Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 35 ( Chapter 45 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3
Notes: Hm... light review day. No-one posted any comments I really need to talk about here. I will explain the notes system again, here, though, for people who don't realize what's going on: Sometimes, I have to leave a note BEFORE the events of a chapter in order to respond to a review, and sometimes AFTER. Because of that, I will ALWAYS try to divide the notes between a 'top' set of notes and a 'bottom' set of notes. If this bothers you, sorry, but that's how it's going to be.
Chapter 35
Naruto poked the campfire with a stick. There was no reason for it -- the fire was roaring just as they wanted, and he wasn't actually hitting any wood with the stick -- but he thought it looked right... and he could probably use the stick at some point.
"Moegi-chan," he sighed. The Akimichi girl was the only genin present, as Hanabi was collecting more firewood and Futaba was hunting. He and Moegi had just finished setting up camp, and were waiting for the two others to return. "You and Hanabi-chan have to learn how to work together, better. The two of you fighting all of the time will make you fail the exam, and then all of this mess we've been involved in will have been for nothing."
Moegi huffed. "Look, I just don't like her. And I don't see it as all that important to work with her here, anyway -- I mean, yeah, I know all about those teamwork lessons. Ebisu-sensei put us through those repeatedly, long before we all became genin, but... well, since when is teamwork a part of a written test? We aren't planning on taking any of the other parts, anyway."
Naruto paused. He wasn't supposed to ever reveal anything about his chuunin exam experience to another person, but this was a special case. After all, they weren't being tested in Konoha, so things would likely be different, anyway... and these three genin needed to know what they were up against. It wasn't like most chuunin exams, after all -- this wasn't a normal team which had worked together for at least eight, though more commonly sixteen or more missions, learning each other's habits and behaviors. It was a mixed team, and as such had a severe disadvantage. One he supposed he would just have to counter through a little explanation.
"The written exam is just a front," he pointed out. "Or, it was when I took the exam. I never even wrote a single word on the paper, after all, outside of my name. I passed the written exam with a blank sheet of paper."
Moegi stiffened. "But..."
"It was a psy-op to determine how good we were with trusting our teammates and relying on each other," Naruto explained. "There was also a bit in there to get rid of the truly incompetent ninja, as well, but I imagine that what they had us do will be a bit different from what they'll have you do. The point is... yes, teamwork is even part of the written exam. So, yes, you need to learn how to work with Hanabi-chan better."
Moegi's face fell. "But leader, I... I just can't get along with her. It's more then Konohamaru-chan. I knew, even when I was yelling at her about it, that she wasn't 'making him' cop a feel on her, and I wasn't really angry about that. But... well, she's always been something of a bully, and a bit obsessive at that. She's put Konohamaru-chan down, she's put you down, she's put Daichi-kun down, she's put me down... I just can't stand how she casually insults everybody like she does! And... and did you see the way she abused poor Neji-kun when he was in town a few months ago? And..."
"I saw," Naruto said. "I've also seen a great change in her, lately. This business with her clan's civil war really shook her up, and she's changing for the better. It does make it rather hard to be nice to people, though, when no-one forgives you."
The girl winced. "It would take some time to get used to that, if she really has changed. But how can I work with her when I don't like her?"
Naruto shrugged. "Did you know that Uchiha Sasuke and I worked extremely well together? When we decided to work together, that is."
The girl hesitated. "Well... I didn't when I was in Konoha, but somehow the people here in Wave country know a lot more about your mission here then anyone back home was ever told."
Naruto smirked. "We did okay, sometimes, at other times as well. It's true, though, if you didn't know about the fights with Zabuza, you'd probably not have realized that. The thing is... while I eventually came to look upon Sasuke as one of my best friends... there was a very long part of our time, together, where I was so jealous of him that I hated his guts."
"You hated him?" Moegi chirped, surprised. "But... well, I'd always heard you were great friends! I... I..."
