Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto. I'll give him back when I'm done.... Eventually.
Author's notes: mm A bittersweet end I think.
"I thought he was rather to the point." Gaara observed carefully as he lightly leaned against a wide eyed and silently staring Sakura.
"He did seem that way." Naruto agreed with a shrug of his shoulders before he turned his attention back to his food and pointedly made a show of ignoring the two sannin.
"... What the hell are you talking about, Jiraiya?!" The woman stared angrily at the neutral faced Jiraiya even as the vast majority of the group ignored her, leaving only the white haired sannin and a staring Sakura to pay attention.
"Hmm... well they do say hearing is the first thing to go." Gaara noted idly as he would lightly take a sip from his cup of tea.
"I thought it was eyesight?" Ino offered, up, smiling innocently as she glanced at Hinata.
"Mmm, and I heard it was the mind." Hinata countered while she took a slow sip of her own tea.
"I always heard it was the sex drive myself." Kin offered up, as she immediately felt a group of horrified eyes descending upon her, causing her to shrug. "What? Hello, remember what clan I grew up in?"
"Ah, this is true." Naruto slowly nodded his head, before pausing a bit as he glared lightly down at Kin. "Just don't think for a second you're going to trick me into doing even more with you now to make up for it."
"Curses." The girl grumbled softly under her breath.
Ignoring the genin gallery, Jiraiya reached down, took hold of his saucer of sake and took a sip. "I think I was pretty straight forward. You're ordered back to Konoha."
"Bu-wha.... Sensei can't do that!" Tsunade responded her eyes still glistening with shock as she stared back at the man. "You... you know how much I hate that damned place!"
"... Can we just slap the missing nin label on her and go home already?" Gaara asked hopefully as he lightly took another sip of his tea. "As nice as this has been, I would like to get back to training."
"... I thought you'd already gotten back up to...?" Naruto asked curiously.
"Yes." Gaara agreed with a nod of his head. "But, I'm curious, exactly what else I could start doing if I actually applied myself with this."
"He's just pouty because I won't let him test any of his new ideas on me." Sakura stated blandly as she blushed slightly and glanced away.
"… Gaara, you do realize most people don't find to be that… comfortable, right?" Naruto offered up in the same bland tone as Sakura as he stared at his friend.
"… I was just trying to give her a massage." Gaara protested immediately as he stared back at the blue eyed boy in front of him.
"With a variation of his Desert Coffin Technique." Sakura clarified as she sent her boyfriend a mild glare.
"You would have been fine."
"I would've had stand stuck in uncomfortable places for weeks." She countered back, giving him a flat look. "You want to give me a massage? Use these." And with that, she reached down and grabbed hold of the boy's hands.
"But that's so… mundane," the boy muttered slightly under his breath while Sakura rolled her eyes in exasperation and the rest of the group stared at him with varying levels of amusement.
"As amusing as this is…" Jiraiya spoke up a slight smile on his face before he glanced at Tsunade. "Yes, he can. You've become almost as big of an embarrassment to Konoha as Orochimaru."
"Oooh, that's a lotta embarrassment," Kin noted as she lightly snuggled into Ino's side. "I mean, seriously, you'd know what I mean if you ever met him."
"Thankfully, I've only been exposed to two out of three, Kin-chan." Naruto responded dryly before chuckling a bit. "So, you're the only non-sannin here that's met all three, how would you rank em?"
"Well, other than his early exhibitions of stalkerish behavior, and lewd perversion…." Kin began before Jiraiya's audible mutter cut her off.
"Following your godson around, trying to get him to talk to you is NOT stalking someone."
"As I was saying, other than his earlier exhibitions of STALKERISH behavior and SUPER lewd perversion," Kin clarified, sending a light glare over at Jiraiya before her face softened a bit. "I'd have to say, Jiraiya's the least disgraceful. Especially since I haven't seen or heard about him doing any peeping since we met him."
Naruto blinked a moment, opening his mouth to protest, before he considered the words and turned his head, staring over at Jiraiya. "What the hell?"
"I have my reasons," the sannin responded simply as he took another, quiet sip from his sake, before his face hardened as he sent a glare at the still stupefied looking Tsunade. "And this isn't a joke, Tsunade. I've got Orochimaru sealed in a cell back in Konoha, if I have to, I'll put you in the one right next to him."
"Y-y-you caught him?!" Tsunade managed to stutter out as she stared back at the man in front of her, a sudden sense of dread trickling down her spine as Kin's eyes grew like saucers.
"He… he's still alive?! And… and in Konoha?!" Kin squeaked as she quickly curled tighter into Ino, fear almost radiating off her.
"Only because the bastard wouldn't fucking die." Jiraiya spit out as he growled, a sudden burst of anger breaking through his face. "Oh, and believe me, I tried. No matter how I crushed, pulverized, burned, sliced, ripped, stabbed, and a number of other things I tried, he still wouldn't fucking die."
"Since… since when have you wanted to kill him?" It scared her to be honest, and there were very few things that Tsunade of the Sannin would admit scared her. The kind, happy, go lucky pervert, the gallant, in his own way, Jiraiya could be stone cold, merciless and uncaring, she'd seen it herself in the shinobi wars, but never before had she seen him actually WANT to kill someone, let alone the man who had once meant so much to him.
"Since he dug up the bodies of your grandfather, your great-uncle and MY Minato, and tried to use them to help him kill sensei and destroy Konoha." Jiraiya fought down the growl that threatened to break through his throat as he glared back at Tsunade. "He was going to make them his mindless little puppets. He was going to use them to help destroy EVERYTHING they gave their lives to protect."
