Walking Together

It was the end of the first day of training, and I was wiped and dying to get home and sleep as fast as possible. I threw my equipment hurriedly into my sack as Sarutobi-sensei gave us one last talk about teamwork and that kind of sentimental stuff. By the time he was finished, so was I, and I muttered a completely heart-felt thanks and started off without trying to seem too eager…and then I noticed that the creepy, pale kid, Orochimaru, was walking in the same direction. Not comfortable with him behind me I reluctantly slowed my pace, and as if he wasn't even aware of it he walked right past, without so much as throwing a glance my way.

Stuck up jerk…Was my only thought on the matter. He bugged me, but not enough to really get me wound up.

I hung back as I followed him down the road home, mentally prodding him to hurry up and get off my path, with every step wondering how long I would have to watch his back. Finally, only two freaking blocks from home, he turned down a side street and went on his own way. I passed that street as fast as I could and sprinted on my sore legs the short rest of the way to my apartment where I promptly fell to my futon and went to sleep.

The next day I actually hung around after training, making up some questions to ask Sarutobi-sensei so I wouldn't have to walk home near Orochimaru. I waited about half an hour, and then I interjected right into Sarutobi-sensei's explanation for my last question (I didn't mean to, I was just paying so little attention I didn't notice) thanking him and then I darted off.

As much as I wanted to get home quickly after practice, it seemed like the best and only way. So, everyday, that's what I did. I made up some half-assed excuse to stick around for an extra fifteen minutes or so and then would go home, and never once had to see Orochimaru during the walk home. It was worth it. He never really said anything, never laughed when I made a joke, or even when Sarutobi made one during his better moods (and his were actually funny), and he never looked interested in anything. He was just…creepy.

So, that's how I did things for the first six weeks or so of training, and it worked great…until Tsunade figured me out. It was one of my lazier reasons, I just spent a long time picking crap up, said I felt like hanging around for a bit before heading home, I wasn't really that creative. Anyway, as I lazed around on my ass, sitting by the river and staring up at the sun-set tinted clouds, suddenly my view was obscured by a great shadow—which turned out to be Tsunade's head…which I only figured out after colliding with it after I sat up a little too quickly. What can I say? I was easily startled.

"Oww!" She yelped, holding her nose. "Damn Jiraiya, that hurt."

"Sorry." I muttered, rubbing my forehead. "What do you want Tsu?"

Tsunade then gave a cocky grin and I knew something was up. I scowled and waited for some customary declaration of knowledge of my personal life or some threat in order to get me to do something that I had become used to associating with that grin on girls' faces.

"How come you always hang around after training?" She asked her voice already in that mocking sing-song tone girls just love using.

"I dunno." I muttered, shrugging. "I just like taking my time I guess."

"Uh-huh." She said, smirking. "I know you better than that Jiraiya. And I know why you don't go home right away."

"Oh yeah?" I said, trying to sound like I didn't care.

"Yeah. I know Orochimaru lives only a little bit away from you. You guys would probably have to walk home together." Her smirk widened. "You're afraid to walk home with Orochimaru aren't you?"

"What?" I said. "Hell no."

"Yeah right you big pussy." I scowled. "I know that's why you do it. There's no other reason why you would."

"I'm not a pussy!" I insisted, turning shades of red. "And I'm sure as hell not afraid of that creep."

"Oh yeah? Then how come you always avoid him in training? How come you always hated when you two were made partners in practice? He freaks you out and you're too scared to walk home with him."

"That's not true!"

"Ok, whatever Jiraiya." She laughed as she stood up and headed out. "But you know the truth, and you know I'm right!"

Damn, nosy stuck-up girls. What was the worst was that she was right. I hate it when they're right.

As much as I didn't want to walk home with Orochimaru, my pride required more maintenance than my nerves, and the next day I left without hesitation, walking behind Orochimaru…and I could just feel that damn girl's smirk following me.

So, yeah, I walked behind him, a good several meters, and he never once looked back or seemed to notice my presence. Didn't give a care about anything, and it was almost like the world didn't give a care about him. He was…detached…somehow.

Sunset became my least favorite time of day, because I spent every one watching Orochimaru's back, as he walked as if not fatigued by training at all, all the way to the street where he broke off from my path and I would relax and sprint the rest of the way home.

It went like this through winter. We never spoke except when necessary and the walks home became so natural I didn't really think about them. I still felt awkward, walking all that way only a dozen feet or so behind him and we never even acknowledged each other, but it just kind of…was. Then, one snowy evening, as I, soaking wet from multiple falls into the fresh, thick layer of clod, white fluff that covered everything now, stayed behind after training again for the first time in several months. This time, it wasn't even my idea.

As I started heading out Sarutobi-sensei grabbed my shoulder and asked me to come talk with him. Of course, he had to pick that day of all days. The one day when I really needed to get home…freezing my ass off in that ridiculous weather. And, of course, being Sarutobi, he didn't even talk right away. No, he always had to think before he said anything. I made a small note then that I never wanted to take so long to say anything. No one would be around to listen by the time I did, unless, like Sarutobi-sensei, I became a teacher and had people obliged to listen to me. God forbid that would ever happen.

"Jiraiya-kun," He finally said. "Why don't you and Tsunade-chan ever talk with Orochimaru-kun?"

"Uh, because he doesn't talk, sensei." I said, trying not to sound disrespectful, even though I was fully aware everything I said seemed to come out sarcastic.

But he merely mulled over my words a moment and then said: "Perhaps because he is never spoken to?"

"No, I really think he just doesn't like anyone." I replied. "He's too far ahead for us, I'm sure." I said bitterly.