Naruto sighed, poking the fire with the stick once again. "Oh, we were. Well, we were about as close as anyone ever got to Sasuke, anyway... but I still hated his guts. I had a pretty good reason to, but... well, jealousy-fueled hatred doesn't exactly help two people work well together, now does it?"
"Jealousy? What were you jealous of?"
Naruto chuckled bitterly. "Well, Sakura-chan, for one. She had such a huge crush on him she was steamrolling over her friends -- including me -- in pursuit of him. Plus he was smarter then me, stronger then me, faster then me, and... well, he appeared so perfect. He was the ideal ninja. The person I aspired to be, who had the things I most wanted in life -- Sakura-chan, the respect of everyone around him, truly great skills, grace and poise... all things I had little of. Just about everyone in Konoha hated me and cursed my name. Sakura-chan was so resentful of my affections she very nearly killed me a time or two for daring to voice them. I failed at the Academy three times and was the bottom of my class. I was rude and crude and clumsy, and I was... I don't know. But I had ample reason to be jealous of him."
"But you were a great ninja!" Moegi protested. "Konohamaru-chan saw that! Ebisu-sensei saw that! The Third saw that! Why were you so down on yourself?"
"I was a horrible ninja," Naruto laughed. "Probably the worst one to ever graduate from the Academy! I was remarkably good with stealth, but never used it. I came up with crappy techniques which wouldn't work on most true ninja. I was slow, and constantly late, and my taijutsu stank even though that was what I was supposed to be the most talented at. I bragged all the time -- still do, but at least now I actually have the talent to back it up. I made poor decisions, ruined a number of the D-class missions we were sent on, and damn near blew our teamwork out of the water with my jealousy."
"I was the worst ninja ever," Naruto repeated. "Except when there was real danger involved. Then... I don't know if it was the adreneline or what, but then I knew exactly what I was doing, could beat the hell out of people I didn't have any right to even look at, much less fight, and I could -- and this is the important thing -- co-ordinate our team in ways that made us work, regardless of what personal problems we were having with each other at the time."
"Except in that last fight," Moegi pointed out hesitantly.
"Sasuke was literally crazy, by then," Naruto pointed out. "I don't get it all, but Sakura-chan found something in the Hyuuga bloodline which indicated that children of the Hyuuga and another advanced bloodline would be... I think she said 'predisposed to go insane,' or something like that. The whole Uchiha clan had that problem, which explains why about one out of every four Uchiha ninja went insane during their careers."
"That number... doesn't sound right. I mean, yeah, there were a few incidents -- and Itachi was a pretty big example of them -- but--"
"They were covered up," Naruto sighed. "Konoha's clan system allows for a lot of individual accomplishment, but it also involves a lot of dark internal politics which could destroy us, if we're not careful. The Uchiha clan was the council leadership for so long, that they were able to hide a lot of their problems from the world. The Haruno clan -- and possibly others -- managed to keep their own records, however... and from that, we've learned a lot."
"But... but..."
"I keep telling people 'the clan system means nothing in Blossom.' I mean it. There will not be a true clan system established in Blossom, if I have anything to say about it," Naruto snapped. "Oh, sure, there'll be clans... but no council based on clan leadership, no clan will have any special rights like the Hyuuga do in Konoha, and the only purpose of clans will be to teach special techniques. Nothing else. I suppose each clan can run its own 'preparatory school,' if they want, but that will be the limit of it." He paused. "I figure that way, Blossom has a chance of surviving even if Konoha crumbles to its clan system. Although I hope to change the clan system in Konoha, too, when I become hokage!"
Moegi hesitated. "Um... I'm not sure I can agree with you on that one. I think my clan does pretty good, after all."
"Sure, some of the clans do," Naruto agreed. "But then, some of them don't. And then there are other problems which come when you don't have a clan to support you. Where are the rest of the Uzumaki?"
Moegi hesitated. "Er... dead?"
"And who brought me up with my clan all gone?"
"I... don't know."
Naruto smirked. "Right. Because no-one did -- I went to school, and that was about all I had to grow up with. No parents, no clan members, no-one outside of a clan willing to help... nobody. If you aren't in a clan, you're just out of luck in Konoha."
