Tsunade scuffed the ground with her toe, scowling. "Ugh, where is that perverted egghead? He's late!"
A pale-faced boy rolled his eyes and leaned against a tree. "Sarutobi-sensei isn't going to be here for another twenty minutes, Tsunade. Jiraiya isn't late."
The blonde girl sighed and crossed her arms. "Yeah, but he's usually here by now."
Orochimaru allowed a small smirk to creep across his face. "Are you worried about that loser?"
"Of course not!" The girl retorted quickly. "I'd just rather have him here so I can beat the crap out of him while we wait. I'm bored!"
Hidden in the undergrowth nearby, a snowy-haired, sickly-looking shadow clone suppressed a groan as it dropped its forehead against the trunk of a tree. Of course, Tsuande hated Jiraiya at this age. It couldn't exactly walk up and say: "Hey, Tsunade-hime! You look beautiful today! Don't worry about being flat chested now, one day you'll have the biggest breasts in the village!" Not only would they suspect it of being an imposter, it was sure to get hit, which would dispel it.
Damn that Gamabunta.
The clone's obsidian-colored gaze traveled over to the other member of Team Thirteen. The clone's fingers clenched upon seeing the waxen-skinned youngster, pupils dilating as it swallowed through the knot in its throat.
Orochimaru leane lazily against the trunk of a young aspen, arms crossed and eyes half-shut with boredom. For a moment, the villain imprinted in the clone Jiraiya's mind vanished to be replaced with a painful stinging upon seeing Jiraiya's former (or was it soon to be, it wondered?) best friend. The doppeldanger stiffened when the serpent-boy's eyes snapped open and turned toward the bushes where it was hiding. Moving quickly so as to avoid suspicion, it stood up, coughing lightly and walked toward the other two.
"Hey guys," it rasped, walking rather slowly, "Mornin'."
Tsunade stopped her pacing, whipping around to face it with an angry expression, ready to scold it (more like beat the crap out of him, it thought), but stopped short upon seeing its face. "Wh-! Jiraiya! You look terrible!" She exclaimed.
The clone smiled at her weakly. "Yeah, uh, sorry guys, I'm not feeling too good today."
"Do you think?! Have you looked in a mirror? You look like you're gonna keel over dead any second!" The blonde girl told it, throwing her arms out in emphasis. Orochimaru's petite nose wrinkled in distaste as he eyed the clone like it was some kind of disgusting, disease-ridden vermin. The copy's eye twitched as it fought the urge to kill the serpent-boy where he stood.
Instead, the clone sniffled loudly, swiping at its nose. "Well, anyway, I don't think I'll be able to train today. I really feel like shit…" it ignored Tsuande's cry of "Don't swear!" swiping at its nose once more, "so if you'd tell Sarutobi-sensei that for me…"
"Tell me what? Sorry, Jiraiya, I missed that."
The snow haired clone froze stiff, head turning ever so slowly. I… I forgot how he used to look when he was young… "Sensei…" it whispered. It coughed loudly several times and gathered what little dignity it had left, turning to face the physically older man. "Sarutobi-sensei, good morning. I… I…"
The brown-haired man placed his hands on his hips. "Are you all right, Jiraiya? You look ill."
The clone coughed again. "Ah, y-yes. I'm feeling really sick today, so I just wanted to let you guys know. Obaa-chan wants me to stay home so it doesn't get worse or anything." It mumbled, sniffing at the end of each sentence.
Sarutobi placed a hand on his chin, running his fingers through his goatee thoughtfully. "I have to say, I agree with her. You really look awful. It's too bad; I got us a really good mission today too. Ah well, we'll just have to do it some other time."
"Arigato, sensei." The clone said with relief. Behind it, it heard Tsunade cheer.
"All right! It's just the two of us all day, Orochimaru-kun! No stupid egghead!"
The clone felt like the world had just been pulled out from underneath it, its entire body freezing up. 'Orochimaru-kun… Orochimaru-kun… Orochimaru-kun….'
Sarutobi blinked worriedly at the sudden, drastic change in the clone's demeanor. "Jiraiya? Are you okay?"
The clone swallowed, its tone just above a whisper. "Yeah. I've got to go. I think I'm gonna be sick." And with that it fled, running back in the direction of the village, leaving the other three to stare after it in slight confusion. It didn't stop running until it was a couple hundred yards away, collapsing to its knees with tears stinging its eyes. Teeth clenched, it thrust a fist into the ground, bruising its knuckles and therefore dispelling itself.
