Insert disclaimer here

Blah Blah Blah basic text (i.e. description, speech, etc)

Blah Blah Blah Thought or some transaction within someone's mind

Blah Blah Blah Kyuubi talking Jutsu will also be bold

BLAH BLAH BLAH yelling or emphasis of some sort


Naruto of the Nine Tails

Rated M for language, violence, adult content, and graphic imagery


Chapter 29: Double and Nothing

Tanzukagai…

"You are certain she is not in the city?" Orochimaru demanded, glaring down at the kneeling Kabuto.

"No sir," his spy answered.

"She can't have worked her way through the gambling dens that quickly," the snake summoner murmured, glaring at nothing in particular. "The last job she did was rather lucrative. Even Tsunade-hime doesn't lose that quickly."

"She won, actually," Kabuto corrected.

That gave Orochimaru pause. "What?" he demanded, his voice a low hiss as he slowly turned to fix his subordinate with a piercing stare.

A weaker man would have quailed under the weight of Orochimaru's gaze. Kabuto? Kabuto simply delivered his report with practiced ease. "According to the men I questioned, she had quite the winning streak," he explained. "Apparently, she cleaned out three Cho-Han dens before stopping to go drinking."

"What else?" the Sannin pushed.

Kabuto was at a loss. "My lord?"

"What else have you heard?" Orochimaru inquired. "Mysterious strangers? Unexplained disappearances? Fire? Floods? An infestation of fluffy, oddly endearing but disastrously fast breeding vermin?"

"Oddly-fast-What?!"

"We had an eventful career together," Orochimaru explained with a dismissive shrug. "The point is that Tsunade-hime rarely wins any kind of wager these days. When she does it is regularly followed by some form of calamity," he explained.

Kabuto blinked owlishly. "Um… nothing especially out of the ordinary, my lord. Some of my contacts reported other ninja in the area but that's fairly normal for a city of this size?" Larger settlements like Tanzukagai were ideal for resupplying and collecting information or packages they were to transport. Not only were they more likely to have the resources the ninja were looking for but the hustle and bustle went a long way to obscuring their movements.

Orochimaru gave a thoughtful hum. He had hoped to enlist Tsunade's services for several of his projects but… "Exactly how much did she win?" he asked, his gaze raking over the city in search of anything out of place.

"I didn't get an exact number," Kabuto explained. "But, apparently, one of the den owners was owed a favor by the Yakuza that she was in debt to and bargained to get her debt forgiven rather than pay her what she had won."

Orochimaru's brow inched toward his hairline. That was not an insignificant sum by any measure. "That is… unfortunate," he mused. The scale of the calamity was generally proportional to how much she won. If she was winning and nothing had gone up in smoke yet…it might behoove him to keep his distance for a while. "Come, Kabuto, we will revisit my old friend's involvement once the dust of her latest misadventure settles."

A decision he would bemoan for years to come once he learned what Tsunade's latest misadventure would lead to.


Meanwhile, on the Road to Damnation…

Wait-Damnit Tsunade! Konoha! On the road to Konoha!

Overdramatic, meddling lush…

Clopclop…Clopclop…

"Remind me again. Why are we riding in this stupid cart instead of just running home?" Sasuke groused, glaring up at the clouds like he was trying to light them on fire.

Clopclop…Clopclop…

"Lady Tsunade insisted that Naruto shouldn't be exerting himself," Hinata replied as she lazily carded her fingers through Naruto's hair.

Clopclop…Clopclop…

"But why?" Sasuke demanded. "If he hasn't dropped dead from moving around in the last few years, why would doing it now matter?"

Clopclop…Clopclop…

"Because the situation is unprecedented," Sakura answered, absently turning the page of the oversized medical textbook she was reading. "The fact that, according to her, he's been in a coma this entire time changes everything because the human body behaves differently in different states like consciousness, natural sleep, and unconsciousness, which is technically what she says we're dealing with. Hell, just being in certain moods can change how fast we heal or what chemicals are released in what quantities. This changes every diagnosis that anyone has ever made for Naruto's condition."

Clopclop…Clopclop…

Sasuke scowled. "I get that, but-"

Whap!

"Ow!" Sasuke cried, his head snapping forward from where Naruto's tail had reached out to swat him in the back of the head.

