Hey Everyone.

Finally managed to complete this!


"Naruto," Jiji…or rather his illusion spoke, "If you are seeing this projection, then it means that I have died before I could complete your training."

Naruto ran forward to the old man to hold him, but his hand warped through the projection. Tears began to stream down his eyes.

"…it has always been a distinct possibility," the projection continued, "I have far too many enemies…however this is not the time nor the place to elaborate on that subject."

"Firstly, do not blame yourself for my demise. My death is not your fault nor that of your team, I have cheated death on many occasions during this lifetime and my body has grown too old to accomplish the same feat again. You are still young, undertrained and unpolished but also far too valuable to be risked. My death would be on my own volition and for the benefit of the village, and it is only the knowledge of the fact that I have a worthy successor that would give me the strength to exercise such a choice. Do not let the self-loathe consume you and deviate from the responsibilities that now fall upon your shoulders with my death."

Naruto unwittingly let out a breath he had been holding, Jiji knew him too well.

"Secondly do not, in any circumstance give in to the desires of hatred, vengeance or anger and let such fleeting emotions dictate your choices in the chaos you find yourself in. I know that you would currently wish for nothing more than and let rivers of blood flow to sate your anger, even if it costs you your own life and plunges the world into the chaos that we refer to as war. But remember your training, your current station and the situation of the village before taking any drastic decisions that could result in irreconcilable damage to what I gave my life to protect. The future of the village is intertwined with your life, and I absolutely forbid you from risking it. That is an order."

'NO!' Yami screamed in Naruto's head, 'Shut up you stupid old man! STAY DEAD DAMMIT!'

"You began this program as a simple soldier," Jiji continued, "But in due time you have shown yourself to possess the qualities of a leader. This is the reason I chose you to be my apprentice, and trained you to protect and lead the village in the future. To fulfill the dream I was not able to, and become the Hokage that has arisen from Darkness."

Yami could feel himself lose control, and he did not like it.

"I would like to have said more, but this mode of communication has far too many restraints," Jiji made a handsign and the darkness around Naruto began to fade, "There is much for me to teach you, but the amount of time this Genjutsu can remain is limited. It was therefore necessary for me to create this room, one which only you could access."

'This room?' Naruto looked around.

"Across this room," Jiji waved his good arm, "I have recorded everything I know and intended to teach you; and have reduced it to writings you can understand. Everything that I have learnt in my life, from my greatest success to my worst failures, information regarding enemies to possible allies, from espionage to clan politics, my most vaunted Ninjutsu to mundane tips on channeling chakra – everything from my experience as a Shinobi, an administrator, a general in the warzone to even lessons from my personal life are recorded in detail and arranged in a systematic manner. This is what I leave to you."

Naruto's eyes widened as he processed the information.

"Use this knowledge to build yourself and the village," Jiji spoke, "Use it to avoid the mistakes I made in my life, to master and surpass my techniques, to become a stronger Ninja than I was, a better man that I could be and achieve heights I could only dream of during my lifetime. I lay my life and everything I have bare before you. Utilize it the best you can."

Naruto felt himself choke as his legs buckled under him. He fell to his knees and looked up to his mentor, the image blurred by the tears that refused to ebb from his eyes.

"I am afraid that my time is about to run out," Jiji spoke, "Move forward Naruto, attain what I could not and become the Hokage. Through this room, I shall always remain there to guide you on this path."

Naruto tried to move forward, but the illusion was gone and he was once again alone. Naruto wailed with grief and pain, crying until his throat became hoarse. After that he just sat around for some time, staring at the space where Jiji had been moments ago.

'How could I be so stupid!?'

Jiji still believed in him, even in his death the damned old man believed in him and refused to give up.

Finding the will to move, Naruto got up and rubbed away the tears from his eyes. He walked up to the table and picked up a scroll, unfurling it he read through the contents. This scroll listed everything he had to do immediately after taking charge as the commander of ROOT and Jiji's successor in public life. It contained the necessary keys, passwords and secret channels only Jiji himself knew about, aside from people he was supposed to contact and the ablutions which would be necessary for him to register as the successor of his master before the general public. Another scroll on the desk listed the arrangement of the scrolls and other literature and how he was supposed to go through with his lessons and training. Naruto put down the first scroll and moved to the center of the room and took a deep breath.

This room was what Jiji left him. Everything that his master intended him to learn, master and even surpass was there in this very space.

This room was Jiji himself.

He still had something to hold onto.

Naruto wiped off any remaining tears using his sleeve and took a seat at the table.

'I have to get to work soon,' Naruto thought. He wasn't allowed to make clones for a few days, but he could very well read as much as he could himself. Afterall if Danzo-Jiji was here, he would certainly be punished for moping around when he could be working…but that would have to wait until he was feeling a bit better.

In the depths of his mind, Yami put on an angry scowl as he retreated. This was not what he had wanted, but the fiasco did make him a bit stronger. He would retreat and continue to build his strength until next time.

Outside, Naruto sat in silence for what seemed like hours on the empty chair on which he had seen Jiji for the last time, a scroll hanging from his palm as he did his best to deal with the news that it had been the last time he would ever see that stupid old cripple in his life. Once in a while, a few tears would flow down from his eyes and would be wiped out with his free hand until the process was repeated again…and then again.

After an eternity Naruto finally got to his feet.

Naruto emerged from the room after a grand total of 14 hours. Jiji had left extensive instructions which he was yet to read, he had instead only opted to take the ring with the Commandant's seal on it. He felt exhausted after everything that had happened, and felt like he needed to drink a lake's worth of water and a loooong nap.

"Expunge my earlier orders for now Surume," Naruto spoke as soon as she came before him, "Just follow the coil protocol for now…sorry for trashing the operating room like that."

"The recorded orders shall be expunged Naruto-sama," Surume spoke, "Another operating room is currently being prepared, is there anything you feel in your body that is out of ordinary?"

"No," Naruto shook his head, "Just get me to a bed and give me a barrel of water."

"Understood," Surume began walking, "The guards above have indicated that Jiraiya of the Sanin wishes to speak to you."

'Jiraiya?' Naruto wondered, 'Jiji didn't say anything about him being connected to ROOT. What does he want?'

"Did he mention any urgency or anything else in relation to his request?" Naruto asked.

"No, he only said that he wished to speak to you. Nothing else," Surume answered.

"Then that will have to wait," Naruto shrugged, "If he asks again, tell him I'm yet to regain consciousness. I need some time to myself right now."

"As you wish Naruto-sama," Surume opened a door and led him into the room, "I shall have to ask you to desist from consuming strong alcoholic beverages or indulging in sexual activity in order to vent Naruto-sama. That could interfere with your healing."

"I have no plans like that," Naruto sighed. Surume wasn't exactly wrong in giving him this warning, but what he had in mind was a lot less glorious than drowning his sorrow in drink or calling in women from the Golden Cat Bath-house to beat back everything through sexual release, "But still, I'll keep that in mind Surume. Thanks for caring."

Surume bowed and got out.

Naruto crashed on the bed and lay down, closing his eyes in an uneasy sleep.

(Next Day)

Naruto woke up and sat in silence for some time, he tried to meditate in order to regain some mental balance, but his attempts proved unsuccessful. Kuro fetched him some breakfast, but he did not feel like eating. Despite all instructions, despite the message that Jiji left him he still felt a bit empty inside.

'Just how long are you going to wallow in grief?'

