AN: My first Naruto fic...damn it! Why do I keep getting drawn into new genres? ! I'm never going to get a story finished. T^T Though, on a happier note, this one is actually complete. So no one will be out for my blood to post new chapters, hurray!
As I was saying, my first Naruto fic; I love Jiraiya. I love Tsunade. I love Jiraiya and Tsunade together, why did he have to die? ! This is my take on their relationship only, and does not reflect the thoughts, intents, or purposes of their original creator...oh yeah, and I don't own them. Obviously, otherwise this would be cannon. xD
P.S. I have no beta reader, and only went through it a few times myself, so please forgive any errors you may find! But do tell me about them, so I can come back and fix them later, okay? ^-^
The fifth Hokage ignored her aide's soft voice, keeping her eyes glued to the tedious report she had been trying to force herself to read for the last hour.
"Tsunade-sama?" Shizune tried again.
The blond clenched her jaw and refused to respond. She didn't have the time, (nor the inclination,) to have people try to coddle her; Konoha's enemies certainly weren't going to wait for her to finish grieving. And, of course, she couldn't disregard the fact that the Akatsuki was getting more and more aggressive…
"Tsunade-sama," The dark haired medic called for a third time, and this time her tone was firm. "You can't continue to work at this pace. You haven't slept since…in several days."
Tsunade's teeth cracked as her jaw clenched harder; if Shizune knew what was good for her she would stay away from that subject completely.
But it seemed the younger woman was going to be entirely stubborn about it. The aide's hands reached down; whisking the stack of papers she had been trying to read out of her line of vision, forcing her to look up with a scowl.
"What do you want?" She snapped. "I'm busy!"
"You need sleep." Shizune repeated gently. "You are burning yourself out."
As if she needed the younger woman's concern! She had been a medical ninja for years before Shizune had even been born!
Tsunade's tone frosted over and she fixed her aide with the most terrifying glare she could muster. "Are the Akatsuki going to wait for me to sleep? Are the other great nations going to sit back and not take the opportunity to snatch jobs away from Konoha while I waste time sleeping? ! I am busy!"
A visible tremble shook the dark haired woman's frame but she was somehow able to keep both her voice and her face steady. "Everyone needs rest Tsunade-sama; the Akatsuki and the other great nations are no different. It's possible someone will make a move at night, but if you do not stop and sleep now there is a higher possibility that you will lose strength at a critical moment in time." Shizune's voice also cooled. "Since you are taking your responsibilities as Hokage so seriously then do what is in Konoha's best interest and rest while you can."
But the noise of disgust was the only thing she could say. The younger woman was right in that aspect; Tsunade didn't like it but years of experience couldn't be pushed aside just because she didn't want to sleep. And since…that had happened…throwing herself into her work was just about the only thing she could focus on. Her responsibility as Hokage was the only thing keeping her going at this point…but she couldn't pick and chose which part of her responsibilities she would do.
Undoubtedly, Shizune already knew that.
Resisting the urge to snarl in frustration and anger the blond stood suddenly.
"I will be back in six hours, make sure the border patrols have all checked in and have their reports on my desk by that time."
The dark haired medic wasn't put off by the harsh tone of her voice; Shizune's face softened, understanding alight in her eyes, and she bowed her head in acceptance. "Yes, Tsunade-sama!"
There wasn't really anything else she could do at that point.
Frustrated that she couldn't take her anger out more the Hokage marched across her office, forcefully stopping herself from slamming the door and breaking the wall when she left.
Those in the hallways dodged to the sides, (or flat out ran away,) when they saw her storming through, their preservation instincts at an all-time high whenever she was near these days. Tsunade couldn't care less; all that mattered was getting the job done, and if her people feared her while doing it then that was just how it went.
The medic threw her door open, (noticing the cracking sound as it hit the back wall,) and stepped into her dark, empty room. Once again she suppressed the desire to slam the door behind her; as soon as it was closed though she was plunged into darkness.
She…had no desire to light the room. She had no desire to change her clothes, or take a bath for that matter. And she definitely had no desire to sleep…she hadn't slept since she had received the news…
The clouds shifted in the sky to reveal the moon, which cast its moonbeams through her windows and into her room. Tsunade, still shaded by the shadows beside her door, took no notice of it.
Sharp amber eyes stared at the lighted ground between her and her bed listlessly.
The silence was oppressive; ever since then the Hokage had been careful not to let herself be alone for too long…she was afraid of the silence and emptiness that filled her whenever she was…
She couldn't leave her room again; she knew she had to sleep.
But, (just as she had feared,) the heartache she had been using all her mental strength to suppress, was beginning to rise and make itself be know. She felt her mental barriers beginning to crack, and yet she was helpless to stop it.
