Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 36 ( Chapter 46 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Recently, I've been accused of not providing enough action and adventure in this fic. I've also been accused of not providing enough romance. Given that I'm trying to strike a bit of a balance, I'm guessing I've done an okay job, then... but some of you might be interested to know about the upcoming 'romance to adventure' proportion. This arc and the next arc are largely action adventure. Then comes a largely romance arc (with a lemony twist, especially for those reading on mediaminer). Then comes the concluding arc, which should have elements of both as well as some of intrigue. Then Volume 4, which starts out mostly intrigue and romance and evolves into action and romance. However, the largest portion of the 'romance' for volume 3 is over -- there's still a lot of it to come, especially in Volume 4, but just about everything between now and then is at least tinged with action.
Chapter 36
Konohamaru sighed. Impersonating Hanabi had been... a lot more difficult then he had assumed it would be. For one thing, there was the fact that he couldn't use the men's bathrooms most of the time. While he had, on occasion, considered 'spying' on girls by infiltrating a bathroom as one of them, he never realized just how silly doing that was. Girls didn't run around nude, or even in their underwear, while in the public bathroom -- they just went into the stalls and closed the door. That bit of privacy was rather comforting, in fact, because it made it easier for him to maintain his cover. He wasn't exactly comfortable with the concept of peeing while sitting down, after all.
Kakashi, who had been in on the secret, wasn't letting him 'leave' Hanabi's form even when he was behind closed doors at work -- doing Hanabi's work. There was a constant drain on his chakra, and it wasn't exactly helping his ability to handle a completely unfamiliar job like the one he was being given. He was exhausted heading home every day, and even a long night's sleep rarely re-energized him fully. He wished he had taken the costume route when it had been offered him, but no... he didn't want to be discovered wearing women's clothing, so of course he would decide to use henge. Stupid pride.
What made it even worse, though, was a certain pair of Academy students who he was constantly having to dodge. Inari and Adaha were both constantly vying for his attention -- and affection -- and it was rather awkward putting them off. As far as he knew, Hanabi actually liked them both -- she was still, perhaps, unaware of Adaha's marriage arrangement with her, but that wasn't exactly important at the moment. It would put her in an awkward spot if he brushed them off too badly, and it might hurt all of them if he did something... odd. Konohamaru certainly didn't want to accept any date proposals from any guys, and that made things even more awkward. To make matters worse, Konohamaru had noticed, Hanabi's turned into something of a flirt these past couple months, and I've seen her dating Inari for quite a while now. To keep in character, I would have to accept a date from him now and then. If I didn't, it would look too suspicious.
It wasn't, precisely, that Konohamaru had failed to anticipate this problem. He knew Hanabi was active in the dating scene, and so he would likely be asked out. He figured it wouldn't matter what he said -- he could avoid the guys, even 'break up' with them, and once Hanabi had returned from Cloud and the deception had been revealed (for there would be no point in failing to reveal it. Indeed, it would be counterproductive, since failing to reveal it would mean that Hanabi would still have to retake the chuunin exam) everything would be cleared up and her boyfriends would forgive her and be forgiven and all that nonsense.
The problem, though, was that he had to act like he was Hanabi while Hanabi was still in hostile territory. And Hanabi... went out on dates. All of the time. Mostly with Inari, but she hadn't exactly been exclusive with him so perhaps it would be odd if he failed to accept dates from others as well. Inari, thankfully, wasn't exclusive with Hanabi, as well, and it lightened Konohamaru's heart to see the boy out on the town with Ran Umino a couple nights before. Adaha was a lot more shy, which meant he made fewer attempts and was easier to dodge, but he was still a problem. Fortunately, he had been able to find a believable excuse for turning him down nicely the first time he asked: He (as Hanabi) was being worked to death by Kakashi, and had developed something of a small cold. It didn't prevent his being able to work, and it only slightly diminished his chakra capacity so a simple soldier pill was all he needed to keep his disguise up for several more days, but it did mean he 'wasn't feeling well' (which was true) and 'couldn't waste the energy to go out on a date if she wanted to keep performing at her job' (which was also true), so 'she was sorry but she couldn't. Maybe next week?'
Which was why it was such a surprise to see Inari and Ran Umino waiting at the door to Hanabi's apartment for him. Konohamaru had been hoping that Umino would be enough to distract him until the real Hanabi returned, but apparently they were going to both come after him. This was... different. And unexpected. And, considering the depleted state of his chakra reserves, downright worrisome.
