This week he has decided he wants to be a writer.
He is full of dreams, and he holds them to himself like glass birds: so fragile that he dare not drop them, but so fantastic that he has to show them off.
"Just you wait," he tells Orochimaru while Sarutobi-sensei lectures Tsunade, "I'm going to be famous. I'll be a hell of a writer."
The other boy puts a hand on his hip. Jiraiya has told him that the pose makes him look gay, doesn't he ever want to score a girlfriend, but he does it anyway. "I'll expect great things out of you, then," he drawls.
It's something about his tone. Orochimaru gets under Jiraiya's skin, he always has. It's an itch. Jiraiya wants to shake him sometimes, yell at him: I'm not your enemy. But really what he wants to say is Look at me the way I want you to look at me. But he can't seem to force the respect he wants into the strange boy's gaze.
He has an idea for how to one-up him this time, though, and for the moment, that's what matters. He sits down and brings out a notebook. Orochimaru leans down to peer at the page, as expected. Jiraiya makes a show of concentration, then writes something.
"Wait--" Orochimaru frowns, then glares at him. The page now reads, Someday I will tell Orochimaru what an asshole he is.
But now Tsunade is coming back to them, and Jiraiya has another brilliant idea. He calls her over and holds out the notebook for her to see. While she peers down at it in puzzlement, he makes a grab for her chest.
She backhands him so hard that it still stings that night when he sits down and writes, Someday I will tell Tsunade how I really feel about her, because he's starting to think that maybe she hasn't gotten the right message from his many valiant attempts to see her naked.
He writes his dreams in the notebook for the next twenty years, not looking back, but watching as they evolve.
I will master kage bunshin.
I will be the greatest lover ever, and this one is written rather sloppily, so he must have been drunk when he jotted it down.
I will create a better jutsu than this crap.
I will be the greatest lover ever and I won't be gay like Orochimaru.
I will write a whole book.
I will figure out what makes my new jutsu keep exploding in my hands.
I will get a whole book published.
I will talk to Tsunade about her drinking problem.
I will bring Orochimaru back.
Eventually he realizes that these aren't dreams and never were. They are promises.
Twenty years after he becomes a writer, Jiraiya realizes that promises can be broken, and they usually are.
In the middle of the forest, he builds a small fire, and one by one, he crumples up the pages of his notebooks and tosses them into the flames. When they are gone, he feels more empty than he expected.
He douses the fire and gets up to go. The sight of a single forgotten page on the ground stops him.
I will become Hokage.
He laughs. When has he ever had that dream? But there's a strange pang in his gut all the same. Before he can stop himself, he wonders if the Jiraiya inside the notebook would have known more about this Hokage business. He shakes his head. That's the problem with being a writer: you dream too much. You imagine things that aren't real. You get funny thoughts, like the idea that paper and the characters on it can hold a piece of your soul.
Besides, the Jiraiya written on those pages is ash now, and the fire is dead.
He grinds the last paper into the dirt, then turns to go.