Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 4 ( Chapter 14 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Please remember, the 'rasengan\hokage no jutsu' conclusion to the obstacle course had been a while in coming. Both girls were worn down to exhaustion, and the Shadow Naruto had already exhausted two soldier pills. The real Naruto may not have exhausted himself, but he was what made up the difference for Ino and Sakura to reach the end of the course. It isn't that Tsunade (and her team) didn't have the ability to complete the course, per se, it was that she needed a lot more experience to do so... Ino and Sakura have been running this course possibly two or three times a week for more than a year, whereas Tsunade has only run it a couple times. Ino and Sakura know how to get through it further then anyone else, in large part because they know it so well... but they didn't have the power to beat it alone. I didn't show the whole course, in part, because it would have bloated the chapter unnecessarily... and I had other reasons, as well, which may or may not come up in the future. However, I thought I had given the impression that they spent a lot of effort to get that far, even if I wasn't trying to call attention to the length of the course. I did show the important bits -- the hokage no jutsu, and Sakura's reaction to it, and the fact that Ino's 'Naruto Bushin no Jutsu' creates something even she isn't fully aware of the abilities of. Now, on to the fic.
Chapter 4
The scene into which Tsunade, Kakashi, Jiraiya, and Shizune stepped in to was almost heartbreaking. Naruto was sitting against a tree, holding a still-in-tears Sakura as gently as he could. His own eyes were closed, so it wasn't possible to see if he was crying as well, but from the odd sniffle emerging from him it wouldn't surprise anyone if he was. Ino was there, as well, but she didn't look like she knew what to do. She was obviously puzzled, and concerned, but she didn't want to interrupt the pair. None of them did, actually -- but someone would have to. Someone had to talk with them all about thier experience through the course; the sooner someone would talk with them, the sooner they could be taken care of like they needed to. While they all looked like they could be brought back to good physical health with just a bath, a few band-aids, and a good night's rest, they needed some help to get through the emotional wounds.
Jiraiya scratched his head uncertainly. "Eh... so, why's everyone so upset?" he finally said. "You're all okay, right?"
Sakura, displaying the flexibility of a contortionist, managed to turn all the way around without disturbing Naruto. It became apparent that the boy had fallen asleep with her in his arms, and she didn't seem very interested in getting out of them. "He was going to use that technique," she whispered hoarsely.
"Eh?" Jiraiya said, startled. "What do you mean? When?"
"I asked him how many times he meant... that... when he claimed he would be hokage one day. He said 'once or twice.'" Sakura glared at them all accusingly. "I know he was lying. He knows I know. But I won't call him on it... because I'm not sure I want to hear how many times he's really intended to kill himself, and I don't think he really knows. But he almost used the technique, once... just to save me. I've talked with Ino, who's seen it through Naruto's memories, and a ninja toad who witnessed the fight with Gaara, so I have a pretty good idea what was going on, there. After beating down Shukaku, he'd saved Konoha. He had to know that Konoha was safe from him by then... but he kept going, because he thought I was in trouble. So he literally crawled over to Gaara with his chin, saving all of his remaining chakra so he could do that last... suicidal technique. To save me... and I'd never even given him a real look before that!" Her tears were coming down again. "But that isn't the worst of it. I know he was going to kill himself for me... but I wonder how many times he's considered using that technique, just to end it all... I'd never even noticed how bad his life was until recently, but now I wonder if maybe I don't even know the half of it. What would drive a person to even consider doing something like that? Huh? And how did he survive until now, if he's been so bad off he's really considered that as many times as I'm afraid he has, huh? Does anyone have an answer to that? Anyone?"