"Um... Hello. Why are you two here?" he asked, his voice disguised as it had been for the past week. Unlike Hanabi, who was actually using a costume to imitate Konohamaru's appearance and could therefore include some voice-changing equipment, he had been forced to actually change his own voice by himself. It was making him a bit hoarse, actually, and that had only added to the appearance of illness.
"Inari-kun told me about your cold," Ran replied politely. "We thought we might come and help take care of you."
Konohamaru sighed, rubbing his temples. Oh, this is just great! It figured that something like this would happen. The best thing for my cold would be if the two of you left, but I guess I don't have much choice in that, do I?
"Look, Hanabi-chan," Inari said, a very tiny crack of desperation coming through in his voice. "I'm very worried about you. You've been avoiding me -- and Adaha, and just about everyone else -- for an entire week. You'd opened up so much, lately, and now... now you seem to be backsliding. Is it something we've done? Was it that stupid tournament? What?"
Konohamaru shook his head, despairing slightly at the thought of trying to escape. "No, there's nothing you or anyone else has done. I'm just being overworked, and I'm a little sick, and I really just want to be left alone until I'm better."
"Have you had the medinin look at you, yet?" Inari asked in concern.
"No," Konohamaru replied. "And I'm not going to -- it's just a cold. What I need is simple bedrest, and that's what you two are keeping me from right now." In truth, he wanted to go to the medinin -- they'd likely have some sort of decongestant or something they could dispense from their pharmacy which would help treat the symptoms of his condition, even if they wouldn't fix the problem. However... a medinin would learn all too quickly just who he was, and he couldn't afford that.
"What about Sakura-san?" Ran suggested. "And, while we talk about this, why don't we go on in -- you're right. We are keeping you from your bedrest. We'll just help tuck you in, fix you dinner, and then we can talk about this some more once you're all set."
Hm, Konohamaru thought. Sakura-chan's not a bad idea, actually. She knows, after all.
"Please, guys, don't go to any trouble on my account," he said, still in his impersonation of Hanabi. Still, he unlocked the door. "And the place is a mess right now, because I haven't felt like cleaning, so I'd rather not have visitors...."
"We'll clean," Umino said. "And cook. All you have to do is go to bed."
Konohamaru hesitated. "Um... can I at least pick up a few things around my bedroom first, before I let you in?"
Before Inari could say anything, Umino nodded. "Sure! We'll just start in the kitchen while you do. Chicken flavored ramen noodles -- best thing for a cold, my father always said."
Konohamaru sighed -- while he loved ramen, and for more reasons then one, chicken was not his favorite flavor. However, he supposed he would have to put up with it. He disappeared into the bedroom and quickly took the change of clothes he had -- for his real self -- and hid them. With luck, no-one would find them and he could escape without having 'Hanabi' accused of having a strange guy in her bedroom. Then, finally, he crawled into bed -- he genuinely was exhausted, after all, and not just faking to get the two academy students out of the apartment -- and pulled up the covers. He couldn't afford to dispell the henge, however, which meant he couldn't go to sleep yet.
"Is it all right to come in?" Ran Umino's soprano voice called from the doorway.
Konohamaru glanced around the room to make sure there was no incriminating evidence of his impersonation of Hanabi. He had always been good in the deception and impersonation skills -- or, at least, he was once he realized that things like square rocks weren't exactly 'right' when it came to disguises -- but he'd never impersonated a girl, before. He didn't see anything too different from when he'd started staying there, though. "Sure."
"Thanks," she answered, coming through the door... and closing it behind her without Inari in tow as Konohamaru had expected. "Hanabi-chan... you and I need to talk."
Konohamaru suddenly felt a nervous sweat coming on. "Um, we do? Can't it wait?"
"No, I think it's best we have it now, when you're... vulnerable." The grin the girl flashed at him was rather... feral, and Konohamaru didn't like it one bit. "See, I want to talk with you about Inari-chan."
"Um, Umino-san, I'm not sure--"
"I love Inari-chan," she said slowly, dangerously. "But he's been dating you for quite some time. The way I see it, I have a few options, here."
Konohamaru swallowed nervously. Sure, he could easily defend himself from any Academy student, but just what would Ran be trying, anyway? "Um... and those options are?"
"Well, one, I could kill you," Umino said, grinning. Thankfully, it was easy enough to tell she wasn't... entirely serious.
"I'd like to see you try," Konohamaru shot back, knowing that both he and Hanabi would have the same reaction to that particular suggestion.
"True, it would be difficult," she replied. "I couldn't do it by force, but... well, there's always poison. Or hiring an assassin -- we are in a ninja village, after all. Or I could just make certain... arrangements to get you assigned to a suicide mission."
