Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 4 Chapter 1 ( Chapter 61 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 4
"I hope you understand why I'm sending you on this mission, Neji-san," Tsunade said, addressing the young jounin. "Gai-san is in charge, of course, but you, Lee-kun, and Tenten-kun's three teams will all have an element of independent command the likes of which you never have had. Gai-san is probably the only man in Konoha who could match Kakashi in terms of experience and skill, so he will be taking his place during this interim period, but he is... not exactly of the appropriate mentallity for a true leadership role. You will be taking up Naruto-kun's role as the true power behind the 'throne,' if you will, and I believe you are one of only a handful of jounin who could accept that sort of responsibility, but that is not why I'm sending you to Blossom. I anticipate being able to restore Naruto-kun fairly quickly -- after all, I've treated others afflicted with the side-effects of the mangekyou technique, before, and I have a pretty good idea what I'll be doing -- but I was planning to recall him from Blossom soon, anyway, so I'll probably just keep him here. However, that is not the entire reason I am sending you."
"Then why, Hokage-sama?" Neji asked, although he was fairly sure he already knew the answer. He suspected that she wanted to say it, anyway.
"Because Hanabi-san is returning with Naruto," she said. "A lot of Blossom is accompanying the three wounded, in fact. In addition to Hanabi-san, Kakashi, Anko, Hana, Ino, Konohamaru, Futaba, Jiraiya, and several others who I am not familiar with -- Blossom locals, apparently -- will be arriving soon. You may also find your Academy dean leaving shortly after your arrival -- as I understand it, Haruno-san is only staying behind to pack up her daughter's and Naruto-kun's things before she joins them here in Konoha. If she does, I'll have to send someone new to take over the Academy there -- Iruka-san, if he's willing, since he has the most experience in teaching -- but there may be need to appoint a temporary instructor in her place. I'd suggest Tenten-san."
Neji nodded. "I will keep that in mind, hokage-sama, but before you go any further I think I may have to make one brief protest."
Tsunade nodded. "Go on."
"I understand you want at least one member of the Hyuuga clan outside of the village at all times, in order to preserve the clan should our... internal troubles wind up in our self-destruction. But I am a branch family member, and cannot pass down the byakugan. Sending me is pointless." He paused. "I would recommend Hinata-chan in my place, with Kiba-kun in Lee-san's place as well."
"Removing them from Konoha does have a certain appealing quality, I must admit," Tsunade agreed. "But we've been able to prevent actual, physical combat for several years by balancing things on the edge of the figurative knife-point. I'm concerned her disappearance could lead to open hostilities breaking out, and so sending her is too dangerous. Even sending any of the main branch Hyuuga in any of the three factions out on missions, at this point, could disrupt the balance of power considerably. In fact, I'm very worried what Hanabi-san's return will mean, since her apparent neutrality has always been something of a wild-card in this whole conflict, and one which no-one has attempted to play only because she wasn't here. But that cannot be helped -- she is returning, whether I like it or not, and so I have to take whatever action I can. However, while you may be the most powerful of Hinata-san's warriors, your removal is not as likely to spark violence as most others I could think of to send out at this time. As far as you being branch family and unable to pass down those traits is concerned, however..."
"Yes?" Neji prompted, suddenly quite curious.
Slowly, Tsunade reached inside her desk and pulled out a vial of a purplish liquid. "This is... a bit of an experiment, and I strongly suggest you not use it unless your clan is utterly destroyed. However, I believe it is capable of restoring your ability to pass on the original Hyuuga traits. Perhaps not the enhanced byakugan, but at least some form of it. There is enough of this medicine for all of one use, and you must... ahem, must get whatever girl you use it with pregnant within seventy-two hours of ingesting it -- which means you should probably consult with Shizune-san on what medical ninjitsu might be required to ensure pregnancy before trying it -- and hope it works." She paused. "I must admit, I've been working on this problem for some time as a means of ending this... conflict your clan is involved in, but even my best medical ninjitsu wasn't able to accomplish all that I hoped with it, and I've been working on this formula for almost six years, now."