"… So… so what." Tsunade's eyes turned away, refusing to look at the man, refusing to let him see the way the tears were threatening to fall down her face. "They were fools anyway, throwing away their lives for that cursed place."
A silence descended on the room, as the anger in the air are grew almost palpable as two sets of eyes fell on Tsunade and she couldn't help but flinch back from the intensity of that emotion. Godfather and godson bore on their faces, identical glares of pure, outraged fury. As one, their fists were clenched, their jaws set, and unseen by both, Hinata allowed a simple, knowing smile to curl across her face.
Just as Jiraiya began to speak, Naruto's voice cut in like a razor as he glared at the blonde woman in front of him. "So, they were all fools huh? Then I guess you think they died for nothing, huh?"
Jiraiya's face was unreadable as he looked down at the boy before leaning back, and simply letting him speak.
"The Hokages have always been fools." Tsunade shot back bitterly as she glared at the boy. "Everyone I've ever loved has been taken from my by that accursed place. And too many of them were fools, wanting to be Hokage."
"Yes, I'm sure Dan and Nawaki are so proud to hear you say that about them and spitting on their memories." Jiraiya answered her with a cold flat voice.
"Let's not forget her the first and second Hokages." Naruto picked up before Tsunade could respond. "You know, her grandfather and her great uncle? The ones who were willing to give their lives to protect and keep Konoha safe." For a moment, he paused, before turning his glare fully onto the woman, as the molten anger just bubbled up into place and his voice dropped to a frigid whisper. "But, let's not forget my father, and everyone else who's ever put their lives on the line to defend Konoha, no matter the circumstances."
"It makes me wonder, if you even really loved them." Jiraiya spat out coldly as he glared back at the woman.
"…How… how dare you." Tears were streaming down her face as the female sannin glared at the two confronting her. "How dare you!? YOU KNOW how much they meant to me! YOU KNOW HOW much I LOVED them!"
"I thought I did." Jiraiya answered her in that same, cold tone. "Then you spent over 15 years running like a coward, turning into nothing more than a loser and a drunk. FIFTEEN YEARS, Tsunade!" The man turned and gestured around the table. "You've been running since before any of them were born. Fifteen years of saying that the people you've loved have been worthless fools. Fifteen years, becoming a joke, a disgrace. Fifteen years, wallowing in your failure, your fear, your disgrace."
A hissing growl left his lips, even as he glared at the woman. "The people who still care about you have been waiting, hoping, and trying to let you heal. But, it's become obvious that despite your reputation as the greatest medic our world has ever known, you've failed to heal yourself." With a slow heavy sigh he shook his head and gave her a softer look. "It's time to come stop running, and come home, princess."
"You do know all about running, don't you?" Tsunade spat back past the way his words dug deep into her heart and glared at the man. "Who the hell are you to lecture me about running?! After everything you've…"
"I know, because I've done it." Jiraiya snapped back as he growled at the woman. "I know because I've lost everyone that ever mattered to me, except sensei and Konoha. To war, to demons, to others, to their own pain, and most of all, to my own stupid, foolishness." The pure, raw pain in his eyes, in his voice struck hard against Tsunade as he continued on. "The only family I have left, hates me. And he's right to. He has every reason to and I allowed it, because I nursed my wounds instead of letting them heal. I spent almost as long as you running."
The man, took a slow, deep breath, before again, that hard steel returned to his eyes, to his voice as he let his eyes pierce through her. "Then I realized, when I couldn't even meet the eyes of simple picture of his father, that I had to stop running and face my pain, and my mistakes. Tell me Tsunade, could you look into their eyes, knowing how you've spit upon their ideals? Their legacy? Can you?"
The table grew still for a moment, as Tsunade averted her eyes to the side, refusing to meet the man's gaze as she turned, and silently walked away, the silence her only answer. A moment later a woman with short, brown hair who'd been just behind the blonde stood up, her dark eyes studying the sannin still at the table for a moment, before a slight, sad smile cracked her lips. "It is good to see you again, Jiraiya-sama."
"Shizune." Again Jiraiya's face softened as he nodded his head, even as he slumped back into his seat and drained the saucer of sake. "A fine mess we three turned out to be, neh?"
"Are you sure we should be talking about this in front of…?" The woman gestured quietly to the two boys and four girls seated at the table with Jiraiya and nervously bit her lower lip.
"Heh, they already know some of Konoha's dirtiest laundry, what's it matter if they hear anymore? It's not like their opinions of the sannin will get any worse." The man shrugged quietly as he poured himself another saucer. "This is Shizune, Tsunade's apprentice. Shizune, these are Naruto, Gaara, Ino, Hinata, Sakura and Kinuko." When the last girl mentioned glared at him he set her back a slightly triumphant smirk. "But we all call her Kin."
"You're never going to let it go, are you?" The girl huffed slightly as she crossed her arms about her chest and pouted slightly.
"Never." Jiraiya agreed with a grin and a nod. "It's too damned funny."
"It's a pleasure to meet you all." The woman bowed slightly and offered them a smile. "Please forget Tsunade-sama, she's…"
"No." Naruto's voice cut her off as the boy lightly glared at her. "No making excuses for her, no covering for her. She's made a choice to be like that for this long."
Shizune began to protest, to come to her mentor's defense, before a slow sigh escaped her lips and she reluctantly nodded her head. "I've done the best I can, it's just…"
"Look, I'm sure if you've been her apprentice for so long you know a helluva lot about healing the body." Naruto cut in again as he gave her a long steady look before shaking his head. "But the heart? It doesn't work the same. Sometimes, it's hurt too deeply and you can't just sit back and let it heal on its own. You have to drag em, sometimes kicking and screaming out to face their problems, instead of making excuses for em. Otherwise, things just fester, and you get the sannin."
