Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
Author's Notes: I'm sorry it took so long to update but this chapter was a real bitch to write and I've been terribly busy. But here it is!
Special thanks to all those who reviewed! Ginjaa Ninjaa, UnderTheSakuraBlossoms, StrangeoneXD, literallyshutup, Amaterasuice, Soraya the All Speaker, joanna, Naboo, Mei, CMinuteByMinute and Last Inferno for your kind words the last chapter. I really appreciated everything you guys wrote! So much love for you! :D
Warning: Rated M for implicit (very implicit) jokes of a sexual nature and references to alcohol consumption (I should have mentioned this earlier)
"They have to," Jiraiya muttered, "We got the damn scroll and defeated all the enemies in under ten minutes. They can't not."
"I don't know," Tsunade looked dubious, "It was a pretty easy mission for an A-rank… I don't think it was impressive enough for us to-"
"It was easy because we're just that awesome!" Jiraiya shot back, "Come on, why else would they send an ANBU with us? We've been doing solo team missions for ages!"
"Yes, but as Chuunin, we're not technically qualified for A-ranks, even though a lot of our older missions turned into higher ranks," Tsunade argued, "That's why according to protocol, we required a Jounin captain or ANBU-"
"I'm telling you, Tsunade-hime," Jiraiya insisted, "that was the mission! I'm willing to bet on it!"
Tsunade rolled her eyes at this, and turned to Orochimaru, who was leaning against the door in silence.
"Can't hear a word of his report," Orochimaru said softly, "Even with chakra enhancements… the door must have some sort of ninjutsu blockage seal…"
"Damn sensei, doesn't trust anyone," Jiraiya grouched, "Kami-sama, who takes so long to give one freaking mission report!"
The three members of Team Seven had been waiting impatiently outside the Hokage's office for the past thirty minutes.
Tsunade's stomach was fluttering with anxiety, Jiraiya was more jumpy than usual, and even Orochimaru seemed slightly on edge.
When the door finally opened, all three of them froze, as a tall ANBU with a bird's mask calmly walked out; he had been their captain for the mission.
He paused for a moment, surveying them.
"You're still here, I see," he said evenly, "Well enough, the Hokage would like a word with you."
Tsunade inhaled sharply, as Jiraiya practically yanked her and Orochimaru into the room, slamming the door behind them.
"Well, my students," Hiruzen stated, threading his hands together on his desk.
His head was tilted down, and Tsunade couldn't make out his expression under the Hokage hat.
"Oh come, sensei, enough with the drama, spit it out already!" Jiraiya exploded, unable to control himself.
When Hiruzen looked up, his eyes were twinkling and there was a proud smile on his face.
"You know as well as I do what that mission was for, and all three of you proved yourselves impeccably. Congratulations, you've been promoted to Jounin."
"YES!" Jiraiya shouted, jumping up and pumping his fist in the air, "I knew it!"
"Oh, thank goodness!" Tsunade shrieked, happiness bubbling within her.
"Finally," Orochimaru said, though even he was unable to control a smile from making its way onto his face.
"Group hug, guys!" Jiraiya beamed at his teammates, his arms outstretched.
Tsunade hugged him quickly, pulling away before he could cop a feel.
"Don't you dare," she snapped at him, though she was still smiling.
Orochimaru didn't partake in the group hug, though didn't verbally object to Jiraiya affably slinging an arm around his shoulder.
"I'm proud of you, all of you," Hiruzen said, "Dinner's on me, tonight."
"Yes!" Jiraiya pumped his fist again, before looking shrewdly at Hiruzen, "Since we're Jounin now, you'll buy us drinks, right?"
Hiruzen considered this for a moment, before smiling slightly.
"I suppose a shot each would be alright, considering you're Jounin, and sixteen..."
"Just one?" Jiraiya shot back, "Aw, sensei, you're no fun…"
"Don't push it," Hiruzen warned him, and Jiraiya smirked to himself.
What Hiruzen didn't know was they had drank sake, over a year ago, at the age of fifteen; their first time.
Orochimaru had consumed about three shots, Jiraiya himself six and Tsunade…
Tsunade beat them both with about nine.
Tsunade was also remembering the same incident, flushing to herself.
That was the first time she'd gotten drunk.
It was also the first time that she and Jiraiya had almost –
She shook her head, clearing the memory away. That had never happened. It was best forgotten, a near-mistake that fortunately, had been stopped by her timely passing out.
This time, for sure, she would keep her limits when she drank. She wouldn't lose control of her senses, because another such moment with Jiraiya would be unacceptable.
"Cheers!" Jiraiya held up his shot glass, and Tsunade and Orochimaru clinked theirs to his.
They gulped down the sake, their faces transmogrifying into the usual post-alcohol-drinking expressions of disgust.
"The first sip is always the worse," he said wisely.
Orochimaru, Jiraiya and Tsunade all exchanged smirks at this.
"It's – it's terrible," Tsunade lied after a moment.
Sure, it wasn't particularly delicious, but like the first time, she'd developed a certain affinity for it.
"Aren't you having any, sensei?" Jiraiya asked.
"Oh, of course not," Hiruzen shook his head, "I have a meeting with the elders. Couldn't possibly show up to it drunk, they'd throw a fit! Besides, no Hokage should drink on duty, that's disgraceful."
"I bet if Tsunade-chan were ever made Hokage, she would totally do it," Jiraiya snickered.
"Shut up!" Tsunade smacked him, "I'm never going to be Hokage, and if I were, I certainly wouldn't drink on the job!
Hiruzen didn't permit them to order any more shots, and the rest of the dinner passed enjoyably.
Before the bill arrived, however, a young messenger came up with a scroll. Hiruzen read it, and scowled.
"I'm afraid I'll have to rush," he said apologetically, "Something's come up in the council. I'll see you three tomorrow. Congratulations, again!"
He left the money with Orochimaru and disappeared quickly after.
"Brilliant," Jiraiya whispered gleefully, rubbing his hands together, "Brilliant, he's gone and he's left the money."
"No," Orochimaru shook his head, practically reading Jiraiya's mind, "You can't. Not with sensei's money, that would be wrong."
"Aw, come on, don't be a killjoy," Jiraiya wheedled, "It could very well be used to pay for dessert, and you know he wouldn't mind…"
"I won't let you-"
"We're Jounin, damn it! We deserve to have some fun!"
And before Orochimaru could object further, Jiraiya had ordered more shots.
"To us, for finally making Jounin," Jiraiya announced, and they clinked glasses a second time that night, before chugging down the liquid.
"For finally being able to drink like this legally," Tsunade giggled, on their third team shot.
"For – for – team bonds – and stuff – and bastard getting Yondaime once – once sensei retires," Jiraiya said, looking a little dazed as the sake began to hit him.
"I'm not-" Orochimaru began, but Jiraiya shoved the stuff down his throat before he could complete his sentence.
"Jack-ass," Orochimaru coughed, his eyes watering slightly.
He managed to swallow most of the sake, though some of it sloshed down onto his chin. Orochimaru flicked out his long tongue and lapped it up in a smooth motion.
Tsunade watched, slightly transfixed.
"Si-ick!" Jiraiya whined, "Stop doing that stupid jutsu!"
"What's your problem?" Orochimaru glared at him.
"You used the remodificate-jutsu-thingy to make your tongue long," Jiraiya scrunched his nose, "That's so gross!"
"You find all my jutsu gross," Orochimaru pointed out.
"Well this one is gross and useless," Jiraiya shot back, "What's the point - of having a super-long tongue that moves, you freak?"
"I didn't do it intentionally," Orochimaru admitted, "It's one of the side-effects of the jutsu… I can pretty much extend any part of myself that I want to now, it's sort of spread…"
"Any part?" Jiraiya sniggered, an evil glint entering his eyes, "So say you wanted to-"
"Don't go there," Orochimaru warned him.
Jiraiya mumbled something along the lines of 'width matters more'n length 'nyways', which resulted in Orochimaru nearly stabbing his eye out with a fork.
"But Oro-kun," Tsunade wondered, "If your tongue is so long, how will you make out with a girl properly?"
She gasped, realizing what she'd asked out loud and covered her hands over her mouth.
That was, by no standards, an appropriate question to ask a teammate. Clearly, the alcohol was clouding her judgment and Tsunade regretted it, though she was curious for his answer.
Both Orochimaru and Jiraiya were looking at her oddly.
"I've never really – thought of that as a concern," Orochimaru said carefully after a moment, tilting his head and surveying her.
Tsunade deflated slightly, but didn't show it.
Jiraiya however, wasn't one to keep his opinions to himself.
"Like any girl's going to want - having your tongue of a snake – shoved down her throat!"
Orochimaru ignored this, and Tsunade secretly thought it wouldn't be so bad, kissing someone with such a long and flexible tongue, before she immediately banished the treacherous thoughts from her mind.
She couldn't be – not Orochimaru!
Fortunately, the need to continue this awkward conversation was averted, much to Tsunade's relief, by the arrival of their fifth round of shots.
She eagerly grabbed a shot glass, hyper-aware of Orochimaru's gaze on her.
"For Katsu-chan! And Gama! And Manda!" Tsunade squealed, cheeks flushed, "'Cause they're the bestest animal summons ever-"
"Best," Orochimaru corrected.
"And we – couldn't've done that last mission – without 'em…" Tsunade went on, squeezing her eyes shut as she chugged.
An amused waiter placed the sixth round of shot's on Team Seven's table.
"I'm done," Orochimaru announced, getting up and staggering slightly.
"What? No!" Tsunade whined, "Don't leave us!"
"Yo, but your sixth shot - already called for it," Jiraiya grumped, "Get back here!"
"No, no," Orochimaru shook his head, his green eyes glassy, "Really – I'm done. I'm feeling – I'm going home…"
"Are you – are you sick?" Tsunade asked worriedly, "'Cause I know – medical – stuff…"
"I'm fine," Orochimaru said, putting a hand to his head, "And you can have my shot, Ts'nade-hime."
