Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 34 ( Chapter 44 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Mention is made of the mission to rescue Gaara in the manga story arc which was recently completed. Imagine that the story happened much like it did in the manga, but Kakashi's battle was altered so that he didn't have the mangekyou eye and there's nothing about kyuubi's 'tails' involved, precisely. And afterwards, this fic (specifically this volume) diverges completely from the manga storyline -- this new character, Sai, will not be appearing no matter how interesting he turns out to be. Gaara, for the purposes of this fanfic, is alive. The subplot I was intending to include depending on whether he lived or not can no longer be written (I passed the point I had to start it a few chapters ago), but he will be appearing in Vol. 4 nonetheless. (I meant to mention how I was finally 'settling' where this fic diverged from in the last chapter's notes, but I was so fed up with writing the chapter by that point that I just posted it before I remembered to add them. I guess now is soon enough, though) Moegi IS stronger then an AVERAGE jounin. That's not actually that bizarre, just rare. Sakura is stronger then your average jounin, after all, and she isn't a jounin. We're talking raw strength, now, not overall fighting capability. In other words, Moegi could bench press more then the average jounin could. I don't see why that seems so unrealistic -- it wouldn't be unusual for one of the strongest college-level linebackers (American football, for those who don't follow sports or at least not US sports), for example, to be stronger then the average NFL starting linebacker. But the starting NFL linebacker, because of their experience and skill, are better players (probably) then that college linebacker. If this concept is too hard to grasp... well, I'm sorry. Regarding Shikamaru: I've heard it said that as a character goes from manga to anime to fanfic, the idiots will become stupider, the perverts more perverted, and the violent tomboys more violent, and over time these 'new' characterizations will be thought of as the 'true' ones, even though they are the furthest from canon. I've seen it happen in many a series, as well, and while that is an overgeneralization, it does have SOME merit. Well, I've also seen the smart (Shikamaru) getting made smarter. I love the character of Shikamaru, but I think he's often portrayed as being smarter then he actually is -- or rather, I think his brilliance is shown to cover areas he isn't exactly brilliant in. The audience felt he was worthy to become a chuunin, true... but being a chuunin does NOT necessarily mean he's ready to lead all types of missions, but rather he'd be very good at some types of missions and moderately capable, but sub-par, at others. He is, as one reviewer put it, a strategician, not a tactician. That has been the point of many of the scenes I've had him in or discussed him in. I've already mentioned, several times, why I don't have him as the brilliant boy in all of his endeavors that many people seem to want me (or other fanfic writers) to make him, but I have also attempted not to diminish him in those areas he's seemed remarkably talented. He comes up with a doozy of a plan... but when something goes wrong, it'll take him a while to figure out how to fix it, and that's what I've basically been trying to say. I think that he was given a mission he was unsuited for when he lead Naruto and co. in pursuit of Sasuke, and I think it showed -- especially in his self-evaluation at the end. I've tried (and will continue to try) to have him in roles I think are more appropriate for his skill set, and he may be seen to excel in certain areas eventually... but I will not portray him as brilliant in areas I don't believe him to BE brilliant, to lead in areas he has already shown he was underprepared to lead. Now, that's not precisely saying he's TERRIBLE at these jobs -- his leadership in the Sasuke crisis wasn't horrible, per se, and when he had time to think he came up with brilliant -- but, since they all had flaws which resulted in him breaking up his team, ultimately failed plans. A TACTICIAN leading that mission -- i.e., someone more like Naruto, who's better at 'strategy on the fly' (a.k.a. tactics) and who could make corrections faster -- might have been able to keep his whole team together utilizing Shikamaru's plans as a starting point and managing to truly compensate when each plan failed. So, his strategic brilliance lead to rather average results since he couldn't compensate when he needed tactical brilliance. In other words, he's brilliant, but he has flaws in his brilliance... and some fanfic writers and readers miss those flaws. Understood? I am constantly being asked why I 'removed' certain chapters. I have removed no chapters. What's happening is that ffnet is experiencing technical difficulties, and occasionally that'll result in a false result claiming a chapter does not exist when it in fact does. Your web browser will cache this false result, meaning that you'll see this page as 'missing' until your cache is cleared. I don't know how to fix it, and I can't do anything about it even if I did -- I don't have any control over ffnet, after all. The best thing I can suggest is, if you're running into missed chapters, try the version of this fic archived over at mediaminer. I've apparently been nominated for some award for this fanfic over at The Original Naruto Fanfic Archive. I've never even heard of this archive, before, so I have no idea what this award is about, and how reputable it is, but I figured I'd mention it just in case some of you did. (I do now know things I didn't before, like, say, where it is and all (the e-mail informing me of the nomination included a link), but I still haven't had much of a chance to explore the site on my own. Enter at your own risk)
Chapter 34
"It's about damned time you showed up, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto snapped. He wasn't in a happy mood after having to help Ebisu -- who had just regained consciousness -- to the hospital, and hearing all the whimpers and screams of pain the older man made as he was carried across town. In fact, only those who had fought alongside him in an intense battle would recognize the mood he was in -- and so wasn't nearly as ready to forgive his old sensei for his tardiness. "You do know we almost lost a good ninety percent of the village's population, including most of its ninja's, in the tournament today, right? Where the hell were you -- and don't give me any bullshit about you having been 'lost on the path of life' or anything like that. The truth, dammit, or so help me you're out of here. You gave me this chuunin exam to run, it's my call who works with me on it."
