Author's Note: At the bottom there is a glossary and a list of changes from canon.
"I'd sooner eat a slug," Anko spat.
The Hokage smiled and leaned back, fussing with his pipe for a moment to ensure it had a good draw. "I'm sure my old student Tsunade would be horrified if you did," he said, eyes twinkling.
"Seriously, why would you do this to me?!" she demanded, her voice one small step from a scream of frustration. "You must be insane to think this is a good idea! How could I possibly manage a bunch of kids?! I'm not a babysitter! Besides, what am I going to teach them—how to choose bad mentors and get bad tattoos? And it would interfere with my social life! How would I—"
The Hokage puffed contentedly on his pipe and watched her stalk up and down his office, gesticulate wildly, and rant on and on about her unsuitability to instruct a genin team.
He didn't try to interject, but simply waited until she ran out of steam. "This isn't a punishment, Anko," he said when she eventually sat down again, putting as much sincerity and concern into his voice as he could manage. "You are an excellent kunoichi, and one of the better ninja in the village, but your background as Orochimaru's apprentice is holding you back."
"He kicked me out!" she shouted. "I don't want anything to do with that snakey bastard!"
The Hokage nodded. "I believe you. I also believe you are loyal to Konoha. Unfortunately, there are some who worry that you might still identify with your teacher. The fact that you display so many of his traits doesn't help."
"WHAT?!" she cried, leaping to her feet as her face purpled in fury. The motion made her longcoat sway open; the mesh bodysuit she wore underneath revealed that the flush went halfway down her chest...her very large, very round, very—the Hokage forced himself to look away. She did it deliberately, he knew she did it deliberately, and she knew that he knew she did it deliberately. The manipulation was irritating, but that didn't meant it wasn't effective, and for a moment he had to grope around for his train of thought.
"You display sadistic tendencies, like Orochimaru," he said, forcing himself to lock his eyes on hers and ignore what the coat didn't cover. "You use snake-related jutsu, like Orochimaru. You have a cursed seal, given to you by Orochimaru. Your coat has a purple lining, and Orochimaru wears a lot of purple. Even aside from your similarities to Orochimaru, your provocative style of dress and your unusual relationships make people uncomfortable."
"What's wrong with the way I dress?!" she demanded grumpily, dropping back into the chair and folding her arms. Under her bosom, of course, and with a deliberate bounce, damn her.
Hiruzen sighed. He was starting to run out of patience, and Anko's honeypot antics weren't helping. He was sixty-eight years old, but he wasn't dead, and having such an attractive woman flaunt herself at him was very...affecting. He forced himself to take a deep breath and carefully visualize the entire chain of forty-four hand seals needed for Suiton: Water Dragon Bullet Technique, and carefully not visualize Anko's soft, nicely rounded—hand seals! Think about hand seals!
By the time he got to the forty-fourth and last seal in the chain, he was feeling composed again, and was able to turn his attention back to the irritated woman opposite him. Her coat was still hanging open, so he carefully kept his eyes on her face.
"Anko," he said firmly. "Like it or not, this is the view that some of the people in the village have of you—don't interrupt." He cut off her objection with an upraised hand and a 'not kidding any more' eyebrow. "Some of those people are on the Council, some are in the Academy, and some are operational ninja of the Leaf. Many of them want something 'done about you'—exile, demotion, it seems like everyone has their own favorite idea. They have prevented you from reaching full jonin rank because, when they look at you, they see a dangerous person who is the student of a traitor and might be a traitor herself. When I look at you I see a dangerous person who is a loyal ninja of Konoha and will therefore obey her Hokage!" He glared at her for a moment until she deflated, at which point he humphed in satisfaction and relit his pipe.
"You are a good ninja, and I need all the good ninja I can get," he told her. "I intend to see these perception issues resolved, since they are interfering with my ability to use you properly." He paused, reviewing and instantly regretting his word choice. "Interfering with my ability to assign you to some missions and some teammates, that is. Anyway, it won't be quick and it won't be easy, but it will happen." He shuffled through some of the papers on his desk and passed her a certificate and a folder.