"Tch, told you – teme's a - a lightweight," Jiraiya said derisively, shaking his own head slightly.
"But – but – don't go," Tsunade slurred, "We'll miss you!"
"I'm not taking - care of you two again," Orochimaru shook his head, "Just don't get – too sloshed okay… I'll see you at – training tomorrow…"
And he stumbled out of the restaurant, far less graceful than he usually was, leaving Tsunade and Jiraiya.
"So, princess, just – you an' sexy ol' me, huh?" Jiraiya waggled his eyebrows, "Lot like a date I'll say…"
"Shut it," Tsunade glared at him, downing her sixth shot, and slamming it down on the table.
"Hey – that was quick," Jiraiya observed, handing her Orochimaru's shot, "Come on then – one more…"
Tsunade lifted it, and Jiraiya leaned in, smirking.
"This one's for us, Ts'nade-hime," he winked at her, "For us and – for what – almost could've happened last time…"
Tsunade drank the shot and then narrowed her eyes.
"Wait – what – what do you mean?" she asked, her head muddled.
The alcohol was clouding her brain, and she wasn't quite sure until a sudden memory hit her.
A memory of Jiraiya's hand on her waist, his breath on her lips, as they stood, up against a wall, waiting…
"No!" Tsunade cried, eyes widening, "You said – the next day – at training you said – you'd forgotten – you said you didn't remember – anything!"
"I lied," Jiraiya said simply, before grinning.
"You – you – you –" Tsunade sputtered, her head reeling, "No…"
For over a year, they had pretended like it hadn't happened. It had been easy enough for him, she'd supposed, since he had claimed he hadn't remembered anything of the night when she'd asked him.
"Nothing?! Nothing?!" Tsunade shrieked, her hands on her hips.
Jiraiya scratched his head, and then looked at her flatly.
"Argh!" Tsunade clenched her fists, before glaring at him and he shrugged back.
"Hey, it's not my fault!"
"Tell me the last thing you remember!" Tsunade ordered.
"Um – I think we were on sensei's head – talking about, um… teme running for Hokage?"
"That's all?" Tsunade asked, shaking slightly, "You remember – nothing else? Nothing more – after?"
Jiraiya looked at her oddly.
"Was there something I should remember?"
"No," Tsunade said quickly, "No, no, no, nothing at all!"
She didn't know whether or not to be relieved or disappointed that he didn't remember.
"You lied to me!" Tsunade cried, "You – you lying liar! You lied!"
"I did," Jiraiya nodded.
"For over a year! Why?!"
"Didn't wanna – make stuff – awkward," Jiraiya slurred, "What w's – the point?"
"You lied!" Tsunade repeated, attempting to glare at him, but a part of her muddled, inebriated mind was still unable to get over the fact that he'd hidden it.
He'd remembered the almost-kiss. So why had he pretended to forget? Did he think it was a mistake too? He couldn't have – he was Jiraiya and she was sure that he liked her and he was always asking her out. Why would he pretend to forget the one time she showed that she might have liked him, not that she did like him.
Tsunade bought a hand to her head.
"M'head hurts," she muttered, scowling at Jiraiya, "Lying baka."
"I'm – sorry?" Jiraiya offered, and he placed a hand on the back of her head, just above her neck, his fingers moving through her hair, massaging.
It felt good, very good, and in her alcohol-induced haze, Tsunade didn't want him to stop.
"Baka," she repeated, though with a lot less vehemence this time.
He just continued stroking her hair, his fingers rubbing gently against her scalp.
"One last shot – b'fore I drop you home?" Jiraiya murmured, his dark eyes watching her carefully.
Tsunade blushed, and smiled at him.
"Mmk…" she agreed.
They stumbled their way home after that.
Or rather, Tsunade stumbled. Jiraiya, though drunk, was relatively steady, and supported her, with one arm securely around her waist.
"Where are we going?" Tsunade asked, "Can't go – can't go home… not now... not when m'tipsy…"
"You're way more'n – jus' tipsy, Ts'nade-chan," Jiraiya pointed out.
"Yeah an' N'waki can't see me like this!" Tsunade giggled, "M's'pos'd to be his role model…"
"As if," Jiraiya laughed, and her attempt to punch him was largely ineffectual.
He stopped suddenly, turning around to face her.
Tsunade stumbled forward for a moment, her nose bumping against his, and he placed his hands on her waist to steady her.
She stared at him out of wide eyes – they were nearly the same height now, considering she was wearing six-inch stilettos, though he was still a small bit taller.
Her heart was beating rapidly, and she tried steadying her breathing, hoping he wouldn't notice.
"Careful, princess," he murmured, not making a move to increase or reduce their sudden closeness.
"We should – um – go somewhere else," Tsunade muttered, a blush creeping to her cheeks.
"Where d'you wanna go?"
"Um… jus' follow me."
Tsunade took his hand, without even thinking, and led him ahead. He let her, his fingers curling over hers.
She felt a pleasurable leaping feeling in her stomach, as if Jiraiya's precious toad summons were bounding around in it.
His hand was rough and calloused, but it was warm, larger than hers, and it closed around her own comfortably.
Somehow, in their drunken state, they found themselves on the little bridge that overlooked the river. It was a quite place that night, peaceful and they'd be alone, uninterrupted.
The sound of running water and crickets chirping was the only thing that broke the tranquil silence.
Jiraiya's white hair seemed silver in the reflected moonlight.
Tsunade drunkenly wondered if this was romantic, or if he'd think she was leading him on, or if he'd try to make a move on her.
He didn't, he just leaned against the side of the bridge, his arms resting on the railings.
She imitated his position next to him, her shoulders touching his.
She noticed, from the corner of his eyes, how his muscles curved out against his sleeve, how his defined chest rose and fell with his breathing.
"Enjoying the view – princess?" Jiraiya slid his eyes over to hers, and smirked.
Tsunade blushed, rolled her eyes, but looked away.
"In your dreams," she muttered, realizing full well that Jiraiya had caught her checking him out.
"This is like…" Jiraiya began, but then trailed off, shaking his head slightly, more to himself than to her, and he resumed staring out into the water.
"Like?" Tsunade pressed him, inching slightly closer to him, so that their forearms brushed.
If he'd noticed the small, deliberate contact, he didn't shy away, or react in anyway.
"Nah, it's nothing," Jiraiya murmured, and Tsunade wondered why he was suddenly acting so distant, when she'd expected nothing but flirting.
They were alone, weren't they? They were drunk. She was sure he'd try and take advantage of that.
But he wasn't, and Tsunade was wondering why she felt disappointed.
The truth was, she wanted him to touch her. She wanted him to place his arms on her waist and give her the feeling of toad summons in her stomach. She wanted to know what it would be like, if he kissed her, just once…
Ever since their last 'almost-kiss', Tsunade had always wondered what it would be like.
Her drunken mind was directing her wants, her desires, and Tsunade didn't even pause to think, taken over by a reckless, excited feeling.
"Can't be n'thing," she slurred, "Tell me."
"…what?" Jiraiya seemed to have lost track of their conversation.
Tsunade rolled her eyes.
"You said – this was like – something…"
"Yeah," Jiraiya said after a moment, "Just this dream I had… but it's different…"
"Different how?" Tsunade prompted, allowing her hand to brush against his, which was dangling over the railing of the bridge.
She felt a little spark of electricity at that touch, and Jiraiya didn't move his hand away.
"You wouldn't want to know," Jiraiya said, smirking again.
"Think I would," she murmured, slowly, deliberately, trailing her fingers over his.
And the Jiraiya turned his head suddenly, to look at her, and his eyes were dark, and full of something she'd never seen.
She felt a thrill of anticipation, as he inhaled sharply, and then his fingers were entwined with hers, and his arm was around her waist, pulling her to him so that his lips were just centimeters from hers.
"You sure – 'bout that – princess?" he asked, his dark eyes searching hers.
Tsunade's heart was pounding, and at that moment, her inebriation, lack of physical intimacy and hormones (because face it, Jiraiya was good-looking) had all transformed her brain into a large puddle of want.
It wasn't exactly an affirmative, but it wasn't a negative either, and she hadn't pushed him off, and that was all Jiraiya needed.
A moment later, his lips covered hers.
Tsunade's heart gave its wildest leap yet, and Jiraiya kissed her, tenderly at first, his hand squeezing her waist gently.
And then she kissed him back, exhilaration flooding through her body, making her nerves tingle, as their lips slid against each others.
Her hands found their way to his hard chest, her nails scraping slightly against it, and it didn't take much more than that for Jiraiya to maneuver her slightly around, until her back was pressed up against the side of the bridge, and he was pressed up against her.
He was warm and hard, and Tsunade gasped slightly as he bit the bottom of her lip, and he took the opportunity to kiss her more thoroughly.
Both his hands were wrapped around her waist now, and they kissed furiously, breaking apart for air, only to dive back in once more.
And then Jiraiya made the mistake of allowing one of his wandering hands a little too low, and he cupped her bottom, his fingers curling under the hem of her short skirt.
And that sent a sudden shock through her, not entirely unpleasant, but enough to jerk her away from her drunken make-out session.
Tsunade gasped, her eyes widening as she realized what they'd just done, logic and sense beginning to ebb back to her.
"Wh-what happened?" Jiraiya was looking at her dazedly, but she didn't dare meet his eyes as she pulled away and shoved him off her, none too gently.
"Ts'nade-chan?" he asked, confused, but she just ran, as fast as she could.
She heard him calling after her, but she still ran, away from the bridge, away from him, away from the inerasable thing that had just transpired between them, attempting to pump chakra to her feet to increase her speed.
It didn't work too well, but her perfect chakra control was still passable when she was drunk, and the drunkenness was quickly fading away, perhaps out of shock.
Before she knew it, she was home. She took the window instead of the door, and the first thing she did once she was in her room was finish the entire pitcher of water that was placed on her dresser.
And then Tsunade collapsed on her bed, her eyes wide, her face flushed, and her heart still pounding as rapidly as it had been when he was kissing her.
"Fuck," she swore aloud.
