One too many at the bar, and she was spilling all of her old feelings. All of her half-hidden, embarrassed, preteen confusion about Jiraiya, and what he meant to her, and what she'd wanted from him. Her musings on the past and what they could have had, on Dan and why she ran away. Why she came back. What she wanted now that she was back, and he was back, and they were sharing the same village together.
When she was done, and they'd drained three bottles of sake together, she looked at the empty cup in her hands and set it down on the counter, blushing and self-conscious.
Jiraiya was silent.
She wished they didn't drink so much whenever they were together, and knew it was her fault they did. "Well?"
"Fascinating," Jiraiya commented. He took another shot of sake and smiled at her tightly.
She looked at him warily. She didn't like that smile. It was too much of an adult smile for someone like Jiraiya. "What's fascinating?"
"It's fascinating how you can ret-con everything in your head, so it's me who didn't understand you," Jiraiya said.
Her eye twitched. "I bare my heart to you, and that's all you have to say?"
"What am I supposed to say?" Jiraiya asked.
Tsunade frowned at him. "That you love me."
"I already said that," Jiraiya said.
"What, so you can't say it now?"
Jiraiya shrugged. "Pretty much."
Tsunade didn't have words for her frustration. "What happened to you?"
"You," Jiraiya said. He knocked back another shot of sake. "All the years you were gone, what did you think was happening to me? Good things? Not likely, princess. I lost you, and then I lost Minato, and then I lost Sarutobi. I lost Sarutobi-sensei. And you weren't there. You weren't there. You were still drinking and gambling and feeling sorry for yourself while I lost Sarutobi-sensei!" He slammed his fist down on the counter. "What's the matter with you?" He choked, tears welling up and rolling down his cheeks. "Where were you?"
Tsunade was alarmed. She'd never seen Jiraiya like this. Not even in the war. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him closer to her. "Jiraiya…"
"Sarutobi-sensei is dead! And you were out boozing –" He sniffled. "-and gambling, and I was alone –" He turned to her and clung to her, sobbing. It was the most horrible, broken sound she had ever heard.
She rocked him, wishing she'd known he was the sort of man who could cry. He'd never cried when they were children. She'd always associated sensitivity with Dan, not with Jiraiya.
"Orochimaru did it!" Jiraiya screamed against her shoulder. "Orochimaru killed Sensei! He killed Sensei…why…?" He cried like a child.
Tsunade cradled him to her chest like one, petting his soft white hair. She'd never known it was so soft. Had stayed so soft. They'd yanked each other's hair as children, and she'd noticed how unfairly soft and baby-fine it was. Like a rabbit's fur. Or a cat's. She'd thought, Why can't my hair feel like that? But now it was a luxury to touch this hair.
"I wished I could stop him." Jiraiya sniffled. "But I never could." He sounded so forlorn now. So miserable.
Tsunade found words that surprised her. "It's not your responsibility."
"What?" Jiraiya said thickly. He raised his head and looked at her with eyes that gleamed brightly with tears.
"It wasn't your responsibility to stop Orochimaru." Tsunade cupped his cheek. She stroked it and accidentally smeared his red face paint. She felt a pulse of grief at that. She looked from his smudged cheek to his eyes. "It never was."
Jiraiya sucked in his breath as if he were suppressing a sob. "Never…?"
"Never was," Tsunade said gently.
Jiraiya choked off a sob and kissed her, his lips hot with sake.
Tsunade found that she didn't mind. She stroked his hair and let him have his kiss, mouthing his lips gently in response.
Jiraiya leaned back, stunned. He looked at her with an expression like a startled deer; ready to run.
"Jiraiya…" Tsunade felt guilty for that look. She knew she'd caused it with her past temper. "Come home with me tonight. Don't be so alone."
Jiraiya clung to her tightly. "Tsuni."
Tsunade didn't mind that he'd mangled her name. She wondered was what so different inside of her; and realized that she'd seen Jiraiya's tears. That was the difference. Seeing him this way made her want to nurture him, made her want to nurse him back to life, rekindle that smile on his face that said, 'I'm happy and have no worries in the world'. The very smile that used to annoy her, before she knew that he could look some other way. That he could look this way.
She didn't want him to look this way.
I just wanted you to be a little more vulnerable. Tsunade wished she'd known his vulnerability would look like this.