Biwako scowled at the damage the hospital had suffered. Thankfully, no one was too badly hurt, and order had been quickly restored. She had just poured herself a nice cup of tea, and turned back to the heaping pile of paperwork screaming for her attention, when there was a polite cough behind her.
"Yes?" she asked, more sharply than was called for. It had been a very trying day, and she would have been done with the admission forms by now if she didn't keep having all these distractions.
"I wonder if you might be able to see me, now that all the ruckus has ended."
She knew that voice. "Hiruzen Sarutobi," she said primly, "If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, I simply have no time to..." She turned and froze. "Good lord!" she gasped. "What is that?"
Hiruzen gave her that winning smile all the other nurses thought was so adorable. He took his hand away from his bruised cheek. "What this? It's only a little scratch that happened in the fracas upstairs. I was hoping that I could get someone to clean it up for me." Biwako just stared at him in stunned silence. Hiruzen gave a little wave in front of her face. "Biwako-chan?" he prompted.
Biwako gave herself a little shake. "Oh... yes... that cut... let me take care of that right now." She turned and pulled a small field medic kit off her station desk. She slowed again as she approached him staring at his cranium. She turned her head this way and that, examining him. "I don't mean to pry... but... " words failed her. In the end she simply settled for looking puzzled and a pointing her finger.
Hiruzen glanced up with an extremely wounded expression. Perched on the top of his head was a scuffed and torn hat in the design of a maniacally grinning monkey with enormous googly eyes. It's tail curved up and over his head, dangling two silver bells that jangled whenever he moved.
Hiruzen Sarutobi let out an exasperated sigh. "That... is a very long story."
"Hiruzen-sensei, thank god you've arrived." The cat-masked ANBU looked nervously over his shoulder at the room where all the frustrated screaming was coming from. Two other very worried looking ANBU were at the door, waiting. "We're hoping that you might be able to diffuse the situation before it gets any worse than it already is."
Hiruzen Sarutobi raised an eyebrow. "And how bad is it exactly?"
The building shook as if a giant were pounding on its wall. This was followed by a deafening crash and the tinkling of glass. Hiruzen and the ANBU rushed to a hallway window that had a view of the street below.
A solid oak double wardrobe that must have weighed 300 kilos had crashed through the outside wall of the Hokage's mansion, sailed across the street, and exploded against the military police barracks, sending dated formal wear and other assorted knickknacks raining down on the passersby.
The pedestrians looked up in confusion just in time to see the other wardrobe in the set follow its twin in an airborne dance of destruction. The street emptied very quickly
The cat masked ANBU looked up at Hiruzen. "I would say very bad."
Hiruzen sighed. "Has anyone spoken to her parents? Or grandparents? Or the Hokage?"
The ANBU looked down at his feet. "Both her parents are away on missions. The first Hokage is re-negotiating a treaty with the representative from the Uchiha clan. The current Hokage is trying to sign a treaty with the Land of Rain."
"And her Grandmother?"
"She said she had a headache and left specific instructions not to be disturbed." The ANBU leaned forward a little. "Very specific," he whispered. "She said 'it' was acting up again."
There was a thunderous grinding noise from the room behind the locked door. Hiruzen peeked out the window to see an exquisitely carved sandstone bed frame poking out of the hole left by the wardrobes. It shook as someone lined it up with the opening. "No!" yelled the Cat ANBU through the door. "Don't do it Senju-Hime! That was a gift from the Tsuchikage!"
The bed sailed out of the hole. It hit the edge of the icy gutters on the police barracks, skipped twice over the roof, tearing up a huge swath of tiles and snow, and flew over the other side.
The crash was very loud.
Hiruzen rubbed his eyes. "I don't need this right now," he thought. "I just got back from a mission not five hours ago. I've only had three hours of sleep. I should just turn around right now and go back to bed." He looked up into the pleading faces of the ANBU. These men and women who would face certain death without hesitation, yet they were completely lost and frightened. He sighed again. "Alright," he said quietly. "I'll see what I can do." Relief came off the ANBU in palpable waves. There was another rattle across the floor followed by a crash from outside. Hiruzen took a step towards the room and paused. "I wonder," he said with a slight cough, "if you would be so kind as to get me cup of tea? It's been a very long day."