Jiraiya sat on the top of what would one day become the Hokage Mountain, his face buried in his hands. Gamakichi sat beside him, being quiet for once as the orange amphibian looked over the young, blossoming Konoha. He felt a slight movement in his chakra flow and the memories of the Kage Bushin flooded his mind. He could've sworn his heart stopped.
Orochimaru-kun? Orochimaru-KUN?! He felt tears begin to sting the back of his eyes and he sank further into himself. He forgot. How the hell could he have forgotten her kami-damned crush on the psycho?! He felt like bashing his head into the rock under his feet. Fuck, as if her simply being alive wasn't distressing enough! Lifting his head, he cried out in anguish, startling the orange toad beside him. Teeth clenched, he forced his knuckles into the earth beneath him, splitting his knuckles open. He winced at the raw pain and clutched his hand to his chest.
"I hate this!" the snow haired boy exclaimed, glaring up at the heavens as he stood. "Kami damn it, Gamabunta! Why the hell did you have to do this to me?! How the hell am I supposed to deal with this?! You should have just left me to die, you stupid, bastard toad!" The burning tears that had been developing in the back of his eyes seeped forward, trailing over his red markings. His throat closed up tightly and legs gave out beneath him. He fell to his knees, sobbing softly, face buried in his awkwardly small, smooth hands. "I can't do this on my own, Sannin or no…"
Gamakichi eyes the shrunken sannin with a critical eye, an idea forming in his mind. "Um, you said you can talk to Sayuri about anything, right?"
A lithe, white haired woman looked up at the sound of someone knocking at her door. Sayuri's brows furrowed and she shared a glance with Gamauma. They weren't expecting any visitors and her son-in-law knew better than to come asking for sake money. She stood up from the pond-side, setting down her tea, and walked toward the front door. Gamauma stared at the handle, and Sayuri had a strong feeling that the great toad had a better idea of what was going on than she did.
The mute woman placed her hand on the door and slid it open, only to be tackled by a short, snowy haired boy. She stumbled slightly in shock, but quickly kneeled and wrapped her thin arms around her beloved grandson. Jiraiya held the woman tightly, his body shaking with suppressed sobs.
"Obaa-chan… I-I need to… I want to talk to you! I-I…"
She shushed him gently, running her fingers through his hair and running her hand along his spine.
"I-I can't do this by myself…" he whispered gravely, as if in pain, "I want… no, I need to tell someone. I have to!"
She squeezed him tighter, patient as always. Whatever was bothering Jiraiya was nothing insignificant. It was rare for him to shed tears, much less for him to come to her in such a state. No matter how old he tried to act, he was still just a kid. She managed a small smile at the thought. No matter how old Jiraiya got, he'd always be her sweet, little grandson.
However, that train of thought was cut short when the flap of his backpack began moving. A small, orange head popped out; a toad's head. Sayuri's silver eyes widened.
"Jeez, Jiraiya, suck it up. I mean, man!" It said.
Jiraiya suddenly went from distressed to infuriated. "Gamakichi!"
"I knew something was up with you this morning." Gamauma stated, getting out of the indoor pond. The smaller toad tensed and all three looked over at the giant, female toad. Gamauma flexed her peach-colored shoulders with an audible "pop!" as she waddled over to the trio. She fixed one great, golden eye on the two young tadpoles (Jiraiya and Gamakichi). "You had better be here to tell your poor grandmother and me what's going on, Jiraiya-kun." She said firmly.
Sayuri puffed out her cheeks, indignant at being called "poor."
Jiraiya pulled away from his grandmother with a deep sigh, running his hands over his face tiredly and wiping away warm tears in the process. "Yes. That's why I'm here."
"Well, you better got it together fast, Jiraiya-kun, because I can tell this is going to be one hell of a story. You too, Gamakichi."
They both nodded stiffly.
Sayuri brushed a strand of snow-white hair out of her grandson's face. Whatever he had to say or explain would come in time. Gamauma may have been a very direct and demanding toad, but she was much more gentle and patient. Jiraiya looked over at her and she smiled, holding up her hands into a simple sign. He blinked a few times before nodding.
"Tea would be nice, Obaa-chan."
She smiled more widely and stood, ruffling his hair. She also reached out to pat the small, new toad on the head before walking into the kitchen. White Sakura tea sounded good for this sort of thing…
Gamauma watched her summoner walk away. "We're getting too old for this," she sighed, "Come along then, boys."
End Chapter 3