Disclaimer: Naruto 1999-2004 © Kishimoto Masashi.
Summary: On a sleepless autumn night plagued with author's block and inconsistencies of publishing companies, Jiraiya decided for a field 'research' and ended doing something else entirely different. Pre-series.
A/N: A gift fic for Luc Court, for the wonderful FFX-2 fic, Her in Him.
- - - -
He started thinking on adventures, the first time he failed to catch the bell from Sarutobi sensei's hands. In his fables, the frog boy would grin at the snake boy and slug girl, and their monkey teacher would smile proudly at him, complimenting his superb 'peeping' jutsu. But he still failed to catch the bell tomorrow and the day after, and Orochimaru would leer at him from the edge of his lunchbox, while his own belly was screaming from the smell of fried squid Tsunade waved in front of his nose.
Sarutobi shook his head. Jiraiya has seen him making signs on the student progress report, and unfortunately, with a not very satisfied face.
His imagination ran amuck at times when he was tied on the log and scent from lunch boxes tickling his nose. Orochimaru actually offered his lunch after his fifth failure on the week, but Jiraiya, proud as he was, leered back to the skinnier boy and threw his face away from Orochimaru.
If only his stomach didn't betray him at the wrong time, Jiraiya's act would be perfect.
Orochimaru's face lit up with a flicker he barely saw from the corner of his eyes, and he knew it could only mean a thing.
What a fool.
- - - -
When Orochimaru summoned Manda on one of their missions in the Sand Country, Jiraiya knew what the Third Hokage would say. He immediately locked himself up in his apartment when they returned to Konoha, before his teacher got the chance to contribute him a piece of his mind. True, Sarutobi wasn't a bad man. He could be the best and only teacher he ever had, but his endless praising of Orochimaru's great talent and incessant preaching of Jiraiya's lack of skill had filled his ears for years. He hated and loved Sarutobi for that. Jiraiya broke pieces and pieces of charcoal in his ink bottle, and ended up with infinite pages of smut with a soap opera plot. His hands smelled like ash and his body smelled worse than a sewer rat, but he smiled with content for the first time in the last few days.
This would be his best work ever, and when it finally hit the best seller chart, it's finally his turn to leer to Orochimaru. And maybe smirk at him with that detestable 'ku ku ku ku' laugh.
He sent one of his finished stories to a publishing company when his ninetieth birthday was just two weeks away, and a meeting was arranged at the Ichiraku ramen parlor the next week. He ordered green tea from a waitress he winked at, and received a glass of iced green tea on the face. Unfortunately, the girl had been one of his 'field research' victims from the local bath house.
The hot tea was long gone cold when the person from the publishing company finally showed up, one hour and twenty minutes late from the appointed time. He was a man in his late forties with his hair thinning around the forehead, and an old, blackened pipe around his lips. He lit up the pipe with a match taken from his sleeves, and the smoke from his pipe puffed toward Jiraiya's face like a detestable wood stove without skipping a beat. The man introduced himself as Kiritani Nori and offered a hand that's stained black in the palms – either by ink or by other substance that Jiraiya didn't want to think about.
Jiraiya watched all of this without a blink, and decided that he didn't like Kiritani already. But he shook the man's offered hand with an extra strength, hoping secretly that the remained bruise would remind Kiritani of Jiraiya and his stories every time he lit his pipe.
"This won't do," The man said finally after the annoying fifth puff of smoke, placing the papers down to the tatami.
The comment didn't make much sense. One of Jiraiya's brows quirked up slightly, and he gripped the tea cup tightly, trying not to reach over and unleash a genjutsu that will make Kiritani lose a limb. "Why?"
Kiritani shrugged and Jiraiya waited impatiently as he pulled out a brown bag from his pocket, filled with tobacco leaves, and lit up his pipe. "You see this kind of plot everywhere. You know, boy meets girl, boy and girl have slightly adventurous blah- obnoxious mother or father in laws blah- a queen bitch harpy as a rival blah- teenage pregnancy, and then they live happily ever after a wham-bam–thank you ma'am that you don't even know why it started at the first place."
Jiraiya picked out the script and flipped through pages, stopping only when he found the glued pages in the center of the script. He had done it in purpose when he found out about publishers who would barely read an amateur's work, and he found the papers were still as nicely intact as he sent it. "Did you even read this?" He muttered without a note of anger in his voice at all. At least, he would keep his maturity intact after his pride had been shot over the room. Or perhaps the man would like a taste of his Underworld Spines…
"Of course I have!" Kiritani replied too quickly, "Great plot I say, but we have too many of these in stores." The man stopped to inhale his pipe slowly. "Now, I see you're pretty good at writing a certain event. People preferred something slightly…different like that. Like a certain part of your novel over there."