"Shushushu…" Naruto mumbled, half asleep as one of his tails wavered in the air like an agitated snake, ready to strike at the first sign of teenage angst. "No grumpy… lazy time now."

Hinata giggled. "And yay hath the spirit of truth spoken through him. Repent sinner and take your nap without questioning your good fortune," she joked, affecting her best impression of her clan elders.

Sakura gave a derisive snort.

Sasuke glared.

Naruto yawned.

Shizune sighed, staring pleadingly into the skies as she wondered what vengeful (as well as creative and dashingly handsome) deity she must have offended to be charged with babysitting a Team 7.

"He has a point you know," Jiraiya whispered to Tsunade, pitching his voice so that the kids wouldn't be able to hear him. "Nothing has really changed since the incident. Do we really need to be this cautious?"

"Has it?" Tsunade asked as she scanned through the medical journal she had borrowed from Sakura. Such a useful girl. And studious. And sassy. And so delightfully destructive. Almost made her want to take another student.

Jiraiya blinked. "What?"

"Has nothing changed?" Tsunade demanded, deigning to look up from her reading to fix him with a shrewd glare. "Nothing at all? He hasn't had bad days? No unexplained personality shifts? Or experienced physical changes?"

Jiraiya frowned, the image of Naruto with red hair contrasting with the much lighter shade he sported now. "I see what you mean," he allowed. "But all the cases I remember had something to do with outside interference? Like, Orochimaru using the Gogyo Fuin on him or when I released it."

"Doesn't matter," Tsunade argued. "You have evidence that his situation can change drastically and you don't know for sure what stimuli can cause what reactions. And that is ignoring that we don't know how any of this affects him. Until you can quantify which stimuli cause which reactions and what the fallout of those will be, the only meaningful thing you know is that it can happen and we don't know why. In a normal patient that would be worrying. In this patient, it could be catastrophic."

Jiraiya scowled. "You make it sound like I've been playing with a bomb."

Tsunade rolled her eyes. "You have been, you incomprehensibly stupid oaf," she grumbled. "You and sensei sent a sleepwalking (potentially brain-damaged) jinchuuriki with a cocked up seal and access to enough power to rewrite every map in circulation into active duty. You two did this with nothing but his gennin girlfriend and that traumatized Hatake brat to keep the situation from escalating. This is a level of idiocy that should be reserved for mischief spirits who are effectively immortal and literally can't understand the concept of consequences. How you and sensei haven't managed to get more people killed I will never know!"

"In our defense, we couldn't actually contain him," Jiraiya defended weakly.

"That doesn't mean you should actively encourage this-this lunacy!" Tsunade hissed, stabbing a finger at his chest. "That's like saying, 'Oh, it's okay because instead of playing with the exploding tags I poured lamp oil on the fire near the exploding tags!'"

"'Ruto is a good boy," Naruto grumbled, glaring blearily at Tsunade from his place in Hinata's lap.

"The best," Hinata agreed, patting his head.

"Yes yes yes," Tsunade replied, waving her hand dismissively. "We all know you are the most adorable example of demonic body horror, brat. Go back to your nap."

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune hissed, glancing nervously back at the unstable jinchuuriki.

Tsunade rolled her eyes and returned to her reading. "Relax, he seems to be more concerned with tone and intent than the actual words," she replied, waving her hand as if to physically brush her apprentice's concerns away. "I really needed to get that girl laid," she muttered under her breath. This level of stress retention was not at all healthy.

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune gasped, scandalized.

Tsunade groaned as her apprentice began visibly gearing up for what was sure to be a long-winded, well-thought-out admonishment of her teacher's behavior…

Whump!

When suddenly a strange man in a red and black cloak with an orange mask stylized into a large swirl pattern conveniently fell out of the trees and into the middle of the road in front of them in a transition that was not at all contrived to further the plot.

"Owie! Owie! Owie!" the strange man cried, vigorously rubbing his head as he rolled around in absolute agony… or perhaps he was just being dramatic. "Owie! Rude tree! Tobi is a good boy! He does not deserve such treatment!"

The party of Konoha ninja stared, dumbfounded.

"What the fuck?" Tsunade wondered, nonplussed.

"Hell if I know," Jiraiya muttered. "He's dressed like a member of the Akatsuki but… all of them are S-Rank criminals. This guy seems like he's ten rolls short of a dozen."

