Naruto: The Uchiha Chronicles Re-Version:

The Fifth Hokage:

Chapter 59: Something Amiss in Tanzaku Town

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The pre-dawn had given way to the day. Naruto and Jiraiya raced across the Land of Fire. Even at top speed, Tanzaku Town was six hours away from where they'd been camping. Their pack up had been a hasty one. There was no time for breaking things down properly, so everything that was not essential was sealed into a scroll to be sorted later.

They hadn't taken a break since they took off for Tanzaku town. Naruto's stomach growled and his throat was parched.

"Jiraiya, let's take a break."

"No time kid, we can take a break later." Jiraiya's hair whipped behind him like the tail of a great beast, but he never looked backwards.

"Sensei, it won't do us any good if we arrive and have to deal with Orochimaru dehydrated and hungry."

The large man slowed from a gallop to a trot, before stopping altogether. He heaved a great sigh. "You've got a point there. We can take ten minutes."

Naruto nodded gratefully. He quickly went about unsealing several ration bars, as well as a canteen. He gnawed on his ration bars, taking sips from the water to soften the basic nutrition supplements. They were almost as solid as hardtack. The blond-haired genin eyed Jiraiya. The man tried to hide it well, but he wasn't his usual self. His eyes were like chips of stone, hard and focused.

"You wanna explain what's got you so anxious? Even if Orochimaru is near her, Tsunade's a Sannin. She should be able to handle herself against him given how Gramps left him."

Jiraiya swallowed a gulp of water. "Don't be so sure about that. As a Sannin, Orochimaru knows things about Tsunade. Things he can use to subdue her without a fight. And that's assuming he doesn't manage to strike a deal for her to heal him."

"She wouldn't actually help him, would she?" Naruto asked incredulously.

The white-haired man frowned. His gaze was unfocused. "You can never know with Orochimaru. He's a slippery bastard."

"Well then, let's finish up and get back on the road."

Naruto finished his ration bars in short order and resealed his canteen. The two moved swiftly, setting off at full speed. Together they bounded through the countryside, eschewing the usual tree-hopping for a direct route through the Land of Fire. Three more hours passed. Deep into evening, as the sun began to make its final descent, they reached Tanzaku,

The first impression Naruto had of Tanzaku Town was that it was just a larger version of Shukuba.

Nestled amidst trees in a small valley between rolling hills, Tanzaku was an orderly city encircled by a large stone wall, it was in-between Shukuba and the Leaf in size. Though there was one thing that drew notice, a large pile of rubble where his clone had previously seen a castle.

"Well, that's a fairly good confirmation she's here. Naruto, track down Tsunade." Jiraiya ordered, as the pair stood on a hill overlooking the town.

"Got it."

He closed his eyes, reaching out with his senses. It took a few moments to sift through the thousands of chakra signatures to find Tsunade's. Though it helped how massive it was in comparison. It was with some relief that he failed to detect Orochimaru. Opening his eyes, he used his sharingan to memorise the layout of the city, locking onto a point in the center.

"Found her. She's got another fairly large signature with her." He declared.

"That'll be her assistant, Shizune. Let's get going."

Naruto led Jiraiya down into the town. As they drew closer to the gates, more travelers appeared. Traders hauling wagons of goods, wealthy people in carriages, and common folk with clean but worn clothing who probably worked at the town's various establishments. Everyone was trying to get inside before nightfall.

They narrowed into a line as they passed through the gates. They were guarded, but the guards looked bored. They didn't bother to stop anyone, so Naruto and Jiraiya passed through easily.

"She's this way," Naruto muttered, turning onto a street leading where he felt Tsunade.

He found it slightly disorienting to split his focus between Tsunade's chakra and deciding which paths to take through the city. All while dodging through the crowded streets. The sights and sounds didn't help in that regard either. He gagged on the lingering haze of tobacco and booze that hung in the air. Eventually, they stopped outside a quaint little bar with a pair of swinging doors. By that point, darkness had descended, and the crescent moon was high in the sky.

"Listen kid, let me do the talking, and don't let her get under your skin." Jiraiya told him as they prepared to enter.

Naruto gave him an odd look "What's that supposed to mean? Ya act like I'm some sort of hothead."

"Right, cause that's a stretch."

He rolled his eyes, but wordlessly followed as Jiraiya pushed open the doors to the bar. The tall man glanced around; his eyes landed on a blonde woman, sitting with a short-haired brunette woman in a rectangular booth walled off by screens blocking it from view by the other booths. Her face was flushed, eyes drooping as she sipped on a cup of sake while her companion looked on worriedly and clutched a small pink pig in a vest.

"Tsunade? What a coincidence!" Jiraiya shouted, putting on an air of surprise.

Tsunade stared at them in confusion. It took her a moment to register Jiraiya's face.

"What the heck … what're you doing here?" she asked in a drunken slur.