"First of all, here is the certificate of your promotion to full jonin—congratulations. I had to burn some political capital to ram that through the bureaucracy, so please don't let me down. Take it and report to the Academy at noon for team assignments," he said. He gestured towards the folder. "These will be your genin; how you teach them is the first step in fixing your image problem. Your students will reflect on you—if they are strong and upstanding Leaf nin, people will become less worried about you. If they remain weak, or if they lose the respect or trust of the village, then the negative view will be solidified."
"Wait," Anko said, eyes narrowing in suspicion. "If they remain weak? What have you saddled me with?" She flipped open the folder and started flicking through the pictures and dossiers inside, looking more and more appalled with every page.
"You can't really—" she began.
Sarutobi slapped one hand on the desk to cut her off. "Mitarashi-san!" he snapped. "You will take these students and turn them into the best ninja—and, more importantly, the best people—that they can be! Is that understood?!" He allowed a tiny bit of killing intent to flare at the last words.
"Yes, Hokage-sama!" she said, leaping to wide-eyed attention.
He nodded in satisfaction, hiding an inner smile. Yep, he still had it. "Dismissed," he said calmly, turning back to his paperwork.
She gaped at him for a moment, started to say something, then turned and stalked out, already flipping through the dossiers again and growling to herself.
Sarutobi smiled as the door closed behind her. This should kill a lot of birds with one kunai; he had no idea how she'd address the problems but, however she did, he was confident it would be effective.
"As your names are called, please form on your sensei," Iruka said, looking at the paperwork in front of him. The chunin had clearly lost a fight recently—his head was bandaged, he had a cast on his left arm and his right leg, and a pair of crutches leaned against the podium. He really should have been in the hospital, but there was clearly no way he was going to miss the graduation ceremony.
Naruto bounced on his toes, barely able to contain himself. Maybe he'd end up on a team with Sakura-chan! That would be great! She'd always ignored him in the Academy but now Sasuke-teme wouldn't be around to distract her from realizing just how awesome he was, so she was sure to acknowledge him and go on a date with him!
"Team Asuma: Akimichi Choji, Nara Shikamaru, Yamanaka Ino."
Yes! He and Sakura-chan were still unassigned—the chances of them being together were going up!
"Team Kakashi: Haruno Sakura, Inuzaka Kiba, Uchiha Sasuke."
"Team Anko: Aburame Shino, Hyuuga Hinata, Uzumaki Naruto."
Even as Naruto's heart visibly sank, Hinata's leapt. She didn't dare look at him directly, instead contenting herself with stealing glances from under her bangs as she pressed her fingertips together nervously.
Shino looked at his two new teammates and sighed; Naruto was blatantly staring at Sakura with an expression like a kid being sent out of a candystore, Hinata was carefully not-staring at Naruto with an expression like a kid being sent into a candystore, and he was stuck with both of them. Lovely.
"Team Anko, let's go!" their sensei yelled, leaping for the door. "On the roof, now! Last one there cleans out the grease trap!"
All three of her new genin sprang up in alarm and raced after their teacher. The grease trap under the grill in the Academy kitchen was infamous; the grill made food for over a hundred ravenous young children every day, and a lot of that food was deep fried. The trap was a four-foot deep hole that was almost constantly full of rancid, semi-solidified grease and bits of food. Cleaning it properly required getting down into the hole itself and ending up covered in muck; it was a punishment given only to students who really annoyed one of the teachers.
Shino was first into the hall by dint of having sat closest. Naruto was a few steps behind, with Hinata bringing up the rear from her seat by the far wall.
Shino sheathed his leg muscles in chakra for speed, bounding up the first stairs three at a time. The angles favored him; so long as he stayed to the inside of the staircase, the simple geometry of the stairs meant that he could block the other two from passing him. He allowed himself a very small smile behind the cover of his high collar as he hit the top of the first flight and turned for the next.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" a voice shouted from the base of the stairs. Naruto went shooting past him, riding a fountain of orange-jumpsuited clones up the empty space around which the stairs turned; each clone appeared below Naruto and the two would push off of each other hard, allowing Naruto to jump a little higher each time.