"So, he's acting?" Tsunade replied, warily. On the one hand, the ninja that relied on being underestimated were generally weaker in open combat. On the other, powerful ninja that favored deception were often some of the most dangerous because they tended to have unique approaches to combat.

"Or he's so absurdly powerful they let it slide," Jiraiya answered, echoing her thoughts as his eyes carefully scanned their surroundings. The very real possibility that it could be true was worrying.

"Eh?!" The man whipped around as if finally noticing them.

The entire Konoha party, sans Naruto who was still half-asleep, stared at him in confusion.

"Oh haiiiii!" the strange man called, waving enthusiastically at them.

"Is he serious?" Sasuke wondered bemusedly.

"No! I'm Tobi!" the man replied, somehow hearing Sasuke. "Sirius is from a different fandom. Tobi is a good boy and stays put, yes he does."

The gennin exchanged bewildered looks.

"So… he's insane?" Hinata suggested.

"Most likely," Sakura replied with a confident nod. "Honestly, if he falls like that often, I could make a serious case for brain damage."

"Really, I don't understand how you have lived this long," a voice drawled as a second, much larger figure walked casually out of the trees. "You are practically inviting people to kill you."

"Rude!" Tobi cried, pointing an accusing finger at the second, similarly dressed man.

Tsunade glanced at Jiraiya. "Is that…"

"Hoshigake Kisame?" Jiraiya replied with a frown as his eyes flicked between the two intruders. "Yeah, pretty sure. Which means that the other one is most likely legitimate as well."

Tsunade scowled, warily eying the two men. "Lovely," she drawled, sarcastically. "Think you can deal with the weirdo if I keep the shark boy on the back foot long enough?"

"What about your, uh, blood thingy?" Jiraiya whispered out of the corner of his mouth, careful never to take his eyes off their opponents.

Tsunade glared at him. "What kind of fucking idiot would a ninja have to be to walk around this world with untreated hemophobia, Jiraiya?"

Jiraiya shrugged. "I mean… someone who has trouble dealing with their issues and would rather runaway than face reality?" he suggested.

"Sounds like a contrived plot McGuffin from one of your books," she drawled, unconvinced.

"I don't suppose you'll just give us the Kyuubi?" Kisame drawled, looking bored. "You know, save everyone a lot of trouble? Save the tax payers on road repair?"

"You don't actually expect us to just let you take him, do you?" Jiraiya demanded incredulously.

The former member of the Seven Swordsman shrugged. "Not really, no," he replied. "But it was worth a shot. You never know when people might decide to be reasonable."

"He's got a strange definition of reasonable," Hinata growled under her breath as she climbed to her feet, rousing Naruto.

"But Tobi needs the Naruto!" the first nukenin whined petulantly. "Why can't he come out and play?"

"...Because we like him alive?" Sasuke suggested. Seriously, was this guy even real? There was no way someone like this could actually be dangerous, right?

Right?

"Kids, stay with Shizune," Tsunade ordered. "Jiraiya and I will take care of-"

"New friend!" Naruto cried happily as he bolted forward toward the Akatsuki members.

Jiraiya's eyes went wide. "Naruto, no!"

"Naruto!" Hinata cried, making to rush after him only for Shizune to grab her by the back of her jacket.

"WHAAAGH!" Tobi cried in absolute terror as Naruto came barreling toward him… only to pass harmlessly through him and tumble into the bushes. "No! No! Bad danger floof! You leave Tobi alone!"

Kisame palmed his face. "Why me?" he groaned, dragging his hand away in obvious frustration. "He's your target! Pull yourself together, damnit!"

"But Tobi gets-Wah!" Tobi started to say before letting out a startled yelp as Naruto leaped out of the foliage and hit him full force right between the shoulder blades, knocking the unprepared man flat on his face.

"You it!" the young jinchuuriki cried victoriously.

"Cheater! Tobi was distracted!" Tobi cried from the ground as he angrily shook the boy off him.

"Nyah!" Naruto taunted before taking off like a shot.

"Curse you, Danger Floof!" Tobi shouted, outraged. The next instant he was leaping to his feet with unnatural agility and tearing after the blond boy. "Tobi will not lose! No, he won't!" he cried, leaving a cloud of dust as he ran.