All three of the ANBU seemed to evaporate into thin air. "Cowardly bunch of..." Hiruzen muttered. He straightened his gi, nervously smoothed back his hair and gave a polite knock.
"GO AWAY!" shrieked Tsunade Senju, granddaughter of the first Hokage. "I don't want to talk to any of you!" There was yet another crash from the room.
"Tsunade!" said Hiruzen with a stern bark in his voice. "It's me, Hiruzen-sensei. You need to open this door right away!" There was a very long silence. Hiruzen leaned forward and gently knocked again. "Tsunade?" he called. "What happened? I thought you and the rest of the team were supposed to be exchanging Christmas presents at the party?"
Tsunade let out a blood curdling yell of frustration and rage. This was immediately followed by another tremor. Hiruzen steadied himself as the mansion listed a few centimeters to the right. "Tsunade!" he shouted pushing at the door. "You have to stop this! Destroying your grandfather's mansion will solve nothing!" The door was wedged shut. Apparently the girl had barricaded herself into the VIP suite before trashing the place.
There was the shattering of glass again. "Tsunade! Stop!" he bellowed, trying to get her attention. Hiruzen tried twisting the door handle, but it was in vain.
He was considering whether it would be better to get into the room through the inside wall or through the gaping hole where the outside wall had been, when he froze. There were soft, slippered steps coming down the hallway. Hiruzen slowly turned. It was her. He looked down and gave a very polite bow. "Mito-sama," he intoned deeply. "I am so terribly sorry we have disturbed you."
The jinchuriki of the Nine Tails returned his bow with a nod, one hand pressed against her forehead. She spoke softly, wincing at the noise from Tsunade's tantrum. "What has upset my granddaughter this time?" she murmured.
Hiruzen made an apologetic shrug. "I'm afraid I simply don't know Mito-sama. She was supposed to be exchanging gifts with the other new chunin when she assaulted her teammate and ran back here.The ANBU were called in to retrieve her, and she barricaded herself in the VIP suite. When one of the more enterprising ANBU tried to climb in the window to apprehend her, she started throwing furniture." He gently cleared his throat. "They sought me out to see if I could calm her down and find out what happened."
Mito watched Hiruzen for a second before turning her focus on the locked door. "I see," she murmured. "Do you believe that you could calm her down?"
Hiruzen thought carefully. "I believe that if I spoke to her face to face I would be able to find out what the source of all this was. And then from there, I might be able to rectify the situation, yes."
Mito gave him a curt nod. "Well then... If that is all you require." Mito rubbed her forehead and took a short step towards the door. She rested the palm of her right hand against it. There was a brilliant flare of burning red chakra.
The door screamed on it hinges as it was forced open. The makeshift barricade ground and shuddered across the floor. Tsunade let out a murderous howl as her privacy was invaded.
Mito took five steps inside the room. Hiruzen's view was blocked, but the wall opposite the now open door was brightly illuminated with dancing red light. "Tsunade!" Mito's voice cracked like a whip, rolling with raw eldritch power. "Stop this foolishness at once! I expect you to listen to your teacher! The nice man just wants to help you. And keep the noise down! I have a headache!" She turned and marched regally out of the damaged room. As she was leaving Mito paused and grabbed the horrified Hiruzen by the shoulder. "Do let me know if she gives you any more trouble." Tsunade just stood in the middle of the floor, white faced and large eyed, staring nervously after her grandmother.
Hiruzen walked gingerly inside the room. "So Tsunade... I understand you're having a bad day... Do you want to talk about it?"
He never got his tea.
He did however, get his student to calm down enough to inform him that whatever happened was "All that jackass Jiraiya's fault! I never want to see him again!" and that whatever prank he had played had mortally embarrassed her in front of everyone. No matter how much Hiruzen pried however, the actual prank itself still remained a mystery.