Jiraiya saw the man flashed an inconceivable grin that was gone in a fleet second, and started a nervous chuckle. "Oh, you know…" He paused again, his smoke ring curving around Jiraiya's face before thinning to nothing. "A-dul…t stuff."
If he was drinking that dreaded tea, the man's face would have spurted wet from it. He might even put off the despicable pipe with the tea. But Jiraiya decided to blink, almost innocently, and asked with his eyes wide, "What?"
The man coughed and cleared his throat. When he spoke again, Jiraiya could hear every of his pronounced syllable, loud and plain enough to echo all the way to the rest of his day. "Erotic books."
- - - -
Though he didn't know if he would take up the offer or not, Jiraiya went for a slight detour to the bath house on his way home. He got a nice, cold splash of a bucket of water that forced him to go home earlier than he planned.
He sat cross legged on his house's mat after a quick shower, and ended up staring at an empty scroll for a good six hours- until he woke up in the middle of the night with his saliva staining a part of the paper that he has slept on. Jiraiya shook his head and yawned long enough to notice the side of his face was printed in paper marks.
If there're anything that he likes, aside from watching bare-naked ladies playing with water, Jiraiya enjoyed a cool, silent night. He preferred evenings like this with his favorite jug of sake, and would call up for up a frog or two to keep him company. The lack of sleep and hangover would usually hit him with a full force the morning after, and he realized it could be anytime where the shinobis from Water Country decided to attack, aiming a kunai to his neck. If only he would care about it. The moon was a neat crescent as he leaned upon the window sill, and he saw a flick of light from the apartment close by.
The princess was also still awake at this hour.
He rapped his knuckles once on the door, twice when he realized there's no answer. Tsunade could have fallen asleep and forgot to turn off the light, and probably has her head bent down upon one of her scroll on hemorrhage or cardiac malfunctions.
"I'm already asleep," He finally heard a raspy reply when he knocked for the fourth time.
Jiraiya sighed heavily and threw up his hands. "So Tsunade's asleep," He declared, rather too loudly on purpose. "I guess I can just go in and steal her underwe-"
The door swung open wildly before he could finish his sentence, and the first thing he saw was the black thin lines under her red eyes. He, and unsurprisingly the entire village knew the Princess was having inner problems that kept her insomnia in check.
"Evenin'," Jiraiya chirped with a grin.
"It's two in the morning," Tsunade spouted crankily, taking a quick glance at the clock in her room's wall. "You better have a good excuse."
He took a glimpse at the inside, and realized it probably wasn't the right time to bug her, and inserted his right hand into his garb's pocket, pulling out a pendant to hung it mid-air in front of her nose. "You forgot something."
She eyed the pendant warily but her hand stopped mid-air before reaching the necklace, and Jiraiya felt compelled to add, "If you don't need it, I'll sell it so I can get my own publishing company and built my own bath house." He shook the pendant lightly in front of her face as if to taunt her with it, and the woman started to flinch in annoyance. Orochimaru had left the necklace's matter in his hands when Tsunade rushed in to the morgue to meet her dead brother, claiming that he has other matters he'd better worry about.
She had reached for the pendant and dropped it as she hugged Nawaki's body, and Orochimaru shook his head and slithered down the stairs, phrasing words of foolish, infantile bravado that would only lead to increase mortality levels in Konoha.
Jiraiya had thought about punching him there and then, taught him about the little meaning of manners and pity. He already had the hand seals ready when Tsunade's sobbing and the Third's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
Fixing her intensive stare on him, Tsunade snatched the pendant away from his hand, and tied it around her neck. "I doubt you'd have the time for that," He almost heard a faint word of gratitude from the woman, but forgot about it entirely when she stepped in to open the door widely. "Come on in, I'll fix you a cup of tea."
It wasn't a great suggestion to begin with. Highly concentrated tea leaves at the middle of the night will just keep him awake until sunrise, and there's the high possibility of him collapsing in his mission tomorrow. But Jiraiya stepped in to the apartment, and the smell of deer antlers, musk and medicinal herbs attacked his nostrils. There was a dark oak cabinet filled with countless small drawers (stuffed with medicinal stuff he couldn't name from the things that stuck out through the drawers) on one side of the room, and he accidentally stepped on what he decided as a rabbit's tail.
"Just sit wherever you like," Tsunade announced from the kitchen.