"Back off, shannaro!" Sakura roared as she brought her backpack down on the man with meteoric force, shattering the ground as it passed through him without any effect.

"Whoopwhoopwhoopwhoop!" Tobi taunted, running on unimpeded.

"Stay here!" Jiraiya commanded, rushing past Sakura. "Stay out of the way, these guys are beyond you!"

"Gods but he's embarrassing," Kisame sighed as he turned to face the rest of the group.

A long silence descended on the road as the remaining members of the party faced off against Kisame.

"Tell you what," Kisame sighed, breaking the silence. "I really don't see any benefit to fighting you. So, as long as no one tries to run off to play hero, I see no reason why we can't just all stand around nice and civil like."

Tsunade eyed him suspiciously. "That's… generous of you," she hedged. Because it was generous. Part of her that had spent half a lifetime around the Third Hokage and Orochimaru whispered insistently that it was too generous. It was the sort of trick Sannin would have used to divert their enemies' attention before striking from a position of strength.

Kisame shrugged, unconcerned. "Like I said, I don't really gain anything," he explained. "Best case scenario is that I kill you and the brats and maybe pick up a couple bounties. But I really don't give half a shit about money and don't really feel like taking the time to recover from tangling with Senju Tsunade. Way I see it? Just keeping you here gets the job done just fine."

Tsunade scowled angrily, but didn't move from her position.

"Tsunade-sama," Shizune hissed, aghast. "We aren't actually going to listen to him, are we?"

"Of course we are," Tsunade replied, never taking her eyes off of Kisame.

"But he's a criminal! And Naruto…"

"Naruto will be as safe as he can be with only one opponent and Jiraiya to fight with him," Tsunade argued. Jiraiya had mentioned that the Akatsuki always traveled in pairs. Here's to hoping they hadn't changed their pattern. "And unless you think the brats can survive being swept through the trees by a tsunami, we are all going to stay put," she added. Even as advanced as Hatake's brats were for their age, the likelihood of them getting seriously hurt or killed in one of the kinds area-of-effect attacks that the former member of the Seven Swordsmen was supposed to be fond of was too high. One on one, she could probably take him. However, the chances of her doing so while protecting four much weaker allies was astronomically low.

They would have to just wait and hope Jiraiya and the kid could deal with the man's partner.

KaBoom!

"Well, looks like they're having fun," Kisame mused conversationally as a ploom of smoke rose in the distance. "So, anyone know how to play Liar's Dice?"

Shizune groaned in utter despair.


Moments Ago…

"Get back here, Danger Floof!" the ninja from Akatsuki demanded as he sprinted after Naruto.

Naruto, for his part, blew a raspberry over his shoulder and continued to barrel through the underbrush like a possessed child on a caffeine high.

…Had anyone fed him caffeine recently?

"Damnit," Jiraiya hissed, struggling to catch up to the two. He was just about to reach them when Naruto took a wrong turn and the nukenin cut him off. 'Shit!' he cursed, silently beginning the seals to summon one of his toads.

Too late.

The man managed to reach Naruto before Jiraiya had finished even half his seals, his hand slapping loudly against Naruto's bare back. "You're it!" Tobi crowed, quickly bouncing off a tree and away from Naruto.

Jiraiya almost fell flat on his face in surprise, coming to a stumbling halt as he blinked owlishly down at the scene in front of him.

There were no explosions, no marks from a contact transfer seal. There were no signs of jutsu, no sudden changes in the atmosphere that an experienced ninja might associate with a more subtle technique. There wasn't even a handprint from where the man had struck the boy, he simply tagged him and took off into the trees cackling like a child who had wolfed down one too many sweets.

Naruto, for his part, simply gave a brief grunt of irritation at being caught before taking off after the S-Ranked (allegedly) criminal, apparently no worse for wear.

Jiraiya rubbed his eyes, sure that he was seeing things. "What in all the hells?" he wondered as nothing changed and the strange ninja proceeded to scamper through the forest, staying just out of Naruto's reach until…

He ran into a tree.

"Kai," Jiraiya muttered, flexing his chakra. Because he was convinced that he had been caught in some kind of genjutsu.