'So, this is the legendary Lady Tsunade.' The picture didn't do her justice. But her demeanor left a lot to be desired. Naruto had expected … more than a drunk when he heard of her legendary medical skills.

"I've finally found you," Jiraiya declared, ignoring Tsunade's question.

The large man laughed. He led Naruto over to the table where they slid into the booth. "Bartender, another bottle of sake over here, and a water for my young friend." Jiraiya called to the bartender, an unremarkable middle-aged man.

Once the bartender had come over with the sake, Jiraiya poured some into a cup, before refilling Tsunade's. She gulped down the drink greedily, setting it down so Jiraiya could refill it. The burly man took a sip of his own, peering at Tsunade over the rim of his saucer.

"You look well Tsunade, I'm glad."

"Yeah, well you look terrible. Must be all that time chasing leads." Tsunade replied shortly. "Now, get to the point, what do you want from me?"

Jiraiya set his sake cup down and leaned forwards. "Alright, I'll speak plainly. Tsunade, the Village Hidden in the Leaves has decided we would like you to accept the title of Fifth Hokage."

Sitting silently in the corner, Naruto watched as anger flashed through Tsunade's eyes. She gripped her sake cup tightly. Though she tried to play it off, putting on an air of casual confusion. Her black-haired companion wasn't quite as good at hiding her shock.

"Oh, what about sensei?"

"Perhaps you haven't heard. I'm sorry to tell you, but Sarutobi-Sensei is dead. He fell in battle against the third of our trio, Orochimaru."

"I see."

Tsunade sipped her drink, wearing a contemplative look.

"So, what will it be? The village could really use you right now."

The blonde-haired woman downed her sake, before pouring another. She took a sip of it, honey-brown eyes downcast as though lost in thought.

"Sorry, I decline."

Naruto sucked in a breath. How could she deny the chance to be Hokage? After that question ran through his mind, he couldn't help but imagine the possibilities if she didn't accept. From the sounds of it, if Tsunade didn't accept, Danzo would be the one to take over, and the picture Jiraiya had painted of the man wasn't appealing. As he tried to figure out the reason behind her refusal, Shizune shot Tsunade a concerned look.

For his part, Jiraiya seemed to take the rejection in stride. "Man does that line bring back memories. As I recall, you said the same thing when I asked you out."

As the sannin sat there and sipped their sake–never breaking eye contact–Naruto finally decided to speak up. In his opinion, this was taking too long. They needed to get going, and soon.

"Pervy Sage, we should move this along. No telling when Orochimaru will be back."

Tsunade's gaze snapped his way, an indecipherable look in them. Was it panic? Certainly, her companion was a little surprised. Shizune let out a gasp, a note of panic entered her eyes, which was most curious. Tsunade, meanwhile, blinked, as if just registering his presence. She studied his face, bleary eyes darting from his whisker marks to the shape of his eyes. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Jiraiya, who's the brat?"

"Oh, don't mind him, this is my new apprentice, one who should listen when he's told to stay quiet." Jiraiya chuckled, roughly messing with Naruto's hair. "His name's Naruto Uchiha, though you'd probably recognize him as Naruto Uzumaki."

The voluptuous woman shot Jiraiya a sharp look. "Uchiha? Since when are either of hi–" She stopped abruptly, though recovered rather quickly. "Since when did Uchiha's have blond hair?"

She tried to hide it, but Naruto had realized what she was about to say. She'd been about to mention his parents, and that intrigued him.

"You knew my parents I take it?"

"So, you know who they are." she muttered, downing another cup of sake. The busty blonde tipped the last of the bottle into her saucer, before waving the bartender over for another. "Then explain, last time I checked, neither was an Uchiha."

"Well, turns out Minato wasn't exactly your normal orphan when he was found." Jiraiya said in answer.

"I see."

Naruto tried to redirect the conversation; they'd gotten off topic. "Pervy Sage, the mission."

His teacher brushed off his concerns. "Don't worry Naruto, Tsunade's just being stubborn. She knows she's the only choice to be Hokage. After all, she's the granddaughter of the first, one of the legendary Sannin. Only she can stabilize us in these troublesome times." He sipped his drink, giving Tsunade a serious look. "Frankly, I'm a bit more curious whether she knows anything about Orochimaru being near here. You said he was close earlier?"

He nodded. "Yeah, they felt pretty close together."

"You're right kid, the snake did stop by earlier." Tsunade muttered. "Wanted to reminisce about the old times.

Jiraiya rose a single disbelieving silver eyebrow. "Oh really? How curious. I was almost certain he'd approach you. Sensei did quite a number on him, made his arms useless using the Reaper Death Seal."

"Oh, so that's how he got hurt. He didn't mention that part." Tsunade replied coolly.

"Oh well. Now, back to the matter at hand. Take some time and think it over. Naruto and I aren't going anywhere. We'll get a room at the inn nearby."