He looked up at the dark ceiling and suddenly felt a bit claustrophobic. He went out of the room and began walking along the passageway, Kuro and Kagebo began to shadow him as soon as he made the turn towards a connecting tunnel. Naruto emerged some distance away from the earlier compound in the middle of the shopping district, putting on a cloak he waved his hand as Kuro and Kagebo melded into the background. He suppressed his chakra and began to walk towards the Hokage Monument – a place he had frequented whenever he was sad during his childhood.

On the top of the head of the Fourth Hokage, whom he now knew to be his father, Naruto looked down on the village that was his home. The area destroyed by Gaara's rampage looked like an ugly scar against the otherwise beautiful skyline.

After a few hours of silence Naruto got back to his feet and began to walk again. His stomach was protesting from the lack of calories, and perhaps some comfort food was in order.

He knew just the place for that.

"Welcome to Ichiraku's," Teuchi-Jiji's voice called out the moment he walked into the stall, "What will you hav-Naruto!?"

"He there Teuchi-Ji-!"

The old man rushed from behind the stall and enveloped his body in a bear hug. Naruto wagged his free hand like crazy to keep his escorts in the shadows.

"Thank god you're alright!" the ramen-chef proclaimed, "Ayame-chan and I were so worried! No one would even tell us anything as to what happened and we didn't even find you in the hospital! Do you know how scared we were after all the insane stuff you did!?"

"Sorry for worrying you guys," Naruto rubbed his head sheepishly, "I just woke up yesterday and…haven't really been so good since…you know…"

The trail went depressive quite quickly.

"I can understand," Teuchi rubbed his head affectionately, "It has been a hard time for many. Tell you what, a bowl of ramen should cheer you up a little. It always helped when you came in sad from the academy."

Naruto nodded. Teuchi went back to the kitchen area and began cooking up a storm as bowl after bowl of ramen loaded with meat, eggs, toppings and flavorful broth was made and consumed by Naruto.

After the first bowl he felt a bit better.

After the second he began to appreciate the taste again.

By the tenth, a small smile came on Naruto's face.

After a dozen bowls Naruto put a full stop to his binge. Ayame arrived in the meantime, and between chastising him about falling off radar and congratulating him for beating down Gaara she never stopped fussing about him or any possible injuries he might have had. Then she had taken the chopsticks in her hand and refused to let him eat by himself as he had a cast on and fed him until he had to finally managed to convince her that he was indeed satiated. Naruto paid his tab in full, much to both Teuchi's and Ayame's reluctance and sneakily put in a generous tip before he left. They deserved it, and so much more.

He also snuck in a note, knowing that pursuers would be here soon.

The world around him slowly began to regain color, and Naruto could now breathe easy.

'Goodbye…Jiji,' Naruto looked up at the sky, 'I promise I'll be the Hokage, just you wait and see.'

It would be long before he would completely accept and be at ease with his mentor's death, but right now it was time to get to work.

Jiji would not have wanted it to be any other way.

(Back at Ichiraku's)

Jiraiya jumped down from the roof of a nearby building, wind rustling across the street with his landing as he shoved the flaps of the shop aside and looked around for a blonde mop of hair.

"What the -! Ah Jiraiya-sama," Teuchi spoke as he recognized his old patron, "Are you hungry? Should I make you the mild soy ramen you like?"

"Was Naruto Uzumaki here!?" Jiraiya asked with trepidation, while he would have liked nothing more than a hot bowl of ramen and some research for his next book, he had more pressing concerns now.

"Ah Naruto-kun dropped by sometime ago," the cute server-girl spoke, "He looked really down, but he smiled a little when he left."

'Dammit, missed him!' Jiraiya thought, "Did he say where he was going?"

"Not really," Teuchi rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "But he did leave a strange note when he paid his bill. We can't open it though."

He put a folded note on the front table and Jiraiya picked it up immediately. It was sealed shut with a chakra-tape, and unraveled immediately as he pushed a little chakra through his fingertips.

'Don't try to find me or revisit the old safehouse. As far as the council or any other shinobi in the village is concerned, I am medically stable and have assumed the command of ROOT. I will reveal myself soon, so kindly be patient.

-Naruto Uzumaki.'

The note burst into flames immediately, and Jiraiya was left just as frustrated, if not more, than he had been before.

(ROOT Base: Undisclosed Location)

Naruto made his way through winding paths as he finally came before Jiji's…no his private study once again and moved inside. He once again picked up the scroll on the table and began to read. As time passed by Naruto started popping clones left and right to move around and get started on the reference readings the scroll pointed to. Surume had asked him to desist, but he found it in him to ignore such a warning…in moderation.

Soon there were over 15 clones spread across the room, a scroll or a journal adorning their free hand as they read through various issues such as the structure and history of ROOT, the critical ongoing missions, standard protocol for undercover assets and the necessary actions and ceremonies that would be necessary for him to be officially recognized as the successor of the man that had been Danzo Shimura.

'Yeah that's…that's a handful,' Naruto thought as he clutched his head in frustration and pain from the memories that were flooding his brain, Jiji left him with a lot of work.

After hours of reading, meditating, assimilating memories and suffering through a small bout of schizophrenia Naruto fell asleep on the cold floor. He woke up at an odd hour, popped an aspirin to deal with the headache and then started the process again, this time with more aspirin than before. It took a grand total of 36 hours of reading per clone in total to read up on the preliminary protocols and other stuff he would be required to know in order to command ROOT at the most basic level. After taking a longer nap this time, Naruto got back to his desk and wrote up the necessary orders to be implemented after Coil Protocol was redacted.

Fuu, Torune and Kuro would not be sent on field missions unless absolutely necessary. Surume and Akemi, being permanent attaches to the ROOT headquarters would keep their positions till further orders. All of them were masters in their crafts, and Naruto had decided to unofficially run his decisions through atleast three of them before he made any major changes or sanctioned cross-border activities. He signed orders Jiji had already written up with such a situation in mind before mentally deciding to not ruffle any feathers until he was more acquainted with this office and had the Hokage to fall back on. Till the Hokage was back in office, Coil Protocol would continue to operate and village defence would be his utmost priority.

Stretching a little in his seat, Naruto decided to go out and get some fresh air. Torune and Kuro followed him outside as he contemplated visiting Shino and Neji, both of them had risked their lives to protect him and he had already suffered nightmares of death and destruction after his mentor's demise. Surume had already reported that both of them had been given first-aid promptly and both of them were stable and under observation in the Shinobi wing of the hospital, but he felt the nagging need to see them with his own eyes now that he a bit stable himself.

He first moved towards the Yamanaka Flower shop, wouldn't suit him to go meet them empty-handed.

"Welcome to the Yamanaka's-NARUTO!?"

Ino jumped from behind the counter as her old classmate strolled into the shop. The last time she had seen him was when he was a tiny dot on the massive hawk that had been fighting Gaara. He had vanished soon after everything had calmed down, and she hadn't really been able to locate him in the hospital.

But now he was really here!

"Uhh, hey Ino," he remarked, rubbing his head with his free arm. Ino took a moment to look at his whole body and saw that the other one was in a cast.

"You got hurt?" she asked as she neared him.

"This," he raised his presumably broken arm a bit, "I…went a bit overboard. It'll heal eventually."

"A bit…yeah right," Ino let out an uncharacteristic snort before quickly composing herself, "You know almost everyone in the village saw you, saying you went a bit overboard has got to be the understatement of the decade."