Kakashi was, as it turned out, one of those few people who had fought alongside him in a major battle, during the mission to rescue Gaara. He recognized this attitude, and knew better then to try and fight against it. "I was in a meeting," he answered honestly. "We had an unexpected courier arrive from the Cloud, bearing some intelligence which might be useful for our people who are about to travel into their lands. I figured you could handle the tournament... and, given that everyone survived despite the... situation, I suspect I was right."
Naruto hesitated, then nodded reluctantly. "I suppose I can believe that. It's a lot more plausible then your usual lies, anyway."
Kakashi, seeing that his presence had been accepted, took a seat at the council table Naruto had commandeered for the meeting. "Thank you. I read a report on the fights. I have my own opinions, but I'm interested in yours."
A little of Naruto's temper resurfaced. "Your opinions don't matter, here. I'll hear your advice, but this is ultimately my decision."
Sakura, sitting at Naruto's right, put a gentle hand on his arm. "Naruto, calm down. Remember, he is the jounin-oyabun here."
"Yeah, yeah," Naruto replied dismissively, although he did noticibly settle back into his chair and relax some. "Okay, I started the tournament so that the two genin who I already knew were ready to take the exam faced off in the one preliminary match we had. Hanabi won against Konohamaru, but both of them already had a slot in my mind. I... was unaware of just how improved Moegi-chan was, however, or else I might have arranged things differently. I suspected the puppy girl was the person for the third slot, and thought I was arranging things so that she would face the winner of Konohamaru and Hanabi-chan. I mostly wanted to see who needed what to prepare for the next exam, actually, since I'd pretty much already decided on who was going to be in the exam.
"However, Moegi-chan sort of ruined that plan," he admitted ruefully. "I didn't know if Hanabi-chan would win after seeing her match with Konohamaru, but I didn't expect her to show all of what she did. I'm told she can get a bit careless, sometimes, and I did see some of that when she tried her baika no jutsu inside the stadium, but... well, right now I'm hard pressed to say that she isn't as good as Hanabi-chan or Konohamaru. But then, the puppy girl was handling her rather well during their match, too, and that fight ended in a draw... which she should have one. So, I'd rather not pull her from consideration, either. But that leaves us with four candidates, and three slots, and that's the crux of the problem."
"Hm," Kakashi grunted, nodding slowly. "Well, then, I suggest you withdraw Hanabi-chan from consideration. She's decided to leave, once, herself, because of the situation between her clan and Cloud... and the information I recieved today makes me doubt for her safety should she attend."
Naruto stiffened. So did Sakura and several of the other participants in the council, including Anko, Hana, and Ino. It wasn't entirely a secret that Naruto had pushed hard with Hanabi to get her to change her mind, and everyone knew his attitude about giving up. Withdrawing Hanabi now, after she had genuinely demonstrated her maturity and talent in the tournament -- maturity and talent which had shown her as probably the top candidate for chuunin -- was far too close to giving up for any of them to believe Naruto would even consider it.
"No," was all he answered, surprisingly calm and brief in his answer despite everyone expecting him to explode into a long rant on the evils of giving up. It impressed them all the more when he seemed to feel that was all he needed to say, and leaned back into his chair. "I'm going to ask all four candidates into this chamber and ask one of them to withdraw. If none of them do... well, then maybe we'll have them draw straws or something random like that."
"I still think--" Kakashi began.
"I will not have Hanabi-chan be shoved aside from a chance at promotion when she has earned it," Naruto snapped, his voice cracking a bit. "If she decides on her own to withdraw again, that's one thing... but I will not withdraw her because of vague reports that the danger might be as great as we already knew it was."
Kakashi stared at him blankly for a moment and then shrugged. "It's your call. Remember, though... if she is killed, this time it will be your responsibility."
