Author's Note: I'm fascinated with Jiraiya, both the Naruto character and the figure from Japanese folklore, and the relationship Jiraiya has with Orochimaru. The idea of Jiraiya embarking on a quest to kill Orochimaru, and having a story about that told from Jiraiya's point of view, appeals to me. I think Jiraiya was shortchanged in Naruto. He should have gotten the chance to kill Orochimaru and save the day, like the classic folklore character would have.

This story is AU. In this AU, I took out the existence of Tobi and created a universe in which Orochimaru attacked Konoha at Naruto's birth instead. As the story goes along, you'll see other AU things happening.

Solemn Vows

Prologue


Jiraiya had made a solemn vow to someone once.

He wasn't sure what he was thinking, but he had.

The sannin sighed and shifted, staring into the fire. It was cold here in the desert of Wind. At night, the temperature could drop below freezing. Then, by midday, the sand would be sizzling again. Frozen, sizzling. Frozen, sizzling. It was one of the wonders of the world, really. Every day he needed to wrap up in layers of cloth to trap body moisture, and every night he needed the same layers of clothing to trap body heat. Dressing like the locals was no disguise; it was survival. He was wrapped up like a mummy.

His own mother wouldn't recognize him, given the only uncovered part of his body was his eyeballs. Unless of course she were a forensic paleontologist. Those people could measure the space between people's eyeballs and take close-up pictures of the little grains in your eyes and make a positive ID. Freaky, right?

Some of those people worked in ANBU, and he had to admit he didn't like them much. They'd taught him the basics of identifying underlying bone structure so he couldn't be fooled by changing hairstyles and facial hair, but he didn't have to like them.

Actually, that was true of anyone, wasn't it? Being useful didn't guarantee you were likeable.

The state of Jiraiya's likeability was case in point.

Here he was, freezing his ass off in a desert, chasing after Orochimaru…alone. Totally alone, totally unsupported, totally…

Well, let's face it, folks. Unloved. Jiraiya shifted again and sighed. What an ugly word.

But there it was. And no amount of humorous inner monologue or masturbatory fantasies could blot that out. He could narrate his great, exciting, adventurous life to himself all day and still not be loved. He could write and illustrate the most graphic love stories on the planet, but he couldn't change that Tsunade had punched him in the face, fallen in love with Dan, had screamed and cried over Dan's bloody corpse, and vanished. There was no polite way to say it. She didn't love him. She loved Dan. The bloody corpse. And she was going to hide away and staunchly not get over that bloody corpse for the rest of her life.

And Jiraiya was here, chasing after Orochimaru because he'd made a solemn vow to someone with blonde hair and shining blue eyes. I'll keep him safe.

Naruto couldn't be safe as long as Orochimaru was running around trying to gain immortality and plotting to turn Konoha into his personal playground.

Jiraiya saw a flash of the room, and couldn't quite block it out. He stared into the fire for a long while, trying to burn the memories away.


The hidden bunker smelled like old blood and chemicals. Jiraiya crept through the dusty, dimly lit series of rooms, trying to breathe through his mouth. The taste collected in the back of his throat.

It hadn't been enough that Old Man Sarutobi exiled Orochimaru from Konoha. No amount of exiling could get rid of the stench of these underground bunkers. And someone had to go around and defuse them. That might have been ANBU's job. Except for the fact that there was no one who knew Orochimaru like Jiraiya. Jiraiya had a special understanding of his former teammate's mind…an unwanted one. And the more he learned ratting about in Konoha's underground, the less he wanted to know.

This bunker, constructed like an odd little house in the sewers, was number three. Numbers one and two had been discovered by Sarutobi and Konoha security, respectively. At that point, seeing that there were many more snake's nests below the village, the responsibility was transferred to him.

Oh joy. Just what I want to do with my day. Jiraiya glanced around an abandoned kitchen. An oil lamp stood in the center of a kitchen table, two chairs neatly pushed in on either side. A dusty refrigerator by a small sink. The refrigerator door was smeared with something dark.

Jiraiya took a pass and crept through a storage room instead. Dissected pieces of people meat floated in jars on the shelves, things Jiraiya would rather not identify. Unfortunately for him, a floating penis in a jar was immediately recognizable. He turned his eyes away as quickly as he could, scanning the names of chemicals instead. Most of them were things he'd never heard of. Formaldehyde, duh. That was a given. Baking soda, blood thinners, bleach. Industrial drain cleaner. That brought a lovely image to mind: blood, hair, and bits of bone or flesh, all clumped up and clogging the pipes. Jiraiya shuddered.

He steeled himself and walked into the dissection room, expecting that to be the worst. Surprisingly, it was clean. The wooden table with iron restraints was clean, the stone walls scrubbed down, the floor spotless. It smelled just faintly tangy. Jiraiya walked around the room, examining everything. He found a hidden compartment with clean surgical tools stashed in it, wrapped in a silk cloth. They were as pristine as the day they were purchased. Or stolen, more likely.

The smell of this place was actually less in the dissection room.

Jiraiya frowned and sniffed in spite of himself. He followed his nose back to the kitchen. With every step towards the refrigerator and sink, bile rose that much more in his throat. Horror vibrated inside of his bones at the idea of what he'd find here. Jiraiya yanked open the refrigerator door, kunai at the ready.