"Tsunade-chan! Your teammate is here!"
Tsunade sighed to herself at her mother's voice.
She knew she couldn't hide from him forever, but really, it had only been two days.
She'd been hoping for a week, at the least. Since they were Jounin, that shouldn't have been too hard.
Orochimaru, for one, she hadn't seen in the last two days either, and didn't expect to for another three. He had been given a week-long solo mission as Jounin, and had embarked upon it immediately.
Tsunade had pestered Hiruzen for one as well, sneaking over to the Hokage tower first thing in the morning, so not to bump into Jiraiya; she knew his schedule and nine-o-clock was usually his breakfast-time.
But there had been no solo Jounin missions, or missions of any kind at that moment. Orochimaru had snagged the last one, and of course the Hokage had entrusted it to him.
That was one of the few disadvantages of peacetime.
Tsunade had muttered something about favoritism, and the Hokage had offered her a solo C-rank, but she refused it, and buried herself in the library behind medical scrolls for the next two days.
And now Jiraiya had finally gotten tired of waiting and had sought her out, no doubt, to discuss what had transpired between them recently.
The drunken kiss.
That one drunken kiss that would forever taint their friendship, and Tsunade's own otherwise impeccable track record.
It was a mistake, one that couldn't be undone, and it was with a heavy heart that Tsunade eventually trudged to the front door.
His bright, beaming face only made her want to bang her head repeatedly with one of her medical textbooks.
"Do you want to join me for lunch?" he asked, smiling at her charmingly, "My treat!"
"I – I –" Tsunade fumbled for a few moments, wondering how she could get herself out of this, out of this entire situation.
A situation, which she knew in all honesty, she was equally to blame for.
"Come on," Jiraiya urged, "I said I'm treating!"
"I'll come," Tsunade relented after a moment, "But we're splitting the bill."
"Um – okay," Jiraiya raised an eyebrow, and Tsunade followed him out onto the street.
"So – haven't seen you around in awhile," Jiraiya said conversationally.
"It's only been two days, Jiraiya," Tsunade sighed.
"Well, considering that I usually see you and Oro-teme for almost every hour every day, that's quite awhile," Jiraiya said.
"…true," Tsunade admitted, "But I guess that's what happens once you're Jounin… you don't always stick to your old team all the time."
Jiraiya stopped suddenly, turning around to face her, his eyes narrow.
"What?" Tsunade asked defensively.
"That's not true," Jiraiya said slowly, "A lot of teams still stay together even after Jounin, and take missions together. We very well could if we wanted to, and we're going to continue training together too, Tsunade-hime."
"I thought most Jounin were put into mixed teams for missions, to you know, expand their horizons."
It wasn't a lie, but Tsunade knew as well as everyone else did, that nobody in the village was going to needlessly split Team Seven, Jounin or not. They were skilled and their teamwork was reputed. The Hokage, their own sensei, would most likely keep them as a team for joint missions, even once Jounin. He'd said so during their celebratory dinner. There was no need to break something that was working so well.
"Don't kid yourself, Tsunade-chan. We're one unit, me, you and Oro-teme. A promotion isn't going to change that," Jiraiya said.
"Well Orochimaru took a solo mission," Tsunade pointed out, "And my medical training has gotten a lot more intense-"
"Orochimaru was given the mission by sensei, he didn't go asking for it," Jiraiya snapped suddenly, before looking at her, "Unlike some people…"
"What do you mean?"
"Sensei told me, Tsunade-chan. You specifically asked for a solo mission."
"So? What does that have to do with anything? Solo missions are prestigious!"
"I'm not stupid, princess. I know you, and you're not one to let a promotion get in the way of anything, especially Team Seven. You've been avoiding me, and we both know what it's about." Jiraiya stated bluntly.
"I – well I suppose I have," Tsunade finally admitted, not seeing the point of dodging around the topic anymore, "And about that – it never happened, Jiraiya."
"I recall that it did," Jiraiya shot back, ignoring her glare and smirking, "And if I'm not mistaken and I know I'm not, I recall you quite liking it."
"I was drunk and it was a mistake," Tsunade said monotonously, repeating the words she'd been running over in her head over the past few days, "Let's forget about it."
"Tsunade-chan," Jiraiya suddenly took her hands in his own, "How can I forget about it? After all this time, you finally – you – "
"Jiraiya!" Tsunade hissed, wrenching her hands away, "Don't do that in public!"
"You didn't seem to care before," Jiraiya pressed, "You wanted to do more than just hold hands-"
"I was drunk!"
"So was I. That's not an excuse anymore."
"It was a mistake, a slip of judgment-"
"Not the first time you've had such a 'slip' princess-"
"Well it meant nothing!"
"It didn't seem like it meant nothing to you, the way you were kissi-"
"Shut up!" Tsunade yelped, clenching her fists, and Jiraiya winced slightly at her sudden vehemence.
"Look, Jiraiya I –" Tsunade ground her teeth, "What do you want me to do?"
Jiraiya took a step forward, his eyes never leaving hers as he stared at her with a blazing intensity.
"I want you to admit that you felt something. I want you to stop hiding from me, and stop pretending it didn't happen. I want you to go out with me, and be my girlfriend."
He smiled at her after that, and it wasn't one of his lecherous, pervert smiles. It was a real, genuine smile, and his eyes were shining with hope.
"Jiraiya," Tsunade said softly, "Please just forget it-"
"I can't forget it," Jiraiya murmured, "Not when I've wanted – not when I've waited for years for this to happen. I always chased after you even though I thought you were a lost cause, but after that night – Tsunade-chan you must feel something for me, because otherwise, you wouldn't have-"
"No! No – it's not –"
"If you want time, if you're not ready, I understand. I can give you time, I can wait-" he continued earnestly.
"Jiraiya, stop it," Tsunade shook her head, her eyes stinging slightly, "Please stop it. Don't. Just – don't say anything."
His face was filled with so much hope, and she knew she was hurting him and she hated to be the one to wipe that beautiful smile off of his face.
But she couldn't. They couldn't. It wasn't possible and she wouldn't let it happen. They were teammates and they wouldn't go further than that, and that's how it should be. It would mess up team dynamics, and Orochimaru was there as well.
She told him all of this, wondering for a moment who she was trying to convince more: Jiraiya or herself.
"What does snake-boy have to do with anything?" Jiraiya asked, crossing his arms.
"When did I say it was about him?!" Tsunade retorted, wondering why he would chose to pick on that, out of everything she'd said.
"Look, if you want to take it slow, we can take it slow, if you want to keep it a secret, I'm fine with that too-"
"I don't want anything!" Tsunade shrieked, before taking a deep breath.
"Jiraiya," she said in a steely voice, "It was a mistake. I don't like you that way, and I'm sorry if I led you on. It was a drunken lapse in judgment and we should just try to forget it and move on. It's never going to happen, and I keep telling you to give up on me, there are tons of girls out there and you really should just-"
"Don't tell me to give up on you," Jiraiya told her, his voice just as steely, "Because I'm not going to, especially now. I knew I never had much of a chance before, but that didn't stop me from chasing you. And now, after this – I don't believe that you feel nothing, in fact, I don't believe a word you're saying. You're just trying to hold it off for some stupid, noble, feminist reason-"
"I'm not!" Tsunade cried out in frustration, "I just don't like you like that! I'm not attracted to you, I never have been and I never will be! Why don't you just get that through your thick skull?!"
Her words were harsh, and she regretted them, as Jiraiya flinched.
He whistled lowly.
"You've always known how to hit where it hurts, Tsunade-hime," he muttered, and the smile on his face had disappeared.
"I'm not going to lie to you. I don't feel any attraction or anything more than platonic, friendly affection towards you," Tsunade lied, "It was a drunken mistake and it won't happen again."
"Well, maybe you don't now," Jiraiya admitted, before he lit up again, "But that doesn't mean you never will, in the future? I can wait, and I can sure as heck make you like me."
"I'd like to see you try that," Tsunade snorted.
"Oh, don't worry, princess," Jiraiya winked at her, "I will."
Tsunade waited, for him to say more, before scowling at him.
"Look," Jiraiya said seriously, "I get that you don't want it, or aren't ready right now for whatever reason. If you want to stay just teammates, just friends, I'm okay with that as well."
He then placed his hands on her shoulders, and leaned down slightly, locking his eyes with hers, and Tsunade shivered, in spite of herself.
"But don't expect me to stop trying, because I can't change my feelings for you. I can, however, try to change yours, and that's what I'm going to do."
"I don't know what to do with you… you're impossible…" Tsunade said exasperatedly and looked at the ground, unable to meet his piercing gaze, "You shouldn't though. You'll only fail. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize, Tsunade-hime," Jiraiya said, shaking her slightly till she looked back up at him, "It's not your fault, that's just how I am. You said what you had to say, but despite that, I really like you. I'm never going to give up on us, because that's how I am, and that's my ninja way!"
He grinned at her broadly, and smiled back, a little sadly.
"Well, I don't know what else to say," she stated, unable to bring herself to reject him further, "Are we still on for lunch?"
"It's a date," Jiraiya agreed, winking.
"It's really not," Tsunade muttered, but followed him regardless.
Incidentally, she had forgotten her wallet, so he ended up paying for the both of them anyways. She promised she would pay him back, but he waved her off saying it wasn't necessary.
She never did end up paying him back; if there was one thing Tsunade Senju would never be particularly good at, it was paying her debts.
Things with Jiraiya resumed normalcy after that; or as normal as they could get.
They maintained their 'just friends' relationship, and he didn't try anything too risky with her.
He gushed and complimented, bought her flowers a few times, showered her with love letters; and though Tsunade found it all a mix of excessive creepiness and flattery, she learned to bear with it overtime. After all, she'd gotten used to his flirting, and as long as he didn't bring up the kiss, she could ignore the rest of his shenanigans.
Orochimaru, once back from his mission, if he had noticed anything strange, or rather, stranger than usual, about his two teammates, chose not to comment on his observations. He was the same with both Jiraiya and Tsunade, and the trio continued to train together and take missions together, just as Jiraiya had said they would.
