This took longer than I'd hoped. Hopefully I can get the next one out sooner.

burning dolphin: I'm thinking he might just take several smaller training trips instead of one three year one. But yeah, he'll definitely have a much better hold on Kurama's power than canon.

Goten Askil: Wait, what? Kushina's seal was so weak she couldn't leave a specific area? That makes no sense. Then how did Kumo capture her and almost take her back to their village when she was twelve? And how is it that no other Jinchuriki is known to have had that problem, including Killer and Blue B, the former is around her age and the latter a previous generation's Jinchuriki? Not to mention that Mito was still alive, meaning they had access to the Uzumaki sealing style, which is supposed to be the best, and she's explicitly stated to have special charka that makes restraining it easier?

... Nope, disregarding that. It's probably like Boruto and The Last and doesn't completely jive with the original canon.

I think I did a good job of balancing the Rinnegan with how much access Naruto had to its powers. I wouldn't even have given him all the path powers until partway through Shippuden, but yeah, I agree.

midnightscar17: I kinda agree, leaning towards he didn't mean to. He, and Iruka, wanted to treat him like a normal kid... but went too far with it and neglected to teach him all the things he needed to know as a Jinchuriki as a result. I think their hearts were in the right place, but...

Zen-Aku The Spirit Of The Wolf: Gotta disagree about the Body Flicker and Shisui's achievements. I saw a flashback that showed him fightning. I think what makes Shisui so noteworthy was that he 1) mastered the technique to the point that he could use it without hand signs. 2) Could use it continuously rather than in short bursts. And 3) could move so fast with it that he created solid, seamless afterimages that he could jump between so quickly that he could attack with them. In the fight, he backflipped, and without any gestures, seemed to split in midair into several copies of himself. Anyone who didn't know better or have a dojutsu would think he was using a genjutsu or some odd clone technique. The Raikage, A's speed is stated to be a variant of Body Flicker enhanced with lightning chakra, it makes him the fastest living ninja, and even he can't make afterimages.

I hope I do him justice, though in my current plans, he's kinda going to take a back seat. I feel like, after his plan for Konoha and Tsunade went so poorly, he'd bide his time and let the villages and Akatsuki duke it out, but there will be signs throughout that letting Orochimaru cook is a terrible idea, and when one of them really looks at what he's up to...

DarkbladerX666: Yeah, it's canon. That said, I think it's stated in canon that Suna produces high quality ninja. Which does make sense, not everyone wants to be a kage, and there's a strong sense of duty to the village in ninja. Suna's problem is that their Daimyo decided he wanted the absolute best, and so started outsourcing his business to Konoha, putting Suna in dire straits financially... Which is dumb, because what would he do if the village went bankrupt? Konoha can't defend two nations in times of crisis, and their first duty would be to their land.

Constant Reader: Thanks for the advice.

For sticking to canon... I've always preferred stories that gradually veer away from canon as things continue, rather than radically changing things. I try to leave things that wouldn't be affect by the ripple effect as is, until things go completely off the rails of canon, and they eventually will. I am however ok with adapting things that were later introduced and clearly not thought of at the time of previous arcs, or introduced in filler/movies, hence Fuu's involvement. Rest assured, the story will diverge more and more as it goes on.

I have tried to limit myself on perspectives, mostly to Naruto, Fuu, Sasuke and Sakura, and dipping into someone else's when I feel its kinda important, or comical, to do so. I'll think on it. I was planning on this being an extremely long fic...

Guest: Gotta be honest, while I agree about the Pain fight and the conversation between them... yeah, besides that, looking at his actions and ideals I can't say I like Pain anymore either...

And the less said about Obito, the better.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

As smoke and the sounds of quiet bursts filled a clearing, Naruto placed a hand on his head while he swayed on his feet. He reached his hand out and leaned against a nearby tree as he fought his clone's exhaustion. The sky was colored orange by the setting sun as his training wound down.

After his run-in with Akatsuki, he stepped things up a notch. He increased the number of clones to seventy and wracked his brain for ways to get stronger. He thought he'd hit upon a good idea, though he'd have to thank Lee for inspiring him later.

He took a deep breath as he steadied himself. The blonde took out his canteen and drank, quenching his thirst and soothing his weariness.

"Pretty good progress, brat," Jiraiya said, leaning against a tree with his arms crossed. He shook his head with a smirk. "It still amazes me no one thought of this sooner... Anyway, let's head back to camp. The stew should be ready by now."

"You got it, Jiraiya-sensei," Naruto replied as the Toad Sage turned, motioning for him to follow. The blond quickly caught up with him.

He frowned as his mind turned to all the reasons he needed to be stronger. Orochimaru and the Akatsuki. As he thought through his encounters with them, it reminded him that he had a long way to go.

