Despite his inclination toward activities that are generally rumored to leave men otherwise, Jiraiya is not blind. He is reluctant to speak of the similarities that wink and occasionally flat-out stare at him when he watches the three, but he is the first to see them.
Jiraiya avoids direct contact with the three students as much as possible. At first, its fairly easy and he can see them from a distance while traveling for his research. The days of innocence and squabbling during D-ranked missions dance before his eyes, to be flung aside by the looming darkness that followed. He sees their potential; the hard work and raw power of one, the calculating intelligence and endurance of the other, the devotion and chakra control of their third.
He sees their potential, and he turns away from it, afraid that he will influence the outcome and they will end up just as broken as his own team. However, turning away proves to be difficult when the loudest of the three manipulates him into becoming a mentor of sorts. Little does the boy know, Jiraiya is both the best and the worst person to go to for guidance.
Jiraiya wants to refuse the boys demands, but something makes him give in. He attempts to blame it on his perverted fascination with the boys impressive female form (which, in part, it is), but the real reason pulls at him from somewhere else. Its deep within him . . . something that he thought had died with the trust for his rival and the emotional strength of his would-be-lover. Whatever it is, it prevents him from turning the boy away and instead makes him see that, even without his influence, the three have headed down their predestined path.
He sees a boy striving for attention and validation, pining after a girl who barely notices him, and admiring his sparring partner's skill when he thinks the other isn't looking. A girl loud and passionate when the female sex is taught to be quiet and submissive; awkward and yet sure of her dreams. A second boy haunted in daylight by his past and own shortcomings; uninterested in the bonds that cling to him so readily; and questing for more power even though he has already attained it in the eyes of his teammates.
Yes, Jiraiya sees the parallels readily enough . . . hed have to be blind not to. He often finds himself predicting their actions, forgetting that they are their own entities and not simply miscolored extensions of his past. He's had to stop himself from grabbing each boy and shaking them until they see the error in their ways. He's had to bite his tongue when the girl intervenes in an argument between the other two, one in which she has no place. He's seen them drifting further apart and yet twining around each other in their thoughts.
As time passes, it gets harder. Jiraiya has had to look on as the one so similar to himself weeps quietly by a crackling fire, exhausted from training until his limbs shake and give out, and claiming that the smoke (not the absence of those he loves most) has gotten to his eyes. Jiraiya has stood motionless with chills scratching at his spine as reports filter in of the dangerous weapons the three have acquired and how they used these on one another to create emotional wounds that are still, to this day, raw around the edges.
These three have walked the same path that he and his own two teammates started out on so many years ago. The scenery has changed, but the path he sees before them is just as perilous and life-altering as he remembers it.
Because Jiraiya sees these things, he is abruptly and unpleasantly shocked when the path he knew so well takes a turn. No, perhaps "takes a leap behind a rock and off a fucking cliff" is a better way of phrasing it.
His girl never returned his affectionate glances like this pink-haired one does; never took an interest in his long-winded exploits or smiled like that at him. His sparring partner never came back to learn from his mistakes and accept the help of those who cared about him. He never found security or socially-taboo bliss in the arms of those who once shared his tears, blood, and dreams.
And he had most certainly never encouraged his boy to wear makeup and pose as another person. Of course, his boy grew into a cruel, twisted being that did these things anyway, but Jiraiya was not the one to help this development along.
It's not that Jiraiya dislikes Saki-chan. She is a gentle and soothing presence that softens the other two, balancing them in a way that is both subtle and shimmering with power. He can even begin to see what his younger self might have seen in her . . . fine bone structure accenting glossy, pink lips . . . dark eyes teasing and amused in contrast to the innocent, demure body language . . . long, powerful legs and muscles beneath milky skin and floral patterns that whisper of endurance . . . silky hair that . . .
Yes, it's been established that Jiraiya does not dislike Saki-chan. He may even be jealous of the happiness she has brought to the other two, as odd and cumbersome as their situation may seem. After writing so many tasteful novels on the subject of love, Jiraiya thinks that he should be more willing to accept and support this romantic configuration that has been set before him.
And yet, Jiraiya finds himself wary of the new, united Sannin. He feels disoriented now and can't see how these three relate to their pre-assigned roles. The wounds are still there, seeping through their happiness.
When Saki-chan goes on leave, the other two are momentarily thrown off and readjust their behavior to accommodate the boy whose eyes still flash red whenever someone mentions the words "brother" or "hatred." The pink-haired girl hides behind her newfound physical strength to mask her still-present insecurities. The last boy occasionally grows somber and glances nervously between his loved ones, afraid that either one might leave him.
For all of their flaws and rough edges, the three have remained together. Even when one of the three changes beyond recognition on a regular basis, they are together. He sees Saki-chan as a crutch, as another potential weakness in their bonds, but the three do not see it this way. Jiraiya wonders what it is that prevents them from splintering apart and leaving bonds severed as the three before them did. Why is it that these three are so similar and yet so different? He wants to accept them, but the bleeding edges of his own past won't allow him to.
He looks at them now and feels that throbbing in his brain, the one that begun the first day that he met Saki-chan and attempted to wrap his mind around him/her/the-third. The pressure increases as he surveys their sprawled forms. Their limbs are tucked over, under, and between one another in a complicated, tri-tonal twist. One whimpers at some remembered horror in their sleep and Jiraiya feels that his previous reservations were correct. He glances up to Tsunade, who has also come to check in on them after their mission, and he represses the urge to tell her that he was right. This is one more bet she will lose.
Tsunade is not looking at him, however. She turns her attention to the others. The whimpering has been addressed by the other sleepers, and they nuzzle their faces into the neck and hair of the one whose dreams were troubled. Their brows seem to wrinkle in sleeping concern for the other. Hands press each other reassuringly and, even without Saki-chan (whose traces were washed away earlier that evening), the faces of the three soften and the triangle is balanced once more, breathing gently and evenly.
Tsunade watches the three from across the room; the boy, the girl, and the one who is between the other two. Looking upon the three of them is painful for her as well, but it is a dull pain with emotions like hope and awe blurring its presence. She waits there in the shadows until a pale moonbeam gently stretches out across the bed and threatens to reveal her presence. Finally, she acknowledges Jiraiyas presence. Her determined eyes and thin smile insist that these three will make their own way through the world and break the cycle that she, he, and Orochimaru started so long ago.
As they exit the room together and continue on to Tsunade's study, she turns to Jiraiya with a mischievous look in her eye. "You know," she says, "there was a time when I thought that could've been us."
"Oh?" He responds, trying and failing to keep his brain from providing a mental image to accompany her statement. Her answer is an amused, peaceful silence and they continue to walk down the pathway together. Tsunade's thoughts drift to more pleasant realms as the corners of her mouth quirk up into a genuine smile.
Jiraiya's thoughts do not travel in the same direction. Admitting the similarities to himself is one thing, but to have Tsunade, in her artificially youthful, sensuous body, address them in such a way . . . his mind quickly inserts his former team into the situation he has just walked away from and explores the possibilities. He sees breathless nights tangled together beneath the blue hues of the moon. He sees visions of gloriously naked skin, bountiful breasts, and warm mouths melding together in passion.
Somewhere along the line, something goes terribly wrong. His lustful ideas slowly morph to better encompass the new three and he comes to a vision of Orochimaru in Saki-chan's clothing. Dyed silks, a fitted corset, and a teasing tongue waver before his eyes and Jiraiya nearly runs into a wall. He blinks. Try as he might, this image won't leave his mind and it seems to be imprinted on the backs of his eyelids.
Jiraiya's not blind, but sometimes he wishes he were.