Because the Akatsuki ninja—Tobi?—hadn't run into the tree in the sense that he had collided with it. No. No, that would have been simple. This man had phased directly into the tree like it wasn't even there.

Considering that nothing had changed and Naruto was currently hitting the tree in clear agitation and with enough force to shake the area around them? Jiraiya was mostly convinced that the tree was real.

"Out!" Naruto ordered.

"Tobi will not! No, he won't," the man declared. His voice, though muffled, clearly coming from inside the tree.

"Cheater!" Naruto cried petulantly.

"Tobi is a good boy!" the strange ninja argued.

"Cheater! Come out!" Naruto insisted, smacking one tail agitatedly against the ground.

"Tobi will do no such thing!"

Naruto growled, showing far too many teeth as a clumsy rasengan started swirling in one of his hands.

KaBoom!

"Rude!" Tobi cried, pointing an accusing finger at Naruto as he escaped the absolute carnage of the boy's attack without a scratch.

Jiraiya's eyes narrowed, looking closer.

The man wasn't just unharmed.

"There's not even any dust on him," Jiraiya muttered, following closely as he carefully observed the man.

"Stay put!" Naruto shouted.

"Nevaaar!" Tobi replied, dodging under Naruto's outstretched hand before phasing through his grasping tails as he quickly and expertly reversed direction.

"Well, at least I'm not going crazy," Jiraiya muttered sardonically. He hadn't been sure before but now he was convinced that, somehow, this man could pass through solid objects.

The possible applications of such an ability terrified him.

What the hell kind of technique could do that? Clearly, it wasn't genjutsu and there was no way it was some kind of new ninjutsu. Minato had been a certifiable, once-in-a-generation genius and had been on the bleeding edge of Space-Time ninjutsu but the most he had managed was to improve the Nidaime's Hiraishin. Something on this level… there was no way any of the villages could have developed a technique like this and kept it quiet. There would have been some kind of evidence, there always was. Sometimes it was whispers of a new genius. There were always a few misplaced notes on research. And if someone had managed to keep it quiet there should have been unexplained disappearances of witnesses, scientists, or test subjects. There was always something.

There was nothing like this.

Nothing.

"Which means this is probably some kind of Kekkei Genkai," Jiraiya whispered. Possibly an emerging bloodline trait but most likely a mutation. That could be kept quiet easily enough without drawing attention. Unfortunately, it also meant that he had no idea how it could work or how to counter it. "Fuck me sideways," the sennin hissed, quickly running through the handseals for Kage Bunshin and forming a pair of clones.

He was going to have to be careful.

"Catch!" Naruto shouted, hurling a boulder at his opponent's head.

"Oi!" the man cried, letting the enormous stone phase through him.

In the moment that the Tobi was blind, Naruto changed directions, rushing to flank the man.

"That wasn't very…" Tobi stared dumbly at the spot where he had expected Naruto to be, "nice?"

The next instant, young jinchuuriki collided with the man's side. "Gocha!" Naruto crowed, sending his opponent stumbling before taking off again.

"Oi oi oi! Get back here!" Tobi demanded, recovering almost instantly.

Jiraiya's eyes went wide for a moment, thinking back to the first time Naruto had tagged the man. 'Whatever he's doing, it's conscious,' he realized, remembering how the man's back had been turned when Naruto had bowled him over. 'If he has to know he's in danger… I can work with that.'

"Haha! Victory is mine!" the nukenin crowed as he phased through a tree to cut off Naruto's escape.

"Get away from him!" the first Jiraiya clone shouted, aiming a rasengan at the man's chest as he dashed out of the trees. As expected, the clone and his attack passed harmlessly through the nukenin.

The first one always failed, what was important was how they failed...

What Jiraiya hadn't expected was how his enemy dealt with it.

"Begone, THOT!" Tobi cried, slapping a hand against the clone's exposed back.

Jiraiya's eyes went wide as saucers as the clone was promptly warped out of existence like paint being sucked down a drain.

With a single touch, it was just… gone.

"Well, that's only extremely terrifying," Jiraiya muttered sarcastically to himself. He was really starting to see why the Akatsuki had recruited this guy.

Finished with Jiraiya's clone, Tobi turned back to Naruto… only to realize that the young jinchuuriki had used the distraction to seemingly vanish into the forest. "No fair!" Tobi cried, stomping his foot like a child. "Foul! Tobi was distracted by outside interference!"