Neji frowned. "Did you say six years?" That would be before Hinata ran out on her arranged marriage, if so.
"I'd been expecting something to happen inside the Hyuuga clan since I was old enough to understand what the conflict was really about," Tsunade replied, shaking her head. "I wasn't sure if it would happen in my lifetime, but since it has, and since I'm responsible for solving this crisis as the hokage, I started looking for solutions a long time ago. This was one attempt which failed... although not completely. It does restore some of what the seal has made you lose, after all."
Neji looked at the potion in his hand. "I see. Or perhaps I don't -- why have you not revealed the existence of this formula earlier?"
"Well, for one thing, it doesn't really work as I wanted it to, yet," Tsunade pointed out. "For another, your uncle insisted I keep silent on it until I discovered if this would be successful or not. He felt--"
"My uncle?" Neji repeated, not sure he had heard that right. "You mean Hyuuga Hiashi, my biological uncle and the leader of one of my clan faction's rivals, or... someone else?"
"I meant Hiashi," Tsunade shot back. "I needed someone who could explain the exact elements of your seal to me, and he was the person with the best chance of knowing exactly what was needed... and the most motivation for giving up that secret. He wished for the ability to remove the seal on you, after all, even if he didn't know how. When Hinata took a stand and your clan divided itself into its current state of three factions, he asked me to step up the project in the hopes of offering it to your side as part of a compromise position. I agreed, provided he took what steps he could to prevent open warfare from breaking out in Konoha's streets. So far, he has kept good on his word... and I have come this far in determining a solution."
"And did 'Uncle' Hiashi authorize the release of this potion to me for this mission?" Neji asked, his fist clenching around the vial.
"Yes, but I had to twist his arm for him to agree to it," she admitted. "He didn't want anyone else to know about it until I'd perfected the formula."
Neji wasn't quite sure what to think. This seemed like a possible bribe from Hiashi, but he wasn't so sure he shouldn't take it anyway -- it could prove invaluable, after all, and there was something to be said for having a method of restoring the clan should it be destroyed in Konoha. Furthermore, it sounded as if Hiashi hadn't wanted to bribe him with it in this particular case, whether it was intended as one in the future or not. Finally... there was the niggling feeling that had been plaguing him for quite some time, that Hiashi was about the only member of the main branch of the family (well, outside of Hinata) who had ever given him a fair shake, and that his faction seemed to be fairly... sensible, in its views. Neji believed that, if the clan matriarch and her faction were removed from the picture, a deal could be struck with Hiashi that he -- and possibly Hinata and the rest of thier faction -- could agree to. There was one thing that bothered him, though -- by releasing this formula to Neji, Hiashi was tacitly acknowledging that there was a good chance their clan could be wiped out. Which meant he was prepared to fight and die to defend his position... something neither he nor Hinata (nor, Neji suspected, the Matriarch) were certain about.
"Fine," he finally said. "I'll take the potion with me, but only use it upon the confirmed death of the rest of my clan. I do have a question, however."
"You've prepared an unfinished formula knowing it wouldn't work. That must have taken time out of trying to perfect the final potion, as well... so I have to wonder if you, perhaps, have given up on this plan?"
Tsunade grinned darkly. "I think I'm choosing you well to be the 'power behind the throne' in Blossom. While I haven't entirely given up on the potion, I am forced to find a faster solution to your clan's problems then I believe it will take for me to perfect the formula. I have a new plan in mind -- not as likely to succeed, but more likely to resolve things in a timely manner. I'm afraid I can't tell you what it is, though... but I want you gone before the people from Blossom get here. You and this vial are our insurance policy, and it's only good for me if you're relatively safe."
Neji hesitated. "There is another -- entirely unrelated -- matter you need to be made aware of."
"Oh?" Tsunade said, looking purplexed. "What is that?"
"It's about... Lee. He has... lost a bit of his edge, lately."
"Probably a good thing," she snorted. "He's always seemed a bit too driven, to me."
