Apologies, but I tried my best to find time (even if I failed). I've been doing a lot of self learning to get into Machine Learning and Data Science over the last year, alongside a full time job. Free time has been a luxury I spend sleeping.
Without further ado - The next chapter!
CH 18: Naruto, Nemu and Jiraiya infiltrate the kidnapping gangs as new hires. Naruto is conflicted about his role in the kidnapping of a child and Jiraiya is worried that Naruto might not be able to stomach it. His fears come true when Naruto switches the kidnapped boy with himself and gets taken to the secret hideout. As the chapter ends, Jiraiya and Nemu realize what he has done.
CH 19: Naruto is now captive with the kidnappers where he manages to speak to the ringleader of the Kidnappers. The conversation makes him angry enough to pull out some of Kyuubi's chakra which is then witnessed by the rest of the ninja, excluding Nemu. Jiraiya then decides to fight and kill the kidnappers to keep Naruto's secret while Nemu takes Naruto and runs. Joroi follows them after getting injured by Jiraiya and a fight ensues. Joroi manages to knock out Nemu and almost kills Naruto when Itachi's clone arrives and dispatches him with minimal effort. Itachi leaves after promising Naruto to meet later and telling him about Taki's resident Jinchuuriki, Fuu.
CH 20: Naruto, Nemu and Jiraiya deal with the aftermath of the battle with Joroi and then Nemu struggles with her thoughts on bringing a capable and unknown ninja like Jira to her village. Jiraiya acquiesces to Nemu taking only Naruto to Taki in fulfillment of the Deal she had made with Naruto. Even though he says he will not follow them, Nemu is suspicious.
CH 21: Naruto and Nemu reach Takigakure where Nemu is called in to explain the mission to stop the Kidnapping ring. One of the higher-ups of Taki is displeased that the client is thinking of going to Konoha and insults the Leaf village. Naruto loses his cool and almost pisses him off into attacking, making Jiraiya reveal himself to de-escalate the situation. Naruto gets permission to visit the Uzumaki clan member on the condition that he cannot try to learn Fuuinjutsu from them. On reaching the Uzumaki clan member's house, Naruto faints from nerves.
A Whirlpool by any other name
Cold water on his face woke him up.
Naruto opened his eyes and came face to face with an old woman looking down at him. She gave him a once over and then moved out from his sight.
"Huh?" Naruto squinted his eyes because of the sudden sunlight that streamed down on his face with the woman gone.
Naruto moved his neck to the side and saw Nemu kneeling next to him, looking concerned. Once he realized this, his brain caught up to the situation and he jerked up into a sitting position.
His face burned red as he realized that he had fainted. Fainted.
Out of sheer anxiety.
He'd never live it down if Shark-ossan ever found out. He glanced to the side at Jiraiya, his face heating up again. That one glance told him the Toad Sage was almost bursting at the seams with laughter.
"You okay, Gaki?" the sage asked.
"Y-yeah!" Naruto scurried to his feet, still red faced and Nemu straightened, her hand hesitating near him, as if she was worried he'd keel over. Again.
"I – er . . ." he struggled to form words. "The heat-ttebayo." He mumbled. "Too damn hot in here." He pulled at his orange turtleneck.
"If you say so." Jiraiya grinned.
"No hotter than Fire country at this time of the year." Said an old, gravelly voice.
Naruto froze and turned to look to his side. Standing with a basket on her hips was the elderly Lady Naruto had come all the way to meet.
As the blonde tried to swallow and make something other than squeaking sounds, the old woman turned a disgusted eye towards Jiraiya and made a noise of irritation. "And here I was planning to go to the bath house, too." She narrowed her eyes and glanced at Nemu. "Well?" she asked the kunoichi. "What's brought this pervert to the Waterfall, more specifically, my hut?"
Nemu glanced at the Uzumaki woman and then at Jiraiya. "Noriko-dono, you know Jiraiya-sama?"
"Know him? Please!" the old woman snorted. "I have kept better company than this brat in my life." She said and glanced distastefully at Jiraiya who was still grinning shamelessly. "But I am old enough to have seen the Sandaime Hokage's genin brats both before and after they became the Legendary Sannin."
Usually, this was where Naruto would have said something monumentally stupid like 'Wow! You're really old then –ttebayo!' but he seemed to have uncharacteristically lost his tongue. As he stood less than five feet away from someone who could be family – someone of his blood – he could do nothing except fidget and slowly shrink on himself. Something that was not missed by Nemu. She put a calming hand on Naruto's shoulder and looked at the old woman.
