Second Chance At Forever

Chapter Four: Who Jiraiya Left Behind

They arrived at the center of the garden, which was bordered on all sides by crimson roses. Jiraiya grinned at the irony behind this; the flower of passion watching as a lover tries to watch over his soul mate. He had learned to appreciate irony over his years as a writer, but that didn't mean he liked it all the time. Nara tugged Jiraiya to kneel next to her smaller form. Tugging a small pouch out of her pocket, Nara scattered a handful of potent smelling herbs over the surface of the still pond. Only a lifetime of shinobi training stopped Jiraiya from wrinkling his nose at the potent smells now drifting from the once clear pond. Nara didn't even seem thrown off by the stench. Jiraiya couldn't help but wonder if she had done this many times before.

Just how old was this kid? Jiraiya had to wonder. . .


Nara's POV

I sang the words to open the viewing pond. I winced when I saw Lady Tsunade was in her room at night. She looked so frail. . . I wondered if it was a good idea to allow Jiraiya to see her like this. It could make his itch to go home even worse. Against my better instincts, I moved aside.

"Take a look."


Jiraiya's POV

Tsunade looked so frail. She lay in bed with the covers over her, barely breathing. Even though she still kept up the illusion of her twenties, there was no trace of the vibrant young woman Jiraiya had known and fallen in (unrequited, as far as he knew) love with so long ago. She looked more severe than he had seen her, well, EVER even in sleep. It made his heart hurt and his eyes grow almost wet to see her so weak looking. Her fists clenched; she mumbled something under her breath. Then she turned onto her side, curling into herself and starting to shake. A nightmare. Kami. And I'm not there to help her. . . Or I'm the subject of her nightmare. . . Kami it hurts that I've only added to her burden.

Jiraiya reached toward the pond, then pulled back. Just in time he had remembered that it was a mirror. Only a window into her life. Something prickled hotly at the backs of his eyes. And it was likely all he'd ever get to see of his secret love ever again if the goddesses got their way. He wanted so much to reach out and touch her, to ease the strain from her brow… To see her smile that loving, warm smile he loved to see. Or even her laughing at him smile.

Anything to see her happy.

There were several sake bottles littering the wooden floor of her bedroom. For some stupid reason, that made him want to smile. A bittersweet kind of smile, though. At least his "death" hadn't ruined the escape of alcohol for her. The tear tracks down her face, still all too obvious to someone who knew her, evidenced that she had cried for him. Maybe not as much as Dan, but she grieved his passing. Was it only because I was the only one left? Or did Tsunade. . . No. Can't even think that. . . . Otherwise, I'll go mad with guilt before I even REACH her. And she needs me. Obviously.

Jiraiya simply stared at her, drinking in the sight of the woman he thought he would never see again. From her crumpled position, she looked achingly vulnerable. But Jiraiya knew that frail looking body housed a spirit of adamant, a stone fist and a steel backbone. Tsunade had survived his "death" just as he had predicted, but as Anemone had said, she had changed. Drastically. It looks like Tsunade changed for the worse, too… Oh Kami, what have I done to her?


Nara's POV

The look on his face was heartbreaking. Helpless misery reigned in his black eyes. He reached out to touch the water's surface, then pulled back. He simply sat, staring as if he wanted to memorize her. I stuffed down a whimper as my heart throbbed in sympathy pains. What is it like to love someone so much your heart hurts when they are in pain? Why does he love her so deeply? She's done nothing but hurt him then apologize later…. Why?

I tried to go to him. Jiraiya needed someone to comfort him. That or my heart was going to burst. It would certainly set me off if he started crying. When my small hand was on his shoulder, he finally sensed me. Jiraiya then did something surprising. He tugged me down to sit on his lap. He clutched me close and buried his face in my hair, body shivering slightly.

Trying not to be rattled by this uncharacteristic show of emotion, I cuddled into his warm chest. His rapidly beating heart provided some comfort in its stability. His clothes smelled of Mother's pine soap and faintly something exotic, citrusy. I supposed it was something from the mainland. With a soft little sigh, I burrowed into his big, warm chest. I was growing drowsy as he held me close. Jiraiya was a bit like a big warm body pillow for me. Yes, I'm that short. And hey, I'm seven years old. I get still sleepy easy.

Then, I felt something wet dribble onto my head. Wait. Grownups don't cry. At least with kids like me around they don't. So why. . . Oh. I calm him down. So that's why he is being so awful quiet. He's breathing kind of roughly though. . . Should I call Mom? Or Grandma?

Then Jiraiya cuddled me, rubbing his hand up and down my back, and petting my hair. It was almost as if he was making sure I was still there. I couldn't leave him after that. He needed me far, far too much. And if my mother and grandma had taught me anything, you never abandoned someone in need. I let him pet and cuddle me. If it calmed him down, it was SO worth the embarrassment later.

Hey, after he'd indulged my chatter for so long, wasn't he entitled to a little cuddling?


Jiraiya

Jiraiya held Nara tight. No matter that a few tears had escaped his defenses; Nara had prevented him from crying like a child. He wouldn't break down in front of the little girl. Tsunade's misery was infectious. It always had been like that for him, which was why he hated seeing her sad. One of the reasons why he had played the fool for so many years. He loved hearing her laugh. He was a sucker for it, in fact. Even the beatings she dealt out ceased to really hurt after a while. Oh, physically they hurt, but inside, it was her rejections that seared him the most. And, after a while, those had decreased in their sting as well. He had figured out how much she relied on him, you see.