Konohamaru smirked. "No you couldn't -- it's my job to assign who goes on what mission, remember?"
Umino flushed. "Okay, I was bluffing. I wasn't going to kill you, anyway."
"I know."
"I would like to make a proposal, however," she said, sitting on the bed next to him. "And I do mean a proposal."
"O-oh?" Konohamaru said, that bad feeling coming back again.
"Yes," she said, smiling down at him. "See, Hanabi-chan... I know Inari-chan likes you, just as I like him. And... I can see why. You're a very pretty girl... you have long beautiful hair, a well-proportioned body -- too well-proportioned for girls our age, actually, but I gather that's from your heritage -- and you're quite... fit."
Konohamaru shifted uncomfortably under the blankets. He wanted to escape, but somehow she was able to pin him down in the bed without him noticing how. "Uh, thank you."
"So, I can see what Inari-chan likes about you. And you know what?" Umino continued. She leaned down to whisper in what she thought was the other girl's ear. "I think I just might be able to find it in my heart to like you, too."
Konohamaru gasped slightly. He tried to bring in enough control over himself that he could continue to talk like Hanabi, but he was worried that his voice would crack up when he spoke. Finally, however, he managed to say something. "Wh... what do you mean?"
"I'm willing to... allow Inari-chan to see you, still," she replied, allowing her tone to show just how reluctant she was to say that. "But there's a bit of a catch. First, you would have to share him. He started off as mine, and he'll end up as mine, but he could be 'ours' as well."
Konohamaru was afraid to ask, but did anyway. "And second?"
"I get to see you, too," she replied, reaching out to tweak 'Hanabi's' chest provocatively. Her fingers passed through his illusion, however, encountering nothing but air. "What the--"
"Crap!" Konohamaru shouted, forgetting to disguise his voice but so startled he didn't sound like he usually did, anyway. With a panicked burst of speed, he ripped out of the bedcovers pinning him down and darted for the bedroom door. All he could think of, at that moment, was not blowing his cover... which was a problem, because it was already blown, but maybe if he got away then... well, he didn't know what do to, then. Just that he would almost certainly be in a better situation then he was, here. He slammed open, and through, the door at a run.
From the bedroom, Ran screamed. "Inari! Imposter! Stop her!"
Something wrapped around Konohamaru's wrists and ankles, pulling him back inches away from the front door. He couldn't tell what was being used -- it certainly wasn't wire and it felt a bit damp -- but it was sticky enough to be a nuisance. He looked down. "Ramen noodles? I couldn't even tie up a ninja with ramen noodles! Just what the hell are you being taught at the Academy, anyway?"
"Like we'd tell a spy," Inari growled, pulling the noodles back to try and reel in the trapped genin. "Now, who are you and what are you doing impersonating Hanabi-chan?"
Konohamaru knew he couldn't say -- he just knew it. The secret shouldn't be allowed to go out, and that was all he could think of. "You'll know soon enough," was all he could think to say, before flaring his chakra enough to disrupt Inari's control of the ramen noodles. With the required concentration to strengthen those noodles lost, he broke free of them and fled out the door. He knew they were following him -- and moving faster then he was, which was a bit of a surprise until he realized that his illness was making him sluggish. It was remembering his illness that inspired his next plan.
His strength was failing him, so he knew he couldn't pull the old 'bushin and split up' trick to throw them off the trail, but he did still have several of the basic evasion skills he'd been working on for years... including the ones he always used to screw up when dealing with Naruto. With that in mind, he made sure that the wood grain on the cloth was pointed the right way as he camoflagued himself in a fence.
Umino and Inari landed a few yards to his right, and started looking around. "Where did she go?" Inari asked.
"He," Umino said absently, scanning her surroundings. "Whoever it was definitely was not a girl."
He was interrupted when the girl smirked. "Oh, clever." She spun, delivering a powerful back-kick to the fence. The wooden structure shook and wobbled... but Konohamaru didn't. "There he is! Now!"
"Damn!" Konohamaru snapped, jumping to one side just seconds before three kunai would have buried themselves in his gut. He had to get away just long enough to get to where he was going, but it wasn't looking promising. And just how the hell did that girl figure him out, anyway? Somehow, he was being pursued by a couple of Academy students who were already a level ahead of most rookie genin... and things weren't getting any better.
"Hey!" a new voice cried out. "Why are you attacking Hanabi-chan!"
"It ain't Hanabi!" Umino snapped. "It's an imposter! Quick, help us catch him!"