"I do," Ino whispered. "He's living for you. Everything is for you. He drove himself out of insanity as a nine year old by telling the Third that he would do everything in his life to do the job he felt the hokage wasn't doing -- because the Third was trying to help him, instead of helping this little pink-haired girl who they could both see was crying because she was being picked on. He said he'd become the hokage, to become better then the hokages, because he felt he was born for everyone to hate so that no-one else would ever be sad. He's grown a lot since then, and 'becoming hokage' niether means that, nor does it mean, really, that he wants to make everyone happy at the cost of himself. He's gotten a lot more confident in himself, a lot more comfortable with himself, and no longer believes that he was 'born to be hated.' That, possibly, makes it harder for him, sometimes... before, he had this fantasy that he was some sort of noble sacrifice for the happiness of others, and so as long as he could bear it everyone would be happy. Now, he knows the real reason everyone hated him... and how many of those who hate him aren't being helped by him living, but would instead be greatly relieved if he died. However, part of his oath to become hokage included an oath to make you happy... and so he lives to ensure your happiness." She paused. "He promised you he wouldn't use that technique, even if your life were in danger... but if you died, I think his 'way of the ninja' wouldn't matter to him any more, and I don't think he could keep his word. You are why he lives."
"Why?" Sakura gasped. "Why me? I've... I've never..."
"Because he's Naruto," Kakashi said, stepping forward. "He decided, before he even knew you, that you were worth something to him. Do you really think he could let that go, no matter what you do to him? He wants to protect Konoha, and make its people happy, despite how just about everyone in the village hated him and mistreated him. He can't let Konoha go, so what makes you think he'll let you go?"
Sakura collapsed into tears again, and Tsunade finally intervened on behalf of her apprentice.
"Come on," she said, bending over to pick up both the sleeping Naruto and crying Sakura. "Let's get you to the hospital. And don't feel so sad... if I were you, I'd be happy that I'd finally figured him out. And I'd be happy I figured him out before something irreversable happened. You know him, now... so stop your tears, and decide what to do with him."
"What to do with him?" Sakura repeated, turning her head to look at his sleeping face.
"You control whatever happens," Tsunade explained. "He made that clear with how he fought Sasuke. If he hadn't promised you that he would bring Sasuke back for you, he would have killed him. He puts your happiness above his own life, and will do anything to make you happy. I strongly suggest you make him realize you're happier with him alive then with him dead, because if he ever believed otherwise...."
"I'll tell you now," Jiraiya said, breaking in. "That isn't the only kinjutsu Naruto knows. Others -- both those I'm aware of, and those I am not -- may be just as harmful to him, and this is the only one he has promised you he would not use."
"I figured that," Sakura answered softly. "But... at least now I know when he talks about his dream of being hokage, he isn't talking about killing himself. That was what I needed to hear."
* * * * *
The somber mood on the training course was quickly broken when Naruto woke up on the way to the hospital. He hadn't really needed to sleep -- he just felt so warm and comforted, being able to hold Sakura in his arms like he always wanted to, and so relaxed with the release of certain emotions and personal secrets he'd been holding in for years, that he couldn't help but take a nap. However, being carried away woke him up, and he'd completely forgotten about the burden in his arms when he woke up, and didn't notice he was being carried himself. He tried sitting up... which caused a rather rapid and painful chain reaction for all involved.
"Ow!" Tsunade cried, as Naruto accidentally head-butted her chin.
"Oof!" Sakura cried, falling to the ground.
"Ack!" Naruto gasped, having been dropped on top of her.
"You hit me!" Tsunade exclaimed.
"You dropped me!" Sakura accused.
"Where am I?" Naruto asked plaintively.
With all of the concern that had built up over the revelation of Naruto's 'hokage no jutsu' technique, this little bit of slapstick was all that was needed to relieve the tension. "Bwahahaha!" Ino laughed, falling to the ground clutching her chest in laughter. Jiraiya, helping steady a dizzy Tsunade, couldn't hold back a chuckle. The only one who didn't reveal any outward amusement was Kakashi... although that was probably because his smile was well hidden behind his mask.
"Come on, you lot," he said, helping Naruto and Sakura up, respectively. "Let's get your injuries all bandaged up, and then we'll see about your punishment for violating orders."
All along the way to the hospital, Sakura was berating Naruto in a quiet conversation.
"I can't believe you dropped me," she muttered.
