Hey Everyone.


Here is an Author's Note to clear up on a few things people have been asking about.

Firstly about ROOT and Danzo:

The emotional conditioning program does not follow the pattern as it did in canon. Danzo was always short on able-bodied soldiers as his recruiting was limited due to budgetary and various other constraints. Effectively it means that Sai did not have to kill his friend in order to shed emotions, and by extension even Yamato wasn't ordered dead at any point. The standard program devolves around blocking emotions to a great extent, with Naruto being a special case due to his status as a Jinchuriki, having a Multiple-Personality Disorder and having to function as a leader and not as a simple soldier. So Naruto has extensive sessions to actually work through and process his emotions in an appropriate manner.

(Something I honestly believe is necessary for all of us, the modern lifestyle and social media is not conducive to mental health.)

ROOT here isn't an evil organisation but a real shadow to the Great Tree of the Hidden Leaf. Danzo did not try to recruit Kakashi or kill the Third Hokage – I always found that part to be un-realisitic in the first place. The village was, at that time, grappling with the loss of their Fourth Hokage and the damage caused by the assault of the Nine-Tails. You had trouble brewing with the Uchiha Clan, had only one active Sannin (Jiraiya) whose presence in the village was temporary at best and a Jinchuriki who was untrained and not in any way prepared for battle. Assassinating the figure that holds the village together in such a situation would be the height of foolishness, and Danzo is not a fool. He disagrees with Hiruzen on many topics, but he respects the decision of the Second Hokage and has not reduced himself to a power-hungry idiot (atleast in this version of the story) who will do anything to gain the seat of Hokage.

About Hinata Hyuuga:

She is, strictly speaking, the Heiress of the Hyuuga Clan and Naruto's classmate. Nothing more, nothing less exists with respect to their relationship at the time of their graduation. She's a strong-willed girl that knows of her station and her duties, and does not confirm to any misconceived form of kindness which could be perceived as weakness by those within her clan. She wishes to change many things and practices within her family, but recognizes that it will require a lot of time and painstaking effort in order to gain enough traction, position and political backing to push through the reforms she believes in – and she is working hard to achieve that.

(With Naruto)

Naruto had crossed the boundary into the Land of Rivers, but he saw a sparrow land on a nearby branch and start pecking. He recognized the Morse Code from the noise of the pecks and gradually started slowing down, Jiraiya was not authorized to know of his ROOT operations. They stopped after some time at a nearby village and Naruto excused himself to use the washroom. The sparrow came in through the window, an encoded message was passed onto him and the sparrow vanished into a puff of smoke.

'An undercover agent requesting a physical meeting?' Naruto's eyes widened at the revelation. He hadn't yet had time to read up on all the files relating to the undercover assets across the continent, but he now knew the protocol for handling them by heart. Whoever Asset #56 was, he or she was bound to be in dire straits if they were risking blowing their cover at the cost of a physical meeting at such short notice.

This called for an immediate rejig in the retrieval mission he had set out on. He hoped that this delay would not cost Neji.

"I'm afraid that there is a change of plans Jiraiya-sama," Naruto approached the table at the inn where they had stopped, "I received an invitation from one of Master's old friends, I'll have to stop by the estate of the Manrou Clan nearby."

Naruto had made a detailed itinerary of meetings on this journey, and while 'friend' was certainly not the word he would use to describe Tsango Manrou…she was an ally he was instructed to meet at the earliest in the event of Jiji's demise. Jiji had detailed their meetings and the nature of their relations, and Naruto knew that a rejig in their meeting plan and the usage of her compound was something she would permit given his position.

Jiraiya looked a bit surprised at the sudden rejig, but nodded. Naruto left a clone with him before he and Henso went into a clothing shop. Within a few minutes they were disguised and had left a flurry of fake trails to throw off any pursuers. Multiple Hawks flew off in different directions carrying his scent, the encoded message of his location could only be discerned by Agent #56 who would be meeting him. Hopefully, this would not be something that would require him to abandon this mission.

(River Country: Estate of the Manrou Clan)

Naruto sat silently as he sipped on some tea. The seal of the Shimura meant that he was granted immediate access and treated as a guest of importance.

Taking in the silence, Naruto used the opportunity to extend his senses and take in his surroundings. The estate was huge, covering more than four hundred acres of fertile land, which was undoubtedly the source of the riches that adorned the walls of this fortress. The Manrou clan was predominantly a noble one oriented towards business, but there were few within the clan who had taken up weapons in order to protect their family and good fortune; Tsango Manrou being among the strongest of such warriors till date.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Uzumaki-san," Naruto turned to face an old lady, he nodded as Tsango-san made her entrance.

"Not in the slightest, Manrou-dono," Naruto replied, "Infact it is me who should be apologetic for preponing my visit without notice. Please accept my apology for any trouble caused by my sudden intrusion."

"You are quite the polite young man," Tsango-san spoke as she took a seat near to him. Naruto could notice a practiced ease and grace in her movements, somewhat similar to what he saw once with his master and the Third Hokage, "Is there something you would like to have?"

"The tea is enough," Naruto smiled. They talked over a few mundane topics before it came down to business.

"…there will be no difference in terms of the alliance you had with Lord Danzo and the Hidden Leaf," Naruto offered, "I intend to make no changes, and hope that you would extend your cooperation as you have done in the past."

River Country was a place of high importance, loaded with natural resources and an abundance of clean water it was one of the top suppliers of foodgrain, vegetables and medicinal herbs. That was without mentioning its strategic importance as the 'buffer' between the massive countries of the Land of Fire and the Land of Wind. The Feudal Lord of the country, and by extension the nobility did not formally ally with either the Hidden Leaf or the Hidden Sand in order to maintain a veil of neutrality…but it did not mean that alliances did not exist in the shadows.

"I would be agreeable, Uzumaki-san" Tsango-san shot him a pointed look, as if sizing him up. Her gaze then fell on the Hawk sitting on his shoulder and she seemed to relax a little, "Still, it is difficult to believe that Danzo would perish like that. I have seen him live through worse than an invasion…"

The conversation continued on an eased pace thereafter, and Naruto was glad that a crucial ally of the village was still with them. Tsango-san introduced him to her granddaughter, the future leader of the Manrou clan. Soon thereafter Naruto was left to his own devices to explore the estate as he willed, just as he had wanted.

He and Henso ran across the fields of the and crossed a few hills, sliding down a ravine Naruto saw the small island on the intersection of two streams that served as their base in the Manrou compound. It was located behind a hill, in inhospitable terrain and hidden due to the dense reed growth in the mineral-rich water; making it the perfect place for a clandestine meetup. Henso and his clones got busy setting up for a meeting with Asset #56.