"That's just it. He hasn't lost any of his drive, exactly, but his drive has changed... methodology." Neji hesitated. "I wouldn't be mentioning any of this, except I am afraid he's going to endanger himself some day, but... he has quit using the lotus techniques entirely. Not a bad thing, perhaps, considering how self-destructive they are, but he's replaced them with, um, drunken boxing. And he's becoming a bit of a lush."
The hokage raised her eyebrows at that one. "A lush? Is it affecting his command ability?"
"Not so far," Neji admitted. "In fact, on missions he's always quite careful to never use those techniques until the last moment. However, he's been needing more and more sake in order to enter that 'state,' lately, and... I don't know what's really going on with him, but I'm concerned about him."
"Does Gai-san know about this?" she asked.
"Yes, and he's even more concerned. However... you know how he is. He's attributing it to so many different things -- from the 'exhuberance of a youth-at-heart entering adulthood' to training to... well, I'm not quite sure what he'll pull out of his hat as an excuse. He's become an enabler, however, and he's encouraged Tenten-kun to be the same. She's going along with it, so I'm not quite sure what to do."
"If Gai knows about it, he'll handle it. He's done it before, on the rare occasion," Tsunade finally said, grinning slightly. "I'm glad to see that you really do care about your teammates. Many of your clan... forget the importance of teamwork."
"Hanabi is one of those, I fear," Neji sighed. "I'm worried about what side she'll take."
"I'm not," Tsunade replied. "Naruto got to her. And, um, I probably shouldn't tell you this, but... she's been involved in a relationship much like Hinata-san's... only, um, wierder."
Neji didn't believe it. "I can understand Naruto-kun managing something with her," he said. "He got through to me. But... wierder?"
"I'm going to be giving you a complete record of the reports on Blossom. Her relationship was actually a component of the recent mission on which Naruto-kun got injured. You might want to read that file."
Neji nodded. "I'll do that, first thing, once I get to Blossom."
"Good. Now, Gai-san and the rest of the 'relief expedition' should be assembling at the main gate by now. Go -- Blossom's 'medical emergency expedition,' as they're calling it, should be here this afternoon. I want you gone before then, and well out of the village."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Neji agreed, and disappeared in a flash.
Tsunade sat back once he was gone, pulling out one of the files on her desk. "Lee's becoming a 'lush,' huh? Hm...."
* * * * *
The contingent from Blossom arrived a bit later then expected, and its arrival was a sight the likes of which few, if any, had ever seen in Konoha. It was after dark, and the procession was lit from before and behind with eerie torchlight flickering around them all. Four people each carried the two stretchers, and another person pushed a wheel-chair bound young woman carrying a baby behind them. Inari, Adaha, Umiko, and Hanabi carried the burden of Naruto, while Shiro, Chikan, Munamoto Sousou, and Ino carried Sakura. Hana lead the procession from the front, five dogs (her three, Gonta, and Kuromaru directly behind her in a marching line), with Futaba at her side, the both of them carrying torches to light the way. Kakashi, Jiraiya, and Anko took the rear, following Konohamaru, who was pushing Moegi along in a wheelchair as he went, all of them also carrying torches. The march was solemn and silent, save for the clapping of feet marching along the ground (an unusual sound in and of itself, as most ninja of Konoha learned to disguise their footsteps first and foremost in their schooldays), and the people of Konoha felt obliged to straighten up and respect this strange formation despite most of them not knowing why it was happening. Word of Naruto's return had spread in a few small circles, true, but that he would be accorded such treatment even by the people of Blossom had never entered most people's minds, and many had a hard time believing that this was in honor of him.
People started forming along the sides of the street to watch the odd parade. Few could identify the two who were being carried on the stretchers, although many of them recognized people like Kakashi and Jiraiya. People started soft conversations, discussing this unusual sight. The guards had allowed them in, so obviously they were a known force, but why they were here was a question few could determine an answer to. The crowd started following the procession as it made its way to Konoha's main administrative building. There, the hokage stepped out from the doors, dressed in her most formal robes, wearing even the rarely-adorned hat which symbolized her office. She bowed her head to Hana, indicating it was her word first.