That would be a problem, Jiraiya thought as he looked around. The floor was practically covered with unidentified scrolls on medicine and crumpled pages of medical papers. Her desk was even worse.
"Instead of tea," Jiraiya flipped through the scrolls in her desk about bladder controls, while Tsunade was pouring hot water into a teapot. "How about sake? Not that I dislike tea, but-"
"Are you trying to make me drunk?" She asked, setting two cups and the teapot on the table in the center of the room that she cleared with one swift sweep, and Jiraiya chuckled.
"Like you could!"
"You're the lousy drinker," She answered, sipping delicately from her cup.
The silence in the room was deafening, and Jiraiya propped his elbow on the desk, shifting his gaze to the papers on the floor. He reached out for one that caught his attention, and the ink smeared his hand as he flipped through it.
Tsunade grabbed it away before he finished reading, and Jiraiya eyed her with a surprised look. "Medical expert in teams? Nice, but…"
"I don't want to hear anything about this from you," She hissed with her eyes narrowing dangerously at him, "And do NOT tell this to anyone."
"We're in a war. How fast can we train medic nin-"
The princess raised one of her hands. "Another word…"
If only he was less stubborn than that, Sarutobi would be so damn proud of him now. But Jiraiya never heed anyone's command, let alone listen to them. "Why?"
Tsunade moved the paper from her hands to her lap, and she stopped a moment before gripping the pendant on her chest.
"When's the last time you sleep?"
She reached out the cup and sipped her tea. "When I feel like it."
"When's the last time you eat?" Jiraiya asked, gripping her wrist forcefully.
Tsunade's pout reminded him with a snail's mouth, and she shook his hand away. "I lost my appetite."
"Are you trying to kill yourself?"
Tsunade slammed the teacup. "Why are you asking me these questions, Jiraiya! Last time I checked, you flunked Interrogation training, so don't even bother asking!"
"Nawaki wouldn't want you to be like this," Jiraiya lowered his tone as he saw the tears were forming in the corner of her eyes. "He'd want his sister to stop mourning his death-" Jiraiya said slowly, arranging his words so that he would be at least understandable and Tsunade would be less offended.
All efforts ran out as he saw what happened, too quickly for a normal man to avoid. He saw the slowly whitening clutch on Tsunade's fingers around the cup, and saw with his nimble trained eyes how she swung before the cup hit squarely on his cheek. But he didn't try to evade it, and he witnessed how the Princess quickly got up and stormed to the front door, swinging it open rudely.
"Get out. Now," Tsunade announced with no signs of sleepiness in her voice, and Jiraiya found himself abiding her words as he walked out, running to the village's gate.
- - -
Biting his thumb until it bleed, he formed the seal of Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, and Sheep that he learned to form even under the heavy influence of alcohol in his blood, and slammed his palm to the earth. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"
He wasn't expecting big companies like Gamarakki, and half-expected a small toad would make up for anything – heck, even a tadpole will do on a shitty night like this. Maybe he would ask it to croak one or two sad songs for him.
But the earth shook and the trees parted as a massive red beast appeared beneath his palm, and his empty sake gourd bounced on top a giant toad's head, stopping only when he realized the enormous beast beneath was casting him a suspicious look, with his two big spheres slowly rotating to watch him. The top of giant pine tress were only fingers away from his reach.
"Who're you, kid?"
He had to look around him before finding out the voice came from the massive beast below him.
"That's supposed to be my question, you know. But it doesn't matter anyway. I summoned you," he said with a slurred voice. "So I'm officially your master. What's yer name?"
"Hmph," The giant beast puffed his pipe, smoke circling Jiraiya. It vaguely reminded him of the man from the publishing (who he never bothered to remember his name). "I guess Sarutobi didn't teach ya any manners," The toad announced with his loud voice, echoing to the forest's edge.
When you want to learn other's name, you should give yours first. Jiraiya knew this lesson perfectly, taught up by his teachers and his fellow shinobis who challenge him on a duel, eager to find out how far the Sannin title would carry them.
"Or you're the one who flunked the classes," The toad added unnecessarily.
Ignoring the giant beast's words, Jiraiya pressed another sake jug's rim onto his lips, and emptied the bottle. Jiraiya slid down until he was balanced on the area between the toad's nostrils, and pointed his thumb impolitely at it.
"I'm the great ninja, Ji-rai-ya. Get that through your thick tiny skull, toad," he reached over, patting the creature's head too hard on purpose. "Now you better tell me yer' name…not that I care anythin' about it."