Though, he couldn't help but think how odd that brief showdown with Akatsuki was. They couldn't have thought of something better than knocking on his door and waiting for him to answer. And he really should have been done for the moment he opened the door and made eye contact with Itachi. He knew from his spars with Sasuke that there had been plenty of time to use those Sharingan to take him out.

'They probably didn't think I was worth more than that, Bastards...' Naruto thought. Oh well, their loss, and he was going to make them pay for it.

"Welp, here's our first stop," Jiraiya said, crossing his arms as they looked down on the city below, resting at the bottom of a valley. "From what I know, at least, this should be where Tsunade was headed. Hopefully, we can pick up the trail."

"Whoa..." Naruto was only half listening. He gripped the railing as he took in the town below. It was similar to Konoha in style, but what enthralled him was the festival in full swing. Two rows of stands stood at the center of the main road, and countless people filled the street. Paper lanterns hung from strings that crisscrossed along the buildings, waiting for nightfall.

The Uzumaki's eyes shined with excitement, and he grinned widely. He'd never been to a festival before! Konoha had had a few, but... well, he'd stayed indoors. He hadn't been welcome. He couldn't wait to get down there and enjoy the sights! He was sure that they could spare a little time, right?

It was a shame his team wasn't here with him. Sakura would probably be almost as excited as him, but she'd try to act responsible. Sasuke would be dragged to the stalls when he'd rather walk and take things in. Fuu, too. The blond was sure she'd love this. It'd probably be a first for her, too.

He heard Jiraiya chuckle briefly and turned. "Alright, kid. I can see you're chomping at the bit. Run along and have fun. I know where to start looking. And don't worry—I'll keep my eyes peeled for anyone in a certain black and red cloak if you get my meaning. Just don't burn yourself out; we'll pick up your training tonight, got it?"

Naruto blinked, then grinned. "You got it, old man!"

And with that, he jumped over the railing, bounding down the stairs and cliff wall into the crowd below.

Jiraiya chuckled and shook his head. Yep, he could see a lot of Kushina in Naruto. Though there were also some shades of his father there.

He then bit his thumb and put his hand on the ground, summoning a small orange and black toad. "Keep an eye out on the kid, ok?" he said, pointing down at Naruto, who was barely a speck, but his blond hair and orange tracksuit were still clear as day.

It croaked an affirmative before following him. The Toad Sage nodded to himself. That and a few clones he'd sent out earlier should do it. He didn't think Akatsuki would try again anytime soon, but he couldn't be too careful.

He'd thought about taking the kid's wallet. It wouldn't do to let the blond blow through all his money, not to mention he might need some spending cash that he could pay back sometime later, but the brat had done a pretty good job with Zabuza's bounty, thanks to the Kakashi's advice. That argument would fall flat.

The Toad Sage grinned. "Now then..."

Naruto's eyes shined with excitement as he ran through the busy streets, his eyes roaming the stalls. He took it all in with a wide grin: the colors, the laughter, the game stalls, and the delicious smells of all the food on display, which mingled in the air. He came to a stop near the center, fists balled in excitement as his head turned to and fro.

There were so many choices! He could play the games, look for souvenirs for Sakura, Sasuke, and Kakashi, or try all the food stalls. Oh, and they had festival masks! If you squint, they almost look like some ANBU masks. It was all so new to him, and he was going to make the most of it.

His roaming eyes spotted a ball scooping game, and he ran to it. No better time to get started!

Hours later, Naruto laughed and laughed, one hand resting on the red and white fox mask that lay on the side of his hair and carrying a bag of goodies. They should probably ban ninjas from playing these games; they were way too easy, but that did nothing to dampen the joy of winning!

Hell, he didn't even have to spend anything! He'd decided to try his luck at a lotto game they'd been running and won on the first ticket! If only his friends would have been there, this would have been one of his best days. It was still up there, but it was a shame that he was alone.

He wondered how the Toad Sage was doing. The old man should have joined him by now, or so he thought. Well, what Jiraiya was doing was important. Naruto hoped he'd have some idea of where they should go next when they finally meet up.

He held that thought as his stomach rumbled. It was time to fill up on festival food. He followed the smells and sounds of sizzling to a Takoyaki stand helmed by a man in his mid-fifties. "Hey, gramps! Give me three helpings of Takoyaki!"

"Sure thing. Just three?"

"Eh, let me see how they taste first," Money was exchanged, and Naruto had his food. He took the first bite and hummed at the taste as he bit down on the savory treat.

The Uzumaki sighed as he lay under a tree just outside the village, patting his full stomach. He'd sampled so many different foods and gotten more than his fill.

He sat up and stretched before looking at the sky. It had to be at least Four from where the sun was. Only a few more hours and the night would start to fall. He was a little disappointed, but it looked like it was about time to draw things to a close.

Just one problem.

Naruto crossed his arms and closed his eyes, humming before looking to the sky. "Now, how am I going to find the old man?"