It took more cajoling, and the casual mention that he might have to go talk to her grandmother again, to convince Tsunade to accompany him on his visit to Jiraiya. She was sullen, kicking at snow the whole walk from the Hokage's mansion to the hospital. Hiruzen critically eyed his first student as they walked. Thirteen years old, as close to royalty as you got in Konoha. Tsunade had an uncanny talent with medicines and medical ninjutsu. She also possessed monstrous strength and a hair trigger temper. A blessing in battle, but awkward in ordinary life. She was blossoming into a fine shinobi, but still very much a child. Hiruzen shook his head and sighed. "Teenagers," he groaned in his head.
He glanced again at Tsunade as she viciously kicked at a snowman a child had made in the street. Its head sailed over a three story building. This was the sixth incident in two weeks amongst the members of his team. It was beginning to affect his squad's performance in the field. It was beginning to get on his nerves.
Tsunade was very reluctant to even enter the hospital. Hiruzen had to gently yet firmly guide her by the arm to the nurses' station. He felt his spirits lift when he spotted a familiar face..
"Biwako-chan!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "What a marvelous pleasure it is to see you!"
"I'm here every Thursday afternoon at this time, Hiruzen-san. I'm quite sure you already knew that," Biwako said in a slightly annoyed tone. She flipped her pony tail over her shoulder with one flick of her wrist. "If you're here to ask me yet again to the New Year's festivities, I'm afraid a Christmas miracle has not occurred. I'm still on duty that night."
Hiruzen coughed delicately. "Actually, I'm here to see one of my students. Jiraiya was admitted about an hour ago?"
"Oh? Hold on a second. I'll check the room number." Hiruzen raised an eyebrow in surprise. Was that a note of disappointment in her voice? She turned back. "He's in room 217. The poor boy got fairly banged up." She glanced suspiciously at Tsunade, who turned away and pouted. "A fight with a teammate I heard."
"I know," sighed Hiruzen. "I'm going to have word with him. We need to clear things up." He nodded to the cute nurse, and started away.
Biwako hesitantly called him back. "Hiruzen, wait!" She held out a steaming mug. "This chilly weather is leading to a surge of illness in the village. You should try to keep warm. Just bring the cup back when you are finished."
As Hiruzen took the hot tea, their fingers touched. He smiled. "You are entirely too kind to me Biwako-chan."
Biwako turned away, but not before he saw a touch of color rise in her cheeks. "Go check up on your student," she said gruffly.
The door to room 217 slid open. The second member of his squad, the burly, brave Jiraiya was propped up in the hospital bed. When it suited him, Jiraiya could be one of the noblest, most gallant ninja Hiruzen had ever seen. Unfortunately it only suited him about ten percent of the time. The rest of his waking hours, Jiraiya was loud, crude, perverse and constantly testing the boundaries of authority. Every public bath in a ten kilometer radius had his picture on the wall, right under the words 'Do Not Let This Person Enter!'
His remaining trainee, the studious Orochimaru, was sitting in the chair next to the bed. There was a small pile of three similarly sized boxes next to Orochimaru. One was still covered in wrapping paper.
Tsunade held her temper for almost three seconds. In a way, Hiruzen was very impressed.
"YOU STUPID JERK!" she yelled, stabbing an accusatory finger at Jiraiya. "I told you that all I wanted from you for Christmas was for you to be nice to me for once! Was that too much to ask for? Give me one good reason why I shouldn't pummel you again!"
Jiraiya glared at Tsunade with puffy eyes. There was the scritch of a pen and a soft rustle of paper. "That's totally not true sensei," said Orochimaru calmly and slowly. "I didn't do anything. I just gave Tsunade her present and then I left to get a drink. When I came back she hit me in the face."
Hiruzen looked at his star pupil with surprise. "Orochimaru? Are you saying Tsunade attacked you as well?"