"Actually, Noriko-dono, Jiraiya-sama is not the one who is here to meet you." She said and pushed Naruto slowly to the front. "It is this boy here."
"Hm?" the woman glanced down and Naruto with an unimpressed face. The woman's violet eyes gave him a one over and found something of note that she hadn't noticed before.
On his jacket' shoulder, was the ancient Uzumaki spiral, the one that had been used internally in the village as the Clan symbol and on clan shrines. Due to its detailed lines and multiple closely drawn loops, on official documents and hitai-ate, the Uzu nin used the less complex counterpart of the symbol, the one which was now also used by Konoha on their flak jackets as a mark of respect to the lost village and their regret of having failed to save their allies.
Still, no one would think to wear the Ancient Symbol so brazenly, even if they were from Konoha, just like no one would dare to wear the Uchiha Fan or the Senju Vajra, unless they had no self-preservation instincts.
Her gaze sharpened and she glared down at the boy. "That is the Uzumaki clan symbol, the real clan symbol. It is not something one can wear without consequences." the old woman said, her voice glacial and eyes narrowed. "You are but a child, so I will give you one chance to explain."
Her gaze was intimidating and cold, but it was more familiar to Naruto, having grown up with the stigma of the Kyuubi for almost a decade. Ingrained habit brought his words back to him and Naruto gulped, but managed to speak out. "Naruto . . ." he said. "Uzumaki Naruto."
"What?" the older woman's brows furrowed as tried to understand the meaning behind the boy's words.
"My name." Naruto continued, slowly regaining better control on himself. "That's my name."
The old Uzumaki woman's eyes widened as she understood the implications of the words. Then her eyes narrowed and she let go of the basket she had been keeping at her hip.
It all happened too fast for Naruto and Nemu.
Before the basket hit the ground, Jiraiya was parrying lighting fast chains away from Naruto using every limb he had. His left geta crumbled to splinters as the chain swerved at the last second and hit it from a different angle and rushed to a shocked Naruto.
"Wha - ?" Naruto yelped as he was grabbed by the collar and pulled behind by Nemu who looked just as surprised but she had a defensive kunai out and was now also blocking the new set of chains that had burst out from the old Uzumaki woman's back.
"Noriko-dono!" Nemu yelled as she blocked chains. "Please stop! Why are you doing this?"
Meanwhile, Jiraiya had elongated his hair and was using it to fight the chains from Noriko. His hands now free, he tried to force the Uzumaki woman back using a fireball jutsu.
Any chuunin worth his salt should have been able to dodge it easily. Noriko saw it coming from a mile away, however, as she positioned herself to jump and dodge, she felt debilitating pain rush up her spine and she stumbled.
Right into the path of the fireball.
"Noriko-dono!" Nemu yelled in horror.
Noriko looked up just in time to feel the heat burn at her wrinkled cheeks before her vision was obscured by orange and yellow and a yell rang out.
"KAGE BUNSHIN NO JUTSU!"
Despite the wall of clones between her and the fireball she felt the force of the explosion when they dispelled against the as she stumbled back. She was expecting to hit the hard ground, instead, half a dozen hands came forward to balance her and keep her from falling.
Noriko looked around herself and saw a horde of clones supporting her and hovering around her with worried and anxious expressions. Another group was yelling at the Sannin about using a fire jutsu against someone who was family. She regained her balance slowly, wincing from the after effects of the pain along her back when one of the blonde clones stepped up to her.
"You okay, Obaa-chan?" he asked, stuck between staying away and offering his body as support, while the Taki kunoichi stood right behind him, still wary but unwilling to get between the blonde and the old woman.
Behind her stood close to fifty clones of the blonde, all wearing similar expressions.
Fifty Kage Bunshin. Of a boy no older than eleven.
"Your non Uzumaki parent must have been strong." She said as she withdrew her chakra chains.
"Huh?" the boy blinked and Noriko saw the Sannin frown imperceptibly before the expression was lost to another, more calm, mask.
"Help me pick up the basket." She said to the one who had asked and she saw a couple of clones follow that request even as the one in front of her went to join them.
Noriko saw that the Sannin brat and the kunoichi were now standing behind the blonde she assumed was the original. She looked at the boy who had still not asked for an explanation about why she had attacked him. He was now dutifully picking up her laundry basket, dusting off the clothes. Not that it would be of any use, she could already see the brown stain of dirt on her semi-dry clothes.