Shaking his head, Naruto grumbled a bit before he got up, kissing each of his girls on their foreheads. "I need some air. I've already dealt with enough of this shit with Hiashi." Grumbling slightly the boy got up and left the group behind, even as Hinata smiled slightly once more as she watched the path he chose to take.
When he was gone, Hinata turned her attention to where Shizune was biting at her lower lip, trying to think of something to say, before offering the woman a soft smile as she spoke. "I know he looks like a kid to you, but Naruto-kun knows what he's talking about. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have my father as anything more than a shell of who he used to be."
"Yes, but then you wouldn't be losing so much sleep at night because of him and Kiba's mom, Hinata-chan." Ino cut in, grinning sweetly at her teammate, even as she ignored the way the pale eyed girl scowled back at her.
"Hush, Ino-chan. At least my father's not out with a different girl every night." Hinata countered with a sight sniff as she sent a measured glare at her friend.
"You say it like that's a bad thing, Hinata-sama." Kin offered up, smirking slightly even as she continued lightly nuzzling into Ino's side.
"Heh… The kids are something aren't they?" Jiraiya spoke up, a measure of pride in his voice, before he again glanced down as his sake as the reminder that what they were, was in spite of his inaction, not because of what he'd done.
"Um, Jiraiya-sama, do you know what she means? About what she said about her father?" Shizune spoke up as Hinata failed to clarify exactly what it was she meant as she lost herself in her little tangent with her teammate.
"Hiashi." Jiraiya responded quietly as he took another sip from his wine. "His brother, then his wife. Along with the pressures the Hyuga elders put on him, and trying to balance looking after his clan and raising his daughters, he almost lost himself I'd imagine. From what I've heard, Naruto was the one to help him from completely losing himself."
"He doesn't truly hate you, Jiraiya-san." Ino spoke up as she lightly ran her fingers through Kin's hair.
"He should." Jiraiya responded simply as he quietly reached down and took a slow sip from his sake. "I do."
"It probably doesn't help that you tried to rip off his joke." Kin noted with an innocent smile.
"Rip off… his joke?" Shizune blinked slightly as she turned her head to the apparently odd girl snuggling against the remaining blonde.
"About the best way to shut up an asshole." Kin responded with a quick nod of her head and an oh too innocent smile.
"It was funny." Jiraiya admitted, before he paused and grumbled. "Even if I was on the receiving end of the butt plug."
"The… receiving end?" Shizune stared, blankly at the man as her eyebrow began to twitch slowly. "Jiraiya-sama…"
"Not that way!" The man almost shrieked out his response as he lightly glared from her to a now giggling Kin. "He threw it at my face."
"Oh." Pausing a moment, the woman considered thoughtfully before a slight smile grew on her lips. "Then I suppose it is a funny joke."
"As long as you're not the one getting the butt plug to the face." Jiraiya agreed with a slight mutter, even as a soft smile crossed his lips.
"Ya know, if you stopped drowning yourself in that stuff and actually faced your problems, it'd have stopped hurting so badly a long, long time ago," Naruto said conversationally as he stood on the wall over where Tsunade was drinking a bottle of sake like it was water.
"What the hell do you know, brat?" Tsunade growled as she glared up at the boy standing above her so neutrally.
"Seeing as how I've already watched someone go through it? Plenty, it was enough of a pain in the ass to drag him out of his little spiral." Naruto responded with a candid glare directed back at her. "And the whole, oh, it's so painful to be me, wah wah wah, my life is cursed thing? There was a reason beat some bloody sense into Spanky years ago."
A quick jump saved up as the wall he was standing on exploded into a cloud of dust from the angry woman's sudden strike. "Shut up! What the hell do you know?!"
"Geez, lemme think?" Naruto immediately adopted an exaggerated thinking pose as he lightly tapped his lip. "I don't know, let's see, I was an orphan, who didn't know who his parents were, or why he was hated by almost everyone in the village. I lost one of the first people to have ever really cared about me only a year after I met her.
"I then spent too many damned years keeping the rest of her family from tearing itself apart. Then, when things are FINALLY settling down, I find out WHY I've been hated in the first place. Because people are too stupid to distinguish an innocent child from the demon he was keeping a prisoner."
He took a moment, letting the words hang in the air, before he continued, staring back at the woman with an angry glare. "But hey, no big? It's not like most consistent person in my life, one of the people I admired more than anyone hadn't been lying to me the entire time about the one thing I wanted to know more about than anything.
"Except, whadda ya know, I found out later he was! Along with the poor excuse for a god father I have named Jiraiya, who I didn't even know about until less than two fucking months ago. Or, hey, that my father was the one who stuck the kyuubi inside of me, because he trusted me above everyone else to keep this village safe."
His eyes burned down into Tsunade's as he glared at the words spat past his lips. "That's what I know. I know all about pain. I know about loss. But ya know what? I'm still standing, I'm still smiling and I'm still laughing. I've been knocked in the teeth more times than you can imagine, granny, and ya know what? Even though I'm going to get it even more in the future, I'm going to get back up and keep doing what I do."
"Easy for you to say, you're still a kid." Tsunade shot back, even as she couldn't quite meet his eyes, before she muttered quietly under her breath. "I'm old, brat. I've been through two damned wars, and I've lost most everyone I've cared about. The only ones left..." She paused a moment, before she let loose a short, bitter laugh. "Only ones left are Shizune and Jiraiya, if you can believe it. And this is the first time I've seen Jiraiya in years... Shizune... She keeps wasting her time trying to make excuses for my behavior."
"I've noticed." Naruto answered as he seemed to calm just slightly, while he glanced over the woman. "So, finished with the anger and onto the depression, hmm?"