One clone remained on the outside, ready to confirm the identity of their visitor.

(Few Hours Later)

"Itachi Uchiha," Clone Naruto nearly balked at the identity of Asset #56 as he came out of the darkness, "What is the nature of the world?"

"One side to the light, the other covered in darkness," Itachi spoke, "Two sides of the same world oscillating between darkness and light. That balance is the true nature of the world."

"Very well," Clone Naruto made a few handsigns and a portion of the wall moved to reveal a pathway, "Your request for a physical meeting is approved, proceed."

(With Naruto)

Deeper inside the base, Naruto made a standard sign and began churning his chakra in an irregular manner lest he have been afflicted with some form of Genjutsu.

'Really,' Naruto finally gave up, 'Itachi Uchiha is one of our undercover agents. Who else did you have on the muster before you kicked the bucket Jiji?'

Maybe aliens were real too then?

Naruto shook his head and gestured Henso to remain behind him, clones laden with explosive tags had already been put in position as a precautionary measure.

"Asset #56 reporting in," Itachi spoke as soon as he emerged from the tunnel and stopped just short of entering the room, "Access as per Worm Protocol, Code 1605."

"Request approved," Naruto spoke and waved his arm, the clones moved to the side as Itachi finally stood before him, "Are you a Shadow Clone?"

"Yes, Naruto-sama," Itachi spoke, "It was not possible for me to remain present here physically."

"Very well," Naruto spoke, "I believe that there are chakra and time constraints then?"

"Indeed," Itachi spoke, "It would be better to relay information via Genjutsu, with your permission ofcourse."

Naruto sighed, truthfully he did not want to be vulnerable before someone who was accused of slaughtering multiple Leaf Shinobi from his own clan before fleeing the village, but Jiji had placed Asset #56 in the 'least risk' category of agents that were likely to go rouge or take any action against the interest of the villagers…so right now he'd just put his trust on the old man. Plus he had Henso with him and the rest of his team knew what to do if anything happened.

"Fine," Naruto looked up into the clone's eyes, "Go ahead."

The black pupils dilated and soon the iris turned a bright red as the Sharingan was activated by the clone. However instead of being dragged into a Genjutsu, Naruto found himself in a familiar place.

"ROOOOAR!" The Nine Tails roared in his mindscape, "HOW DARE YOU BRING IN UCHIHA FILTH HERE YOU STUPID BOY!"

"It seems that stories relating to the Sharingan and Madara hold some truth to them," Naruto spoke as he turned to see Itachi, "Come, agitating my tenant is not going to be beneficial to either of us."

They walked ahead to some distance and suddenly found themselves at the Hokage Mountain. Naruto took a seat on the head of the Fourth Hokage.

"You may speak now," Naruto spoke, "It must have been highly sensitive or voluminous information for you to not have been able to relay it in the normal manner."

"Indeed," Itachi spoke, "Are you acquainted with my mission history and profile?"

"Not yet," Naruto shrugged, "Still, you may proceed by giving me a background."

So Itachi began to speak.

"…and I have recently come to know of the fact that Sasuke has been given the cursed seal. My request is that he may be protected, there are many in the village who already have a negative view of our clan. The cursed seal is likely to interfere with his reasoning, and if he takes any rash actions then those people could try and hold it against the clan and put Sasuke's life in jeopardy. I want him to have your protection if something like that happens."

Naruto remained silent for a few moments before he made a handsign, the world around them collapsed and they were back in reality.

"…Sasuke will be protected," Naruto spoke without looking up, "But from now on you are forbidden from having any contact with him unless expressly authorized by me. If he seeks you out, you are to flee and hide. Is that understood?"

"Understood Naruto-sama," Itachi spoke, surprised at the turn of events. He had wanted to have Sasuke's hate directed at him alone, but apparently that route was closed for the foreseeable future.

"Lastly, make a report on your medical condition," Naruto spoke, already eager to down a few pails of Sake or a mind-numbing injection from Surume. Probably both would be required, and would not be enough to put his mind at ease.

"…I seem to have contracted an illness," Itachi spoke reluctantly, "There was a slight inflammation in my lungs observed before this mission began. My condition has deteriorated more in the past few months, current timeline for survival is close to over 4 years. I am currently using a few steroids and medicines from the black market to compensate."

'Great, just fucking great,' Naruto balked now, unable to hold back, 'Cherry on top of this pile of horse-crap.'

Naruto started scribbling on a piece of paper and handed it over to the clone.

"Memorize this," Naruto spoke, "It will be your procedure and code to access underground medical facilities across the continent. Your costs for that will be covered by ROOT, this will also serve as our new mode of communication so as to not arouse any suspicion."

Clone Itachi took the slip and gave it an once-over before he nodded and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Naruto felt like pulling out all his hair in frustration.

(In River Country)

Tsunade walked ahead to the outskirts of the town, she had sensed a familiar figure slithering around and did not want to cause a scene and draw attention. She jumped over a castle wall and entered an abandoned courtyard.

"You can come out now," she turned, a bewildered Shizune following her, "Orochimaru."

"Tsunade," the Shadow of a nearby tree turned muddy as a pale figure emerged from the ground, "It has been a long time."

"Too long infact," Tsunade raised an eyebrow as a Purple-haired woman appeared behind him, did Orochimaru finally find someone his type?

"…what do you need?" Tsunade finally asked, Orochimaru wasn't the type to seek out anyone without some vested interest. This, in addition to the rumours of him having attacked the village meant that this meeting was definitely not a courtesy call.

"A deal…for you," Orochimaru spoke, "I need some hands on board for a new project, and you could be of help."

"…and why exactly must I even think of that?" Tsunade raised an eyebrow, "The news about you isn't exactly good as far as the grapevine goes."

"I believe I have something that might interest you," Orochimaru spoke, he made a few handsigns and two mud figurines rose from the ground. The figurines convulsed under an illusion as the form of Dan and Nawaki rose before her eyes, "A forbidden technique, one that can make this illusion real…that is should you choose to join me, both your lover and your brother…brought back to life. Meet me here in 3 days if you want to feel their touch again."

The clones went back into the earth, muddy splotches were all that remained of her cherished younger brother and lover. Before she could gather her wits, Orochimaru had left.

Orochimaru smirked as he emerged from the ground in a field elsewhere, it would be good if Tsunade chose to join him on her own free will.

…otherwise, he had a contingency plan he had to get ready. Capturing another Sannin required some planning in the least.

(Sometime later: With Naruto)

"Really," Naruto spoke to himself, he was not allowed alcohol until he recovered, so he opted for water instead, "I really wanted this to be a dream."

But it wasn't. Itachi Uchiha, or rather his clone had been here and the information relayed had been too real to be classified as a dream or a hallucination.