"Hokage-sama," Hana stated, bowing deeply. This particular ceremony had been a hastily researched and agreed to method for their arrival, but it hadn't been done since before the village of Konoha was known by that name. However, it had been decided before they left that it would be necessary to use these trappings to impress upon most of Konoha the seriousness of this occasion. "We, the ninja of Blossom, who hold you in allegiance, come seeking your succor and aide."
"I will hear the request of my subordinates from Blossom," Tsunade replied just as formally.
"Two of our greatest warriors fell in battle to a mighty foe," Hana said. "A third is hurt, as well. We seek the assistance you can provide in restoring these three to health."
"As your Hokage, I will grant this request... and I welcome home our distant cousins." She stepped aside, revealing the open doors of the administrative building, and the procession slowly marched inside. When the last in line -- Jiraiya -- passed the threshold, she folled them in closing the doors behind them all without a word.
To say the citizens of Konoha were left with more questions then answers would be an understatement.
* * * * *
"What was all that about?" Hinata asked. She hadn't left the condo she had been living in since Sakura and Ino had left, and niether had Kiba. The two of them were much too valuable a target to allow in the open unguarded, most of the time, but Aburame Shino -- whose clan had proven in the end to settle on the 'neutral' side of things -- could often act as their window to the world. None of the Hyuuga factions wanted to risk the Aburame's wrath should they target him, so even if he as an individual had made an obvious choice as to what side he took, he was safe as long as he wasn't actively engaging in any hostilities. He also proved to be quite good at finding out information for them, and was just about all they needed in the way of personal protection around thier home.
Shino paused for a moment, apparently listening to the words of one of his bugs. After a few moments, he nodded slowly. "Well... it seems as if Naruto has returned to Konoha."
She gasped. "N-naruto-kun?"
Kiba flinched visibly. He had long been jealous of the place in Hinata's heart that Naruto took in her heart. The fact that the boy was obviously no threat to his own courtship of the Hyuuga girl, considering what Shikamaru had told all of the remaining rookie nine of his journey to Blossom, allowed him to keep any feelings of rivalry from developing, but that didn't keep him from stiffening every time he saw her reaction to even his name being mentioned. "All that fuss, just for one man?" he groused.
"It seems as if he had a sizable honor guard with him. And he was carried into town on a stretcher, along with Sakura. There was a formal ceremony at the gates of the administrative building involving the hokage, but there is little to be learnt from that, other then to confirm that it was the village of Blossom who arrived. Kakashi and the legendary Jiraiya were both with the party, as were several others of interest to the two of you. From your clan, Kiba, came Hana and Futaba, along their five dogs." He paused, then sighed. "And your sister Hanabi is with them as well, Hinata-san."
Hinata took in a deep, hissing breath in surprise. "I knew that Neji-sensei was being sent to Blossom for an extended period. I was quite distressed that my cousin, teacher, and most powerful warrior was being stripped from me. If Hinata is returning, though, I can understand why one of my clan would be sent out... but I still wonder why him."
Kiba swallowed. This was news to him, and bad news at that. Neji had proven to be a powerful ally when the time had come for him to announce his intentions with Hinata... and had saved the both of them from assassination more then once. He had also proven to be invaluable in training Hinata up to become one of the more powerful ladies in the Hyuuga clan -- possibly not as strong as Neji himself, but strong enough to earn the respect of her fellow clan members despite her relatively disappointing start. He also didn't trust Hanabi -- although Hinata had some unshakable faith in her sister's character, talking to Neji and others who had dealt with her in the past made him immediately suspicious. The only saving grace for her was that she hadn't come back when the Hyuuga matriarch recalled her to Konoha. He felt he had reason to worry... but couldn't say anything, for fear of upsetting Hinata.
Instead, he focused on the other big news. "Hana and Futaba came, too? Hm... I wonder if I'd recognize them."