"Sure thing!" Adaha said, leaping in front of the fleeing Konohamaru.
Oh, crap -- now they've got someone with a chakra-sensing doujutsu! he grumbled. At least he can't sense the internal flow of my chakra -- he could identify who I was if he had a full byakugan. But this is just going to complicate matters even further.
He kept running, hoping that his experience would help him evade their enthusiastic pursuit, despite the fact that his health was preventing him from being at his full strength. He knew that he'd made a mistake somewhere, though, and that he was just compounding it the more he went. He had to get to help, soon, or he had no clue what would happen.
Thankfully, he was near his destination. He skidded through the door, a wild look on his face. "I need to talk to Sakura-chan!" he shouted.
One of the nurses standing in conversation with the admissions clerks looked up. "I'm sorry, but she's out today. My, you don't look so well -- maybe I could help?"
He didn't even bother to answer, leaping away. He bounded from rooftop to rooftop, the trio of cadets still following him... and getting closer the longer he ran. Where could she be? Is she at home? With that in mind, he darted to Naruto's apartment, but found it locked up tight and nobody home. Crap, Konohamaru thought to himself. Where to next?
A flash of pink hair caught his eye, and he immediately leapt down in front of it. Upon closer examination, he could tell it wasn't Sakura... but it was close enough.
"Haruno-san!" he cried desperately. "You have to help me!"
The pink-haired woman smiled at him indulgently. "Of course, child. What seems to be the problem?"
"Three of your students," Konohamaru gasped out, panting. "They're chasing me."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "And why ever are they doing that, dear?"
"They think I'm an imposter!" he cried.
Haruno nodded slowly. "Yes... but you are one, aren't you?"
"Um... but not for the reason they suspect!" he explained.
"Of course not! They've caught you, though -- you should have told them right away, and brought them into the secret, though, instead of running -- all of my students are fairly trustworthy, and should at least be able to understand why you're doing this," she pointed out. "If you decide it isn't safe for them to go about knowing the secret, you could always confine them somewhere after you've made your explanations, and they'd probably even understand that. I suppose, though, it's a bit too late...."
"I think they'll kill me before I have a chance to explain," he said frantically.
"Okay, well then the obvious thing to do is to find a place where they'll actually listen to you and you can safely reveal yourself," she pointed out. "I suggest Ino's apartment, where my daughter is staying while Naruto-kun's away. She'll keep them at bay long enough to talk, and she knows your story already."
"Ino's? I thought she was living with Naruto!"
"She splits time in both places." Haruno glanced up. "You'd better hurry. Inari-chan and Adaha-chan are about to outflank you, and Umino-chan is already in front of you."
Konohamaru leapt away, once again traversing rooftops in hopes of evading the three students. A second later, Inari leapt down in front of her. "Haruno-sensei! That was an imposter! He--"
"I know, Inari-chan," Haruno said, interrupting him. "Don't kill him -- he's one of us. Just follow him and explanations will be made."
"Well why didn't he just say so?" Inari asked rhetorically in disgust before running off after the imposter.
Konohamaru was getting more and more winded. He wouldn't have been able to hide, now, even if he normally could, thanks to a racking cough he had developed thanks to running for so long while ill. Finally, however, he managed to make his way to the apartment complex he knew Ino resided in. He'd only been there as a messenger a few times, before, but he thought he remembered which room was hers... at least, he hoped he did.
He almost passed one room before the door opened, a feminine arm reached out, and he was yanked inside with the door closed behind him. He went tumbling, almost crashing into a wall before he caught himself. Spinning around, he came face to face with the woman he'd been tearing all over town looking for -- Haruno Sakura.
She didn't exactly look pleased. "Mom called to explain. You should never have run, you know, right? I mean, these guys are your friends -- you could have brought them in on it easily enough."
Konohamaru sighed, then coughed. "Sorry, Sakura-chan. I'm... not exactly thinking clearly."
Sakura's face softened, and she sighed. "Well, I guess the fault is ours. We didn't exactly give you instructions for what to do if you were caught. So, what gave you away?"
He looked up at the pink-haired girl with a rather disturbed expression. "Another girl tried to grab my boobs, and found that I didn't actually have any."
Sakura's eyes widened, her face pinkening to just a shade off of her hair, before she burst out laughing. "Oh, geeze -- well, that's one thing we never anticipated, that's for sure! Lie down on the couch and drop the henge. I'll take a look at you -- that cough doesn't sound very good."
"Inari-chan, Umino-chan, and Adaha-chan--"
"Have already been told that you're working for us. I'll explain it all to them when they show up. Now, lie down!"