Sakura tensed, almost ready to attack Kakashi -- again -- in defense of Naruto, but restrained herself when she saw Naruto nodding.
"You're right," he said slowly. "Which is why I will be the one to take them into Cloud. It makes the most sense -- with Ebisu injured, we're already short of jounin. I was planning to have either him or Hana-chan lead the genin through the exam, but... probably it should be me, instead. That way, I'll be there if anything goes wrong. But if Hanabi decides to stay behind, I suppose I'd go ahead and give the job to the puppy lady. She's, er, less likely to cause an international incident."
Kakashi hesitated, but then nodded in agreement. "I suppose, if you think that's best. I did leave you in charge of this matter, after all."
Naruto nodded, then looked around the room. Spying a pink-haired woman on the other end of the council table, he called to her. "Haruno-san, could you please get the four, um, candidates? Sakura-chan tells me they should all be awake by now."
Haruno grinned down at Naruto. "Certainly, son. I'll be right back."
Sakura winced, slightly, at her mother calling Naruto 'son.' It wasn't that she was ashamed of being Naruto's fiance, nor was she unhappy that her mother seemed to accept him so well, but... she wasn't ready to get married. To anybody. And so, she didn't want it known that she was engaged to Naruto, because she anticipated that it would be years before she decided to settle down and marry him. She wasn't ruling out... well, a more physical relationship with Naruto sooner rather then later, but marriage... just wasn't in the cards for her right then. She hadn't said anything to her mother -- though she had discussed it, briefly, with Ino, and had tried to hint her plans to Naruto with what she hoped was some success -- but she didn't want to get married until she was ready to have children... and she certainly wasn't ready for that, yet. She had a career ahead of her, first. But if her mother continued calling him 'son' all the time then she had no idea what people would think... and so every time her mother called Naruto 'son' or did something which might hint at the current arrangement she had with him, Sakura couldn't help but feel a little worried.
Apparently, however, looking around the room, no-one seemed to have noticed. Of course, she was in a room full of ninja -- most of whom had many years of experience more then she -- and so schooling emotion off of their face would have been well trained into them, by now. However, it was a good sign that none of them at least seemed to care, even if they did catch it. Even Anko, who already knew of the... arrangement... hadn't reacted, so perhaps she was in the clear.
Her mother returned quickly enough, leading the four genin inside. Naruto grinned at them. "Congradulations! You've all qualified to take the chuunin exam. However... there's a problem."
"Problem?" Futaba echoed, glancing at Hana. The older Inuzuke smiled sympathetically at the younger, but said nothing.
"There are four of you. We've only got three slots. Now, only three of you can attend this particular exam... so one of you will have to wait for the next one. You won't have to 're-qualify' for that one, however -- you'll just be a few months behind," Naruto explained. "But, like I said, only three of you can attend this exam."
Shifting uncomfortably, Futaba nodded. "Okay... which of us is the one who has to remain behind?"
Her voice had wavered in such a way it was obvious she felt she was the one who would be held back, but Naruto shook his head. "I was hoping that one of you would volunteer. I realize there's not really anything I can offer you in return for this delay, but... someone has to remain behind. I think you're all ready, and each of you brings something very different to the role of chuunin. Konohamaru, you've probably got the best developed charismatic leadership. Moegi, you've got the most raw power, and some sense of tactics. Futaba, you've had the most experience when it comes to tactical leadership, thanks to your work with Gonta. Hanabi, you're the most well-rounded of the bunch -- you've got power, both tactical and charismatic leadership -- if only in a classroom setting --, and some administrative experience under your belt. All four of you deserve to go to this exam. But if you think there's more you need... then perhaps you would want to wait, and I'll personally work with you to build up whatever it is you think you're lacking. So I'm asking you... will any of the four of you withdraw?"
Futaba hesitated as well. She knew that, of the four of them, she was the weakest. She'd won largely by getting what amounted to a cheap shot in on Moegi, and that victory had nearly killed half of the population of Blossom. She was certain that the only reason Naruto hadn't singled her out for withdrawl was that, well, she and he had been working closely together in training for the past several months, already. However... she didn't want to withdraw. She felt that she was ready for the chuunin exam, and perhaps it was greedy of her... but she was going to wait and see if someone else answered, first. She glanced around, hoping to see what the others were thinking.
Hanabi's mouth opened and closed a few times, but a glance from Naruto silenced her. Of all four of them, it was obvious she was the one he least wanted to withdraw. She and Konohamaru were the most ready for the promotion, and the only reason she wouldn't want to take the exam was that it was held in Cloud... but, apparently, Naruto didn't want that to stop her. So, Futaba wouldn't be getting a reprieve from her.
