Author's Note: Originally written for yaoi challenge on LiveJournal about two weeks ago. Beta-ed by gelfling, which resulted in much improvement.

Jiraiya's first kiss was something of a letdown, especially considering how much work he had put into the planning stages.

He must have read, what, twenty, thirty romance novels? It should have been sufficient preparation. Jiraiya had been confident that seventeen different experts in the field of love couldn't be wrong about the legendary First Kiss. It was supposed to be grand, magnificent, and perfect in every way. He should have seen stars, damn it, but for some reason, not one of the seventeen experts had ever mentioned the potential pitfalls. Like the bumping noses thing, which had hurt, and the fact that involving tongue wasn't so great an idea on the first try. It hadn't been fun at all, and the slap Ayame had given him afterwards for getting his yucky spit all over her mouth had almost completely deterred Jiraiya from the whole business.

But it had occurred to Jiraiya, later, as he iced his cheek to get the swelling to go down, that there was perhaps a reason that all the heroes of his favorite romance author's books were all at least three or four years older than himself. The legendary First Kiss with the Girl Of Their Dreams might have been the first kiss with that particular soul mate, but all the heroes had, without exception, prior experience with the more desirable half of the human species. Meaning that they had kissed a girl before. Meaning they had practiced to get all the kinks out of their technique, which was why the legendary First Kiss with the Girl Of Their Dreams had turned out so great. There had been love and tongue, without the slapping afterwards.

There was only one problem with this revelation. While all the heroes in Jiraiya's books had kissed girls before, the list of girls that were willing to practice with Jiraiya was, he could admit to himself, pathetically short. As in zero.

It wasn't really his fault (why did girls have to be so stinking sensitive about getting peeped on while they were bathing?), but still, the problem was there and wasn't likely to go away until Jiraiya became such a great kisser that the girls wouldn't mind getting spied on once in a while as long as he kissed them afterwards. But he couldn't become a great kisser unless some girls were willing to practice with him, and they wouldn't be willing to practice with him unless he was a great kisser.

He could always ask Tsunade. But Tsunade would say no, and probably break his jaw. So that wasn't a way out, either, so as far as Jiraiya could see, he was pretty much stuck.

This was how he explained his dilemma to Orochimaru as the other boy leaned against his favorite oak tree, reading a scroll Sarutobi-sensei had leant him and trying to ignore Jiraiya, without much success. Still, Jiraiya thought huffily as he watched Orochimaru unroll another three inches of the scroll before sending a pointed glare Jiraiya's way, this wasn't a walk in the park for Jiraiya, either. He would have chosen pretty much anyone other than Orochimaru, who was a snob as well as an unrepentant nerd (really, what kind of guy would rather spend his spare time in a library instead of attempting to sneak into the adult section of the video store?), but Sarutobi-sensei would lecture him about focusing on the wrong sorts of things and Tsunade would, well, probably break his jaw for what she would all too likely perceive as chauvinism (which was wrong, damn it. Women were wonderful, and he still didn't know why acknowledging some of their better assets was such a terrible thing), and that didn't leave too many other people. That he trusted, anyway. And besides, Jiraiya reasoned to himself as he watched the wind blow Orochimaru's long black hair sideways as the other boy absentmindedly brushed it out of his eyes, Orochimaru was as close to a girl as you could get without actually having breasts, what with the effeminate build and having the superior look down even better than Tsuanade, though the shorter shinobi still wasn't what Jiraiya would call pretty. At least not to Orochimaru's face.

"So I'm just completely out of ideas for how to become ladies' man I know I'm destined to be someday, seeing as the girls around here have absolutely no taste whatsoever and no eye for potential, so as far as I can tell I'm destined to languish in this cesspool, alone, until doomsday finally gets around to showing up." Even at thirteen, Jiraiya already had an eye for the dramatic and he knew that he sounded good, if nothing else, though Sarutobi-sense had told him more than once to keep his purple prose off the battlefield if he could possibly help it. Sadly, Sarutobi-sensei didn't bother putting much effort towards appreciating the finer aspects of life amidst the daily carnage and assassinations.

Orochimaru appreciated Jiraiya's flair even less than Sarutobi-sensei did, but Jiraiya didn't expect anything less from a guy who thought fiction novels were a waste of good paper and seemed to have filters over his eyes that allowed him to read nothing but the most boring of academia. Orochimaru didn't make any effort to hide his opinions of Jiraiya's reading material, either, but at least when Jiraiya started to descend into metaphor, he finally managed to grab Orochimaru's attention away from his stupid scroll. "If you had any success at all with girls, Jiraiya, I doubt you would be calling Konoha a 'cesspool.' All that romance garbage you read gave you unrealistic expectations of how relationships between people are supposed to progress."