Team Seven wasn't going to fall apart, not just yet.
Tsunade often wondered if Jiraiya had told Orochimaru about what had happened between them. She didn't dare ask either one of them, but she suspected that he had. Jiraiya told Orochimaru most things, and even when he didn't, Orochimaru was usually too perceptive to not pick them up.
It bothered her, the idea of Orochimaru knowing that she and Jiraiya had kissed. Tsunade wasn't sure why, but her dark-haired teammate's opinion and approval of her were extremely important to her. She didn't want Orochimaru thinking she was some sort of drunken slut who hooked up with her teammate. She also didn't want him to think that she had feelings for Jiraiya, though she wasn't sure why the prospect of him thinking that bothered her to such an extent.
"Oro-kun!" Tsunade was pleasantly surprised to run into her teammate in the Hokage's private library.
Tsunade, of course, had access to it; particularly for the scrolls regarding more complex medical ninjutsu, and she visited it almost every other day.
Neither Jiraiya nor Orochimaru, however, had ever taken much inclination in spending time there. Orochimaru usually asked Hiruzen for the scrolls he wanted, and Jiraiya had never been much of a reader.
Yet, there Orochimaru was, sitting amidst a large pile of scrolls, clearly engrossed in something.
"Tsunade-hime," Orochimaru greeted, looking up from the scroll he was reading, "I thought I may see you here."
Tsunade's heart gave a little flutter, though she chastised herself mentally. Just because he'd considered the notion of bumping into her didn't mean that he'd come especially in the hopes of meeting her and it was foolish of her to think otherwise.
Still, Tsunade hadn't really spent much time alone with Orochimaru in quite awhile, so she settled down on the couch next to him with her own scrolls, before eyeing what he was reading.
"Seals?" she asked curiously, studying the patterns on the paper.
"Seals," he responded affirmatively, his green eyes focused again on the paper.
"Why though, all of a sudden?" Tsunade asked.
"I just never appreciated how useful they could be," Orochimaru murmured, rolling his sleeves back to show the black seals he had permanently etched onto his arms; they were summoning seals for his snake-techniques.
Tsunade tore her eyes away from his toned forearm and back to the scroll.
"I thought it would be interesting to see if I could develop my own seal," Orochimaru went on, "Not for summoning anything though."
"Then for what?"
"Chakra?" Tsunade raised an eyebrow, "What do you mean?"
"Sealing your own chakra, inside yourself, or another human being," Orochimaru said, "Hypothetically, it should be possible, given that the nature of sealing requires chakra, and the jinchuuriki seals are used to seal vast amounts of chakra."
"Yes, but those are used to seal entire beings composed entirely of chakra," Tsunade pointed out, "And tailed beast chakra differs from human chakra. Why would you want to do that anyway? Seal your own chakra? It makes no sense."
"I was wondering if it's possible to seal away a portion of the chakra of a living shinobi in another shinobi or object, but allow that shinobi to function and live normally at the same time. And the implications of the same; like would the chakra-source experience the same sentiments as the container? And would the container be able to use up the foreign chakra at will?"
"Why – why would you want to know that?" Tsunade asked, confused, "Why would anyone want to seal a part of themselves into another person? Or into their own body – where's the point in that?"
"Well, Tsunade-hime, why do most elite shinobi die?" Orochimaru asked.
"You're asking a medic that question," Tsunade smirked, "Do you really want the answer? It'll take hours."
"The basic answer," Orochimaru said, "Is this: they run out of chakra. They don't have enough chakra to fight back or beat an opponent, so they are defeated. They suffer from wounds, which are fatal, and their bodies cannot heal in time, and even if they could, they lack the chakra necessary to stimulate such a rapid healing process. Or, they simply die from chakra exhaustion. Most deaths, whatever their form – unless it's a clear decapitation, but you have to be a pretty low-rate shinobi to allow someone to cut through your defenses so cleanly, and in that case, you're better off dead anyways –"
Tsunade shook her head at his arrogance, but conceded that he had a point; most elite shinobi did not just die from a clean battle wound. She could safely say that she, Orochimaru and Jiraiya would not die simply from a physical injury. They wouldn't get so badly physically injured unless they had been stripped of all their other defenses and exhausted to the point where-
"They don't have enough chakra left in their bodies, to defend, to fight, to heal, to run away. A lack of chakra, at the end of the day, is what is most fatal for a shinobi in a mission or battle," Orochimaru concluded simply.
"Your point?" Tsunade asked, though she was intrigued; as a medic, she had been so caught up in the intricate causes of death, the specific damages to the human body, that she had never thought of death so simply.
"My point," Orochimaru said silkily, "Is that – if one were to have a near-endless reserve of chakra, sealed or stored in an external or internal location, which was easily accessible and could be controlled by them – they would be virtually indestructible in battle."
"Well, of course," Tsunade said, "But nobody can have – oh…"
She trailed off, looking at the scroll in his hand.
"Humans take different amounts of time to recover their chakra levels – some take days, some take weeks… but unless they have completely been driven to exhaustion, they do recover," Orochimaru said.
"So you're saying," Tsunade gasped, "That the days we're not using our chakra and we don't have missions-"
"If we could just store it somewhere," Orochimaru continued, "Or rather, seal it somewhere-"
"We could end up building a near limitless supply!" Tsunade said excitedly, "Oro-kun, that's genius!"
"I still don't know if it's possible," Orochimaru said quietly, "Theoretically it makes sense, but I much prefer the idea of sealing chakra into another living being than an object-"
"Because objects are more likely to get lost or destroyed," Tsunade nodded in understanding, "So if you could seal chakra in yourself-"
"You would have an immense back-up supply, available to call upon at any time," Orochimaru nodded, "Though you would have to exercise prudence regarding when you use it."
"Chakra seals," Tsunade muttered, "So that's what you're researching. Chakra seals… I can ask my grandmother, but I don't think it's ever actually been done before, not in the way you're suggesting."
"It hasn't," Orochimaru said, pausing for a moment, "I want to create one?"
"…create one?" Tsunade's eyes widened, "That would be brilliant but – how will you do it?"
"Well, I've started by researching," Orochimaru shrugged, and Tsunade placed a hand on his arm in excitement, before realizing what she'd done.
His eyes slid up to meet hers, and Tsunade blushed for a moment. His skin was cool and smooth under her fingers, and she retracted her hand.
"Could I – could I help?" she asked, feeling a little shy.
Orochimaru smirked at her, or perhaps it was closer to a genuine smile this time.
"Of course you can, princess."
Thereafter, a sort of habit developed between them, one which would last for many years. They both had a penchant for reading and researching, and they found each other's company both intellectually stimulating and enlightening.
Tsunade had a vast knowledge about the human body and anatomy, and Orochimaru was keenly interested in the same. Orochimaru, on the other had, was largely knowledgeable about a lot of things; chakra, summonings, seals, jutsu, kekkai genkai…
Tsunade found that she really enjoyed the late nights she and Orochimaru spent alone in the library, multiple times a week, either just reading scrolls in companionable silence, sitting together on that same couch that overlooked the village below; or engaging in discussions and debates over the human anatomy, chakra and whether a particularly novel idea of Orochimaru's would be anatomically and biologically possible or not.
The pair had been occupied with chakra seals for the past few months. Though Orochimaru was initially more interested in sealing one's chakra into another human being (Tsunade couldn't figure out for the life of her why), he gradually seemed to give up that idea to focus more on the idea of sealing one's chakra into oneself, something Tsunade herself was particularly keen on.
She could just imagine how helpful having backup chakra reserves would be, when she was healing people.
After a point in time, Orochimaru even began accompanying her to the hospital and the labs, which she frequented often; either for testing samples of blood or human tissues, or for some other medical reason. Tsunade enjoyed his company, not only because she was flattered that he spent so much time with her alone on a weekly basis, but also because he was extremely interesting to talk to.
Though some of his ideas were radical and made her laugh, she could tell that he had a brilliant mind. And he benefitted from her medical knowledge as well. In fact, Tsunade was the one who gradually began to teach him the workings of the human body. He would watch her intently as she dissected the bodies of patients during surgeries, or conducted autopsies on corpses. He even asked her if she could teach him, and Tsunade was more than happy how to teach him the handling of various medical weapons, and the other scientific equipment she used in the lab. He'd be a great scientist one day, she knew it… and she would be proud to have been the one who had taught him at the start.
He was naturally gifted and a quick learner, and he picked it all up very quickly. One day she even let him conduct one of the autopsies, when she was sure nobody else was around. He had some sort of sick and inexplicable fascination with dead bodies, and she shied away from them, autopsies being her most unpleasant task as a medic. Thus, she was more than happy to supervise him as he fulfilled her duties. Of course, he pulled it off flawlessly.
"You'd make an excellent medic," Tsunade remarked, and Orochimaru smirked at her in a way that made her heart flutter.
"I have an excellent teacher," he said smoothly.
She turned red at this, and turned around to pick up a blood sample, which she started fidgeting with to make it seem like she was doing something other than inwardly swooning at his praise.
Seconds later, she felt him behind her, his chest brushing against her back, and the test tube slipped out of her hands.
She flailed for a moment, but he was quicker than her, and his arm reached around her, his fingers closing over the test tube at the same time as hers.
Tsunade breathed in sharply, and it felt like she'd been momentarily electrocuted where his fingers had touched hers.
"Careful princess," he murmured, and she could feel his breath on her ear – he was standing way too close, "Don't want to spill any unnecessary blood."
And then his cool fingers retracted, and he leaned around her to grab a syringe, before he was back at the surgery table, leaving her wondering if she'd imagined it all.
She could never tell with Orochimaru, whether things were deliberate or coincidental.
And for her, that was the greatest part of the thrill.
Though she had been spending a lot more time alone with Orochimaru, Tsunade could not say the same about Jiraiya. Through the months, he continued bombarding her with date requests, all of which she turned down on principle.
