Title: Coalescing

Author's notes:Written for metamphetamine for Narutowishlist 2007 on LJ. Her request was for a gen Yondaime fic.

Warnings: Jiraiya's mouth. Tiny spoilers for who taught who and all that jazz.

Genre: General, let's-examine-a-character-we-know-nothing-about

Rating: PG-13

Word Length: 4081

Description: Walk the path of one who will be great from origin to end. This is the story of the one who was the life of Konoha.

oOo

He was the boy born when all was cold and grey and sleeping. Thrust out into the winter world, he came with the spark of infinite variety that all possess, but few will make use of. He was not born great. He was born weak and helpless without even the strength to hold his own head upright. No, he was not born great.

But he would be.

oOo

The mother of the boy-who-will-be-great presses her cheek against her son's head and finds it damp. Whether it is the sweat from her efforts, the slickness from his passage into the world or the tears that she might be inadvertently leaking, she isn't sure. She can feel fretful hands pushing against her collarbone as the baby, the child she created out of herself, shifts restlessly, tiny ribcage shockingly fragile.

She can crush adult bones with a single kick and here she is cradling this tiny ball of flesh and blood. The fear sends a jolt through the cloudy weariness.

'What am I supposed to do with this?'

The shadow of her lover stretches over the bright expanse of her baby (are they supposed to be that colour?) and she barely has the strength to blink at him when he smiles.

"He's a kicker," he says and his grin is proud.

"Until you've felt him do so from the inside," she replies, adjusting her awkward grip on the bundle pressed against her chest, "you have no idea just how true that is."

Her lover's eyes go crinkly at the edges when he smiles and those delicate lines have always been enough to soothe her nervous edge of tension. She breathes because it's as if she's forgotten how to.

The tap at the door shatters the façade of a family, reminds her of the real world. Her protector's laugh lines fade into the grim countenance they all share when he stalks (prowls? stomps?) over to the door and pulls it open.

"I told you I wasn't available today."

Their muttered conversation is angry and distant from her, but it's too late anyway. He's stopped being just her lover, just the father of the boy-who-will-be-great and they have to share him again.

He's a ninja of Konoha. There are ties on him stronger than blood and love.

"I…" he starts when he finally returns, face set now, lips thin.

"…need to go." She knows. "I know." She tries a smile and it's not too lopsided, is it? "Don't keep them waiting."

He clears his throat and she waits for the words to break like a heavy dawn. They don't and she sighs, looking down at the swaddled infant in her arms. When she looks up again, her lover is gone.

"Your father's never been good at goodbyes," she tells the baby boy, a sense of complaint in her voice. When she brushes an almost disbelieving finger against the perfect curve of his cheek he moves and frets, face crumpled as he decides whether to cry or not. "Like a cat that one, always coming and going."

The boy-who-will-be-great isn't very much interested on the intricacies of personality in the man who fathered him and, before long, lusty wails break what had been a tiredly thoughtful silence. His fisted hands brush against the sweaty strands of golden hair trailing down her shoulders, tangling in them, pulling on them. She holds him close though, hears his cries and picks up a blond lock to brush against his lips in soothing remonstrance.

"My boy," she whispers, subtle tone not sounding above the clamour of his evident disapproval for this strange new world. "My boy…"

The words are awkward on her tongue, but repetition makes them smooth. The wonder of creation is new in her heart and breast. For a woman who deals with death and has been shaped by it, this is a novel experience – choosing to nurture instead of to nullify.

"You will be happy." There is a prophecy in this, one she wants to force down through time and wills to be true. "You will be a strong one." An astoundingly minute fist, more by chance than anything else, happens to curl around the curl she teases him with. He holds on, tight, and her love is in the smile she bestows upon him. "You will be great."

oOo

The boy-who-will-be-great isn't concerned with being great at the moment. No, there are far more important things to do right now. Like figuring out how this damn jutsu that teacher gave him is supposed to go.