"Eh, hehe," the fellow blonde rubbed his head and grinned a bit, "By the way, is your dad alright? I talked to him when he was on ground."

"Yeah," Ino sobered up completely, "You know it helped…you fighting Gaara," she bowed, "Thanks, I really mean it. You're the reason I could meet dad again."

"…I did what I could," Naruto replied, Ino rose to see a melancholic look on his face, "But I'm glad he's alright, atleast I could save someone."

Ino wanted to speak about the demise of the old man whom she had seen with Naruto just before the finals, but held back. The shinobi grapevine was rife with rumors relating to the name of Danzo Shimura, the man that had saved the life of the Third Hokage and himself died in the process. She had heard whispers around the village relating to the man, of the missions he was said to have accomplished in his youth, his rumored strength and just how he had single-handedly cut down the massive pillars that once held up the platform of the arena.

…but she knew too little, and from the look on Naruto's face, whatever their relationship had been…that death had to be a real sore spot.

"Do you have Lavender?" he finally broke the silence, "It's the flower for recovery, right?"

"Ofcourse," Ino moved immediately, her nimble fingers working through the stock to fetch the best flowers before making them into a bouquet, "Are you going to the hospital?"

"Yeah," he spoke, "I wanted to visit Shino and Neji, I don't remember much after I passed out."

Ino nodded at him and started her work with making another bouquet, she wasn't as good as her mom but was still proud of her handiwork. She gave him two bouquets, and politely refused to take any money when he began to rummage through his pockets. Thankfully, he did not pursue with another attempt to pay.

"By the way," Ino asked, "Where are you living right now? My mom said that she wanted to visit if possible."

"Uhh," Naruto rubbed his chin, "It's an outhouse in the old compound of the Kuroki clan, near the western boundary wall."

"Thanks," Ino spoke as she waved him off, "Come back again."

Naruto sighed a bit as he balanced the bouquets in his free hand. He had not in the least expected such a reaction from Ino…but he knew he would now have to deal with it. Not only was his Jiji's successor, he had also painted a giant mark on his back due to his rather public takedown of Gaara. The formalities, vote of thanks and invitations would only follow, so it would do him good to get his place a little spruced up.

Idly he made a few clones to go back to his place and get started with the cleanup. If he was expecting visitors then he would be ready.

He then changed his direction and headed to the hospital. Not having the need to ask around thanks to his sensory ability, Naruto walked straight to Shino's room and knocked before he was given permission to enter.

"Naruto-nii-san?" Himako's voice called out as soon as he entered the room.

"Hey kiddo," Naruto rubbed the top of her head as he headed towards the bed, "Hey Shino."

"Good Noon, Naruto," Shino spoke. Downwards from his chin, everything was covered in bandages, his neck was held in place firmly by a neck-band, "Glad to see you are doing well."

"Same here," Naruto took a seat near his bed, "I passed out the moment you and Neji showed up. Sorry, couldn't help you out in any way."

"You did more than any of us Naruto," Shino spoke, "It was the least we could have done."

"How are your injuries?" Naruto asked.

"They are healing," Shino spoke, "The puppet user I fought was skilled, and his puppet managed to break through my defenses. I won't be able to move my neck for a few more days as my collarbone cracked. Otherwise the only long-term effect would be a scar."

"…thank god," Naruto let out a breath and squeezed Shino's shoulder, "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Your concern is appreciated, Naruto," Shino spoke, "Thankfully, the ANBU arrived on the scene before things could escalate."

Naruto made a mental note to set aside some kind of award for those that had saved his friend. He had a few good things from Gato's collection.

"Naruto-kun?" Shino's mom came in as they were talking, "You're okay!? Thank god!"

Naruto was immediately smothered by the fabrics of her kimono as he hugged him close to her chest and rubbed his hair…that was before she let him go a few moments later and began scolding him for being reckless and not evacuating like a sensible Genin should have.

"…so, long story short – good job taking down the Sand Ninja; but don't go doing something like that again unless you want me to actually spank you. Got it?"

"Yes auntie, sorry auntie," Naruto mumbled, stunned as he was from the rather long and detailed tongue-lashing cum praise he had just gone through in the past half an hour. Shino's mom had been rather thorough in her scolding, and to be honest he was kind of scared. Thankfully, she smiled after his apology and rubbed his head before telling him to be careful. He sat with the Aburame family for some time before saying his goodbye and walked over to Neji's room.

(Water Country: Undisclosed Location)

"Everyone get on the boats NOW!" One of the fishermen shouted from the beach, "We have exactly 25 minutes before the next patrol comes around, and you don't want to be here when those crazy nutjobs from the Hidden Mist come around."

Utakata sighed as he walked ahead, idly blowing a few bubbles from where he stood as people jostled in order to cram their bodies into the small fishing boats on this desolate and muddy beach. Since the bloodline purges had been initiated by the Third Mizukage, the fishermen in these poorly monitored and treacherous waters had developed a new side-hustle in smuggling people out of the country…and that was exactly where he found himself today. This was the most inconspicuous way to leave for someone like him.

He heard a rustling sound behind him as a woman emerged from one of the fish-storage unit, her clothes disheveled and a heartbreaking look of agony on her face. Soon enough a smug-looking fisherman emerged from the same unit, a smirk on his face as he looked his latest 'catch.' The scene no longer surprised him but riled him nonetheless, just how much were people willing to exploit those who were helpless? All for satiating their animalistic lust at the cost of hurting someone's soul?

'I'm leaving this place,' he made his resolve, 'As soon as I arrive at Mankitsu, it will be the end for the link between me and this world of Shinobi.'

Suddenly the mist in the area began to thicken as those manning the boats began to shout, only for their voices to go silent one by one as Utakata recognized the trademark technique of his own village.

'Mangetsu shouldn't be in any shape to find me…is Lord Third here himself!?'

Panic began to set in before a form emerged from the Mist, no one else in the village was skilled enough to take him. However the panic in his mental space gave way to anger as Utakata scowled seeing his ex-fellow revolutionary and the disgraced Demon of the Hidden Mist make himself visible.

"Zabuza," the vitriol in his voice made his feelings known publicly, "What do you want? I thought you turned tail and ran away for good when Lord Third beat you off and placed you in the Bingo Book?"

Zabuza was a man he had respected once in his life, and had trusted him enough to follow him when he had declared his intention to challenge the reign of the Third Mizukage shortly after the initiation of the Bloodline Purges. They had followed through and risen to the challenge, but ultimately failed. Utakata had still stuck around with Zabuza, hoping to help the man put an end to the madness that had consumed their leader…but in the end he had given up hope after seeing Zabuza serve the exact kind of men that he had seen emerge moments ago from the storage unit…all in the name of gathering money for the resistance. Utakata could not stand that and left him alongwith others that gave up on him.

"Hey, easy there," Zabuza put up his hands in a placating manner as Utakata's chakra spiked, "I'm not here to fight, not in the slightest. I'm here to tell you that the resistance is still active, and that we have a good chance of finally standing up to Yagura."

"So that you can be the Mizukage?" Utakata spoke, "I'd rather die than serve someone that reduces himself to a pimp's bodyguard for money!"

"It's not me," Zabuza hung his head a little before looking up again, "I've come to see I'm not fit for the job…"

The mist parted slightly to reveal a womanly form, one which Utakata had presumed to be buried somewhere underneath the glaciers in the Northern Province given how much the Mizukage wanted her dead.