They hadn't set a meeting place, and he had no idea where Jiraiya went. He could probably wait for the Sannin to find him, but he wanted to know if the legendary ninja had found anything and maybe hang out for a while. All this wasn't as fun alone.

With all of his prizes and souvenirs save for his fox mask stored away in a scroll, he rose to his feet and decided to search for Jiraiya. He decided to take his time and not use his clones. There were still more sights to see. Besides, the town wasn't that big.

Not much later, the blond was walking down one of the still-busy streets with his hands behind his head when a familiar voice reached his ears. He blinked. "Huh? Isn't that the old sage's voice?"

The blond's eyes then narrowed. "Sounds like someone's having a good time. Isn't he supposed to be looking for clues about Tsunade?"

He peeked into a nearby bar... and found Jiraiya sitting back at one of the stalls with a girl in each of his arms. Naruto stepped inside and walked up to the white-haired man, who grinned at him as he reached for a cup of sake. "Well, well, look what the cat dragged in. How's it going? Enjoying yourself?"

"I could ask you the same question..." the blond said, taking in the sight before him. Ok, he was kind of jealous of him for being between these two, but... "So, how'd your search go?"

"Huh, seach? What's he talking about, Mr. Jiraiya?" One of the girls asked.

"Eh, it's nothing to worry about. Do I look like someone who doesn't have all their ducks in a row?" Jiraiya asked, laughing uproarously. He then held out a key for Naruto. "I got us a room in an inn. It's the only one against the canyon wall back where we first got here, and you can't miss it. Just show them this key. I'll join you tonight, ok? Until then, have fun. I know I will!"

Naruto sighed and took the key. "Yeah, yeah, whatever..."

Well, back to the festival, he guessed.

The sky was starting to turn when Jiraiya finally joined him in their room, holding a plastic. The blond was sitting on his futon, reading through a book on sealing jutsu with a few test drawings scattered around him. "Hey, kid. Good to know I don't have to go looking for you."

"Same here," Naruto said with a slight grumble. "So, I take it we'll have to pick things up tomorrow?"

Jiraiya waved him off with a grin as he walked into the room and sat on his futon right next to Naruto's. "Nah, I got what I needed. Tsunade was last headed northeast east of here. I know a little place that's rotten with gambling dens; that's gotta be where she's headed." Naruto could only blink in shock, and the legendary ninja's grin widened. "Know your quarry kid. Tsunade's half as bad with sake as she is with gambling... which is saying a lot. I knew if I mingled and asked around, I'd find out what I needed."

So... he'd actually been working back there? Sort of...?

Jiraiya chuckled. "We'll head out in the morning. And we'll spend the next few hours going over some more advanced seal formulas, but first..." He pulled out... a pair of popsicles. With a smile, he broke it in half and handed one to him. "Tell me, how was your first time at a festival?"

Naruto snapped out of his stupor with a smile of his own and exuberantly regaled him with his exploits. Many laughs were shared until he told him about the lottery.

"Huh. Well, color me impressed. And a bit jealous," Jiraiya said. Naruto laughed... until Jiraiya pointed his popsicle at him, looking serious. "But listen here, kid; don't ever mention that to Tsunade."

Naruto opened his mouth to ask why, then he remembered the 'Legendary Sucker' thing, and his mouth snapped shut.

However, that and all he'd learned about the woman did raise some questions. "So, why'd she leave Konoha, anyway?"

Jiraiya grimaced, looking a little pained. He sighed. "Not my story to tell, kid. I will say that she didn't wait long after the last Ninja World War ended. Make of that what you will."

Naruto sucked in a breath, then looked down at the floor. Yeah, that painted a pretty clear picture.

Jiraiya closed his eyes. "I can't say how she might have changed over the years, but I hope she's in a better state than she was when she left, especially with what I have to ask her."

Naruto looked up and blinked. "Huh? You mean, there's more than just asking her to help out?"

"Oh boy, is there," Jiraiya replied with a smirk. Naruto got the feeling that he was anticipating his reaction. "The old man wanted her to be the next Hokage if something happened to him."

Naruto didn't disappoint. "WHAT!?"

"You still in shock, kid?" Jiraiya asked as he eyed Naruto. The pair were walking down a dusty trail towards their next stop.

The revelation that Tsunade was supposed to be the next Hokage had completely thrown Naruto for a loop. It wasn't too surprising, really. It was his life's dream, even if he was only recently starting to really get what it meant.

But that only made him more driven about this. He crossed his arms, shaking his head with his eyes closed. "Sorry if I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how someone who hasn't been in the village since before I was born could be the next Hokage." He said, sarcasm and frustration practically dripping from every word.

"I get that she's been going through some stuff, but come on! Plus, we're trusting someone who gambled their whole clan's inheritance away with the most important job in the village!"