Tsunade scowled. She seized the sake bottle and began to chug it, finally slamming the bottle down with a relieved sigh. A trickle of sake trailed from her lips. She wiped it off with her hand. Emboldened by the alcohol, the woman sneered, her cheeks red as apples.

"I already told you; I refuse. That job is cursed. Look at your last apprentice. All that talent, and he threw it all away. Life isn't like money; it shouldn't be gambled so easily. Sarutobi-sensei was the same. He should have given it up years ago. No, the job of Hokage, is a fool's errand."

Naruto grit his teeth. It was hard to just sit there and hear her disparage his father and gramps. But Tsunade was far from done.

"My Grandfather and Granduncle helped found the village to try and end war. But look how they turned out. In the end, they died in vain, right in the middle of pursuing their dreams."

Jiraiya looked at her coldly. "You've changed Tsunade. Maybe you've thought about this for a while. But you'd never have voiced it before."

"I'm in my fifties Jiraiya, time changes you."

Unable to sit there and take it anymore, Naruto hastily snatched Jiraiya's sake cup and gulped it down to try and calm his nerves, much to the man's annoyance.

"Oi, what's the big idea brat?"

Naruto grimaced. He wasn't the biggest fan of the strong taste of sake. It burned on the way down. He stared at Tsunade though.

"So, this is what's become of Hashirama's blood line. A drunken lady who gambles too much and refuses to help the village when it needs it. How shameful."

Tsunade growled under her breath. If he looked closely, he might have noticed the small cracks forming in the wooden tabletop under her grip. He certainly didn't miss the alarmed look Shizune shot him. She tried to gesture for him to let it go.

"Watch your mouth kid."

"Nah, I don't think I will. I take pride in my heritage as a member of one of the founding clans of our village. But I'm done listening to some drunken fool disrespect the Hokage. If I had it my way, we'd treat you like the brat your acting as and paddle you before dragging your butt back to the Leaf." He stood up, glancing down at Jiraiya. "I'm gonna get some air. You handle the drunk here."

With one last withering glare at Tsunade, he swept out of the booth and exited into the streets.

The cool night air was refreshing. Naruto paused, talking a deep breath as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

In the time since he and Jiraiya had entered the bar, the streets had grown quiet. Only a few haunted the dirt roads that lined the town. Likely they were all either in their hotels or at bars. Naruto sighed; he was a little disappointed in himself for losing his cool. He'd tried to be mature. But had he succeeded? He doubted it. And certainly, he hadn't done as Jiraiya wanted.

"I should go do something productive, like find a hotel." He muttered to himself.

"Oi, brat, where do you think you're going?" Naruto turned, raising an eyebrow as he spotted Tsunade in the middle of the road. Her honey blond hair swayed in the breeze, flushed cheeks lit by the moonlight. She gave him a cocky smirk. "Care to back up those big words in there?"

They were quickly joined by Shizune and Jiraiya. Naruto's teacher simply went and leaned against the wall with his arms folded. The meek black-haired woman, bustled up to her master in a panic.

"Lady Tsunade, no!"

"Quiet Shizune, the brat wants to talk a big game, he can back it up."

He snorted, turning to her with an amused look. "As if I'd fight you. I don't make it a habit of picking on drunks. Besides, it's a waste of time."

Tsunade quirked a finely plucked eyebrow. "Cocky for a brat. What exactly makes you think it'd be a waste of time?"

Naruto sighed. "Because only two things can happen. You kick my ass. Or …" He used his Flash Step, reappearing before Tsunade with the blink of an eye and Senbonzakura pressed to the middle of her chest, millimeters from touching. "… I'm just too fast for you."

"Too fast, huh?" Tsunade smirked, holding up a black strip of cloth. He blinked, not quite recognizing it for a second.

That's when he noticed his bangs hanging over his forehead. Eyes widening in shock, he looked up into the amused Sannin's eyes as she flicked his sword away. Despite the simple motion, his arm was thrown wide. It felt as if someone had slapped it away with a log.

'She managed to see my movement … with her bare eyes? And that strength. This woman really is Hokage material.'

He sheathed Senbonzakura with a huff, silently holding his hand out for his hair tie. Tsunade dropped it in his palm with the look of a cat enjoying a particularly juicy cannery.

Instead of retying it, Naruto stuffed his hair tie into his pocket. It would be embarrassing to redo his hair in front of her, an acknowledgement of her win.

"Careful who you mouth off to brat. You're impressive for your age, but I could beat a snot-nosed genin like you with one finger."

"Now who's being cocky." Naruto replied with a smirk. "Besides, like I said; this is pointless. You're gonna become the Hokage. Mark my words, whatever it takes, I'll convince you to take the job."

Her eyes danced with amusement. It was clear Tsunade was beginning to have fun with their little exchange. "Oh? How about we make a wager then?"

"What kind of wager?" He felt a bit weary. Though in the back of his mind, Naruto found it amusing she was willing to bet on something like this. Especially given her reputation.