Mismanagement, false information, not utilizing the power to censure at the proper time by the authorities, politicking, ego issues and irritating immaturity on part of people in leadership positions had led to the giant mess that was currently referred to as the Uchiha Massacre. The casualties being a veritable mountain of corpses and consequences that left the village and the ninjas reeling even to this day. Capable Shinobi, experienced squad leaders and carriers of a priceless bloodline were lost in a needless ego tussle which could have, in Naruto's opinion, been nipped in the bud in a much better manner. The aftermath had left survivors, including his teammate, emotionally scarred and highly vulnerable…and now he had a top-level asset who was dying from illness with very little he could do to help.

He had managed to put a stop to Itachi's ridiculous plan to redirect Sasuke's bottled-up emotions for now…and he would find a solution for this problem once Neji was back on his feet. Till then, Gato's money and contacts would serve the purpose of providing Itachi with the required medicine and treatment, it was the least Asset #56 deserved.

For now, he would focus on finding Tsunade. Then he would go back into his personal study and find everything he could about Asset #56 and the Uchihas.

(With Jiraiya)

"Needle Jizo!"

Jiraiya's mane grew and multiple hair sped towards his opponents like quills from a porcupine. Kisame Hoshigaki grinned at the display and raised his swords to swat away the projectiles, in the meantime the remaining members of Naruto's party drew their weapons as the boy's clone dissipated.

"Retreat for now, Kisame," Itachi Uchiha spoke, "It seems that our target has gotten away. Fighting Jiraiya here will be pointless."

Jiraiya snarled as he made the handsigns to trap his opponents, but a wall of black flames stopped him in his tracks as the two Akatsuki members got away.

He wished Naruto was somewhere safe.

His concern was however mollified once Naruto came back in the evening, his escort in tow. Itachi and Kisame had known better than to linger around after their initial clash, and Jiraiya wished that it remained that way. He did not know much about the Akatsuki but his suspicions with request to them targeting the Tailed Beasts were true.

He warned Naruto not to venture anywhere from now on, and the boy agreed. He would keep a very close watch on his godson until they were back in the village.

(The next day: Hidden Sand Village)

Gaara looked at the night sky from a watchtower, the arid winds carried sand across the desert floor as he felt the sensation of sleep overcome him again.

Slumber was something Gaara had nearly forgotten about in years, how peaceful it could feel to lie down and how refreshed one felt after awakening had become nearly foreign to him. The threat of the One-Tails taking over had been so rampant that measures were taken by his father to ensure that he did not sleep in his younger years.

But all that changed after Orochimaru's technique, he felt calmer…a lot calmer than he had ever before. The booming voice of mother screaming for Blood could now be turned down at will, and after his defeat at the hands of Naruto Uzumaki Gaara had slept for the first time in years.

He had awoken as he had expected, inside a sealed cave away from the village in order to avoid Shukaku rampaging around while he slept. However, that time never came and Gaara slept, and he slept until he felt tired no more. The sensation of slumber had been like a drug, coursing through his veins and repeatedly calling to him. It had continued for three days before he was considered safe enough to get back to his quarters in the village, and he was currently tasked with watching the Northern Wall Defences as everyone anxiously awaited his father's arrival – the Kazekage had been missing since the invasion and no information was yet available.

Gaara moved his hands as sand convulsed under his fingers, taking form as he willed and dissolving the same way. Gaara thrust his palm into the ground as a clone rose from the sand, its figures changing, clothing and hair colour altered as the form of Naruto Uzumaki came before his eyes. Now free from the momentary bloodlust that he had drowned into after Kabuto's attempted technique, he was himself unsure of just what he felt of this opponent that had defeated him twice.

"…Kazekage-sama was murdered!"

…but things kept happening one after another, and his mind was drawn away from his musings about the blonde.

(Two Days Later: With Naruto and Jiraiya)

Naruto kept up his sensory abilities as they neared another town, as per the latest information available Tsunade had been gambling in one of the Casinos here post-midnight.

Surprisingly she had been winning too.

Provided that she still needed to sleep atleast 7 hours after a night of heavy drinking, and that the town still had a few casinos and bars she was yet to be banned from; Naruto liked the odds of running into her here. They walked along the periphery for a bit before heading downtown, there they expectedly ran into the woman who could heal Neji.

(Inside the bar)

Jiraiya looked around as he occupied a corner booth with the rest of his party. Naruto's bodyguards slithered in the shadows outside, far enough to avoid detection while being near enough to provide backup. ROOT was just as paranoid as he had known it to be.

Over time, they settled into an uncomfortable silence. Tsunade's eyes flicked towards him and to Naruto before Jiraiya saw a flicker of recognition dawn on her face, that was before she picked up a pail and downed all the beer in it to avoid showing any expression to the boy. Poor Shizune settled for faking brittle smiles, being sandwiched between the two Sannin.

"Danzo is dead," Jiraiya spoke, breaking the silent tension permeating their surroundings, "Sensei is in a coma, and the medics in the village can't do anything to get him back. We need you Tsunade, the elders have called upon you to be the Fifth Hokage."


"I refuse," Tsunade finally let out a snort, "To risk your life like money in a gamble, nothing good ever comes from pursuing that foolish dream."

"…to say that out loud," Jiraiya grimaced, "Do you really think that way?"

"I saw both my grandfather and granduncle struggle through their lives," she spoke, "The same goes for sensei and even for Danzo, just what was he thinking showing off at that age…"

Naruto felt a sudden shift in his mood, cool logic was momentarily suppressed by seething rage in the face of Tsunade insulting his mentor's sacrifice.

"…the old coot should have retired ages ago," Tsunade put her cards on the table, "Seriously, what was he thinking of doing at that age? Chasing after that foolish dream at a time when everyone else around him has gone off the long end, he could have enjoyed a cushy retirement with a nice pension. But he just had to keep going, and look where it got him."

A part of the table Naruto had been holding onto finally broke under the strain, the part breaking off into innumerable shards in Naruto's nearly white fingers.

"Oh," Tsunade leaned forward, "Angry, are we?"

"You will regret those words," Naruto spoke, it took every last drop of training to prevent him from lunging across the table and slogging her with his fist. Sending the squad he had gathered for this mission to capture her suddenly seemed to be a very good alternative.

"Want to take this outside then punk?" Tsunade asked.

"I am not a juvenile," Naruto spoke, trying his best not to lunge ahead and clobber this hag, "So I'll refuse."

"Oh, trying to be an adult eh brat?" Tsunade grinned, "Tell me, did I touch a nerve somewhere?"

"…Danzo Shimura was my mentor," Naruto spoke, "I don't appreciate you speaking of him like that."