Jiraiya gave a suffering sigh. He then shrugged and said, "Yeah, I see your point. But trust me, she knows how to handle herself when she has responsibilities. Keep in mind this is how she is when she doesn't have any."

Naruto grumbled, still not entirely happy about her replacing Old Man Hokage. He couldn't help but wonder if Konoha had changed since she was away. Had she ever checked up on her home? He couldn't imagine not at least keeping his ear to the ground if it was him, and he'd have come running if something like the invasion went down and he hadn't been there.

"Well, you better hope she accepts," Jiraiya replied in a tone that screamed, "I know something you don't, and I can't wait to see your face". Naruto cracked open to see he was smirking at him.

"And why's that?"

"Because the Old Man's next choice was Kakashi."

"EH!?" Naruto gaped and came to a dead stop, and Jiraiya chuckled at him. The blond shook himself out of his shock and then pointed at the sage. "Wait, what about you?"

Jiraiya crossed his arms, tilted his head, and closed his eyes. "Me? He asked me to take the seat, but I turned him down."

Naruto's mind shut down. For a moment, he just gaped at the Sannin. Not a single thought ran through his head as he processed that... then, "WHAT? What the hell, old man!? He wanted to name you Hokage and you turned him down!? What were you-?"

"Geez, calm down, brat," Jiraiya cut him off. "I get that it's a big deal to you, but not everyone dreams of wearing that hat, you know." He closed his eyes. "I know I never did."

"But..." Well, he had a point. Naruto searched for a response for a moment. "Wouldn't it have been better for the village if you agreed? I mean, you're one of our strongest ninjas, aren't you? And we don't have a leader right now."

"Yeah, I am. And I've always felt that I could do more good for the village in the field." He shrugged, waving one hand. "Think about it, kid. Let's say I did take him up on the offer. Then I'd be stuck in that tower most of the time. I can't go out and about gathering information or fighting Konoha's enemies before they become a problem. Sure, I could still handle my information network, but not as well if I can't personally go out and meet people."

Jiraiya looked pointedly at the blond and said, "Take this situation, for example. Part of why I didn't come back to Konoha to check up on you. It's because I found out Akatsuki was after the Biju years ago, and I was hoping to find out all I could about them or even nip this in the bud, partly because I knew they'd be coming for you." Naruto was startled at that and could only gape at him. "You know, this wasn't the first time the Old Man tried to get me to take up his seat. The last time was after the Kyuubi attack. If I'd taken him up on the offer, then we may not have known about Akatsuki."

"Then there's other aspects of the job. Having to be someone everyone looks up to and aspires to be. I do plenty of that as the Legendary Jiraiya of the Sannin." He said his name and title with a flourish. He then ticked off his next point with his fingers. "Having the most important matters of diplomacy fall on your shoulders. Sure, other ninjas like myself handle that from time to time, but the big stuff when Kage's meet? Not my strong suit, and screwing up there can break an alliance or even cause a war. And above all, I happen to like my freedom. Like I said, this isn't the first time he asked me. I've had a long time to think of all the reasons why it's just not for me."

Naruto took in Jiraiya's explanation and then looked down at the ground in thought. The Toad Sage... made some good points. He... hadn't really thought of what being a leader would involve. Well, the obvious things like choosing who was best for what job, managing the village and inspiring people, sure. But diplomacy? Or the restrictions it would put on him?

"... Kid, let me ask you something. Why do you want to be Hokage?"

"Huh?" Naruto looked up and blinked. "Well... you know how people treated me because of... well...?" Jiraiya nodded. "The Old Man kept most people from really doing anything... but they made sure they knew I wasn't welcome. Most of them would ignore me." He then looked up confidently. "So I decided I'd be Hokage, so they have no choice but to acknowledge me."

"..." Jiraiya was silent for a moment, then he said. "If that's the case, forget it."

"... What?" Naruto then became living. Balling his fist and glaring at the Sannin. "What the hell, old man!? You think I can't pull it off!?"

Jiraiya shook his head. "Not what I meant, kid. In fact, quite the opposite." That took the wind out of his sails. Jiraiya paused for a moment, then kneeled and put his hand on Naruto's shoulder. "Naruto... I can see a lot of your parents in you... and even besides that, I can see the makings of someone great. Hell, you're already making a name for yourself, even if you didn't know it."

Naruto blinked again, and Jiraiya smirked. "Don't think your showdown with Gaara went unnoticed. You and your friends were the talk of the town."

Naruto frowned. "Then..."

Jiraiya interrupted him. "But see, that's the thing. They don't offer the position to just anyone. You've got to be known to be one of the best of the best just to be considered. Every ninja who became Hokage, and everyone who got the offer like me, were already renowned ninjas or heroes." He looked him in the eyes. "The Hokage didn't get acknowledged by becoming Hokage; they became Hokage because they'd already been acknowledged."