The brutal light of the refrigerator revealed a series of wire racks like those of a grill. Pieces of butchered pig rested on the shelves, stinking of preservatives. An enormous pool of dried pig's blood lay congealed in the bottom of the refrigerator.

Orochimaru had left, and stopped siphoning electricity off the village grid to power the refrigerator. The contents had been left to stink up the place.

Jiraiya sheathed his kunai, shut the refrigerator door, and leaned against the refrigerator, head bowed. Pigs were used in surgical practice. The smell in the bunker was just pigs. He could feel the sweat on his forehead. He ignored it, stood still for a few moments, just tried to breathe. The horrific edge of the stench ebbed away now that he knew it was just rotting pork.

He curled his hand into a fist and punched the refrigerator door. That was scary, you asshole! He could imagine Orochimaru's smirk. You fucking asshole! You're the worst teammate ever! Not only to you not get my back in a battle, you go around doing this! You suck!

Jiraiya took a deep breath and straightened, squaring his shoulders. He let the moment pass. There was one more room to investigate: the research room. That was the room where Orochimaru sat down and wrote, read books and scrolls – most of them forbidden – and mused about the day's experiments. The other two bunkers had such rooms. Jiraiya was willing to bet this one would be true to form.

If Orochimaru had been the slightest bit aware he could be caught, he wouldn't have left behind anything in his research rooms. Orochimaru was an egomaniac. When Jiraiya pushed open the door and crept into the research room, he found it stuffed.

He lit the oil lamps sitting on the desk and turned the flames up high, casting light flickering throughout the room. The reference shelves were decimated – Orochimaru had taken everything he thought he would need as far as reading material went. He'd only left a few scrolls and tattered books. Probably the ones he thought were duds.

Jiraiya spent several minutes feeling out the walls of the room, searching for hidden compartments. He found a couple small ones.

The first contained a silk bag full of potpourri and some small pieces of paper with notes on them. Jiraiya picked them up and read them one by one. They were grocery lists.

The second one contained exotic ink sticks, candles, and dried folk remedies. Or, in other words, spell components. Jiraiya recognized dried tiger gallbladder. Common, but illegal.

He shook his head and turned to the desk. There were some papers and scrolls lying on top, as well as two journal type books. Jiraiya opened the desk drawers, and found them stuffed with more yellowed papers. The bottom drawer held no less than seven used journals.
Waaaay too much for me to read. Jiraiya sat down in the desk chair. I'll just look at what's on the desk and bring the rest back with me.

He sorted through the pieces of paper first. They were notes in cramped handwriting about things Jiraiya didn't understand. Mostly rambling about methods of organically extracting immortality, ranting about switching bodies with other people, about surgically transplanting new organs into oneself. Yuck.

Jiraiya set the pieces of paper aside in a stack and reached for the nearest scroll. Let's see what we have here. He unrolled it – and froze in shock. It was an ink painting of Kushina strapped down to a table.

His eyes instantly tried to take the recognition back. No, no, no. It's just some naked chick strapped to a table. He uncertainly scanned the picture, trying to make up his mind. She's got long hair…but lots of people have long hair. It's not like you've seen Kushina nude.

Jiraiya rolled up the scroll. One thing's for certain: I am not letting Minato see this.

The other scrolls were diagrams of human anatomy. Jiraiya felt that was infinitely safer than what he'd just been looking at.

Coming down off his panic again, Jiraiya slumped in the chair and picked up the first of the two journals, flicking it open with one hand. The pages flew, parting at the most creased spot. Jiraiya's stomach turned to stone.

Another drawing of Kushina, this one done in ballpoint pen. And if Jiraiya had failed to see the detailed likeness of Kushina's face, he couldn't have failed to read the captions. Kushina's name suddenly jumped out at him from several places on the page.

Jiraiya sat frozen, overwhelmed.

Without being able to tear his eyes away, he reached out and opened the second journal. With one hand, he slowly nudged the first journal out of the way. He swallowed, tasting metal. His thumb was locked in the hinge of the journal between the cover and the page. One of the pages right inside the front of the journal.

Jiraiya saw the picture on this page and was shocked all over again. A nude Kushina sprawled across a bed, eyes closed. Asleep. A large, scratchy note across the side of the page. I want the baby.Jiraiya read it several times. The jagged handwriting scared him more each time. He glanced at the drawing and realized that Kushina's stomach was distended by pregnancy.

I want the baby.

Jiraiya stood up. The book fell from his hand. "Oh, god. Oh, god."

Random phrases leapt out at him from the page. Jinchuuriki – Nine tails – The key to extraction is the way back to the Sage – Jinchuuriki giving birth – Breaking the seals –

Jiraiya ran.


The fire cracked and spit sparks, startling Jiraiya out of his thoughts. He looked across the shadowed blue dunes of the Wind desert. Frost coated the stones fifty feet away. He glanced at the sky. Lavender clouds swirled around against an indigo sky, the moon a silvery disk. The night was ending, predawn seeping solemnly in.

Somewhere out here, he's there. Jiraiya took a deep breath, shifted to keep his circulation flowing, and got comfortable again. Orochimaru had disgraced Sarutobi, killed Minato and Kushina, and almost destroyed the village by unleashing the Nine Tails. Orochimaru had orphaned Naruto and threatened everything Jiraiya held dear. Orochimaru was not going to get a chance to destroy all Jiraiya had left.