How is he ever going to be able to hear everything yet nothing at the same time? Isn't that a paradox? He scowls and ruffles his hair (a habit that results in its usual spiked messiness.) The tip of a pointed tongue rests against his eyetooth as, once more, he spills his attention down towards the task at hand.

"So what do you think?"

The Sandaime chews on the stem of his pipe for a moment, clenching it between strong molars as he contemplates the white-haired man's query and the new team of genin in question. His old student looks at him expectantly, awaiting judgement. He's still that child, eager for approval. A similarity that seeps down through the generations it seems as he watches the blond boy sneak a hopeful look at his teacher, one of those 'look and see how hard I'm working when I could be loafing off' glances with all the promise in the world if noted.

"It's an interesting dynamic you have here. It shows promise." His voice is gravelly, something he's secretly cultivated over the years. It makes up for his early-receding hairline in terms of commanding respect.

Beside him, his oh-so-respectful student twiddles a finger in his ear idly, scowling at the trio of genin in front of him. Not that he's upset with them; just that his face falls like that sometimes.

Okay, a lot of the time.

"I'd give a lot for at least a show of consistency sometimes." The Toad-Sannin raises his voice. "That means working all of the time."

Sarutobi is witness to the blond boy flushing furiously and sending out a spark of chakra strong enough to make him raise one brow. Control is iffy, but the heat is there, sure and strong. A diamond in the rough, much like another scamp way back when.

Idly attempting to detract from the boy's embarrassment at the chide his teacher had offered him, the Hokage nods and turns away, knowing that Jiraiya will turn with him. "You have the makings of something strong here." A remonstrative glance tells the white-haired man that it isn't only the children who have to put work in – this is his student's first team and endless practice brings you at least close to perfect. "Do you plan on passing on your summoning? With the toads, the younger ones do better, so it'd be good to start even as early as this."

He does wonder why Jiraiya is making frantic little gestures and shaking his head furiously. What exactly is he trying to mouth exaggeratedly while keeping his back firmly towards the children? The children who are looking up now, both bemused and curious. Especially the blond who looks outraged over someth-….oh.

"Jiraiya?"

"…yes?"

"You did tell them that you have a summons creature, didn't you?"

"…"

"Did you just forget?"

"…I told them how wonderful I am with seals?"

Sarutobi simply can't hold back a sigh. Behind him, the same sound is echoed with an entirely different sentiment and there's something familiar about that exasperation, but he can't quite place it. "You know, it's your responsibility to let them know exactly what they're in for with you – give them something to look forward to, Jiraiya."

His student's look is reproachful as he crosses his arms petulantly. "Hey, do you remember what I was like as a kid?"

The older man's expression is…somewhat pained and he's distracted enough that he doesn't notice his little, blond shadow. "It's a little hard to forget."

Jiraiya sneers apathetically. Out of sight and out of mind, the boy-who-will-be-great snickers quietly and settles down to trying to be as unobtrusive as possible – that's a ninja skill, right? So he should be awesome at it. "Haha, old man, funny." The boy thinks it is as well, but not half as funny as when his teacher gets irritated – why else would he pull so many pranks? "If it was so damn memorable, you'll remember what Tsunade and I were like when we discovered that you could summon monkeys."

A pause. A pregnant one.

"Oh."

Jiraiya looks simultaneously grumpy and smug – quite a feat in itself. "'Oh', indeed. We must have bugged you about that for—"

"You can summon monkeys?" a voice pipes up as the boy decides to make his presence known, if only because he can't contain the delighted question. Blue eyes are bright and filled with endless enthusiasm already.

Jiraiya's palm suddenly becomes extremely well acquainted with his face. "Now you've started it," he mumbles.

"Can you teach me?"

"Well, Jiraiya, it's getting late and I do have other teams to see – take care of yourself and don't forget that patience is a virtue…"

The rude word that the Toad-Sannin directs at the retreating back of the Hokage is enough to make his hyperactive charge giggle in that 'teacher said a bad word' kind of way. He's given up trying to be quiet now and is once more full of energy and verve.

