“Look…Tsunade, I’m sorry,” Jiraiya’s voice was reluctant and soft but rang through the office clear as a bell.
The Godaime glanced up at him inquisitively and put her calligraphy pen down. She mused that this was how their fights always ended, with Jiraiya apologizing for something he hadn’t even started. A long time ago, it would have ended with the Sandaime insisting they talk things over or Orochimaru supplying what little common sense he deemed necessary. But the past was long gone and the present was dragging them along. There was no Sandaime and no Orochimaru this time around.
“Can you please...just let me handle Naruto?” he asked.
She sighed and leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. Her hazel gaze was incriminating and Jiraiya met it determinedly.
“You know, I don’t approve of what you’re doing,” she said after a long silence and he felt a slight smile split across his face at her approval.
He questioned, “Have you ever?”
She let a smile play at the corners of her lips but it didn’t quite reach her solemn eyes. Letting out a breezy sigh, she stood up and walked to the window, staring at the impressive Hokage monument. Her stone likeness held the same stoic expression that had quickly forced away the frail attempt at happiness on her own face. Footsteps scuffed against the floor, deliberately loud so she would hear the white haired hermit approaching her.
“I still wish it could have ended differently,” his voice was tentative and reluctant. His gaze was fixed upon the ever youthful sculpture of the Yondaime’s profile.
“Minato chose to sacrifice himself for Konoha. If it wasn’t for him we’d all be dead,” she answered a bit more harshly than intended.
He remained unaffected by her words and shook his head, explaining, “I’m not talking about Minato. I’m talking about Orochimaru.”
He watched her through his peripheral vision, waiting for her reaction. Her eyes waved for a moment, taken aback by the unexpected explanation. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them as she struggled to absorb the meaning behind his words. It was as if she had only remembered that Orochimaru had once been a person they entrusted with their life and they had once thought they knew.
Jiraiya let out a short humourless laugh. Disbelief tinged the edges of his voice as he inquired, “You can’t have forgotten that we used to be a team, right? I’d always mess around or laze about, then you’d get mad at me and we’d get into a big fight. Sarutobi-sensei was a great teacher though and Orochimaru-”
“I know,” her voice was quiet but cut through his words like a knife.
How long had it been since she had last thought of him last? The pale faced traitor was constantly pushed to the back of her mind because some things were too painful to remember. She supposed Jiraiya was right that she always ran away when she didn’t want to face the truth. She had even buried away their own glory days, times when all they had to worry about were mission deadlines and the jounin exams and the most paperwork needed was a three page mission report. It was as if she had cut herself off from every memory that linked to what they once had been and it was only now that Jiraiya dug them up again.
The amber eyed boy had always been aware of her attraction to him but never acted upon it, retaining the quiet, mysterious persona that had initially drawn her to him. An A rank mission gone wrong and a breaking suspension bridge was ironically the thing that brought them together. As the strings had snapped and the rotting wood beneath her had given way, she had seen her life flash before her eyes and plummet sixty feet below her into the rushing river rapids.
A sheer layer of sweat had plastered his onyx hair to his pale face as he gripped her hand tightly. He was slipping too and she could hear the planks creaking beneath him. She would drag him down too if she fell and that was the last thing she wanted for him.
Let me go, she had screamed, you need to continue with the mission
He had grit his teeth, the first time she had ever seen some semblance of an expression on his usually indifferent face. Shut up Tsunade, we’re getting out of this together
And he had pulled, his muscles bulging and his neck straining with the effort it took. She had tried to let go of his hand but his slender fingers had threaded through hers like cross stitches to hold them both together.
“Do you think we ever meant anything to him at all?” her voice was nearly inaudible but he listened.
The pain in her strained whisper made his heart clench. A village forced responsibility upon its Kage but forgot that their Kage was human and had human needs too. He wondered when was the last time she had ever talked to anyone other than him about basic things like village gossip and even more importantly, Dan or the collapse of their team.
“If we had meant nothing to Orochimaru, we wouldn’t be alive. He had so many chances to kill us but he never took them,” he answered simply.
He saw her hand twitch, as if she had entertained the idea of reaching for his hand but thought better of it. His large calloused hand touched her shoulder tentatively before sliding down her arm, down her wrist, until he threaded his thick fingers through her dainty ones like cross stitches to hold two broken hearts together.