"Simple. Shizune and I are booked to stay at the Tanzaku DoubleTree for another week. You two have that long to convince me to be Hokage.. Though good luck with that. If you win, I'll give you this necklace." Tsunade pulled at the cord that hung around her neck. A pair of green beads lay on either side of a crystal pendant that she pulled from her cleavage. He was so focused on the necklace, Naruto failed to note the gasp Shizune let out.

"Lady Tsunade, but that's …" She trailed off as Tsunade shot her a piercing glare.

"Oh yeah? I'm not really one for jewelry." He gave the necklace a dismissive look. He didn't have a need for something like that. It wasn't his style, anyways.

"Kid, that there is a necklace that belonged to the First Hokage. Only two others like it in the world. If ya sold it you could buy three mountains."

Now that, peaked Naruto's fancy. He looked at the necklace with interest. "Something that belonged to Hashirama? Now that is interesting." He looked at Tsunade suspiciously. "And what do you get if I lose?"

"Simple, you'll pay off all my debts."

He considered her offer with a frown. Ultimately, the choice was simple. He needed to convince her to become Hokage, and frankly he didn't want it to take more than a week. So, a little bet to pay off some money wouldn't be too bad. Besides, with the amount of money his grandfather had left him, he was more than confident he could cover any amount she owed.

"Fine, you got a deal."

Naruto stuck his hand out, and they shook on the deal. With that decided, he turned to Jiraiya and jerked his head towards the end of the street, the direction of the inn Tsunade had mentioned.

"Let's get checked in. Seems like we might be here a while."

"Whatever you say kid." Jiraiya said with a chuckle.

The large man pushed himself away from the wall of the pub, falling into step as Naruto turned his back and began to walk away from Tsunade and a very nervous Shizune. Before he got too far, Tsunade called out one last time.

"Hey Brat, why exactly do you take the Hokage like my grandfather so seriously? You seem awfully invested in them. Pretty odd for an Uchiha."

Naruto turned around fully. With his spiky hair hanging about his face, he gave Tsunade a confidant grin.

"That's pretty simple. Unlike you, it's my goal. For now, you can keep the seat warm. But for me? To be Hokage … is my dream."

He didn't bother to see her reaction. Naruto turned and began walking down the street. There was no way for him to know the stunned state he'd left Tsunade in, or how deeply his words shook her.

As they walked, Jiraiya gave him a nudge. "Pretty bold to agree to pay off her debts. With how much she gambles, I'd be shocked if it wasn't in the hundreds of millions of ryo."

His eyes widened and Naruto almost stumbled. Hundreds of millions? He may have written a rather large check with his mouth. Though in the end, it just meant he had to live up to his word and convince her to be Hokage.

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At the inn, they managed to get a room rather easily, all things considered. The woman at the desk was pleasant and rather helpful, considering how late it was. With her help they managed to get a room on the third floor.

The DoubleTree was by far the nicest hotel Naruto had ever stayed in. Carpet blanketed the halls, and there was an ever-present faint smell of vanilla. Rich oak doors lined the halls as they made their way to the middle of the third floor. It swung open into a large room with two beds. A desk stood across the room with a chair and lamp.

"Well, we might as well hit the hay." Jiraiya sighed.

Naruto nodded, silently changing into a simple set of sleeping clothes in a pair of comfortable shorts and t-shirt. As he prepared to get into bed, Naruto voiced something that had been hovering at the back of his mind ever since they'd been in the restaurant.

"Jiraiya-Sensei … Tsunade was lying earlier, wasn't she? There's no shot Orochimaru was here for anything but getting her to heal him."

Whether that was possible, Naruto had doubts. Little was known about the Reaper Death Seal. He himself knew it was an Uzumaki seal. What the Third had done was more than just physical. Short of taking over another body and soul, Orochimaru had no hope of healing.

Jiraiya, for his part, snorted. "Most definitely. The question isn't if he tried to make a deal, it's what he offered, and how tempting it was to Tsunade."

"You think there's a chance she'd work with him?"

The Sannin shook his head as he sat on his bed.

"Tsunade is a lot of things, but a fool isn't one of them. She knows the dangers of dealing with Orochimaru. Maybe she's tempted, but I don't think she'd ever help him."

"Well, that's some good news."

Naruto turned the lights off and climbed into bed. As he tried to fall asleep he was churning through the possibilities of how he could convince Tsunade to return to the village. It kept him up longer than he'd have wanted.

The next day, Naruto found himself alone in the Hotel room. It was a little past two o'clock in the afternoon, and he'd already tried and failed in his first attempt at getting Tsunade to join the Leaf. In hindsight, trying to goad her into a second bet over cards wasn't the most subtle idea. The blonde had seen right through it and simply laughed him off. In the end, Naruto left things to Jiraiya for the day. The man had mentioned something about 'research' while keeping an eye on Tsunade. To him it sounded like a big excuse to gamble and ogle the busty woman.