And then her protective wall was gone and reality came crashing down on her. He really was dead. That idiot, that moron, that complete fool…was gone forever.
Against her will the tears started; burning her eyes to a degree that she was forced to clench them shut. Watery trails of pain began forming on her cheeks as the tears, still in absolute silence, rolled down her skin.
Tsunade lost all sense of time; the only thing that concerned her, the one consuming thought, was that he had gone and died, leaving her alone.
One hand rose on its own to cover the medic's face, (as if that would help,) and her shoulders began shaking under the weight of her grief.
"Idiot…" She whispered to the silent room. "You foolish man. How could you go and…" Her throat closed on the word 'die.' She couldn't say it, not even to herself. "You lied to me…you said you would be coming back…"
"Sorry about that. You know I've always had a bad sense of timing."
She jerked; shocked out of her suffering by the familiar voice. Tsunade's eyes, wide and incredulous, swung up to look around what had been an empty room.
It was no longer empty.
Her oldest companion was sitting on her private table; one leg tucked half underneath him and the other swinging easily under his resting place. His clothes were untarnished by the blood she was expecting to see, and remained in perfect condition. Jiraiya himself was grinning back at her with his normal smile, one hand raised in greeting.
Something inside her snapped; how dare this fool come here, acting like nothing had happened, when she had been so worried! How dare he let her think he had gone off and died like a martyr, without even saying goodbye!
Tsunade crossed the room in a flash, her balled fist swinging through the air towards his head to pound him as she had done so many times before. It passed through cleanly and she was barely able to catch her balance on the table's edge to keep from falling.
Stunned, the medic looked back at him again. His smile was wry, and his tone apologetic. "Sorry, I'd let you hit me if I could but…"
And for the second time that night the truth sunk in; he really was dead. Nothing left but a spirit…who just happened to be sitting on her table.
Jiraiya chuckled, amused by her flabbergast look, before shrugging his shoulders carelessly. "Yeah, I'm dead. But my spirit couldn't pass on so easily, not without saying goodbye first."
His words stung her chest, getting to her like they never had before. The blond didn't fight to keep the tears in, allowing herself to take advantage of the rare opportunity to cry in front of him.
A slightly alarmed look flashed across his face and he raised his hands in protest. "Hey, hey now! There's no need for that!"
"Idiot!" Crying hard now, Tsunade reached up to wipe futilely at her streaming eyes. "Foolish man! How dare you go and die like this!" Her shoulders were shaking again and she found herself hunching up, curling in on herself as if she could hold the pain in that way.
The other ninja sighed and she heard him say softly, "Come on now…" before silently shifting closer to her. "I already apologized for lying, are you going to make me apologize again?"
"Yes!" She sobbed. "Apologize over and over again, until you make up for it!"
She heard his soft chuckling again. "You're being unreasonable." He teased her gently. "I don't want to waste the night bowing and scraping until you're satisfied, so I'll only say it once more. I'm sorry I died so irresponsibly, especially when I promised you I'd be coming back, and I'm sorry I've left you in such a mess."
She rubbed at her eyes again, sniffling repeatedly, before managing to look up at him again. His tone truly was apologetic and sincere, as was the look on his face. It was so sincere in fact, that she couldn't find it in her heart to hold the grudge; she swallowed thickly before saying, "That's good enough, I guess. It wasn't exactly you're fault anyway…"
His smile perked up again right away. "That's the spirit! But let's not talk about depressing stuff like that. I only have until dawn, so let's make the most of it!"
Despite his words, her heart clenched with the now familiar sense of loneliness.
"You'll have to go again so soon..?" Her voice was softer then she liked, so she made the effort to make it sound haughty. "What kind of spirit are you, coming and going so easily?"
She was sure he could see through her tough act easily, (it was certainly transparent enough,) but he didn't push her. Instead he just grinned widely and answered.
"Most spirits don't even get that much time to solve their regrets; I like to think I get special treatment because the afterlife can appreciate my fine spirit."
Tsunade snorted indelicately. "More like, they're trying to find things to occupy you so they won't have to let you in so soon…and what do you mean by 'regrets?'"
He made a little hop off her table and then shrugged. "I dunno; I couldn't think of any other reason to wait to go to the afterlife."
What utterly simplistic logic! She had always known he was a simpleton and she said so.
He grinned at her tart comeback and the blond realized she was watching him, taking in every detail. Though his words and actions were infinitely familiar to her she knew in the back of her mind that this would be the last time she'd experience them; so she studied him, taking in every detail, memorizing every quirk as he talked.