Naruto could only stare, speechless. He'd never thought of it that way.

"If all you want is acknowledgment... you'll already have it by the time you get the offer." Jiraiya stood. "So think hard about why you want to be Hokage."

Naruto was silent for a few moments before a question came to mind. "... Why... did my dad want to be Hokage?"

Jiraiya chuckled fondly, cupping his chin and looking wistfully in the distance. "Believe it or not, both of your parents wanted to be Hokage for reasons that weren't too different from yours when they were your age."

Naruto's eyes shot wide as he looked up at the legendary ninja, who continued to look off into the distance. Into the past, the blond realized.

"Kushina... no one knew her secret, but she always felt like an outsider, even though she had people who loved her. She wanted to be Hokage to get acceptance and recognition. As for your father... he wanted to be the best. Not known as the best, the best. Kushina tried to butt heads with him a lot over it, but he always just let it slide off him. Even encouraged her to race to the position, threw her for a loop, I'll tell you." He chuckled.

He closed his eyes. "But by the time they'd grown up... Kushina found what I'd told you. She'd made a name for herself. Had friends, respect, and love... she had everything she'd wanted out of being Hokage and more, so she stopped chasing that dream. As for your father... He wanted to be Hokage because he dreamed that one day, all the villages would understand each other and put aside their differences, and we'd have the peace the First Hokage dreamed of when he built Konoha with his brother and Madara. For that to happen, someone had to inspire people to want the same and forge bonds with the leaders of other nations. He wanted to be that person."

Jiraiya looked off into the distance again, his expression almost unreadable beyond a hint of sorrow. "... I think he could have done it... had things been different."

Naruto took all that in, his emotions and thoughts swirling around inside him as he looked to the ground, imagining his parents and his own dream.

A minute passed before Jiraiya decided to break the silence. "Come on, we've gotta get to the next town. We can't let the trail go cold."

Naruto watched him walk by. He followed after a few seconds, lost in his thoughts.

"So, this is the place, huh?" Naruto asked as they stood at the entrance to another city. It was bigger than the last one, and there was nothing really out of the ordinary about it. It was kind of like Konoha without the wall.

"Yep. Hopefully, we can pick up the trail here," Jiraiya told him. He then walked on, motioning for the Kyuubi Jinhcuriki to follow. "Come on, I know a place. Just the sort of spot Tsunade would look for."

As they walked along the village, Naruto's eyes were focused on the ground. The sage noticed this and said, "Still thinking about what we talked about?"

Naruto looked up before his eyes trailed back down. "Yeah. Not sure how I feel right now."

Normally, the blond would have been eagerly taking in the sights, but right now, his mind was on his parents and his dream.

"Eh, take your time. You've still got a long way to go before you can fulfill your dreams either way, and a lot to learn. But that's what being a kid's all about. Just don't let it drag you down. This time won't last forever..." He then grimaced. "And you might need to grow up fast with Akatsuki on the loose. Though the same can be said for kids unlucky enough to grow up in wartime..."

Naruto cringed as he was reminded of the whole mess with Suna. There was so much up in the air right now...

Jiraiya noticed his reaction and turned a raised brow at him. "Something wrong?"

"Nothing I didn't already know about..." The blond murmured. He looked up at the Sage worriedly. "Hey, Jiraiya-sensei... how do you see things playing out with Suna?"

The legendary ninja had seen a lot. Maybe he'd know something to put his mind at ease... or give him reason to brace himself.

He was surprised when Jiraiya smiled. "Oh, is that what you're worried about? Heh, don't be. I get the feeling that'll work itself out before long."

Naruto blinked. "Wait, what? How do you figure that?"

"Because I know my old teammate," Jiraiya said, his tone taking on a darker note. He looked back at the Jinchuriki with an unreadable expression. "Kinda odd how the Kazekage never showed his face during their invasion. Things probably wouldn't have gone as well as they did for us if they had another ninja of that caliber on their side."

Naruto was perplexed by that. "Huh? What are you talking about? He was right there with the Old Man!"

"Oh, right. You were gone by then... yeah, that wasn't the Kazekage. That was Orochimaru in disguise." The Uzumaki made a noise of surprise at that. "The real Kazekage was a no-show."

Naruto frowned. He looked to the ground, puzzling it out in his head. Yeah, he was right. He couldn't see the Old Man not being there for something that big. So why...

It took him several moments before his head shot up, "Wait, you mean?"

Jiraiya nodded grimly. "More often than not, when Orochimaru impersonates someone, he uses a specific jutsu. It's almost impossible to see through... but to use it, you have to kill the person you want to copy and steal their face. Literally. It's the same trick he used to sneak into the exams, I'm told." Naruto gaped at him. So back then... yikes. He'd never put much thought into how Orochimaru snuck into the Forest of Death.