Setting that aside, Naruto had decided to unwind while potentially thinking up new ways of approaching Tsunade. Namely, by practicing his sealing.

Sitting at the rich maple desk, Naruto had his head bent down over a book on sealing symbols. He was working on a seal that should theoretically make it even easier to channel Yin and Yang chakra. A pseudo bloodline ability that would also help regulate the amount of Yang chakra he used.

One major hindrance in his training with the dragons had been an apparent imbalance in his Yin and Yang chakra. Naruto didn't quite understand where it came from, but his Yang chakra was incredibly potent. Even more than the Yin, despite the fact he probably trained twice as hard to learn more compared to how hard he worked his body. Whatever the reason, he was almost certain it was the reason he had such an issue with chakra control.

Hopefully, this seal would correct that, as well as make it possible to use the creation ability of the dragons more effectively.

Naruto glanced up as he heard a knock on the door. Setting his calligraphy brush down, he took a moment to stretch and crack his back, before getting up.

"Hold on, be right there."

He was mildly surprised when he opened the door to find Shizune there. The dark-haired woman stood there wringing her hands, she had the air of someone that was doing something they shouldn't.

"Do you mind if I come in?" she asked timidly.

Naruto nodded, stepping aside so she could come in. He shut the door behind her, padding across the floor to sit at the desk. The chair creaked as he leaned back and looked at Shizune trying to make herself comfortable on the bed.

"What brings ya here? I figured you'd be busy babysitting the drunk."

Shizune shifted, still trying to find a comfortable sitting position, but unable to do so. "It's … I didn't want you to misunderstand Lady Tsunade and … I need to explain about the necklace."

"Unless it's gonna help me convince her to come back to the village, I don't really care learning about her. She's mad at the world for some reason and drowns herself in booze to sooth it. Not much to learn."

"Lady Tsunade isn't like that! You shouldn't say things like that without knowing her story!" Shizune snapped, she ducked her head in embarrassment a moment later. He was a little taken aback. He hadn't thought Shizune had that kind of fire in her. "Sorry, I shouldn't have raised my voice. Just please, listen, and try to understand."

Naruto leaned back in his chair. He would be lying if he said he wasn't interested after Shizune's outburst. Clearly, Tsunade had inspired a great deal of loyalty in her. He found it hard to believe the woman he'd met could inspire that in people. It might help to learn a bit more about her. He crossed an arm and gave Shizune a look of interest.

"Alright, I'm listening."

Shizune shifted, adjusting her legs. Her gaze was cast downwards, an unfocused look in them as if the carpet was a screen on which the past was projected.

"Lady Tsunade wasn't always like this. She was kind and compassionate … she truly loved the village. But then she changed. All because of thatday." The dark-haired woman's bangs covered her face, hiding her expression.

"What day would that be?"

He was not prepared for the intense look Shizune shot him. "The day that she lost everything. Her dreams, her love, and even hope itself. All she had afterwards was the necklace. A necklace loaded with so many memories. It's precious to Lady Tsunade, more than her own life. She wouldn't easily hand it over on a wager."

Naruto shook his head in disbelief. "Well, she could have fooled me. She laid it on the table pretty easily. No offense, but if she didn't wanna lose it, she shouldn't have bet it."

"The necklace was not meant for you!" Shizune said harshly. "It's not an ordinary trinket, that necklace will only acknowledge her! Anyone else who wears it, they all eventually … die."

His eyes widened. Naruto didn't say anything, as Shizune began to relate the tale of the necklace.

"All this began long ago. When Lady Tsunade was just a little older than you. Back then, genin could graduate at the age of twelve, or even younger. Her younger brother Nawaki graduated from the academy, and for his twelfth birthday, she gave him the necklace. Their grandfather's necklace. Nawaki wanted to become Hokage and take care of their legacy more than anything. But it wasn't to be."

Her voice took a grim tone, one that made a pit form in Naruto's stomach.

"At that time nobody knew it … but the Second Shinobi World War was about to begin. Only a few months after he graduated, Nawaki's team was killed. His body was damaged so much he couldn't even be recognized, save for the necklace.

"Afterwards, Lady Tsunade became determined that more shinobi shouldn't die like her brother. In her mind, had there been a medic such as herself on his team, he might have been saved. So, she began to petition the village to make it mandatory for every four-man cell to have one medic. She was unsuccessful, but during that time, she found at least one person who supported her. A man who had lost a younger sister, my uncle Dan Kato.

"The two bonded over their mutual loss. As they spent more and more time with each other, Dan began to share his dreams with Tsunade. He wanted to protect the village, and make sure nobody had to die like their siblings. Lady Tsunade couldn't help but fall in love. She decided she would trust him with both of their dreams. That's when she gave him the necklace. His fate was sealed."

A cold finger trailed down Naruto's spine. That sick pit in his stomach grew. Based on what Shizune had said … it wasn't hard to predict what came next.