Sarutobi-sensei sighed. "Jiraiya-kun, you can't make a team if one of you is always walking ahead. You must stand side-by-side, in order to see the same perspective."

"What about watching each other's backs?" I said, always having to be a difficult bastard, and I knew the teachers hated me for it. Of course, Sarutobi-sensei always had something ready to snap back; which is what made me think he didn't really need all that time before he started these conversations.

"You'll find, Jiraiya-kun," He said, all sage-like as he did. "That is even easier to watch someone's back from their side."

"It's hard to get to the side of someone who always jumps to the front."

"I don't think Orochimaru-kun does such a thing. It seems to me like you always put him there."

Sarutobi-sensei then folded his hands behind his back and started out at the half-frozen lake, at the inner-thoughtfulness that had taken over his expression told me he was done talking to me, and I bowed my ever so deep respect and then hurried off. I was cold, that's all I cared about, and I wanted to get home and get warm.

Of course, I didn't really think about what Sarutobi had said for a long time…or at all. Instead, it floated around in my admittedly spacey head keeping the other un-used pieces of advice company. I often felt bad for Sarutobi. Orochimaru always seemed to think whatever he thought was better than Sarutobi's teachings, and Tsunade and I just plain didn't listen, we had to have been the worst students ever.

So, more months went by. I still walked behind Orochimaru every evening except the rare ones where we had a break from training. The very rare days.

Every sunset, I watched his back. Long black hair flowing down to his narrow shoulders, sometimes I'd feel pathetic for being so nervous about him. I started catching myself really watching him. Not just in the usually impatient way trying to get him to move out of my way faster, but just getting distracted in the way he walked…the way his hair fluttered a little every time the wind blew by…the way the sunset would catch the glint of his yellow eyes when he turned down the street that took him away from me. And I didn't even realize how entranced I had become. I didn't even realize that every day I was walking one step closer to him. Every now and then I would recognize what I was doing and then I slowed myself down until he was far ahead again, and I'd hide my blush as best I could, even though no one was ever looking.

It was another month later, making it mid-spring, and we returned from a rather…unsuccessful mission. Things went badly…and pretty much all over the place. It was the first time I ever saw Sarutobi truly livid. I wasn't sure exactly what had gone wrong, but I knew that it was mostly because Tsunade and I collided head-on while pursuing the same target, and Orochimaru going off and making his own plan because he noticed things we didn't, and then when I did notice…well, I'll go ahead and stop. I'm sure you can see what a mess it was. The only thing sensei had to say was to me, and he said as he stormed past me, standing stock still for a moment and glowering down at me.

"I guess I should have known better than to think you'd actually understand what I had to say, Jiraiya." He scowled. "I'm very disappointed in you."

Then he left the three of us standing pathetically on the roadside, heads hanging in shame…or at least two of us were. Orochimaru just turned and walked home, unfazed, no desire to impress anyone. I had nothing better to do, so I went home too. Plus I didn't want to listen to Tsunade blame me for messing up the mission.

I finally started to think about what Sarutobi sensei had said that one day, and scowled at the ground as I walked along mechanically at a pace that would keep me behind Orochimaru. Slowly the reasoning behind Sarutobi's words sunk in, and finally after many months of trying to slip through my thick skull I understood some little bit of what he was trying to say. Clenching my jaw I decided that I was being stupid, just like Tsunade had said, there was no reason to be so skittish about waking home with Orochimaru. I could walk next to him, in front of him…anything. No problem. So why was I still a good dozen steps behind him? I scowled at my own feet and told them to walk faster…but they didn't. Why wouldn't my own damn body listen to me? Was I still so nervous around Orochimaru? Was I so pathetic I couldn't even get myself to approach his side? No. I refused to let that be the case. I had to do it. We'd never be a team, Sarutobi would never be proud of me…I had to.

I looked up determinedly and quickened my pace…and then realized Orochimaru was already halfway down his street. Sighing and hanging my head again I shuffled the rest of the way home.

I didn't convince myself to try and walk beside him again for a long while after that. It seemed so futile, and pointless. Even if I did walk next to him he wouldn't acknowledge me…so what was the point? I was stuck watching his back for the rest of our time as team…God, I felt pathetic…but…it was more than that, somehow. Somewhere in all my fearing and trying to stand with him for the team, my fear had turned to admiration, sparking a pure and simple desire to stand beside him, team or no. Not that I admitted that to myself.

It was the beginning of summer now, and the sunset was truly a glorious one. And as many awkward times as sunset had brought me before, I found myself unable to help but admire how nice it was. The whole sky was deep, deep, gold, the entire scene in front of me colored by some heavenly paint. I was so distracted by it I didn't even notice for several moments after Orochimaru had stopped walking, and I almost ran right into him. When I finally noticed I yelped in surprise and scrambled back a few steps, watching Orochimaru warily.

"I'm tired of you walking behind me every time I go home." He said, not even turning around.

"This is the quickest route." I muttered, trying to sound lazy about it.

Then he turned slightly, so that he was almost facing me, and his eyes, more deep and golden than the sunset behind him looked at me gently as he extended one slim, pale hand towards me.

"Then walk beside me."

I stared at him for several seconds, blinking away my shock and confusion, and then finally I pulled a grin and ran the few steps forward, knocking his hand away with a friendly slap.

That's it then. I thought as I fell into pace with him, and he looked away again, the faintest dusting of a smile on his face.

We'll walk together from now on.

K, this is my Oro/Jira fic. Thank my sister Kohaku Kawa for it. She got me hooked on the pairing. I don't think it's one of my best. But I think it's cute. Please review!!