Again, And Forever


It might have been a dream or a play, but Jiraiya found himself back in that night. No longer in the icy waters of some lake. No longer stinging from wounds that protested lake water was no ointment. He found himself back among his people, in the churning morass of desperation and smoke.

High above their heads, the roar of the Kyuubi filled the night. Shouts erupted all through the village; grand fire balls, kunai, and shuriken arched through the air toward the rampaging beast. Homes had been demolished; ninja lay dead. But the majority of the force was still alive and still fighting.

Jiraiya summoned Gamabunta and left the force in a heartbeat. No one could even spare him so much as a cheer.

He had to find Minato.

xXx

Minato raced through the trees, heading for Kushina and Naruto. He didn't understand the masked man he'd just fought; he'd barely landed a single hit upon him. But it was clear the man had set loose the Kyuubi, and it was clear he wanted to destroy the village.

Kushina! Naruto! Still be alive!

He was almost to the cave when the Kyuubi came stampeding his way. Oh, God! He couldn't even let himself think that he might not be in time. He was using the top speed he had; he was nothing more than a yellow flash in the night.

And the Kyuubi was clearly going to destroy his family, specifically. Kushina because she had been his jinchuuriki. Naruto because he could be.

Naruto . . .

Minato would seal the Kyuubi into Naruto . . .

An enormous toad leapt over the treetops at the Kyuubi, letting out a battle cry and drawing an equally enormous katana. "Get 'im!" someone shouted. His voice was virtually drowned out by the Kyuubi's roar.

Jiraiya landed in a crouch at the cave's entrance. He called, "You handle Nine Tails!"

"Got it!" Gamabunta yelled back. He narrowly avoided a lashing tail. "I think..."

"Better you than me," Jiraiya retorted.

Minato saw Jiraiya land ahead of him, and instantly appeared at his side. "Sensei . . ." He looked up at Gamabunta. "It's after Kushina and Naruto!"

Jiraiya blinked and almost fell over at his student's sudden appearance, but he recovered quickly, grabbing Minato's arm and running inside the cave with his student. "I know...I know...I'm sorry I'm always late. We're going to fix this thing together. I got a plan -" He stopped. "I bet you're thinking the same thing. Seal Kyuubi into Naruto? It's been done - the Sand village did it and the baby lived. So I think we can do this."

Was life just a dress rehearsal for this? It felt good to squeeze his student's arm again. Jiraiya shook himself. If this is the case…then this is going to be the best performance anyone has ever seen!

Minato nodded his head quickly. "It's our only choice. Kushina can't take it."

Kushina looked up from the floor, where she hovered by Naruto's bed. "Minato, love . . ."

Minato ran over and hugged her. "Oh, God. Are you okay?"

"Weak," she admitted. "Very weak."

Jiraiya ran to her and immediately checked her over with his limited knowledge of healing jutsu. "It's alright. She's stable." He switched to talking to her. "You're stable. Just don't get up and move around a whole bunch. You're hovering near chakra exhaustion, Shina-chan." You have to live. That's the way this has got to go. Don't do anything foolish, Shina-chan. Minato needs you. Naruto needs you!

"A little help out here!" Gamabunta yelled. "Don't just stand there and talk! I know you!"

Jiraiya winced, but ignored the criticism. "Okay, here's the plan: It's Naruto's turn, Shina-chan. You did your time. I'm gonna seal Kyuubi into him. You said that with love Kyuubi is easy to handle, so he should be fine, right? He's got two great parents."

Kushina nodded, then smiled. "We'll give him all the love in the world."

"We'll make sure he gets all the love he needs," Minato agreed.

Jiraiya smiled at them in return. "I know you will. You two're the best. He's gonna be one happy kid."

"Jiraiya-chan! Do you hear me?" Gamabunta yelled.

Jiraiya rubbed the back of his neck. "So..." He picked up Naruto carefully. "Gotta go. Sorry, Shina-chan." He kissed her cheek.

He looked to Minato. "You coming with me to get Naruto once I'm done?"

"Seriously!" Gamabunta yelled.

Minato nodded. "Let's go!"

Jiraiya ran with Naruto carefully clutched against his chest. He winced at the destruction outside. All the trees had been leveled, either by Gamabunta's sword or Kyuubi. They were locked in a fierce battle, Kyuubi trying to grab and break Gamabunta's sword.

"You!" Kyuubi roared as soon as Minato and Jiraiya reappeared. "This miserable sword, wielded by this arrogant toad, is your fault!"

"You started it," Jiraiya said. "I'm just finishing it." He handed Naruto to Minato. In spite of the danger of the moment, he couldn't help but give Naruto a soft smile. "Bye, Naru-chan."

"Bye?" the Kyuubi echoed dubiously.

Jiraiya started the sealing jutsu.

Gamabunta had his hands full again.

"You can't put me in there!" the Kyuubi roared.

Jiraiya ignored that. He didn't even answer.

Gamabunta defended them from the Kyuubi's wild thrashing, and kept the Nine Tails from escaping.

Enormous chains appeared on the Kyuubi, one by one.

"This isn't fair!" the Kyuubi exclaimed. "I hate you all!"

Jiraiya kept going. He could feel his chakra draining; quick. But he'd have enough. He knew that. He kept making the hand seals, feeling the power of the seal growing and growing, feeding off of him.

Minato watched the process solemnly, a chill running down his spine.

"I love you," Jiraiya said, without pausing in making the seal. "I love you and Kushina and Naruto. It was never supposed to be this way. I'm just fixing it. I'm supposed to be protecting you. And everybody around you. Your family needs you. Kushina needs to live, and Naruto...he doesn't need me. He needs you." He felt the ache of tears trying to come out. "I was the one who didn't belong. Everything belongs to you."

At this point, the seal was forming on Naruto's stomach, shimmering.

Minato felt tears forming in his eyes. "But I love you." He knew he couldn't stop this, but it didn't mean he had to like it.

"I know ya do," Jiraiya said. "That's why I gotta save you. Don't you understand? I couldn't save the one person who loved me back. Loved me for sure." His eyes burned.

The Kyuubi was in hysterics, but by now, it didn't matter. The chains would hold. They were strengthening by the second; all of Jiraiya's power going into them. And that was a lot of power.

"Will you kiss me?" Jiraiya asked. "Just once? I can't stop, and I can't move, but will you?"

Minato felt the tears escape and run down his cheeks. "Of course I will." He carefully stepped forward, leaned up, and brushed his lips over Jiraiya's. Then he returned and pressed his lips against Jiraiya's fully, sealing the kiss.

Jiraiya pressed his lips against Minato in return, crying. Tears coursed down his cheeks, and he gasped, breaking the kiss. "I can die now." At that moment, the jutsu took hold. Jiraiya felt a yank in his chest. The Kyuubi roared and disappeared, dissolving into a sparkling mist that swirled around the seal on Naruto's stomach and flew in.

The seal glowed, and then solidified.

Naruto cried and kicked.

Jiraiya heard the sound from far away, and realized he was falling. He fell to his knees. The world was tilting, fading...he couldn't breathe. He collapsed, flat on his back. The last thing he saw was Minato's face, blurry, surreal...the most beautiful thing Jiraiya had ever seen.

And he knew…this time, their story would last forever.