Training for the Job

A Naruto Fanfic by David A. Tatum

Insert your favorite standard fanfic disclaimer here...

Author's Notes\Chronology Notes:

This is a Naruto\Sakura fanfic. If you don't like that, tough. There is zero yaoi in here. If you want to write that, fine, but don't try and insist that the yaoi is cannon when it isn't (as has happened on a few earlier non-Naruto fanfics I've written). Also, Sasuke's something of a villain -- get over it. He may redeem himself at some point (and will in this fic), but don't expect him to be a good guy without something happening to redeem him.

I don't remember which volume number of the manga is which (and this is mostly manga-based), so you'll have to forgive me if I reveal spoilers without proper notice. I will say that this fic is internally consistent with the manga as of the current chapter (265, IIRC).

It does not start there, however. Rather, it starts with the period of Naruto's hospitalization following the fight with Sasuke at the waterfall. The first volume (for this is planned as a multi-volume fic; Vol. 1 might work better as a prequel to the series, but I'm not planning on doing it that way) is Ino-centric, and takes place while Gaara is still in Konoha following the end of the mission. The second volume will be short, covering the 2.5 'missing' years in the storyline, and will focus on Naruto and Sakura as they train. The third volume will take place AFTER the mission in the current manga, with the following assumptions about its conclusion: Everyone from Konoha survives, Itachi survives, and no-one meets Sasuke or Orochimaru during the encounter. Essentially, things end up mostly status-quo (although the survival of the Sand and any of the Akatsuki other than Itachi is unimportant). Volume 4 will take place some time after Vol. 3 (how long after depends on how much of the storyline of Vol. 3 takes out of the one year it is supposed to actually cover). An epilog will take place set shortly after Vol. 4.

I am very hesitant about starting another very long fic like this one now, as I am really too busy to give it (or any of my older fanfics) the attention it deserves, but this idea will not go away. Don't be surprised if I spend ages between updates, however -- I've been known, on some fanfics, to go more than a year between chapters. Sometimes, though, I'll write five chapters in five days. Depends on how much spare time I've got and how much motivation I have to work on this piece when I do have that spare time.

This fic, like all my other fics, is a single draft fic -- meaning I will likely not go back and fix anything (not even to spellcheck, sometimes). So, if you want to make a critique, try to keep your points to things which may be corrected in the future (i.e., tell me if you think I need to explain something more for it to make sense, and maybe I'll work out how to write out that explanation in the text).

I do not intend to change my overall plot for this fic, even if the manga later proves the storyline to be impossible. However, I may decide to take any new jutsus revealed in the upcoming manga chapters rather then struggle to figure out a 'believable' ninja jutsu to give to certain characters. Or I may not, we'll see.

Well, now that that's out of the way...

VOLUME ONE: Ino's Mission

Note: Normally, I avoid honorifics entirely when working on anime fanfiction. For this volume alone, however, they may be important, so I suppose I'll have to use them. I may not for future volumes, however.

Chapter 1

Ino smiled daintily as she strode through the halls of the hospital on her way to visit Chouji. In truth, she felt she had a lot to celebrate: Chouji was moved from the intensive care ward down to observation, now well out of danger from his nearly suicidal fight with the Sound ninja, the weather was nice, and her parents had given her a PAID holiday from her job in the flower shop to visit her teammate and celebrate his recovery.

In point of fact, she hated that job at the flower shop. She'd give anything to be rid of it... but she had no choice. As a ninja, even as a genin, she and her team were second-raters, lacking the muscle for most of the jobs Konoha was contracted to do. Their skill was information gathering, not battle, and most information-gathering missions were assigned to the chuunin-rank and above. In fact, with as little work as Ino's team got, they were practically part-timers when it came to her career as a ninja. The flower shop job was about the only thing she could do to build up enough savings to eventually move away from home.

Actually, Ino wasn't sure she wanted to move out. Her parents were great, she was in a good neighborhood, and really there was nothing for her to complain about. Maybe if she didn't respect her mom and dad so much, it would be a bit harder living at home, but she practically hero-worshipped her mom and dad. They treated her well... and paid her well, given that they were the owners of the flower shop and might had demanded she work for nothing. When she got old enough to start having boys over for... well, things her parents might not approve of, then maybe it would be time to move out. Not until then, however.

