Disclaimer: Not Mine. Not Mine, so not mine.

Notes: This started off many moons ago as a crack drabble challenge from Alana Quinn. The orginal challenge was "Jiraiya and a yellow rubber duck" in exchange for Lee and those geta shoes, I think. Anyway, Alana rose to the challenge, and I didn't.

There's still no yellow duck, sorry; but there IS a yellow dork!

(I love you all for crit!)


Jiraiya's first ever kiss is in the rain.

Some porcelain skinned, over enthusiastic Daimyo's daughter he managed to save from a bandit or three on the way home from an exhausting mission, hidden in the calm between two storms. Her mouth is too wide, her lips too thin, wet and getting wetter with each lapping taste. She doesn't seem to mind the torrent of drops upon her hair and against her skin, but Jiraiya grows bored of it so quickly, hand tangled in the sodden, sable ropes against her beautiful skull. Fourteen years old and already sick of the spring's cold sheets of rain.

Jiraiya pulls back with an apologetic grimace, large paw pressed awkwardly against her damp arm and she presses her lips to his forehead in a manner so condescending that he almost hits her. Or would, if she didn't make him feel so very young. She sends him off towards his team-mates with a sly grin, and Orochimaru calls him a conceited prick and Tsunade says nothing; but he's made vulnerable by the sight of her as she bites her lip in that calculating way and he wishes… for a second…

The dynamic of his team is out of their control. It's never been something comfortable and certainly never simple. Nothing's ever simple. He said that once as a kid, and Tsunade answered back with some cack about a Mother's Love and Jiraiya wishes that she'd say it now; because he finally has an answer back, and he knows she'd scream if she could hear it. A few years pass in several, uncomfortable moments, and they all change a little for the worse.

x

The thing about Orochimaru, Jiraiya decides as he flirts with a buxom shepherdess in the middle of some haystack in Grass Country, is that nothing makes him happy.

It's almost like – it's almost like, because let's not sell the Snake Master short – Orochimaru doesn't believe in dignity. Or friendship or self-worth, but that's a given. He can't find happiness through love or money or power or sex or achievement; Jiraiya's tried to sell his friend the lot, he really has

He's like some Moral Play convert in action; absolute perfection in a sallow, repentant form. He can't hold onto things – Orochimaru has always been terrified of change – and flogging himself didn't work as a child, so Orochimaru has taken to flogging other people. He collects children who might survive it all, jaded children like himself, and works on making the perfect jutsu. The one that will turn his borrowed, temporary existence into one he can own, and control.

Jiraiya wonders if maybe he was too quiet as a child. Maybe he should've tried for a little more attention, tried to make it a little more obvious how utterly and eternally he belonged to his team. He hates Orochimaru more than anyone who's ever hurt him, because Orochimaru's the only one who never got it: Shinobi can't be Happy until they find Someone to Fight For.

Even then it comes at a stretch, but it's one of those cosmic jokes; anyone worth fighting for tends to be targeted, tends to die pretty quickly, and you end up fighting for whatever they fought for. People worth fighting for are the ones with dreams and ideals and senses of humour. Three things that in Orochimaru's language, are synonymous with weak.

Jiraiya has many things worth fighting for. He collects them, like Orochimaru collects techniques.

x

Tsunade finds Dan, somehow, and Jiraiya loses a bet or four, and each part of his entire childhood ups and walks off without him. It's stupid to think that a boy with no family managed to centre his world around such odd people, but he really hadn't expected to have to drag one team-mate back from the depths of his own personal hell and watch the other turn away from him. Later, when he's done moping and freaking out Sakumo's dogs, Jiraiya finds solace in art – the art of teaching children how to be the most powerful fucking things on the face of this planet (coolest, too - though the blonde one will forever be a dork, Jiraiya has no hope for him), and the more intricate art of writing fantasy romance novels.

Jiraiya's books are a statement, no matter what any of his conservative critics say; they are carefully constructed fantasies of the way things should've been – and the more people walk out of Jiraiya's life the more elaborate they get. He's a ninja, for fuck's sake, through and through. No grand representation of life-in-art would be complete without a little blood, sweat, tears – not to mention some really hot, energetic smut.