Orochimaru cleared his throat delicately. "Um... No... Jiraiya is sensei. You see when Tsunade punched Jiraiya she fractured his jaw. The doctors had to wire it shut. Since communication for him is difficult, I've been acting as his voice and reading aloud the notes he's been writing." Jiraiya nodded and scribbled again. "He says: That this is... not a pleasant experience. He can't eat anything but the soup, and even that tastes... terrible."
"MmmMmmMmm," mumbled Jiraiya, jabbing a finger at his paper.
"I know that is not what you wrote," said Orochimaru fussily. "I refuse to utter such language in front of sensei!"
"You deserve it, you idiot," whispered Tsunade, loud enough for everyone to hear. Jiraiya scowled at her and began to write furiously.
"Stop!" called out Hiruzen in a firm voice. "Enough. The fighting stops now. It has been going on for far too long. You three are a team and you need to start acting like it." He pulled up the spare chair in the room and settled down in it. He took a long sip of his tea and exhaled slowly. "I have just had a very long day. All I want to do is get to the bottom of this and then go back to bed." Tsunade stomped over to the window and angrily glared at the snow. Hiruzen shook his head and took another sip of his tea. "Orochimaru... you tell me what happened."
Orochimaru colored slightly with everyone staring at him. "Well sensei, the party itself was a rather dull affair. The food was subpar, the band was a bit shrill at times and..."
Hiruzen closed his eyes. Orochimaru was an exceptionally gifted shinobi. The type of genius that only comes along once in a hundred years. An only child, his wealthy parents had insisted on raising him in an insulated, exclusively traditional manner with all the old eastern style clothes, rituals and mannerisms. After their death, his massive inheritance allowed him to continue this very pampered, yet solitary existence.
Orochimaru had brilliant insights in the art of ninjutsu. Everyone acknowledged and praised his genius. That, combined with his wealth, gave Orochimaru an ego the size of the Hokage monument.
All of the other Konoha jonin had declined training Hiruzen's squad because they felt the three were just 'too weird, too dangerous, too creepy, too pervy, or too much of a bunch of pompous asses'. Hiruzen didn't mind much. He had always had a soft spot in his heart for those that didn't quite fit in. He always believed that given just the right opportunity, anyone could shine.
"I understand Orochimaru," Hiruzen interrupted when his student stopped to take a breath. "Just get to the part right before the fighting started."
"Right... Well, we had just started exchanging the gifts we got for each other. Tsunade gave me a new set of lab glassware and test tubes, and Jiraiya gave me this novelty hat." He reached down and put in on his head. Hiruzen's eyes bugged out. There was a snicker from Tsunade. It looked like a huge green snake was swallowing Orochimaru's head. "It's very warm and it covers my ears nicely," Orochimaru continued, "and look, I can wrap the tail around my neck thus avoiding the need for a scarf. Contrary to the amusement it seems to give my teammates, I find it quite practical."
"I see," said Hiruzen tiredly, "continue please."
"Well, then it was Jiraiya's turn. I gave him a book on etiquette and Tsunade gave him this lovely bath set." Orochimaru held up a clear plastic box filled with vials of colored liquid and large poofy sponges. The pen scribbled once again. Orochimaru held up the note. "Jiraiya says, 'If anyone should be offended it's him. Tsunade is trying to say he..." Orochimaru squinted at the paper, "Pickles?"
"MmmMmm!" Jiraiya snatched the paper away and wrote more carefully this time.
"Oh! 'Smells bad!' You know, if you want to be a writer you should really practice your kanji. Your handwriting is terrible!" Orochimaru looked longingly at the perfumed soaps. "I don't see why you have to be so ungrateful. I would adore a present like this."
"Please Orochimaru, I don't mean to be rude, but could you just stick to the story?" said Hiruzen.
Orochimaru nodded. "My apologies sensei. Anyway, lastly it was time to give Tsunade her presents. I gave her this charming new obi. It's made from this special gold cloth imported all the way from..." He hesitated as Hiruzen took a noisy sip from his cup. "Yes... right... and then Jiraiya handed her his gift."