"I like to switch back and forth, vary it up a little." The sarcasm in her words lanced thickly through the air as she grumbled and took another drink from the sake bottle. "So, you're Minato's brat, huh?"
"And again, I find myself wanting to beat the old man bloody." Naruto grunted as he huffed slightly but took a seat next to the woman. "Some big secret."
"Eh, so, Jiraiya showed you any of your father's moves?" The woman settled the bottle down, and crossed her arms over her knees as she stared forward, not quite looking at the boy as she seemed lost in thought.
"He offered." Naruto answered truthfully as his pose almost mimicked hers. "I told him I wasn't interested. I'm not him, nor, have I really wanted to be."
"Heh, musta hit him hard." Tsunade chuckled just a bit as she turned her head and looked at the boy for a moment. "You should let him teach you. Even if you don't use them, at least you'll have one of the things he poured himself into."
"Right, let the stalking pervert who abandoned me and writes those damned Icha Icha books, teach me." Naruto rolled his eyes a bit and snorted softly.
"Eh, the books aren't too bad, too crude to get me going, and they're no Sweet Silky Nights..." Tsunade chuckled a bit as she shook her head. "Though, I about killed him when he published the one with his damned fantasies about me in it."
"Well, at least it's nice to be appreciated." Naruto chuckled a bit before pausing and shuddering visibly. "And I seriously do NOT need to know about that pervert's fantasy life."
"It's creative at least." Tsunade offered with a dry chuckle, before the rest of the boy's statement processed through her mind. "Appreciated?"
"Hi, I'm Naruto, when I'm not doing stuff with my teammates, or tormenting the ANBU and the rest of Konoha's ninja forces, I'm the writer of Sweet Silky Nights." A cheeky grin on his face, the boy casually offered her his hand as he spoke.
"Heh, aren't you just full of surprises." The woman smirked back at him as she took his hand in hers and shook it firmly. "Tsunade, when I'm not dragging my apprentice from bar to gambling hall to bar, I teach her what I still know about medical techniques."
"So then, Granny." Naruto offered, a slight smirk on his face as he watched the light twitch pass across the woman's brow. "Does this mean you're ready to stop running?"
"Do I really have a choice, brat?" Tsunade grumbled as she sent the boy a slight glare.
"No, not really, but I figured I'd humor you and pretend you did," Naruto admitted, still grinning at her as he lightly stretched out.
"Damned obnoxious brat." She grumbled the words sourly as her face twisted up in annoyance. "I should flick you into the wall and see how obnoxious you are then."
"Well, you could." Naruto agreed, nodding his head with a suddenly serene smile on his lips. "But, then you'd have to find out why I send ANBU forced into hysterics with a smile."
"And Sarutobi-sensei lets you get away with this?" Tsunade was smirking slightly now, as she glanced down at him in amusement.
"No." Naruto responded with a slight smirk on his lips as he threw the woman a wink. "He PAYS me to do it."
"Heh, I can see why Jiraiya would be proud of you." Tsunade chuckled just a bit as she lightly glanced down at the bottle in front of her and let out a slow, lingering sigh, before smirked just a bit. "Not in the least because of the three girls you seem to have all over you."
"I got very, very lucky." Naruto admitted with a slight little smile on his face. "But, they're my friends too. I wouldn't trade them for the world." Turning his head a bit, he chuckled slightly. "So, how come you and Jiraiya never...?"
The woman froze for a moment, staring down at the bottle in front of her as suddenly her mouth felt awfully dry and the temptation grew, even as she forced herself to ignore it. "Complicated story, involving two stubborn idiots, wayward hearts and a lot of pain."
"Do I look like I'm going anywhere?" Naruto offered back as he canted his head to the side and simply listened to her, waiting for her to speak.
And speak she did.
A silver stream of light filtered down from the heavens as Jiraiya sat, calmly studying the way the clouds lazily drifted across the knowing sliver of the moon. In his hand, a simple saucer of sake, the clear rice wine catching glinting highlights of the moonlight as it rippled slightly against the slightest tremors in his hand. With a slow, deliberate motion, he brought the saucer up to his lips, before taking only the slightest of sips as he continued to stare up at the half veiled moon.
Finally, a slight look of annoyance flashing across his eyes, he turned his head before his voice almost growled out. "Are you going to stand there, staring at me all night, or you going to do the polite thing and give a greeting?" Shaking his head he grumbled slightly as his words left his lips. "And you girls call ME a stalker."
"Well, you do occasionally give off that vibe." Hinata offered almost cheerfully as she stepped into view then quietly strode over to take a seat next to the middle aged man. "What with the refusing to listen, sitting there, watching us, so on and such forth."
"I am allowed to admire the life he's made for himself, even if he doesn't want me to be a part of it." Jiraiya commented even as he would lightly take another slow sip from his sake and stared lingeringly at the moon overhead.
"He's mainly just angry right now." Hinata observed with a quite voice as she followed his gaze to the moon overhead.
"Just angry?" Jiraiya's lips threatened to quirk upwards into the smallest semblance of a smile at her words.
"Well, more than just angry," the girl admitted as she lightly ducked her head for a moment in acknowledgment. "He'll eventually get over his anger. But, he won't ever forget it."
"'Forgive, but never forget.'" He quoted quietly as he took another soft sip from his wine. "Words a ninja should live by."
"Have you forgiven her, for choosing another?" Hinata spoke up suddenly as she finally turned her head and glanced over to the suddenly stiffening man, his fingers tightened on the saucer as he continued to stare ahead.
"Which her?" Jiraiya's voice was calmer than he thought he could make it, his eyes never turning towards the girl. "There have been quite a few, especially that chose another."
