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No line on the horizon

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Jiraiya wakes to birdsong and a light breeze, dawn just beginning to spread across the sky. The day-pale moon drifts overhead, gliding between patchy white clouds just touched with golden-orange light. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and his body feels relaxed and well-rested, with nary a bump or a bruise to concern him.

This is odd, considering that Jiraiya is fairly certain he died facing Pein.

No, scratch that, he’s certain he died during Pein’s invasion. Which means that there's absolutely no reason in the world for him to be stretched out on a patch of lush grass in what he recognizes as Training Ground 19, where he tends to crash whenever he doesn’t want to shell out the cash for a hotel.

Unless, of course, this is some personalized version of heaven, but there aren’t nearly enough nubile and naked young women for that to be true. There aren’t any, as a matter of fact, and if this is some sort of deathbed dream, Jiraiya is very disappointed in himself.

And then a trio of shinobi meander across the far side of the training ground, obviously just coming from an intensive spar. Jiraiya blinks at them, shakes his head to clear it, and looks again.

He’s not seeing things.

But he has to be, because all three—two men and a woman—are Uchiha, without a doubt. They have the dark hair and pale skin and lean build, and even from this distance Jiraiya can see that their eyes are true black, the way only Uchiha eyes are. And they're all sporting the Uchiha fan on the shoulders of their chuunin vests, unmistakable and obvious.

A glance to the west shows him that the Hokage monument is still standing, still sporting five faces. But…the large crack from Orochimaru and Sarutobi’s fight is gone, without even the faintest mark to show where it once was. There's nothing, no sign of that battle even though Jiraiya knows it should have left some indication. It was a fight between kage-level shinobi, after all, between Orochimaru and Sarutobi. But…what does it mean, that lack?

Something is strange here, very strange indeed, and Jiraiya is not happy about it at all.

With an aggrieved sigh, Jiraiya pushes to his feet and rubs a weary hand through his hair. He’s far too old for this shit, and unlike Tsunade, he actually looks it. Maybe Sarutobi-sensei had the right idea with Minato, retiring to the quiet life and leaving the younger generation to run things.

But he’s still one of the Sannin, still here and moving and without any options for retirement looming, so with a soft scoff and an irritated huff, Jiraiya fades into the surrounding trees and makes to do what he does best.

And if he happens to gather his best information in close proximity to the women’s bathhouse, well. Who’s going to comment?

 

There are more Uchiha in the village, dozens of them, and Jiraiya had forgotten just how large the clan was, when it existed. He halfway suspects that it’s even larger now, whenever that is—not time-travel, he thinks, because it’s still the same season as when he…possibly died, and the weather is the same, and there are still only five faces on the mountain. But for all of the evidence against it, Jiraiya is hard-pressed to think of another explanation, given what he’s seeing. Given that he just witnessed the Hyuuga twins—Hiashi and Hizashi—walking side-by-side down the street, heads bent together in that strange twin half-speak he remembers them doing as brats. Fugaku, too, with Mikoto a step ahead of him, both burdened with bags but nothing else that he can see, faces clear and eyes content.

There are no signs of war in the village, either, no pockets of fear or hushed whispers, no tense and nervous civilians or grim-faced shinobi armed to the teeth. He can feel the familiar, widespread chakra of Konoha's forces, calm and at ease, the way they most certainly wouldn’t be if there was any sort of threat. It’s…a relief, in the same moment as it’s absolutely perplexing. This is Konoha, Jiraiya knows that without a doubt, but somehow and for some reason it’s not his Konoha.

He hesitates at a crossroads, wavering between heading for the bathhouse or the Hokage's office. It’s a difficult decision, because on the one hand there's Tsunade, and on the other there are wet, naked, and likely busty beauties just waiting to be appreciated in all their youthful, voluptuous glory.

Actually, maybe it’s not that difficult a decision after all.

(He’s maybe-possibly dead, confused, and a little ticked off that this has happened, whatever it turns out to be, because he’d made his peace with all possible outcomes of that battle, all of his past mistakes and the many, many things that have left him a torn and tattered façade of a once-strong man. Tsunade, for all her running, has always been the stronger of them, the strongest of all three of them, back when they were a three. So he just—he wants to get away for a minute, and jiggling, bouncy, delectable breasts are his way of coping. He’s seen worse ones, yeah?)

