the only one who's leaving."
"Then the team really is dead," you say softly. "This really is goodbye."
The Godaime stares out the window, contemplating. She remembers battles, a team, and a pale-faced boy with long, black hair…
"Hokage-sama?" a quiet voice can be heard. She turns and sees her apprentice, Sakura. "Shino's team has returned. Kiba was injured, but he's been healed."
"Thank you, Sakura," the Hokage answers. "Good job."
Sakura squirms. "I…was just wondering- it's been over two years. Is Naruto going to return soon so we can bring Sasuke back?"
The Fifth smiles at Sakura. "What do you think?"
Sakura barely needs to consider. "He'll be back. He'd risk everything for his team."
"His team, huh." The Hokage thinks of her own team and where they are now.
Orochimaru, training Uchiha Sasuke in preparation for another conquest. Jiraiya and his protégé, Uzumaki Naruto, off somewhere, growing stronger. And the Fifth Hokage, Tsunade, leading a village and teaching her student, Haruno Sakura.
The team has separated, yes. But now they are training another team…teaching others their own way.
But someday, Tsunade knows, this new team will be whole again.
It is just as well that Sasuke had never kissed Sakura.