"No, there hasn't." Hinata corrected him with her soft voice. "There has always only been one for you. Your whole life, no other could measure up to her."
"Damned Byakagan eyes." His lips tugged down into a grimace as he drained away the sake, but refused to answer her even further.
"You love her." Hinata noted as she lightly studied the man before her, the legend who had buckled under the weight of his tragedy.
"Since your parents were in diapers, kid." Jiraiya admitted as he glanced up towards the moon and stars once more. "I loved her, as much as any man could love a woman. Just as I loved Orochimaru as much as anyone can love a brother. I would have died for them a thousand times over if it had been needed." He paused a moment, before a spike of anger wedged up in his features as the saucer in his hand went flying. "Then, the wars came, and everything changed."
He took a moment, the welling need in his chest almost bursting, before finally, he couldn't help it, and he began to tell the tale he's never told another. "'Rochi... he was the kindest of us, in a way, the best of us. Humble, somewhat shy, caring... The one who would stop to cheer up a crying child, or would go out of his way to bring some coins, or some food to a homeless orphan.
"There was a reason Sensei was always proudest of him, why it was so hard for him to believe that kind boy, that generous young man, had become the monster he is now." He sat there, staring off into the distance for a moment before he shook his head, as the weight of memory settled onto his shoulders. "The best of us, and the weakest of us. Sensei wasn't there, fighting side by side... watching him change, bit by bit as the horrors of war took their toll. Rochi... Rochi couldn't handle it. Couldn't stand the suffering, the pain, and bit by bit, it broke him.
"Death, pain, destruction. How the weak were snuffed out first." His fingers clenched, Jiraiya closed his eyes, fighting down the tears that threatened to stream down his cheeks. "It started with the need to protect them. To be strong enough to keep them from harm. To learn everything he could to be able to do it. And from there... It became so easily twisted. Until in the end, his weakness gave birth to the monster the world knows."
Shaking his head, he chuckled in bitter irony as he stared down at his hands. "Tsunade... She did her best. Fought hard to save everyone she could, but in the end..." He paused again, taking a slow, deep breath as he stared up at the sky. "In the end, she allowed her hope to blind her, and she entrusted a burden on ones that couldn't shoulder it. And it cost them, and her."
"Burden?" There was confusion in Hinata's voice as she spoke up, staring at Jiraiya as she quietly broke into his words.
"That necklace of hers. I'd imagine, in a way she's right." Jiraiya shook his head as he stared up into the clouds. "Only those who can, or will be strong enough, worthy enough to be Hokage can bear it. She allowed her hope to blind her, and she entrusted it to those worthy of her love, who told her their dream was to be Hokage."
"But the necklace doesn't make you worthy." Hinata continued where he left off as she made that connection. "Either you are, or you aren't. And if you aren't..."
"Then you die." Jiraiya answered her bluntly. "Her grandfather chose well. She didn't."
"And she paid the price for her choice." Hinata finished quietly as she lightly hugged her arms about her shoulders. "And you hate yourself feeling justified that she made when she chose him over you."
"I am as I am, kid," Jiraiya said simply as he stared out into the distance. "A ninja. And a ninja is someone who endures. I might falter here and there... But I'll keep going until my last breath."
"That's nice and all, but you can endure and still have some happiness." Hinata observed as she quietly pointed out a single point. "Look at Naruto."
"Naruto deserves it." He smirked just a bit at his words as he lightly shook his head. "Oh, does he deserve it."
"You know, you're never going to end up any happier if you keep up this kind of attitude." Hinata pointed out as she lightly glared at the man.
"You're assuming that I want to be happy, kid." The man shook his head slowly and quietly, the spikes of his long white hair swaying slightly in the motion.
"Everyone wants to be happy." It was a rather lackluster counter as the girl frowned slightly while she looked at the man.
"Only the people who think they deserve it," Jiraiya answered, his lips turned up into a bit of a bitter sweet smile as he leaned back and stared up at the sky. "Those of us that know better? Either we struggle in spite of it, or we calmly accept that truth and do what we can to make lives better for those that do."
Just as Hinata spoke up to try and offer up another rebuff to his attitude, her words were immediately cut off by another, older female voice. "Give it a rest, girl. He's a stubborn old man who's not going to listen to you."
Hinata and Jiraiya both blinked as they turned their attentions to where Tsunade stood, arms crossed about her chest as she half glared, half smirked at her white haired teammate. Next to her, Naruto was rolling his eyes just a bit, before he gestured towards his own teammate. "Come on Hinata-chan, let's leave the old folks to their moping. Granny wants to talk to the old pervert."
"Brat." Tsunade muttered with a slight smirk as she lightly tapped him on the back of his head with her finger, causing him to almost fall over from a force like a smack. "Learn some manners."
"Bah, you're the one who acts more like a brat than me." Naruto countered with a grumbled, even as he stepped carefully out of range of the woman's fingers and scooted over to Hinata. "Come on Hinata-chan, like I said, time to go."
Before the girl could really answer him, Naruto had her swept up and carted off, leaving the two sannin staring at one another for a long moment, before shrugging slightly, Jiraiya held up his sake bottle wordlessly. Snorting softly as she walked over and settled in next to him, Tsunade shook her head. "No thanks, I'm trying to cut back."
"Huh…" Jiraiya turned his head slightly to the sky, before craning his head upwards to stare at the heavens overhead.
For a moment, the woman stared at the man blankly, before a light twitch of her eye could be seen as her words growled past her throat. "I swear, if you're looking for signs of the world ending, Jiraiya…"
"It's been over 20 years since you could hit me without me letting you, Princess." A slight smirk was on the man's lips as he responded back, glancing at her with a light twinkle in his eyes as he chuckled just a bit. "And, at the moment, I'm not feeling too terribly much like indulging you."