"You never told us you could summon!" Behind him, the other girl and boy nod their agreement, fiercely so. "So, you gonna teach us?"

"No."

"Aww, c'mon." He sidles closer, though it's closer to bouncing he's so eager. "We'd try real hard. We promise." Another dual nod from behind him, their actions emphatic and decided and pleading.

Jiraiya wonders just why he'd been enough of a fool to take on a genin team. "Just like you've been trying with the scouting jutsu I set you all to learning before the Hokage came to visit?"

The boy-who-will-be-great's first step towards greatness was learning how to smooth his expressive face into a mask of abject innocence. "But we want to learn how to be just as powerful as you!"

His teacher is nowhere near fooled, but he does relent. Smirking, he ruffles that crown of gold until it's scarecrow-spiky. "Cute, kid. Sometimes you're too smart for your own good."

The boy perks up and, ever the opportunist, leaps on the opening Jiraiya inadvertently left him.

"Smart enough for you to teach me how to summon, right?"

Jiraiya looks down and, for a moment, considers it. The boy is smart, that's for sure. He's brilliant (when he tries.) His enthusiasm is endless (when his interest is kept.) He could be great (if he perseveres.) Even at this young age, maybe he'd be worth the effort…

Nah.

"Not until you're all chuunin, kids." He chuckles at the chorus of disappointed groans, already hearing muttered complaints from his female student who had always been the one with the outstanding vocabulary. The blond boy in particular looks disgruntled. "Oi, no pouting – if you're so smart, why don't you try working on making up your own jutsu then."

It's meant to be a joke, but judging by the sudden intense, thoughtful look that materialises in eyes of sky, Jiraiya has the sudden premonition that he's said something important. Something life-changing. Something revolutionary.

'Maybe this kid'll be a great one after all…'

oOo

"You, kid, are the dumbest, most foolish student I have ever taken on." It was an unfair statement, Jiraiya knew, since the disgruntled boy before him is anything other than lacking in the intelligence department.

"I'm one of the only students you've ever taken on," the blond youth grouses back at him, the grumpy set of his face marred by the graze that's gradually leaking lazy blood down his gilt-touched skin. "There's not much to compare me to."

"Don't give me any of your cheek, not now." The Toad-Sannin is angry now, a hot type of angry as bright as magnesium when you burn it. His anger is born of fear and worry, but the result is still the same – harsh and razor-sharp. "This was supposed to be a difficult enough mission without you complicating things."

The boy-who-will-be-great toes the snow-laced ground sullenly, the adrenalin of the moment already fading to leave him low and bereft. Taller now, older as well, it's only his teacher who can still reduce him to the chastised ten year old from nearly six years ago now. "I killed him, didn't I?" 'Isn't that enough?'

Jiraiya's brow is once again creased into a frown (he's going to etch those lines into his forehead soon if he's not careful.) "You killed him. On the second try." His gesticulations are short, sharp, angry. "This is no time for trying out one of your volatile experiments."

"But it was almost working!" the boy protests. "A few more tweaks and I'll be able to—"

"A few more tweaks in the future won't save you when an enemy gutted you after you attacked him with an incomplete jutsu!"

Closing his mouth from where it had been about to spill defensive complaints into the still and silent air, the youth sighs heavily. His blond-topped head droops and, despite knowing that his charge has long since perfected the art of looking penitent, Jiraiya relents slightly in the face of such obvious despondency.

"Alright, brat, come and have a look at this." The older man skirts the dead bodies lying in the loam, their blood merely a dark stickiness on the autumn leaves. "This is how they zeroed in on us so fast." Now that the heat of unexpected battle is over, he's free to concentrate on just how the enemy materialised so fast and so accurately – the Sannin will grudgingly admit that multi tasking was never his best skill and he'll leave that to Tsunade any day.