His rapid ascent was disrupted when he ran into a horizontal sheet of buzzing kikai bugs at the third floor. The orange-clad genin yelped and jumped to the side to avoid the bugs, slammed into a wall, and tumbled down several stairs. Shino leaped over him on his way past, but Naruto managed to grab his ankle and drag Shino down with him.
Before he could untangle himself from the blond, Hinata was past them, planting one hand on Shino's back to leap over them in a smooth parkour jump, after which she continued flowing smoothly up the stairs.
Shino cursed and set another cluster of his allies on Naruto, instructing them to flutter across his ribs and under his arms in the fearsome Aburame Tickle no Jutsu, the terror of playgrounds everywhere when Shino was growing up. Even as he leapt after Hinata, he ordered more of his allies to land on her head in order to block her vision and make her stumble.
"Byakugan!" echoed down the stairs a moment before the bugs landed; Hinata pinched her nose shut, closed her eyes and mouth tight, and kept moving without allowing herself to be distracted by the buzzing and creepy feel of the bugs. Shino managed to make up some ground—he was faster, just by virtue of having longer legs—but she was still half a staircase in the lead when she burst out the roof-access door. Several seconds later, Naruto trailed out behind them with a thunderous scowl on his face.
He stalked over to Shino, who watched him impassively. The blond ninja shook his finger fiercely at his new teammate, opened his mouth to lay into him...and closed it. Rubbing the back of his head, he ruefully admitted, "Ok, that was pretty slick. But I'll beat you next time, believe it!"
"Looks like we have our cleaner!" Anko said gleefully, from where she'd been sitting on the edge of the roof. "Now, let's get started! I am Mitarashi Anko, Terror of Konoha and, for my sins, I have been assigned to turn you three into ninja of the Leaf! Let's start with a basic skills test—meet me at training ground twenty-three; you have fifteen minutes, and if any of you are late you'll all be sorry." She disappeared in a swirl of leaves.
Shino swore softly and turned for the stairs; at eight storeys, the Academy roof was too high to leap from without risking injury. Before he could so much as take a step, however, he was grabbed from behind and dragged over the edge of the roof to the familiar yell of "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"
"This way is faster!" Naruto yelled in his ear, even as a mountain of clones appeared below them; they fell through the swarm, each clone bursting as they hit it but slowing their fall slightly. Shino struggled to break free of Naruto's surprisingly strong grip so that he could turn and land on his feet, but there wasn't quite enough time; the two of them hit the ground on their backs with an impact that drove the air out of their lungs but left them both intact.
"Come on, Hinata, jump! I'll catch you!" Naruto shouted. His fingers twisted through the single seal of his favorite jutsu and there was another pile of clones, stacked all the way up to the roof of the eight-storey building.
Up on the roof, Hinata looked down uncertainly. When Naruto's clone had grabbed her arm and tried to pull her off the roof, she had disrupted it with a panicked Jyuuken strike; she had too many bad associations with being grabbed. When she realized that it was Naruto-kun that she had struck, her heart almost stopped; the fact that it had only been a clone was little consolation.
It was a long way down, but the sight of hundreds of Naruto-kuns piled every which way in a giant mountain was even more daunting...especially since all of them were smiling up at her and shouting "Come on, Hinata-chan! You can do it!" She quailed for a moment, but forced herself to step forward. She might be a coward, but she would rather die than disappoint that smiling face.
It was extremely disconcerting to have each clone give her a thumbs-up and a cheer before she smashed through it.
Having stepped off under her own power, Hinata was able to keep her feet under her and land with no more than a muffled thump! The moment she landed, Naruto started cheering. "That was awesome, Hinata-chan! Now come on, let's go!" He turned and leaped for the nearest roof, bouncing towards the training ground with Shino and Hinata right beside him.
Halfway to the training ground, Hinata was red-faced with exhaustion. She was just about out of chakra to sheathe her muscles and power her leaps, and it reduced her to moving hardly faster than a farmer. Shino was still going, but clearly wearing out as well; his jumps were getting shorter and he was starting to lurch as he ran. Naruto, of course, was racing ahead, his seemingly boundless energy letting him keep the pace.
A wave of despair washed over her. Why did she have to be so weak? Naruto-kun would never respect her if she couldn't even run properly! Gathering up the dregs of her strength, she forced herself to keep going, even though all she wanted to do was collapse.