For a moment, she seemed to ignore him as she stared down over her arms, watching the way the slight breeze sent a ripple of motion through the leaves of a nearby tree. Finally, unable to help herself, she spoke. "We're screwed up, you know that?"
"I don't know about you, Princess," Jiraiya responded with a drawl in his voice as he glanced at her as he leaned back on the roof, "But, me? Screwed up doesn't even begin to describe how monumentally I've fucked up."
"Right." Tsunade shook her head and sighed just a bit, before suddenly she lashed out with her hand and just barely missed smacking the back of his head as he ducked slightly out of the way. "You're not an idiot, Jiraiya, so stop acting like one."
"Oh? Since when?" There was a slightly amused little smirk on his lips as he looked back at her, a triumphant, 'I told you so' gleam in his eyes as he lightly watched her.
"Since our first war." Bitter words fell past her lips as she turned her head away, unable to quite look at him as she could feel the way the very air around them seemed to stiffen in response. "Did you think we didn't notice? Why do you think we never countered an order you gave in combat? Why do you think we always listened to you when you spoke?"
Her hand reached up and lightly gripped on the necklace hanging from her throat, fingers clenching tight about the smooth stones. "You were always the strongest of us." She let off a light, bitter sweet laugh at that before she continued, glancing at him for a moment out of the corner of her eye. "Do you know how much that galled us at first? Orochi, the genius of our generation, sensei's favorite, and me, the granddaughter of the First, grandniece of the Second, and the no name, loud mouthed brat of our team, was the strongest of us."
She shook her head a moment, allowing the bittersweet smile to fade away. "Then the war ended, and we just… forgot. It was so easy to slip back into the roles we had before. To forget what we knew. When the second war began, we weren't a team any longer and it was even easier to let it slip away. I met a man I thought could live up to the expectations I had, and I made myself fall in love."
Jiraiya stared at her for a long moment, watching in silence as the tears began to flow down her eyes, letting the unspoken words sink into his mind as he watched her, and merely waited as she continued once more.
"Dan… He was kind, reserved, caring, charming. Everything I thought I wanted in a man, you know? Almost perfect." Shaking her head as she closed her eyes, the tears sparkling like trickles of ice down her cheeks. "But, I knew, it wasn't right. I knew that he wasn't strong enough to fulfill his dream. But, I wanted to believe. I thought, that if I believed enough, it would be true. If I loved him enough it would be right. So, I gave him the necklace, and I sent him to his death.
"And when I found out, I was forced with the simple truth. I had killed him. I knew he wasn't worthy. I knew it was foolish, I knew what would happen, but I did it anyway, because I wanted to believe that I could make the truth change." Her body curled back into herself as she felt the tears flowing, even faster now, her throw growing thick, her body, heavy before she turned her head and looked at him with those glistening eyes. "That's why I left. Because I'd killed a man with my selfishness. Not because I cared so deeply for him, but because I will always be stained by his blood."
For a moment, Jiraiya couldn't bring himself to respond, couldn't force the words past the thickness in his own throat, before finally he spoke. "Tsunade… In this life… a shinobi's life, all our hands are stained with blood, save those who die in ignorant bliss."
A wet laugh left the woman's lips as she looked at him with those tear wet eyes and smiled a thin, mirthless smile. "Your hands aren't stained with the blood of a good shinobi you killed because you didn't want to admit the truth to yourself. I killed Dan, because I couldn't admit that I'd fallen for a perverted, foolish, gallant shinobi who was the strongest man I'd known."
"… Tsunade… Please, don't do this." He looked away then, refusing, unable to meet her eyes as his own clouded over with tears. "Please, just don't. I'm not strong. I'm not gallant. I'm just a foolish pervert who's made a lot of mistakes in a long, miserable life."
"You're wrong about that, you know," the woman said softly as she lightly shook her head, before he stiffened as she quietly just leaned against him. "You're stronger, and more gallant than you know." With a slow, deep breath, the woman steeled herself, before she turned her head, looking down at where his face was turned, to the side, staring away, refusing to look at her, flinching as her fingers touched his cheek. "And I owe you this. I'm sorry, Jiraiya, for running from the truth for so long."
"Tsunade… I… I just can't… I can't do this. Not now." His voice whispered softly as he stared off into the distance, fighting down the way every fiber of his being longed to press back into her warmth, into her touch. "Not anymore."
"Not yet." Tsunade finished simply as she nodded her head, the tears still gleaming in her eyes as she settled down onto the roof next to him, simply laying there, staring up at the sky overhead. "And neither can I… Not now. Not yet… But, someday?"
For a moment, Jiraiya turned his head, before nodding softly, carefully as he studied the woman next to him. "Maybe, someday."
"While it is very nice to see you again, Itachi." The Hokage glanced slightly between the neutral looking Uchiha and the blue skinned, shark-esque man seated next to him. "I can't help but ask… What the hell are you doing here?"
"It was recently brought to my attention that I made some rather… inaccurate assumptions in my initial plan." The teen answered with a slight shrug of his shoulders as he looked back at the man in front of him. "Mainly, in regards to my brother."
"Ah, I see." There was a slow nod of understanding on Sarutobi's face as he lightly stroked his beard. "And your friend?"
"No way in hell I'm trusting a sweet boy like Haku to a kid named Spanky without supervision." Kisame spoke up, a serious look on his face, arms crossed about his chest as he nodded sagely.
"Let me guess." The old man pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment, before sighing slightly. "Naruto."
"He was most… informative." Itachi admitted with a nod of his head as he shifted uneasily in place.