"...but I know someone who is," Zabuza continued, "I'll leave the rest to you, Mei."

"Hello Utakata," Mei Terumi's voice sounded like music to Utakata's ears as he finally saw light at the end of the dark cavern he found himself in since the last few years.

If she had Zabuza supporting her, then she could actually call for a vote against Yagura!

There was still hope for him and his village.

(Hidden Leaf Village: Hospital)

"Good noon, Hyuuga-dono," Naruto spoke as he saw the form of Hiashi Hyuuga emerge from what he had deduced was Neji's room.

"Good Noon to you as well, Uzumaki-san," Hiashi spoke, truthfully he had mixed feelings about the boy right now…but given the flowers in his hand he was here to wish recovery to Neji and would be treated just as an honored guest.

"Is Neji doing well?" Naruto asked, fixing his posture and standing up straight.

"He is Uzumaki-san," Hiashi moved to the side, "Do not let me keep you."

Naruto nodded and moved inside, Neji lay on the bed and he couldn't immediately make out if he was still unconscious or just asleep. His upper body was bare, and his entire left side was covered in bandages with an IV drip connected to his bicep. Naruto's eye wandered to the bedside as he saw his old classmate and Neji's cousin look up after his entry.

"Hey there Hina-I mean Hyuuga-san," Naruto spoke, biting the inside of his cheek at the slip-up. He couldn't be so informal with the heiress of one of the biggest and most powerful clans in the village.

"…Hinata is fine, Naruto," Hinata Hyuuga lazily averted her sleep-deprived eyes from his face and looked at the bouquet in his free arm; she could let a former classmate and comrade refer to her by using her given name, "I presume those are for Neji-nii-san?"

Truthfully Hinata was very curious about the boy that was Naruto Uzumaki. His takedown of Kiba in the preliminaries was highly unexpected, the victory over her cousin in the finals even moreso. She had seen the first instance of surprise on her father's face just before the finals when Naruto had been seen with the elder Shimura-san, the man that was currently being hailed as the hero of the invasion and the savior of the Third Hokage. Her curiosity had only increased after witnessing the titanic battle between Naruto and Gaara…Just who was the boy standing before her?

"Yes," the blonde moved, placed the flowers on the table and took a seat next to her, "Is he alright?"

His voice was unsure and shaky, and Hinata could make out that this visit was not an empty formality. Internally, she was glad that Neji-nii-san had more people outside his usual circle and the clan that cared about him and his well-being.

"He took some damage from the wind-attacks used by the Sand Ninja," she spoke, gesturing to the bandages, "The wounds aren't life-threatening, but he lost quite some blood and will require surgery before he can be cleared for the general ward. The doctors have scheduled the operation later tomorrow, after which he should regain consciousness shortly."

"Phew," the blonde let out a breath, "I'm just glad that he and Shino are doing ok. I couldn't even lift a finger to help them back then."

"…you did more than required during the invasion Naruto," Hinata's voice softened, "Your actions saved many lives, including that of my clansmen who were facing Gaara…"

"…both as the heiress of the Hyuuga and a fellow Leaf Shinobi," Hinata got up from her seat and bowed slightly, "For saving their lives, you have my sincere gratitude."

"I did what I could, Hinata," she looked up to see that her gesture was returned, he seemed to have gained more polished mannerisms since their graduation, "I only wish I could have held out a bit longer."

They both sat in silence for a few moments, occasionally either of them would strike up a conversation about something before silence reigned again. The cycle continued for some time before Naruto decided to take his leave. He assured her that he would be there after Neji's surgery and, for whatever it was worth, offered any help they needed.

She appreciated the sentiment, though she doubted he could offer something her clansmen couldn't. As she looked at the retreating back of the blonde her curiosity about him only seemed to increase.

Naruto walked out of the hospital and finally let out a sigh of relief. Both Shino and Neji were thankfully alright and would probably be discharged soon. That was the most he could he could have asked for in the given circumstances.

He sat in silence in the compound for sometime before readying himself, the next visit was going to be even more difficult.

(The Hidden Leaf Village: Estate of the Shimura Clan)

"Mom," Izumi turned to see her son pull at the edges of her kimono, "Why do we have to wear black?"

"Black is the color of mourning, Karuma-kun," she explained to him patiently, "We are wearing it in order to show out grief for Danzo-sama and your uncle Kenjiro's demise."

"De-mise?" the boy asked, confusion flickering across his face before he realized the magnitude of her words, "…so uncle Kenjiro has gone to meet dad?"

"Yes sweetie," she rubbed his head affectionately, even if being a shinobi meant that they played with death every day…it did little to alleviate the pain one felt when their dear ones met an untimely demise on the field. Her husband had perished similarly over two years ago, and now the clan had lost their last standing pillar after both Danzo-sama and her husband's cousin had perished during this attack.

She rubbed Karuma's hair as he sobbed in her kimono. Though many major clans had sent representatives assuring any help, and even Homura-san from the elder's council had paid a visit to assure them of assistance…the entire clan was still in dire straits. Most of the able Shinobi in the clan were injured, with no elder male member to take the reins of clan affairs. As an ex-Jonin she was adept enough to take the responsibilities herself, but she was not a member of the main family by blood and additionally she knew she was not cut out to do it either. All this was happening whilst she dealt with a summons to commence her duties on the field, one which she could not refuse given her position.

…that was without mentioning the new responsibility that Danzo-sama had secretly thrust upon her.

'Izumi,

If this note is found by you, then it means that I have already perished. I know that given the situation, most of the clan responsibilities would fall upon you. However, remember that you have only been married into the main family and are not legally entitled to the position you would inadvertently find yourself in. Your son Karuma is scheduled to be the next clan leader, however he would have to attain the rank of Chunin and be trained extensively before he can adopt such a role. There are those within the clan that will try and oppose you, however the solution to this has already been put in place.

Considering that Karuma is still a juvenile, my apprentice and the successor to the Contract with the Hawks – Naruto Uzumaki shall reveal himself and take charge of the clan as the custodian as per my will until Karuma is ready to take over the reins. Naruto Uzumaki will have been informed of this arrangement, and should be on his way to implement it.

However, despite my training Naruto will require someone to stand by him when he takes charge. Therefore, you are to take any role he requires to be fulfilled. He is my successor and shall be treated as such, so remain by his side and serve him as you would a clan leader in his position.'

The note had burst into flames as soon as she had read it, and with Danzo-sama dead there was no scope for argument. Izumi knew her limitations very well, and had to accept the fact that the boy she had met a few days ago was now her superior in every regard. A single move to upset him, and she and her son could very well be out on the street. Clan custodians, especially outsiders, had a reputation for being exploitative. She had seen, first-hand, the fate of people who had been faced with such a situation in the past and would not wish something like that even on an enemy.

"Lady Izumi," a voice called out to her, "Naruto Uzumaki is at the gates of the compound."

"Bring him to the main house," she took a deep breath, picking up Karuma and handing him to an attendant before she stated fixing her appearance, "Welcome him properly, remember he has found favor with Garuda-sama and is Danzo-sama's successor. Instruct everyone in the compound to stay where they are, be mindful that no one does or says anything that could be construed to be a sign of disrespect."

The last thing she needed right now was for someone from the clan to speak of the boy's status as a Jinchuriki. While she had found him to be obedient and well-mannered for the short time they had met earlier, she knew very well that power and wealth often found a way to corrupt young minds. She hoped he retained the aforesaid qualities even now that he was no longer under Danzo-sama's tutelage and guidance.