Moegi shook her head. "But a large part of Konoha's philosophy is teamwork -- especially in the mixing of clan powers on various teams. I just don't understand!"
"Who leads your team?"
"Konohamaru-chan," Moegi answered without hesitation.
"I expected you would say that -- you have quite the crush on him, after all. Okay, better example: Who leads the team of Hanabi-chan, Futaba-chan, and Daichi-san?"
"Hanabi-chan," Moegi replied, still not getting his point.
"Sasuke-kun lead my team," Naruto pointed out, "Although I was always in a bit of a power struggle with him, and I usually took over in a crisis. Okay, now, here's the trickier question. Between Sakura-chan, Sasuke-kun, and myself, who would have been the best leader?"
Moegi grinned at him. "Fishing for compliments? You, of course!"
"Wrong. Sakura-chan," Naruto shot back. "She was the smartest of the three of us, and cared for both of us whether she wanted to or not. But she idolized Sasuke-kun, in large part because he was an Uchiha, and therefore never even considered taking charge. I was better then Sasuke, when it mattered, but she would have been even better then me if she'd tried. Who would be the best leader of Hanabi-chan's team?"
"Uh..." Moegi hesitated, boggling slightly. "Hanabi-chan?"
"No. Hanabi-chan is their combat expert, but while she's gotten a lot better she doesn't have as well developed a sense of instinctual leadership as Futaba-chan does. But Hanabi-chan leads because the Hyuuga are the lead clan. No, while our 'mixed clans' is a good idea, it isn't enough. The stronger clan will wind up leading over the better leader... most of the time. Sometimes, someone will rise up and claim leadership -- like I did, or at least tried to do -- but they have to be very, very good. I wasn't, and so things fell apart on our team."
"But Konohamaru-chan is the best leader on our team!" Moegi shot back, her voice wavering. "So it doesn't always work that way!"
"Konohamaru is a good leader," Naruto admitted. "Out of all nine of the genin in Blossom, he's the best. That's why he isn't here. But when you get back... you're going to be the leader. You'll outrank him, after all, and in missions requiring your team to lead itself, without the help of your jounin sensei, guess who will be put in charge?"
"Me," Moegi replied softly. "I... I'm going to outrank Konohamaru-chan."
"Which means," Naruto pointed out. "You still need to learn how to use teamwork. And I'll make this a point with you -- there'll be times when you'll be leading a mixed-team mission, or times when you and Hanabi-chan will have to work together for, say, a class B mission. You're going to have to be ready for that. And there's this exam, which will be testing your ability to work together. An exam which begins in two or three days...."
"Okay," Moegi sighed. "I'll work with her. But I make no guarantees that I'll like it!"
* * * * *
"And just why are you sticking to me like this, again?" Hanabi asked dryly.
"Because we're not supposed to go anywhere alone," Moegi repeated -- again.
"That doesn't explain why you're... cuddling me," the other girl sighed. It was really not very comfortable being held at all, especially not as tightly as the other girl was holding her. Having bound her breasts and worn a costume and make-up -- largely because it would be impossible to hold a henge long enough -- Hanabi wasn't exactly able to relax much, anyway, but... being held like this by another girl just added to the problem.
"You are in disguise as Konohamaru-chan," Moegi pointed out. "And if they have any spies in Blossom at all, they know that this is exactly how I deal with Konohamaru. It'd be odd if I wasn't."
Hanabi grimmaced. Yes, she did have to go along with the subterfuge. She even had to go to the men's bathrooms and things like that -- a very unpleasant experience, and one she decided she would not be repeating. Even the name on the application form she was supposed to turn in said Konohamaru... although that form was 'treated' with a special chemical. Apply a counter-agent, and the name would change to her own, and no-one would know the difference. "Well... I guess you have a point. So, where to for dinner?"
"Well, leader-sensei suggested a nice ramen place...."
"Naruto-sensei will always recommend a ramen shop, first and foremost," Hanabi sighed. "'We' date in Blossom. What type of places do 'I' usually take you?"