"That jackass really had me fooled," Tsunade said softly from her spot by the window. "I actually thought he was trying to be nice to me for once." She rubbed her sleeve across her eyes. "I mean, he was still obnoxious and so full of himself, but it seemed like he was really trying. He brought me this little plate of hors d'oeuvres, he kept asking if I was thirsty, he even told me some of his cleaner jokes." Tsunade looked up, her watery eyes focusing on Jiraiya. "And then," she growled, "he handed me that damn box."
"Oh dear," thought Hiruzen. Tsunade had taken an ominous step forward. He carefully put his tea down just in case he had to restrain her.
"I giggled... Giggled! When he handed me that present!" She snarled, taking another step. "He was so polite. He bowed! He said he had hand picked this gift out, especially for me. He asked me to try it on and made me promise that I would show it to him. He said he just needed a drink, and then he'd be right back."
"All the other girls thought he was being so adorable, so romantic," said Tsunade, her voice dropping to a deadly whisper. "They all crowded around to see what he got me." Her eyes were burning with fires of rage. "And then," she hissed, "I... Opened... That... Box!" Thankfully, instead of trying to kill Jiraiya, she spun on her heel and focused her attention back outside the window.
Orochimaru cleared his throat. "I did see Tsunade open the present," he said helpfully. "One moment, all of the other girls were bunched around her eagerly peering into the present. They let out a collective gasp, and then fell about laughing and pointing. Tsunade got all red in the face and slammed the lid closed. When Jiraiya walked back and asked her what she thought of it... Well... She hit him."
Hiruzen sighed. "Jiraiya... What was in that box?"
The pen scratched on the paper for a long time. "He says, he doesn't understand why Tsunade got so... old socks?" Orochimaru asked quizzically. Jiraiya grunted and corrected the paper. "Ah, upset. He says, yes maybe his gift was a little on the tacky side, and perhaps a tad... Does that say turtle egg?" Jiraiya let out a frustrated moan and made another rewrite. "Inappropriate. But that is still no reason to..."
Hiruzen held up his hand for silence. "Jiraiya," he said very slowly but firmly. "What was in the box?"
There was a brief scratching on the paper. Orochimaru took the note and squinted. "I'm not even going to pretend that I can make out these chicken scratchings," he muttered. "But that doesn't matter. I had already figured out what everyone's gifts were going to be long before the party started."
Tsunade and Jiraiya looked up in surprise. Hiruzen lifted his eyebrows in admiration. "Really?" he asked, a hint of pride at his star student in his voice. "You must tell me how you deduced all of that."
"It was trivial," Orochimaru said calmly. "I simply snuck into their respective houses, found the hidden gifts, opened each one and examined it. "
"What?!?" yelped Tsunade and Jiraiya together. At least Hiruzen thought that's what Jiraiya was trying to say. It only came out as a small squeak.
Orochimaru gave each of them a cool look. "There was no way I was going to waste my time attending this year's soiree if all I was going to be getting was another souvenir mug from Mount Myoboku and one of Tsunade's mother's fruitcakes. My python refused the one from last year, and I've seen him eat a rotten skunk." He turned back to his sensei. "So yes, I knew what everyone's gift was going to be."
"You did?" snapped Tsunade in a mixture of shock and rage. "Then why the hell did you let me open that stupid thing in public? Why didn't you take it out of my hands and burn it?"
Orochimaru blinked. "I didn't foresee you would find it so objectionable. I thought it was rather fetching."
Tsunade stopped dead in her tracks. The temperature in the room seemed to drop ten degrees. "What?" she hissed quietly.
"Will somebody please tell me what was in that box!" snapped Hiruzen, making a last ditch attempt to head off the violence.
Orochimaru rolled his eyes. "It's obvious if you think about it sensei. Three identical boxes. Jiraiya is not the refined type of person who would spend an extraordinary amount of time searching for the perfect, thoughtful gift. He is much more likely to walk into the first store he sees and pick up whatever gaudy, mass produced, bauble catches his fancy for everyone on his list."
Orochimaru paused as Jiraiya wrote out another note. Orochimaru read it silently for a moment and then turned and shook it under Jiraiya's nose. "You see! This is the exact reason I got you that book on etiquette! Here I am, spending my precious time trying to help you in your hour of need and you say this to me?"
