What Once Was Will Never Be
The first time Jiraiya heard of the man he had been doing “research” in Kusa. An exemplary example of the feminine form confided to a fellow Kusa Nin of a mission she had undertaken near Iwa where a single man had apparently infiltrated the hidden village ostentatiously to steal from the Kage and to speak to two random Nin. The man referred to only as the Lost Uzumaki made his debut in bingo books across the elemental nations seemingly overnight. An S-class nin of ambiguous origins known to wear the forehead protector for a fallen village, to have hair the color of the darkest garnet and to carry the last name Uzumaki. He was a mystery and mysteries were dangerous. He just appeared overnight. Of course, S-class nin don’t just appear overnight but for all that Jiraiya was the best the best spymaster to grace the Shinobi world in well…ever, he couldn’t find any indication the man had ever existed before showing up in Iwa.
Within the course of a year, the only indication the man even existed were the stories told after he popped up in one Elemental nation or another. It was always the same story. Infiltration into a hidden village to recover relics of Uzushio and then to speak or rather fight and yell at the Kage or Jounin of a village before disappearing like smoke. Despite Hiruzen sending politely worded official requests for information and then some not-so-politely-worded requests on the man the only response he ever received was a vague sentiment of “wait your turn” so he was quite anxious about when his “visit” would occur; if it ever would. However, it had been months since the Lost Uzumaki had last been heard from and neither Konoha or Suna had been visited by the man thus far.
Hiruzen feared many things whenever reports of the man came to his desk. Perhaps, that he was after revenge for Uzushio, where Konoha may be a target for their failure to protect their precious allies. It didn’t explain why Suna had been left untouched, or that he had, for all intents purposes, done very little damage in Iwa or Kiri who were responsible for the disaster. All the man had truly done was retrieve artifacts from what must have been his home before challenging high-class nin to what amounted to a vigorous spar despite his opponent’s intent to kill.
Then, there was Naruto to consider, the Sandaime’s charge that he never seemed to have time for. The orphan who might have family out there—be it an S-class Nin of ambiguous origins and desires. Still, a family not directly connected to the Fourth and therefore a safer option for the young academy student to form bonds with. Naruto was a consideration and a concern. Hiruzen was conflicted about the issue. He considered all this as he stared at his white-haired student standing in front of him with an uncommonly serious expression. He chewed on his pipe as his thoughts raced.
“How accurate do you think this rumor is?” he inquired, though he already knew that the Toad Sage wouldn’t come to the village in person rather than send the normal messenger toad if he didn’t find the information credible. Jiraiya hummed and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I trust it,” Jiraiya offered, “but do you want me to chase it? ”
Jiraiya had received information from one of his most trustworthy sources in Kumo that the man would be in Uzushio in a week’s time on the anniversary of the village’s fall. It had been a lucky break as the man had stayed in his informant’s inn for a single night. He had been heard offering a toast in mourning for the village with a group of civilians at a bar and slipped up mentioning a return home to “respect the ashes.”
“If he is an Uzumaki, we have a responsibility to offer him sanctuary if he poses no threat to Konoha but if he is not…” Hiruzen trailed off. Jiraiya could deduce the rest himself. If he is not then they have a problem on their hands.
“No way to discern that but to meet the bastard,” Jiraiya admitted with a shrug, “even if he’s dyed his hair or is under Henge I know the real thing better than most. That color is impossible to manufacture or copy without seeing it before.”
Hiruzen puffed on his pipe, still thinking as he considered the implied plan his spymaster presented. Of everyone in Konoha, the Third would only trust either Jiraiya or Kakashi to approach such a dangerous nin with the offer of a place in Konoha. He trusted their judgment and their skills above all others but still, this was no regular man if the tales of his exploits were accurate.
“He has escaped relatively unscathed in fights with no less than 3 different Kages involved albeit not at once,” Hiruzen pointed out and smiled slightly at the aghast expression that appeared on his student’s face. It was far too easy to press the man’s buttons even after all these years. Jiraiya took his customary “hero” pose in front of his teacher.
“Are you doubting the Great and Legendary Jiraiya Toad Sage? Ohohohoh I’d nail that Gaki in the dust under Gamabunta’s little finger in a second!” Jiraiya gets serious again, though he still has that too large grin on his face and the slight insulted air about him. “Besides those weren’t serious fights if my information is accurate. The boy at least, didn’t intend actual harm; whatever the nin intended to accomplish that is. “
“I do not find that comforting Jiraiya,” Hiruzen scolded before conceding, “but it would be doing our fallen allies…. Kushina-chan a disservice to not give the man a chance.”
Jiraiya nodded, somewhat solemn at the mention of his late student’s wife.