Naruto walked into the rather empty building of the main house. The quarters of the Shimura clan, while being nearly as old as the Senju and the Uchiha, were rather simplistic in design and not quite as massive. Still, the fact that it was one of the first clans to formally join the village gave them access to a prime location and a relatively expansive area for living. He looked around inside, and soon enough one of the sliding doors opened and Izumi Shimura bowed before walking in flanked with two of her attendants.

"Good Noon Izumi-dono," Naruto spoke, gesturing them to come inside, "Please take a seat, this is still your home."

Naruto knew very well the position he was in right now, and truthfully wanted those of his mentor's clan to be at ease around him. For now, he was just going to proceed as per his instructions and gain their trust.

Izumi took a position opposite to where he stood and they all sat down. It was time to talk out a few things.

"…I know this is a difficult time," Naruto broke the uncomfortable silence, "Neither me, nor you or anyone in the village desired the war or this outcome; but what has happened cannot be undone. At this point, all I want you to know is that I intend to honor my master's will in the correct spirit and fulfill the role he was confident enough to grant me. I intend to make no immediate changes in the clan, nor assert any authority unnecessarily over Lord Danzo's clansmen."

He felt Izumi-san let out a breath and felt her chakra calm down a little.

"Is this Karuma-kun?" Naruto tilted his head to look at the little dark-haired boy who looked a little younger than Konohamaru. Said boy looked away and tried to bury himself in the attendant's garments.

"Hey little fella," Naruto gave him one of his signature smiles as he pulled a chocolate from his pocket, "Do you like sweets?"

Karuma seemed a bit unsure and looked at his mother, who gave him a tense nod. His small hand reached for the chocolate and quickly went back and hid behind his mother's back. Soon, an attendant took him out of the room.

"He's a cute kid," Naruto smiled, "Worry not Izumi-dono, I wholly intend to hand over the reins of the clan to him once he's of age and capable enough as per our joint opinion. Additionally, I promise you that I will teach him what Master taught me and make him someone worthy enough to call upon the Hawks in battle…"

The tension finally left Izumi's shoulders and she felt as though she could breathe easy. Naruto Uzumaki was still the polite young boy she met at the arena and had thankfully not transformed into a power-hungry bureaucrat as she had feared. The next hour or so flew by as they discussed clan affairs, their duties and he gave a surprising amount of say in clan affairs.

"…I must ask you to desist from formally taking over and claiming the Kazeshini until the formal period of mourning is over Naruto-sama," she spoke, "None from the clan have touched it yet as we don't have Garuda-sama's approval, and it is preserved in a glass case in the adjacent room."

"Twenty one days correct?" Naruto-san asked, she nodded in return, "That won't be a problem."

Izumi spent some time with Naruto, talking of the details of his initiation ceremony and the takeover of clan affairs. Shortly thereafter, Naruto took his leave and disappeared into one of the alleys of the compound much like Danzo-sama did in the past.

Naruto let out a tired sigh as he collapsed onto a bunk in the underground base of ROOT. Dealing with the social aspects of Jiji's succession was more tedious than he had expected, and that was without mentioning the fact that he had yet to meet many of his mentor's well-wishers across the nobility of Fire Country, send letters and encoded communications to cross-border allies and find someone with enough authority in the village to act as the initiator so that his initiation ceremony with the Shimura Clan was uncontested.

The future right now just seemed very busy.

(Next Day: Evening)

Naruto stretched a little as he walked towards the hospital once again, Neji was supposed to be out of surgery today and he had spammed an extra clone to take care of some stuff so that he could visit him in person. Surume was going to chew him out for it, he was sure of that.

But something felt very wrong when he saw the Hyuuga engaged with the medical staff in an environment of tension he had only experienced on the battlefield.

"…the damage Hyuuga-san suffered on his right shoulder was extensive and has managed to damage his nervous system," the head medic spoke, "Reports indicate that he will soon loose all feeling in the damaged arm, and I'm afraid that amputation of the limb will be the only choice to save his life after gangrene sets in."

Everyone in the room absorbed the information in stunned silence. The operation had not succeeded, and a deeper analysis had revealed that Neji's condidion was much worse than initial tests had indicated.

"I'm afraid that there is nothing we can do," the head of the medical ward continued, "We lack anyone with enough expertise or control that can reconnect the nerves on Hyuuga-san's right arm."

"Is there any other form of treatment which could work?" Hiashi asked.

"I'm afraid not Hyuuga-sama," the medic sighed, "A surgery to reconnect his nerves is a must. But there is no one in the village that can accomplish such a feat as of now."

"Is there anyone on the continent that can do it?" Naruto Uzumaki's voice cut through the room like steel, "Name them."

"…the only one I can think of that could accomplish a miracle like that would be Tsunade-sama herself or maybe Chiyo of the Honoured Siblings from the Hidden Sands," the head medic sighed, "But Tsunade-sama hasn't come back to the village in a long time, and asking the Hidden Sand for any aid is not going to work given the circumstances."

"How long do we have before Neji suffers any permanent damage?" Naruto asked. He was not going to let Neji's Shinobi career end, especially when he received those wounds protecting him.

"I would say…about three weeks," the medic said, "We can keep up giving him stimulants and medicine to keep off the gangrene till then. However the damage after that point on will be irreversible and we will have to proceed with amputation of his limb immediately."

Naruto simply walked out of the ward after that. He jumped out of a window in the hallway and skimmed across a few rooftops before he came to a training ground. Once he was alone, he used his good arm to bash the standing log across the field in a single enraged strike. He clenched and unclenched his fist multiple times before he began the process to regain his balance and calm down.

'He is not going to lose his arm on my watch,' Naruto thought, 'I'll find you wherever you are Tsunade, I don't care I have to drag you through the gates if it means saving Neji-!'

The wind around him began to shift as Kagebo and Kuro stood before him, weapons drawn as a white-haired man came into view.

"Jiraiya of the Sannin," Naruto spoke as he gestured to his new bodyguards to lower their weapons, "It makes two of three that I have met. You wished to speak to me?"

Jiraiya looked on as the masked ROOT members lowered their weapons, their wrists however hovered near the hilt of their tipless tantos as he finally saw Naruto for the first time in years.

…and from what he saw, Jiraiya visibly winced.

That was not the face of a bright-eyed young Genin six months out of the academy. This was the face of a man who had seen war, taken lives and was hardened from the realization that much worse situations lay ahead.

…this was the face of the new commander of ROOT.

"I just came to know about a few things," Jiraiya spoke, "I wanted to talk to you before you…uhh-"

"-took any reckless decisions like declaring war after what happened?" the boy supplied, "If so, you have nothing to worry about. I have more pressing concerns at the moment…and actually you could be a big help here."

"Really?" Jiraiya raised an eyebrow, he had been looking for a way to further this conversation, "How?"

"Tell me," Naruto spoke, "Where can I find your old teammate, Tsunade Senju?"

"What do you want with her?" Jiraiya was even more confused now.

"I…know of someone who was injured during this invasion," Naruto spoke, "He suffered those injuries trying to protect me, and as a result has even possibly jeopardized his future as a Shinobi. The medics at the hospital said that she was the only person capable of healing him."

"Well," Jiraiya knew that it was a fool's errand, but the hare-brained idea he had come up with could possibly allow him access to the boy he had been trying so hard to get to, "Our priorities align together then. The remainders of the elder council have asked me to find her too."