Hiruzen picked up his cup of tea and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt a headache coming on. "Orochimaru... What does the note say?"
Orochimaru shot Jiraiya a dirty look. "Ahem... Among other things... He said he did not go to a store, he used a mail order catalogue. He also said he got one for you too sensei." Orochimaru picked up the one remaining wrapped gift and handed it to Hiruzen. "Here you are Hiruzen-sensei. Jiraiya apologizes that he got fish all over the wrapping paper."
"MmmmMMmm!" mumbled Jiraiya angrily.
"Well if you meant to apologize for bleeding on it you should have written the kanji for blood!" scolded Orochimaru, rolling his eyes, "Honestly!"
Everyone was staring. Even Tsunade, feigning interest at something out the window, was watching out of the corner of her eye as Hiruzen slowly unwrapped his box. He cautiously looked inside.
There was a long pause. "I see," Hiruzen said gravely.
The silence was broken by the scritch of a pen. "Try it on sensei," read Orochimaru. Hiruzen looked at the eager faces of his students. He sighed, took the present out of the box and hesitantly put it on his head.
Despite her mood, Tsunade let out a chuckle. Jiraiya started to snort. "You have to admit sensei," said Orochimaru. "Given your summoning animal, it certainly does suit you." Perched right above Hiruzen Sarutobi's distressed face was a novelty hat depicting a monkey with googly eyes and a mad grin. It's tail curled up and over the wearer's head, dangling a pair of silver bells.
"You got me this?" Hiruzen asked quietly.
Jiraiya scribbled. "He says: He received the winter catalogue for Honan's Novelty Clothing Boutique," Orochimaru read. "He found things in it for me and you sensei, but Tsunade required a special order, she was a little bit harder to shop for."
"Harder to shop for?" screeched Tsunade. "What you got them was positively tame compared to what you gave to me!"
Jiraiya handed Orochimaru another note. "He says, he didn't order anything that bad. He thinks you should just lighten up."
"Lighten up? You gave that to me in front of everyone! Everyone saw it! This is all anyone is going to be talking about for years! YEARS!" Tsunade bellowed.
Orochimaru sighed. "I'm afraid I have to agree with Jiraiya here. I think you are overreacting."
"WHAT?!?" roared Tsunade. "Sensei! Are you listening to this?"
Hiruzen picked up his tea again. "Well, Tsunade..."
"It is a little ugly, yes," interrupted Orochimaru, "but certainly you could have shown some gratitude. You should have worn it for Jiraiya at least." Tsunade's face went bright crimson, her veins bulging at her temples. Her fists were clenched tight. Orochimaru sighed. "Fine...I'll put yours on first, if it will make you feel any better."
Tsunade flinched back in shock. "What?" she yelped.
Orochimaru slowly opened the box and put the item on his head. "There. You see? The straps are far too long, and this second piece here is some sort of face shield for wind and snow I believe. But it is made of fine red silk, and the fur trim is a nice touch and... Sensei... are you well?"
Hiruzen had sprayed tea across the room and was coughing horrendously. Tsunade had her back to the whole scene and was glaring, red faced, at the wall. Jiraiya was staring wide eyed. Orochimaru looked at each member of his team in turn. "What?" he asked.
Hiruzen somehow got his breath back. "Orochimaru," he croaked, "please take that off your head."
"What, right now?" Orochimaru held it up for all to see. "I didn't even get a chance to turn on its lights." He moved a switch. "Oh! It plays music too!"
Jiraiya let out a strangled, reverent whimper, as Orochimaru dangled the red silk brassiere with white fur trim from his fingers, shaking it gently to the tinny electronic refrain of 'Oh, Holy Night.'
"In retrospect," thought Hiruzen to himself, "I can almost see how he would think that bra is a hat... Almost." The red silk and white fur was reminiscent of the stereotypical santa hat. The cup size was enormous, a triple D at least. Slightly off center to each cup, right where (ahem) certain points of interest would reside, was a tiny stuffed reindeer head with a dangling silver tassel on its collar. Nestled right in the middle of the two supports was a sprig of mistletoe.