One step, two, two meters, three, and Jiraiya can feel his heart lifting a little in expectation. This is…okay. Not great, perhaps, and not what he was expecting, certainly, but…fine. Konoha looks at peace, and since Jiraiya is damn well sure he died back in his Konoha then…maybe this is…well, his reward, more or less. Could be worse.

And then a voice snarls down the road, with all the force of a thunderstorm breaking, “JIRAIYA!”

Jiraiya freezes, one foot still lifted to take a step, because he knows that voice. Knows it from years and missions and nights getting plastered, one specific morning (never, ever, ever to be mentioned on pain of a fiery and extremely drawn-out death) waking up with it in his bed (and, to his great misfortunate, not in a platonic way), raised in accusation, lowered in anger, across a battlefield, and locked together in a fight to the death.

He spins on his heel, half a heartbeat from going for a kunai when the scene registers.

Orochimaru. Orochimaru, wearing a jounin vest and Konoha hitai-ate, bearing down on him with swift, angry steps. He’s not the way Jiraiya saw him last, twisted with a mad desire for power and immortality, transformed by hubris and insanity into something entirely unfamiliar. No, this is the man Jiraiya fought shoulder-to-shoulder with for so many years, leanly muscled and whipcord-thin and handsome, with sharp, intelligent eyes and long black hair to make any woman weep in envy and pale, pale skin, and really, is it any surprise that drunk-Jiraiya had no problems tapping that at all?

Of course, he’s also looking fit to skin someone, namely Jiraiya, and from the way his hands are clenching at his sides and his mouth has gone tight with fury, Jiraiya knows this isn't going to end well. This is the kind of reaction he only ever dreamed of getting from the emotionally stunted bastard, back when they were kids.

“O-Orochimaru,” he manages, tone aiming for placating and probably coming out closer to bewildered. “I—hey, you're looking good—”

“You BASTARD!” Orochimaru snarls, shoving right up into Jiraiya's personal space and apparently not caring at all. “You unrelenting, unmitigated asshole!”

Jiraiya sees the punch coming from a mile away—sloppy as hell, and how, how is his genius traitor teammate making genin mistakes?—but is too bewildered to even attempt to block. It hits him square in the nose, because even while wildly emotional Orochimaru still has to be a genius at everything, and Jiraiya goes sprawling in the dirt, head aching and nose throbbing and bleeding freely. He’s just about to pick himself up and fight back, make some move to defend himself or something, when Orochimaru makes a wild, almost desperate sound in his throat and is suddenly on his knees in the dusty street, arms around Jiraiya's broad shoulders and face pressed into the curve of his neck, all but sprawled in the other man’s lap.

Jiraiya is now officially really fucking confused.

“Er,” he says, and then Orochimaru’s shoulders tremble subtly, the Snake Sannin’s grip tightening almost imperceptibly.

Oh fuck no.

“Don’t cry,” Jiraiya says, flat-out begging. “Orochi-teme, please don’t cry.”

“It’s rage,” Orochimaru spits back, though his voice is suspiciously thick, and he also doesn’t raise his head. “God, Jiraiya, you asshole. Sixteen years—how could you? We thought you were dead.”

O…kay. Jiraiya blinks down at the dark spill of hair over his chest, the shoulders that are still shaking, the death-grip his former teammate has on his haori. Sixteen years. That would be, if the timelines are even vaguely similar, right after Minato's death, when he’d left to personally manage his spy ring. And if they haven’t heard from the Jiraiya who’s supposed to be in the world in all this time…

Well. For the sake of his pride, Jiraiya's going to imagine that his double, or whatever, went out in the bed of some voracious and lusty twins—no, make that triplets, with everyone wildly satisfied and a smile on his face. It’s easier to swallow that way.

But…that leaves him in a bit of a bind, as far as explanations go. Jiraiya casts around as quickly as he can through his shock—because somehow he doesn’t think “I'm from an alternate reality” is going to work here, and nothing that he knows of can jump cross realities with dying/dead men—and latches on to one of his more brilliant Icha Icha plots.

“I…sorry?” he says, as sheepishly as possible. “I must have had an accident or something, somewhere along the way. Woke up in Kiri a few weeks ago with a couple of foggy memories and not much else. Things have been coming back, but…slowly.”