Thankfully, Naruto did not seem inclined to respond.

"No such thing as fair in a ninja battle, brat," Jiraiya groused as he cut his hand to get the blood for a summoning. Fair? Now that was funny… maybe he could use that somewhere in one of his books? 'That had possibilities,' he mused, making a mental note to revisit the idea as he completed the seals for Kuchiyose no Jutsu and slapped his bloody palm against the ground.

Poof!

Out of the smoke appeared a toad the size of a large dog. "Yo," he said, waving a greeting. "What can I do for you, Jiraiya?"

"Gamasuva," Jiraiya greeted with a respectful nod as he signaled his second clone. "Would you mind going with my clone to help feel out my opponent?"

"Sure, why not. I wasn't doing anything important."

"Excellent, make sure you stay at a distance. He has some strange space-time abilities that I don't completely understand yet," Jiraiya warned. "So far I've seen him phase through solid objects at will and phase one of my other clones out of existence."

The large toad nodded before leaping into the trees with Jiraiya's second clone.

Satisfied, Jiraiya began to circle behind Tobi

"Danger Floof!" Tobi called, seemingly wandering aimlessly as he looked for Naruto. "Danger Floof! We are playing tag! We are not playing Hide and-" Tobi paused as he heard a suspicious sizzling sound. "Eh?" he wondered, looking around.

Kaboom!

"Rude!" Tobi cried as he sprinted out of the smoke with no visible damage.

"Suiton: Mizu Yari no jutsu," Gamasuva called, opening his mouth to release a torrent of water needles the size of kunai at the eccentric Akatsuki agent.

As the nuke-nin phased through the projectiles, Jiraiya's clone threw a kunai carrying another exploding tag at the man's feet, hoping to get him as he came out of whatever jutsu the criminal was using to avoid their attacks.

"Oi! No teams allowed!" Tobi shouted, outraged as he turned his attention his attackers.

Boom!

Apparently, summons weren't allowed. Who knew?

"Finally," Jiraiya muttered. Admittedly, the annoying bastard still hadn't taken any damage but at least he was focused on Jiraiya now.

Poof!

Jiraiya glanced over as a cloud of smoke spontaneously appeared next to him.

"Jiraiya-gaki," a small toad croaked as the smoke from the summoning cleared.

Jiraiya breathed a sigh of relief. "Pa," he acknowledged with a nod. "I take it my plan worked?"

The old toad nodded with a wry smile. "Yes, your doppelganger showed up with the boy just a few minutes ago. Ma is outraged, of course. Says the both of you are entirely too thin."

Jiraiya gave a snort of laughter. "Should I be worried?"

"She'll get over it once he eats something," the old toad said with a shrug. "But I would expect to get an earful about how deplorably neglectful you are and demands that you come to visit more often when you pick him up."

"I'm sure I'll survive," Jiraiya drawled, just barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes as he tracked the fight going on below.

"Gamma Yudan!" Gamasuva barked, spitting a truly impressive stream of oil through the

"Katon: Endan!" Jiraiya's clone called, releasing a focused flow of fire directed at the Akatsu

"Red Card!" Tobi howled, rushing at the pair even as everything around him caught fire. "Unsportsmanlike conduct!"

"Interesting opponent," Pa mused, quirking a brow at the man's reaction.

"He's something else, alright," Jiraiya replied, watching as the man nearly killed Gamasuva with a well-placed kunai.

Poof!

"Dangerous," Pa observed.

"Very," Jiraiya agreed as his clone used kawarimi to avoid being popped.

"Ranjishigami no Jutsu!" Jiraiya's clone cried, sending a mass of hair to intercept his opponent.

Predictably, the attack phased through the man, leaving the clone open to a counterattack.

Jiraiya scowled as a kunai flew at his immobile clone. Damn. Well, he hadn't been expecting to win by proxy but the man had barely shown anything in that fight. "We can probably disengage at this point but if he's still hostile after he realizes that Naruto is gone, I might need your help with Sage-Mo-"

"Gah!" the nukenin cried as the side of his cloak appeared to spontaneously shred itself.

Poof!

Jiraiya's eyes went wide. "What the-"

With an angry hiss, Tobi vanished in a whirl of distorted space.