Jiraiya frowned. Talking about a cesspool, Orochimaru was the monster of common sense that had risen out of the muck to terrorize Jiraiya, at least when the stupid snake wasn't trying to learn how to summon dictionaries or whatever the hell he did in his spare time when he wasn't training. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Orochimaru set down his scroll and looked Jiraiya square in the eye, which was an unusual enough development for Jiraiya to lean back on his heels and examine his teammate to make sure somehow hadn't transformed into the pale shinobi on a prank and/or assassination attempt. It had happened enough in the past to make Jiraiya wary of that much, at least. "You can't kiss worth a damn because you don't pay attention to the mechanics of it."

Jiraiya snorted and relaxed. No one other than Orochimaru would seriously use the word 'mechanics' when referring to something like kissing. "Yeah? And how the hell would you know? You don't even notice girls." Besides Tsunade, but Tsunade didn't count, because she could hit harder than most of the adults that tried to kill them on missions and couldn't be less of a romantic option if she tried.

Though… maybe Orochimaru didn't notice girls, but girls sure as hell noticed him, so maybe the snake bastard had some idea of how to attract the fairer sex. But still… mechanics? Jiraiya scowled. The word was so… unromantic. "Besides, what the hell do mechanics have to do with kissing?"

It was obvious that Orochimaru was growing tired of the conversation. "Explaining this to you is a waste of my time."

Jiraiya snorted. "So what are you going to do? Give me a practical demonstration? How else are-"

He really shouldn't have given Orochimaru the opening, because the snake may have been a genius, but he was also a social retard, and didn't seem to get that Jiraiya's suggestion had been a joke, not an invitation. And even though Jiraiya had known Orochimaru for seven years now, the guy was still unpredictable, when he wanted to be, which was why when the dark-haired shinobi grabbed Jiraiya by the front of his kimono and pulled him forward, all Jiraiya could do was windmill his arms at his sudden lack of balance and fall… well… onto Orochimaru's lips.

More embarrassing things had happened to him. Like that thing with the weasel and Tsunade in Cloud Country. But this was still pretty bad.

For some reason, they didn't bump noses, and Orochimaru didn't even try and bother with tongue, which Jiraiya was grateful for, because Orochimaru's tongue was kind of creepy, what with being way too long and Jiraiya was sure tongues weren't supposed to end all pointy like Orochimaru's did, but Jiraiya couldn't help but notice as he tried to find his balance that Orochimaru's lips were actually softer than Ayame's and there wasn't nearly as much slobbering involved.

It was actually Orochimaru in the end who stopped the kiss, pushing Jiraiya back into his previous sitting position before picking his scroll up from the ground to start his reading where he had left off. "You have to turn your head sideways when you kiss. Also, don't open your mouth if you can possibly avoid it. You have a tendency to drool."

Jiraiya blinked. He could've lived without knowing that. Orochimaru glanced up from his scroll long enough to send him another glare. "Why are you still here?"

It was only then that Jiraiya collected himself enough to call Orochimaru a bastard before pushing himself to his feet. He was halfway home before he realized that his cheeks felt warm. So that was how a kiss was supposed to go. Huh. Well, damn. If a kiss with a fucker like Orochimaru could feel like that, then maybe there was some hope after all, if only Jiraiya could find the right girl.

The first date Jiraiya ever went on didn't turn out so great. In retrospect, he shouldn't have gone on his trial run with a girl he actually liked. They had gone out to a really nice sushi place, one Jiraiya had been to before on more than one occasion with his team, and Jiraiya actually had enough money to foot the bill for once, but it turned out that Hoshiko didn't like sushi, which Jiraiya later realized he should have asked about beforehand. It also turned out that Hoshiko was allergic to Jiraiya's favorite type of fish, which was why he had ended up spending the majority of the evening in the emergency room, getting lectured at by Tsunade who by some misfortune was pulling the night shift for the week, though Jiraiya couldn't help but think sourly that it was more his misfortune than his teammate's.

Needless to say, his relationship with Hoshiko was over before it had even begun, and Jiraiya still didn't understand why his luck held out so well on the battlefield but completely failed to translate when it came to the more mundane sort of circumstances. Orochimaru, who for reasons unknown to Jiraiya was currently examining a tree (the old oak, as it happened, which had been killed with the rest of that patch of forest due to a extremely nasty sneak attack by the Grass a year previous), took several seconds to respond. "I don't know."