"Not long after, Dan's team was ambushed. Lady Tsunade managed to make it in time to try and save him. He was bleeding from a terrible wound. She tried so hard to heal him, to stop the bleeding. But it wouldn't stop. It was raining that day. Yet the water couldn't seem to wash away the blood that coated her hands and face. That moment … having her love's life slip between her fingers … it scarred her. So please understand, ever since that day … Lady Tsunade has been torn."

By the end of the story, Naruto was practically vibrating in his seat. The story made all the memories of watching Gramps die come flooding back. He could feel that sticky sensation of the blood on his hands, imagine himself in Tsunade's shoes. It even brought to mind the memories his grandfather had shared of his grandmother's death.

He tried to swallow past a lump in his throat. As much as the memories made him sympathize with Tsunade, it also brought a clarity. He wouldn't have reacted how she had.

"Thanks for telling me all of that, but it doesn't change a thing." He finally replied once he composed himself.

Naruto stood up and walked over to the door. Shizune got up, rushing to stop him. "Wait, what do you mean? How can you be so dismissive?"

He sighed, turning to face her. "It's simple. Even though I feel for her, she's not the only person to lose someone. I held the Third Hokage in my arms as he died. He was like a grandfather to me, the second I watched die. My friend had to go through her entire clan and family being slaughtered. Plenty of people go through tragedy. But we can't just let it ruin us. It dishonors the ones we've lost. So, I don't care about no curse, I'm gonna make Tsunade realize that it's time she moved on and accepted her duties."0

Naruto turned the handle of the door and cracked it open. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go blow off some steam and train. Feel free to tag along."

He stepped into the hall. There were a few people about, a man with a rather scantily clad woman on his arm–probably an escort–and an elderly man that was in a drunken stupor. He heard the click of the hotel door shutting again, and Shizune's hurried steps. Naruto didn't turn to acknowledge her, continuing downstairs and into the street.

Sunlight shone down on the village, a warm presence on your back. As he walked towards the gates, Naruto felt something off. Like an itch at the back of his mind. He hurried up his steps, swiftly getting through.

He didn't know why, but he felt the overwhelming need to get away from that sensation.

Shizune struggled to hustle after him. Luckily, they weren't stopped. He hurried into the forests beyond. Naruto let out a sigh of relief as the feeling went away.

"Is something wrong?" Shizune asked.

"Nothing, just on edge."

That was a lie, though. He had felt as if a pair of eyes was constantly watching him. Thinking back, the feeling had been there since he'd entered Tanzaku, and only now had it gone away. Shaking away the distracting thoughts, Naruto began to try and find a clearing so he could train. As he walked amongst the trees, he spoke to the Nine-Tails.

'Hey, have you felt anything … off, Nine?'

The fox gave the mental equivalent of shaking his head. It was an odd thing, he knew the fox was doing it, but he couldn't see it.

'There haven't been any hostile intentions towards you since we've been here. Aside from that hag you insulted.'

Naruto frowned. Perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him. The stress of trying to find Tsunade quickly was causing him to jump at shadows, that's what he told himself.

Hopefully throwing himself into training would help.

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Training quickly became an activity Naruto had to do daily. It gave him a relief from that unnerving feeling of being watched, as well as his need to convince Tsunade to return to the village. Two days had passed, and there wasn't any progress on convincing Tsunade. Given he was the one that knew her, Naruto had mostly left that up to Jiraiya, but he was starting to think it was time he got involved personally.

For now, though, he was still training. It was half-past two, and he had just gotten done practicing his new Rasengan Variant. His hair was a disarrayed bird's nest, blown about by the winds of his many failed attempts at making a ranged Rasengan.

The simple fact was, he suspected he needed an entirely different level of control to maintain it that way. He decided to take a break from that, and instead focus on another of the projects he'd been working on. Unsheathing Senbonzakura, he stood in front of a tree and grasped the familiar cloth hilt in both hands. His chakra hummed through his arms, seeping into the seals, and unleashing the steel sand inside. A great glittering cloud hung over him, beams of sun bouncing off in every direction. Naruto furrowed his brow, and concentrated.

Ever so slowly, the cloud began to shift, taking on a more solid form. Silvery powder condensed and undulated, lengthening into a long, serpentine form.

With a bit more concentration, one end started to taper into a point. At the other, a bulging mass grew, along with four spindly protrusions along the other side. Eventually, a crude dragon head formed from the bulbus end, and the four spikes became a rough form of legs. It was like a poorly made clay sculpture of one of his summons.

Sweat trickled down Naruto's brow. It took a lot of concentration to hold a form like that, making basic shapes look like child's play. The worst part was it wasn't even remotely close to what he wanted to achieve. He wanted the dragon to move, and, ultimately, to make the particles of sand merge into solid steel that he manipulated. If he could do that, form objects at the drop of a hat with Senbonzakura, he'd reach an entirely different level.

He tried to make it move, twist about at a whim. The dragon wouldn't budge.

