Waiting, Wondering, and Setting Fire

So… this piece is weird. It's all limited third person omniscient, but for three different characters. Basically, I, the narrator, will tell the whole thing, but in the first segment, I will be in Tsunade's head. Then Orochimaru's. Then Jiraiya's. Cool, huh? I thought so. A worthy experiment, if nothing less. :) And I don't own Naruto.

This piece is not at all happy – all I can claim is that it's real. 100% gritty and deep. It's also a pretty thinly-veiled coming-of-age story for each of them. It's the same event, but it causes them all to grow apart in their various directions and towards their various interests.

That's all I got. Enjoy!

****

Tsunade had only slept with Orochimaru once.

And it didn't mean anything; it was only for the purpose of making Jiraiya jealous. She'd known it at the time, too – there was nothing subconscious about it. She had never bothered to do all the typical things, like talking herself into believing it was therapy to make her feel better, or maybe she did actually have feelings for her other team member… no. None of that. It had been a one-night stand, pure and simple.

It hadn't been hard, either.

Orochimaru didn't have the looks to get the attention of all the girls. Not that Jiraiya did either, necessarily, but he seemed to do okay without them. Perhaps it was a matter of charm… well, as for Orochimaru, he lacked that too. The refuge of those lacking looks or charm was in the realms of power, but at the age of nineteen, Orochimaru hadn't had the time or resources to amass enough power to make up for the assets that he lacked.

He would later, but that was later.

When Tsunade approached her dark-haired teammate one day after training with an offer to pay for dinner and two bottles of cheap sake, there was no question.

****

Not that Orochimaru felt anything for Tsunade any more than she did for him, but he wasn't going to turn down the offer. He could use some food. And he could use even more what he expected would come afterwards:

Rough alcohol and even rougher revenge sex.

He didn't mind the emotional turmoil that would result for Jiraiya, either. It was an added plus, actually.

When the night finally ended, he didn't leave Tsunade's apartment disappointed.

He got all three of the things he hoped for, and the evening was even topped off in a beautifully fascinating way: he got to see both of his bumbling, hapless teammates humiliated. Apparently in the heat of the breakup, Tsunade had forgotten to get her apartment key back from Jiraiya. To make a long story short, the latter had walked in just as Tsunade was fastening her kimono back and Orochimaru was finishing the last of the second bottle of sake.

The look on the face of the Toad-sage would remain with Orochimaru until his dying day.

And in a good way.

It had affected him profoundly. He had witnessed, for the first time in his memory, how emotion could bring a powerful shinobi to his knees in a way that no physical pain could do. Orochimaru could honestly say that he hadn't understood at first. He had some concept of the fact that others experienced sensations that he didn't, but he had never realized how deeply those sensations went. And how deeply they didn't go for him.

The kind of pain he had seen etched on his teammate's features would make sense if the other man had a kunai shoved into his gut, but otherwise, they were simply a terribly irrational waste of energy, as far as Orochimaru could tell.

But there was another observation he had made – and perhaps the most fascinating one of all: Tsunade's reaction suggested that Jiraiya's expression was not out of the ordinary from what one could be expected to do in that situation.

Is that the way people reacted to shock and disappointment?

Did it debilitate them entirely?

If it did – and moreover, if he did lack the ability to feel things that deeply – that was something Orochimaru could undoubtedly use to his advantage. And it seemed very much like those two things were true. The rest of the world had a secret – but easily accessible – pain switch that he mysteriously lacked.

All he had left to discover was how exactly to use it. Jiraiya's heartbreak was only the beginning.

****

He left the roses he had brought as a peace offering scattered on the porch after he realized what had gone on his absence.

Tsunade had had sex with Orochimaru, and it had been premeditated. The mattress on the floor and the two empty bottles of sake on the table attested to that. When they had walked off together after training, Jiraiya had known something strange was happening. Though he hadn't admitted it to himself, that was probably much of the reason he had decided to make the first move towards reconciliation.

But now his effort was wasted, trampled over, and left to rot on the tatami mats outside Tsunade's front door.

The three of them – they weren't three talented but otherwise ordinary shinobi Jiraiya had thought they were. There was more than that to each one of them, even if that something more was something different for each of them. Tsunade was focused and goal-oriented, and she wasn't going to leave any strings hanging or bridges standing that could be burned on her way to the top. If there was something that was going to weigh on her mind and drag her down, she was going to reconcile it in whatever way she knew how.

Orochimaru was in it for Orochimaru.

There would never be any "team" for him, and if he ever took a student, it would only be for what the student could do for him.

And he? Himself? Jiraiya?

He didn't know yet. Time would tell that.

All he could think about was the fact that the woman he loved and the teammate he had once trusted – if not feared a little – had found themselves, and it was far from where Jiraiya wanted to be. If they were going that direction, he supposed that his choices were to abandon the team or follow them to that dark place.

And he wasn't sure which would hurt more.