"I'm sorry, Sakura-chan!" Naruto apologized. "I didn't know what I was doing -- I was disoriented."
"That's no excuse," Sakura complained. "You still should have been able to tell you were carrying someone in your arms."
"But Sakura-chan...."
That little spat continued for quite some time, and during it all Naruto wasn't able to look into her face. If he had, however, it would have been easy to see just why Sakura wouldn't let it go -- she was ashamed... and embarrassed, too. Ashamed for having neglected Naruto as long as she had... and embarrassed for having been in his arms for him to drop. She knew it was wrong to take it out on him, but she knew he could deal with her mild admonishments. She'd make it up to him, later, when she had gotten over her embarrassment enough to talk about it. It helped her conscience to remember that the one thing she wasn't complaining about was that he had been holding her, in the first place. Hopefully, that would keep him happy long enough for her to regain her wits around him.
Just as they reached the hospital doors, Sakura's mother was leaving them.
"Mom!" Sakura exclaimed, suddenly forgetting her own troubles. "What are you doing here?"
The Haruno woman laughed. "Oh, your father fell off his cart, a couple days ago. He has a deep bone bruise in his hip, but insisted on carrying on like nothing was happening. I finally got fed up with his whimpers every time he tried to sit down, and brought him here to see what they would do. The hospital technicians looked at him, and have him confined to a bed... tied down, so that he won't roll over onto his poor old bruised butt, again." She looked at her daughter, raising an eyebrow. "You look a bit beat up. What happened?"
"Just a particularly grueling training session, Haruno-san," Tsunade explained.
"Of course, as if the training session wasn't bad enough," Sakura huffed. "This idiot had to drop me while he was carrying me to the hospital!"
"I told you I was sorry, Sakura-chan," Naruto protested weakly.
Tsunade grinned at their bickering, but otherwise pretended she didn't hear a thing. "Just about everything you see on them will heal within a couple days. I could treat them, myself, but why waste the chakra when a few small bandages and some antiseptic cream will do the job?"
"I suppose," Haruno-san agreed.
"By the way, Haruno-san?" Tsunade began. "Could I see you in my office some time later this afternoon? I'd like to talk with you about coming back to work for us. I know you don't want to resume full-time duties as a kunoichi, but I was hoping maybe we could talk you into some sort of training position. I understand you're an expert when it comes to the care and handling of bladed weapons, and was hoping you might be willing to take a teaching role at the academy for such things."
"I'll stop by," Sakura's mother agreed. "But don't expect me to say yes. It's been so long since I really trained that I'm not sure I could perform a proper simple transformation any more, much less a 'bushin no jutsu,' so... Sakura-chan, what's wrong?"
Sakura shook her head and smiled, wiping a small tear she hadn't realized she'd released from her eyes. "It's nothing you need to worry about, mom, but I'll stop by this evening for dinner and we can chat about it, then."
Her mother didn't look entirely convinced. "Well... if you say so, dear."
Tsunade gave the older Haruno woman a slow nod, as if to say that yes, Sakura did need to talk about it, before saying, "Come on. Let's get you three bandaged up. We still have a few things we need to talk about before your dinner."
* * * * *
That night at dinner, Haruno-san heard it all. From the mission to Sand, where Sakura's theories about Naruto being the container for a greater demon were confirmed, to the date, to breaking the hokage's own orders in order to make a run on the obstacle course, to the Shadow Naruto's use of the 'hokage no jutsu.' Some of it shocked her -- the strength of Akatsuki, for one, and the realization that many of the times people thought Naruto was just being a little kid talking about how he'd grow up one day to become hokage he was actually thinking of committing suicide. By the end, she was joining her daughter in a good cry. She had grown to really love that boy, and suspected her daughter would, too, one day -- more so than ever after hearing the pain in her voice when talking about it all.