"Oh?" Tsunade raised an eyebrow, "He took in a brat like you? Now I'm sure he went senile."

"…Master never gave up until the end," Naruto spoke with, an edge creeping into his voice, "It was admirable. He died a hero."

"Keyword being died kid," Tsunade spoke, "That is all that awaits the path on which he walked. It is a fool's errand to go down that path-"

"-I need to use the restroom," Naruto simply stood up and walked away. He could not hold it in any longer.

(In the street)

Naruto walked behind the pub, he walked towards a dumpster and kicked it with all his might. The metal container flew through the air and vanished into an alleyway.

"Look at you," Tsunade slurred in the street, "The seriousness in your eyes, the hard expressions on your face and the judgmental look I can never forget. You are really trying hard to show yourself as his successor…aren't you? Want some free advice? Just give up and go home, you'll thank me in the future for that."

Naruto stayed quiet as he contemplated calling in his team and capturing her on the spot, but he knew from Jiji's notes that he would definitely lose Jiraiya's support and possibly form an enemy if he went with that route.

"…oh?" Tsunade smirked, "Is the mini-Danzo getting angry? Looks like he didn't train you that well afterall."

"Master trained me well enough for me to stand by even after all you said," Naruto spoke, now convinced that she was not fit to be the Fifth Hokage.

"You really think you can take me kiddo?" Tsunade bent over laughing, "Come at me if that's what you want."

Naruto stayed quiet, the roaring anger of fire giving way to a cold anger which flowed in his veins. Consequences and protocol be damned, this hag was going to pay for disrespecting his mentor!

"One finger kid," Tsunade waved her forefinger at him, "That's all that it will take me to take you down. If you force me to use anything more, I'll give you this necklace."

"Tsunade-sama!" the young woman accompanying her shrieked, "That is outrageous! He's only a Genin and that is Lord First's legacy!"

Jiraiya just slapped his forehead in frustration.

Pumping his chakra, Naruto made a hand signal to his team to not interfere before he bashed his arm against a nearby post. The post and his cast shattered freeing his arm from the itchy prison it had been in for a week as dust rose blocking vision of his opponent. Naruto drew his sword and rushed ahead with the Oniyome prepared to cleave off an arm. Tsunade seemed to be surprised at his speed, but recovered fast enough to counter it. A single finger, insultingly painful, tapped on his forehead and he was sent flying back, his momentum coming to an abrupt stop as he crashed into a nearby building, the wall cratering from the impact.

Tsunade grinned at the boy's failed attempt, however the dust cleared to reveal the boy dissipate in a plume of smoke as a pair of arms erupted from the ground and grabbed her ankles.

Tsunade brought down her finger, cratering the ground and simultaneously soaring into the sky to avoid the explosions that followed after the dismissal of the clone underground. Midair she saw over a dozen copies of the boy jump to her position, their armour covered in explosive tags that were ready to detonate. Four of them remained behind and began showering her with weapons.

Using substitution was not possible, the attack was spread too far and she wasn't able to overwhelm any of the clone's chakra enough to substitute with it.

If she let the clones get too close, then the swords and weapons would be difficult to deal with. She wasn't anywhere as fast as she used to be in her youth, and the fight would end if he managed to draw blood. Taking the clones out one by one wasn't an option either, as they would just explode in tandem and mess her up.

'Dammit!' The little squirt had managed to push her into a corner.

Anger crept into her veins as she let go of any stupid restrictions, she sucked at gambling anyways…so one more loss meant nothing to her. She spread her arms wide, channelling her chakra she bought her palms together in a thunderous clap. The resulting shockwave shook the area as all the clones and airborne weaponry were sent flying away. As she came down a single chakra-enhanced strike reduced the ground to dust. The presumed original was forced to surface as Tsunade cleared the distance between them faster than he could react, this time a palm strike met its mark and the boy was sent flying into a pile of rubble.

"You know a few tricks, I'll give you that," Tsunade spoke gruffly, "But don't think for a moment that you are in any position to even think about stepping into the shoes of that man."

The boy tried to move, but it was clearly too much effort for him to even get up.

"You know, I never liked the guy," Tsunade admitted, "He was pessimistic and never smiled, always looking down on others with the same kind of gaze you are trying to ape. I could never really stand him…but know what? None of that ever mattered in the first place…"

She took a deep breath.

"…there were three of us, trained by the Hokage himself and said to be the best in the village. But Hanzo wiped the floor with us, slaughtered our squadron like pesky insects in a field before he captured us and threw us into a cage – trophies to be paraded before his troops…"

She shuddered a little at those memories. Being cold and wet in a cage with a battered Orochimaru, conserving what little antidote and chakra she had to keep Jiraiya alive against the onslaught of poison in his veins was not a pleasant memory in the slightest.

"…and one day the same man came down from the sky, he managed to stand up when none of us could and freed us from that hell. A true Leaf Shinobi and Hokage wannabe just like I have seen before…"

The hate and vitriol in her voice could have corroded metal.

"…and know what it got him? Jack Shit! He lost his good arm, a leg, his sword, his soldiers and his summons in that fight. It got him nothing in return, and that saga continued till he died…"

Her voice took a sober note now.

"…and that is the fate of all those that try to attain that accursed position of Hokage. It just takes and takes from you until you are an empty husk of a human being, and then it takes your life too. That is what being the Hokage does, I have seen it happen with my own eyes; the saga continues without an end irrespective of the time…"

She turned away, not wanting to relive the painful memories again.

"…So take this advice from someone who's lived longer than she should have, let the stupid dream of yours go and get on with your life – you'll be much more happy that way. Continue on this path, and you'll end up the same way your master did…"

She turned and began to leave.

"…as far as our bet goes," she gestured to the necklace dangling on her neckline, "You did win, so you can have this if you still want to stick to that stupid dream. I'll be leaving in a few days, so you have till then to claim it…if you can walk that is."

Tsunade left, Shizune shot a concerned look at the crater that currently housed Naruto. She took a deep breath before helping Lord Jiraiya get the boy to his feet and onto a bed in the lodge. She apologized on behalf of her Master before giving him some medicine and left for the night. Naruto's team took over immediately thereafter, having been instructed to remain in the shadows until Tsunade and her allies had left. Jiraiya stuck around for some time but even he left, presumably to search for his ex-teammate.

(Later that night)

"You guys can rest now," It was after everyone other than his team had left that Naruto spoke, "I won't be able to take a shift, so the four of you will take rotational shifts throughout the night."

'I'm such an IDIOT!'

His team left the room, and it was only then that Naruto allowed tears to streak down his eyes. How the hell was he going to go around commanding ROOT if he let his emotions rule his decision making to such a degree!?