By the time she made it to the training ground she was staggering and gasping for breath, but she didn't stop until she reached the others. Once there she bent over, hands on her knees, chest heaving as she gasped in huge lungfuls of air and tried not to vomit from chakra exhaustion. Shino was better off, but still obviously at the end of his stamina. Naruto, of course, wasn't even breathing hard.
"Nineteen minutes, twenty-one seconds!" Anko said happily, looking at her watch. "Excellent, I get to have some fun with making your lives miserable. Work before play, though; sit down and let's talk." Shino and Hinata collapsed gratefully on the thick grass; Naruto looked at them in mild confusion for a moment, then shrugged and sat down. Anko sank gracefully into seiza, making sure that her coat stayed closed; later on, she'd sit cross-legged in her miniskirt, give the kids a show to find out how they handled such simple manipulation. For now, though, she wanted their brains actually engaged.
She surveyed them silently for a moment. Good kids, she thought. Under twenty minutes from the Academy to here is damn good time for a bunch of genin; they must have really gone all out. Hinata looks like she ran herself into the ground; the girl's got absolutely no quit. I can work with this.
"Listen, you little rodents," she began, biting the words off with a sneer. "Apparently I pissed the Hokage off something fierce, because he saddled me with you three losers and told me to make good ninja out of you. Now, no matter how much I despair of this task, I will complete it even if it kills all of you. So, to kick things off, I want each of you to tell me a little about yourselves—your name, something or someone you care about, something you don't like, and what you do for fun. I'll start: I'm Mitarashi Anko. Half the people in the village distrust me because I was the student of Orochimaru and they think I'm probably crazy and possibly a traitor. I'm currently dating Morino Ibiki and Ueda Reizo. Morino-kun is the head of Torture and Interrogation and Reizo-chan is a waitress at Moritake's. If you speak badly about either of them or in any way disrespect them, I will strip you naked and hang you by your toes in a tree overnight. I also like to do tea ceremonies."
All three genin stared at her, appalled.
It took several seconds and a raised eyebrow before Naruto shook off his paralysis. "How can you be dating two people?" he demanded. "And one of them's a girl?! How does that work?"
"Brilliantly," Anko said, preening slightly.
"I believe that Naruto-san meant to comment on the fact that your relationship with multiple people is statistically unusual," Shino said. "The fact that you volunteered the information serves as evidence that you consider it an acceptable topic for inquiry. If this is correct, I confess that I too would be interested to hear how such a relationship came about."
"Maybe later," Anko said, wagging her finger at them. "If I'm in a good mood. Which I won't be, unless you manage to complete simple tasks such as introducing yourselves! C'mon, blondie, pony up!"
Naruto glared at her but answered gamely enough. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" he declared. "I like ramen and I'm going to be Hokage one day!" He paused, thinking about what else she'd wanted to hear. "I like Iruka-sensei and Jiji because they've always been nice to me. Someone I don't like...uh...well...I don't like Sasuke-teme because he's a stuck-up jerk! And I don't like old man Tsukuda, the guy who runs the supermarket near me. He won't let me shop there, so I have to get my cup ramen halfway across town. And something I do for fun...uh...well, I like pranking."
Anko nodded, keeping her face calm but making a note about how this Tsukuda was refusing service to Naruto. "Okay. Pranking experience is good training for infiltration and sabotage missions; we'll work on that. Your turn, glasses."
Shino raised an eyebrow at the nickname, but his response was prompt and calm. "I am Aburame Shino. I like working in my family's breeding house, researching new species of insects. I dislike people who waste my time and behave irrationally. When I am not working in the breeding house, I enjoy studying mathematics and psychology."
Anko nodded. "That will be useful for mission analysis and asset management," she said seriously. Glancing at the third member of the team, she said "Let's hear it, princess. What's your story?"
Hinata had finally managed to catch her breath, but the attention of her frightening new sensei threatened to take it away again. "Um...I'm Hyuuga Hinata. I like...um..." She paused, pressing her fingers together furiously and glancing furtively at the smiling blond seated on the other side of Shino. "Um...I admire my sister, Hanabi, because she is very gifted and works hard. I don't like people who are unkind for no reason and, um, I enjoy origami."