"Don't mind Itachi, he's still coming to grips with the fact that the Yamanaka girl had pictures of how his little brother got his nickname." Kisame snickered softly as he lightly leaned back, lightly stroking his sword. "Plus… That little deviant really is a sadistic bastard."
"Please, Kisame, I'm trying to repress that." Itachi answered back, as he lightly glared at the man. "Don't make me use Tsukuyomi on you."
"What did Sasuke-kun do to him?" The Hokage couldn't help it, he had to ask.
"Made little Itachi here take him and Haku-kun on a shopping spree." Kisame grinned unrepentantly back at a suddenly green looking Itachi. "I'm not sure of the exact details, but it was enough to make Itachi refuse to talk about it."
"I haven't repressed it for one reason, and only one reason." Itachi answered with a solemn nod of his head as he crossed his arms about his chest.
"And that would be?" There was a hint of suspicious curiosity in his tone, along with the feeling he'd become intimately familiar with thanks to a certain blonde ninja.
Any response Itachi might've made, was cut off by the door opening to admit the aged figures of Homura, Koharu, and Danzo, as the last spoke up, while carefully studying the backs of the two figures seated in front of the Hokage. "You wanted to speak with us, Sarutobi?"
A slight, sadistic smile curled onto Itachi's lips, as the Hokage fought to keep an amused grin off his face as he watched the Uchiha's Mangekyo Sharingan flare to life, before he turned, catching all three elders in the eye before he whispered one word. "Tsukuyomi."
Instantly the world seemed to fade away from the three elders, as they were faced with the solitary figure of Itachi. "For the next 72 hours, you will know my pain."
In the blink of an eye, Homaru and Danzo both crumpled into catatonic shock, looks of horror etched upon their faces as they occasionally twitched lightly. Koharu however, merely blinked a moment, before leveling Itachi with a look. "And what, Itachi-kun, is so horrible about shopping with such a delightful pair of young ninja?"
Itachi stared at the woman for a moment, before sitting back down in a huff as Kisame and the Hokage heard the words muttered under his breath. "Damned insane women."
Bursting out laughing, Kisame shook his head as he took a moment to grin at the old woman before glancing back at the Hokage. "Heh, I think I could get to like it here." He paused a moment, before glancing at his sword, before looking back at the Hokage. "Just one question, why does Samehada sense Uchiha chakra on the old cripple?"
Suddenly, the completely unaware man was fixed with a number of dark looks while Kisame blinked slightly, then looked around at the others with an expression of mock innocence on his face. "What, didn't you know?"
"It would seem things have changed, drastically." A collection of 7 shadowed figures stood hazily in front of one another. "With Itachi and Kisame's defection, Konoha might prove to be more of a problem than we anticipated, especially now that they seem to have gained control over both the Kyuubi and Ichibi jinchuuriki."
"Well, um, we could just blow them up, um?" A long haired figure spoke up, as he smiled innocently at the rest of his compatriots.
"Unlikely." A massive, hunched over figure intoned woodenly. "The Kyuubi jinchuuriki has proven to be far more interesting than originally anticipated. My network has been reporting a variety of unsettling bits of information."
"Such as?" There was a note of curiosity in the mostly dead tones of their leader.
"He was one of the ones to uncover Orochimaru's plot. He was behind their ANBU's recent spike in proficiency… His being the writer of Sweet Silky Nights was the reasoning behind the recent defection of the Kazekage's children and their jonin instructor…. If I had known all I needed to do to encourage people to defect from that hell hole was write a dirty book…"
"Could we PLEASE stay on topic, Sasori?" Another voice spoke up with a grunting grumble.
"Of course, Kakuzu." Sasori's wooden voice answered smoothly as he seemed to shrug slightly. "He's apparently helped convince Tsunade to return to Konoha, along with Jiraiya, and he's acquired a girl that could very possibly be the missing Tsuichi heiress."
"He found Kinuko-chan, um?" The long haired figure blinked, then blinked again.
"He writes Sweet Silky Nights?" Came the solitary female voice of the group.
"Konan…" The Leader's voice came as a half hearted warning as he struggled to reprimand her.
"Nagato, I will follow you to Hell and back again, I will stand with you against the armies of every shinobi nation and give my life to save yours." Konan's voice rang through the air in a reasonable tone that sent a shiver down the spines of the remaining members. "But, I swear, if you take away my Sweet Silky Nights…"
From the depths of his puppet, Sasori blinked slightly as he couldn't help but muse aloud. "Yes… Perhaps I have been pursuing the wrong art after all."
"So, I'm guessing we're rethinking our plan?" Kakuzu's voice offered up as he glanced around them.
"But… the blasphemers must be cut down in Jashin-sama's name!" A new voice spoke up in outrage.
"… He's definitely not going to like this." Zetsu muttered softly under his breath as he glanced around.
"Konan…" Nagato spoke up as he paused a moment, frowning, before he let loose a sigh. "This is because I refused to go to Jiraiya-sensei after Yahiko died, isn't it?"
"Oh please." Konan responded with a wave of her hand. "Don't think I haven't seen you sneaking off with my books when you think I haven't noticed."
Everyone's eyes turned towards the rinnegan eyed figure with a variety of different shades of disbelief in their eyes. Shrugging uncomfortably, the man responded as honestly as he could. "They really are good books."
"I recommend we engage in a much more thorough investigation of Konoha and the Kyuubi jinchuuriki." Sasori spoke up as he looked around the room. "As he appears to have access to a much more powerful way of gaining power and influence than we previously encountered. Perhaps we should approach him on a much friendlier basis?"
"Seconded!" Konan answered almost as soon as Sasori finished speaking, before she send a cold glare to the room around her, daring anyone to object.