Jiraiya saw another thick cloud of smoke hovering above his head as the toad opened his mouth and removed the pipe from his mouth, "I'm the boss toad—and you can call me Master Gamabunta, brat."
He clucked his tongue impatiently and shook his head. "Never heard of ya-" The name registered in his mind as the Great Toad of Mt. Myouboku-gama five seconds later, and Jiraiya plopped down to hug the top of Gamabunta's head. He took a clumsy step to climb Gamabunta's head and stood with his hands on his hip, inhaling deeply before opening his mouth.
"Did you hear that, Orochimaru! I can summon this Toad! You're not the only genius of this village!" He took another deep breath and shouted at the top his lungs. "Tsunade, you should see this! I'm not an idiot! I'm not an idiot! I'm not an id-"
The silence that greeted him was deafening.
"You're pathetic," he heard Gamabunta muttered again before his eyelids began failing him. Orochimaru's words echoed in his dreams and senses, Sarutobi's incessant lectures and Tsunade's tears blurred through them.
You're an idiot.
- - - -
"Do you like the taste of my Water Cannon Ball?"
Jiraiya wiped the water from his face futilely with his wet sleeves, and shook his body. "Are you sure you're not trying to kiss me instead? Sorry to disappoint you," He took off his shirt and squeezed the water off it. "But I'm straight and your spit smells like shit."
"You even tell jokes, kid," The Giant Toad chuckled and Jiraiya felt the ground beneath him shook violently with each of Gamabunta's laugh. "Maybe I won't turn you as food for my tadpoles."
"They won't like how I taste. I drank too much, and my blood already turned into alcohol. I'm illegal for them."
Jiraiya looked up at Gamabunta, who was grinning down on him. His massive bulk was barely miss able when sake kicked in his full six senses before, and in his sober state he's fully aware that he had a trouble to stop trembling. He was grateful the toad didn't decide to step on him and act as if he didn't realize.
"Sorry for what I did or said earlier," he apologized finally, and the giant chunks of ash from Gamabunta's pipe fell on the earth beside him. Each of the pieces has the average size of his head. "I was drunk."
"No wonder you've been acting like shit," The toad lowered his head to get a closer look on him. "Apology accepted. Shall we start?"
"Jes' don't give me that lame ol' 'I don't drink' excuse, because you're as drunk as a rotten snake just now," Gamabunta stuck out his tongue, "Or you're telling me you're actually not old enough to drink?"
The legal age to drink in Hidden Leaf was approximately twenty years old, but Jiraiya remembered how he used to steal carts filled sake from the bars when he was sixteen. Tsunade had gave him a beautiful knuckle sandwich that sent him flying 100 meters away. He landed on the garbage pile with three broken ribs and learned the important lesson of not offering the Princess stolen sake on her 'monthly' day. Or any other time.
Jiraiya shook his head. Thinking about Tsunade again made his head spin. "You want to do the Sakazuki exchange right here?"
"Why not?" The toad shrugged. "It's autumn, we're under the moon, and you're already drunk."
"Your spit sobered me up, remember?" Jiraiya pointed one accusing finger to it.
"No problem, then. Repeat after me," Gamabunta pulled out a giant gourd hidden under his enormous coat with his name written on it in blazing-red letters. It motioned Jiraiya to raise his sake jug, and raised his own gourd to the sky, offering it on his arms' lengths. "I offer this cup to the Heavens." He sipped from the gourd.
Jiraiya mimicked his actions and words, and this time Gamabunta lowered his gourd. "I offer this cup to the Earth," It said, taking another sip.
He lowered his own cup and muttered the word loud enough so he won't need to repeat the process, and wondered how Orochimaru did this with Manda with the lack of limbs and fingers, and Gamabunta raised his own cup slightly to the level of Jiraiya's eyes.
"May we have a blessed union of Toad and Man."
Jiraiya was prompted to ask don't the bride and groom do this on their wedding ceremony, but the thought of Gamabunta marrying him, a man merely the size of his fingers made him shudder. "May we have a blessed union of Man and Toad," he said, and felt encouraged asking Gamabunta whether or not to cross their elbows and drink from one another's cup. If not, why would they call it 'Exchange'?
He could swim in the gourd, and drink all of the sake from the inside. He'd forget all about his novels, Orochimaru, Sarutobi or Tsunade in just another fleeting moment. But the Toad might wake him up with another of his Water Cannon Ball, and Jiraiya flinched at the pain from the hit of a chakra filled water ball. He drank the last few drops from his jug, and plopped down on the ground as the burning feeling on his throat and stomach threatened to make him vomit. The back of his head started to throb uncomfortably. "Dammit…"
"What's the matter, kiddo?" He heard the huge frog said with his pipe between the giant lips. "A problem with your…?" Gamabunta stuck out his giant front leg with all of his fingers folded, save the smallest, and Jiraiya grinned.