"It's okay, honey," she whispered comfortingly. "What he's talking about... it's in the past. He's no longer alone, and no longer quite so universally hated. I happen to know your whole academy year thinks he's a pretty good guy. Ino's parents have actually turned around, and respect him more then you'd think. Kakashi, Asuma, Kurenei, Gai, Genma, Ebisu, and several other high-level jounin and chuunin have all taken an interest in his upbringing and well-being. He's got the hokage, herself, looking after him. He's got the people who work at the Ichimaru Ramen, he's got Konohamaru and his friends who all look up to him, he's got Jiraiya-sama the sannin training him, and he's got Iruka-sensei treating him like a son. And then there's you... you're starting to recognize him for who he is, and he's blossoming under it." She paused. "And I think you're blooming, as well -- I think it was his example, back when he and the other men of your academy class went to retrieve Sasuke, that helped you decide to do what you had to in order to become the strong kunoichi you're becoming."
"He was," Sakura admitted.
"Well, I suspect he'll come to realize that you're becoming a better person because of him. From what you've told me... I suspect he's got more reason to live, now, then he ever has in his life. He'll be okay."
"Thanks, mom," Sakura said, giving her mother a tight hug.
"Urk! Careful! That's a very strong grip you've got, there, honey, and I'm not as tough as I used to be," Haruno-san teased. "Naruto-san might be able to take it, but I need a bit of exercise, first."
"Mom!" Sakura blushed. "Look... I kind of figured out that you were 'testing the waters' about me maybe being willing to date Naruto a while ago, despite the demon inside him. I hadn't gotten over Sasuke-kun, then, though. I still haven't, really, and might never get over him...."
Her mother raised an eyebrow. "I'm sensing a 'but' coming on."
"But... Naruto lives to make me happy. So maybe... maybe I'd be willing to... consider it. At some point," Sakura admitted.
Haruno-san chuckled. "Might I point out you went on a date with him just last night? And I know for a fact you knew, then."
Sakura smiled sheepishly. "Well, yes. I suppose what I really meant I'd be willing to consider is... well... all the stuff that goes with dating. You know... uh, serious hugging, kissing..."
"Loving? Getting married? Having kids?" her mother supplied.
"Mom!" she protested.
"Sasuke is gone, honey. You might want to really think about who else could do and be those things for you. If you're just going into 'dating Naruto' out of pity, and you're just going to be giving him 'serious hugs and kisses' because of that, then you'll be hurting him more then if you weren't dating him at all. Naruto does love you, and he'll understand whatever you decide... but don't just string him along. That, honey, would be seriously cruel."
"I'm not just 'stringing him along," Sakura said. "I know better then that. But Sasuke-kun... may come back. Naruto has promised to bring him back... and if he does come back, then...."
"Then what?" her mother asked flatly.
"Then... I don't know. I still love Sasuke-kun, though."
"So Naruto can never beat 'Sasuke-kun' in the eyes of Sakura-chan?" her mother asked, pronouncing Sakura's name with the distinct lilt Naruto would use to greet her in the morning.
"I... I never said that," Sakura replied, shamefaced. "But... I love Sasuke-kun... and while I do care greatly for Naruto-kun, too, it isn't love... yet. By the time we find him, or he comes to us... well, things may be different. I may find that Sasuke's grown into someone I cannot feel anything for, or I might discover that all I really love is a memory of a boy who never really existed. Or I may come to that point with Naruto where I would be willing to stick with him, instead. Right now, though, I don't think I can offer Naruto-kun more than 'hugs and kisses' while I try and sort all of this out."
Haruno-san sighed, leaning back away from her daughter. "I suppose that's honest enough. I happen to know you and Naruto are going on a fairly large mission, soon."
"Yeah... I might be gone for more than a year," Sakura admitted. "That's partly what tonight was all about. I was going to tell you all about it... well, what I know about it. I haven't been told much."
Haruno-san grinned slightly. "Actually, I may know more about it then you do. Hokage-sama used it as part of her pitch to get me to re-enlist. So... I'll be coming with you... although I'll be with the administrative and support ninjas, not the fighting nin. Oh, and chances are you'll be in your twenties before we all return permanently... although we'll be close enough to occasionally visit."