Jiraiya continued, "Put that together with how he didn't show up to support his ninja... and chances are the Kazekage's long gone. Old snake face was probably pulling Suna's strings for a while now. And when they realize that, if they haven't already, they're going to want to bury the hatchet with us ASAP so they can focus on recovery... and payback. I can't say what they'll do or what the relationship between our villages is going to look like in the future, but I'm sure they'll at least want to cease hostilities for the time being."

Naruto took a moment to process that. He didn't need any more reminders that Orochimaru was one nasty piece of work. Still, that was one weight off his shoulders. He was glad war with Suna was off the table if the Toad Sage was right.

"And here we are," Jiraiya said, looking up. "The local gamblers love to spend their downtime in this place."

Naruto stopped and looked at the place. It looked like your average bar from the outside. He then turned back to the Sage, who was making a give me gesture at him.

"Ok, kid. I'm going to need you to hand over your wallet,"

Naruto blinked. "Wha... huh!?" Naruto took a step back, his eyes wide white circles as he quickly pieced together why Jiraiya would want his wallet outside a bar where gamblers gathered. "What the hell!? What do you need that for!?"

"I don't have any cash with me," Jiraiya replied, looking somewhat sheepish as he rubbed the back of his head with his free hand. "And these guys are hardcore gamblers. There's only one language they speak in."

"And how's that my problem!?"

Jiraiya shrugged. "Without their info, we'll have a much harder time finding Tsunade. But if you're ok with spending a few extra weeks searching the Land of Fire..."

Naruto sputtered for a moment. "And what if you lose my money!?"

"I'll cut you a check," Jiraiya replied.

Naruto grumbled, biting his lip and thinking. Finally, he groaned and pulled out his frog wallet, stuffed near to bursting. "Fine, but this better be worth it!"

Jiraiya grinned. "Oh, don't worry about that!" And with that, he confidently strode in. Naruto haltingly followed, almost not wanting to see what might happen to his money.

The blond watched as Jiraiya showed a picture of a teenage Tsunade around until a man spoke up.

The man, dressed in a kimono with a short beard that framed his mouth, grinned. "I've seen her." That drew their attention. "I got quite the payout not too long ago, thanks to the lady..."


A slender, very curvy woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties threw open the door of the most illustrious gambling parlor in town. She wore a grass-green haori with the kanji for 'gamble' on the back over a sleeveless, gray kimono-esque blouse, closed low to show off cleavage, and matching pants with black ninja sandals. Around her neck was a simple necklace with a small green crystal. Trailing behind her was a woman with straight black hair that went down to her shoulders in a blueish-black with white trimmings. The black-haired woman looked worried, and it turned to near panic as the blonde slammed a briefcase full of ryo at the table.

'Wait, isn't that?' He wondered to himself.

"I want to turn all these into chips!" The woman said.

He grinned in anticipation, and all the other gamblers in the know mirrored his reaction.

Ten minutes later.

The woman stared down at the table, her eye twitching. She'd lost everything.

"Ha ha ha! YES! You are indeed the Legendary Sucker!"

(flashback ends)

Naruto gave the man a stare overflowing with mixed disbelief and dismay that this was who was going to be the next Hokage. Jiraiya had a similar expression; shoulders slumped slightly.

"She lost big again, did she? Lovely..." Sannin groaned. He then sighed and straightened himself up. "So, do you have any idea where she went?"

"Oh, I know. But how about we make this fun?" The man held up a pair of dice. "We play one round of Hancho. You win, I tell you, for free. I win; I'll take 3000 Ryo for the information."

A strangled sound left Naruto's throat, his eyes darting between the man and his sensei, who grinned confidently. "Heh, I figured as much..."

Five minutes later.

Naruto looked dejectedly at his now nearly empty wallet. He then looked up as Jiraiya waved a sheet of paper in front of him.

"Here," The Sannin said, before raising a brow at Naruto's shocked expression. "What, you think I was blowing smoke. Here's what I lost, plus a little extra."

Naruto took the check. Sure enough, it was made out for 3500 ryo. The blond sighed. At least he hadn't lost anything, but... he looked back at his empty wallet. 'There goes all my spending cash for the whole trip...'

"Welp, at least we know where to go. Next stop, Tanzakugai!" Jiraiya said.

"Yeah, yeah..." Naruto grumbled, giving his wallet one last glance before putting the check in and shoving it in his pocket with a sigh.

... At least Jiraiya kept his word about paying him back...

That night, they stopped in a small inn in the middle of the road. They'd be in Tanzakugai by noon tomorrow.

"Alright, kid. I hear you managed to learn the Shadow Clone Jutsu in one night. Pretty good. Let's see if that talent extends to other jutsu." Jiraiya said, sitting on the futon across from him with a grin. "Tonight, I'll be teaching you an original jutsu from the Legendary Jiraiya!"