'What the hell was I thinking challenging a thrice-damned SANNIN?'

The only shot he had at a possible takedown was if he had slit his vein and let her see his blood, her hemophobia would more or less guarantee that he would be able to land a strike with almost no resistance. But he knew that the strategy would not go well with Jiraiya, so he chose not to go ahead with what could have been a sure-shot win. It was rather ironic on how he had been able to think of such things without as much as giving a thought to the fact on how the hell he was going to fare against a Sannin.

Jiji would have sentenced him to healing without painkillers, in addition to the more creative punishments the old man often came up with whenever he acted in breach of protocol…and Naruto knew that he deserved it for acting as foolishly as he had. He refused to take the painkillers his team had given him as he brought his damaged hands together to activate the Mystical Healing Form, using chakra to heal damaged bones and torn ligaments was remarkably more painful than regenerating strategically broken muscles. But Naruto badgered on until he passed out.

It was his way of repenting.

Oddly, his healing wasn't as effective.

(Late Night: In a bar in the city)

"Was it really necessary to egg him on like that Tsunade?" Jiraiya asked, "He is still a kid."

"That's rich coming from you," Tsunade scoffed, "Bringing him here, asking me to be the Hokage. I could see the resemblance Jiraiya, but it is not going to change my mind. As far as the boy is concerned, he'll be better off not going the way Sensei and his Master went…even Kushina would not have wanted that kind of life for him."

"…they died heroes Tsunade," Jiraiya spoke, the glass in his hand cracking, "They gave their lives to protect the village and their son."

"Keyword being 'died' Jiraiya; they would not have needed to had Minato not been the Hokage," Tsunade emptied the pitcher in one swoop, "Kid would probably have grown up with his parents, would have been happy..."

Jiraiya just stayed silent.

"…but still, I guess it was the season for reunions afterall," Tsunade concluded her drinking session, got up and left. Sticking a confused Jiraiya with the bill, and a haunting realization that his other teammate was lurking around.

Tsunade smirked, that kid was not going to get up anytime soon.

(Next Morning)

To his surprise and annoyance, Naruto woke up painfully to the realization that his regular regenerative abilities were not patching up his body, as was usually the case. The realization that Tsunade probably did something instantly sprang in his mind as he cursed his folly in challenging her…but he had other things to worry about right now. If Jiraiya failed to convince his teammate, then he would wait until they separated before he would take the other route to get her back to the village.

Naruto realized how badly he had messed up again when he tried to get up, from the pain he realized he had multiple hairline fractures, cracked ribs, internal bleeding and significant muscle damage from Tsunade's last strike. It was a sobering realization of the fact that just how outclassed he was in comparison to the metaphorical giants of the Shinobi World…a world which would constantly test him as Jiji's successor.

Naruto let out three high-pitched whistles to signal an emergency medical test as Meguro, the team medic entered the room and began a diagnosis.

"…it seems that Tsunade Senju has injected her chakra into your system," Meguro concluded, "I am not aware of the exact techniques used, however she has managed to slow down the auto-response of your body. The state would remain until her chakra is either flushed out of your system naturally or we remove it in a phased manner via chakrapathy. I would not recommend chakrapathy currently as we are lacking in surgical equipment and I do not have the required support staff to keep the flow constant while I operate."

"Can I flush it out myself?" Naruto asked.

"That would not be possible," Meguro replied, "It would require flooding your tenketsu from multiple points at the same time. Using the Fox's chakra to flood your system could be useful, but doing so in foreign territory in the current scenario, given that we have no active mission nor any act of provocation by a third party, could be seen as an act to provoke war with the Hidden Sands."

Naruto sighed internally, as doing it physically was painful. He popped a painkiller after a liquid diet, wanting to focus on the task at hand rather than beat himself up over and over again.

'Once Akemi gives me the green signal and we separate, I'm going to show the damn hag what trouble means. She's going to be under attack from all sides, and that too by herself…THAT'S IT!'

Naruto slowly brought together his palms and created a few Shadow Clones, the clones immediately got to work undressing him and placed their palms on his body and began channelling chakra. Naruto made a ram seal and called for Meguro before he activated the mystical healing form. Unlike other patients, his vitality meant he could still channel chakra well enough. Additionally focusing through pain had become innate to his being during his training with Jiji, so creating clones and maintaining a nearly constant flow of chakra was something he could still accomplish.

Slowly, the uneasiness in his body started melting away as he flushed out Tsunade's chakra from his network. The entire thing would require a few sittings, but he had some time until Jiraiya informed them of his imminent failure and asked them to return home…and Naruto began his plan.

He was halfway through his second sitting when he got the news from an informant.

"Orochimaru is HERE!?"

Naruto's chakra flared wildly as he felt the Fox push its chakra into his system, but Naruto forced himself to calm down before he did anything rash for the second time on this trip.

'I just saw what a somehow out of shape Sannin could do with little effort,' Naruto thought, 'I don't need a reminder to not do anything stupid again on this trip.'

Rationally, there was little he could do even if Orochimaru was around, even if he was weakened due to the effects of fighting Jiji and the Third Hokage. Naruto knew he was nowhere close to challenging the Snake Sannin himself, and asking his team to effect the hit was far too risky a gamble to play with their precious lives.

So, much to his frustration and primal urge to avenge his Master, Naruto decided to do the smarter thing and lay low. He did not want to set the record for a Genin stupidly challenging Sannin.

"Try and find out what he wants from our informants," Naruto gave his orders, "Avoid any form of direct contact, remain together and avoid confrontation at all costs unless your lives are directly in danger. I do not want to lose any of you, so we will avoid conflict unless absolutely necessary."

"Understood, Naruto-sama," Meguro disappeared in a burst of speed and Naruto banged his fist on the table in frustration. Damn the fact that he was doing the right thing, he still felt like ripping the snake a new asshole.

"Jiraiya-sama is currently moving to intercept a possible meeting between Orochimaru and Tsunade," Meguro spoke.

"…then we'll follow them at a distance," Naruto spoke, "Earlier instructions remain, but we'll be there if Jiraiya needs us."

(With Tsunade)

"…just leave me alone, all of you," Tsunade turned and began to leave, "I don't want anything to do with you or the Hidden Leaf anymore Orochimaru. Just go away."

"A pity, Tsunade," Orochimaru smirked, this was as he had expected, "But you don't really have a choice."

Tsunade turned with a snarl, but a scroll flew through the air and suddenly the entire area was covered in blood. Tsunade fell to her knees as the ruby red liquid soaked her entire body, Orochimru's neck elongated and he rushed ahead to capture her.


A loud crash was heard as Jiraiya jumped in front of her, forcing Orochimaru to retreat. Orochimaru looked at the fool in disdain as he prepared for a fight.