It didn't seem to discourage him; if anything, Jiraiya was convinced that she was playing 'hard-to-get', and only incensed by the idea of a challenge.
Though Tsunade knew that Jiraiya divulged most of his personal life with Orochimaru, she had a hunch that Orochimaru didn't do the same. As far as she knew, Jiraiya was completely unaware about the study-sessions his other two teammates spent in the library, or at the lab. Technically, neither had a reason to tell him, since they weren't doing anything wrong, just researching, and science and anatomy had never been Jiraiya's interests. But a part of Tsunade was still strangely gleeful at the prospect that she and Orochimaru shared a secret – however stupid and pointless that secret was – which nobody else (unless you counted the various other medics who had seen the two together) knew about.
Another part of her felt bad, as if she was hiding something from her teammate. But then, what was there to hide? It's not like she and Orochimaru were hooking up, though that very notion made her blush uncontrollably.
Besides, they met Jiraiya every day – for lunch, for dinner, for physical training, and for missions. The only thing Tsunade deliberately avoided were romantic dates – and, once the months rolled by, birthdays.
Since they had pretty much been given the permission to drink by Hiruzen, Tsunade knew that the next few birthday dinners would not be without alcohol.
And her last two experiences with alcohol told her that it was not a beverage she should combine with the company of her teammates, especially in her currently muddled and often treacherous state of mind.
So Tsunade make it a point to scrounge for missions starting end-July, and she managed to procure a solo mission the day before her 17th birthday. Jiraiya had been disappointed that they wouldn't be able to celebrate and Orochimaru had been neutral. Tsunade, however, was relieved. She knew what would happen if she went out to celebrate with her teammates, and she was not getting drunk around either of them.
Nawaki had whined endlessly that she wouldn't be home for her own birthday, but she promised to take him and Kushina for a treat after she came back.
Jiraiya had seen her off the morning of her birthday mission with a box of chocolates and a love-letter, the latter filled with the usual gushing junk.
Tsunade thanked him, hugged him quickly and shot off.
She had been a tiny bit disappointed that Orochimaru hadn't wished her on her birthday; but he had never been the overly sentimental type, and to be fair, he'd known that she had an early morning mission and she knew it would be ridiculous for him to see her off.
They were shinobi and solo missions were protocol and a part of their lives.
Tsunade managed to evade Orochimaru's birthday as well, by pulling an all-nighter in the emergency room of the hospital. She fed her teammates a lie about some kind of a plague break-out, and assuaged her own guilt by telling herself that fixing up injured and sick patients was far more virtuous then getting sloshed with her teammates, so even if she had to lie to do it, it was acceptable.
Jiraiya had been disappointed, but Orochimaru didn't seem to care that much about celebrating his own birthday anyways.
However, when Jiraiya's birthday rolled around, he had insisted, a week in advance, that Tsunade keep herself free, because "we haven't had a team-bonding night in weeks, so fuck it all, we're going drinking!"
She knew that he knew that she had been avoiding drinking with them, the little bastard. Tsunade smiled and agreed, though the moment he'd turned his back, she was cursing under her breath and wondering how she'd worm her way out of this one.
Fortunately for her, an hour before their scheduled dinner-and-drinking plan, the three of them, along with the other Jounin of the village, had received urgent summonings to the Hokage tower.
"Well happy birthday to me," Jiraiya said glumly, as the trio met up and made their way over the rooftops, "It better not be a stupid boring political mission he's deploying us on!"
"Do you think it could be about the Jounin sensei?" Orochimaru asked, "A batch of genin is graduating tomorrow."
"Oh god, that'll be even worse if it is," Jiraiya groaned, "Imagine that, having to babysit a group of brats! I have much better things I could waste my time with…"
"Like what, exactly?" Orochimaru asked, amused.
"Like writing my book, for instance," Jiraiya said.
"Don't tell me you still haven't given up on that!" Tsunade said, exasperated, and Orochimaru smirked.
"Oh, come on Tsunade-hime, you of all people should know that I never give up on what I want," Jiraiya said, winking at her.
Tsunade ignored this and stared ahead resolutely.
"Besides, I actually have a pretty good story now, considering our last few missions have been pretty badass!"
"I personally wouldn't mind if it's about the next generation of graduates," Orochimaru said, "I've always wanted a student to carry on my legacy…"
"Please, you're too creepy to be around kids," Jiraiya rolled his eyes, "And your jutsu should be kept to yourself, not passed onto some unsuspecting little genin!"
"Oh, shut up," Orochimaru hissed, "My jutsu are perfectly legitimate and-"
"Though speaking of legacy," Jiraiya went on, cutting him off, "I am, apparently supposed to have an extraordinary pupil one day, and apparently that pupil is going to change the world!"
"Not again," Orochimaru rolled his eyes.
"I will!" Jiraiya cried, "Just not yet! I don't think I'm ready yet, for that kind of responsibility. I still need a year or two."
"Apparently?" Tsunade asked, still confused about his earlier statements.
"Meaning the toads said it," Orochimaru explained, "As usual. All the great achievements in Jiraiya's life, his books, his legacy… it's all frog-speak-"
"I'll have you know that the great toad elder-"
"Wait, wait, I knew about the books, what's this thing about a pupil?" Tsunade asked.
"It's his latest obsession," Orochimaru supplied, "His star student that will change the world… haven't you heard it, he doesn't stop talking about it-"
Tsunade figured she had heard it a few times, but she tended to ignore most of what Jiraiya said when he began his jabbering about prophecies. That, and the fact that she had sort of been avoiding him, something which Jiraiya chose to pick up on.
"Oh, Tsunade-chan doesn't really talk to me anymore," he said dramatically, "That's why you would know and she wouldn't, teme…"
"Indeed," Orochimaru nodded.
"Anyways, impending future great student or not, let's hope they don't assign you this year," Tsunade said, "Kushina isn't graduating till next year, and she seems pretty keen on having you as her Jounin sensei, Jiraiya."
"Oh, that adorable little brat," Jiraiya said fondly, "I'd rather take an ANBU suicide mission than be assigned with her. She'll drive me mad."
Tsunade could tell he was joking. Jiraiya and Kushina shared some sort of a love-hate relationship, and she knew her teammate had a soft spot for the redheaded spitfire and would be more than happy to be her sensei. Though, a combination that volatile could cause problems in missions, since Kushina tended to bring out the more childish side of Jiraiya, and the pair was always arguing or scuffling about something or the other. Hiruzen would certainly keep that in mind, if he ever were to assign Jiraiya to Kushina's graduating batch.
"Nawaki, on the other hand," Tsunade said, turning to her other teammate, "Seems to adore you, though I'm not sure why."
"I'd be honored to have more Senju royalty on my team," Orochimaru said, smirking.
When they reached office, however, they quickly realized that they had not been summoned for genin teams. The atmosphere of the room seemed tense, and Hiruzen looked grim as he addressed the gathered Jounin and ANBU.
"This is going to be extremely shocking for a lot of you, as it was for me a few minutes ago when I found out," Hiruzen said slowly, "It's sudden and we're still unsure what prompted this, but the fact is inevitable, and the scroll I received was frightfully clear on the matter. To put it shortly – war has been declared."
Tsunade's stomach plummeted terribly, and the entire room erupted into chaotic, frantic voices.
She looked desperately to her teammates, meeting their stunned stares.
"War," Jiraiya shook his head, smacking his forehead, "Happy birthday indeed…"
They hadn't had a war in years, and things had seemed so peaceful after the first war. This had come without warning, without any rumors, without any apparent reason.
Tsunade's stomach churned as memories of the first war flitted back to her. Memories of waiting in fear, as her parents and family and sensei fought out on the front lines… except this time, it would be her, joining the fighting. She would be a part of the war, along with her team.
She remembered her grandfather, and her great-uncle, and the bodies wrapped in white shrouds.
The first war had taken the lives of those closest and dearest to her, and Tsunade went cold at the idea of that happening again. What if something happened to one of them out on the frontlines? What if something happened to Jiraiya or Orochimaru? Tsunade couldn't bear the thought.
One thing was for certain – she would have much rather been mindlessly drunk at this point, even if it meant the risk of awkward moments with Jiraiya – than face this.
"We're being deployed to Sand," Jiraiya muttered, his eyes scanning over the contents of their latest mission scroll, "It's pretty much an outright war mission. Provide backup to troops already stationed there, kill the Sunagakure forces and any enemy shinobi, force retreat…"
"I'm assuming this isn't an exclusive mission," Orochimaru stated.
"Yeah… our team, four other Jounin teams, five ANBU squads…" Jiraiya read over the list.
"We're just going for backup though, right?" Tsunade asked, "If there are already troops there?"
"Why would there already be troops?" Jiraiya mused aloud, "Sensei wasn't very explicit regarding the motive behind this war, and it seems rather sudden."
"I don't remember sensei mentioning any reports of hostility from Suna," Tsunade admitted, "Though perhaps it was classified information. Still, the last time we were at war, I remember feeling the tension, even though we were just kids. This seems rather sudden."
"The entire thing sounds sketchy to me, including the way he said it… 'war has been declared'… I mean, just say that Suna declared war on us," Jiraiya muttered, before pausing and looking at his teammates shrewdly, "Do you think – maybe – Konoha started this war?"
The three were silent for a moment, pondering this.
"We should ask sensei," Tsunade said, "I'm sure there's a reason, he's usually so diplomatic."
"I need to know what the hell I'm fighting for exactly," Jiraiya nodded vehemently.
"You're fighting for Konoha, your village," Orochimaru cut in silkily, finally speaking up, "Sensei is too busy and it would be out of protocol to question the motives behind this war, and who started it. I'm sure there's an adequate explanation, but the fact remains, right now Konoha is at war. And as its shinobi, it is our duty to defend it regardless, no questions asked."
"He's right," Tsunade placed a placating hand on Jiraiya's shoulder, "We have to complete this mission and we have to restrain Suna. It doesn't matter who started it or why, all that matters is that we have to end it as soon as possible, before it escalates into something bigger."
"Tsunade-chan," Jiraiya began, but she shook her head at him, steeling her resolve.