"What in the blazes hit him?" Pa wondered, confused.

"Sure wasn't my clone," Jiraiya replied, eyes narrowed dangerously as he scanned his surroundings, trying to stay alert. The hair needles of his Ranjishigami no jutsu tended to pierce or crush an opponent, not shred them like that.

What in the world was going on?

Then his first Kage Bunshin, the one that had gotten warped out of existence, popped, leaving Jiraiya with the memories of its trip to another dimension and how it had struck Tobi's disembodied flank with a rasengan.

Jiraiya scowled, glaring down at the spot where the strange man had disappeared from.

"Something wrong, gaki?" Pa asked, raising a curious brow.

"I don't know yet," Jiraiya replied, scooping up Pa as he turned to rush back to the others.


Meanwhile…

"Four threes," Kisame wagered.

"Fold," Tsunade sighed, losing for the seventh time in a row.

Then the air shifted.

Tsunade tensed, leaping to her feet as the space behind Kisame twisted unnaturally.

"You're back," Kisame acknowledged, picking up his dice as the anomaly expanded to reveal the first Akatsuki member with a gaping hole in his cloak that did very little to disguise his injured side. "I take it the Kyuubi got away?" Kisame asked, dubiously eyeing his partner's sluggishly bleeding wounds.

Tobi nodded, not saying a word.

Kisame gave a long-suffering sigh. "Well, that's it then, isn't it?" he mused, climbing to his feet and brushing himself off. "Get us out of here."

Without a word, Tobi placed a hand on Kisame's shoulder and warped them out of existence.

Tsunade watched them go but refused to let her guard down.

Moments later Jiraiya dropped out of the trees with an old toad on his shoulder.

"Ah, Tsunade-chan, long time no see!" Pa greeted with a wave as Jiraiya approached the group of Konoha ninja.

"Pa," Tsunade replied with a nod before turning her attention to Jiraiya. "The boy is safe?" she demanded.

Jiraiya nodded. "Reverse summoned him to Myoubokuzan," he explained before noticing that the rest of his traveling party had, apparently, not moved at all since he had left them. Jiraiya quirked a brow at the oddly undisturbed scene.

Tsunade rolled her eyes. "He decided he'd rather shoot dice than fight," she explained.

Jiraiya's other brow joined the first, creeping ever closer to his hairline in surprise before his face twisted into an ugly scowl. "Well, that's just great," he groused. "Just fucking peachy!"

Tsunade blinked, staring at her teammate in confusion. "What?" Had she missed something?

Jiraiya waved her off. "I'll tell you when we get a minute alone with Sensei," he replied, shaking his head in open frustration. "Someone has completely flipped the script and I'm going to need both of you to help make heads or tails of all of this because, all of a sudden, absolutely nothing about this situation is making any kind of sense."

Tsunade glared at him. "You're bringing the sake," she told him.

"I'll bring a whole fucking case of it," Jiraiya laughed, slightly hysterical as he gave her a dismissive wave. He wasn't about to argue. He wanted a drink too after the week he'd had! "In fact, fuck it! I'll get us takeout too. Might as well, right? What's one more thing to be stressed out about? If we are lucky, we are only going to be at this for days… gods and powers it's already giving me a headache."

"Sooo…" Sasuke drawled, not so subtly calling attention to himself.

"Yes, brat?" Tsunade sighed. This? This right here? This is why she had never wanted to have children. They all turned into little assholes that you weren't allowed to smack for their stupidity.

"Does this mean we can run like normal people now?" Sasuke asked, doing his best impression of Kakashi's lazy Devil May Care posture.

Decent job, solid 7/10.

Tsunade glared at him for a long moment before turning the look on Jiraiya. "This is my life now, isn't it?" she demanded but didn't wait for an answer. "I'm going to spend the next twenty years of my life getting sassed by baby ninjas that I'm not allowed to beat black and blue in between endless amounts of busy work."

Jiraiya rolled his eyes and started toward Konoha.

Twenty years? That was entirely too optimistic.

He would put good money down that she wouldn't make it five.


Omake: Tsunade is Grumpy

"Aaarrrgh!" Tsunade cried, throwing her hands up in disgust. Such was her frustration that she embedded several of the flimsy scan sheets into the ceiling.

"What now?" Jiraiya asked.