There's a very, very long pause, and then Orochimaru lifts his head. His eyes are red. Jiraiya tries not to think about why. He sniffs once, swallows, and then pushes away, sitting back on his knees and clearly attempting to gather some sort of composure about himself. “You're still a bastard,” he says sharply, narrowing his eyes at Jiraiya, and then rising smoothly to his feet and starting to brush off his uniform. “But I suppose that’s possibly an acceptable explanation for your absence.” He hesitates, torn between pique and relief, and then rolls his eyes and sticks his hand out almost violently.

Jiraiya rolls his eyes right back, but takes the hand anyway and lets Orochimaru pull him to his feet. He looks at his one-time friend, then glances at the Hokage monument, and wavers. He wants to ask, but—

A soft sigh, and Orochimaru grabs his elbow and drags him forward, towards the Administration Building. “Ah,” he says, and there's both resignation and amusement in his tone. “That. Yes, after Minato's death they tried to offer me the hat, but… Sarutobi-sensei overlooked me for a reason, and I had to face that. When Tsunade came back…eleven years ago now, I think, I agreed to her appointment.”

That alone is enough to just about floor Jiraiya again. He pauses, blinking at the other man, and Orochimaru very carefully doesn’t meet his eyes.

“You were gone,” the Snake Sannin says sharply. “Sarutobi-sensei was grieving, and suddenly I was alone in a village recovering from a monster’s attack, in a place that had only ever looked at me as a freak, stripped of the one friend I had managed to make, with two children depending on me and the man who chose a child to become Hokage instead of me, and—Sarutobi-sensei sat down with me one night and I…snapped. And he explained himself to me.”

Jiraiya can't for the life of him think what to say. At length, he swallows and asks carefully, “Children?”

Orochimaru sighs as though aggrieved, but Jiraiya can already tell his heart isn't in it. “Yes, children. Anko is the elder of my apprentices, and Kabuto the younger. They are both…troubled. And I was not exactly stable myself for a long time. I’d been walking a dark path, before Sensei pulled me back.”

Very carefully, Jiraiya doesn’t wonder if it was as dark a path here as in his Konoha, because he remembers the labs and the rooms and the dead children, the boy they called Tenzo and far, far too many bodies. But this Orochimaru stands straighter than the one Jiraiya knew, carries himself with less pride and more ease, and it’s…comforting. Satisfying, because like with Naruto and Sasuke, Jiraiya spent far too long chasing this man’s shadow after his betrayal.

They're both silent as they pass through the Admin Building, up the stairs to the Hokage's office. Jiraiya notices the ANBU in the shadows outside the door, marks the familiar chakra of one Uchiha Itachi but has entirely stopped being surprised by anything in this strange sideways world and doesn’t comment, only tips his head in polite greeting and lets Orochimaru drag him on.

(It doesn’t manage to escape his notice, that the Snake Sannin has yet to let go of him, that his grip is just a hair tighter than it absolutely needs to be. But…he’s not going to say anything. Not if this kinder, untwisted Orochimaru is really seeing him for the first time in sixteen long years.)

Orochimaru throws the doors of the office open without even knocking and strides right in, which is patently unfair. If Jiraiya had ever done that he would have gotten the Hokage's desk chucked at his head without hesitation. But no objects come sailing at them as the brunet drags him in, calling in a deceptively mild tone, “Tsunade, you’ll never guess who I found in the street.”

Tsunade, seated behind her desk and half-concealed by piles of paperwork, doesn’t even both to look up. “No,” she says flatly, slapping a piece of paper onto a stack and grabbing for another. “No, Orochimaru, I don’t care what your little demonic apprentices have gotten up to this time. I don’t care if Kabuto is making chuunin cry or if Anko is terrorizing T&I and Ibiki is about to stage a revolt. You trained them, you deal with them. Not my problem.”

There's a pause, and then Orochimaru clears his throat. “Not quite,” he says politely. “Tsunade? Please.”

Tsunade looks up. Her eyes lock on to Jiraiya, and then her face goes utterly blank. She stands slowly, carefully, and takes two steps around the heavy wooden desk, and then smiles brilliantly, beautifully, like the sweet, kind angel everyone so often forgets she can be.

Jiraiya never even sees the punch that takes him out.

