Title: When We Were Young
Author: DaMoyre
Rating: G
Pairings: Hints of Orochimaru/Jiraiya
Disclaimer: I don't own the Naruto universe, just having a little fun with it.

Jiraiya stood under the shade of the ample Konoha trees, his arms crossed over his chest, as he watched Naruto and Sakura train. He watched with a sense of wonder, and maybe just a little wistfulness, as the young ones challenged each other, trying their hardest to improve in speed, stamina, and technique.

For Naruto being a good ninja isn't good enough. He's not the smartest boy; he's not the strongest either. Truth be told, the boy is rather foolish, but that alone won't be an obstacle. He must be the best, no matter what; he must be the best if he's ever going to achieve his dream of becoming Hokage. But before he can reach that goal, there's another task, more important than all the rest: He must keep a promise he made to someone.

That someone is Sakura, whose eyes are big and alert, jovial and full of innocence, despite all they have seen. Her physical strength reminds him of none other than Tsunade, and he knows the secret behind those lethal fists lies in their superior chakra control. Sakura works hard too. She gives her everything in all she does. It's not just her chakra. She pours her heart and soul in every single lesson, in every new technique. Jiraiya knows all this because Tsunade keeps him well informed on Sakura's progress.

The similarities are too obvious to pretend they don't exist. Tsunade agrees with him, and they both keep a close eye on the remaining members of Team 7. And as he watches, he can't help that overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. It's like standing in front of a mirror that looks into the past; it's like watching his old photographs come to life.

The team of three that became two.

One falls to darkness and the other two attempt to follow. But they can't reach him, because he's too far gone, because he doesn't want their help...

Because he was never one of them.

Or maybe they just gave up too soon. Maybe they should have kept trying.

"That really hurt, Sakura-chan!" Stupid Naruto let his guard down for a moment, and one of Sakura's shuriken has made a small cut on his face. It might leave a scar. Who knows. Young bodies repair themselves rather quickly.

Jiraiya has many scars on his body, souvenirs from old battles, keepsakes that tell the tale of his legendary status. When he was young he tried to hide them, thinking they made his body ugly. But now he doesn't care about any that. Each mark on his body was once a painful wound, but the ones that hurt most didn't leave a physical mark.

What they left were faint memories of long walks in these woods, memories of taunting, and pranks, and laughter. Memories of tangled black hair spread on the green grass of this very field, and the ghost of cold white fingers touching his face.

Must history always repeat itself?

Maybe Naruto and Sakura will have a different fate. In the back of his mind, Jiraiya knows the chances are slim, but maybe with a little luck...

It's not without a little sadness that Jiraiya hopes, no, he prays, that Naruto and Sakura will succeed where he and Tsunade failed.