Regardless, she was happy. Sure, Sasuke was gone (and what a loss that was!), but there were plenty of fish in the sea. She'd never been certain the boy was catchable, anyway. Maybe, when she was done visiting Chouji, she'd spend the rest of the day boy-gazing; it was never too early to start looking, after all.

All thoughts of boys and romance, however, flew out of her head the moment she rounded the corner. There, standing in her path, arms crossed and little to no expression on his face, stood the worst nightmare of anyone who had been to the preliminary chuunin exam last time around -- Gaara of the sand, the one who had nearly crippled Lee for life, and who apparently might have destroyed Konoha all on his own if Sasuke hadn't stopped him.

"Eep!" she cried, jumping back and nearly falling over her own feet in shock.

For an expressionless face, Gaara did a good job of showing his amusement at her folly. "You," he mused. "Are you the mindwalker?"

"Er, huh?" Ino stammered. He was actually talking to her? Asking her a question? That... was a good thing, though. Wasn't it? After all, if he was asking her questions, he wouldn't be killing her with his sand, would he?

"Are you," he repeated, letting no inflection enter his voice yet still somehow relaying his contempt. "The mindwalker? I saw you in the chuunin exam, after all. I know you can transfer your mind into another. Can you also walk in them, as your father has said?"

Ino's eyes widened. Gaara had spoken to her father about her? Why? "Well... yes, sort of. I'm still a novice with the technique, though -- I need the person to be asleep, probably drugged unconscious if they might resist. If you've spoken to my father, you know that -- he's the one who's been teaching me. And he is much better at it then I am."

Gaara nodded slowly. "I requested a mindwalker from your hokage, for a special mission. I offered your father pay approximating an A-P assignment, and he turned me down. The hokage recommended you."

An A-P rate mission? That was the highest possible mission available, with a guaranteed 50 commission due to the 'P' designation -- the designation saying that there is little likelyhood for survival of the ninja taking the assignment. The only higher-paying missions were A-S or S-S class missions, because those were 100 commissions... as they were definite suicide missions. On a class A mission alone, the usual 20 commission would be almost a years worth of the usual D-class missions she was usually assigned. The P designation... was definitely worrisome, however.

"The hokage recommended ME? For a A-P mission? But... I'm just a genin! I'm not supposed to do anything more dangerous then a C-class mission, and those only rarely!" Ino protested.

She flinched as Gaara's eyes narrowed. "Yes, I know. This IS a C-class mission. However, because your father has refused, I am offering the pay of an A-P class if you are willing to take it."

Ino swallowed. That much pay... dear Lord! Why had her father refused it, especially if the danger was no greater then a C-class mission? She'd heard of ninja being scammed by people paying only for C-class missions when they really should have hired A or B-class assignments -- Sakura told her she had been involved in such a case, once -- but never someone OVER-paying.

"I... I dunno. I might consider it, I suppose," she mused, relaxing a bit as Gaara seemed willing to let her live if she rejected it. "I'd need to know more details, though. I want to know why my father rejected it."

"Why your father rejected it is classified, by the orders of the Third Hokage," Gaara noted. "You will learn why only if you accept the mission, and even then it must all be kept quiet. As for more details... well, the Hokage figured you might want more information. She gave me this briefing packet for you. You are forbidden to discuss this with your parents, although you may talk with others if you feel they can be trusted." Gaara turned to leave. "I will be returning to the Sand in one weeks time. The mission must be completed by then. If you want the final mission details, I will be waiting in recovery room 238."

Ino shivered once he turned the corner, still uncomfortable in the presence of that... well, she wasn't sure what the boy was. However, a class A-P mission was a class A-P mission, after all -- she certainly would not be turning that down if she thought she could do it.

"So," she muttered to herself. "Let's see what this packet holds..."

She broke the seal, finding a small mission brief (which she skipped for the moment), a second seal on a letter directly from the Hokage (curious, that), and a set of medical records. She checked the name on the medical records -- obviously, that was the target of the mission.

"Uzumaki... Naruto. Naruto? EH?"

Haruno Sakura sighed, staring out the window of her bedroom. Sasuke was gone, Naruto had been sent to the hospital for far longer then she ever remembered him being in before, and the training Tsunade-sama had promised her was being delayed. She couldn't fault the reason for the delay -- she was too busy at the hospital to do anything, still helping Neji and Chouji to recover fully. Apparently, she actually had to operate on Naruto, for some reason, and preparation for that had taken a lot of time. Sakura didn't understand why -- Naruto was heavily bandaged, true, but he was acting his normal self as he sat in the hospital room. And she had yet to hear just how he'd been so heavily injured -- just that he was unable to retrieve Sasuke because of those injuries.