Not able to sense the concern behind the impatience, Konohamaru almost resisted... but he was starting to feel a little woozy, and gave in to her commands. Recovering the chakra he could from dropping the henge, he did feel a little better... but that couch looked awfully good right about then.
Sakura watched as the boy almost instantly fell asleep, and in a near panic ran a diagnostic technique over his body. What she determined was that he was suffering from a combination of chakra exhaustion, the flu, and mental stress. None of the three were very serious, on their own, but together they would be a definite problem unless they were treated. Sakura contemplated 'talking' to Kakashi about his needing to look after his staff, better, but decided she would just mention it to Naruto and see if he could take care of things. At any rate, it seemed as if the deception was over -- there was no way Konohamaru could go back to impersonating Hanabi as he was.
She went over to the pack containing her ninja gear and pulled out a vial of medicine. She forced Konohamaru to drink it without waking him and then covered him with a blanket and straightened him out so he was comfortable. Finally, reassured to her satisfaction that he was on the road to recovery, she took a deep breath and stepped out of Ino's front door.
"There you are!" Inari complained. "Haruno-sensei told us to follow him and that we'd be told what was going on. So, spill, what's happening?"
"Not here," Sakura admonished. "Inside. But be silent -- the person you were chasing is very ill, and they just fell asleep. He needs his sleep if he wants to get better, understood?"
"Okay," Inari said. That promise accepted, the pink-haired young woman lead them through the apartment and into her bedroom. All three student's eyes widened as they recognized the boy asleep on the couch -- obviously the boy who had been Hanabi's imposter. Ran flushed, recalling what she had admitted to the boy... and that she had yet to even talk to Inari about the same issue. In a town full of ninja, she had just granted one ideal blackmail material over her.
Once the three students had passed into the next room, Sakura closed her door. "Okay, now, talk quietly. Every room in this building is soundproofed, thanks to us being ninja, but if we raise our voices too much we can still be heard... and I don't want to risk waking up Konohamaru-kun any time soon."
"What's going on?" Umino demanded, keeping her voice down but still showing her anger. "I said some... very personal things to someone I thought was Hanabi-chan. Now, I find out it isn't her, at all, but this... this... boy!"
"Calm down," Sakura ordered. "Konohamaru-kun has been impersonating Hanabi in order to protect her."
"Hanabi-chan's at the chuunin exam, isn't she?" Inari mused. "And no-one wants Cloud to know she's there."
"Exactly," Sakura said. "But Konohamaru's sick, so he can't keep the charade up any longer I fear."
"I could take over for him," Inari suggested. "Or we three all could -- we'd tag-team it. It should be possible -- I know henge pretty well, and so do Ran and Adaha. Sure, we're just Academy students, but--"
"I don't think that's necessary," Sakura interrupted. "The written test was today. They'll be making arrangements to leave right away, so they'll be gone by evening. As long as no-one leaves this apartment tonight, not even anyone here will know about the deception. And Naruto's there to protect them, so everything will go... alright. Um, I don't feel so good, all of a sudden." Her eyes lost focus, and she clenched her stomach as if she was in pain.
"Sakura-sensei?" Adaha queried, looking at her. "Your chakra is... acting very funny."
"Naruto!" Sakura screamed, her voice echoing around the apartment. The eerie red glow of her chakra lit up the room.
"Sakura-sensei?" Adaha asked.
She blinked, shaking her head. "Scrap everything I just said. Umino-chan, you're the fastest person here. As fast as you can, run to Kakashi's office. Tell him to get whoever can be spared ready to go out on a mission!"
"What's going on?" Inari asked as Ran sped off to follow her orders.
"I'm not sure," she said, standing slowly. Her eyes had turned red, and she might even have had fangs growing out of her mouth. "But I think our team in Cloud may need some help. Naruto... just summoned a lot of power."
* * * * *
Notes: I will let you know only three things of any import to the story happened this chapter. Those three are Umino revealing her... intentions to 'Hanabi,' Inari demonstrating that the cadets are actually pretty far along by now, and Sakura 'feeling' Naruto in trouble. Everything else is just filler, although filler that is consistent with the rest of the storyline containing info that may or may not have been quite so obvious before (for example, Konohamaru being able to maintain a henge that long, and reinforcement of how Adaha and Inari have agreed not to fight over Hanabi, etc.). So, no, Konohamaru's illness is NOT that important to the story. Next chapter: Hanabi is nearly crushed, and reveals her clan heritage in order to survive. Oh, and both cliffhangers should be resolved, but only if it all fits into one chapter like I hope.