Author's Note: In another version of reality, Jiraiya rushes to Nawaki's rescue. Co-written with Ariel D.


Rescuing Nawaki


Jiraiya stopped in the middle of the street. He felt Something Wrong. It was at best the sensation of an uncomfortable wind, prickling up his arms. At worst, it was a tension in the pit of his stomach that suggested something minutely out of place that he would regret later. Gamabunta had once told him that his feelings came from an unusual sensitivity to his surroundings, and a touch of what could be called foresight.

Jiraiya didn't like it.

But he knew better than to ignore it. Instead, he ran to the Hokage Tower, hoping that his teacher could shed some light on what was happening. Or about to happen.

He burst into Hiruzen's office breathlessly. "Hiruzen - Sensei - Is everything alright?"

Hiruzen looked up from the scroll he'd been reading, startled. "Yes. I'm sure it is so...why?"

"Where's Tsunade?" Jiraiya asked.

Hiruzen furrowed his brow. "With Dan."

Jiraya relaxed a little. Tsunade was always his first concern when these feelings came up. If he lost her, he didn't know what he'd do. Never mind the fact that she was dating Dan, and was probably going to be engaged soon. That wouldn't be the same as losing her. He'd still have her for a teammate and a friend.

"Where's Orochimaru?" Jiraiya asked, automatically following up on his other teammate.

"Orochimaru just left with his team," Hiruzen said. "Not ten minutes ago, I believe." He glanced at the clock. "He's taking his team on a C-rank mission to the rice fields south of the village."

"Why?" Jiraiya asked. "What's at the rice fields?"

"Nothing, yet," Hiruzen said. "Orochimaru asked for a mission that would allow his students to practice trap-setting."

"Trap-setting," Jiraiya repeated. His sinking feeling grew. "Why?"

Hiruzen shrugged. "He said his students needed the practice. Setting up mines under his supervision should give them the experience they need to-"

Jiraiya dashed, availing himself of the open window and leaping off of the Hokage Tower roof. He teleported to the south gate of the village in two jumps and took off running. And he still didn't know why. He just knew he had to stop it. Whatever 'it' was.

There wasn't even time to ask Tsunade to go along. He had to make it. And a ten minute head start was more time for a ninja than civilians guessed.

The only thing running through Jiraiya's head was that Nawaki was on Orochimaru's team, and if something happened to him, Tsunade would be devastated.

xXx

Orochimaru emerged out of the forest into the rice fields with his three little students in tow. He turned to them, gesturing at the acres of farmland. "This will be our practice area. Ten acres of rice fields need to be planted with mines for the defense of Konoha. After you master the basics of setting up mines, it will be up to you to finish planting the rest of the mines. I'll be supervising."

In addition to Nawaki, the team consisted of Joushi, a boy with long brown hair and two red marks on each cheek, and a girl named Chiaki, a cheerful strawberry blonde.

Orochimaru took the large scroll off his back and unrolled it on the grass between him and his students. He unsealed the disassembled mines; it consisted of a metal housing almost like a lantern, an explosive tag, and a bit of string. There were two hundred kits to assemble in this one scroll. Each of his students were weighed down with another scroll just like this one.

He knelt. "I know none of you are up to par on your trap setting skills, so watch carefully. I'm only going to show it to you once."

"Um..." Chiaki brushed her hair away from her forehead, seeming less than thrilled about that statement.

Nawaki's brow furrowed. Orochimaru was not a patient teacher. He had to learn this on the first try or else.

Joushi sighed and knelt on the opposite side of the scroll, staring at their teacher's hands.

Orochimaru took a metal casing and set it in front of him, standing up. Then he took an explosive tag and tied string to the end of it. He lowered it inside of the metal canister and tied it to the lid, then shut the mine. "Now, you say 'soku'!" His hands flared, and a faint, black powder like smell wafted out. "That activates the tag, and sets it to go off when the mine is jostled."

He picked up the mine carefully, with both hands, and stood. "You must use your earth release to make a well in the ground. Lower the mine in gently, and seal the ground back up." He demonstrated, making a hole in the mud of the rice field, lowering the mine in, and covering it up. The mine was seamlessly hidden.

"Oh, and don't step on your mine. Remember where you put it, okay?" He grinned at them. "I wouldn't want you to be blown into smithereens. Smithereens would be hard to grade."

Nawaki felt cold suddenly. He could track his own mines, but what about his classmates? Plus... "Sensei... doesn't this rice field belong to someone? What happens when they come to harvest their rice?"

Orochimaru shook his head. "Stupid boy. Sandaime already purchased this land from the owner. No one's going to harvest this rice. It's gone to waste already."

"Um, so maybe we should work in straight lines?" Chiaki asked.