As rare an admission as this was from Orochimaru, who was notorious for knowing pretty much everything anyone could reasonably be expected to know by age fifteen, it was also unhelpful. "No idea at all?" Jiraiya knew he sounded incredulous. Orochimaru always had ideas. They just usually weren't very good ones, and mostly involved killing things.

Orochimaru shot him a scornful look before returning his attention to the burnt out oak tree. "That isn't what I said. I always have ideas." Well, at least that much remained constant. "However, you weren't asking for conjecture. You were asking for conclusions based on sufficient evidence, which you didn't give me and I therefore don't have."

Sometimes Jiraiya really wanted to come up with a good analogy to explain what it was like to deal with Orochimaru on a regular basis. To this day, he had yet to contrive a decent simile. "Give me your fucking conjectures, then, if you haven't got anything else."

If Orochimaru had been Tsunade, Jiraiya would have then received an extended lecture on his crass language and overall lack of civilized behavior. Sarutobi-sensei would have shook his head and mumbled something about the degeneration of today's youth. Orochimaru did neither, but instead gave Jiraiya an amused smile before yet again returning his attention to the tree. It was unnerving. Orochimaru smiling meant bad things were about to happen. Usually to him.

While Jiraiya doubted he would ever be able to accurately compare Orochimaru to anything, this scene made for a decent example in of itself why, out of everyone, Jiraiya always ended up seeking Orochimaru out for advice. Meaning that if Orochimaru said something snide, Jiraiya could actually hit him to even things out. "Luck arises purely out of prior experience. You have experience in the battlefield, so your so-called luck is the result of you accurately evaluating the situation and acting accordingly. The haphazard way with which you go about this makes most people perceive your analytical abilities as something completely random." Wait. Was Orochimaru paying him a compliment? "However, your experience with girls is a great deal more limited, which is why it never occurred to you to ask Hoshiko about her meal preferences or her allergies. Now that you have gone through this particular experience, you might remember to do so in the future. But probably not. As famous as your luck is, Jiraiya, your shortsightedness is more so, especially when taking into account that no physical pain was involved with your date to help you remember your idiocy."

Jiraiya blinked. He was almost sure that there had been an insult in there somewhere. "Huh?"

This time, Orochimaru didn't even bother averting his attention from the tree, just tucked a loose strand of hair behind one ear and leaned in closer to the dead oak to study some of the rotting bark. "You are the very specific type of imbecile who rarely learns from past experience, and then only when pain is involved."

At this point Jiraiya was about ready to hit his teammate, a desire borne out of the confliction between the thought that Orochimaru should have said so in the first place instead of going through one of his usual long-winded explanations (which he never seemed to give to anybody but Jiraiya, and it did not make Jiraiya feel special, because God knew he only did it to show off) and the revelation that Orochimaru had been insulting him. But Jiraiya didn't. Hit Orochimaru, that is, because even with his back turned, Orochimaru had always possessed preternatural awareness and would probably dodge. Then he would probably punch Jiraiya, just to keep the scales even, before walking off to stare at some other tree, and so far all Jiraiya had gotten from Orochimaru was a synopsis of why he sucked with women, not a suggestion for what he could do about it.

However, as Jiraiya's stomach soon reminded him, it was past dinnertime, and getting dark out, and Jiraiya hadn't eaten since breakfast. And neither had Orochimaru. "Could we go eat while we do this? I'm starving." Antisocial as the dark-haired shinobi was, even Orochimaru had to eat, and past experience had shown the shorter ninja was a lot more willing to share information when he was working on something other than an empty stomach.

Orochimaru shook his head. "Not until I finish this."

Jiraiya's stomach growled again, and suddenly Jiraiya felt really hungry. "You can stare at a tree anytime, Orochimaru, but more of the restaurants around here close in less than an hour and I don't have any food back at my place-"

Orochimaru's hand moved forward to rest on the tree's trunk. "Shut up."

Jiraiya would have protested at this- might have even hit Orochimaru, he was that hungry- but just then Orochimaru's hand started to glow a weird color and Jiraiya forgot what he was going to say. In something less than five seconds, the tree exploded. Through the avalanche of woodchips and dirt that followed, Jiraiya could barely make out his teammate's thoughtful frown. It was a frown Jiraiya had seen many times before. He had even managed to come up with a direct translation to a language most people might even understand, which went something like, "Not perfect yet, but good enough for now. Will work on tomorrow." If Jiraiya didn't know Orochimaru, this would have been the time to ask what purpose there was with coming up with a technique that make trees explode, but this new technique was definitely one of Orochimaru's Ideas, and that meant it was supposed to be used to kill things. Well, not things, really. People.