 

This time when he wakes up, it’s to a throbbing nose, an aching head, and more bruises than he can count. Tsunade's handiwork, without a doubt. He stays still, knowing from experience that it’s better not to aggravate anything, and listens carefully to determine whether the coast is clear.

There are voices above him.

“—said he had amnesia. Now, I know I'm not the medic-nin on this team, but I could have sworn that blunt-force trauma to the head was not the best idea following that kind of thing.”

“Oh, shut up. And how do you even know it’s really him? Just because there's never been anyone dumb enough to try it before…Orochimaru. What’s that look?”

“…I caught him heading for the women’s bathhouse.”

Ah, and Jiraiya had completely forgotten Orochimaru’s absolute lack of compunction in ratting out his male teammate. How did he not see the bastard’s total lack of morals years ago?

There's a long pause. Tsunade growls. It’s a sound Jiraiya is intimately familiar with. “Yeah, never mind. It’s him.” The delicately pointed toe of a deceptively petite sandal jabs Jiraiya in the ribs. “Pervert, I know you're awake. Quite acting.”

Since playing dead isn't doing anything but putting him in harm’s way, Jiraiya pops out his feet and scurries out of reach. “Ah, Tsunade,” he says brightly. “You're looking as youthful and lovely as ever, and I see that your right hook hasn’t suffered a bit. Doing well?”

Tsunade, entirely unimpressed, crosses her arms under her rack and glowers at him. It would work better if Jiraiya didn’t remember her when she was a flat-chested little hellion with big dreams and a bigger temper. “Splendidly,” she retorts. “How’s your head?”

Orochimaru steps between them before things can escalate. “Okay, enough. Both of you. Tsunade…”

“Prove it!” Tsunade snaps. “Prove you're him or I’ll show you just what I can make the human body do.”

“You have a birthmark,” Jiraiya answers promptly, before his brain can connect with his mouth. “On the underside of your right—”

Thud.

They really, really should see about getting padded walls for this place, as long as Tsunade is Hokage.

“Ouch,” Jiraiya mutters, pulling himself up from the ground for the third time in as many hours. “Tsunade, I love you dearly, but—”

“February nineteenth,” Orochimaru says suddenly. “Sixteen years ago. A dive bar in Tanzaku-Gai called the Roost.”

Jiraiya goes pale, all but leaping forward to slap a hand over his teammate’s mouth. “That is a secret, Orochi-teme,” he hisses frantically. “We agreed never to speak of that again!

Orochimaru’s eyes are smug, even as he peels Jiraiya's hand off his face. “It’s him,” he says assuredly. “Not another living soul knows about that night. We made sure of it.”

A beat, a sniffle, and suddenly—for the second time that day—Jiraiya's arms are full of weeping teammate as Tsunade tries to crush the life out of him. He wheezes pathetically, automatically looking to Orochimaru for help, but the bastard is just standing there with his arms folded over his chest and a look on his face that’s caught midway between amusement, arch satisfaction, and…fondness.

It’s fairly creepy, but also strangely touching.

That seems to be the theme of the day, though. Jiraiya's just about given up expecting anything else.

And that, of course, is when a blond whirlwind blows into the room, carrying a stack of papers under one arm and wearing a jounin vest. “Hey, Kaa-san,” he calls cheerfully, and—

Jiraiya just about swallows his tongue.

Kaa-san?

Kaa-san?

Tsunade shoves Jiraiya back, almost sending him through the far wall—again—and turns. “Naruto,” she says, and there's relief in her voice, so strong it’s nearly tangible. “Are you all right? You're back late. I expected you yesterday.”

It’s…not the Naruto Jiraiya is used to, that’s for certain, he thinks as he peels himself off the plaster. He’s not wearing orange, for one thing, and his hair is longer, pulled up in a ponytail like the one Tsunade wore when they were younger. A seal, twin to the one Tsunade sports, rests in the center of his forehead, only it’s red instead of blue. The addition of a jounin vest is a change, too, as is the light in his eyes. Not that Naruto was ever really unhappy, but…

He’s lighter, now. Brighter, though Jiraiya hadn’t really thought it possible. Easier with himself, though, and he moves with a self-assured kind of grace that’s foreign. Not cockiness, not arrogance, but confidence. There are two swords belted at his waist, one on either side, mid-length blades with bronze hilts set with a stone, all but oozing wind chakra. He wears them with familiarity, too, and it’s…

It’s just about the strangest thing of all, to see his apprentice in this person, this honed and refined shinobi, who looks at Tsunade with an almost staggering amount of love in his eyes, warm and bright as he accepts the hug she folds him into.