"Guren, ensure that there are no more unwanted guests. Capture Tsunade and head for the border," the Kusanagi materialized in his hand, "I'll handle Jiriaya. The other woman with her is disposable, so do as you wish."

Guren smirked and made a few handsigns, a giant dome of crystal now covered the entire area and isolated them from the outside world. Orochimaru rushed ahead to keep Jiraiya busy as Guren and Shizune stared down at each other.

(With Naruto)

"Ok, we stay behind for now," Naruto instructed his team, "I can sense Orochimaru up ahead, with Tsunade, Shizune, Jiraiya and another signature we don't know of – possibly an enemy assisting Orochimaru. If the battle drags on for over 60 seconds, Kuro and Meguro will stay with me, others going ahead to assist Jiraiya and-!"

Naruto turned to see a giant wall of what seemed to be a pink-hued crystal block him off from his team which had been standing just 5 feet behind him. Any and all efforts to break it seemed useless as nothing seemed to be powerful enough to break through the cage, and digging a tunnel was of no use either. The wall was too slippery to walk on, and seemed to have a dome-like structure with seemingly no way to escape.

Naruto walked across the periphery, but the crystal was just as strong at every point and neither he nor his team had any technique that could blast through.

'Ok, the situation just got worse,' Naruto gestured to his team to surround the dome from all sides as he walked up a tree to get to a vantage point, as he saw Jiraiya and Shizune fight it out against Orochimaru and another unknown kunoichi. He wished that he had bought Ginko on this mission.

(With Shizune)

Shizune panted as blood-red crystal projectiles appeared at her enemy's feet and rushed at her. She drew a kunai and swatted away the majority of them, but few managed to nick her kimono as she thought of a strategy.

She could not rely on her master or Lord Jiraiya for any assistance, her opponent was using a previously unknown technique which involved usage of the Crystal Element – a hitherto undocumented bloodline. Experimenting with different elements to find out a weakness was not possible, as her own arsenal was limited in that area.

"Stop spacing out in front of death!"

Shizune let her opponent get in close as her palm glowed, she dodged a crystal lance and tapped her opponent's hand twice severing the nerves. One more strike and she would create a blood-clot-!

Her opponent suddenly turned and hit her with the blunt end of the lance, seemingly unbothered by her attacks. Shizune bounced back on her feet as she saw light bounce off her opponent at an odd-angle. She couldn't sense another presence, so it wasn't a clone.

…her opponent was entirely cloaked in an armour of solid crystal.

Guren smirked as she moved to kill her opponent, the Crytal Armour was one of her most powerful techniques. Normal hits and weapons would simply bounce off, and even chakra strikes used by this woman would struggle to penetrate to her skin. She had this one in the bag.

However, with an almost inhuman flexibility her opponent did a cartwheel and her attack missed. She pumped more chakra into her armour and moved in for a headbutt to crack this woman's skull. However she saw the woman's mouth open and a black mist enveloped the area.

Shizune panted as her opponent was forced to momentarily retreat, the Poisonous Cloud was a technique that could hit any opponent that breathed – armour notwithstanding. Unless Guren had a high degree of resistance, she would succumb in the next few minutes.

Guren once again rushed ahead, Shizune avoided more blows from the lance and jumped back into the pool of blood that covered the area. Suddenly the blood at her feet rose and she was trapped in a giant crystal formation.

"Crystal Release: Crystal Prison"

Guren looked at her handiwork as he opponent was trapped in a giant crystal formation, the crystal prison would even crystallize the blood in her veins – there was not going to be any escape.

That Poisonous Mist would have been lethal if she had inhaled a lot of it, but thankfully she managed to hold her breath and jump away. She could have died right there.

She moved to Tsunade, it was time to trap her and leave.

Suddenly two kunais with explosive tags rained down on her and she jumped back as her armour bore the brunt of the explosion. Her vision was then filled with an ocean of dark grey and yellow as multiple copies of the boy she had seen with Jiraiya filled her vision. Blasting one with Crystal Senbon revealed that any of them could be laden with more explosive tags.

On instinct, she rose to the skies by creating a Crystal Dragon on her feet as multiple hands shot out of the ground. A string of explosions rocked the area as she was forced to put some distance between her and her target.

(With Naruto)

Naruto let loose a string of expletives as he continued to form clones left and right to keep the crazy Crystal Lady from getting to Tsunade. He had been unable to interfere before as he feared hitting Shizune by accident, but he would have to hold fort until Tsunade gathered her wits or Jiraiya was able to intervene. His opponent clearly outclassed him in terms of skill, experience, speed and almost every other category he could name, so he had to keep his distance and stop her from dictating the fight.

It still hurt to move, but he had enough chakra to hold out. He bit his thumb and made a few handsings before joining his hands together, having Garuda's temporary approval was going to come in handy.

"Summoning Technique: Dart Shots!"

Four normal sized hawks appeared near him and began glowing with his chakra, they rose to the skies and then rained down on the woman as clones pelted her with weapons. She dodged three of the Hawks, making a huge Hexagonal Crystal to defend against the fourth, his weaponry bounced off her skin – indicative of the fact that she had some kind of armour.

It was only when she picked up the hexagonal wall and threw it as a Shuriken that alarm bells started going off in Naruto's head. A clone pushed him away as another substituted with him to avoid being sawed off alongwith the top of the tree he had been using as a vantage point.

Guren clicked her tongue as her Crystal Shuriken missed its mark, the blond runt was not a threat by any means, but he was really annoying. She couldn't get close to capture Tsunade until the boy was disposed off, and she couldn't waste more time as her Crystal Armour and the Dome were sapping off her chakra.

Her eyes flicked towards her target and back towards the boy, Orochimaru-sama did allow her to wound Tsunade Senju if required – the woman was rumoured to be quite sturdy afterall.

Her hands flashed in a myriad of signs as she executed her technique. Either the boy, or this woman was going to get incapacitated and make her job easier.

"Crystal Release: Crystal Bomb Technique!"

Naruto felt time slow down as the small, marble-sized projectile made its way towards Tsunade, who was still unable to move around due to all the blood Orochimaru had spilled around in the area. Shizune was incapacitated, Jiraiya was busy fighting Orochimaru and none from his team would be able to intercept it given their current situation.

Without thinking, Naruto ran ahead. He could not let Tsunade die, not before Neji was back on his feet. The chakra of the Nine-Tails flooded his system to augment his body.

…the pain hit him after he felt himself cough up blood, he turned his palm to see shards of crystal imbedded everywhere on his skin, and his back felt as if the skin was peeled off and set on fire. Coupled with his exhaustion from the healing, he knew he was now completely useless in a fight.