Jiraiya knew he should have been unnerved. He wasn't. Orochimaru was usually the only member of their cell who regularly came up with new ideas, even if Jiraiya didn't like what most of them were for. But it was Orochimaru's Ideas, the good ones (which were always capitalized in his head, because that was exactly how he'd scratch it down if he was ever wrote a memoir or something), that usually ended up in Orochimaru's repertoire of jutsus, and this newest method of killing people would probably end up saving Jiraiya's life someday, just because Jiraiya's life was bound to end up in danger some time or another, probably in the next week or so, and there wasn't anything Orochimaru liked better than to try out his new ideas in a practical setting. Besides, now that Orochimaru was done, maybe now they could finally get dinner.

Jiraiya let Orochimaru choose the restaurant. This was no great hardship, since they liked the same food anyway (it was one of those strange coincidences, like the sun shining when it was pouring out), but it occurred to Jiraiya later as he fought with Orochimaru over the last piece of sushi that this particular restaurant should have brought back unpleasant memories of the date that so spectacularly backfired. It didn't. It then occurred to Jiraiya that Orochimaru might have had chosen this restaurant as a jibe towards Jiraiya's first complete failure with women. Maybe, but probably not. Orochimaru made a point of making sure Jiraiya knew when he was insulting him.

It was only after Jiraiya finished chewing and swallowing the last of the seaweed-wrapped rice (he had emerged as the victor of the sushi duel, though he had a feeling he'd pay for it later) that they finally got around to the topic at hand. Women. This was a species Orochimaru seemed to have an inexplicable understanding of (whether this was because the dark-haired shinobi's best friend was a girl or because he looked so feminine himself and was therefore privy to some of their secrets, Jiraiya didn't know) which was kind of sad, considering that Jiraiya was positive his teammate didn't think about women one-tenth the time he did, but it still made Orochimaru a valuable source of information. Sort of like that one informant the Leaf had in Stone for a while because he was found out and executed, except a lot less likely to die in some grisly manner unexpectedly.

"So… women."

Orochimaru looked up from his close examination of one of his chopsticks. Probably trying to think of some way to use it to kill somebody. "What about them?"

"Tell me something I don't know about them."

The chopstick twirled absentmindedly between Orochimaru's fingers. "They don't like it when you compliment anything below neck-level unless it involves their clothing or what jewelry they have on."

Jiraiya rolled his eyes. "I know that."

Orochimaru raised one eyebrow. The chopstick tapped rhythmically on the tabletop. "Then why did you tell Tsunade last week that her breasts-"

"I talking about women, Orochimaru, not Tsunade. She's like a sub-species. Exception to that particular rule."

Orochimaru's attention returned to the chopstick. "It's only appropriate to bring a dozen flowers on a first date. One flower is only appropriate if you're more intimately acquainted."

Jiraiya winced. That explained Hoshiko's frown after he handed her the freshly picked gardenia at the doorstep to her parents' house. "Oh."

Orochimaru frowned at him thoughtfully before abruptly pushing himself to his feet. "I've got to go home. We have a mission tomorrow that starts early. I suggest you do the same."

Jiraiya protested. "But all you've given me is one protocol tip. You telling me I watched you stare at trees for an hour for one fucking-"

Orochimaru gave him a blank stare that still managed to convey a great deal of disgust. "I gave you two." Then he walked out.

Jiraiya fumed in his chair for several minutes. So much for Orochimaru being a fountain of information. More like a broken faucet. Or a really lame stream.

Screw it. There were no analogies suitable for Orochimaru. Or at least after Jiraiya discovered Orochimaru had left him with the bill, there weren't any he could come up with that were near nasty enough to describe the stinking, low-down, bill-skipping snake.

Jiraiya didn't really have any expectations when it came to sex. The kissing incident had shown that romance novels weren't all that reliable when it came to accurate data about the ins and outs of relationships, and all Sarutobi-sensei would do when asked was blush and mumble something about reference books, but the local library didn't have a copy of the 'Karma Sutra' for some reason, so when Mina started talking about how her parents would be visiting another village for the next few days then invited him over for dinner, Jiraiya had been left with no choice but to walk into his first sexual escapade pretty much blind.

Sex turned out to be sticky. And awkward. And extremely uncomfortable. Despite himself, Jiraiya was disappointed. Mina was more so, probably because she, unlike Jiraiya, wasn't a virgin and therefore knew good sex when she had it. The next morning, she had patted him lightly on the cheek, smiled in a motherly fashion (which pissed Jiraiya off, especially considering she was eight months younger than he was) and told him that it was alright to be a little clumsy the first time, and one day she was sure he would make some girl very happy. Meaning some girl other than her. It was only then that Jiraiya discovered that one's aptitude at love-making could very well make or break a relationship, no matter how much time and energy and advice-seeking one put into it. This made Jiraiya nervous. Apparently ungodly good looks weren't enough to slide by on anymore.