“I'm fine, Kaa-san,” he says comfortingly, pulling back and grinning at her. “Just a few more men than I expected. I dealt with it, don’t worry.”

Tsunade smiles back, scuffing a hand over his head and giving his ponytail a light tug. “I know your definition of ‘a few more’, brat,” she scoffs. “Report?”

Naruto hands it over without complaint, and glances over at Jiraiya. He blinks, taking a half-step back, and says, “Kaa-san?”

(Jiraiya kind of sort of wants to twitch whenever that word passes his lips, but just barely manages to contain it.)

Taking a breath, Tsunade steps up beside the younger blond, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Naruto,” she says formally, “meet your godfather, Jiraiya the Toad Sage. Jiraiya, your godson, Senju Naruto.”

“Jiraiya?” Naruto blinks, glancing between Tsunade and Jiraiya and then at Orochimaru, startlingly enough. The Snake Sannin nods once, reassuringly, and Naruto's eyes widen. “Oh!” he says, and turns to his…mother? His Hokage, at least, definitely, and he’s wearing a wide grin. “Kaa-san, you mean the guy you—?”

Wham.

Jiraiya winces in faint sympathy. At least he’s not the only one getting abused, and it’s comforting that whatever his apprentice’s relationship with Tsunade is now, they're still the same to each other.

“Enough, brat,” Tsunade barks, and there's a flush rising in her cheeks, which is…interesting. Even more so because it clearly involves Jiraiya, and he’s now desperately curious as to what Naruto was going to say. As to pretty much everything about this situation, really. “Now get lost. Why don’t you go find those two useless sensei of yours?”

Pulling himself out of the dent in the much-abused wall, Naruto makes a face. “Ugh. No way in hell, even if you paid me. It’s their day off. You know what happened last time I walked in on them on a day off? I'm still trying to get rid of the images.”

Tsunade snorts, but waves him off. “Whatever. Just go, and be home in time for dinner. Your godfather’s going to be eating with us.” Her sideways glance just dares Jiraiya to argue.

Because he’s fond of his balls staying where they are, Jiraiya keeps his mouth firmly sealed shut and nods his quick and fervent agreement.

Off to the side, Orochimaru snorts and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “Coward”, but Jiraiya notices very well that he doesn’t do it loudly enough for Tsunade to hear.

Naruto gives the three of them one last, lingering glance and then nods, stepping back. “Okay,” he says, turning away and raising a hand in lazy farewell as he heads out the door. “See you later, Kaa-san, Orochi-oji-san, Jiraiya-san. I'm going to go find Sasuke.”

“Use protection!” Tsunade calls at that mother-specific volume, honed and refined to cause maximum mortification with minimum effort. “You don’t know where he’s been!”

Naruto half-turns even as he walks, just to give Tsunade a clear view of him rolling his eyes. “Right,” he calls back dryly, rather than imploding with mortification and outrage the way Jiraiya's apprentice would have. “Except that I think you're confusing just who needs to wear the condom here.” One last bright, cheeky grin and he’s gone, bounding down the steps and out of sight.

Jiraiya is…horrified. Shocked. Dumbfounded. Scarred for life by those mental images.

Tsunade takes one look at his face, leeched of all color, and rolls her own eyes. She grabs his shoulder and steers him to a seat, pushing him down and settling in the Hokage's chair again. Orochimaru meanders over to perch on the edge of the desk, safely out of Tsunade's reach.

“I think you broke him,” he tells the woman with clear and unrepentant amusement.

Tsunade snorts. “We should be so lucky,” she mutters, and then plows ahead before Jiraiya can so much as form a question. “Yes, that was Minato and Kushina’s spawn. Yes, the brat is also my son, at least legally. Yes, he’s in a committed relationship with Fugaku’s youngest son and yes, I approve. Mostly.” She pauses, and her eyes soften. “I met him on the road outside Konoha eleven years ago. I was wandering with Shizune, and he was going ‘adventuring’. To prove he was worthy of being Hokage, he said. I tried to convince him it was a stupid dream, and…somehow, he convinced me otherwise.” Her smile is helpless, but also hopelessly fond, and Jiraiya has seen that expression more than once when people are thinking of Naruto.