"I dislike war as much as you do, Jiraiya," she said, "And I have my doubts. But we're Jounin now, and we've been given a mission. This war, this conflict, whatever is happening with Suna; it's our responsibility."
"Onee-chan! Where are you going?"
Tsunade whirled around, meeting wide golden eyes.
The young boy eyed her green vest and her arm guards, as well as the large pack she was currently stocking with herbs, medicines, medical tools and scrolls.
"You're leaving aren't you?" he asked sulkily, "On a long mission."
"I am," Tsunade paused in her packing to survey him.
Nawaki clenched his fists.
"It's a war mission, isn't it?"
"How do you-"
"Everyone knows at the Academy. We're at war with Suna, though they won't tell us why."
"I'm not sure of the reason either," Tsunade offered, seeing the questioning look in his eyes.
"I don't care," Nawaki shrugged finally, "Whatever the reason is, it's stupid. War is stupid."
Tsunade wasn't sure what to say to this, so she opened her arms, nodding to him, and he scrambled onto her lap, burying his face in her hair.
"When will you be back?" he mumbled into her neck.
"…I can't say."
"They shouldn't send you. You're not that big yet. You're just seventeen."
"I'm a Jounin," Tsunade sighed, "Besides, Jiraiya and Orochimaru are coming too."
"So what if you're all Jounin? None of you is that big yet."
"Rank counts more than age for shinobi, Nawaki. This is what happens in war," Tsunade said sadly, "I just wish you didn't have to see it."
Nawaki pressed closer to her, and she patted his head.
When he pulled away, his eyes were wet.
"Nawaki," Tsunade said soothingly, "It'll be okay, I promise. I was about your age during the first war, and it was scary, but everything worked out alright in the end."
"No it didn't!" Nawaki objected, "Ojii-san died!"
Tsunade breathed in sharply.
"What if –" Nawaki broke off, rubbing his eyes with his little fists, "Tsunade-onee-chan – you better not die on this mission!"
"Nawaki-" Tsunade's stomach lurched, because he had said just the thing that had been worrying her.
This was her first war mission, and though Team Seven had faced and conquered worse enemies and completed an S-rank mission – war was different.
War was brutal and war couldn't end with escape. War took a lot more lives and it only ended when all of one side was dead.
Tsunade just hoped that it wouldn't be Konoha.
"Don't die!" Nawaki pointed at her accusingly, "You can't die, onee-chan!"
"I – I won't," Tsunade said shakily, hugging her to him tightly.
"Promise!" he demanded.
"I – I can't-"
"Promise!" Nawaki insisted, looking up at her imploringly, "You have to come back!"
"And take me for ramen when you do," he added as an afterthought, "Kushina-chan too. It's been awhile since you treated us."
Tsunade leaned down, placing a kiss on his head.
"Alright. I promise," she whispered into his light brown locks.
The teams made their way swiftly to Suna, and as they flitted through the thinning forest, Tsunade noted that the tone of this mission was a lot grimmer than what she was used to.
On team missions, by now, Jiraiya and Orochimaru would have already gotten into multiple tussles or arguments. But this time – this time they were too silent and serious.
It made her uncomfortable.
She forged on ahead.
Any time now, and the forest would end, and give way to endless plains of sand, golden sand.
Golden sand that would soon be drenched with crimson blood.
Tsunade's eyes flicking over to her teammates. Jiraiya's façade was stony and his lips were drawn into a thin line. It was a shocking change from his usual jovial, joking manner.
Orochimaru looked a lot more relaxed as he moved through the trees fluidly, though his green eyes had hardened to emerald stones.
Tsunade gulped, and bit her lip.
A few minutes later, she felt something brush her side.
She turned slightly, locking her eyes with Jiraiya's dark ones.
"It's going to be okay," he murmured, as if sensing her great unease, "We had worse odds with Kinkaku and Ginkaku, and we made it out then. We're Jounin now, and we're Team Seven. We can do this. Those Suna nin don't stand a chance."
Despite the facts that she knew his words were just reassurances meant to make her feel better, Tsunade's heart lifted slightly, and she nodded.
The battleground was a mess.
A large expanse of bloodied sand and fallen bodies, the sounds of weapon clashing and cries rending the air, along with a strange chattering noise.
Tsunade couldn't see exactly what was happening, due to the large clouds of sand that obscured most of the fighting shinobi, but there seemed to be an alarming number of ninja engaged, from what she could make out of the shadowy shapes.
The Konoha shinobi looked weary, and immensely relieved to see the backup. A group of them were hiding in a makeshift dugout behind one of the sand dunes, a couple hundred meters away from where the rest of their companions were engaged in fighting.
"Thank Kami," one of them gasped, eyeing Team Seven none-too-subtly, "They sent you."
"What's happening?" Jiraiya asked, crouching behind one of the sand dunes.
"We're vastly outnumbered," the shinobi gasped, clutching at a wound at his side, blood seeping through his fingers.
"Here," Tsunade said quickly, dropping to her knees beside him and pulling out her medical kit, "I'll take care of that."
"Th-thank you," the man rasped, as she healed his wounds with her glowing chakra.
"How outnumbered?" Jiraiya asked, "The scroll said there were fifty of them versus thirty of you, and we have thirty more here in backup."
"Only ten of our thirty are left," another shinobi added sadly, "And even with backup – they're still at about two or three hundred…
"Two or three hundred!" one of the shinobi hissed, and then swore.
"But how-" Tsunade began, before freezing, as the strange chattering noise suddenly seemed painfully familiar.
She remembered hearing that, that same eerie noise, many years ago, when she'd been a mere genin fighting against –
"Puppets," Tsunade muttered, "Damn. They're using puppets."
"Of course," Orochimaru said softly, "Suna's specialty jutsu. Puppets cannot feel pain or die, and they can fight on endlessly until they are completely destroyed. The worst opponent in a war…"
"They have a fucking puppet army," the shinobi Tsunade had healed muttered, "Hundreds of them. We attack them and destroy them, but more just keep popping up, and we'd target the puppeteers but we can't even get passed the damned puppets!"
"Their weapons are coated in poison," another man added, "Some mysterious poison for which we have no antidote. Most of our shinobi casualties succumbed to it, that's why they died."
"Show me," Tsunade said quickly, "The poison, let me see it."
"Tsunade-san," the shinobi said, "Mito-sama had provided us with almost every antidote available, there is nothing for this one."
"Bleed it out then," Tsunade said roughly.
"It spreads too fast through the bloodstream. Attempting to get rid of all of it would be suicidal."
Tsunade grit her teeth, her eyes flicking over to the cloud of sand.
She wondered if her opponent from the Chuunin exams, Chiyo, was out there, fighting.
The girl had been incredibly talented, even though Tsunade had defeated her.
Still, if she could do it once, she would do it again, mysterious, undiscovered, lethal poison be damned.
"You'll have to go in," she muttered, before nodding at Jiraiya and Orochimaru, "You've seen them fight, you know what to do."
Her teammates nodded, and Orochimaru raised an eyebrow.
"You're staying back?" he asked.
"Yes," Tsunade affirmed, "I don't care if it's undiscovered, every poison has a counter, and I'm going to find the antidote."
"We shall cover for you," one of the ANBU said immediately, "You will need defences if you are busy. Two ANBU are enough."
"I can freaking defend myse-" Tsunade began, but Jiraiya cut her off and nodded at the ANBU.
"That will be necessary. We can't risk losing our medic-nin right now."
Tsunade glared at him, and he glared back this time, and she rolled her eyes.
"Fine. Fine! But somebody bring me back a body, quick," Tsunade ordered, "One that's been poisoned. And send any of the injured here, as soon as possible!"
The Jounin and ANBU squads readied their weapon and made to join to foray.
Jiraiya and Orochimaru paused for a moment, their eyes meeting hers.
"Take care," Jiraiya said, "And don't worry about us. We'll be back soon enough."
"I should be telling you that," Tsunade huffed, "Don't do anything reckless, either of you. And if you dare show up here injured or half-dead, I will break both your legs before I heal you."
They both smirked at her threat, and then Jiraiya thumped her on the shoulder, and Orochimaru's hand just barely brushed over the top of her head, and they were gone.
Moments later, a Konoha shinobi entered the dugout, carrying a limp body, which he dropped in front of her.
"I'll go back," he panted, and Tsunade nodded, her eyes quickly scanning over his form for any life-threatening injuries.
There were none, and she let him go, before surveying the corpse before her.
Despite her intensive medial training and experience with poisoned bodies, Tsunade couldn't help but be repulsed.
The man's face was bloated, mottled and purple, and there were strange orange streaks branching under his skin.
The external symptoms were definitely something she hadn't seen and couldn't identify, though she had expected that.
Biting back her disgust, Tsunade picked up her medical tools and began dissecting the body.
The last remnants of the evening faded away into pitch darkness, and the dank hideout was lit by nothing but a small fire jutsu.
Tsunade didn't know how long she worked inside the small dugout, as the battle raged a few hundred meters away, extending through the night.
Minutes stretched into hours, and she worked painstakingly at the body, first extracting the poison, and then analyzing it, scrawling notes onto a small pad of paper.
She could hear the sounds of pained cries, the whirling of sand, the noises of various jutsu, and above all, that terrible, abrasive wooden chattering.
It just didn't seem to stop, and from the intensity of it, Tsunade could only guess that the puppet army had increased, rather than decreased in size.
Still, the shinobi stationed outside her dugout had remained calm, and Tsunade worked away, trying not to think too much about her teammates and how they were faring.
Neither one of them had come to be healed yet, which was reassuring. She had healed over twenty-five men, all of whom had dragged themselves into her dugout, in various states of injury and near-death.
An ANBU had reported five more deaths, but Jiraiya and Orochimaru were not among them. Apparently the shinobi were being extra cautious around the puppets, making sure they weren't hit by the poison. Tsunade guessed this was one of the main reasons the size of the puppet army wasn't decreasing.