"There are administrative nin coming? And... what about dad? And wasn't the hokage offering you a teaching job?"
"Oh, your father will be out of the hospital before we go, and he'll come along," Haruno-san laughed. "And... well, I am going to be in a teaching job."
Sakura frowned. "You are? But... just what is this mission we're going on, anyway? Administrative nin, three full genin teams, team seven, an ANBU, possibly others, out for at least four years... just what is going on, here?"
"I can't tell you, honey," her mother answered with a slight smirk on her face. "It's a secret. I trust it isn't anything you will find too objectionable, however -- in fact, I suspect you'll learn quite a bit from it."
"Can't you give me a little hint?" Sakura pleaded, knowing the answer would be 'no.' She regretted asking instantly -- when she heard her own voice, she was reminded of a little kid asking for sweets. She wasn't a little kid any more, and this wasn't a sweet she was asking for.
"One hint," her mother replied, smiling slightly. "While this is not a training mission, team seven will nevertheless be training for... training for the job."
Sakura blinked. "Job? What job? What are you talking about?"
Haruno-san just smiled.
* * * * *
A knock on the door woke Tsunade up from an unintended nap on top of the paperwork she'd been struggling to deal with since she got the job of hokage. She'd grown to love the job, but she'd never gotten the hang of all the paperwork involved. It seriously cut into her drinking and gambling time. Checking her face to make sure nothing was sticking to it (after the first few hundred times it happened, the learned to check and make sure she didn't look too bad after one of her 'naps.' She only remembered to do it half the time, but she was getting the hang of remembering), she called out, "Come in."
The person who walked in wasn't exactly someone she expected. She'd heard of Mitarashi Anko, before -- it was kind of hard not to have. The woman was both loved and reviled by almost everyone in Konoha as both a hero and a traitor. The woman was one of the fourth's teammates, back when they were still students under Jiraiya, and had gone on to join ANBU at a very young age, taking instruction from a second sannin -- Orochimaru -- to train in those skills taught only to ANBU. In fact, the only sannin not to have taught her -- nor to have met her -- was Tsunade, herself.
Anko was known to have dated frequently. Apparently, 'claiming' her as a student was something of a battle in the rivalry between Orochimaru and Jiraiya. She was one of those 'genius ninja's,' although she had no known bloodline ability. A brilliant student... who accepted Orochimaru's seal voluntarily, not truly understanding what it was, because she became his lover at sixteen, and his loyal apprentice. For that reason, she was considered a traitor. Because she later betrayed him to show the Third the way to Orochimaru's hideout, when it became clear to her that he was not who she believed him to be, she was hailed as a hero. She left ANBU, and in fact went into hiding, for several years afterwards. Shortly after the sealing of the kyuubi, she returned -- for the Third sought her out, himself, as they were desperate for experience ninjas to replenish their ranks. She refused to be put back into active service, but instead went into various teaching positions which did not require her to leave the village -- exam proctor, special lecturor, and so forth. As she refused to leave Konoha for any mission, Tsunade had not sought her out, either to offer her new missions nor to change her position. However, apparently, Anko had something she wanted to discuss, herself.
"Yo, old hag," the jounin said in greeting.
Tsunade's eyebrow twitched. Yes, she let Naruto get away with it, but that was because Naruto was sort of special to her. "I am the hokage, you know. You might want to consider then when talking to me."
"Sure, sure," Anko waved dismissively. "Look, rumor is you're sending a couple of kids out with a small army to try and lure that Uchiha brat out into the open. Is that true?"
"Why do you want to know?" Tsunade asked cautiously.