When the boy put all of the clothes back in the basket and brought it to her, she looked at him closely.
The eyes were blue as the ocean, but the shape was one that was as familiar as it was strange, after close to twenty years of not having seen it on anyone except her reflection. He had strange whisker-like marks on his face and had hair of a sunshine yellow that she had not seen often.
And never on an Uzumaki.
She almost felt justified in not believing him to be a member of her lost clan. But the number of clones that he had expended to save her from the fireball and the distinct Uzumaki flavor to the spike of chakra when he had created them could not be denied.
"I thought you were lying." She said, by way of explanation, in part to the boy and in part to the Sannin.
"Huh?" the boy said, confused. "Lying?"
"But your chakra . . ." Noriko sighed as she adjusted the basket on her hip again. "It is heavy with the chakra signature of our clan." She said.
"My signature?" Naruto asked. "It's like the Uzumaki Clan?"
This time, Noriko saw what she had missed earlier. The hope intermingled with longing in those blue eyes as the boy spoke of her clan – rather, their clan.
"Of course it is." Noriko said. "You are an Uzumaki, aren't you?" her gaze softened as she stepped towards the hut to keep her basket in and invite the travelers inside.
The blonde looked surprised before he glanced at her back before he grinned like a sun. "Damn right-ttebayo!"
Noriko froze and her neck turned so fast that Nemu almost brought out her kunai in case the woman attacked again. However, this time, the expression on Noriko's face was stupefaction rather than anger or danger.
Noriko started to chuckle as she resumed her walk to her hut and beckoned Naruto after her with a finger. "How long has it been since I heard a verbal-tic like that?"
Nemu and Jiraiya followed the two Uzumaki in.
Noriko had them sit around a small table in the middle of the room.
"So, you're Kushina-chan's son, huh?" Noriko said. "Now that I look closely, you do have her face."
Jiraiya did not react outwardly but he tensed. "Yes." He said before Naruto could say something. "Kushina was Naruto's mother."
Both Nemu and Noriko noticed the past tense used for Kushina and Noriko smiled sadly.
"Huh?" Naruto blinked, surprised at hearing about his mother for the second time in such a short time. "My kaa-chan?"
"Yes." Noriko nodded at Naruto. "She had a verbal tic too, almost like yours, but a little different."
Jiraiya chuckled as Naruto seemed to blink in surprise.
"L – like me?" he asked, absorbing this new piece of knowledge about his mother like a sponge.
"You seem to have known Kushina pretty well." Jiraiya smiled.
Noriko understood his unspoken question.
"After Uzu fell, the survivors scattered to the four winds." Noriko said. "But none of us went to the Leaf."
"Huh? Why?" Naruto asked, unable to understand the reasoning behind the action. If the Uzumaki had come to Konoha, he would not have had grown up unwanted and hated. He'd have had family. A clan. "Why didn't anyone come to Konoha?"
"Hm?" the old Uzumaki woman glanced at Naruto. "Misplaced anger, I suppose." She sighed and adjusted her posture to give a little relief to her hurting back.
"Anger?" Naruto repeated.
"Well, the Leaf and Uzu were allies, but when we needed them the most, they were too late to help us." Noriko said and Jiraiya closed his eyes in regret. It was the largest stain on Konoha's honor; the fact that they had been unable to realize the true intent of the troop movement of Iwa and Kumo until Uzu had been attacked. The two days it took the advance troops to reach Uzu had been enough for the combined ninja of Iwa and Kumo to wipe out the small but powerful village.
"The survivors were mostly the civilians or very old & young ninja who weren't enough of a fighting force to stay behind. They were given the task to evacuate as many as possible." Noriko recalled. "After getting out of the borders, a large group would have been easy to detect, so it was decided to break into smaller groups and simple blend into the other refugees of the war. The civilians found it easier to relocate and practice their trade, but ninjas were not so lucky."
"Not lucky? What does that mean?" Naruto asked, held spellbound by the history of his clan.
"While they were Uzumaki, they were either old or handicapped like me or too young to have any skills that would set them apart. Most villages were only interested as using the young ones as a breeding ground for future Uzumaki shinobi for their villages." Noriko sighed. "A lot of the young ones died trying to escape such places."
"The hell – ttebayo?" Naruto clenched his fist.
"They preferred to die rather than let themselves be used like that." Jiraiya said and Noriko nodded.
"Then Konoha attacked one such minor village who was trying the same thing and freed our clan members." Noriko said.