"Ramen shops," Moegi laughed. "We're both only genin, after all, and D-class missions don't exactly pay much."
"But his clan... they're one of the wealthiest in Konoha! Even more then my own! Surely he could afford more then that...."
"He doesn't take money from his clan," Moegi sighed. "I don't, either. Not unless we think we need it for a mission."
Hanabi raised an eyebrow. "Even for special occasions, like birthdays? Or graduation? Or, say, the last night before a chuunin exam?"
Moegi laughed. "All right, point taken. I gather you're not as fond of ramen as... a certain individual among our travelling companions is, are you?"
"I can eat the stuff," Hanabi replied, "But... no. I have a hard time being enthusiastic about it even when Naruto-sensei is so excited about being able to give me a free coupon to one of his favorite places as a 'gift.'"
Moegi smiled sadly. "When Konohamaru-chan's grandfather, the Third, was murdered... he was in a real funk. Leader-sensei gave up a free voucher for a bowl of ramen to Konohamaru-chan to help cheer him up. Surprisingly, it helped... especially because everyone knew just how badly leader-sensei loved ramen. Ayame and the head chef there, Teuchi I think his name was, talked with him about it for hours. Leader-sensei had been given a coupon book, earlier that year, by the orphan's fund which had provided for him for most of his life. He was down to just two coupons -- since he was a genin, he was expected to have to pay more for himself then he had before, and he was being 'weened' off of the free hand-outs. They were all he had to eat with, however, since he used most of his money to pay rent and things. When they learned that Konohamaru-chan's free voucher came from leader-sensei, they were going to return it to him. Leader-sensei was gone on a mission before they could, however." She paused. "Ramen means a lot to Konohamaru-chan."
Hanabi sighed. "Ramen it is, then. So, know a good shop?"
Moegi smirked, pointing to a building to their right. "Well, I'm not sure about how good the food is, but that place looks pretty nice."
It wasn't long before both were leaning over steaming hot bowls of restaurant-style ramen. Hanabi feigned enthusiasm as best as she could, and thankfully was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the noodles. They could talk a bit, but given their surroundings their discussions had to be guarded -- they couldn't, as they had been doing when no-one was around them, talk about things which might give away Hanabi's identity. So, of course, they decided to talk about what any two genin would be talking about the day before their first chuunin exam.
"So, how do you think the exam will be, tomorrow?" Hanabi asked, trying to make polite conversation like she suspected Konohamaru might.
"Oh, I expect to pass it," Moegi laughed. "I doubt it's very hard. I'm told it's usually more psychological then difficult."
Hanabi blinked. "And just how is it that you've heard something about the exam that I haven't?"
"You were out gathering firewood," Moegi explained. "I asked leader-sensei about his exam experience, and he told me quite a bit, actually. Nothing which really compromises the tests, but I think he stretched it as far as he thought he could. Basically, what he told me was that they were never the same test twice, but that the things they'd be looking most for is competence in basic skills, teamwork, and dealing with psychological operations in the written part of the exam. He said he actually managed to pass with a blank paper, himself, but he wouldn't explain how...."
"Well, I never figured him as much of a scholar," Hanabi admitted. "I will say he's a lot better then I first thought he was when I met him, though."
Moegi's eyes flashed. "Why, Konohamaru-chan! I thought you positively idolized him!" she said, hoping to get her message across.
Hanabi jumped. "Um, yes, but... well, I, um, didn't always?"
The other girl shook her head slightly, then decided to change the topic. They had to move on to something Hanabi would be more knowledgeable of, something which wouldn't add to the risk of blowing her cover. "Well, enough about that. We should finish up and go back to the inn soon -- we have a curfew we can't be late for."
* * * * *
The written exam had been absurdly simple for Hanabi. The questions had been absurdly hard -- much too hard for real questions expected for anyone, much less a genin, to be able to answer alone. Obviously, that meant she was supposed to cheat... and even without the byakugan, it was easy enough to cheat in a room full of ninja who were also trying to cheat. She just looked around, normally, and intercepted mirror flashes, the soft sounds of odd creatures talking, people directly imitating others, communication of various sorts between teammates, and so forth, and in no time she was able to figure out just how to answer each question. Many of those she got the answers from were 'failed' because of cheating, but obviously -- as Naruto had told Moegi -- it was just a test of competence in observation and espionage.