The white haired man didn't comment on the way she was examining him, though he had undoubtedly noticed. Instead he seemed to take silent pleasure in the fact that she was paying such close attention to him; in life the only times Tsunade had regarded him with much interest had been when she was beating him half to death, (or healing him after beating him half to death,) and at either times she would always give him the rough side of her tongue, so the fact that she wasn't pounding him but still paying attention seemed like a bonus to him.
Not that she wasn't prepared to give him a verbal lashing unlike any he'd ever received.
The Hokage's fists clenched, brows lowered as amber colored eyes narrowed, and as she began berating him her tone was about as soft and gentle as a hungry tiger's growl. As her lecture continued her voice rose in pitch, pressure building in the room as her chi became tightly compacted throughout her body so small cracks appeared under her feet; each insult was punctuated with a slight shockwave of her chi which bound around the room with abandon, subtly weakening or outright destroying her smaller furniture. Nearing the end of her oration the medical ninja's voice swelled to an impressive crescendo, and she finished up by railing at him for irresponsible abandonment of his student, his village, and his Hokage.
Jiraiya accepted all her abuse with a cheerful grin, and when she had finished the only thing he offered in his own defense was, "I wish things didn't have to end this way either, hime."
Abruptly she felt worst then ever; what good did it do to blame him for something he couldn't change? Certainly she had done so all their lives, but those had been about small and harmless things…Tsunade realized, with a sense of acute shame, that she had basically insinuated he was a traitor.
She couldn't let it go like that…it might gall her to admit she had done wrong, (and normally she never would have,) but this was…a special occasion.
"…Sorry, I didn't mean that…" She reviewed everything she had just said and then amended, "Most of it."
With a normal person she knew her words could still be construed as the most deadly of insults, but Jiraiya knew her better then that. He knew her better then she was entirely comfortable with, and he knew that too.
So instead the sennin forgave her for it, walking away from her cracked table and past the destruction she had done to the floor, stretching languorously as he did so. "Well hime," He said to her. "I've only got a few hours, but why don't we reminisce, for old times sake?"
Tsunade took in a deep breath, releasing with it all the fury and anger she held for him, and when she turned her expression was more or less neutral. "If you'd like." She answered diffidently.
The toad sage had wandered past the edge of her bed towards the window, but now he threw her a slight smile and plopped himself down on the floor beside her futon, using it as a back rest and pat the ground beside himself. "Come sit down. We can't drink, but at least we can be comfortable!" He invited cheerfully.
The kunoichi took the proffered seat, sitting with her knees up so she could rest her crossed arms on them, and waited for him to say something.
"How many years has it been, hime, since our team was last together?"
The Hokage looked down at the ground; he was starting with some of the big stuff…well, he had said something about resolving regrets, and there simply wasn't enough time to go through all but the most important of events.
So she kept her voice steady and told him.
"Hiruzen-sensei really had it hard, didn't he? Between the three of us it's a wonder he was ever able to get anything done!"
Tsunade gave a non-committal answer; it wasn't like they didn't both know the details of the situation intimately, she couldn't see what good it would do to re-hash it all…but at the same time, she felt she might possibly owe him the opportunity to talk about it if he really wanted. They had mentioned it in passing several times since he had come back to Konoha, but never with any significant detail.
Breathing deeply the blond dedicated herself to the conversation.
"Hiruzen-sensei knew how to delegate well enough that he was able to be Hokage and still keep an eye on us."
Her companion made a noise of assent. "But then the war got out of hand and he had to devote most of his time to it…It was kind of lonely without him."
"We weren't exactly rolling in free time ourselves." She reminded him. "I seem to remember running more missions in one year of the war then in our entire gennin period."
He chuckled, his white hair falling past his shoulder to obscure his face. "And it only got worst…What a pain!" His tone had been light but now an edge of seriousness crept in. "It was all such a senseless waste…"
She thought back to it, (forcefully keeping her mind off the two most precious people she had lost in that time,) and to all the destruction she had seen and participated in. "Yes…It was." And there would always be more…war was a part of shinobi life; she knew he had felt differently about it, but he had always been an idealist.
"…If we had spent more time inside our own village we might have seen what was happening here…we might have been able to stop the rotting of morals before it went too far…"
Here it was; the regret of his life.
"It wasn't our fault, Jiraiya." She said quietly. "Neither you, or I, or even sensei, could have stopped him by then. Orochimaru chose his own path, and he was smart enough to take advantage of how busy we all were."
It wasn't like it was a secret how he felt about it, how he had foolishly taken responsibility for what had happened back then. The boisterous man had basically devoted his life to repay a mistake he had never made. She thought it was stupid and a waste, and had often said as much; but deep down…she felt a little of the same. Had she been more alert at that time she may have at least saved those that he had experimented on; as a medical ninja she couldn't help but feel remorse that so many of her own people had suffered at her teammate's hands while she had wallowed in her own grief…It was just as stupid as him taking the responsibility, but there it was.