Finally, the strain was too much. He let it go, the silver dragon collapsed into a heap of powder.

'I don't get it … there are plenty of jutsu that use elements to form dragons. They even seem to have life! So how do I–' His thoughts froze, as a new idea came to him.

Naruto panted, gathering himself before he would try again. He had a hunch, a way to make his dragon life. But it would be tricky. After gathering his chakra, he raised his sword, making the pile of sand rise into the air and reform into the shape of a dragon. Channeling Yang chakra into his sword, he willed the dragon to come to life. It started with a simple shiver. Then a twitch. Glowing pink eyes of chakra formed. Finally, the dragon began to move about slowly, twining through the air and following Naruto's command. The Uchiha grinned, letting the jutsu go as it became too much to maintain.

Finally, some progress. Though he felt rather silly for missing something so obvious. 'If I can master that seal, it'll make this a lot easier.'

Naruto rested for a bit, before trying again. And again, after that. He trained for hours, trying to refine and perfect his technique.

Eventually he would pass this menial work off to clones, but for now, he took satisfaction in doing the work himself. He got so caught up that the hours slipped away, and he began to forget just how much chakra he was exerting.

As the sun hung low in the sky and orange light flooded the forests, Naruto began to feel dizzy. His vision blurred and faded, in and out. His steel dragon collapsed, turning into powder. His heart hammered in his chest, as panic set in. It was like leaden fingers were trying to drag his eyelids down. Thinking became harder. Naruto tried to draw on his chakra to strengthen his body, but for the first time in a while, he felt only dregs remaining.

Knowing he was about to pass out, he mustered what chakra he could to make Senbonzakura recall the steel sand. As the last trickle withdrew into the glowing seal, Naruto lost his fight with consciousness.

He felt as if he was swimming in tar. Blackness surrounded Naruto, and everything felt sluggish. There was no light, no sound, nor taste, or touch, just darkness. Very slowly, his senses began to return. First came the sensation. Soft blankets, a firm mattress. Then the smell of sake and antiseptic, a bad combination. His mind began to work at that point, his first thought was to wonder what was going on. That's when the sound began to return, the sound of a glass being set down. Finally, he saw the red on the back of his eyelids.

Naruto finally blinked his eyes, coming to consciousness slowly as he blinked away the blurry vision. He recognized the cream-colored ceiling as belonging to the hotel. He was lying in a bed, though he didn't think it was the room he shared with Jiraiya.

He wasn't alone in the room. Naruto blinked in confusion as he found himself staring up at Tsunade. The blonde woman leaned over him. Naruto's cheeks turned red as he caught a glimpse of her cleavage. If she noticed, the woman ignored it, instead she peeled back his eyelids, carefully inspected them.

"You're finally awake brat. Shizune was pretty worried when she found you unconscious in the forest." She said conversationally, her breath smelled heavily of sake, as ever. The medic held a hand over his torso, covered in green chakra. She swept it over his body, likely checking him over. "Your chakra isn't all the way back, but you aren't dangerously low anymore. Though, that was the least of your worries."

Naruto licked his lips, they were dry and shriveled, and his mouth felt like it had cotton in it. Tsunade was quick to offer him a drink of water. He sat up, taking the paper cup and gulping it down greedily. As he drank, he noticed the bandages on his right hand.

"What's with the bandage?" he asked, his voice croaky from disuse.

"Whatever you were doing, it strained your chakra coils in your hand and led to some nasty chakra burns. I'd like to say I'm surprised you didn't notice. But, considering who your parents are, it shouldn't be that surprising. Both were obsessive freaks when it came to training."

He snorted in laughter. Obsessive freak? That was a fair description. As Tsunade finished her examination, Naruto couldn't help but smirk.

"Guess Shizune wasn't blowing smoke up my ass when she said you were a dedicated medic."

"Oh, so she's been talking?" There was an edge to Tsunade's voice, not that he was particularly bothered by it.

"Yeah, she didn't want me to 'misunderstand' you, so she gave me a brief rundown on how you became a bitter old drunk."

A finely maintained eyebrow was raised, whether in disbelief or amusement, was hard to tell. "I take it you weren't as gently understanding as she'd hoped."

"Nope. Just like I told her, I can sympathize with the pain you've gone through. Doesn't mean I agree with how ya handled it."

She clenched her fist, her painted nails digging into the heel of her hands. "Oh, then tell me, what would you have done in my shoes, brat? If everything you loved was torn from you time after time. My grandfather, my granduncle, even my parents. I lost them all. Nawaki was all I had left when I lost him. Then when I finally moved on, I lost Dan too. At some point, you lose hope. Just wait a few years, and maybe you'll know what I feel."

"Why should I wait? As much as you think I don't understand, you know nothing about me." Naruto replied, staring into Tsunade's eyes intensely. Those light brown eyes widened, perhaps seeing something familiar in his own. "My Grandpa was the only blood relative I had. I had to watch him waste away, helpless to do anything. And just when I was starting to move on, the invasion happened. Gramps … was like family to me. I had to hold him while the life left him. His blood was on my hands. So, I can understand what you went through."