Orochimaru sighed. "Perhaps you didn't understand. You can't plant the mines in a grid, Chiaki-san, because enemy soldiers are going to look for that when they come through the minefield. You have to plant your mines at random. Otherwise, it's no good." He leaned forward and tapped her forehead. "Do you get it?"

Nawaki really hated his sensei at times.

Actually, most of the time.

Chiaki rubbed her forehead. "I get it," she muttered.

Orochimaru straightened. "Good." He gestured. "Now commence making mines. Oh, and be quick about it. I'll be grading for speed and confidence." He grinned.

Bastard, Nawaki thought.

Joushi swallowed audibly. "I'll work up to the speed part."

Orochimaru laughed.

"Safety over good grades," Nawaki told his teammates. "A low grade is not worse than death." He considered himself the leader among his genin teammates.

Joushi put together his first mine with shaking fingers. When he was done assembling it, he shook out his hands and walked across the field slowly, carrying his mine against his chest.

"Nawaki the brave," Orochimaru teased. "Your hot Senju blood runs so cold at the thought of mine planting that you're willing to fail the mission?"

Chiaki scowled. "Don't make fun of Nawaki-kun."

"Better than dying during a practice run, Sensei," Nawaki replied. He set about making his first mine, his fingers steady and movements careful, then buried it right at the edge of the field nearest his sensei. "Everyone needs to track everyone's spots," he told Chiaki gently. "Even Sensei."

Orochimaru rolled his eyes. "Sensei is more than capable of tracking your movements, Nawaki."

He grinned. "If anyone is going to die, it's going to be you with your eternal clumsiness."

"Sensei!" Chiaki gasped.

"Get working, Chiaki-san, and save the scandalized look for later," Orochimaru said.

Chiaki visibly swallowed a retort and got to work, putting together rows of mines before she thought about burying them.

"Isn't that a little dangerous?" Orochimaru teased. "Why, anyone could bump into those."

"I think it's efficient," Chiaki said.

Joushi came back from burying his mine, looking a little white.

Chiaki directed him around the two mines near the border of the rice field, and he picked up one of her mines.

Orochimaru stepped in. "Tut tut, no helping. This exercise is about setting the traps as much as it is burying them. Joushi, make your own."

Joushi set down Chiaki's mine and went to assembling his own.

Nawaki assembled a second mine, counted out 5 paces at 2 0'clock, then buried it. He'd set up a system in his head by which he would create a pattern that was not a grid.

Chiaki stopped at twenty five mines and took her first one, carrying it carefully upright. She crossed the field carefully, using her water walking skills to keep from getting muddy feet, and came up to Nawaki. "Do you have a plan?" she whispered.

Nawaki whispered back, "Yes. 2 o'clock at 5, 10, 15, 20, etc. paces. Then 4 o'clock, the same. It'll fan them out without being a grid." He frowned. "600 mines is still too many for this field, though. We're going to have to stop short, or one or more of us is going to die today."

Chiaki paled. She nodded. "Thanks, Nawaki-kun." She marched out and planted her mine, 2 o'clock at 10 paces.

Orochimaru watched this with a raised eyebrow.

Chiaki took Joushi aside at her next mine pickup and told him Nawaki's pattern. They delivered their mines together.

In spite of the fear of the ordeal, they did pick up their pace, fairly quickly. They found courage by working together, and soon were even using body flicker to cross the field.

Orochimaru frowned.

When they finished Nawaki's pattern, they still had 126 mines left unassembled.

Chiaki was a little breathless, mostly from having to use the earth release technique over and over again.

"Sensei, can we stop for today?" She asked, sweeping her hair out of her eyes.

"No..." Orochimaru stared at her. "You may not. You have not planted all the mines."

"But they won't fit," Joushi protested.

"I see plenty of field," Orochimaru said wryly. He flicked his gaze across his students. "Unless...one of you devised a pattern." He tilted his head. "But you wouldn't do that, would you?"

"Of course we would," Nawaki said proudly. "Strategy alone dictates that a pattern must be created so that the setters of the mines can track their own progress and not step on their own mines. It's not in a grid, so the enemy will not detect it, and furthermore, the field is so full of mines that a rat can't cross it without dying." He crossed his arms. "There's a difference between making sure the enemy can't find your mines and being stupid about how you set them out there. Especially when working in a team of 3."

"Is that so?" Orochimaru smiled pleasantly.

Joushi ventured a smile, flushing a little at Nawaki's confidence in standing up to their teacher.

Chiaki folded her arms over her chest. "You said not to make it a grid, Sensei. You didn't say anything about not working together."

"And teamwork is important," Nawaki finished.

Orochimaru laughed. "You're right. I did leave a loophole! How clever of you." He looked at them for a moment. "Indeed, teamwork is important. Leadership is also important. It's obvious that Nawaki-kun knows that."

"Nawaki-kun is a good leader," Joushi agreed.