There was only one conclusion to reach; before Jiraiya could progress any further on his quest to become the ultimate ladies' man, he needed to improve his skills in the bedroom. That meant practice. A lot of it.

Orochimaru looked at him over his mug of steaming black tea for several seconds before giving a tired sigh (it made Jiraiya start at both the strangeness and the familiarity of it. Orochimaru had always picked up his weirdest habits from Sarutobi-sensei, but the sigh was new) and pulling the tea bag out of the mug before setting it on the small plate to his left. "I don't think Mina would appreciate you telling me the intimate details of your encounter."

Jiraiya snorted. "Oh please, like Mina isn't giving a play-by-play of my miserable failure to her friends right now?" Orochimaru's silence was answer enough. The way the dark-haired shinobi's eyes averted, however, was just a little more answer than Jiraiya wanted. "Tsunade's already passed it on to you, hasn't she."

Orochimaru took a languid sip of his tea. "News travels quickly in the female information network. Though one minute seems like a rather short period of time before achieving orgasm, even for you."

Jiraiya hid his face in his hands. "Oh God… by now every women in the village probably knows how bad I suck in bed. I'll have to go to Sand if I ever want to have sex again." Seventeen and bereft of any chance to get some from his countrymen. It was almost enough to make Jiraiya want to cry.

Orochimaru shrugged. "Probably not that far. The girls in Sanagi are said to not have very discriminating tastes. You could get there in less than three hours if you traveled quickly."

Jiraiya glowered at his teammate through the spaces where his fingers didn't perfectly align. "You suck at comforting people. You know that, don't you?"

Orochimaru ignored him and took another sip of his tea. They sat in silence for several seconds, Jiraiya trying unsuccessfully to glare a response out of the other shinobi while Orochimaru placidly continued to examine the bottom of his tea mug. It was only then, staring at his long-haired, effeminate comrade of eleven years or so, that the revelation hit. After the fiasco with Mina, any girl he tried to get in bed would probably laugh at him, and Jiraiya would never get any better at his most deplorable womanizing skill. Any girl… but girls weren't his only option.

"Hey Orochimaru… you want to have sex?"

If Jiraiya felt like taking artistic license with Orochimaru's uncharacteristic reply, it wouldn't have been completely inaccurate to say that at Jiraiya's words, Orochimaru spit his mouthful of tea across the room. In reality, all Orochimaru did was snort his mouthful of tea up his nose and begin to cough violently enough that Jiraiya almost felt worried, but spitting something across the room just looked better on paper. "You alright?"

It took Orochimaru a moment to recover enough from his coughing fit to formulate a reply. "Please tell me that was one of your ill thought-out attempts at being humorous."

Jiraiya shook his head and grinned. "I'm not kidding. It's a perfect solution to my problem! I've got to get good at sex, but no girls around here will have sex with me, and even though you're not a girl-"

"Thank you for stating the obvious, Jiraiya."

Jiraiya plowed on, too hyped up to pay much attention to Orochimaru's usual sarcasm, "You're even more inexperienced in the bedroom than I am so I won't have to get embarrassed at all the stuff I do wrong. And I know you, so I don't have to go through all that courting crap."

Orochimaru looked like he didn't know whether to be horrified or amused. "There are several problems with your hypothesis, Jiraiya. One, you are assuming I like men-"

"You kissed me when we were thirteen."

"That was purely for educational purposes. Two, you are assuming I'm interested-"

"You kissed me when were thirteen. And you don't have to be interested. This is for practice, not the real thing."

Orochimaru narrowed his eyes at Jiraiya's second interruption. "May I continue, or do you have something else to add?" Jiraiya shrugged, so Orochimaru went on with, "And three, you are assuming I am a virgin."

Jiraiya blinked, for a split second feeling like he had been blindsided by a house and woke up to find the world had gone haywire. "You're not?"

Orochimaru snorted. "No. Of course not."

Jiraiya opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Until three minutes ago, the thought of Orochimaru and sex in the same sentence had never crossed his mind, because sex, unlike its far more convenient and handy cousin, masturbation, usually required at least two people. And Orochimaru didn't do people. Pun intended. Jiraiya loved people- especially women- and it just wasn't fair. Hell, Jiraiya didn't think Orochimaru had said more than two words to anyone besides him, Sarutobi-sensei and Tsunade in the past year- wait a second. Something then occurred to Jiraiya, a realization that was so horrendous, so terrifying in its bizarreness, that it took Jiraiya a while just to wrap his mind around it. Orochimaru and Tsunade. Tsunade was Orochimaru's best friend. Tsunade was a girl.