Moegi looked rather abashed. In fact, she looked rather guilty about her role in the whole near-disaster. Futaba remembered that she was usually a rather sweet girl, except when defending Konohamaru's honor or when in combat, and she wondered if maybe the personal shame of having lost control, like she had, would cause her to decide to withdraw. She seemed to be considering it, as well, but wasn't saying anything herself.
Konohamaru was who Futaba least suspected of withdrawing. After all, the boy was the grandson of the Third. Many people suspected that he would be the hokage designate before he turned twenty, and he certainly wouldn't want to be delayed here. Of everyone, he had been the most prepared for early advancement -- there had been some who said he could have skipped the genin rank entirely and gone to chuunin straight out of the Academy. Yes, he lost to Hanabi, but that was no disgrace -- Hanabi was better then most genin and even many chuunin when it came to combat ability, after all, and she was far behind him in the non-combat areas of command. Well, she had been -- Naruto had, admittedly, been taking the Hyuuga girl under his wing, since her clan began its civil war, and so she might have learned more. But he was the person with the least need to withdraw -- everyone else had a reason, whether it was clan business (like Hanabi's) or simply the need to train more in certain aspects such as combat techniques and control (like Futaba herself and Moegi, respectively), which was great enough to want to withdraw. He shouldn't have to.
Which made it all the more surprising when he stepped forward. "I think I'll hold off until next time," he said, surprising everyone in the room... except, perhaps, Naruto.
Moegi's eyes widened, and she turned to face him in shock. "But... but Konohamaru-chan! Why? I'm the one who should... I mean, with what happened in my last match, I..."
Konohamaru smiled softly at her, putting a hand on her shoulder comfortingly. "Hey, it's okay with me. I can wait. And, truth be told... I think all three of you did much better during the tournament then I did. Moegi-chan, you still need to learn control... but I suspect that this mission -- and make no mistake about it, getting promoted is a mission for Blossom, not an individual accomplishment like it would be in Konoha -- will help you learn that. Futaba-chan is more ready to be a chuunin then I am, considering her experience. Hanabi-chan is more well-rounded then I am, and she already has a chuunin-level job she works at every day. You, Moegi-chan... you are more ready then I am, when it comes to combat, for the promotion. You do need to learn a bit about leadership, but honestly I think being around Hanabi-chan and Futaba-chan will help you more than hanging around with me would. You idolize me, too much, Moegi-chan... and so you need to learn from someone other then me."
"Maybe," Moegi said softly, not meeting his eyes. "But... but what about your dreams of being hokage?"
"Well... a great man once told me that there are no shortcuts to becoming hokage," Konohamaru explained, noticing out of his peripheral vision that Naruto had the grace to blush. "So perhaps I shouldn't be taking a shortcut when it is offered to me, huh? Of all of us, I was the one who did the least to earn this slot. I was being given it on a silver platter... and that's just not the right way to become hokage, is it? I'll still become a chuunin, but I'll do it the right way -- I'll spend these next several months training to be the best I can, and I'll earn my promotion like I should. Like you have earned this spot, Moegi-chan. Don't be so hard on yourself -- you did great in that tournament! Now, go forth and get that promotion... and I'll be catching up with you soon enough."
She smiled at him slightly. "Well... I guess I can try. For you." She paused. "Besides, it'd be great to be on the first ever all-kunoichi team to take the chuunin exam!"
"I'm afraid you won't be able to brag about that," Naruto said suddenly, interrupting the young couple. "Just a warning -- from here on in, nobody mentions a word of what's going on in this room. This is strictly need to know, and only the people in this room should be told. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," the gathered ninja, including the jounin who were technically Naruto's superiors, chorused. Somewhere along the line, Kakashi realized as he watched the boy work, Naruto had not just accepted his job as head of the village, but actually taken charge of it. Even the jounin who grew up hating or mistrusting him -- people like Aoba or Anko -- were accepting his commands as if he ran the village. Kakashi smiled slightly under his mask, pleased that the boy had managed to achieve what he had... but that smile had some doubt in it, for Kakashi knew that he might unknowingly cause a few problems in the future with Kakashi's real mission in Blossom. As he already had once so far....
"Now, we have a bit of a problem. Hanabi-chan needs to be promoted, so she has to attend this exam. But... her clan and the Cloud don't exactly see eye-to-eye, so we've got other issues which will need to be taken care of. I have a plan in mind, and I'll need your help, Konohamaru."
