Lynchpin

In which Jiraiya makes a critical mistake, thus thwarting Akatsuki once and for all.

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Jiraiya frowned at Naruto's latest, and, dare he say, greatest failure. The tiny little tadpole wriggled helplessly on the dry ground, trying in vain to force water through its gills. In a few seconds, it vanished in a tiny puff of smoke.

The toad sannin looked askance at Naruto, wondering if he had misjudged the boy. He had seemed so promising before, and took to water walking with ease. Well, relative ease, once Orochimaru's bastardized seal modification had been removed. He became competent in far less time than the sannin had originally estimated. And yet now the boy was utterly stumped on the summoning technique, far less complicated and barely more strenuous than the previous exercise.

Naruto growled in frustration and made pitiful excuses for his failure, whining that the latest tadpole had possessed hind legs, a definite improvement from the previous attempt.

"Again." Jiraiya winced internally at his rather gruff sounding voice. He was trying to be upbeat for the Yondaime's son, but this complete lack of progress was getting to him.

Naruto, once more, tried to summon. And once more. And again. And . Jiraiya became more and more depressed with each successive failure. Surely there was something he could do? Naruto obviously had the proper control, since he was able to manipulate chakra to the extent of walking on water. And since his seal was now functioning properly-

The seal! That was it! Naruto, perhaps, was just unable to push the requisite amount of chakra out. Or it was functioning correctly with the jutsu. Though few knew it, the reason most ninja were not offered summoning contracts was because it took a certain affinity towards creatures to have a chance of success. And even those with an affinity had to overcome their own initial barrier between the world of summons and the world of ninja, with their first summon. After they had summoned an appropriately large creature one time, later times would come easier, as they developed the 'feel' for it.

But Naruto could not get that first summon. Perhaps he was not pushing out enough chakra? But that seemed ridiculous. Jiraiya had seen the boy summon hordes of shadow clones, each costing more chakra than a dozen of its elemental counterparts. And the sannin had heard credible rumors that the kid had summoned far more in the past, all at once. So it must be an affinity. All Jiraiya needed to do was get the kid to use the demon's chakra, since the demon, as a creature, could not possibly fail to have the appropriate affinity. And voila! The initial barrier would be overcome, and Naruto could work his way into summoning on his own.

This, of course, presented a new problem. Naruto seemed unable to consciously draw upon the Kyuubi's power. From what Kakashi had told him, only once had Naruto ever manifested the demon's chakra, and then only under extreme duress.

Jiraiya moved on to the solution. So all he needed was to put Naruto in a situation of extreme duress. It was unlikely that he would be able to realistically recreate Naruto's emotional state of the time, so the boy might draw upon his own considerable pool of chakra... Unless he had none remaining, of course!

"Naruto!" The blonde-haired child flinched away from his latest tadpole, a hair's breadth larger than the last several, and stared wide-eyed at the much taller sannin. "I've got a new plan."

Before he could get another word out, Naruto exploded in protest, claiming that he was 'right there' and 'just about to get it' and other such tripe.

"Naruto!" That shut him up. The older man cleared his throat. "There's another way we can go about this. First, you need to use up all your chakra. Do that, and then we'll move on to the next step."

Naruto, of course, couldn't see how this was going to help, and noisily objected.

Jiraiya knew that explaining would reduce the duress, and so refused to elaborate. "It will be faster and easier if you don't worry your little head about trivialities. Just use up all your chakra, and I'll show you what to do next."

After exchanging a few inane insults and humorous comments, Naruto created a small army of clones, who immediately began warfare upon each other. Jiraiya raised an eyebrow at this, but said nothing. The sannin had expected something like several high-chakra dispelling techniques, or enormous, flashy techniques, but this would work just as well.

Actually, as he thought about it, the Shadow Clone Technique was pretty large and flashy. Jiraiya felt his respect for the kid return closer to its previous levels. Obviously just an affinity problem.

In a few minutes, Naruto was complete. Jiraiya then led Naruto to where he knew a gigantic cliff to be. Specifically, he led Naruto to an area near the edge from which the gorge was not visible, obscured by large bushes. As they walked, he instructed Naruto about using the Nine-tails chakra, and that it would probably help him overcome his problem.

Naruto whined that he didn't know how to use it, just that it came out when he really needed it, sometimes

Jiraiya smirked, glancing at the bushes that stood behind Naruto. "I will just have to make sure that you really need it, won't I?" Before Naruto could puzzle that out, or attempt to respond, Jiraiya flicked Naruto forehead, sending him careening through the bushes and over the edge. Naruto began shouted in surprise, then screamed in terror as he realized his position.