Oh holy fuck. "You- you and Tsunade- you and her- you had-" Jiraiya could barely force himself to get the last word out, "Sex?"

Orochimaru was, at that point, rather unfortunately taking another sip of tea. The coughing this time wasn't as bad as the last, but Orochimaru still managed to get quite a bit of black tea all over Jiraiya's brand new red kimono. "What? No, you idiot!"

Jiraiya grinned, relieved, though he mourned the money that would have to go into his next dry-cleaning bill. Black tea was a bitch to get out of clothing. "Oh, good. For a second there I thought my two teammates were doing the horizontal tango behind my back and hadn't thought to invite me."

They were beginning to stray a bit off the original topic, but though Jiraiya was curious about Orochimaru's past sexual conquests (if it wasn't Tsunade, then it was probably a guy, but the list of men who had come onto Orochimaru was too long to be easily narrowed down, so Jiraiya gave it up), his prowess in the bedroom was something that needed to be remedied as quickly as possible. "So, you want to have sex or what?"

After giving his mug of tea one last speculative glance, Orochimaru gave up on finishing his beverage and tossed it over one shoulder before setting the empty cup to the side next to the dripping tea bag. "You are aware that the mechanics of male/female and male/male relations differ somewhat, aren't you?"

Jiraiya shrugged. "Well yeah, but same basic idea. Stick object A into slot B and make appreciative noises at periodic intervals. That isn't the point of this. I just figure if I have enough sex I won't feel so awkward and will stop acting stupid."

Orochimaru sighed once more in that Sarutobi-sensei-esque way that brought to mind old guys and smelly pipes of tobacco. It was kind of a turnoff. "Your sexual education is even more lacking than I thought. It's almost pathetic. No wonder Mina is going on a date with Hyuuga Hiroshi tonight."

This new revelation, instead of discouraging Jiraiya, just made him more determined. It helped that Hiroshi was a dick. "Answer the fucking question, Orochimaru."

Orochimaru sighed again. "It does seem like I'm your only option for correcting this glaring gap in your knowledge."

Jiraiya grinned and grabbed his teammate by the shoulder. "You won't regret this. Though, Orochimaru…"

After sending a disdainful glare at the broad, calloused hand on his shoulder, Orochimaru returned his gaze to the taller shinobi. "What is it?"

"If we're really going to go through with this, you've got to stop the sighing thing. The last person I want to think of while having sex is our teacher."

That almost made Orochimaru give up on the entire idea right then and there, but Jiraiya was a fast talker and he promised to take his comrade out to breakfast in the morning as a thank you, so they did eventually end up in Jiraiya's apartment (Orochimaru had refused point-blank to go to his house. Something about not wanting to do laundry twice in one week) mostly naked and somewhere in the vicinity of Jiraiya's bed.

Sex with Orochimaru turned out to be sticky. And a little awkward, especially since Orochimaru kept on giving him orders in his usual calm, slightly irritated voice, which just didn't seem appropriate while they were having sex. Hadn't Orochimaru ever heard of a bedroom voice?

Apparently not, but while Jiraiya fumbled around as Orochimaru barked commands at him ("Not so fast, idiot," and "You have to use more lube than that, or we're both going to be raw in the morning," seemed to be the dark-haired shinobi's favorites), he was too distracted yelling rejoinders back at his teammate (though admittedly "I'm doing the best I can!" wasn't that great of a comeback) to be anything like embarrassed. And though Jiraiya still thought 'mechanics' was still a stupid word to use when referring to anything like kissing and sex and romance, he was definitely getting the hang of something before the evening was over, because after the second time (Jiraiya couldn't help but think it was a damn good thing he was learning this while he was still young and had enough stamina to last a couple rounds) Orochimaru finally shut up and let him figure the rest out on his own.

Even after Jiraiya started getting the angle right and lasting longer than a minute or two, sex still turned out to be sticky, but Jiraiya no longer cared. It was weird and strange and almost as bizarre as the thought of Tsunade and Orochimaru doing it, but it was also a hell of a lot of fun. As Orochimaru sighed in his sleep (fortunately sounding nothing like Sarutobi-sensei this time around) and tightened his grip around Jiraiya's waist, Jiraiya couldn't help but grin. The way things were going, this sex thing might turn out be something other than a complete waste of time after all.

Jiraiya really didn't know why it took him so long to tell a girl he loved her. It was, perhaps, because he was a romantic at heart and didn't want to say the words until he meant them. It was a great deal more likely that he had waited because he couldn't lie worth shit.