She cared, in her own way. She never treated anyone the same way as him, actually… However, that could be a very mixed blessing at times. Tsunade had showed that she cared more when they were older. When he groused about being sore after training Naruto, she would simply sit him down and started rubbing out the kinks. With no grousing about massaging him either. Somehow, she always found what was sore without him having to tell her. That was likely because of how many times she healed me up after her beatings, Jiraiya thought wryly. She knows all the weak spots to hit, and yet she often avoided them. Unless she was particularly pissed with me.

Jiraiya's breathing gradually eased. Holding the kid had proved an anchor to his unruly emotions. Admittedly he was out of practice keeping a poker face. Nara didn't care though; she'd allowed him to hold her to calm down. Soft little noises drifted to Jiraiya's ears. He smiled slightly when he saw the seven year old girl cuddled to his chest, sound asleep and snoring. Such a cute kid. Even her snores are adorable… Not so much with Naruto. Or Minato for that matter… Jiraiya gently stroked her hair, easing into a standing position. Apparently the moment Nara had fallen asleep, the window into Konoha had disappeared.

Jiraiya ignored the slight ache that brought to his heart. He missed everyone in Konoha and his homeland in general fiercely. Naruto and Tsunade especially, but there were other faces dear to him. Shizune, the Toads of Mount Myokobu, Kurenai, Asuma, Kakashi, hell, he even missed Iruka handing out missions… There were others he missed, but they were dead. And, he wasn't.

Which was why he fully intended to return there, goddesses or no goddesses.


Back in Konoha...

Tsunade woke up with a yelp. She wearily rubbed her eyes. Another nightmare. Obviously brought on by those damn failed mission reports…. And way too much sake… I'm such an incompetent fool… All I wanted tonight was a drunken escape… And I can't even manage that…. So stupid…. Don't deserve to be Hokage…. Just like Naruto said…

With a groan, Tsunade shook off those thoughts. She couldn't afford self-doubt. Not when she'd made a promise to Jiraiya that she fully intended on keeping. Even though he had lied in his last promise to her. She laughed faintly, raspily at the idea of keeping a promise to a dead man. But her life had always revolved around the dead more than the living...

Bet everything you have that I'll die…

"YOU KNEW I HAD SHITTY LUCK! YOU KNEW YOU WOULD-WOULD-"

Her dry throat choked on the last word. She couldn't even force the word out as she wailed her frustrations aloud. Die. He had known full well he would die on that mission. It was suicide. He had died saving the village. And, truthfully, to save her. He had died to save her and the village she treasured from the menace his old student presented. Tears prickled at the edges of her eyes, but she refused to give in again. She had already cried her tears over him.

Tsunade started to cough, losing her control over herself the same minute. The tears, hot and wet, slid down her cheeks as her body shook with coughs. Blood spattered her sheets as her throat, rubbed raw by the hacking coughs, started to bleed. When she finished, she sneered in self-loathing. So goddamn weak. I hate this… I hate the feeling of dying slowly… Torturously…. I guess this is karma for my promise to never die on the battlefield…. The greatest medical ninja ever to come out of Konoha, the Godaime Hokage to boot and she's killed by a disease that not even she can cure…. Just fucking wonderful.

Tsunade eased herself out of bed. Time for the almost nightly routine. She stripped the sheets from her bed, gathering them so no one could see the blood spatters. She slipped out the window, easily avoiding her guards. Taking the sheets to the wash room, she slid them into the water bucket and mixed bleach in. She scrubbed the stains, easily getting the blood out. All it took was practice. She wasn't too scared of her own blood, or blood in general anymore. Too many nights had been spent like this one: waking up after nightmares, coughing up blood, and then cleaning any trace of it away. She didn't want anyone to know of her secret shameful weakness.

Tsunade was working on a cure, or at least a preventative. However, it seemed unique to her genetic line alone. Luckily, she hadn't had children so this hell wouldn't be passed on. Hisako and Shizune would be safe from this nightmare. Tsunade wouldn't want her now nine year old adoptive daughter to suffer like this, nor her other daughter. Thinking of Hisako seemed to ease the tickles in her throat, vying for her to cough more. Her daughter always made her smile, no matter how many rough missions she had seen the reports on.

Shaking her head, Tsunade lifted the finished, still wet sheets from the water and hung them on the line. When finished with that, she padded back to her room. Slipping to the bathroom, she dipped a washcloth in water and started to wash her stained chin and lips. After she finished with removing any and all traces of the blood she'd coughed up, she quietly walked out to her balcony. Tsunade knew she would not get any peace tonight.

Maybe never again.


Hey! I'm so so sorry for not updating in soooo long! T.T I've just had alot of crap going on in my life. I also tried my darndest to make this update nice and long (for this story, I mean I tried!). Anyway, how do you like the update? Review and tell me!

Find out more about Hisako Senju in Never Meant To Be, my newest story! :) I'd love some input on how to continue both that one and this one! XD Thank you! Leave a review please.

Be courteous and leave a review for me! Virtual cookies and cake to all who review any of my stories!

-June