It wouldn't, Tsunade realized, unless she found a counter to the poison, a way to make the shinobi immune against the deadly liquid. It was an quick, incurable killer, that poison, and if she didn't find a counter fast, it was only a matter of time before five more shinobi succumbed, and then ten, and then the entire force as they were overpowered by those damned puppets.
The outcome of that battle, she realized, relied heavily on her ability to counter this impossible poison, and gritting her teeth, Tsunade returned to her work, determination firing through her veins.
She had to do this.
The only other option was death.
Death of the Konoha shinobi, death of her precious teammates – something she didn't even dare think about lest it drove her mad - and eventually, once they had all been overpowered, her own death.
Besides, she had a promise to keep to Nawaki, and even if it had been a hollow promise, Tsunade did not intend to break it.
It was still pitch black outside when Jiraiya heaved himself into the dugout, panting heavily.
Tsunade snapped up from her work, immediately sensing his chakra.
"What happened?" she asked sharply, as he collapsed on the sand.
"Leg – fucked –" he grunted, and under the candlelight, she noted he was unusually pale.
"Damnit, Jiraiya!" she yelled, immediately attending to his mangled, bloody leg, repairing the severed muscles.
To her relief, he wasn't poisoned, though his leg was pretty badly messed up. He hissed out in pain, and she looked at him apologetically.
"I don't want to give you painkillers," she said, "They'll make you drowsy and slow."
"So – I'll be able – to get back on?" he asked, his face screwing in pain as she extracted the wooden splinters from his flesh.
"It'll be sore, but mostly," Tsunade muttered, "You're lucky I'm here, there's no way you could have fought with a leg like that."
"Mm, yeah," his fingers brushed against her cheek, "What would I do without you?"
Tsunade pretended not to notice, and he didn't make any further move, and she quickly began stitching back his skin, her hands glowing with chakra to supplement the process.
"How's everything outside?" she asked.
"Not great. We took down over a hundred, but they seem to have a hundred more, and the best way of destroying the puppets is smashing them with taijutsu close-range because they're resistant to most elemental ninjutsu. But no one's willing to get in close because of the poison, so we're limited to long range. Orochimaru tried using his snake summons, but even they weren't immune to the poison, and I'm not risking Gama and the rest."
"Hm," Tsunade nodded, now bandaging his leg.
She patted it lightly then, looking at him.
"You're good, I think."
He stood up gingerly, testing his leg, and winced.
"I can't give you painkillers," she began, but he shook his head.
"I'm fine," Jiraiya said shortly, "I'll head out now."
His eyes flickered to the antidote she was working on, and she answered the unasked question.
"I'm trying," she said, "I really am. I know how important it is, but it's not working on the corpse I'm testing it on, and I know I'm close but I'm lacking something, a vital ingredient, but I've tried and tested everything and I still can't tell what –"
"You can do it," he cut off her ramble, "I have faith in you."
And then he was gone.
Tsunade cursed, pulling the syringe out of the corpse.
The antidote still wasn't working on the poison. She had dissected it and analyzed it and broken it down and tested it. Though it had been a near-impossible task, she had succeeded, and she'd created the perfect antidote.
Medically and scientifically, there was no explanation to why it shouldn't work. Her antidote should have countered the poison perfectly.
But still, seven more shinobi had died, and the hours had dragged on, and she wasn't getting any results. Her antidote, though it seemed perfect on paper, just wasn't working.
"Damnit," Tsunade said again, her eyes scanning over her formulae, searching for a mistake, a miscalculation.
But everything was perfect – just as she'd expected it.
"Shit," she cursed again, clenching her fists and accidentally breaking the syringe in the process.
The glass dug into her hands, drawing blood, but Tsunade just cursed again, before wrenching the shards out of her hand, ignoring the stinging pain.
She didn't bother to heal herself, the blood dripping down to her wrists as she stared at the apparatus before her, wondering what could possibly be missing.
The first few streaks of daylight were streaming into the dugout. She had been working for hours, as her comrades battled outside.
It just didn't stop.
"So this is war," she muttered, quickly wrapping up her bleeding hand, deciding there was no point wasting chakra on it.
Then suddenly, she sensed them, and her heart plummeted, because that ever-familiar chakra signature was spiking up and down and wavering and-
"Orochimaru!" Tsunade shrieked, as her two teammates stumbled into the hideout.
Jiraiya was covered in scratches and cuts, but he was hardly the problem. He was supporting a faint-looking Orochimaru, whose arm was draped around his shoulder.
A mottled, purplish arm tinged with orange streaks.
"He – he's been-" Jiraiya croaked.
"Poisoned!" Tsunade cried, "No!"
Her heart jolted as she took in the sight of her poisoned teammate, felt his weakening chakra signature. His green eyes were only half-open and he seemed dazed, and the purplish tinge was slowly but steadily inching up his forearm.
He would be dead within minutes.
"The antidote," Jiraiya rasped, but Tsunade shook her head, tears filling her eyes.
"I've tried everything!" she cried hysterically, "It doesn't work and – Orochimaru! What do we do with him?!"
"My – arm," Orochimaru breathed, his voice barely above a whisper, "Cut it – off before – it spreads…"
His fingers twitched and he raised his good arm, his gleaming katana shaking in his hand.
"N-no," Tsunade shook her head, "Your arm – you can't – how will you fight? How will you do ninjutsu?!"
"Hurry," Orochimaru muttered, looking weakly to Jiraiya, "Bastard – do it."
Jiraiya took the blade from Orochimaru, staring at his teammate.
The poison had spread past his elbow, and Orochimaru was shaking violently now.
"Tsunade-hime – we'll have to amputate," Jiraiya was saying, "Oro-teme told me to then – but I had to bring him here – you can do it properly, you're a medic – there's no other way – he'll die!"
His words pierced her like kunai, and Tsunade stared at her teammates, feeling lightheaded.
If only she had managed to make the antidote work!
"But – but his dream – ninjutsu – " she muttered, "We can't – the antidote – "
"Tsunade-hime – do it – fast – please -" Orochimaru gasped, choking out blood.
The poison had now nearly reached his shoulder.
She stared at him, looking so defeated and lifeless, such a contrast from his usual strong and arrogant self – and it pained her, deep in her heart.
She wouldn't let this happen, not to Orochimaru, not to her teammate, not to one of the most important people in her life, she wouldn't…
And then suddenly, it hit her.
The missing ingredient, the one possible thing that the antidote may have lacked which was impeding its abilities to wipe out the poison.
"Orochimaru – quick – your good arm," she muttered, grabbing his pale hand.
"What are you doing?!" Jiraiya asked, "We have to amputate him now! Before it spreads to his shoulder!"
Tsunade said nothing, just swiped off a bit of his skin with a kunai, drawing blood.
Orochimaru looked on the verge of collapse.
Tsunade flew back to where she had kept a batch of her antidote, and quickly filled a test tube with it, adding the skin.
"Attacks the DNA – of course – skin cells – this should do," she was muttering to herself as she shook the syringe, adding a few more chemicals.
"Tsunade!" Jiraiya called urgently, and Orochimaru had now collapsed on the floor, the poison spreading to his shoulder.
Jiraiya raised the katana, making to cut Orochimaru's arm off himself, but Tsunade shoved him to the side.
"WHAT THE HELL-"
Tsunade grasped Orochimaru's poisoned arm, and plunged the syringe deep into his vein.
Jiraiya gaped at her in shock, scrambling to his feet and joining her by Orochimaru's side.
The pale shinobi shuddered violently, and then collapsed, his green eyes fluttering shut.
"What did you do?!" Jiraiya shouted, "Did it work?!"
Tsunade stared intently at her teammate's arms, monitoring the poison.
It had to work, it had to – there was no other option…
And then she smiled.
She turned to Jiraiya, who was staring at Orochimaru with an anguished expression on his face, and patted him on the arm reassuringly.
"What?!" Jiraiya snapped, and Tsunade said nothing, but pointed to Orochimaru's arm.
The purplish tinge was receding, and the orange streaks were fading away.
Jiraiya's eyes grew wide, and he knitted his brows together.
"So – he's –"
"He's going to be okay," Tsunade whispered, and Jiraiya broke into a grin.
"Bastard really scared me," he muttered, before patting Tsunade's hand.
"I'm sorry I freaked out before, but I knew you could do it. You're incredible."
"Thanks," she said, before turning to Orochimaru and checking his vitals.
"He's going to come around, though it'll take a couple hours," she said, "I figured out the antidote, but it's going to have to be personalized in a sense. I need DNA, from every shinobi out there. We may as well inject you all with it so that you're immune to the puppets and can fight them properly."
"Right," Jiraiya nodded, rolling up his sleeve and offering her his arm.
She quickly swiped off a bit of his skin, prepared his dose of the antidote, and tossed him the syringe, which he stabbed into his arm without flinching.
"Send the shinobi back in batches," Tsunade said, "I'll administer it to them all, and once Orochimaru's back up, we'll join you."
Jiraiya nodded quickly, and with one last glance at their fainted teammate, he was out.
Within the next hour, Tsunade had immunized every single shinobi, including herself, against the poison.
The battle seemed to turn in Konoha's favor thereafter, as the explosive cries of the reinvigorated Konoha shinobi filled the air. The fighting had gotten a lot louder at that point, and Tsunade guessed, more close-range.
She quickly repacked her medical kit, summoning a small slug.
"This is a list of instructions on how to prepare the antidote against Suna's poisons," Tsunade muttered, giving the slug a tightly wrapped scroll, "Get this to my grandmother as soon as possible. I don't know how many Suna contingents there are fighting, but we'll need this antidote to win the war."
"Hai Tsunade-sama," the slug said in response, before disappearing with a poof.
On the ground beside her, Orochimaru stirred.
"You're awake!" Tsunade exclaimed, as his eyes slowly opened.
"What – my arm –" he jerked his head to the side, green eyes widening slightly.
"We didn't have to amputate," Tsunade said breathlessly, unable to keep the smile from her face, "I – I figured out the antidote. The poison's been neutralized. You were out for a while, but you're fine now. I've administered it to all the other shinobi as well, to immunize them."