Jiraiya's fantasies ignore the part where you suffer a lot; they ignore the part where the hero limps home, bleeding out, six weeks late back from a mission that should've gone smoothly. His hero never watches his best friend leave for some reason that – for all Jiraiya's brilliance – he's just too naïve to understand. Jiraiya leaves out the part where someone who doesn't know Her half as well as the hero does always gets there first. (And oh, but god, there's always a Her. Sometimes Jiraiya thinks she'll never leave him, and then, of course, she does).

Eventually, his first book gets published, and he squints through the scent of burning hair as his last student dies – with a baby in his arms and two students of his own gazing up with heavy, heavy eyes – that old Konoha grin plastered on his face.

Jiraiya's fantasies are how life should be, wrapped in a bright orange slip cover with a special red stamp on the back.

x

A day comes when Jiraiya can't be bothered any more, so like the rest of his team before him he flees Konoha's familiar streets. He's more loyal than the rest of them, though – years with Sakumo turned him into a puppy dog – and for the good of the brats he faithfully learns to live again in Orochimaru's shadow, loyally watching his team-mate kill, waiting to find out if there's really any worse the bastard can get.

At some point, Sandaime must've re-evaluated a few things; because Jiraiya finds himself receiving birthday presents even in his most hermetic spots. It feels like he gave up being a legend long ago, a realisation that it takes better men to change the world – not eternal little boys with trouble keeping it in their trousers – but somehow, his legend grew away from him.

It's one of the reasons that Saratobi's letters frustrate Jiraiya so much. They speak in tongues about winning Orochimaru over, and seeing the error of his ways, but say nothing of Tsunade, or the Yondaime's brats, or his loud little legacy. The old man has gone soft (the last present – a warm and terrible comfortable undershirt – proves it beyond doubt), and Jiraiya's unsure whether it's an improvement or not. But he won't deny his simple, overwhelming gratitude that the kids aren't forced into wars they're not ready for, anymore.

One thing hasn't changed at least – Orochimaru is still the favourite, the prodigy in Saratobi's eyes – and Jiraiya usually replies to the Old Man's letters with lots of four letter words, occasionally the juicier bits of his latest book. Jiraiya often responds that if he were to confront his once-sort-of-almost-friend, he'd show him home with a fist through the chest.

But Saratobi has faith, and if anything will break through it's that.

Eventually, miraculously, Orochimaru gets worse.

x

Jiraiya has to relearn, again, after Orochimaru somehow manages to kill their Sensei (and for all Jiraiya's bitterness and contempt, the Old Man was their Sensei, after all). But Konoha's good at finding the silver lining, so Jiraiya concentrates on his new student, his old friends. He gets Tsunade back, at last, in every way but the one that counts; he's all but lost hope on the dream of her turning round one day and flashing him that look; the one that says "I read your novels, Jiji-kun, and I understand completely – in fact, you're looking better than ever and I want you to take me right here on the Old Man's desk." It's still a fun fantasy to play in the more boring meetings, until she catches him leering and throws him from the room.

It has always been them against the world, but it's two against one now, and Jiraiya never lost his faith. She'll realise, one day, that she loves him. Probably at his death bed, and it'll be terribly romantic and tragic and dramatic, and he won't get anything out of it and neither will she, but that's life. It's what you make it, and he'll let her drink him under the table for as many years as he can bear.

In Jiraiya's extremely well written fantasies, the dashingly well built hero and the buxom, beautiful heroine often threaten their sallow faced arch nemesis with that technique. Jiraiya hasn't figured out a skill that could take Orochimaru down in the dramatic and most painful way they both desire – that the Sannin deserve – but when he does, Jiraiya will take that bastard down with Konoha's old spirit – with flare, in fact. With a grin and a song.

It's like a dare, to Jiraiya, a last joke between old friends; and he wonders who will make that perfect jutsu first.