She had been expecting him to talk about the regret of being unable to stop Orochimaru, and she was right…but the toad sage wasn't wasting his precious time rolling in regret like she had assumed.
"I know I couldn't stop him; by the time I started chasing him down he was too far gone, and he was never going to come back…I know you won't agree that it was partially my fault, hime. I don't want to go over that again…I just want you to stop being so hypocritical about it."
Startled the Hokage's face turned towards him; her companion didn't react to it, he continued looking through the window on the wall across from them, and his face was peaceful. More peaceful then she had ever seen it when the subject of Orochimaru came up before.
"Don't be ridiculous," She scoffed automatically. "I never thought anything like that."
A tiny smile perked his lips but he still didn't turn. "You're lying." He accused her bluntly with good cheer. "You felt the loss just as strongly as I did, and you were closer to him anyway." Finally his head tilted to an angle so he could look at her with knowing eyes. "Let it go, hime." He advised. "You aren't to blame."
Tsunade realized her mouth was open and shut it quickly. Of all the idiotic things! What gave him the right to say something like that to her? ! Even if, in the darkest recesses of her mind, she may have the tiniest amount of guilt, he was the last person who could call her on it!
If she refused to acknowledge it outright he would only pick at her more; instead the blond bombshell went with a different approach. "I thought you wanted to resolve your regrets before going to the afterlife?" She said acidly. "Or are you just wasting my time again?"
That annoying smile just wouldn't quit!
Jiraiya's eyes closed as his face turned back towards the windows, but that little smile only grew. "I do want to resolve my regrets." He agreed mildly. "And I'd regret letting you feel guilty."
She was not amused. "I don't need a therapy session, idiot! I don't waste my time dwelling on the past like you do."
"True," He agreed again. "You don't like to think back to it, because you blame yourself too much. I'm just saying, you should get it out in the open and deal with it, instead of keeping it locked inside those huge jugs of yours."
She ignored the comment on her chest with a huff of air. "Even if I did have a problem, why would I share it with a fool?" She snarked back. "There are plenty of people better suited to talk to."
The sennin shook his head slightly and now there was a touch of sadness in his smile. "But you wouldn't, would you hime? You'll just bury it deep down and pretend the regret isn't there."
Annoyed at his continued insistence that she needed to somehow express herself to him the Hokage parted her lips to speak, but the white haired man continued and her mouth was left open in shocked surprise. "It's just us now, hime. You might have talked to Hiruzen-sensei, or maybe even tried to talk to Orochimaru himself, but they're already gone, and I'm not going to be here for long either. If you don't get it off your chest now you'll just let yourself silently suffer for the rest of your life and I don't want to let that happen." He looked at her again, dark eyes rich with understanding. "Talk to me."
Without her permission her lower lip began trembling slightly.
Why was she cursed to be understood so thoroughly by a complete and utter fool? ! Every time she thought she understood everything about him he would do something that showed her she didn't know him as well as she thought; in this case, it was the fact that he knew her even better then she had ever realized.
He had known, not just that she had always held a private guilt about what had happened, but also that there was no one else that she would talk to about it. He had never pushed her before, assuming she'd eventually tell him one day, but now they had run out of time and he didn't want to leave her alone when it was still clogging her heart.
That idiot hadn't come here to resolve his last regrets, he had come here to resolve hers.
Her right hand reached up to pass over her eyes and she finally managed to close her mouth again; a few more tears slipped out and Tsunade felt gratitude. That giant fool. Wasting his last hours in this world on something like this…
How could she refuse what was essentially his last request?
"Fine." She huffed with feigned annoyance. "Maybe I felt a little guilty! It's not something worth wasting the time talking about it over!"
Her eyes were covered, so she couldn't see his expression, but his tone told her he was smiling again; pleased that she wasn't putting up a huge fight. "Yeah, maybe. But it's better to take the opportunity you have before it's gone!"
"Well, it's the kind of conversation a person should have when they're drunk." She retorted. "And I doubt you're going to be drinking anytime soon, idiot."
His tone was a mock whine when he answered. "Harsh, hime, harsh. Don't rub it in."
A tiny smile curved her lips upwards and the sigh that left her mouth held the hint of a giggle in it. "Maybe I should get something to drink for myself?" She added archly, then laughed again when he made a disgruntled noise.
A weight had been lifted; there was no need to go into specifics anymore because her companion had already known exactly how she felt. It was the very action of admitting it that had finally allowed her to release her hidden guilt, and now Tsunade was able to see how heavily it had been weighing on her. But it was gone now, and somehow she knew it wouldn't be returning; the sennin had banished it for her.