The lights on the bra blinked out the phrase "Ho... Ho... Ho..." A little red light winked in each reindeer's nose. As he watched, a tiny motor started up and the tassels hanging from the reindeer began to spin in circles.
The music changed to 'Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.'
"While it is a rather odd pattern for a hat, you have to admit, what it lacks in style it makes up for in its festivity," continued Orochimaru brightly. He held it out toward Tsunade, who drew back in disgust. "Here... try it on".
Jiraiya wiped ineffectually at his nosebleed, jotted something down on his notepad, tore off the page and threw it at Orochimaru. Orochimaru unfolded the page. "How can you be such a genius and still be such a... Hey!" he exclaimed.
"Orochimaru," said Hiruzen in a pained voice. "That... is most definitely... not a hat. It's western style underwear."
"Underwear? Are you certain?" asked Orochimaru incredulously, turning the bra this way and that. Bells jingled as it moved. "Well... I'll stick with my traditional fundoshi, thank you very much. This thing would chafe something awful around my..."
"We'll talk about it later," Hiruzen interrupted quickly. He turned to face Jiraiya. "Right now I need to..." He stopped. Jiraiya was staring at the bra as if hypnotized. "Orochimaru? Could you please turn that off and put it away? Thank you. Now... Jiraiya? Jiraiya?" Hiruzen snapped his fingers. The dreamy smile vanished from Jiraiya's face and he looked up at his sensei with a start. "Oh good... You're back. Now Jiraiya," he said very sternly, " I think that even you would have to admit that was an extremely inappropriate gift for a teammate."
Scribble scribble scribble. "He says that he had no idea something that amazing even existed sensei, let alone how it got into the box," read Orochimaru.
"You are such a liar!" growled Tsunade. "You are always making fun of me... calling me flat chested. You just thought this would be the perfect way to humiliate me! Ooh, here Tsunade, try this on! Ooh, now let me see you in it! Der!" she mocked in an imitation of his voice.
"MmmmMmmMMmmMMMmmm," mumbled Jiraiya pointedly. He was writing for an awful long time.
"Tsunade," read Orochimaru solemnly. "I have teased you in the past, that much is true. But I gave you my solemn promise that I would be nice to you at the Christmas party. I never go back on my word, for that in my way of the ninja! I swear to you on my honor as a shinobi that I have no idea how that... I can only assume you mean to say underwear here?" Orochimaru asked. Jiraiya nodded and wiped his sweaty palms. "Underwear got in your present. I ordered you a..." Orochimaru looked up quizzically. Jiraiya leaned over and wrote. "Hat, just like everyone else."
"Hmph," grunted Tsunade. "Why don't I believe you?"
There was a renewed frenzy of scribbling. "I can prove it," read Orochimaru. Jiraiya started digging frantically through his tool pouch. Eventually he pulled out a flimsy, yellow piece of paper. He handed it proudly to Orochimaru. "It's a carbon copy of a mail order," he told everyone as he examined the sales bill. "One novelty snake hat, green. One novelty monkey hat with bells on. And one novelty..." Orochimaru squinted at the list. He started to giggle. "One novelty 'something illegible' in red, with white fur trim. The finest, most expensive one you've got. With added mistletoe, reindeer heads, lights and all the bells and whistles." Orochimaru looked up smiling. "Oh my, this is too much!" Jiraiya scribbled something down on his paper and held it up to Orochimaru. "It most certainly does not say 'hat'," scoffed Orochimaru. "No one can make sense of that mess. You write like a cretin!" He started giggling again.
Jiraiya glanced up at Tsunade. She gave him a vindictive look of triumph and turned away in a huff. Jiraiya's gaze shifted to his sensei for a bit, who gave him a disappointed frown, and then went back to Tsunade. With a somber face he started writing slowly and carefully. When he finished, he put his pen down and held up his pad for everyone to see.
