Title: At times, a fool
Author: desolate butterfly
Genre: gen, angst
Pairings: Jiraiya/Oro, Jiraiya/Tsunade, Jiraiya/Oro/Tsunade
Rating: PG
Summary: 'Jiraiya gave up searching for Orochimaru on the same day that he went to Tsunade for something to cure his joint pain...'


Jiraiya gave up searching for Orochimaru on the same day he went to Tsunade for something to cure his joint pain.

"It's interfering with my writing," he said, flexing his fingers in front of him, wide-eyed look ruined by the grin quirking the corners of his lips.

She had sighed and fished a tube of medicated cream from her pocket, screwing the top off with an impatient twist before taking hold of one of his hands. "Interfering with your groping, you mean," she grumbled, but her eyes softened as she rubbed the cream dutifully over his knobby, tanned fingers. "It's a sad day when we have to worry about arthritis."

"You probably won't for another twenty years," he said, brushing his other hand over her forehead where that small, purple diamond stamped her hidden years, flicking a piece of hair from her brow. "I'm the one having to send my apprentices out for expensive wrinkle cream."

She caught his other hand and began massaging cream into it, her thumbs digging into his palm hard enough to make him wince. The strong smell of liniment started to permeate the room. "Stupid," she said. "Just because I don't show my age, doesn't mean I don't feel it. Why do you think I carry this stuff in my pocket?"

He shrugged and watched her finish, his eyes straying to her desk. It was incredibly messy, which meant that Shizune hadn't found a moment to come in and organize the pile (or more likely, yell at Tsunade until she organized her papers herself). Stacks of missions scrolls and medical texts, memos and schematics and notes on municipal business and who knows what else. He felt his gaze linger on the locked second drawer of the desk, where he knew she kept a picture; the same picture he had on his nightstand, beside his bed.

He couldn't blame her for keeping it locked away. Sometimes, seeing Sarutobi-sensei's eyes and Orochimaru's youthful face hurt more than any ache his body could dream up for him.

"I guess we're getting old. I swear that Naruto brat is going to be able to surpass me in a few years," he said, chuckling slightly and shaking his head. It was a scary thought, but also a relief. Having your kids surpass you…that was normal, right? That was the order of things. It was better than watching them die, anyway.

Tsunade was smiling now, the mention of Naruto's name enough to smooth the frown-lines from her face in a way that he really couldn't manage anymore. He wasn't exactly jealous, but he was a bit miffed that she wasn't able to keep her hope in him. Had to shift it to the next generation.

'But you were the one who let him go, weren't you?'

"That dumb kid," she was saying, fondness making the words a mark of affection instead of an insult. "What are we going to do with him?"

"He's Kakashi's problem now, anyway. I taught him all I could; now we'll see what he makes of it."

Her expression changed and tightened, her fingers rubbing nervously together as she looked out the window, towards the rocky mountain set where Sarutobi's face stared back at them, carved in stone.

"Running after that Uchiha…"

It was his turn to grab her hands, giving them a reassuring squeeze. "Don't worry," he said. "There's no way that kid will fail." 'Not like we did.'

That evening, Jiraiya looked at the portrait of his old team a long time, running his tired, old fingers over the frame and Orochimaru's dark hair several times before he took the picture off the table and slid it face-down under his mattress.

That night he dreamt of white hands against his throat and snakes swallowing him whole.

He threw the portrait in the trash in the morning, but it didn't make him feel any better.


We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock