Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, nor will it ever be; I simply play in this world for my own (and hopefully others') amusement.

He Left a Weapon

There is a strange sort of comfort in not being there when it happens. By the time Jiraiya hears of his protégé's death, the Yondaime Hokage has been dead for twenty-three days.

On the twenty-fifth day, Jiraiya returns to Konohagakure.

The shinobi village is long past the stage of mourning. They cannot afford such a luxury, for although the Kyuubi's rampage across the country had been instrumental in hastening the withdrawal of Iwa-nin and the alliance with Sunagakure, the people are weary of a counter-attack. There are children who know nothing but war, whose tiny hands are capable of slitting a throat but can't figure out how a hammer and nail can patch a broken roof.

Jiraiya watches one such white-haired boy struggling to repair a tiny ramen stand and wonders if the child will ever get the chance to learn to build

"I didn't think you were going to come back."

Jiraiya waits for his old sensei to speak again. Sarutobi has always been a bit too verbose for the frog tamer's liking, but he is willing to indulge a grieving old man. An old man who should be spending his days playing shogi or peeping in the opposite sex's side of the bath house, not smoking a pipe and wearing the traditional hat of the Hokage.

Sandaime takes another long drag on the pipe and exhales audibly. Jiraiya wonders if it is grief or stress that has caused Sarutobi to return to the habit Tsunade beat out of their teacher when she was a chuunin. With the smoke comes the explanation, and Jiraiya listens impassively as the newly active Hokage recounts the three-day battle and its conclusion.

Jiraiya flexes his fingers; the two joints of his thumb crack. "Even an idiot can plan ahead," he mutters. For an instant Jiraiya remembers a flash of yellow hair and mocking blue eyes holding a pair of silver bells centimeters from his nose.

The red hat jerks upward, and Jiraiya is suddenly reminded of why Sarutobi was chosen as the Sandaime Hokage. "He did it to save the village."

"He left a weapon," Jiraiya counters. "The other Hidden Villages have been trying for years to secure the bijuu. Sunagakure already has one." He crosses his arms, a stubborn, comfortable gesture. "The Yondaime has given us a chance to—"

Sarutobi slams the pipe on his desk, and the stem snaps in two. "The Yondaime wanted that boy to be seen as a hero. Not as a weapon or a demon."

"Shinobi are weapons," Jiraiya says. "And we use what other tools we have on hand to get the job done."

Jiraiya looks at the names of his former students. Yondaime had been the last one alive and the only one Jiraiya hadn't been able to attend the funeral for.

"What did you want for him?" Jiraiya asks the name on the Heroes' Stone. "To be a weapon or a hero?"

The longer Jiraiya looks at the characters that make up his student's name, the more he thinks they're laughing at him.

On his way out of Konohagakure, Jiraiya passes by the tiny ramen stand.

The white-haired boy is still on the roof, trying to figure out how to build instead of destroy.