“And better the bastard works for us than as an unattached nin that can be taken in by some other nation!” Jiraiya spoke the underneath to the nobler sentiment, which caused his Hokage to nod in agreement.
“Exactly,” Hiruzen confirmed, before slipping into his commanding voice, “go to Uzushio and approach him. Determine his intentions. You have my authority to offer him a place in Konoha if you see fit or to eliminate him if he proves a threat.”
“Hai!” Jiraiya acknowledged before pointing both hands at Hiruzen with a wink, “I’ll be back before you can miss me again, Sensei! Maybe I’ll even bring a friend!”
“That’s what I’m worried about Jiraiya-chan,” Hiruzen commented just before Jiraiya made to leave the office via the window. He hid his amusement under the brim of the Hokage’s hat at the wave of Killing Intent that briefly spiked before the man started pouting. Still, far too easy to needle, it was almost like the decades disappeared for a moment. Almost.
Jiraiya timed his arrival to the ruins of Uzushio so he arrived exactly on the memorial day. As he landed on one desolate street, the crumbling buildings and rubble still left strewn across the road, he felt the same shame and sense of regret that he had felt the first time he had stepped in Uzushio after the attack. He pushed the shadows of the past away and instead closed his eyes and allowed his senses to spread out to look for the reclusive Nin.
He expected the job to be difficult, this was an S-class fighter who had remained practically invisible for a year’s time despite his rather explosive debut onto the Shinobi world stage. He did not expect him to just…to just be there like he had nothing to hide. His chakra signature was monstrous, leaving ripples in the surrounding natural chakra as it was disturbed by the loud presence. Jiraiya focused harder and pinpointed the man’s location and found himself flabbergasted. Senjutsu, the man was using Senjutsu unassisted by a summon if what Jiraiya’s senses told him were accurate. What was even more shocking is the presence wasn’t moving away from him, likely pulling in natural chakra in a meditation by himself which would allow him to have sensed Jiraiya far sooner than this. But the presence still sat there unmoving. Jiraiya proceeded with caution and navigated the rubble to a relatively clear portion of the city. There was a dry fountain that had once been very beautiful. Now, it looked like something monstrous would rise out of it.
The man was perched on the rim of the fountain with his legs folded and his fists pressed together in his lap. The hair was completely Uzumaki, a deep blood red that seemed to absorb any light that shone down on it. He wore it long and up in a high ponytail, much like Jiraiya himself wore it. His forehead protector was indeed emblazoned with the whirlpool swirl and not marked with a scratch indicating his loyalty still lay with the dead village.
What had Jiraiya tensing were the three whisker markers on each cheek, possession marks that he knew only one person to bear. That was his godson back in his village about to try his hand at becoming a genin for the third time. He felt strange staring at that face as though he were seeing someone else he knew, but slightly distorted with angles that didn’t quite match up what his brain wanted to see. Jiraiya pushed these useless thoughts away and prepared himself.
The man knew he was there, but he stayed relaxed, still gathering natural chakra, his eyelids an orange color. Orange like a Toad Sage, but that was impossible. Jiraiya was the only Toad Sage left and he held the contract. He would know if someone else had Toad summons. This all was turning out even odder than he thought. Finally, Jiraiya couldn’t take the waiting any longer, he moved into a defensive stance before calling out.
“Oi, Gaki what kind of Nuke-Nin are you! Wake up already— you’ve got company. The Great Jiraiya Toad Sage of Konoha waits for no man!”
The Sage didn’t know what he expected would happen. That they would immediately launch in a life or death match? That the man would demand he leave for disrespecting the dead on such a day? That the man would turn out to be a secret super fan of his illustrious work? The man did none of those things.
He slowly opened his eyes to reveal golden orbs with square pupils that took in Jiraiya standing there for a silent moment. Jiraiya was confused by the emotion that leaked into the calm man’s face in the seconds after he set his sights on him. Sadness, deep regret and then, with the sunniest smile Jiraiya had even seen, pure joy. Despite the disarming smile, Jiraiya tensed when the man raised his hand. Was he going to perform one-handed Jutsu? Throw a weapon? The man raised his hand and then…waved with the dumbest grin still attached to his face. His eyes closed and his eyebrows seemed to do that odd eye-smile that Kakashi did when he was being particularly annoying as the man finally spoke.
“Ehhhh!” Jiraiya exploded completely taken off-guard. The man opened his still golden eyes and watched the fuming Jiraiya with absolute mirth before he threw back his head and started laughing like he hadn’t done so in a long time. Needless to say, the Legendary Toad Sage Jiraiya of the hidden village Konoha was confused…very confused. And he was damn well going to get to the bottom of it. As his godson would no doubt shout, Believe it!