The doorbell to her house rang, but she thought nothing of it. Tsunade said the surgery would be today, so she wouldn't be stopping by. Kakashi had been sent off on another jounin-only mission. Naruto, of course, was unlikely to stop by... unless he escaped from the hospital, though that was unlikely considering he was under 24-hour watch after the last time he escaped. Sasuke was... gone. Outside of those people, who else would be stopping by to see her?

"Sakura! Ino is here to see you!" was the answer, called up to her by her mother.

She blinked. She hadn't seen the blond girl since the funeral of the Third, so her unexpected presence was a definite surprise. "Send her up, mom! I'll talk to her in here!"

It didn't take long for a very hesitant Ino to come through her door, closing it behind her. Sakura wasn't dressed -- she was still in her nightgown and robe, despite it being past lunchtime. Ino, on the other hand, looked ready to go out on a mission... and was carrying some official-looking documents, as well. Combined with the other girl's oddly demure behavior, Sakura felt a puzzle welling up inside her. What was Ino doing?

"Hello... uh, Sakura-san," Ino said, very hesitantly. The honorific was surprisingly formal, especially from someone who usually called her 'forehead girl,' but not more surprising then her next words. "I need your help, but you can't tell anyone else about what we're going to discuss right now."

Sakura blinked, but nodded. "Certainly, Ino," she said, gesturing to her bed. "Have a seat."

Ino slowly walked over to the bed, looking quite confused, as Sakura locked the door, pulled the sound-proof curtains across the windows, and did the other little things she had been trained to do as a ninja to minimalize an outside party's ability to listen in on their conversation. Finally done, she pulled a chair out from under her desk over to the bed and sat down facing the other girl.

"Thank you, Sakura-san," Ino said. "I... I've been offered a mission. I'm told it's a C-rank mission, but I'll be offered a class A-P's commission for it. I want to accept it, but... well, there are some things not making much sense about it. I was hoping you could shed some light on the subject."

Sakura's eyes widened. "A class A-P commission for a C-rank mission? I know C-rank are supposed to be tough at our level, but they're certainly not beyond our abilities. Why in the world are they offering so much money, and why are you considering turning them down?"

"I'm not going to turn it down," Ino sighed. "But I want to be... better prepared."

Sakura grinned -- a shadow of her former smile, to be sure, but a bit of humor returning to her life was sure to be a good thing. "Ah, are you finally learning that, Ino-pig?"

Ino didn't respond to the insult, instead merely sorting through the papers she held. "I need your help, Sakura-san, because my mission is to do a mindwalk through someone you know. I'd like your insight into a few... peculiarities I've been reading here."

"Someone I know?" Sakura blinked. "Who?"

"Naruto," Ino stated firmly. "The teammate of yours who's currently in the hospital. There are two people who want me to find something out from him, and I wanted to figure out why."

"Naruto?" Sakura replied incredulously. "Why would anyone want to go through his mind? I mean, he can be really sweet and all, but he's an idiot; what kind of knowledge does he possess which would create a mission through his mind that Hokage-sama would approve?"

"Hokage-sama is the client," Ino sighed. "One of them, anyway. The other is Gaara of the Sand."

"GAARA?" Sakura gasped. "That... murdering bastard? Is he after revenge, or what?"

Ino blinked. "Revenge? What do you mean, revenge? What did Naruto ever do to Gaara?"

"You don't know?" Sakura asked. "Naruto is the one who beat Gaara during the Sand invasion."

"Eh!" Ino exclaimed. "I thought that was Sasuke-kun?"

"I thought it was Sasuke-k-kun," she choked. Wincing away the tears to avoid a complete breakdown, she shook her head. "I thought it was Sasuke as well, but he was the one who told me... Naruto beat Gaara. And he did it to save me... although I admit I don't know the details."

Ino looked down at the notes in her hand, nodding. "Well, that explains something. But I don't think Gaara intends any harm to Naruto -- he seems to want to understand him, yes, but not harm him. I think... I think Gaara respects him."

Sakura thought about that for a moment. "Well... I guess that's possible. I know he's turned people with dark hearts around, before -- just look at Neji, for example. If hokage-sama agreed to the mission, she must have thought it was safe. Speaking of which, what does she want you to do in your mindwalk?"