"Origami is useful for steganographic information transport," Anko told her with an approving nod. "It can also be a supporting element for many different covers. Bring some paper to tomorrow's training session."
She stood up, letting the coat fall open this time to show off the mesh bodysuit and orange miniskirt that was all she wore underneath. She had carefully sat just far enough away that, when she stood, the kids couldn't see all the way up the skirt, but there was enough on display to melt Naruto's brain. Shino shifted uncomfortably but the dark glasses and high collar made it impossible to see his expression. Hinata, surprisingly, didn't react at all.
Anko almost blinked in surprise at that, before realizing the answer. Growing up with the Byakugan, seeing other people nude must be a thing all Hyuuga get used to. Good, she'll be able to keep an eye on the boys if some enemy kunoichi starts leading them around by their hormones.
"Enough of that touchy-feely crap," she said aloud. "Let's get to some ninja training. Blondie, your chakra control sucks. Princess, yours is brilliant but your reserves are too small. Glasses, you're mediocre in both. So, come on, let's climb some trees."
She took off to the treeline at the edge of the field, cursing at her students when they didn't move fast enough. She took care not to push too hard though; Hinata's chakra was still almost exhausted and she simply couldn't go faster than a jog. Naruto, of course, seemed as though he'd just woken up.
Once she had them all lined up in front of an appropriate tree, she turned to Shino. "Oy, glasses!" she demanded. "Do you know how to make your little pests do that chakra transfer trick? I've seen other Aburame do it."
He cocked his head and she was pretty sure that an eyebrow went up, although she couldn't see it behind his glasses. "Yes, my allies and I are familiar with the technique," he said.
"Good!" she said. "Suck some chakra out of blondie here and put it in the princess."
"No!" Hinata said, appalled at the idea that Naruto-kun would have to suffer for her weakness. "Please, sensei, it's not necessary, I'm fine."
Anko frowned at her. "You're not fine, kid. You ran yourself into the ground getting here, and you don't have the reserves to do the next exercise. Based on that little clone-mountain trick he pulled, blondie here is a bottomless well, so he can afford to loan you some."
"It's okay, Hinata-chan," Naruto said. "Teammates have to stick together, right?" He flashed her a brilliant smile that made her stammer and press her fingers together furiously. "What do I have to do, Shino?"
"Just stand still," Shino said. He extended one arm towards his teammate and a swarm of kikai bugs flooded out of his sleeve, swarming onto Naruto's back.
The blond yipped and danced around in panic for a moment before forcing himself to settle down; watching the swarm descend on him had freaked him out but, honestly, the actual experience wasn't that bad. The bugs were small enough that he couldn't really feel them on his back, and they apparently hadn't started draining chakra yet.
After a few seconds he decided to ask. "So, ah...do I need to push some chakra out for them or something?" he said, starting to rub his head awkwardly and then arresting the motion when he realized he might be about to put his hand on insects. He shivered, skin crawling at the thought that there were currently thousands of bugs all over him.
Shino blinked. Naruto had, as Anko-sensei said, demonstrated enormous chakra reserves to be able to make so many clones. After so much use, however, he should have been close to his limits, so Shino had deliberately sent a smaller than usual number of his allies to perform the drain. Fewer than normal or not, they had been sucking furiously on his chakra ever since they landed. It would have been enough drain to leave most genin unconscious, and Naruto hadn't noticed?
"That will not be necessary," he said. "My allies have completed their feeding already. Hinata-san, please stand still to receive." Silently, he ordered his allies up and off of Naruto—who did the shudder-dance again as they left—and over to Hinata. The Hyuuga girl took the arrival of the kikai with surprising equanimity for a non-Aburame. They landed on her back and began expelling the chakra they had taken from Naruto into her coils.
"Oh..." Hinata gasped. The feel of Naruto's chakra flooding into her was...intense. Intense, and surprisingly intimate. It felt like him—warm and laughing and happy, and very strong. She felt it surging through her coils, blending rapidly with her own chakra and buoying her up on a seemingly boundless wave of energy. It left her feeling drunk, or maybe high, to be filled up like this with his essence—and she quickly forced that unfortunately-worded thought aside, blushing furiously.