Following, his student looks around, bemused, but he's smart enough to start looking with something other than his eyes soon enough. Jiraiya knows that the kid's found it when his eyes suddenly develop that gleam, the one that only ever materialises when something piques his interest.

"Oh."

"'Oh' indeed." Jiraiya examines the complex structure, attempting to analyse its potential, its power, without harming its integral set up. "It's a security measure. Kind of like a spider's web so that when we tripped one of those invisible strings, they knew exactly where we were and what sector we were in." He blows air out through his nose in aggravation, eyes dark and unfriendly. "Bastards. So much for stealth then – they're too sneaky for their own damn good."

The blond beside him tips his head, eyes unfocused as he scans the surroundings, discovering the lace fine sensory systems that's laid out in finicky, subtle detail around them for a good square kilometre. "It's so well hidden…" He shakes his head, unable to find the words to best express the disgust he feels at his opponent's 'cowardly' methods and at not being the best. He's young, reckless and brilliant – of course he should be the best. "How are we supposed to have been able to see it?"

Jiraiya shrugs and scratches one ear absently. The boy is too much of a perfectionist for his own good, never satisfied with anything less than what he's set his ambition on. It makes his endless experiments with new and 'brilliant' techniques all the more trying since he's usually loath to give up one, even if it's failing miserably. Since he usually doesn't have the sense to tell his teacher about his work, Jiraiya is often left surprised when he pulls some maverick trick out of his pocket. "There's always someone smarter out there. Someone faster, someone stronger." A wry smile and a brief count of all the scars he owns from his many misadventures. "You just pray you never meet 'em and, if you do, that you'll be able to get away fast enough."

The answer doesn't satisfy his mop-headed student much, but the brat is never content these days, with anything. He makes a face and starts to argue, but frowns suddenly. With his gaze intent, he takes a cautious step forwards. "Sensei, can you feel—"

There's no time for the rest of his query to be voiced because everything starts to turn white around them as light is literally sucked into the nexus of what had looked to be a clever, if harmless alarm jutsu. As if tired of being ignored, the cunning little trigger hidden amidst the coils and threads of the enemy nin's security measure goes off. There is a stark, harsh whiff of ozone in the air as it combusts, violently so, and even Jiraiya isn't prepared to escape the wrath of such a wide-ranging and carefully concealed trap.

Luckily, other people are.

The white haired blinks and, in that instant, the world around him changes. One moment, he's facing a belching behemoth of a flame ball, moving far too fast. The next, he's staring (and rather forcibly so) at a patch of forest that was awfully familiar. It should have been. This was the curve of undergrowth with its central knot-boled pine that they'd stopped at earlier this morning when the dawn light was still new and fresh through the tree tops. However, that had been miles away and hours ago, far out of reach of any Shunshin step he knew.

'How the hell did we get here?'

Sensing that he smells the teensiest bit singed and not exactly caring at this precise moment in time, he sneaks a shocked, sideways glance at the person responsible for their impossible journey.

The boy is looking far too smug for his own good as he brushes himself down nonchalantly, twirling a jutsu-shiki marked kunai around his index finger.

Jiraiya doesn't understand. "…What on earth did you do?"

The kid's trying to sound cavalier about it and failing miserably – Jiraiya can hear the snicker underneath the underneath.

"Not all of my experiments are failures, sensei, you should know that." He grins, suddenly and unabashedly. "My Hiraishin just saved your ass."

For once, Jiraiya is actually without words. And he's a writer.

oOo

Some things never will change, no matter the generation, thinks the man-who-is-almost-great as he surveys his rag-tag team squabble in the quiet twilight. His hands firmly in his pockets, he wanders along behind them, half amused by their bickering and half exasperated. Jiraiya-sensei insists that he was just as bad as his Uchiha charge when he was their age, but he really doesn't want to accept that.

Surely he was more co-ordinated.

He's unbothered really as he saunters along, brushing through the snow drifts like a silent owl while the three smaller figures bob around ahead making considerably more noise. Training went well today, the children are distracting themselves and he has himself an evening out with the lass he's courting before him. What more could a jounin ask for?