"Your brat is twice as frustrating as his parents ever were, that's what!" she growled, turning to face him. "The incident, he was young, right? Really young?"

"...Yes?" he replied nervously. Was there a wrong way to answer that question? He felt like there was and that saying so might include bodily harm. "He was nine. Why?"

"Would you say that your demonically difficult godson was some kind of exceptionally gifted in the realm of an IQ in excess of two standard deviations above the mean?"

Jiraiya blinked dumbly at her. Two standard deviations? That was when you started talking about someone being some kind of genius. A classical genius that did well on tests. "Um… No, everything I was able to observe and everything that anyone has told me made it sound like Naruto was more of a combat savant than anything an IQ test would catch."

Tsunade gave him a look. "Reeeally?" she drawled with such sarcastic vitriol that Jiraiya was pretty sure he could bottle it. "In that case, if he wasn't already some kind of spirits blighted genius who pushed himself enough to cause early and excessive development, explain to me how this brat, this incomprehensibly contradictive spawn of your idiot student and my certifiably insane cousin, has a brain consistent with a healthy and well developed (if academically lazy) teenage gennin, hm? How? How, Jiraiya!? Five years of reduced brain activity and the presence of chakra that historically causes catastrophic necrosis in human tissue is not a formula for anything short of visible and obvious brain damage! But! But. There is no atrophy. There is very minimal damage. The contrary little bastard is walking around my ward like some kind of gijinka fanart for one of your books. And I am out of sake!"

"I'm… sorry?" Jiraiya replied. Had he stumbled on the bodily harm option? Because he felt like Tsunade was about to put him through a wall.

"To the pit with that!" Tsunade laughed.

'What?' Jiraiya wondered, blinking owlishly as his brain stumbled over its emotional whiplash. 'Whatwutwot?'

"This is the most fun I've had in years! Did I mention that all of the brain damage appears to have healed! Mostly, the signs are there but somehow he regenerated nerve tissue!"

Jiraiya's brain seized on that. Nerves. "That's… difficult, right?" Nerves. Nerves didn't heal very well, right? So that was some kind of special? Good job Jiraiya.

Tsunade leveled a thoroughly unimpressed look at her teammate. "I need several assistants, a complicated sealing circle, sacrificial organic material from the person being healed, and several hours of uninterrupted concentration after a complicated surgery to regenerate simple nerve pathways in the extremities," she told him.

Oh, it was that kind of difficult. "...Oh," he muttered lamely, unable to think of anything better to say.

"Yes, 'oh,'" Tsunade mocked.

"So…?"

Tsunade sighed like she was trying to exhale a lifetime of frustration. "Congratulations, you manipulative sonuvabitch. I'm staying," she told him, refusing to make eye contact.

Jiraiya blinked, processing for a moment, then beamed at her. "You know, you could just admit that you like being back."

"I will admit no such thing. Ever," she replied, inserting as much finality into her voice as possible. "Now, get me sake. I am far too busy with this to do things as trivial as shopping."

Jiraiya snorted. "Yes, your majesty!"

"Fuck off, peasant!"

Jiraiya laughed.

And if Tsunade hid a nostalgic smile? Well, no one needed to know.


A/N

Well, will you look at that? I'm not dead.

Arguably.

Can't quit moving in any case so even if I was we wouldn't know for at least another fifteen years or so. Responsibilities are a thing, the show must go on, and all that jazz. At least I'm writing again… Trying to up my game actually. Working on an actual book if you can believe that. Also working on building a community now that this is going to be more than a hobby so we now have a Discord server:

Discord . gg / dRaN42bFmV

Also testing the waters to see if I can dedicate more time to my writing. So, if you want to become a patron, look me up on AO3 and use the links there. I'm on that one site the censor bots don't like there as EDelta88 but I don't show up in searches atm.


Jutsu

Suiton: Mizu Yari no jutsu - Waterstyle: Water Skewers, basically you spit a ton of water shaped into needles or spikes at someone.

Gama Yudan - an attack where the caster spits a mass of flammable toad oil at the enemy.

Katon: Endan - literally Firestyle: Fireball. It's small, but useful if used right.

Ranjishigami no Jutsu - an attack where Jiraiya's hair hardens to metal-like strength and rushes at an opponent to crush or ensnare them.