'My hero.' She thought dryly.
"Just wait," He was threatening her good-naturedly. "We're going to get roaring drunk when it's finally your time! We'll have a party so loud they'll kick us out of heaven!"
The Hokage finally allowed her hand to drop from her face and she smiled back at him. "Why would I go along with an idiotic plan like that? Between heaven and hell, I chose the one with fluffy clouds."
He laughed, moving his body slightly so one knee was drawn up for an arm to rest on and the other was casually curled on the ground; the movement had shifted him enough that he was more or less facing her with that bright smile on his face.
Still feeling relaxed and carefree the woman let her knees slide to the side so she was facing him too. "Who says they'd even let you into heaven? You've got more then enough bad habits to be sent to hell."
The sennin mock pouted for a second before regaining his cheerful demeanor. "Well, if I'm doomed to go to hell anyway there's no harm in my asking to see your-"
Tsunade cut him off by cracking her knuckles loudly. It was an empty threat and they both knew it, but he obligingly switched what he had been about to say. "-your photo album. "He jerked a thumb to the night stand now directly behind him. "I saw you have one."
She smirked. "Nice recovery." She murmured under her breath. By the quick flash of his wider grin she knew he had heard her; nevertheless she humored him by retrieving the photo album then retaking her seat on his left side.
Since he had no physical form to hold the book he sidled a little closer and she opened it; her entire life was in these photos, laid out in chronological order. It was one of her most treasured possessions, (she bet he knew that too.) and had been one of the very rare things she had taken with her when she had first left Konoha.
When the blond would have flipped past the first few pages the toad sage objected so, (with mock patience,) she had allowed him to study them. It wasn't so bad, a few baby pictures, a few taken with her parents, grandparents, or various other relatives, one or two of a dog she had help take care of for a while; they were all good memories.
Then there were the baby photos of Nawaki…Tsunade very rarely looked through the album, it was a treasure trove of her fondest memories, but it also housed some of the most painful points of her life too. She wanted to flip past these but Jiraiya objected again so she forced herself to look at them, and while she did she had an epiphany.
Her erratic teammate had come here to help her deal with her unsolved regrets; it had been an unspoken rule that no one was allowed to mention her lost loves. She had a moment of fear thinking he was going to want to help her find some kind of resolution for that heartache too…but as they flipped through another page she realized that wasn't why he was forcing her to look through them again. Jiraiya wasn't tormenting her with her loss, and he wasn't trying to make her let them go; he wanted her to remember the good times too, so she would be able to look at these pictures on her own again and not be drawn into a pit of sorrow. He was just trying to make her happy.
How many years had he been trying to do that? Too many; the fool never did know when to quit. And yet here she sat, side by side with him, pouring over her pictures and being lulled into memories of happier times…
Unintentionally a soft chuckle left her mouth. Her gaze on the page wavered; more tears had found their way to her eyes. Looks like his persistence had paid off…he had won in the end.
"What's so funny?"
The blond tilted her head to the side, amber colored eyes focusing on her companion who waited for her answer with an expectant look on his face. He knew her so well, knew what she had been needing, and was willing to give it to her even if it was the last thing he'd ever do…how could she give anything less?
Her lips parted and her voice was soft, but sure. "I miss Nawaki." She confessed. It was the first time she had ever said those words, usually so full of remorse that she couldn't even look that knowledge in the face; but she was admitting it to him and he knew what that meant.
He smiled gently. His eyes showed his feelings at this emotional victory, but he kept his tone calm. "I know you do, hime." His gaze drifted back to the page they had been studying and he added, "You know…I'm probably going to be seeing him soon. I could tell him you miss him."
Her breath caught at the offer, (how many times had she wished she could just speak to him one more time?) and her heart beat harder. Carefully Tsunade swallowed and kept her voice level as she answered. "He already knows that moron, if you were going to tell him anything…tell him that I love him."
Her companion shifted beside her. "And he doesn't know that?" He teased gently. "Don't worry. I'll deliver the message without fail."
The tears that had been building as she looked at her baby brother's pictures finally spilled over her lids, but they weren't tears of sorrow. The medical ninja took in a long breath and then let it out again in a deep, cleansing sigh. "Thanks."
Jiraiya was nothing if not persistent. "Got any other messages?" He questioned in a casual tone; she still knew what he meant…did she have a message for the other man in her life she had lost…
Tsunade thought it over carefully. She could give Dan the same message, but she hesitated to do so…not because she didn't love him, no, but because of who the messenger was. Having Jiraiya tell Dan she loved him was not something she was comfortable with. But still…
She had underestimated the sennin's drive; the white haired man's voice was completely innocent when he broke back into her thoughts. "You could always give me a kiss to pass on you know."