It was a time to have a chat with his teacher's old teammates.

(Few Hours Later: Hokage Tower)

"So let me get this straight," Homura rubbed his forehead, "You want us to sanction a mission for you and Naruto Uzumaki to find Tsunade?"

"That's a simplistic way to say it, but yes," Jiraiya spoke, "We'll benefit from having her around anyways."

"If she can stay sober that is," Koharu piped in, "We can agree to this if you agree to our proposition."

"What proposition?" Jiraiya narrowed his eyes.

"Accept our nomination to the Feudal Lord naming you as the candidate for the Fifth Hokage," Koharu spoke.

Jiraiya took a moment to process the information.

"What about sensei?" he asked.

"We do not know when Hiruzen will awaken," Homura sighed, "The village needs someone to handle the present state of affairs, and our generation has grown far too old to handle these responsibilities. Additionally, we want to reduce any possible friction between the new Hokage and Naruto Uzumaki as well. The boy may have held Hiruzen in high regard, but Danzo and Hiruzen did not see eye-to-eye for many years. We fear that Danzo's animosity may have reflected in his teachings as well, so a new face would ease any possible conflicts between the forces. The fact that you are his godfather and his father's teacher puts you in a good enough position. We can arrange for it to happen so that the formal ceremony happens after Hiruzen has awoken and resigned on his own volition. We are sure that Uzumaki-san will be agreeable to such an arrangement."

Jiraiya sighed and sat down on the window ledge, this was not the outcome he desired in the slightest.

"Are there no other candidates?" Jiraiya asked, "I'm sure Kakashi could be good choice."

"He could be," Koharu spoke, "But the concerns about his ability to gel with Naruto Uzumaki remain, then there is the issue of the Hidden Sands reacting in some way if we name the son of the White Fang as the Hokage in this situation. Additionally neither he has the will nor we the required political support to push through his nomination with the Feudal Lord in the current scenario. You on the other hand, have found favor in his office."

"…what of Tsunade herself?" Jiraiya asked, "I mean we will be leaving to fetch her anyways. If she takes the hat, then that could solve most of our problems."

"She does have the strength and lineage to back her up," Homura admitted, "But she has not returned to the village in years and continues her solitary lifestyle, so I doubt she'd come back now. Even if you managed to coerce her into returning somehow, she still wouldn't be of much help given her hemophobia. Until that is cured, she can't function as a doctor or the leader of the largest military organization in the country."

Jiraiya bit back a retort, Tsunade's fear of blood wasn't known to many – but the elders were well informed as usual. There was currently nothing he could say that would change their minds, and he knew that from experience.

Truthfully, Jiraiya did not wish to be the Hokage. He was by nature a free soul, and had known better than to get attached to any stable positions after everything that had happened in the past. He had taken to lingering initially as a means to succeed his second teacher - Misaki Ayashi as the Village's unofficial spymaster. The lingering had only increased after Minato's death and Orochimaru's betrayal, when the man he had called his comrade and best friend had turned his blade on his homeland in the blind pursuit for power. The fight that had ensued shortly before Orochimaru's escape had left Jiraiya mentally scarred.

It was also the chief reason as to why he doubted he could be a good Hokage. Additionally he wasn't very good at politics and sucked at deal-making almost as much as Tsunade did at gambling. The elders before him knew of all his deficiencies, and the fact that they still considered him to be the best candidate spoke volumes about how bad the current situation was.

"We can't hold the fort much longer Jiraiya," Koharu spoke, "Age has caught up with us and we'll be following Danzo to the afterlife sooner or later. It is upon your generation to carry and guide the young ones now."

"I get it," Jiraiya sighed, "But we all know I'm not the guy you're looking for. How about this instead, if Tsunade doesn't happen then I'll take the hat. That work for you?"

"…fine," Homura sighed, "But this is a very risky gamble Jiraiya. We can't afford to have the only combatant Sannin and the new commander of the ROOT, who is also the Jinchuriki, being risked like this right now. But we'll indulge you this once if it means that we can get back Tsunade back."

Jiraiya nodded and jumped out of the building.

(Naruto's Private Study)

Naruto went through the contents of a shelf before he picked up the desired notebook and turned to the table. Everything Jiji had known about Tsunade was recorded in there, and he needed to imbibe it within himself if he needed to get the woman back to the village and heal Neji.

He spent a little over 2 days reading and pondering over everything…and it took every ounce of self-control he had not to bang his head on the table right now.

Tsuande Senju, more widely known as Tsunade of the Sannin was the granddaughter of the First Hokage, Hashirama Senju. She had been a part of their generation's Team 7 under the leadership of Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage along with Jiraiya and Orochimaru. She was known for her vitality, strength, exceptional chakra control and beauty. Her medical skills and knowledge of human physiology were said to be the best on the continent even after her long retirement from active service after the death of her family and her lover during the great shinobi wars.

…but all that was useless as the damned hag was afraid of blood.

'A medical shinobi with hemophobia,' Naruto snarled, "She's USELESS!"

Naruto took a few deep breaths and began the process to calm his nerves, useless as she seemed Tsunade was his best bet right now. Running a recon through Gato's contacts to fetch a capable doctor from the black market had proven to be a futile endeavor. There seemed to be no one capable of performing the surgery no matter how much money he was willing to throw at the problem.

…perhaps Tsunade found a way to cure herself? Maybe Fuu could find a way to make her better with the mind walking technique?

As bad as the situation was, Naruto would have to rely on Jiraiya to reach out to his old teammate. He could have very well sent a Four-Man Squad to retrieve Tsunade, her weaknesses were documented enough by his master for a specialized retrieval squad to be formed for the task, but Naruto did not want to upset someone from whom he needed a favor. Violence would remain the last choice of his designs.

Secondly, Naruto couldn't exactly rely on anyone in the forces to negotiatea deal with the woman. While ROOT forces were exceptionally trained and obedient, their conditioning made them lack a crucial element of creativity and the natural flair that would enable them to cut deals in a situation like this. They could follow protocol and obey orders, but Naruto had learnt during his missions under the old man that they were not used to thinking out of the box and come up with creative solutions. So Naruto would have to personally talk to Tsunade and try to get her back to the village.

But as far as he looked, he couldn't think of much that he could offer to her incase Jiraiya failed to get her back. The Senju estate was rich enough to cover for her over seven lifetimes, her habit of gambling away huge sums of money notwithstanding. Being the only heir to the head family of the noble clan, Tsunade was filthy rich and had no need of any form of monetary assistance. This made things much more difficult for Naruto himself, as there were few things in the world that money could not buy.

'She does seem to have an odd habit of not paying back the debts she owes,' Naruto looked at the sheet Jiji had prepared outlining the debts she owed due to her tendencies, 'She's refused to pay back most of the debts she owes, mostly to multiple casinos and moneylenders. Given her reputation as a Ninja, there isn't anyone who can threaten her to clear the enforceable debts either. The only reason people keep giving her money despite this is due to the faint hope of enforcing it against the Senju Estate after she dies...wait a sec!'

An evil grin made its way across Naruto's face as he noted down the list of Tsunade's debts. Shortly thereafter he walked out and called out to Akemi, they had some work to do before he set out tomorrow.

(Hidden Sound Village)

'RAAH!'