Tsunade, I have done you a great wrong. It was not my intention to humiliate you, but to give you something silly. I am truly sorry. I only wanted for us all to have a nice, enjoyable time at the party. I did not mean to make you upset. Sensei's been complaining for weeks now that we've lost our camaraderie and our team work. I thought that maybe if we all looked ridiculous, we would all laugh about it. We'd stop arguing and be merrier and more cheerful. Instead I ended up ruining the good cheer of the season for everyone. I feel really bad about it. I'm sorry.
When he was sure everyone had had enough time to read it, Jiraiya put the pad down with great finality. Then he turned and faced the wall.
There was a long, drawn out silence.Tsunade chewed on her lip for a bit. Slowly she walked over to the hospital bed. "You really wanted to get me the 'finest, most expensive' novelty hat they had?" Jiraiya nodded once. "You were doing a pretty good job being nice to me at the party." Jiraiya nodded again. Tsunade sat down on the corner of the bed. After a moment she cleared her throat. "That hat you tried to order sounds like it would have been pretty crazy... But I guess I would have worn it anyway." Jiraiya nodded again and turned his head slightly to look at her. "I'm sorry I broke your jaw," she said quietly. Jiraiya smiled and gave her a fourth nod.
Orochimaru scooted his chair forward, closer to the bed. "If you do not object, Jiraiya, I believe that I could still return the book on etiquette I purchased for you. Perhaps I could exchange it for some manga? And a small pamphlet on how to better your penmanship?" Jiraiya rolled his eyes at mention of the pamphlet, but nodded to Orochimaru.
Hiruzen smiled and drained his tea. In this one moment all three of his students were finally accepting each other, and showing true comradeship. It was a tiny Christmas miracle.
It lasted all of fifty seven seconds.
"And what happened next?" asked Biwako, gently wiping around Hiruzen's eye with antiseptic.
Hiruzen winced with the sting. "Well, Jiraiya took his silly hat out of his equipment pouch and put it on. It was a frog with a huge tongue that dangled in front of his face. After we all poked some good natured fun at him, Tsunade leaned forward and admitted to Jiraiya that it was kind of amusing that she got such a huge, obnoxiously, festive bra by accident. We all had a very nice, relieved, chuckle about that." Hiruzen sighed in exasperation. "And then Jiraiya picked up his notepad and wrote, 'Of course it was an accident! If I really meant to buy one of those for you, I would have asked for size extra extra extra small!"
"Oh dear," said Biwako quietly.
"Oh dear is right," said Hiruzen quietly. "I'm amazed the hospital is still standing."
"I'm sorry we called in the ANBU."
Hiruzen shook his head. "Oh no, they were a big help. They distracted Tsunade long enough for me to get her to stop choking Jiraiya." He glanced up. Biwako was looking down at him, a wry smile on her face. "What is it?"
"I was just admiring what a wonderful job you are doing with such difficult children." She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment more, and then leaned in and gave him a quick peck.
Hiruzen stared at her in shock. "What was that for?" he asked.
Biwako frowned playfully. "If you didn't want to be kissed, then you shouldn't be wearing this ridiculous thing, now should you?" She batted at the monkey hat's tail. The bells jingled. She climbed up to her feet. "I may be too busy to go to the festival with you on New Years, but I do have the day after Christmas free. Why don't you come up with something for us to do then?" She smiled at him and smugly walked away.
Hiruzen closed his mouth. "She... she kissed me! Wait... Did she just ask me out on a date?" he thought, dazed. He gave his head a quick shake to clear it. The jingle of bells reminded him of something Biwako had just uttered. "She kissed me because of this stupid hat?" he wondered.
Slowly he reached up and pulled the ludicrous thing off of his head. The bells on the tail bobbled up and down in front of his nose. Tangled up with them was the sprig of mistletoe from the brassiere.
Hiruzen chuckled and put the grinning monkey hat back on. He got up and quickly followed Biwako. He had no idea of where they should go, but he was sure he could think of something. At the very least, maybe the mistletoe could get him another kiss.