Automatically one eyebrow twitched and she looked over at him with a glare. "You're intangible." She pointed out. "And nice try, but no."
He grinned back at her. "It'd take up most of my time but I could probably become tangible for that."
Incorrigible fool. But sometimes…even that trait was appreciated.
Her glare softened and humor returned to her voice. "So you'd be willing to give Dan a kiss? Should I be worried about this?" She teased, then laughed as a look of disgust crossed his face. "Didn't think about that part, did you? Well, it makes no difference because the answer is still no."
Casually she returned to the photo album and flipped another page. "Besides, I don't think Dan needs to be told either. I'll just wait until I can talk to him myself."
Her companion didn't have an answer to that, but it was okay because they had somehow managed to broach the most sensitive and painful subject of her life, and had still made it out okay. Her heart wasn't broken from thinking about what she had lost; she had finally found peace within herself.
The two sennin spent the next few hours in this fashion, flipping through her book to re-hash old memories, ("Hey, I just remembered! You still haven't given me a love letter!") and remember old friends; content with what they were doing and ignoring what was to come.
They looked out at the rising light. Dawn was almost here…and they both knew what that meant.
Still…Tsunade silently told herself not to break down and cry again; she had screwed her own dignity enough. But she couldn't resist peeking at him from the corner of her eye
Jiraiya's face was softened and a little regretful.
"I guess this is it, hime."
Her chest clenched hard.
"I guess it is." She somehow managed to keep her tone neutral.
His lips quirked back up in a smile. "I'll make sure to give your regards to the others when I get there."
Amber eyes shifted to be looking forward again. "Make sure that you do."
He chuckled quietly before his tone became serious again. "Since I only have a few minutes anyway…" The spirit shifted beside her, getting to his feet and then brushing himself off as a course of habit. "I might as well use up the last of my "time" here to become solid; I'm sure you'd like to hit me again anyway."
Tsunade's throat was dry as she swallowed; the "tough girl" act she had used her entire life was so much harder to put back on now that he had stripped it away. So her face and voice were soft when she looked up at him and answered.
"No…I don't need to hit you, Jiraiya. Take care of yourself on the other side."
The white haired man paused, looking slightly startled at her gentle words before grinning again. "Well then…" He reached down and she felt the soft brush of his lips against her forehead. "Be well, Tsunade."
The dam broke; tears once again filled her eyes and slid down her cheeks as her oldest companion and her best friend kissed her goodbye. Screw dignity, if this was all she had then she'd take it with both arms.
Her right hand reached up and hooked around the back of his neck and she used it to drag him down further in spite of his startled sound. Tsunade's face turned upward at the same time and she forcefully pressed their lips together.
Jiraiya's slight struggling stopped immediately and it only took a second for his hand, (which had just been wind milling to keep his balance,) to slid against her cheek, into her hair, and cup the back of her head.
He kissed her back gently, ignoring the tears that continued to slid unchecked down her face, as he finally got the one thing he had been wanting for years. There wasn't enough time to fully express everything she had been silently holding, but she sure as hell tried.
And when their lips finally parted and he drew back the first thing the moron did was smile cockily and ask her, "Why couldn't you have done that when I was alive? Or was that for Dan?"
The blonde's shoulders shook; as she used the hand still holding the back of his neck to pull him closer and into a half-hug she forced herself to say, "It was for you, moron!" Then a tiny sob managed to escape, despite her best efforts to hold it in.
"Hmm…" His left hand was still in her hair, the right moving to gently slid up and down her back. "It was a joke! A joke!" He protested teasingly. "It's better late then never!"
Her fingers were clenched in the soft material of his vest and she used them as a handhold to keep him from leaving her embrace. She couldn't bear to let go.
But the sun had finally broken from behind the mountains and all of Tsunade's strength was useless as the body under her hands suddenly became intangible again. She choked on another sob as the harsh reality stung her. This was it. This was goodbye.
The spirit shifted upright again; the medic forced her eyes to follow. She didn't want to miss a single second…
Jiraiya smiled at her, the familiar grin she had known for most of her life, then walked around the edge of her bed to the middle of her empty room. There was a ripple in the air behind him and she knew, (without knowing how she knew,) that the gate to the other side had just opened for him.
He raised one hand in farewell.
Somehow she managed to mimic the motion.
He turned to walk in and then stopped, turned back, and spoke to her for the last time. "I love you, Tsunade. I always have. Be well."