Orochimaru destroyed a section of deformed test subjects with his technique as he felt his breathing slow down to normal. Kabuto's body had been specially prepped to serve as a vessel in case of emergencies, so the process had been seamless at the beginning. But pumping his new body with adrenalin shots and modified chakra pills earlier had wreaked havoc on his system and he had been under a lot of pain for the past few days.

Killing the failed subjects proved to help just a little.

Danzo was the reason of this failure, and Orochimaru had slept many sleepless nights cursing the old cripple as his new body writhed with pain. Danzo had even prepped the Jinchuriki of the Nine-Tails to battle for god's sake!

…but he was dead now, and that was probably the biggest takeaway from all this.

Without Danzo's guidance, the Jinchuriki would not be a threat.

Without his leadership, ROOT would be much less of a pain.

And most of all, the Leaf had now lost the shroud of darkness that protected it since many decades. Sooner or later, the darkness of the world would overwhelm the village.

Afterall, who was going to succeed Danzo Shimura?

'I need someone skilled to replace Kabuto now thought,' Orochimaru thought. The young man had been exceptionally talented, and possessed all the qualities Orochimaru would desire in his second-in-command. His absence left a gaping hole in his plans, and Orochimaru knew that he would need someone equally capable to serve under him if he wanted the Hidden Sound to get stronger. Perhaps he would have to call Guren by his side to assist him, she was intelligent and possibly even stronger than Kabuto had been.

Further, Orochimaru knew that he had over 3 years before he would require a new body after this. While he would have liked to takeover Sasuke Uchiha's body in a few months, the current arrangement was not advisable for it in the slightest. He needed some time before he could regain his strength and modify Kabuto's body further to utilize the Power of the White Snake again. Further, Naruto Uzumaki's fight against Neji Hyuga and Gaara's fight against Sasuke had brought to the forefront the inherent weaknesses of relying solely on one's eyes. He needed something more than just the Sharingan if he wanted to fulfill his dream of acquiring every technique in this world.

Alone in his massive lab, Orochimaru looked across the various specimens he had collected over the years in hope of creating the strongest body. He could not use the Sharingan on any normal body via transplant, as it would put a major strain on the body itself – such was the case with Kakashi Hatake. This was a major reason as to why he needed to take over a body of the Uchiha in order to use the bloodline to its full potential.

…but he would need more. He needed a body capable of housing the Sharingan as well as one which could enable him to utilize all the techniques he would copy. He needed a body greater than that to surpass the power of the Uchiha.

His eyes fell on the experimentation he had conducted using the cells of the First Hokage. The God of Ninja was someone Orochimaru had admired since his young years as a Ninja, and hoped to attain and eventually surpass the level of strength the man had commanded at his prime. His body was truly one Orochimaru desired, and had molded many of his experiments to mimic the man's abilities. Regeneration, advancement of chakra capacity, high muscle density and increased stamina were few of the things he had managed to attain to some degree with enough experimentation – but the recent battle had proven that all that was a second-rated copy of what the First Hokage had possessed. Even Danzo's improved version of the TN1 steroid could only help to some degree.

It had led him to try and create a body for himself using the DNA of the God of Shinobi, but all of the forty five infants and fifteen embryos injected with the bloodline of the man had died from the strain of adapting to foreign DNA. His lab had eventually been discovered, forcing him to flee from the Hidden Leaf and live in the impoverished Land of Rice. It was also the reason as to why he did not bother trying to use samples of Uchiha blood to attempt something similar thereafter.

'But what if I had something that could give me both?' Orochimaru thought. His time with the Akatsuki had contributed greatly to his research as well, and his attention came by the some of the research on the intermingling of the Senju and Uchiha DNA, which was supposedly the key to the ultimate power of the Rinnegan - a mythological bloodline belonging to the Sage of the Six Paths himself. Orochimaru had his doubts that the supposed head of the organization- Pain, possessed the bloodline himself.

'Maybe I should pay Tsunade a visit,' he thought as he walked away, 'Even if I cannot entice her into joining me, then capturing her would not be too difficult with her crippling hemophobia. Her knowledge will be of great help in furthering my improvements on the cursed seal, and I can create stronger subjects which can survive the cursed seal if I can splice her DNA onto them giving them all the advantages she has from her ancestry.'

A diluted sample of the DNA of the First Hokage adapted with Uzumaki blood from her grandmother could prove to be very useful. While he did have some of her blood from their time as teammates, it was not as well preserved as he would have liked it to be. Additionally, fresh samples would also include bone marrows, spinal fluid, ovaries and much more to further his experiments. He had avoided messing with her before, but with the loss of the Sound Four and even Manda, he was getting desperate.

Perhaps it could even be used to create a body that could be his answer to housing the Sharingan. Who knew, he might even recreate the Rinnegan himself?

"Summon Guren," he spoke to a subordinate, "Have her ready to accompany me on a retrieval mission."

(Next Day: Village Gates)

Jiraiya yawned as he walked to the gate of the village, Naruto had some insane schedule if they were leaving at 5: 00 in the frigging morning. He would have preferred to be late, but the ROOT agent had spoken that Naruto would leave with his squad if Jiraiya did not show up.

Once they were at the gate, Naruto nodded to him and waved a hand. His escorts melded into the shadows as they began to run down the road.

"I had some knowledge that Tsunade was in Otafuku Gai town," Jiraiya spoke as he easily kept pace.

Seriously, what was the kid doing moving like that with a freaking cast?

"Your intelligence is outdated, she was there day before yesterday," the boy spoke, "She has been staying in Gyukimura town in River Country since yesterday afternoon. She's likely to stay there for atleast a day or two."

"…and how do you know that?" Jiraiya was a bit miffed at being one-upped by a kid in terms of intelligence, circumstances be damned.

"I won't reveal my sources," Naruto answered, "But I won't ask you about yours either. Mine just happened to be better in the given situation."

'Dammnit Danzo,' Jiraiya thought, 'What the hell did you do with this kid?'

They raced ahead, stopping after every 3 hours in order to rehydrate before they ran again. By nightfall they had already managed to cover a significant distance and could see the border of the Land of Rivers beyond them. Once they had entered a clearing, Naruto created a few clones, most of them got busy in preparing for a camp whereas two clones transformed into copies of Jiraiya and Naruto before they ran off towards a nearby town.

"We'll rest for about 8 hours," Naruto spoke, "My clones will setup our tents and keep lookout for now. We change guard after every 2 hours."

The ANBU squad that had been shadowing them materialized and nodded. Jiraiya sighed as he sat down before the campfire pit and looked at the glowing embers, this was certainly not the type of trip he had envisaged with his godson after such a long time of seeing him. The bratty kid that was throwing around paintballs from the academy roof seemed to have never existed.

"Jiraiya-sama," a clone of the boy got him a bowl of food which he accepted. He ate in silence for some time before the original got to him.

"I've heard that you are being nominated for the position of the Fifth Hokage," Naruto spoke, "Congratulations Jiraiya-sama."

"How did you-!?" Jiraiya looked at the kid, "…know what, forget it. Yes, I did but I am not really looking to take up the job."

"That's…surprising," Naruto remarked with a raised eyebrow, "I was of the belief that it would be right up your alley. You're certainly strong enough."

"Strength isn't everything kid," Jiraiya spoke, "And I know myself. I can't see myself taking the hat and enduring through all the shit sensei and Mina-I mean the Fourth Hokage went through."

"I'm aware of my father," Naruto shrugged, "Master told me some time ago, there's no need to try and keep that a secret anymore."

'Dammit!'