However, even Tsunade had given him credit for biding his time until he could look into a girl's eyes and say with complete sincerity, "I love you."

And Kei, blonde, beautiful and someone who knew absolutely nothing about the world of shinobi, giggled in a very comely way and told him she loved him too. In the very large corner of his brain Jiraiya reserved for matters of the heart, he upped his playboy rating from 'stud' to 'heartbreaker.' Yep, things were looking pretty good.

A month later, he stumbled into Kei's apartment after a particularly brutal mission, covered in blood, some of which was his, tired after spending over eight hours staring into the eyes of people whose throats he'd just slit and in desperate need to touch somebody without having to kill them.

He never even got a hug. Kei had taken one look at him and burst into tears. After he finally got her to calm down, she had told him tearfully that she didn't think they should see each other anymore. Something about her not being able to handle the thought that he might just not come back to Konoha someday and wanting to see somebody who she could have a normal life with. Jiraiya had stopped listening after the first sentence. He knew a breakup when he saw it and didn't care for excuses.

Losing his girlfriend sucked, but it wasn't until a week later that things really went to hell. The mission was a bust; the intelligence they have been given turned out to be completely wrong, and Tsunade had disappeared. Of course, all that really meant was her fiancé, a white-haired pretty boy jounin named Dan who Jiraiya didn't like much and had also been assigned to this job, had gone missing and Tsunade had abandoned them to find him. Besides that one chuunin who had left to try and follow Tsunade, most of the other shinobi who had come along were dead, scattered around the battlefield in rather grisly piles of limbs and torsos burnt beyond recognition. What was supposed to be a covert ops assignment had transformed into a full-out war, and if the numbers were anything to judge by, Konoha wasn't winning. Jiraiya, however, barely noticed, as he was too preoccupied with his own problems to notice anyone else's. One of the bigger issues was trying to figure out how to pull the ax out of his side without bleeding to death, but a more immediate difficulty were the three Cloud jounin currently attempting to kill him. The ax didn't help. It was difficult to dodge when you could barely breathe through the pain.

Then Jiraiya had tripped and fallen on his face. Not a good thing. Definitely not a good thing. And he was in too much pain to really do something about it.

The killing blow never came. Instead, from his position face-first on the ground, Jiraiya heard three surprised grunts and the sound of three bodies hitting the dirt. His savior, whom Jiraiya only managed to identify after being flipped over to face skyward, turned out to be Orochimaru. Jiraiya wasn't really surprised. "Took you… long enough."

Orochimaru's face was impassive. "Finishing the mission took some time." Without further ado, he pulled the ax out of Jiraiya's side with a sudden yank that dragged a cut-off scream out of Jiraiya's already raw throat before bending to examine the wound. "A medic-nin will need to look at this, but I think I can patch you up enough."

It didn't surprise Jiraiya that Orochimaru's first priority had been the mission any more than it had surprised him that Orochimaru had been the one to save him. He couldn't even get mad. He'd gotten used to it. The mission was always supposed to come first, after all, and Orochimaru never broke rules. One of the reasons he was Sarutobi-sensei's favorite.

It was with his usual care that Orochimaru sprayed antiseptic on the injury, making Jiraiya hiss from the sting, and wrapped the deep gash with sterilized bandages. He then plunged a needle into Jiraiya's side right above where the ax had cut into him. "Hopefully this anesthetic Tsunade gave me will dull the pain enough to allow you to walk."

Jiraiya doubted it, but the painkiller turned out to be just enough for Jiraiya to sling one arm across Orochimaru's shoulders so the dark-haired shinobi could help him stumble along. Through the muddled haze of Jiraiya's mind, Orochimaru's words reminded him of a question he'd been meaning to ask. "Seen Tsunade… around?"

Orochimaru's expression was blank. "She's about a hundred yards north of us tending to some of the survivors." He paused. "Dan is dead."

Jiraiya hissed again, though this time in sympathy. Dan hadn't been good enough for Tsunade, but she didn't deserve that kind of pain. "How's she… taking it?"

Orochimaru didn't blink. "Not well."

They continued to stagger on their way, Jiraiya over time putting more and more weight on his comrade until the shorter shinobi was practically carrying him. The black was beginning to encroach on the edges of his vision, so Jiraiya did the best he could to stave off unconsciousness by studying the planes of Orochimaru's face, something he'd never gotten the opportunity to do before at such short range. Up close, the strain the other shinobi had been put through was visible as it never was from a distance. Orochimaru may not have been hurt as badly as Jiraiya, but he hadn't had an easy time of it. And he had still come back for Jiraiya. He was usually the only one who did. It was only recently that Jiraiya had begun to realize it.