Walking slowly, smugly, triumphantly to the side of the gorge, Jiraiya watched his student drop at an ever increasing speed, yelling all the while. He watched the boy fail to grab onto the edges, slick with moss and moisture. The boys curses and shouts echoed along the gorge. And now was the moment that Naruto would comprehend. And now was the moment that he would pull forth the chakra of the Kyuubi (or the Kyuubi would push it out to him, Jiraiya wasn't sure which).

Right now. Any second. Any... second... now...

Jiraiya had a sudden, horrible realization. His vision blurred and swam, and a dreadful sinking feeling grew within him. His mouth hung open in awe of his own stupidity, and in horror at the unstoppable tragedy that waited mere moments away, where Naruto, moving too fast and far, too far away, plummeted to his doom.

He was just barely able to see, due to Naruto's orange jacket, when the genin came to a sudden, sickening stop. A few seconds later, a soft sound echoed from far below, a combination of the thud of a large sack hitting the ground, the crunch of breaking wood and stone, and a soft, juicy sound like melons splitting open.

The sannin's breath came faster and faster. What had he done? What had he done? Flinging a genin off a cliff? Jiraiya stumbled away from the edge, worried that his sudden lightheaded feeling would cause him to fall in after. Which would only be appropriate, given that he had just sent...

For the love of all things holy, he had just killed the Yondaime's son! Lured him out to a cliff and murdered him!

Jiraiya felt old. Older even that his respectable age. This was just like him. He lets Orochimaru fall into perversion and darkness, then steal away in the night as a traitor. He allows Tsunade to run away from her friends and her village. He wanders the land, picking up chicks and getting drunk. And then he kills of the son of one the only men he ever respected.

He should do something. Tell someone. But he doesn't want to. Burying the body won't bury his guilt. Telling The Hokage would accomplish nothing but breaking another, older man's heart.

Maybe it would be better this way. He saw his course laid out before him. He wrote a short missive to the Hokage, informing him of everything he knew about the group 'Akatsuki' and their possible plans about the tailed beasts. He wrote about plans to shelter Naruto from such a threat, training him until even the allagedly powerful members of the shadowy group would be no match.

Of course, Jiraiya had no idea what the group wanted with the demons, or even if they wanted them at all. He knew only that demons were mentioned in relation to something they were doing, or would do, or had done in the past. But he had to make a reasonable attempt to justify his actions, or it would look suspicious.

He summoned a small messenger toad, ordering it to carry the message to the Hokage's office. The village leader, of course, would disagree, but would be unable to reach Jiraiya to recall him back.

The sannin, feeling cold and slightly numb, walked back the edge of the cliff. He grinned sadly at himself. Avoiding his responsibility like always, like when he been boozing and womanizing. Running away from his friends and his village, like Tsunade and Orochimaru before him.

Unlike his student, half an hour ago, Jiraiya did not make a single sound the entire way down.

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Several days later, it rained, and like always, the gorge flooded with a sudden river of water, washing all debris downstream and out to sea.

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Madara growled, growled in frustration. He knew, having heard from a spy in Root who had learned from looting the previous Hokage's office, that, several years ago, Jiraiya had absconded with the Kyuubi's host. How could the sannin have known their plans, so long ago? He had not told anyone, even Pein, about anything too revealing back then, not even his false cover plan about using demons to threaten villages.

And the toad sannin was, apparently, competent beyond on reasonable expectation. Not a peep had been heard, of either Jiraiya or the Kyuubi's host, since that time. Obviously the sannin had only been playing secret spy before, when he was gathering information on Akatsuki. Luring Madara into a false sense of security while extracting every dark secret. Pretending to be only marginally competent at stealth while being a true master of the art.

Madara felt a grudging respect for the old bastard, but mostly, he felt angry. He could not summon the ten-tailed beast without the nine-tailed beast. Which had vanished from all records and was never seen again. Vague rumors cropped up now and again, about a secret arrangement between the Sandaime and Jiraiya, or between the Yondaime and Jiraiya, or between anyone and Jiraiya. Or Naruto. Or both.

And without the ten-tails, the lynchpin of his plan, he could not enact his Moon's Eye plan.

Madara scowled, staring off into the shadows of his lair. He would have to do something, soon. The other members of Akatsuki were getting suspicious of his 'fetish' for the nine-tails. With the Kyuubi currently a non-factor, and possessing the other eight, the cover plan he had told the rest of them would work, and they were getting edgy about the delays. More specifically, Pein was getting suspicious of him, and the others were getting suspicious of Pein.

Madara decided to go out looking, once more. He moved toward the exit of his hidden base, and, rounding a corner, beheld the rest of Akatsuki, waiting for him in obvious ambush.

Damn you, Jiraiya.

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The end. Liked it? Hated it? Clicked on it by accident? Got a witty comment? Want to write some poetry? Send in a review.

-demonicnargles