"Really? Awesome! What have you got for me, Jiraiya-sensei!" Naruto could barely contain his excitement.

Jiraiya chuckled, putting one hand on his chin while grinning as if reliving past glory days. "It's a jutsu I developed when I was about your age. It's called Transparent Escape. It's one of a handful of techniques that render the user invisible to the naked eye."

"Invisible?" Naruto trailed off before laughing as close to sinisterly as he could. Oh, he could think of a lot of uses for that! In and out of battle. The pranks he could pull...

If he could paint the Hokage Monument without that trick, what could he get up to with it?

Jiraiya laughed uproarously. "Oh yes, you wouldn't believe how valuable that ability is! Oh, how many times I was able to sneak into the women's baths! Tsunde was the only one who ever caught me."

Naruto froze, blinked, and then gave the Sage an unimpressed look. "... Wait, you made this technique... so you could peek into the women's baths?"

Jiraiya nodded proudly with his eyes closed. "Yep, and it worked perfectly."

Naruto wasn't sure he had room to say anything when he used to use the transformation jutsu the same way. Or tried to, anyway. He was glad he put that behind him. Mainly because he got the distinct feeling his parents would not have been too impressed with that, not to mention it probably wasn't a good look for someone who wanted to be Hokage. Still...

'I know I used to do things like this, but I was never proud of it...' Naruto thought disparagingly, giving the sage an irritated, half-lided gaze. Well, he'd been proud of how his Sexy Jutsu, which would never see the light of day again, could knock people flat, but besides that...

... Although, if it was as effective as he said, maybe he could...

Suddenly, a chill ran down his spine. An image seared itself into his mind, so clear he could almost see it. His father, arms crossed and looking at him in disappointment... and his mother...

She had one tightly clenched fist raised with violence clear in the way it trembled. Her eyes were white pits of rage as her hair whipped around her head like nine tails-

Nope! He screwed his eyes shut, still somehow feeling like their gaze was upon him. A solemn promise to himself to make his parents proud banished the heart-wrenching/stopping image.

... Well, it was still a really useful jutsu.

Jiraiya didn't notice annoyed, then thoughtful, then terrified looks that flashed across the blond's face with his eyes closed. Finally, Naruto settled back on his unimpressed look and said, "Seriously? So, you were a little pervert, huh?"

"Oh, I was never a 'little' pervert. I was a big one!" Jiraiya replied eagerly.

... He might have lost a bit of respect for him just now if he didn't know he'd earned his reputation. Naruto's eye twitched, "Got it, Pervy Sage."

Jiraiya looked affronted. "Huh? What did you call me?"

"Well, if you're that proud about it..."

"Hey! I may wear it on my sleeve, but that title isn't the least bit respectful! I am the Gallant Jiraiya, you know!"

Naruto crossed his arms, his expression not changing. "I call 'em like I see 'em."

Jiraiya grumbled, giving the blond a dirty look. "You're lucky you're my student and your father's son, so I'll let this slide."

"Yeah, sure..." Naruto replied before silence fell.

The blond watched as Jiraiya began to pull scrolls out of his pouch, planning on what they'd work on, leaving the Kyuubi Jinchuriki with his thoughts. Aside from what just happened, the Sannin had been a great teacher and had done right by him since he showed up. He bet he hadn't taught many other people his technique. He got that that was a big deal... and it made Naruto feel a bit bad that he hadn't told Jiraiya something big.

"Hey, Jiraiya-sensei," He said, fully serious. That might be the last time he called him that before he settled on Pervy Sage. Jiraiya looked up and immediately got that this was something heavy.

"Got something to tell me, kid?"

"Yeah... I probably should have said something sooner. I mean, I told Kakashi-sensei, but..." After a moment, he told Jiraiya about what exactly happened the first time he encountered the Kyuubi and what he'd said during the battle with Shukaku. The Sannin was mostly silent throughout the explanation, asking questions once in a while, but for the most part, he took it all in, his expression hard as stone as he thought through the implications.

Afterwards, Jiraiya was silent, looking at the floor in thought. After a moment, he said, "Ok, first off, I WISH you'd told me this sooner, but I get it. I wasn't there when I should have been, so it took time for you to really open up to me. I'm glad you could tell me now, at least."

"So, what do you think? What does the Kyuubi want?" the blond asked. That had been weighing on his mind for a long time.

"Haven't a clue. I can say this much: from what little Kushina told me, he was never even remotely this cooperative with her."

"What are the Biju anyway?" Naruto asked.

"No one really knows," Jiraiya answered. "They're known as living calamities, demons that have plagued mankind for eons. If anyone ever knew, that knowledge was lost a long time ago thanks to the Warring Clan's era."

"That's all?" Naruto asked.