He slowly sat up, blinking a few times, and testing his arm, which was as good as new.
Tsunade watched him anxiously, her heart beating rapidly.
She didn't know why she felt so excited, or what she was expecting, but she knew she wanted something from him. Some recognition of her talents, of what she'd done for him, some act of thanks.
She had always looked up to Orochimaru and had wanted to impress him, and if anything, saving his career as a ninja (she had already saved his life once, a few years ago) had to do the trick…
He flexed his muscles experimentally, and she tried not to blush, and then he finally met her eyes.
"So you figured it out."
His voice was soft, smooth, like water slipping over rocks.
"Yeah. Just in time," Tsunade said shakily.
"I suppose I should thank you," he murmured, "Yet again, you've…"
He trailed off and she waited, attentively, silently urging him to say more.
She remembered the last time, when she'd saved her life, and the way he'd looked at her so intently, his fingertips brushing her cheek.
"You're special," he said.
He didn't say anything now, just picked up his fallen katana and sheathed it, before standing up in one fluid movement.
Tsunade stood up as well.
"That girl you fought in the genin exams, Chiyo was it?" he asked.
"She's out there, isn't she?"
"She's controlling ten puppets, all at once, and they're all lethal."
"Not so lethal if their poison is useless," she scoffed, not at all liking the idea of him being impressed or even vaguely appreciative of another kunoichi's abilities.
"You've beaten her before," he fixed his gaze on her, "And it's the second time you've found a way around her poison."
"True, but -" Tsunade broke off, suddenly feeling shy.
She looked up at him, fighting a blush.
"I couldn't figure out the antidote, for hours, you know," she admitted.
"You did eventually."
"That's because – I just didn't want to lose you," she said softly, "I don't know why, but that's when it hit me – and I had to do something – I just couldn't lose you."
She wondered if he'd realized that. Over the years, most of her medical innovations had stemmed out of a desperation to save him, save his life. Even during that fateful S-rank mission years ago, when she'd come up with the idea about chakra clamps and whatnot… it had all been for him…
He didn't respond, just stared at her unblinkingly, his eyes slightly narrow, but his face otherwise blank.
"You're really important to me, and I don't know what I'd do if you – if anything happened to you," Tsunade said softly, taking a small step forward.
She bit her lip, her cheeks flaming.
She'd never revealed that much to him, never before.
She'd never been that explicit about her feelings to anyone.
She took another step forward, mustering her courage, and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing him to her for a moment.
He stiffened, but she hugged him regardless, waiting for the moment when he would return the embrace, maybe wrap his own arms around her waist.
He didn't though, and she pulled away rather quickly after that, her stomach flipping unpleasantly.
He surveyed her with a thoughtful expression, and Tsunade wanted to kick herself.
She'd given too much away, far too much.
"We have a war to fight, princess," he finally said, his voice silky as ever.
She glared at him now, her golden eyes bright.
I freaking saved your life, she wanted to shriek, is that all you can say? All you can do?! Can't you thank me properly?!
She knew what she had wanted – what she really wanted – was perhaps asking too much of him. He would never do that, she knew he wouldn't but still – she couldn't help but hope and it hurt when he didn't do what she had hoped he would.
"What's the matter?" he asked, acknowledging the fact that she was now openly glaring at him.
"I saved your life," she spat, before she could stop herself.
His hand cupped her cheek then, his thumb brushing against the skin lightly, and her heart nearly stopped.
"And for that I will be eternally gratefully," he breathed.
They were standing close, and she found herself leaning in slightly, into his touch, and towards him, but then he retracted his hand and moved so swiftly that in less than a moment he was standing atop the dugout, poised to fight.
He peered back over his shoulder, where she was standing rigidly, and raised an eyebrow.
Tsunade stuffed her hands into her pocket to stop herself from reaching up to touch her cheek, and glowered ahead for a moment, her heart sinking.
She supposed that had been a rejection, because surely Orochimaru had noticed her leaning forward, he was so perceptive and he could pick up even the subtlest of movements – but then he'd touched her cheek so tenderly and that certainly hadn't seemed platonic, not to her at least.
So fucking confusing! she grumbled to herself, feeling rather aggravated and uneasy as she hopped out of the hideout to join him.
There wasn't time to ponder what had just passed between them though.
Ahead, Tsunade could make out the battle that raged within the whirling sand. There were countless small figures flying everywhere, chattering and clashing – the puppets.
Tsunade grit her teeth in frustration, feeling a sudden surge to punch something, hard, though she was sure some of it had to do more with the shinobi standing beside her than the enemy shinobi and their blasted puppets.
"Chiyo you said?" she ground out, eager to vent her anger on something, someone.
"Come on then," she growled, gathering chakra to her fist, "Let's get that bitch."
The battle turned in Konoha's favor thereafter.
Tsunade couldn't quite tell what was going on amid the flying sand and the sea of chattering puppets. She just remembered smashing her chakra-laden fists into wood, again and again and again.
And then finally, when the puppets thinned and only a few Sand shinobi were left standing, they unleashed an enormous jutsu, some sort of a sand wave.
The Konoha shinobi crouched down, shielding themselves from the impact of the jutsu, but the moment the sand sprinkled to the ground, they looked up to find that their opponents had disappeared.
The jutsu had been used as a diversion, so that the last few shinobi could retreat.
Tsunade was secretly relieved. Busting up all of Chiyo's puppets was one thing; but despite her earlier vicious remarks to Orochimaru, she didn't feel comfortable killing a girl her age, a girl who had fought against her honorably during the Chuunin exams years ago, a girl who was doing nothing but serving her duty to her village.
Chiyo had escaped however, along with a few of her companions, and the Konoha shinobi cheered.
Tsunade wiped the sweat from her brow, leaning down to catch her breath.
"So – our first victorious – battle, huh?" Jiraiya landed next to her, dusting particles of sand off of his vest.
Orochimaru landed next to him, flipping black his glossy black hair.
When they arrived in the village, Tsunade was surprised to find that she was quite the heroine.
Word had spread about her feats in the battle – the mysterious and deadly poison, and how it had been taking the lives of many shinobi – and how she had single-handedly concocted an antidote for it.
She had always been the princess of Konoha, in a sense, because of her lineage – but this was different.
This was better.
Because now, she was famous solely for her own actions and talents, rather than those of her ancestors.
And the compliments she heard, the praises she was showered with – Tsunade had never been arrogant, but she couldn't help but flush with pride.
Crowds of people – from shinobi to civilians – were talking about her and looking and her and congratulating her.
"That's Tsunade Senju, on of the Hokage's students! She's the one who countered the poison!"
"I heard she healed all the fallen shinobi and smashed the puppets apart with her bare hands?"
"She's supposed to be even a better medic-nin than Mito-sama… the best in the world…"
"It's because of her that we defeated Suna!"
All around, she was being hailed as a hero, the savior of the troops.
"Well, who knew," Jiraiya grinned at her, "Our princess is more famous than ever!"
"World's best medical ninja, so I've been told," Orochimaru added.
"Guys," Tsunade rolled her eyes, though she was flushing and her heart was fluttering happily, "Shut up."
"Oh, the Uchiha are going to burn," Jiraiya snickered, "Did you see the look on their faces?! One up to Senju, yet again."
Hiruzen had openly expressed his pride in the three of them, and most notably her.
Apparently Suna had equipped all their troops with them, and Tsunade's antidote had really turned around the outcomes of several battles that had been going rather badly for the Konoha shinobi.
"Suna have declared a temporary ceasefire," Hiruzen said, "I don't know how long it will last, but we will have peace, at least for a few months…"
"That's great!" Jiraiya said emphatically, nudging Tsunade, "All because of Tsunade-chan here, I'm guessing."
Hiruzen's eyes twinkled under his hat.
"To a certain extent, it would be fair to say that…"
"Nice," Jiraiya grinned at his teammate, "So the village gossip is right. You pretty much ended the war, princess. Congratulations!"
"The war's not over," Hiruzen warned him, "Don't get too excited. This is just a lull period, I'm afraid it's likely the fighting will start again, and things are looking tense with Kumo. If they form an alliance with Suna, things could go badly."
"So, what is expected of us, sensei?" Orochimaru asked.
"Well, right now I'm focusing on keeping the troops ready and sending out envoys to the other villages to try and strengthen our political alliances," Hiruzen said, "But you three just got back from a dangerous and undoubtedly tiring mission."
The lines of his tense face relaxed, and Hiruzen broke into a small smile.
"I think you three can take rest for a bit. Maybe go get some dinner? I'm sure you're starved."
"Yes!" Jiraiya beamed, "Tsunade-chan's treat!"
"I never said that!" Tsunade objected, before sighing, "Oh, alright, the two of you can come too."
"Too?" Jiraiya asked, "Who else is coming?"
Tsunade fingered the crystal necklace hanging around her neck and smiled fondly.
"I promised Nawaki I'd take him and Kushina out to ramen when I came back."
A/N - Whew! These chapters take aaaages to write. Good news is the next one is half-done, though hopefully I'll have the time and inspiration to fully complete it and upload it soon.
Your reviews are always more than welcome. They're inspiring and they're like rainbows and marshmellows and kittens and sunshine and all that jizz, basically they make my day and inspire me hella lot, so please review!
Also - since we now know Dan's last name, I have changed it. I'll go back to the earlier chapters and edit it eventually... when I get time...
Finally, in answer to some of your questions: this will follow canon at the end, so don't expect a happy OroTsu or JirTsu ending. I'm sorry. But it'll get really interesting for the next few chapters, hee hee :D I promise! But yeah, after that... it get's messy. Team Sannin were pretty messy, so that's only natural if I want to stay true to canon.
P.S - just warning you, I'm probably changing my penname because I'm afraid I have been discovered by someone I really didn't want discovering me. One of these weeks I'm changing it so be on the lookout for that when you get story/author updates, haha. Just saying :) Also, any ideas what I should change it to? I'm so uncreative when it comes to stuff like that!