"I see." Tsunade bit out, an indecipherable emotion rendering her voice raw and scratchy. It wasn't quite angry; Naruto couldn't tell what emotion it was.

"Even if I hadn't experienced that, I've seen people more than a third your age deal with it a hell of a lot better." The Sannin narrowed her eyes, she looked as if she wanted to slug him. Given the brief glimpse of her strength he'd gotten, Naruto wasn't exactly eager to let her think on it too long. "You've heard of what happened to the Uchiha Clan, right?"

A little stunned–and most likely confused–Tsunade nodded. "Yeah, that prodigy Itachi killed everyone but his little sister. What about it?"

Naruto stared past her, losing himself in the cream color of the walls. He found his sharingan activating against his will, as he recalled the weeks after that night.

"My best friend Sasuki is Itachi's sister. I knew the family since before the massacre. She lost her entire family and clan in one night, worse, that bastard made her watch it with his sharingan. Repeatedly. It's a real nasty jutsu called Tsukuyomi that makes a single millisecond seem like an eternity." He saw the grim realization dawn in Tsunade. "That broke her, but she still had the strength to move forward. With a little help, she's finally opening up and growing. So, my point is, if kids like us can overcome those things and move on, a grown woman like yourself should be able to as well. You just missed the most important thing."

"Oh, and what's that?"

"It's simple. Don't let their deaths cripple you. Make them fuel. Shizune says you wanted to institute changes in procedure to make a medic a requirement on every team. If you really want change, the best way to get it is to make it yourself!"

Tsunade grabbed a bottle of sake from the bedside table, taking a deep draft and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "And how would you propose I do that?"

"Duh, that's obvious. You're gonna be Hokage. Any changes you wanna make, you can. If you wanna get that medical-nin program up and running, you can. I know my teammate Sakura would be thrilled to learn from you. She's been learning medical jutsu on her own and she's already using a chakra scalpel in battle."

The woman tried to hide it, but Naruto noticed an interested gleam in her eyes. For the first time ever, he began to feel as if he was making progress in convincing her to return. He spent quite a while sitting there and talking to Tsunade about the various parts of the medical establishments in the Leaf. He wasn't the most knowledgeable, but he'd heard Sakura talk about it enough to know the gist. By the end, he knew he had given her a lot to think about. Hopefully, it would help convince her to return.

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For the next couple of days, Naruto continued to work on his seal, allowing his clones to do most of the training. He could tell he was close to a breakthrough, on more than one front. Ever since waking up in their hotel room, Naruto had found himself speaking to Tsunade frequently.

He was sitting at the desk practicing his sealing. His Yin Yang balancing seal was nearly complete. With just a few tweaks, he could get it running.

So caught up in his work, he hardly noticed the hours that passed. It was only the growling of his stomach that alerted him to the fact that he hadn't eaten.

Eager to remedy that, Naruto decided to go up to Tsunade's room and see if Shizune was interested in grabbing a bite. He hadn't seen her since the morning the day before. When he knocked on the door, there was no answer. A casual scan of his senses revealed she wasn't in the room.

'Odd, I don't think I've seen her all day.'

Ultimately, he shrugged the odd occurrence off and went down to the bottom floor of the inn, where he ordered some Chirashizushi and a bowl of ramen. It wasn't as good as the Kintaku Lounge or Ichiraku's, but it was still tasty and filling.

By the time he got back to the room, Jiraiya still hadn't returned, though there was a note that must have been left by a messenger toad.

Going to have dinner with Tsunade.

She's acting oddly, extra tense, Though maybe that's just annoyance from me being around. Oh well. By the way, she mentioned Shizune is doing an errand out of town, so don't bother looking for her.

- Jiraiya

Naruto snorted in amusement. Setting the note aside, he got to work on his seal once more. With any luck, he could get closer to finishing it. An hour later, he sat his pen down with an exhausted sigh. A glance at the digital alarm clock showed it was past ten. Clicking off the lamp, he decided that would be all he got done for the day and turned in.

As he settled in his bed, he reflected on what had happened the past few days. Between Orochimaru's base, that odd feeling of being watched, and now Shizune being on this supposed errand, it was obvious there was something amiss in Tanzaku Town.

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What do you think? Originally this chapter was significantly different, it didn't feature Shizune at all. Next chapter the final confrontation will get kicked off as odd occurrences lead Naruto to have to go it alone and risk facing Orochimaru and Kabuto.

As always, I wanted to thank my patrons for supporting my work. Chapter 63 is out now on pa tre on along with the most recent chapter of Tangled Souls. See you next with a chapter of Tangled Souls on the 1st.

⸻ Patron Shoutout Wall ⸻

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Until Next Time,

RinneTaicho, Signing Off!