"Get the true story of what happened with Naruto, back there," Ino sighed. "She thinks he lied on the report -- he claims he never actually entered combat. Said he 'jumped off a cliff to meet with Sasuke and missed, merely taking out his campsite.' However, that much is definitely false -- Kakashi could feel the chakra from a battle from miles away."

Sakura winced. Naruto was a terrible liar, she knew that. Still, what was he trying to do? So he lost to Sasuke -- big deal. No-one outside of a jounin really stood a real chance against someone with the sharingen, after all -- at least, that was what she'd always heard. It was nothing to be embarrassed about -- he wouldn't lose his silly dream to become Hokage because of that.

"I could tell that was a lie just by looking at him," Sakura sighed. "He doesn't look like he fell off a cliff -- he's not THAT hurt."

Ino blinked. "Not that hurt? Dear lord, girl -- what do you think 'not that hurt' is?"

She shrugged. "Hey, he acts like he isn't hurt -- I suppose there might be something I can't see, since they're operating on him and he's been wrapped up like a mummy since his return, but it can't be serious." Seeing Ino's expression, she suddenly had her doubts. "Can it?"

"Medical report, right here," Ino announced, waving a piece of paper. "Let me quote. 'Chakra pathways to arms and legs strained to point of inoperability -- no chakra can be used, including emerging bloodline abilities, either by him or on him for next two weeks.' I never knew he had a bloodline ability before this. Do you know what it is?"

Sakura hesitated. "I... he never said anything. I suppose I've noticed that he has a nearly unlimited amount of chakra, some of which manifests itself in a different color then normal chakra. I think he tends to heal much faster then usual, too. I don't know much more than that, though."

"Yeah, that coincides with the next part of this report. 'Apparent chidori attack on his right lung shattered rib cage and left shards scattered throughout pulmonary system. Enhanced healing abilities caused instantaneous rebuilding of lungs, but shrapnel must be removed surgically. Also, rib cage must be rebroken and reset properly.' Chidori... that's, uh, Sasuke's attack... right?"

Sakura gaped at Ino. "A... chidori to the right lung? And... and Sasuke almost certainly is the one who did it. I... why? Why did Sasuke do that?"

"Maybe I'll find that out when I go," Ino sighed. "There's more -- chakra burns, scarring which may or may not ever go away, other, older injuries which also healed before they were ever properly cared for. Damn, I wish I knew what to expect."

"What do you mean?" Sakura asked.

"I wasn't the first person asked," Ino explained. "That's why this is such a high-paying job. My father turned it down, and so apparently did every other adult who has my ability. I'm told the reason why is 'classified.' I was hoping you might have some notion?"

"No," Sakura said, shaking her head. "I don't know anything about it. He trained with Jiraiya, one of the legendary sannin, for a few months -- they were both on the mission to retrieve Tsunade, if you recall -- and that may have something to do with it. I just don't know, though."

"You aren't any help at all," Ino sighed, standing up to leave. "But I suppose I'd better do it, anyway. Naruto's in surgery, now -- if I want to try and get this done, I should do it while he's still unconscious from the anesthesia. Thanks, Sakura-chan."

"Any time," Sakura agreed. Then hesitated. "By the way... what does Gaara actually want you to look for?"

Ino's eyes quirked. "That's an odd one, too. He said... he wanted to see what Naruto's childhood was like."

Sakura nodded, lost in thought, as her long-time friend and rival left. Apparently, she missed a lot where Naruto was concerned. Just what else had she missed in her time with him? And just what the hell happened between him and Sasuke at that waterfall, anyway?

Ino stood outside the operating room as Tsunade and a pair of assistants left. "Well, that's over with. I think, with the anesthesia, he'll be out until tomorrow morning... though with Naruto it's always hard to tell. So, are you going to take the job?"

Ino smiled slightly. "A-P money for C-rate trouble? Why wouldn't I take the job?"

Tsunade winced, but nodded. "Yes, of course. I... I think it would be best if I go in with you. Also, I want you to report directly to me, and not Gaara, when you're done. I'll relay the data he's requesting, myself."

"Wait, why did my family refuse the mission?" Ino asked.

"I cannot tell you," Tsunade answered. "But you'll find out while you're in there, I'm sure."

Ino deflated. She'd hoped for at least a little background, but it didn't matter. Beggers could not be choosers. "Okay," she answered. "In that case... let's get this started."