A glance backwards shows his team's somewhat erratic path carved into the fresh fall of icy featherdown. Two trails are poker straight, the other two rambling and meandering around and about. Team Yellow Flash's dual nature provides a good balance of intelligence and impulsiveness, subtle skill and all out power.

He's happy, he realises as snowflakes dust his crown and he tips his head back to examine the sky. The cloudy grey of earlier has dulled down into charcoal, but he stays looking up as if he could see the stars until an unwelcome clump of soggy snow hits his eye and he has to brush it away.

He's getting there. He's reaching high and not falling. Even if his teacher's gone, disappeared, and the war is beginning to escalate into something serious, things are changing and he relishes the swift leap of it all. His ambition isn't meeting any barriers and the woman he thinks he might love isn't resisting any barriers.

She's waiting, he knows. His pace increases.

In front of him, Rin and Obito are still tossing palmfuls of snow at each other, the former having much more luck while the latter spends most of his time coughing the stuff up. Kakashi wanders beside them, completely bored looking as he ignores their antics.

The man-who-is-almost-great thinks that his student is a prude and acts accordingly.

The white-haired kid, not having expected an attack from his direction, glares at the blond man over his mask. The Yellow Flash just grins in answer, brilliant in his cheerfulness, and flickers over to join Rin and Obito.

Life is for living and he is still young. They are younger still and have even more life to live. Though, for all of them, this 'life' is never going to be a long one. The man-who-is-almost-great has long since accepted that he will die for a cause. He just doesn't know which one.

They might as well enjoy themselves while they can.

oOo

The evening is a damp one.

The man-who-is-now-great pauses in the midst of the village, his village, and just breathes. Autumn is securing its hold on the place and he can smell the wetness in the air, the scent of earth and leaves and an oncoming chill.

Yondaime likes October. Or this October anyway. His first term of office has been a successful one, he's slowly working out how to start adding nature manipulation to his Rasengan and his wife is at home with a bellyful of child that's eager to come out into the world.

His world.

He stretches his arms upwards, feeling the pull of his coat against his shoulders. The tall trees above him shiver in the evening wind, tossing down a handful of dried and yellowed leaves. Somewhat amused by his own often whimsical fancy, he reaches up to capture a few from the air's grip. This one's an ochre red, the other a warm brown, another the colour of his hair.

Will his child look like him, he wonders, idly comparing the discarded leaf to his own crowning top that he, hopefully, won't shed under the influence of autumn. Will it be blond? Blue eyed? Ambitious?

He has to grin at that. Of course any spawn of his would never settle for anything less than the best. Even the students he raised who were in no way related to him were ambitious, never satisfied until they got what they wanted. His child is bound to be great.

Thinking of his as of yet unborn child brings him down to thinking about the woman carrying it and he lingers awhile on the memory of the kiss he'd stolen from her this morning. He remembers her belly, firm and ripe against his. He remembers her lips, pliant and giving. He remembers the way her eyes rolled when he told her goodbye, told her to take care.

He's funny, she always says. Funny in that he's always so careful to say goodbye, to never leave without telling her that he loves her above all else. It probably is a tad funny, but he has his reasoning (she never is convinced that there is indeed a method to his madness and is that any way to treat her Hokage?)

Like all those wed to one of the ninja folk, his mother had been doomed to lose her husband too early, but he remembered her quiet, silent desolation at never having had that last goodbye.

'Like a cat that one, always coming and going...'

Konoha's leader isn't planning on leaving all of this behind any time soon. But one never knows. And until then, he'll carry on staying faithful to his life long habit and if he gains numerous kisses out of the bargain, who is he to complain?

He is the life in this place. That won't be changing for a while. He doesn't expect to die for his people for a long time yet.

The leaves falling around him whisper in the language of another world, speak softly of the power growing in the area, of the impending storm.

Yondaime listens to the night and doesn't hear a thing through his contentment.