"How'd you know?"
The massive beast shrugged and took another sip from his cup. "It's the problem for almost every man," Gamabunta informed, "I have seven wives, you know, and every damn day they make my head spin with their endless croaks and songs. But I can't live without them. Heck, your teacher Sarutobi used to be like that too. My children said that he used to peek at women bathing - but not as often as you did."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Jiraiya laughed. He paused, looking at the crescent moon intently before opening his mouth.
"Is death- such a scary word?"
Gamabunta puffed out another round of smoke. "For certain people. Ya probably ne'er experience the feeling of almost got killed, or saw yer loved ones lifeless bodies."
But Jiraiya couldn't picture the feeling of lost and sadness, and realized his feelings had gone numbed by the deaths of comrades in arms and endless emotion training in battle ground. He felt a pang of sadness as the sculptors started carving their name on the memorial stone, but the sensation gradually ceased as he saw another, and another fell.
"Saying the word dead or death might make you forget their faces," Gamabunta muttered, pressing his hand to the scar covered part on the left part of his face.
Jiraiya wondered fleetingly if Gamabunta was also drunk, as the toad started to blur in front of him. He thought Gamabunta's talk will be about the battles and great wars he attended with great shinobis before him, but throughout the night the conversation was just surrounding his wives and the unlimited number of his tadpoles. The only story closest to a battle was one when he asked his second wife the permission to marry the fifth, and the jealous woman already prepared herself with a knife and flung it very close to his face. Jiraiya gave himself a mental note to ask how Gamabunta got that scar the next time he summoned it. But none of the Toad family tales actually got into his brain, and the only words he remembered were, "Falling in love is a lot like dying. You can never understand it unless you've experienced it."
As the sun started to creep at the forest's edge, Jiraiya had those words brewing in the back of his head. Gamabunta was gone with a puff of his smoke before the sunrise, and when he got home, he took the paper stained with his spit, and started writing.
- - - -
"This is…" Kiritani paused to puff up his pipe in a hurry, "Marvelous!" he announced with a glistening smile that would make the Maito family proud.
Jiraiya smiled in content. "I'm glad that you liked this one," he nodded.
"And the title is…" The man flipped to the front page of the script, his eyes searching warily. "… Paradise?"
"Yup. A paradise that a man found after his long search," he added helpfully.
The publisher rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm… that won't do, I'm afraid."
"The title is too ambiguous, and have too much of a religious theme to it. When people read this, they will make it out as a book heavily implying on religion. Some readers steer clear from this theme - no matter how good you write it."
Jiraiya blinked as the man continued to scribble some word on the script's front. When he finished, he proudly showed the cover to Jiraiya, who took it reluctantly.
"So? What do you think?"
Seeing how a publication chance might actually slipped out of his fingers for the second time, Jiraiya eventually prompted to answer, "I think Icha-Icha Paradise is a pretty good title."
Jiraiya saw Tsunade's arm around another man when his book finally hit the stores, and he knew too well it was too late for an apology and a drink offer. He imagined Tsunade moaning in bed with Dan at nights when he visited the bar around her apartment block, and the lights were intensely on. But Tsunade knew Dan too late and lost Dan too soon as the curse of Shodaime's pendant killed Dan too early before his time, and Jiraiya offered her another drink, only to be rejected by another light shook of her head.
Tsunade's medic ability ceased under the curse of her blood phobia, and one day she disappeared with one of her trusted student. Though the stories of Orochimaru's dark activities encouraged him on an adventurous journey filled with luscious women and cheap sake, every time Jiraiya heard the tales of a failed gambler princess from the local taverns he visited, he would chuckle with glee.
"And that's how I ended up being the magnificent writer you see now," Jiraiya concluded his story, expecting a face that showed a big sign of admiration on his accomplice's face.
But Uzumaki Naruto was already snoring with his mouth half-open, and a bit of his saliva stained the corner of his mouth. Jiraiya sighed, and pulled the inn's blanket around the boy.
He looked at the view outside the inn's window and spotted the crescent-moon half peaking through the clouds, and decided tonight was also a good night for sake – too bad the Princess wasn't here to join him.
Perhaps, he would have to wait until Naruto grew up. He could only hope that he and Naruto would live long enough to the day Yondaime's heritage exchange his sakazuki with Gamabunta.