"Run, Tsunade," he looked ahead at the woman, "Get someplace away from here, my team and Jiraiya will-!"

Naruto couldn't help it, he passed out.

Tsunade watched on horrified as the boy fell down, unconscious. His body hit the ground with a soft thud as she saw his back, coated with crystal shards to such a degree that she could not see any skin despite his torn armour.


She was suddenly thrown into her childhood, the memory of an attendant breaking the news to Grandma Mito that her parents had died on their mission to provide medical aid in Wind Country. Their corpses were delivered a few days later.


She was in her late teens, Orochimaru bringing the bloody mess of organs, skin and broken bones that used to be her sweet younger brother just a day ago.


She was on the battlefield, doing her best to sew together and heal the multitude of torn veins that were leaking blood from Dan's body. She tried her best to stop the bleeding, but she failed once again and the man she loved succumbed to his wounds.


…and here she was again. Blood flowed freely from the boy's body, and she felt more fearful of the fact that he should succumb to the wounds instead of the factum of the blood itself.

Who did he remind her of again?

"Pitiful child," Guren spoke as she moved to them slowly, "We don't really need him though, and finishing him off like this seems too kind. So I'll just let things be, so let's get moving now Granny!"


Guren felt a sudden surge of pain as her vision began spinning, a cannonball-esque punch forced her off her feet and set her careening through the air. If not for her crystal armour she had managed to strengthen out of instinct, she would very well have died at that exact moment. The shards of the armour at her feet bore testament to that.

She had little time to think of anything else as Tsunade moved again, she closed the distance between them in a single straight leap and brought down her leg to shatter her ribcage, Guren created a Crystal Wall to slow her down but the wall shattered under the brutish strength of her opponent and she was once again flung away due to the impact.

"Crystal Release: Crystal Dragon!" The harrowing realization that she could be outclassed began to slowly dawn upon her as a bigger Mud Dragon rose from Tsunade's feet and countered one of her most powerful techniques. That was before Tsunade bit her thumb and a massive white slug came in her view.

"Katsuyu," Tsunade spoke, "There is a boy on the north from here at 32 metres, I want you to cover him and heal him as much as possible, he has already lost a lot of blood and I don't want him to go under before I finish up here."

"Yes, Lady Tsunade," a horse-sized part of Katsuyu separated and moved to cover Naruto as Tsunade resumed her relentless assault. Uprooted trees and massive boulders were flung at her opponent with preposterous speed and power, her opponent meanwhile was unable to come up with any counters as Katsuyu's acid kept her at bay. She would show this woman what it meant to mess with a Sannin.

The status-quo was however broken as a massive Three-headed snake rose behind her, Orochimaru riding on its head as Jiraiya landed next to her and the familiar form of Gamabunta greeted her a few moments later.

Orochimaru saw Guren retreat to his side as Katsuyu and Gamabunta got ready to attack.

The initial plan had been simple, to lure Tsunade into following him with the promise of resurrecting those she had lost and then capturing her without any witnesses. He had prepared for the blood in advance so that she could be captured with little resistance if she refused…but things were not as simple as they had been a few hours ago.

Despite being covered in blood, Tsunade was fighting. Additionally he had to face Gamabunta and Katsuyu without Manda backing him up, and while he was confident in Guren's ability he knew that they were fighting a losing battle.

"We retreat," he hissed, he would find other ways to create a stronger body once he got his hands on Sasuke, "Let's go."

Tsunade uprooted a tree and flung it at the snake, the moment it made contact a huge cloud of smoke enveloped the area. Gamabunta leapt to the site, the impact dissipating the smoke but left him trapped in a mire Orochimaru had left in his wake. Jiraiya managed to break free his summon, but the crystal dome shattered and it was clear that Orochimaru had made his escape.

Her attention was then drawn back to where the boy lay, she rushed back to his unconscious form as Katsuyu revealed his form. Katsuyu had managed to extract a number of shards from his body, revealing the menagerie of injuries, ripped skin, blood and torn armour. Tsunade took a deep breath to calm her nerves, the blood didn't seem as big a problem now but she needed to focus. This was going to be her first major surgery in years.

That was the moment four ANBU operatives came in her view, she was glad she had backup.

"He needs to be operated on immediately," Tsunade spoke, "Un-seal any medical equipment you have and set up a temporary operating table…Shadow Clone Technique!"

Two clones appeared near her, Katsuyu broke into smaller parts and started dissolving the crystal that was imprisoning Shizune.

"Leave the operation to me," she looked at the group that reluctantly followed her orders, "One of you follow my clones to Shizune, Jiraiya you help Katsuyu in breaking that crystal. Don't use blunt force on it as it can harm her, I'll be there shortly."

Tsunade made a few handsings and thrust her palms downwards as the ground around Naruto rose in the form of a uniform rectangular column. The presumed-medic from the ANBU squad began setting up drips and what she assumed was blood that had been frozen for such emergencies.

'Why are the carrying blood for this runt…No Tsunade, Focus!'

Saving his life was all that mattered right now. The area and the tools were sterilized as she immediately set to work, Tsunade carefully removed each and every shard from his body, repairing and stitching broken veins and muscles, aligning the spinal cord and finally undoing her earlier technique that would keep his regenerative abilities at bay.

Tsunade felt her hands quiver a bit as she finally put down her surgical tools, she was slower, a lot slower than she had been when she served at the frontlines. If not for the pouches of blood, this could have been a very serious problem with another death in her wake. Shizune had broken free while the surgery had been going on, having managed to save herself by coating her body in charka before the crystal formation imprisoned her.

In the end, they still pulled through somehow.

"He's going to be okay Jiraiya."

Jiraiya felt the tension built-up in his body evaporate as his shoulders drooped and he let his butt kiss the ground as it had been intending to. He spread his arms wide, thanking every god out there for keeping Naruto alive. This mission had been a disaster too many already.

He looked on as a blood-soaked Tsunade checked over Shizune before decreeing her to be okay enough to walk. Seeing her like this got one nagging worry off his mind, she was no longer afraid of blood and would be able to take care of herself. He looked on as the ROOT ninjas un-sealed temporary casts and Tsunade began chopping off portions of a stretcher in order to accommodate the kid's back.

He really needed a drink, but for now he would avoid getting drunk like the plague until he was inside the village and Naruto was secure in his cozy underground bunker.

(Next Day)

Tsunade rolled uncomfortably in her futon as sleep refused to come to her despite how tired she was physically. Drinking didn't seem to help either, so she was completely at a loss on what to do. Shizune had dozed off comfortably in her bed, and Jiraiya was patrolling the area out of paranoia after being attacked twice on the same trip by S-Class criminals.