"That's the best answer anyone could give. I can say this: the Biju aren't like any other demons I know of besides the havoc they wreak. Demonic chakra is... different from theirs, and if you kill a demon, it stays dead. Maybe they're something special among them... or maybe they're something else altogether. Pretty sure only the Biju themselves could give any more details, and they aren't talking."

There was a pause before Jiraiya continued. "Normally, I'd say don't listen to anything it said, but..."

"You think I should? But be careful?" Naruto gathered and said slowly.

Jiraiya nodded. "Don't trust it," he warned. "Don't ever drop your guard with it, but yeah." After another moment, he said, "You're probably wondering why, right?" Getting an affirmative, he continued with his eyes closed. Well... my reasons go back to that fateful night."

Naruto stiffened. He didn't need any further hints as to what night the Sannin was talking about.

"There are a lot of things about it that don't add up," Jiraiya said, then he gave the genin an appraising eye. "Tell me something, kid. Put yourself in your father's shoes. Your wife's the Jinchuriki, and she's about to give birth. You know what that'll do to the seal. What do you do?"

Naruto was surprised to be put on the spot like that. His immediate answer was that he'd be there to make sure that didn't happen, but clearly, the Sage was looking for more than that. Not to mention that he knew how bad it could go if things went wrong...

"Well, I'd be there to fix it, of course. And I'd probably put a barrier around or do it outside the village just in case..." He trailed off, his eyes widening. Wait a minute, if he could think of that, then...

Jiraiya looked pleased. "Very good. Now, you're probably wondering why they didn't do something along those lines when you were born." Naruto nodded. "That's the thing; they did."

Naruto was caught short by that. "Uh... what?"

"Yeah, when it was time for you to come into the world, Kushina was taken to a site outside the village. So far, you couldn't even see it in the distance."

Naruto stared, at a loss for words, as he tried to puzzle through the implications.

"We can't say we know everything the Biju are capable of, but one thing I can say for sure: they do not have any abilities related to time-space. Even if everything went wrong, it should have been impossible for the Kyuubi to appear in the heart of the village, and yet..." He trailed off.

After letting that hang in the air for a moment, he continued. "And that's not all. It should come as no surprise that I came back home after the attack, got all the details that I could, and here's something else that struck me as odd. Minato showed up to defend the village not long after the attack began, just as expected. He used a barrier to protect Konoha from one of the Kyuubi's attacks... then he disappeared. He didn't show up again until AFTER the Kyuubi had been forced out of the village by the Third and our ninja... then he ended it. I can tell you, with his Hiraishin, it wouldn't have taken him too long to get you and your mother to safety so that we can count that out, so where was he?"

He gave Naruto a few seconds to absorb that information. "So, we've got three questions," The sage summarized, holding up three fingers. "How'd it happen? How did the Kyuubi appear in the heart of Konoha? And where was your father for most of the attack? But there's one more thing..."

Naruto braced himself. Jiraiya's last words were gravely weighted, and Naruto felt this last bombshell would be the biggest. "What is it?"

"Most didn't think much of this, for obvious reasons... but some of the people I asked said the Kyuubi appeared from a giant cloud of smoke."

Naruto let out a strangled sound and gaped, staring as he processed that. That sounded like...

"Not so well-known fact, but a summoning contact for the Kyuubi does exist. Madara forced him to make it when he had control of him." Jiraiya informed him, seemingly offhandedly, and Naruto reeled back at the implications. "I can't help but wonder... is this new behavior its latest ploy for freedom... or... does it have something to do with whatever happened that night?"

As if that wasn't enough to send a chill down Naruto's spine by itself, he heard the Kyuubi chuckle in the back of his mind.

"So don't trust it, but pay attention to every word... because he's probably the only one left who knows exactly what went down all those years ago. And if it has something to do with his change in behavior... well, I've already put enough on you, I think, but let's say that there might be something worse on the horizon."

Naruto gulped at the thought. After a moment, he nodded, his brow furrowed deeply. "Got it. I'll be careful."

So, Jiraiya aired his suspicions... I'd say much earlier than canon, but IIRC he never actually told Naruto any of that...

One of the friends I showed this chapter was a bit confused about the demon thing. Reminder, demons do exist in the Narutoverse. There's Moryo and the Reibi, and Itachi's stated to have killed one while he was still a Konoha ninja. I feel like Jiraiya would have to have some experience with them if Itachi does, and would notice the differences between them and the Biju.

Also, I couldn't resist the Legendary Sucker bit. Had be cracking up the first time I heard that as a kid. Misremembered it a bit, that gambler wasn't the one who almost took JIraiya's money, but, eh, I like what I got here, so I'm keeping it this way.

Kinda feel bad about having Jiraiya take a part of Itachi's words to Naruto, but I think it's odd that he heard that from Itachi. Besides, I think it serves him better to hear it earlier. Make him think more on why he wants to be Hokage, and learn more about his parents. Plus, from his godfather.

Please review.