"So he wouldn't mind demonstrating the safety of this minefield for the people who set the mines," Orochimaru said. "After all, he is the mastermind that came up with the design."

Joushi and Chiaki stared at him.

"In fact, I bet that little Nawaki is so clever that he wouldn't even make a mistake if he had to fight on this mine field," Orochimaru said.

"Um..." Joushi swallowed and turned pale. "Sensei?"

"Pop quiz," Orochimaru said cheerfully. "Now it's sparring practice." He grabbed the front of Nawaki's shirt and hurled him out onto the rice field.

Chiaki screamed and covered her eyes.

Nawaki screamed; he knew the chances he would land safely were next to none.

A red flicker swooped out of the woods across the rice field coming the opposite way and caught Nawaki before he hit the muddy water. The blur caught air and slowed down, becoming a man in a red yukata with full sleeves. Jiraiya landed safely on the other side of the rice field, twelve feet from where Orochimaru stood, Nawaki gathered against his chest. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Orochimaru turned to face Jiraiya fully, his face blank except for a flicker of amusement and annoyance. "I don't interrupt your training exercises."

Chiaki chose this moment to scream, "He tried to kill Nawaki!"

Nawaki was shaking uncontrollably.

Orochimaru glared at her, and said evenly, "Joushi, will you shut up your hysterical teammate?"

Joushi stepped in front of Chiaki. "N-No." He shook his head, and balled his hands into fists. "You leave her alone."

"What is the matter with everyone?" Orochimaru complained.

Jiraiya tightened his arms around Nawaki. "I think the matter is that you tried to kill one of your students!"

Nawaki's teeth were chattering. "I-I-I only tried to create a pattern s-s-so none of us would d-die."

"He was being insubordinate," Orochimaru said.

"Enough," Jiraiya said. "This is a matter for Hiruzen."

"The hell it is!" Orochimaru snapped.

Jiraiya smirked. "Oh, so you were doing something wrong. You only get that angry face when I'm going to tell on you about something you really did."

Orochimaru took a step towards him. "Shut up!"

Nawaki was extremely grateful Jiraiya was there... and he was also convinced they were going to fight.

Jiraiya set Nawaki down and stroked his head, still looking at Orochimaru. "Nawaki-kun...run. I'll handle this."

"What? You can't tell my team what to do!" Orochimaru yelled. "Everyone stay put! Jiraiya is going home."

"No, he's not," Jiraiya said.

They stared each other down.

Nawaki didn't have to think much about it. "Chiaki, Joushi. Ik'so."

"Don't you dare..." Orochimaru growled.

"Go on," Jiraiya said softly.

Chiaki and Joushi nodded and crept across to Nawaki, taking his hands.

"You'll never be shinobi again!" Orochimaru declared.

Jiraiya nodded at the woods. "Don't look back."

Nawaki nodded in return. "Hai." He took off running, still holding his teammates' hands. He was headed straight for Sarutobi.

Orochimaru started forward.

Jiraiya stepped in front of his teammate, blocking the way, and drew his sword.

Orochimaru burst into action with an enraged scream, throwing half a dozen poison smoke bombs and drawing his own sword, Kusanagi.

Jiraiya quickly leapt back out of the way of the smoke, his arm over his nose and mouth.

Orochimaru followed up the attack with a wind release attack, snapping his hand out.

Jiraiya ducked, and glanced over his shoulder at the falling trees. "Sheesh."

Orochimaru lunged for him, and he breathed fire in Orochimaru's face.

Orochimaru flickered out of the way, appearing three yards away with singed, smoking sleeves.

"Let's get serious," Orochimaru declared.

"No problems with me," Jiraiya said.

They fought with everything they had; katanas, kunai, nature releases, bare hands. It was a scrabbling, all-out fight that trashed the forest around them and blackened the verdant grass.

Jiraiya blinded Orochimaru by spitting oil. Orochimaru sprained his wrist while disarming him. Their clothes were torn and bloody from superficial cuts. Jiraiya wove hand seals and sent a rolling wave of air at Orochimaru, tinged with smoke from fire releases that didn't hit home, crashing towards Orochimaru like a tsunami and ripping leaves off the trees.

Jiraiya smirked, even as the wind attack took out a sizable chunk of his chakra and made his legs weak. Gotcha. Orochimaru was caught between a bank of stony spikes ripped out of the earth Orochimaru himself had summoned out of the ground, Jiraiya's wind tsunami, and the rice field planted with mines. He charged.

Orochimaru leapt back over the rice field.

"You're going to land in the middle of it!" Jiraiya yelled. His only thought during the whole battle was to beat Orochimaru senseless and bring him before Sarutobi.

Orochimaru laughed and landed on the surface of the rice field, chakra on his feet. "I'm not so stupid that I'm going to step on a mine and kill myself." He tilted his head. "How about you? I watched my students put this field together. Can you say the same?"