"So is there anything you don't know?" Jiraiya was beyond exasperated now.

"…if you must know," Naruto spoke, "Then we can talk about that after we find Tsunade. Neji doesn't have a lot of time. Speaking of which, is it also true that you want Tsunade to take the mantle of the Fifth Hokage instead? I had thought that it was just a rumor, but given your decision of not taking up the post it seems to be true."

"You got spies in the Elder Council?" Jiraiya asked, surprised as to just how well-informed the kid was.

"Master was on that council for a long time," Naruto shrugged, "He taught me a few things about it."

"Then I'll just be honest," Jiraiya sighed, "Yes, I think she will do a good job if she is made to take the seat of Hokage. She is strong, intelligent and has the best pedigree one could ask of from a candidate."

"Despite her crippling hemophobia?" Naruto raised an eyebrow, "We'd be a laughing stock in the Ninja World if the news is leaked or she freezes up in the middle of a battle. As things stand, given her condition and ill-repute garnered since her leaving the village…I'd oppose such a nomination."

"You haven't met her kid," Jiriaya's features hardened, Tsunade's acquired Hemophobia was one of the village's most classified secrets – the kind that had never been reduced to writing in any form…for the kid to know something like that was deeply disturbing. Additionally the kid was bad-mouthing someone he both valued and loved…and it was getting increasingly frustrating for him to keep his cool, "So, I'd advise you to keep any possible judgments you want to pass on her in abeyance."

Naruto looked at Jiraiya's form and concluded that he had indeed touched a nerve. Just as Jiji's info indicated, Jiraiya's fascination (marked in Jiji's notes as a ridiculous infatuation/sexual obsession) with his ex-teammate was as strong as ever. He decided not to pursue that line of speaking with Jiraiya any longer, seeing as Jiraiya's feelings would keep him from forming any rational deductions or listening to reason.

Still, it didn't mean that he wouldn't go through with what he said. Being the apprentice of the now deceased Danzo Shimura and the new commander of ROOT meant that Naruto had considerable influence and the power to vote in the selection for a new Hokage. Jiji's note explained that he would have one vote as the commander of the ROOT division, and additionally a second vote as the custodian of the Shimura clan until Izumi Shimura's son attained majority and took over those duties. While Naruto had not been able to formally take over as the custodian and accept the Kazeshini, he would make sure that it happened as soon as possible once they got Tsunade and returned to the village.

With the decision made, Naruto dozed off for the night.

(Near the Hidden Leaf Village)

Itachi led Kisame towards the village. The dense winding forests surrounding the Hidden Leaf provided them ample cover as Itachi mapped their path through the lesser used trails.

Honestly, Itachi was rather confused as he approached the village. Towards the end of his career, he had been absorbed in the ROOT right before the massacre as the entire thing had to be off record – Danzo Shimura being his commanding officer. Things had gone haywire after the final order had been issued, but that decree still remained.

But with Danzo's death, that position had now changed. He had found a way to fool Kisame, his sentient sword and the Zetsu following him for a very limited amount of time. He had intended to use that time to contact the Hokage or the Elder Council in order to report and if necessary, warn anyone against taking steps against Sasuke.

However, whom did he report to now? Hokage-sama was now in a coma and therefore unavailable…and Danzo Shimura was dead.

But strictly speaking, Itachi was still a part of ROOT.

Just who was his commanding officer now? He needed to get answers soon. He and Kisame walked around the outskirts of the village, their chakra signatures concealed in order to avoid drawing any attention from the Leaf Shinobi. The security following the attack by the Hidden Sound and the Hidden Sand villages was tight, and he was thankful that he still knew the barrier passcodes by heart and the fact that the Chunin duo manning the gates had been susceptible to his Genjutsu.

It took him some time, but he was finally able to zero in on a brown-haired woman he knew was a part of ROOT. She was currently masquerading as an attendant in a bookstore. Itachi gestured Kisame to follow his lead and walked into the shop. The sole customer inside was easily caught by his Sharingan-enabled Genjutsu and walked outside, and Itachi felt the woman's shoulders tense up as she prepared to call backup and pounce across the counter.

But before she could do anything, she made the mistake of looking into his eyes as his regular Sharingan morphed into the Mangenkyou.

Both of them now stood before each other in the world of Tsukuyomi, and Itachi contemplated his next course of action as he bound her form in chains.

'Torture is not going to much in the way of results,' Itachi thought, 'She will sooner die or rip her mind apart resisting my Genjutsu before she provides me with any information.'

"Protocol Puppet," Itachi spoke within the world of his creation, free of all bindings of the Akatsuki and the spying agents of Madara and Pain he could speak freely in this world of illusion, "Asset #56 reporting in, requesting clearance to commandant."

If there was one thing he could rely on, then he would rely on ROOT ninjas to follow protocol.

"Agent #56," the woman spoke, "What is the metaphor for a true Shinobi?"

"From darkness to the light," Itachi spoke, "From the cavernous depths to the greatest heights, the one that soars above all and yet lingers in the shadows to protect the roots of the great tree. That is mark of a Shinobi."

"As per protocol nine," the woman replied, "Asset #56, you shall now report to Naruto Uzumaki-sama."

"Request physical access to the commandant to relay information and seek further orders," Itachi spoke, an eyebrow raised almost to his hairline at the news of the Jinchuriki having succeeded Danzo. This was definitely not what he had been expecting.

"The commandant has left on a mission to retrieve Tsunade Senju, last known location is off the western forest near Gyukimura Town in River Country," the woman spoke, "He is accompanied by his personal guard and Jiraiya of the Sannin. Initiate contact as per protocol Asset #56, do not let Jiraiya know of you or your mission. Failure to do so shall force us to face and subdue you as a threat you are officially recognized as."

"Understood," Itachi spoke, "Request you to act as if you have been subdued. I am currently partnered with a missing-nin who is beyond your capabilities, fighting us shall not be of any use. I shall take him and retreat without causing any of the villagers harm."

"Please do so within the next 12 minutes," she spoke, "That is as long as you have before every pore in the village walls is sealed and you are hunted down by the shinobi forces. That is all the time I can buy you."

Itachi simply nodded and the world around both of them began to collapse on itself. As she was told, the woman executed a forced sleeping technique on herself and passed out the moment she was back. The entire conversation between him and the ROOT agent had barely taken 3 seconds in the real world, and for that Itachi was grateful.

"Damn," Kisame spoke, "Here I was thinking of getting some meaningful action. Go easy on the rest Itachi, I need to stretch a little too."

"Searching further is useless," Itachi spoke, adopting his emotionless façade as a member of the Akatsuki, "Our target is not within the village. Come, we must leave before we are discovered."

He hastily made his way through the winding streets he was so familiar with as they headed towards an exit Itachi knew they could get out of. All in all, the entire situation had him at wits end about what exactly he was supposed to do now that his commanding officer was a teething Genin barely acquainted with the world of Shinobi, just what was Lord Third thinking when he took such a decision?

'There's nothing I can do about it now,' Itachi's thoughts made him grim, 'With Sasuke having Orochimaru's cursed seal and Lord Third unable to attend to his duties, Naruto Uzumaki is my only point of contact in the village that can do something if anything happens to my brother.'

He would have to use the Tsukuyomi again, and he hoped that the Jinchuriki was able to absorb the mountain of information he was going to drop on him.


So this piece ended up being waaaayyyy longer than I thought it would be.

Hope you guys liked this!

PS

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