"But, Jashin-sama…" Everyone's attention turned towards the whining figure, before suddenly the man's head vanished from his shoulders. Immediately, their attention turned towards Kakuzu, who shrugged slightly before he answered.
"He's been getting more and more annoying of late. Since we're switching up plans, does anyone mind if I kill him for real now?"
"Not in the least."
"The sooner the better."
"He's REALLY not going to like this." Zetsu muttered again as he seemed to shrink down slightly.
"Good." The eldest of the assembled ninja agreed, almost smiling beneath his mask.
"So, um, roadtrip to Konoha?"
Hiruzen Sarutobi felt a cold chill race down his spine as he suddenly paused in his discussions with the pair of ex-Akatsuki members, a cold trickle of sweat moving down the back of his neck. Some how, he just knew, KNEW that Naruto had done something. Something that would leave him buried in paperwork the likes of which would destroy lesser men.
Taking a slow, deep puff from his pipe, the man paused a moment, suddenly grinning viciously, causing Itachi and Kisame to stare back at the man, recoiling slightly. Catching their reactions, his smile dimmed pleasantly and he waved his hand. "Oh, don't worry about it. I just get the feeling I'm going to be finding myself in need of a new secretary very soon, and I know just who I'm going to assign to it."
Naruto froze where he stood, as he eyed the road to home in front of them, a sudden feeling of impending doom washing over his shoulders, before he glanced towards Jiraiya. "So, we're, um, not in any particular hurry to head back to Konoha, right?"
"I thought you couldn't wait to get back?" Jiraiya's brow arched idly as he glanced down at the suddenly nervous looking boy.
"That was then. This is now, as in, now I'm feeling a growing sense of impending doom, the closer and closer we get to home." Nervously, he glanced around, shifting slightly. "So, how about we take the nice, scenic route? Say, a few times around the elemental countries?"
"Well, there have been some interesting developments in Snow recently…" Jiraiya mused before glancing over at Tsunade. "What do you say, princess? Shall we go and cause some trouble to shake off the rust?"
"Eh, what the hell, why not?" Tsunade grinned back at the man, her eyes sparkling. "It's been a long time since we've caused some trouble."
"You know, I DO need to get back to my team, sometime soon…" Sakura spoke up as she lightly glanced at the other ninja. "I really need to get back to focusing on my training."
"Eh, tell you what, how about we start giving you brats some training?" Tsunade's eyes shone evilly as she lightly rubbed her hands together. "That way, we have some fun, you learn some new tricks… everyone's happy!"
"Training?" Sakura's eyes widened as she stared at the legendary kunoichi in front of her, shock sending her jaw to drop in surprise. "From you?"
"Shizune and I can teach you girls some tricks, while Jiraiya teaches some tricks to the boys." Tsunade agreed with a nod of her head and a smirk.
"Naruto-kun?" Ino's eyes were pleading as she looked at her teammate even as they flicked over towards Tsunade and back.
"Please?" Hinata added, her own eyes wide as she stared up at him.
"Are you going to pull this too, Kin-chan?" Naruto turned his attention to Kin, who lightly tapped her lower lip in consideration.
"Actually, he's got more techniques I'm interested in than she does." Kin answered, an innocent smile on her lips as she pointed over at Jiraiya.
"A new group of cute, cuddly little genin to train, huh?" Jiraiya rubbed his chin thoughtfully, before smirking just a bit and shrugging as he grinned back at them. "What the hell, why not? I'll send a note to Sensei."
Steepling his fingers together, the Hokage stared out across his beloved Konoha, a smile of grim expectation on his lips. He knew, sometime soon, his most vicious and determined enemy would rise, stronger than ever before, with a force the likes of which he could barely comprehend. But, fortunately he had a waiting ace in the hole. Soon, Jiraiya would be back with the one he KNEW would be responsible for this grand, epic battle, and he would ensure that the boy would do his fair share of the paperwork.
"Yo, Jiraiya sent this for ya!" A voice came from his desk behind him, before a soft puff could be heard.
As Sarutobi turned around, he smiled at the scroll from his beloved pupil, before breaking the seal and glancing through it. It was only a few short lines, but they immediately wiped the smile off his face.
Tsunade and I are taking the kiddies on an extended training trip. We'll let you know when we're headed back. Take care of the bastard for us in the mean time, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Twitching violently, Sarutobi set the scroll down carefully as he took a slow, deep inhale from his pipe, before releasing a long breath. There were days, it just didn't pay to be Hokage. The frowning man sighed slightly before glancing up to where Danzo was being escorted into the room, once more sans an arm and an eye and felt a cold, sadistic part of his soul brighten immensely. Then again…
"Hello again Danzo… We need to have a little talk the things you've been… acquiring."
"So, are we forgiving Sensei?" Minato asked curiously as he rested his chin on Kushina's shoulder.
"We'll see." The woman frowned slightly even as she allowed herself to sink back against his warmth. "I'm not just going to let him get away with things. He's got a lot to make up for."
"… You just want to see him and Tsunade finally hook up." The man shot back with a slight grin on his face.
"And you don't?" She challenged back, her brow arching up.
"After all the time he spent moping over her?" Minato laughed softly and shook his head just a bit. "Madara is going to be pissed."
"Let him. The stubborn little fucker needs to just give it up and die already." Kushina snorted slightly as she curled up against him. "Looks like our little Naruto will have plenty of people looking out for him."
"Let's hope we don't see him face to face for a long, long time." Minato agreed as the two just continued to watch the scenes playing out before them, savoring each other's warmth, as they would do for many years to come.
Author's notes: Yes, that's it. I'm done with this bloody monster. No more. Fin, Finite, that's all he wrote.
Hope you've enjoyed the ride.