Jiraiya stared at him. "I'm not coming out there."

"Why?" Orochimaru asked. "Too much risk for you?"

"Um, yeah," Jiraiya said. "A lot. How about I just attack you from here?"

"Won't make a bit of difference, and you'll never hit me," Orochimaru said. "You're too far away."

Jiraiya was filled with an awful temptation to test this, even though he knew that Orochimaru might die. No...I can't do this. I'm not prepared to actually... He held up his hands. "You know what? Fine. Be crazy."

Orochimaru looked at him with irritation. "You can't leave now."

Jiraiya backed away. "Oh, yes I can."

Orochimaru took a step forward. "You're bluff -"

An explosion went off with a thick, thudding boom. Mud sprayed out everywhere.

Jiraiya stumbled backward and fell, sitting down hard. "No way," he whispered.

Mud pattered to the ground, some of it landing in the rice field with slapping sounds like oversized rain. Orochimaru lay on his side in the mud, clutching his leg.

Jiraiya automatically took in the way Orochimaru's leg met the mud of the rice field and knew it wasn't right. Oh my god.

"I told you not to go there!" Jiraiya yelled.

Orochimaru groaned. "Don't just stand there and talk at me. Come help me."

"No," Jiraiya said.

"What?" Orochimaru yelled.

"I can't," Jiraiya said. "The only person who could do that is Nawaki, and he's not here. He's not here because you tried to kill him. I'm sorry, Orochi, I really am, but you can't say you didn't bring this on yourself. I can't be responsible for this."

"If it weren't for you I wouldn't be here!" Orochimaru yelled. "This is all your fault! All of it!"

Jiraiya winced. "But I didn't do anything except save Nawaki." He turned away, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Now, goodbye. If you make it out of that predicament, then good for you. If you don't, and you end up dying in the mud...then don't hold any illusions that this wasn't what you deserved. It is. So I'm not going to feel sorry for you."

He took a couple steps.

"How dare you! You can't leave me! It's your responsibility -"

Another boom shattered the clearing.

Jiraiya winced and didn't look back. There was a third. Jiraiya slowly walked away, not able to imagine anything other than a half-recognizable form covered in mud. He hoped it was that clean.

"I'm not responsible for you," Jiraiya muttered.

xXx

When he got back to Konoha, he headed straight for Hiruzen's office, hoping he'd find Nawaki, Joushi, and Chiaki safely there. Jiraiya opened the door to find the kids in a row in front of Hiruzen's desk, plus Tsunade standing by Nawaki's side.

"I guess you heard," Jiraiya said to her.

Tsunade turned to face him, then placed her hand on Nawaki's shoulder. She nodded.

He walked up to join her and Nawaki.

"Indeed," Hiruzen said, puffing at his pipe. "They just finished giving me the report. As soon as I saw the state Nawaki was in, I called for Tsunade. She's been here too. The whole time."

"I'm glad to see you're okay," Nawaki told Jiraiya. "I see Sensei didn't bother to return with you."

Jiraiya gave Nawaki a wry almost-smile. "He can't. I'm afraid he's not walking away from this."

Hiruzen nodded slowly. "I expected as much." He looked somber. "I always knew that if you two came to blows, it would be like this. Only one of you was ever going to walk away from such an encounter."

"Lucky me," Jiraiya said with false cheer. He placed his hand on Nawaki's head. "Considering his last act before trying to kill me - for declaring my intentions to tell on him, no less - was to try to kill Nawaki, I think I'm cleared."

"Yes," Hiruzen said absently. "There is no question that you acted properly."

"Sweet," Jiraiya said. "So that means I avoid an interrogation and a background check, right?"

"No," Hiruzen said.

Jiraiya pouted. "Aww."

"It's procedure," Hiruzen said. "Especially since you were the only one there."

"This sucks," Jiraiya said. "Why couldn't Orochimaru die on someone else's watch?"

Tsunade covered her face with her hand.

Nawaki supposed he should feel something about his sensei's death... but all he did feel was relief.

Jiraiya hugged Nawaki, his masks coming back down. "Hey...I'm glad you're okay. That's what counts. You're like a little brother to me, too. I was there when you were born, you know. Or a few hours after. Tsu-chan was all excited..."

Tsunade blushed. "Well...little brothers are a luxury not everyone has."

She hugged Nawaki as well. "I would have died if anything had happened to you."

Nawaki hugged them both in return. "I'm glad Jiraiya was there to save me. I thought for sure I was going to die."

"Me, too," Joushi said rubbing the back of his head.

"It looked like Sensei was going to kill him," Chiaki said, not for the first time.

"I've called their families too," Hiruzen said before Jiraiya could ask. "Their parents should be here to pick them up any moment now."

Jiraiya smiled at Nawaki and ruffled his hair. "Hey...You're not going to die, Nawaki. Not as long as I'm around. Remember that."