"Hana isn't likely to have changed much, although I don't really know her well enough to say for certain," Shino replied. "Futaba was but a child when she left, however. She has grown up some, and matured. She resembles a young Hana. I didn't know her at all before she left, but the markings on her face and her smell of dog were more then enough to prove of her identity."
"We'll have to see them," Kiba suggested. "It's been a long time."
"We have to see all of them," Hinata corrected, taking the commanding tone she had been forced to develop over the years as one of the most powerful clan leaders in Konoha. She was still painfully shy at times, but having been thrust into a leadership role simply because she had a different choice of suitors in mind then her parents desired had forced her to either toughen up or to surrender, and she'd chosen to toughen up. It had the side effect of having her occasionally switch from shy to domineering and back in the same conversation -- sometimes two or three times -- which was giving her the reputation of having multiple personalities. Those who really knew her, though -- who were the important ones -- realized what was really going on with her. "We all know that both my father and mother will be acting on these changes, for good or ill. We shall simply have to come up with a plan as well, and talk with them as needed."
Kiba hesitated. "Well... um, all of them meaning my clan and yours, or all of them meaning everyone who just came from Blossom?"
"I mean all of them from Blossom," she shot back. "Mother has been looking for a trigger -- something she could use to justify breaking Tsunade-sama's imposed non-combat zone to launch an assault on me and father -- and hasn't found one in three years. We must take action to prevent the people of Blossom -- including all our relatives -- from doing something to become that trigger."
Shino sighed. "I suppose you'll want a dossier on each of the new arrivals by tomorrow morning?"
"At least a basic one, yes," she answered, then shifted down again now that the threat seemed to be taken care of for the moment. "If you can, of course... I really don't want to impose on you too much, so--"
"My bugs will work tirelessly, tonight," Shino replied, cutting her off. When she got to apologizing, she could go on forever, and even her infinitely patient Aburame clan teammate would get tired of it if he let her go on too long. "But they don't sleep, anyway. I, however, shall... and I'll try and write up everything I can for you in the morning."
She smiled gently. "Thank you, Shino-kun. That means a lot to me."
Kiba yawned loudly. "I suggest you let the human part of you get some sleep now, while you can. I'm already tired, myself, and we all have important things to do in the morning."
"Oh?" Shino asked curiously. "I didn't know either of you were busy tomorrow."
"I have to go see the doctor for some... routine work," Hinata explained. "Kiba will, of course, be accompanying me."
Shino nodded. "I'll leave you to your rest, then."
With that, he departed... although not far. He had moved into a nearby condo on his own, and his bugs alerted him to any hostile approach early enough to warn the young couple without having to actually live in the same place as they did. Those bugs did more then protect them for him, however... they also listened in on them for him. There was much they hid from everyone -- even him -- and it had been in his best interest to find out what they said when they thought no-one was around.
"Well, I'd have to say the timing of this couldn't have been worse," Kiba sighed as they both prepared themselves for bed. At least, that's what it sounded like -- he could 'hear' through a chain of his bugs, but he would have to wait for the ones keeping an eye on them in order to 'see' exactly what they were doing. He was certain they were in the bedroom, however, since he knew which bug was listening in... and he always had that particular bug located in their bedroom. One of his more self-centered 'best interests' in keeping them under surveillance was his vouyeristic streak, after all.
"I haven't even been tested yet, so there's still a chance we'll be able to weather this storm without us having to worry about that," Hinata replied softly.
"But if you are--"
"Then we'll deal with it," she soothed. "We've managed to deal with everything that has come against us so far. We can deal with this."
"With the two of us, yes," Kiba replied. "But only with the aide of Neji -- who is gone. Your mother is not above taking advantage of all this."
"I am worried," Hinata admitted. "But... we'll deal with it. We always have, and we always will."
"Let's get to sleep," Kiba sighed after a long pause. "Tomorrow, we'll learn whether it's the two of us who have to deal with all of this... or the three of us."
Shino, from his condo, frowned. Three? Who's the third? But no answers were forthcoming, and his question remained unanswered.
* * * * *
Next Chapter: The prognosis on Naruto and Sakura, and Gai's team arrives in Blossom.