The psychological operation, pitting her against her teammates, was also a flop. She knew her team had passed, already -- probably had done better then she did, in fact -- and that bit of knowledge made it simple to evaluate the final question on its own merits. Six teams was apparently 'a bit high' to pass through the written test, but she didn't really see how. It was fairly simple to pass this written test, after all.
So, she was now certified as having completed part one of the chuunin exam. Following the plan made way back in Blossom, they had all proceeded to the area for 'part two' of the exam, where they were given the choice of continuing or not. "Lives would be lost," was a phrase that the instructors were constantly repeating, and Hanabi didn't doubt it. They had all been given an hour to wander around and make their decision whether to continue or not. Naruto's plan called for them to spend that hour walking around, apparently in silent contemplation, until that hour was up. Then, one of them (Futaba, by luck of the draw, although that had only been decided after 'lights out' the previous night) would say loud enough to be overheard, once they were reunited, that they weren't ready to risk their lives for a simple promotion, yet. Their team would withdraw, and return to Blossom, where they would all be assigned acting-chuunin level missions to complete. That would be their final test, and hopefully they would pass it as Naruto and the others in Blossom were expecting.
Something was nagging at her, though. Something she couldn't quite figure out. Perhaps it was the notion that one of them would have to 'admit' to cowardice for this plan to work... or perhaps it was just the idea that she had to be 'protected' from the second stage of the exam. She knew she could pass it, after all, even without her Hyuuga clan tactics and techniques. She had been training extensively in taijutsu and basic ninjitsu with Futaba, Moegi, and Naruto all the way to Cloud, and she knew she was able to fight reasonably well using just that little bit of knowledge. Sure, she wouldn't be able to pass through a one-on-one tournament against most of the people who'd made it through the first level of the exam, but that would have been less damaging to her pride.
No, it wasn't that. What was nagging at her was more of a physical thing. It was... it was...
It was the sense that she was being followed. Curse the fact that she was forbidded from using her byakugan! She didn't dare look over her shoulder to check or anything. And whether or not this was a real threat was in doubt, even if she really did have a pursuer. It could just be that this was some part of the exam Naruto had been unaware of -- after all, it was supposed to be different every time it was given. Perhaps she was supposed to give her pursuer some indication that she knew he was there. Or perhaps this was supposed to be a lesson in losing a tail without them ever knowing you'd spotted them.
One thing Hanabi was learning about the chuunin exams, they certainly induced enough paranoia.
Deciding discretion was, in this case, the better part of valor, she made her way as quickly as she could to the nearest public building. The sense of being followed only grew, so she decided to try somewhere where most people would be reluctant to follow another person -- the bathroom. If worse came to worse, she could always fight whoever it was there and make her escape without anyone else noticing.
She entered the bathroom -- the men's bathroom, despite her silent vow the previous day -- and walked over to the sink to 'wash up.' After turning on the water, she turned so she could see the door in the mirror, just in case, while she tried to collect her thoughts and plan what to do, next.
Unfortunately, before she could decide anything, a large adult male entered the room behind her... and grinned. It only took a moment for Hanabi to recognize who it was, although she couldn't believe it.
She spun around, pulling out a kunai as she did. "You!"
* * * * *
Notes: Yeah, I know, not a nice place to leave things. What makes it worse is this cliffhanger isn't going to be resolved right away -- there's another chapter still to come. You all are encouraged to speculate as to the identity of who it is Hanabi sees, since I've got to wonder if anyone could POSSIBLY figure it out, but I will not be confirming or denying anything until chapter 47 (er, Vol. 3 chapter 37) comes out. Next chapter: Konohamaru has some... difficulties impersonating Hanabi when Inari and Adaha both come calling.