She walked around in the lodge hallways, this was apparently a safehouse of ROOT and the ANBU team had immediately moved them here after the surgery. She continued walking as she came to the largest room, the one that housed her current patient.

Naruto Uzumaki lay there, wrapped in bandages like a mummified elder – much like his mentor in his later years. The surgery had been a success, but the wounds weren't something even someone with a regenerative ability could walk off. It would take at least one week before the boy would be cleared to walk, another before he could think of doing any moderate D-ranks and ten days thereafter to clear him for any active duty.

Tsunade sat beside him as the connected machines beeped, the current state of the boy reminded her of Kushina after grandmother Mito's death – struggling with the force of the Nine Tailed Fox as she lay in pain surrounded by the Sealing Corps. It had been one of the most trying days of her life, right along with losing Nawaki and subsequently Dan. She had tried her level best to keep her grandmother alive, to keep Nawaki safe and to save Dan…but she failed on all three occasions. Unable to cope and to avoid being surrounded by all the memories, she had chosen to leave the village and set out on the road – away from everything that caused her grief. Shizune had been her only remaining attachment, and she had chosen to run from her demons for the rest of her life.

Tsunade remembered her time with Kushina, initially she had blamed her for grandma Mito's early death…but the heartbroken look on the girl's face after coming to know of her death had melted any animosity in her heart. Tsunade had spent a lot of time with the girl, grief-stricken as they both had been with grandmother Mito's death. That bond had been one of the few linking her to the village.

The last time everything had come haunting back was with the news of the attack of the Nine-Tailed Fox…and Kushina's death at the end of her pregnancy. Tsunade had returned to the village hoping for it to be a case of misinformation, she knew the redhead was stubborn as hell and had a strong life force – she was wracked with guilt at not remaining present during the delivery and hoped to remedy it.

Seeing Naruto again bought back those memories once again, the haunting look akin to Danzo Shimura only exacerbating her already bad psyche and reaction. She had tried not to think about him for a long time, being content with the knowledge that sensei was there to take care of everything and had boozed down everything when she was overwhelmed.

What the hell had Jiraiya doing guilt-tripping her into being Hokage by dangling the boy before her eyes!? The anger raging inside her had been released and she had, much to her chagrin, took it out on the kid.

It was wrong on her part, and she would admit it to herself.

She looked at the blonde hair and wondered what it would have looked like if he inherited his mother's hair instead, this kid was one of the few remaining in this world that she could call family…and he had now elected to put himself in one of the most treacherous positions by assuming the command of ROOT. This news had shaken her to the core.

Tsunade sat there for what seemed like hours before she made a decision.

Danzo's influence or not, this kid was family. He was also rather rash, but good-hearted enough to take a life-threatening blow for her, and if she continued to stay on the road she was only going to increase both their problems. Orochimaru didn't look like he would leave her alone, and knowing the snake Shizune wasn't safe either. The recent fight and surgery had shown her just how out of shape she was, and she needed to get her act together if she atleast wanted the remnants of her family to survive.

"Given your teacher, I know you aren't going to like this kid," Tsunade spoke, "I don't know how much you've been told, but we are actually related. I knew your mother too, a real firebrand she was – wanted to be the Hokage and could have had your dad beat if she wanted to, was trained by the same guy you have been…"

She choked back a sob but continued nonetheless, she needed to do this.

"…I'm going to take up the offer from the elder council," Tsunade completed, "I'm going to come back and I'm going to take care of things."

She got up and moved out, she would find someone else to command ROOT. Naruto was too valuable to be risked like that.

(A Day Later)

Naruto felt the familiar sense of darkness as he opened his eyes, on cue he was back in his mindscape with all the sewer-esque surroundings.

Thankfully, that meant he was still alive. Hopefully, Jiraiya had managed to save Tsunade as well, his team would have ensured that he wasn't captured by Orochimaru in the least. Naruto began walking as he reached the massive cage that contained the Nine-Tailed Fox, a malicious aura spread around him as the Fox opened its eyes and stared down at him.

"First allowing an Uchiha to get inside, and now risking everything you have in order to save the foolish Hashirama's Bloodline," the Fox spoke, "Have you sworn to be my most annoying host till date? Or has that codger's death driven you to madness?"

"For now, I'm just grateful that I'm alive," Naruto spoke, "Secondly, thanks for the concern."

"Don't get cocky runt," the Fox glowered, "Luck has the tendency to run out and betray you the moment you think it is on your side. You may have survived for now, but from what I see you are just walking towards your grave faster than before."

"I've had one foot in the grave since I wore this headband," Naruto spoke, "Still, I don't plan on dying anytime soon…so I'll keep that in mind."

The space around Naruto began to dissolve as he began gathering his chakra alongwith some of that of the Fox, he closed his eyes and opened them a moment later to look at a ceiling he vaguely recalled.

"Naruto-sama," Meguro's voice felt like the sweetest honey as Naruto came back into the world, the sensation of triumph was however negated as he felt a sharp pain race through his spine and across his body. That crystalline marble really did a number on him.

Naruto took a few deep breaths, breathing in and out slowly in order to not upset his diaphragm as he noted the pain. He gathered his wits as he was offered a small pipe and drank his fill of water.

"Thanks Meguro," Naruto spoke, "Is everyone alright? What happened after I passed out?"

"We remained on standby until the Crystal Dome gave way," Meguro reported, "We arrived on ground zero to find you in a critical condition, Tsunade Senju of the Sannin guided us on an operation in order to save your life and restore your spinal cord. Thereafter-!"

"-I think the rest of the report can wait," Tsunade spoke as she entered the cabin, "You are still in need of rest, I ask of you to please rest for now Meguro. I will be here with him for the time being."

Meguro bowed and walked out, Tsunade taking his place and started checking his vitals.

"…ok," Naruto spoke once he was in the clear, "What is happening?"

Tsunade just took a blood sample from him and didn't even flinch. He wanted to check for a Genjutsu but he was in no shape to execute any technique.

"Many things have happened since you passed out brat," Tsunade spoke, "And for your implied question about Meguro obeying me instead of waiting for your clearance. He obeyed me as the currently unopposed Hokage-Elect for the position of Godaime."

Naruto passed out once again.

Over and Out!

So will Naruto continue to commandeer ROOT? Or will Tsunade's will prevail? Find out in the next chapter!

(I just wanted to say that)

I know it has been a long time, but a lot of things have been happening in the past few weeks.

For those whose countries are reeling because of the virus, please be careful and take all precautions you can. I came down with Delta myself, thankfully didn't need hospitalization or steroids, instead settled for feeling terrible for the entire duration. The virus is real, and we have to face it.

Otherwise, hope this finds you in good spirits. Let's pray that we move back to a time when we can walk around without masks again.

Until next time.