Anko sighed, pulling down the shoulder of her dress. Pointing to a spot on her neck, she said, "I don't know how much of this you know, but your old pal Orochimaru bit me here, once... well, more then once, but only one significant time. It's a pain in the neck -- literally -- and a great weakness to have. At any moment, Orochimaru could force me into his submission... more or less. I have some power to resist, but he could pretty much stop me from doing just about anything I wanted to do on a whim. The thing is... if it weren't for this, I'm probably the best one to fight Orochimaru, since I know him even better then you do -- he taught me a lot of his stuff, after all, and much of it was stuff no-one else in Konoha has seen. But that's the thing -- I know just what he's likely to be teaching Sasuke... so maybe I could help those youngsters prepare to fight the brat, even if I can't fight him myself. So... I want in."
Tsunade stared at the other woman for a very long time. "You haven't asked to be on a mission since Orochimaru left, and now you're asking for one with a minimum four year deployment. That is a pretty big step."
"So?" Anko asked, pulling a carton of dango out from... somewhere. Tsunade would have sworn there wasn't anywhere to hide anything under the fishnet stocking the other woman wore as a shirt, but apparently a food carton was indeed concealable. "I'm a good enough ninja, and a former ANBU, so I can help with just about anything... as long as I'm not put in direct confrontation with Orochimaru. But actually, I was thinking of going to be the personal trainer of those kids."
"Jiraiya will be with them for that reason," Tsunade noted. Anko looked down, and her face sort of... deflated. Slight hints of the laugh lines which accompanied middle-age seemed to appear where they hadn't been, before. That concerned the medi-nin, so she surreptitiously used her chakra to try and diagnose the other woman. While she didn't have as clear a vision of a person's chakra as a Hyuuga, she was able to see it to some extent... and what she saw was a very bizarrely disrupted chakra system, symptomatic of the cursed seal she knew Orochimaru able to produce... but also constrained by another seal operating solely on Anko's force of will. And Anko's will was very strong... but was flagging as she watched. Seeing that, she came to a decision. "However, there is a whole team I suspect will be confronting Sasuke, so I suspect there will be times when training can be split a couple ways. You may go... but you are not in the chain of command, and you are not to train any youngsters without either Jiraiya or Kakashi watching you -- I suppose I trust you, but I don't trust that seal."
Anko's will flared as she watched. That greatly encouraged Tsunade that she made the right decision.
"I won't let you down, hokage-sama," Anko declared. "Anything I can do to stop Orochimaru... I will."
* * * * *
Notes: The stuff about Anko is all guesses, based upon her attitude, her odd and partially unexplained relationship with Orochimaru, and the picture of the Fourth's days as a youngster, being trained by Jiraiya. I may be all wet, there, but this is my theory as to what's really going on in the manga, although it may never come up either way. The art books say she's 24 when Naruto was 12/13, but that doesn't make sense -- even if they never were lovers, Orochimaru couldn't have been that big of an influence in her life as a genin if he really did leave the village when the Fourth was made hokage -- which, while we don't know the exact time frame, was at least twelve years before the start of the series (given Naruto's age), and likely more (I'm guessing fifteen-sixteen). In other words, the art books have likely made a mistake, so I'm guessing she's really 34 by the chuunin exam, instead, and so is 37 now. I made her greeting to Tsunade just like Naruto's because she has been compared to Naruto in attitude in the manga, so I figured she might act that way, but that's a personal decision. In other words, this Anko may or may not resemble canon Anko -- I think she does, but she's a very, ah, 'theoretical' Anko, where I essentially used a single textless frame picture of some girl at a young age and a few odd comments Orochimaru made to her to come up with a very complex storyline for her... one which I doubt is entirely true in canon, but may be partially true. Okay, next: No, I have not forgotten that Naruto, Sakura, and Ino were all going to be punished for training despite orders to the contrary. While it's really a very minor detail, I know if I don't mention 'it'll be revealed next chapter,' someone will ask the question 'what about their punishment?' Next chapter: Final farewells for Ino and Naruto -- including the explanation of Hokage no Jutsu's use with kage bushin, and why Naruto never did it himself, which I intended to put in this chapter but didn't get around to -- and maybe (just maybe) I'll reveal to you all what the mission is... if you haven't guessed it already. (I've given you all the clues, people -- any guesses? I'll say that no-one's even come close, yet)