"Did they come to Konoha?" Naruto asked. He wondered if that was how his mom had come to Konoha. "Is that how my mom came?"
Noriko exchanged a glance with Jiraiya. "No." Noriko said. "Kushina-chan had gone to Konoha some years before the war, when Mito-hime was still alive." Noriko turned her face to look at Naruto, her sensory skills letting her feel the familiar corrosive chakra buried deep within the child in front of her. She looked at him, her gaze firm. "And you are her Legacy."
Only those who knew him very well, like the Sandaime, Tsunade, Orochimaru or Minato would have realized how tense Jiraiya had gone when Noriko said those words.
"Huh?" Naruto didn't understand. "Her what?"
"Legacy is a round about way of saying that you inherited something from her." Nemu explained. "Like blood, chakra, skills or other things."
"Yes." Noriko nodded and smiled. "Or other things." But before Naruto could ask anything else, Noriko continued her story.
"Like I said, Konoha freed our clan members and made a sufficient enough example of the captors that the other minor villages fell in line." She sneaked a glance towards Nemu who felt conflicted between indignation or shame at her villages prior actions. Noriko looked at Naruto and smiled. "Despite being their saviors, Konoha did not force the Uzumaki people to come to their village. All they asked was to share their destination with the Leaf so that the Village could keep a protective shadow over them. They extended this protection to all other Uzumaki as well. Word spread and most Uzumaki had cooled down enough to share their locations. For the next five years, the Leaf would then send a team or jounin once every few months to check up on the Uzumaki." She glanced at the blonde. "That is how I met your mother."
"I remember." Jiraiya said suddenly. "She had volunteered for the visitation duty before the Third War."
Noriko nodded. "She came here almost once every three months each year for the last three years of the five."
"Only five years?" Naruto asked.
"Even five was too long. It was only to help the Uzumaki settle in." Jiraiya said. "Any more and it would be insulting to the ninja who could take it as patronizing."
"The pervert is right, not every Uzumaki had shared their location." Noriko added. "The clansmen who went to Kusa did not. I respected their wishes and never told the leaf either."
Naruto processed everything he had heard in the past half hour while the adults sat and watched him.
"Sometimes, I wish I had, though." Noriko sighed.
"Huh? Why?" Naruto asked.
Noriko glanced at the child as if wondering if she should answer. The resolute eyes of the boy made her smile. "I am content with my lot here." She said. "Well, as much as an old woman living alone can be, my dear." She smiled at the worried look on Naruto's face. "And the Waterfall village is one of the better ones. The Head and his advisors do not bother me much. A seal here, a seal there. At least they treat us better than some of our clan members are treated in Kusa. I used to exchange letters with one of girls there many years ago."
Jiraiya frowned. He had heard rumors of course but he never had the time to follow up due to some other bigger things happening. First it had been the third war, then the Kyuubi and Minato's death, then Orochimaru defecting, the Hyuuga incident, the Uchiha Massacre and even the most latest, the shadow organization he was chasing called the Akatsuki. He wondered if he should stop Noriko as he didn't think Naruto was mature enough to take the rumors well. But before he could come to a decision, Noriko continued.
"She had the same healing chakra some of our clansmen were famous for." The old woman explained. "Ingesting their chakra heals. In exchange for safe living for her and her daughter, she had to agree to let the wounded bite her to get healed." Noriko finished sadly.
"SHE WHAT?" Naruto roared as Jiraiya sighed. It was too late now.
Naruto jumped up to his feet. "Bite them?" his fists had tightened.
"I have heard about it, but I thought it was a myth." Nemu said, shocked.
"Very few Uzumaki awakened that power, so it was never a mainstream ability." Noriko sighed. "And even then, it was rarely used, only in unavoidable emergencies, if the shinobi offered." She looked tired and sad as she shook her head, "I used to worry – still do, in fact, for the girl. Using too much of that ability takes a toll on the body. I do not know how much her ability has to be used in Kusa and –"
"We're gonna get them out." Naruto said, gritting his teeth.
Noriko and Nemu looked stunned at the boy and Jiraiya marveled that Naruto had taken so long to make such a declaration.
"What?" Nemu looked at Naruto.
"We're gonna get them out." Naruto repeated, a fire burning in his eyes. "Or I'm going to die trying. And that's a promise."
Only a single scene but I felt if I didn't get this out, I'd probably procrastinate it to God knows when!
Hope to return in a month or two.
Thanks to all the readers who have been sending words of encouragement!
-Humbly and with Respect