Her arms had crossed themselves over her chest automatically, and her fingers dug in painfully as her whole body tensed. Her teeth clenched shut and she knew she wouldn't be able to pry them apart.
She…couldn't say it. Even if this was the end…she just couldn't say it.
It didn't bother him that she couldn't either; his grin remained, perfect and unchanged, as he turned to leave.
She couldn't say it…but she couldn't let him leave without saying something!
"Wait for me!" Somehow, miraculously, her voice was even and strong. "Wait for me to get there, Jiraiya!"
He was inside the gate now and the slight wavering meant it was about to close but she still saw his grin widen and his head nod in acknowledgment. And then he was really gone.
Suddenly exhausted beyond belief the medic rested her forehead against her knees, her eyes closed…but she didn't hurt. The aching loneliness was still there a little, (and she suspected it always would be,) but the all-consuming emptiness was gone; Tsunade was free.
She wondered if he had known what she had been going through since he had died; he probably did. He was unerringly insightful when it came to her…The thought made a slight smile touch her lips; all other smiles of the night had been when he was here, when he was teasing her or making her laugh. This smile was generated solely on her own and it felt good; it was the first smile she had made on her own in days.
The fifth Hokage forced her body to straighten enough to crawl into bed; her sheets were cool and her futon comfortable. She would be asleep within minutes, and she was okay with that now.
Before sleep did claim her however, the beautiful woman whispered one last thing to the empty room. "You foolish man…Be well Jiraiya. At least until I get there."
The first thing Tsunade became aware of after her death was the gentle breeze. Everything else would register in a few seconds but her first impression of the afterlife was that it would be peaceful.
Still…when she opened her eyes it wasn't what she had been expecting.
For one thing, the hint of fresh air had given the impression of wide open meadows, or maybe a deep mountain pool in the forest; what she saw was a long line of people making their slow way up a massive set of stairs. Looking to the right and left was useless; there was a dense fog on either side of the stair, and it looked so thick one might even mistake it for a solid wall.
Sound behind her made her look back and realize that more people were appearing behind her in the line and she noticed they were all looking around too, the same questions on their face.
Was this the afterlife? The medical ninja wasn't sure if she had ever really believed in a "heaven" or "hell," but surely, there should be something after you died, right?
"Please keep in single file as you step up to the gate!" A feminine voice called out over the shifting line's heads. "Once your name has been checked you will be free to wander as you will. Please keep in single file as you step up to the gate!"
Once your name has been checked? Was this like a giant filing system of souls?
Tsunade made a disgruntled noise. She had been doing paperwork as the Hokage for the last twenty damn years and now she had to do more? !
But her annoyance didn't stop her from moving up the stairs as the line allowed her; might as well do it, and get it over with…
The last dozen feet from the gate were a bit more interesting for her, because now she could see what was happening at the front of the line. Just to the side of the entrance a man sat, consulting a giant book, and was apparently the person who "checked" a name. As each new person took their place at the head of the line the man would riffle through his pages quickly, ask if their name was correct, and then allowed them to pass.
Tsunade shuddered. Paperwork for eternity…maybe that was hell.
Finally, it was her turn. The man shuffled through the pristine white pages of his book quickly and efficiently; obviously he had a lot of practice.
"Senju Tsunade, fifth Hokage of the village hidden in the Leaves. Is this correct?"
Her head cocked to the side as she studied him but she still answered. "Yeah, that's me." Nevertheless, it simply wasn't in her nature to be so docile and eager to please. "If I had known the afterlife was going to be exactly like being at work I wouldn't have been so eager to come."
The man didn't look up at her, but she thought she saw him smile.
"Oh it's not. And I think that you are going to like the afterlife in particular. Next please!"
The blond blinked. "Huh? What do you mean by that?" But some force was pulling her onward and though she struggled to turn back and look at the gatekeeper her feet still propelled her forward and into heaven.
"Che…What the hell was that all about?"
"Don't worry! First impressions are usually wrong about this place."
If she still had a heart to beat, it would have stopped. Slowly, (because she had to work hard to keep herself in check,) the medic turned to face the voice.
He wasn't exactly the same…no, he was actually younger. Back to his early twenties it seemed; a quick, absent examination of herself revealed the same thing. She had been using her chakra to maintain her youthful appearance for so long that it hadn't occurred to her before, but she was young again as well.
Jiraiya was sitting on the grass to the left of the gate, one leg stretched out in front of him, and one pulled up towards his chest with an arm resting on it casually. "Yo."
Even though she knew it should be impossible the blond found she was having trouble breathing.
Her companion jumped to his feet lightly, brushing himself off and appearing completely calm. Perversely, she found his serene attitude to be annoying. Most likely because he was at ease and she was still adjusting to her new surroundings. Either way, Tsunade felt the familiar desire to beat him to a pulp wash over her.