* * * * *
Sakura was clinging on to Naruto as if her life depended on it. She had wanted to come along, but for the obvious reason of Cloud limiting the number of Blossom ninja allowed to visit at this time, she was unable to. She was actually very worried -- Cloud wasn't exactly the most friendly of foriegn powers -- and they were a lot more deceptive about their intentions then most. Truth be told, she would rather send him off to lead the genin to a chuunin exam in Sound then in Cloud, because at least Sound was a bit more... direct. The incident which lead to the death of Hyuuga Hizashi so long ago was only the latest of a very large number of fake political incidents they had initiated with Konoha. They were not to be trusted... but she suspected Naruto knew that, considering some of the plans he had made.
"I'm going to miss you," she whispered softly.
"Hey, it'll only be a couple months," Naruto pointed out. If things went according to plan, it would only be a couple weeks... but, as they were on the edge of town and in public, he couldn't exactly reveal that. Still, the point was made.
"Still," Sakura replied. "We haven't exactly been that far apart since... well, since you returned to Konoha from your training trip. And I... I'm worried about you."
"Well, I suspect you'll know if I run into any trouble," Naruto said. "But we should be fine. After all, I'm in charge, aren't I? And how many things have I messed up when I was in charge of them?"
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "You want a complete list, or just a few examples?"
He chuckled slightly. "Well, okay. I screw up all the time... but if I've lived through it all those times I've screwed up, what makes you think this time is any different?"
"It is the Cloud you're dealing with, here," Sakura pointed out. "Orochimaru or... or even the Akatsuki are easier to deal with, usually. You can at least be sure they're your enemy... with the Cloud, well, they're often your enemy, your ally, and in the process of changing sides all at the same time."
Naruto didn't have an answer to that, but did hold her tighter. He wanted to reassure her as best as he could, and... well, there didn't seem to be anything he could say to help. So, he just gave her what physical comfort he could. A brief, soft kiss to her forehead signalled the need to let go, but they both were reluctant to slip out of each other's arms. They were both still touching, even after letting go, each allowing their fingertips to rest on the other's arms so lightly they would tickle if either of them moved.
A loud throat clearing reminded them of exactly where they were.
"Isn't it time to get this show on the road, boss?" Konohamaru asked, smirking at the blond boy.
"You aren't usually this obnoxious, Konohamaru," Naruto warned, glaring at him. "But you're right, it's time to go."
Konohamaru winced, but nodded. "Sure thing, boss." With that, Naruto lead three genin down the road out of town. Konohamaru was in the lead, followed by Futaba and then Moegi. Moegi glanced back longingly, locking eyes with -- of all people -- Hanabi, a sad, regretful set to her expression. This whole situation wasn't fair, and she knew it.
Sakura, Hanabi, and the rest of the gathered crowd watched until the foursome was out of sight before turning around and dispersing back to their normal routine. "Come on, Hanabi," Sakura said. "Let's take a walk."
Hanabi sighed after following the other girl for some time. "I know I volunteered for this in the end, but... I still wish I could go. I hate the fact that this test is in Cloud, and I hate worse that it forced us into using such a... useless plan. I mean, what's the point when this is all over? It's not going to work, you know."
"I don't know about that," Sakura said doubtfully, shaking her head. "Naruto comes up with a lot of plans most of us ninja look down on as silly or amateurish, but they always seem to work even against ninja of decades more experience then we have."
"Well, it's not like I'll ever know, now, is it?" Hanabi grumbled. "Look, I've got to report to Kakashi's office in an hour, and I'd like some time to, er, freshen up. Can we talk about this later?"
"Sure, Hanabi-chan," Sakura answered. "But I'm here to talk any time."
Hanabi smiled at her ruefully. "Yeah, I know. See you, Sakura-san."
They parted ways, and Hanabi made her way to her home. She fumbled with her keys -- a pointless gesture in a ninja village, keys, but they did allow for some small degree of privacy. She really wished that they didn't bother with them, sometimes -- she was never concerned about a lack of keys, after all. Grumbling for quite a bit, she finally got the door unlocked and went in.
Securing the lock behind her purely out of instinct, despite her disgust at the whole concept, she rushed into the bedroom. She needed to change and get ready, after all.
"Kai," she whispered, dispelling the henge. Within moments, Konohamaru emerged from the puff of ninja smoke. "Well... I hope this works."
* * * * *
Notes: I'm not sure I was really fooling anyone reading this fic at the end, there, with Konohamaru masquerading at Hanabi, but I figure he was fooling Blossom at least. Next chapter: Naruto, Hanabi (disguised as Konohamaru, of course), Moegi, and Futaba arrive in Cloud and take the written portion of the test. The plan to leave before the start of the second part of the test, however, has a slight snag....