"Orochimaru…"

The dark-haired shinobi glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "What?"

What Jiraiya said next was something that could only be attributed to the drugs, because normally he wasn't that stupid. Jiraiya was pretty sure Orochimaru was his friend, but that didn't make Orochimaru predictable. Or particularly receptive to unexpected surprises. Under ordinary circumstances, the thought of saying the words wouldn't have even crossed Jiraiya's mind, but as Jiraiya remembered later, he hadn't been thinking all that clearly at the time. Or really thinking at all. "Orochimaru… I love you."

All Jiraiya received in reply was a sudden silence. If Jiraiya was in his usual frame of mind, he would have known this wasn't a good sign, but he was too hopped up on painkillers to notice, so instead of shutting up, he kept on talking. "I mean… you came back for me, and it seems like you're always saving-"

Orochimaru cut him off. "You're drugged and badly wounded, Jiraiya. You should save your strength for something less frivolous than talking."

The arrived at the makeshift hospital a few minutes later, Jiraiya falling into blissful unconsciousness as soon as Orochimaru put him down. When he woke up, he was back in Konoha, and Orochimaru wasn't there.

His date with Suki had started out even more perfect than Jiraiya had hoped. He'd had a crush on her since he was ten, but it was only recently that Suki had cast her gaze upon him with something other than thinly veiled disgust, and when she had finally accepted his offer of dinner, Jiraiya had made sure that nothing would go wrong. Jiraiya had met her on her doorstep with a dozen roses and an outstretched arm, and they had made their way to the fanciest restaurant in Konoha. The food had been wonderful, almost worth the week's salary Jiraiya had spent on it. He had complimented her on how her pendant matched her eyes and asked her about her day. She had told him how handsome he looked in his new kimono. After dinner, he had walked her home and gentlemanly kissed her hand on the walkway ambling up to her home before thanking her for allowing him the pleasure of her company. It was then that something went wrong.

Halfway down the walkway towards her house, Suki had turned, smiled coyly, and asked him if he wanted to come in. She was beautiful with the moonlight glinting off her scarlet hair, her kimono hugging her form just right and her face lit up in the way Jiraiya had fantasized about for years. She was a chuunin teacher at the academy and understood the rigors of the life of an active shinobi. Once, he had almost loved her.

Jiraiya smiled back at her, that lovely vision of fire and moon with her hand reached out invitingly towards him. Then he said no, turned, and walked away.

It was something less than an hour later that Jiraiya found himself outside Orochimaru's residence, sticking precariously to the side of the building as the apartment complex was closed down for the night and Orochimaru just happened to live on the third floor. He clung there for several minutes, trying to figure out the best way to knock on the windowpane without getting kunai thrown at him, when the window swung open on its own and Orochimaru, clad in his sleeping yukata, stuck his head out and looked down at his teammate. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Jiraiya grinned and tried to look suave. It was difficult when loosening his grip could result in a possibly fatal fall. "One-thirty in the morning?"

"One-thirty seven. I have a mission tomorrow." Orochimaru squinted at him suspiciously. "And I thought you said that you had a date."

Jiraiya shrugged and shifted his grip on the windowsill. "Yeah, well, it's over now."

Orochimaru knew him far too well to let that slide. "Did something happen?"

"It didn't work out. Can I come in now? It's freezing out here."

Orochimaru didn't move. "What didn't work out? I thought you said that Suki was your ideal woman."

Jiraiya's hands were beginning to go numb. "She was perfect enough. There was just one flaw I failed to notice before, and that kind of ruined things."

Orochimaru raised one eyebrow, clearly waiting for more of an explanation. "And that would be…"

"Look, I'm freezing my ass off out here so-" Jiraiya pulled himself up and into Orochimaru's apartment. He wasted a little time flexing and unflexing his hands to make sure they still worked properly as Orochimaru stood by impatiently. Then he looked up into Orochimaru's eyes. His golden, inhuman eyes that still managed to creep Jiraiya out, even after all these years. It was times like this that Jiraiya wished he knew some poetry, even though most of it was crap, just so he could think of something to say. But he didn't, so instead, Jiraiya leaned over (because even if Orochimaru was the genius, Jiraiya took some satisfaction out of the fact that he'd always been taller) and kissed him, his strange, irritating teammate who most definitely didn't have flowing red hair, or breasts, or any of the usual qualifications Jiraiya looked for. But unlike all those beautiful, adoring, buxom women Jiraiya had dreamt about ever since he'd hit puberty, Orochimaru had always been there, no matter the circumstances, had dragged his ass from the edge of hell more times than Jiraiya could count. And lately… that was all that seemed to matter.