So she moved forward, in her head planning to pound him good. What happened was a mystery to her; instead of punching him right in the kisser as her brain had been telling her to do, her body disregarded her orders completely.
She barreled into him, (she hadn't realized she had been going so fast,) her arms wrapping around him and her face somehow resting against his shoulder. More then that there was a prick at the back of her eyes that told her she was close to crying.
Damn…she needed to get a hold of herself.
But then Jiraiya's arms wrapped around her too and control suddenly seemed like such an unimportant thing.
They stayed that way for a long time; not speaking, (because words seemed unnecessary by that point,) but just holding each other closely. Silent tears did manage to break past her lashes and slid past her cheeks to drop onto his clothes but she really didn't care. They weren't the same kind of tears she had shed the last time she had seen him, and that made all the difference.
He held her and let her cry and finally Tsunade was ready to pull back and look at him.
"Fool." Was the first word out of her mouth. "I certainly hope you didn't waste all your time sitting here, waiting."
He grinned down at her with perpetual good cheer.
"No, no. I did the rounds when I first got here, going around and seeing everybody who got here before I did. And after that I volunteered to work here at the gate for a while…"
One pencil thin eyebrow rose. "Oh?" She questioned. He wasn't exactly known for his desire to work hard after all.
He probably knew what she was thinking because he chuckled lightly. "Yeah." He answered her. "Well, I did have an ulterior motive, but I've never been afraid of working in order to get what I want."
She opened her mouth with another sassy comeback but he beat her too it.
"I just took a peep ahead in the schedule so I would know when you were getting here."
For the first time in years, she felt the warmth of a blush suffuse her cheeks. "O-oh really?" She managed to say in a fairly even tone. "Well, shouldn't I just feel honored?"
And maybe not so deep down inside…she was. He had remembered his promise, (obviously, otherwise he wouldn't have been there,) but what really mattered was that it had been important enough for him to take time in his afterlife to achieve it.
Tsunade didn't want to admit it out loud, but she liked that. She liked the idea that her last request to him had been that important.
The other ninja only laughed cheerfully before finally letting her go. Well, not completely. As his arms slid back around her one hand lightly traced down her sleeve until he could grasp her fingers with his own.
"There are some people who have been waiting to see you." He informed her.
But when he turned to lead her away from the gate she didn't move. Setting her feet slightly apart to brace herself the former Hokage swallowed hard before wetting her lips. It had been a long time in coming…
He looked back to see what was holding her up.
"I love you too." She told him. Her voice was even but soft; she was pleased with herself that she hadn't stumbled on the words. It had taken her a very long time to answer him, but when the words left her mouth she felt that it was worth the wait.
She had been afraid of giving her heart away to someone else again, (especially since he was already dead by the time she had realized it,) but the hard casing that had been protecting her heart melted away and she was left marveling at the feeling. She had expected to feel vulnerable, or maybe embarrassed and defensive…but she was peaceful and calm; she smiled at him, lovingly and genuinely.
Jiraiya smiled back at her. His unoccupied hand reached out to touch the back of her head and, pulling her forward gently, he brushed his lips against her forehead; exactly as he had done the night his spirit had come to say goodbye.
"It took you long enough." He murmured.
Still peaceful she leaned into the kiss and returned his teasing. "Don't think I won't hit you just because we're in heaven.
He laughed as he pulled back, smiling down at her affectionately. "That's my hime…but I think it's worth the risk."
He leaned down and kissed her again, his lips softly caressing hers. She responded in kind, allowing her free hand to slip up his arm to the back of his neck; using her new advantage the medic pulled him in for a firmer kiss.
This truly was heaven.
She didn't know how long it lasted but when he pulled back it was only enough to touch their foreheads together. "The worst part of the afterlife…was waiting for you to get here. I love you, Tsunade."
She breathed a soft laugh. "Hmm…good to hear." Her lips quirked upwards more as she was finally able to respond in kind. "I love you too."
He squeezed her hand and they separated enough to walk comfortably side by side, as he led her away from the gates.
"By the way," He could be heard saying as they walked off. "Am I ever going to get that love letter?"
AN: So there you have it; I don't remember where this idea came from, it just popped into my head and most of it has been written down for a few months. Today I finally decided to finish the middle and things took a more serious turn then I had originally intended. But that's okay as I think it addresses most of their issues pretty well, if it's too serious for you, (or gooshy, it definitely got gooshy at the end.) well...what can I say? Sorry! Please leave me a review and tell me what you didn't like about it. Of course, you can leave me a review to tell me what you did like as well. I'm not picky. :P