“You…adopted him?” Jiraiya asks, still trying to wrap his head around everything.

The blonde nods. “Yes. He was…alone, and I was lonely. It seemed like a good fit. He’s done well, too. Passed his graduation exam on the first try, got on Team 7 alongside Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura, with Minato's student-brats as his co-sensei—”

Jiraiya blinks. He’s heard of that happening before, when there's an excess of jounin looking to be sensei, but— “Co?” he asks, and Orochimaru snorts.

Tsunade puffs up like a cobra about to spit. “As if I’d let that perverted bastard anywhere near my son without Obito-kun there to rein him in,” she hisses, brown eyes narrowing as she glares at the Snake Sannin. This is clearly an old argument.

And yet another point of confusion. “Uchiha Obito?” Jiraiya asks, head spinning, even though he tells himself he should be used to it by now.

At that, Tsunade's face softens, the indignation bleeding into sorrow. “Ah,” she says softly. “You’ve forgotten a lot, haven’t you, Jiraiya? Do you remember the Kannabi Bridge mission?”

“Vaguely.” In vivid detail, actually. Minato was an easygoing and cheerful person, but that—that was a point of obsession for him, a fixation he could never quite get over. It was his first genin team, his first time losing a child under his command, and it hit him hard. Not quite a breaking blow, but…grave. “There was…a rock fall? Kakashi ended up with one Sharingan and the entire Uchiha clan screaming for his blood, right?”

Tsunade nods, folding her hands in front of her. “Yes. But Obito didn’t die in the rock fall. He was found and taken to a series of caverns, the Mountain’s Graveyard, and…” She pauses, mouth tightening, and lifts her chin to meet Jiraiya's eyes firmly. “As far as we can tell, it was Madara hiding there. He infused the boy with my grandfather’s cells, repairing his body and giving him mokuton, and then tried to control him with a cursed seal. But Obito broke free, realized something wasn’t right, and tried to escape. Madara and his creation, Zetsu, were killed in the battle when Obito lost control of his gifts. But he managed to drag himself back to Konoha, and he’s gotten much better over the years. He and Kakashi lead Team 7, and they're doing well. Making like rabbits, but doing well.”

Madara. Jiraiya sinks back in his chair, rubbing the bridge of his nose as the pieces start to come together. If their worlds aren’t so different…that means there's far more than Akatsuki to worry about, back in his reality.

But not here. Not now. Jiraiya knows, with a heavy, sinking sort of certainty, that there's no way back to his own world. This is it. This is—

“Hey.” A small, delicate hand cups his cheek, and Jiraiya looks up into warm brown eyes and a soft, sweet smile. The same one she wore before she clocked him, actually, and it’s a little unsettling. But Tsunade makes no move to hit him again, just leans over and pulls their foreheads together, closing her eyes. Jiraiya breathes in her scent of sake and violets, delicate and sweet, and then breathes out.

It feels like the first full breath he’s taken in months.

“Come to dinner,” Tsunade tells him, and Jiraiya is helpless to do anything but nod.

A hand settles on his shoulder, then slides away, and he glances up to see Orochimaru heading for the door. “I’d best find Kabuto before he tries to talk someone into robbing the Hokage's vault. Again,” he says. “We’re eating at seven, Tsunade?”

“Like always,” Tsunade agrees. “Bring sake.”

That gets her a put-upon sigh, but the brunet raises a hand in weary acknowledgement as he leaves.  The door clicks shut behind him, and with one last touch to Jiraiya's shoulder, Tsunade moves away as well, resettling with her paperwork.

There's silence but for the scratching of her pen, and Jiraiya looks down at his calloused, worn hands.

Konoha, this Konoha, is at peace. His team is here and happy and whole, Naruto's team is here and happy and whole, there's no threat looming, no great disaster on the horizon. Just a village, its people, and a future that looks…bright.

The smell of violets lingers in the air. Jiraiya takes a breath of it, another, and lets himself relax.

He thinks of Tsunade's blush, of a dinner with a family, and smiles.

Yeah, alright.

He can roll with this.