Shino had practiced the technique enough that he was able to tell when Hinata's coils were full, and promptly withdrew his insects. There was still plenty of chakra left over, so his allies were well fed; that was good, as it would reduce the amount of his chakra they consumed while he practiced whatever Anko-sensei was about to teach.
"Right!" Anko said. "This exercise is called tree walking. Here's how it works." She walked up to one of the trees, set a foot on it, and walked smoothly up the side until she was about twenty feet up. Turning so that she was face down, she folded her arms and watched their reactions. "So, princess, what am I doing right now?"
"Ummm..." Hinata stammered. "I...don't know, sensei."
Anko tsked. "Come on, kid, you've got those eyes. Use 'em. Tell these two rodents what I'm doing."
Hinata gulped but activated her Byakugan and watched the flow of chakra in her sensei. "You're pushing chakra through your feet and into the tree," she said, frowning as she tried to sort out what she was seeing. "But...also up through your legs and back."
"Good job," Anko told her. "Got it in one. That's not enough though; you'll need to give more detail if you want these two lunkheads to be able to do it. Take your time; don't worry about the fact that none of you eat until you can tree-walk at least fifty feet up a tree without falling." She turned and started casually pacing up and down the tree.
Naruto and Shino were both eyeing her, clearly waiting for further direction. The attention had her stammering, but she forced herself to take a breath and speak clearly. She would fail the exercise herself, of course—she always failed—but she could at least make sure that Naruto-kun knew what he needed to know.
"She's...pushing chakra out of her feet and into the tree," she began. "There's two distinct flows; she pulls with the chakra on the uphill side and pushes with the downhill side." She took another moment to study their sensei and make sure of what she was seeing. "She's also running chakra up her legs and back...I'm not sure why, though."
Shino eyed their instructor for a moment, lips pursed in thought. "My suspicion would be that she is sheathing the muscle groups necessary to keep herself erect against gravity so that the chakra takes her weight instead of her muscles. If she was only attaching her feet to the tree she would effectively be supporting her entire weight with her thighs and core; there should be some sign of tension. Since there is not, the obvious answer is that she is supporting herself with chakra, not with muscle strength."
"More importantly, I'm sticking my coat and skirt to my skin so you two little pervo-boys don't get a free show," Anko called down carelessly, as she began skating casually across the surface of the tree as though it were a frozen pond. "Especially you, glasses—I've heard about how crazy you bug-guys get when you get your freak on."
Shino cocked his head but said nothing. After a moment he turned to Hinata, waiting patiently for her explanation.
Hinata frowned. "She's modulating the flow from her feet," she said hesitantly. "She's pulling at a forward angle with her toes, pushing with a backwards angle from her heels, and pushing a small bit of chakra out from her soles so that she's not quite in contact with the tree. That's how she's managing to skate like that."
"That's brilliant, Hinata-chan!" Naruto said, smiling widely. "Man, I'm glad we've got your eyes or we'd be here forever!"
Hinata flinched. She knew that she wasn't much of a ninja, but it was still hard to hear Naruto-kun say aloud that it was only her Byakugan that made her useful. She sighed. Well, at least she was able to help him somehow. That alone was a success.
"That's enough of your squeaking, rodents!" Anko snapped. "Get to work! Everyone pick a tree and get climbing!". The demonstration over, she paced back to the ground and took up a position a few yards from the trees. "Snap to it! I'm getting bored and I don't want to be waiting on you three! And glasses—no using your disgusting little monsters to chew handholds. That's cheating."
At her words, Naruto ran at the tree and leaped with an enthusiastic "Yaaaa!" When he hit the bark he shoved chakra out through his feet to stick himself in place; a divot of wood the size of two fists was promptly crushed to powder under his toes and he was shot through the air to land sprawling a dozen yards from the tree.
"Naruto-kun, are you all right?" Hinata asked breathlessly, rushing to his side.
Naruto sat up with a moan and rubbed his head in embarrassment. "Yeah, I'm fine, Hinata-chan. Thanks. You don't need to worry, though, because I'm going to get this!" Pushing himself to his feet he ran at the tree again.
"Less mother-henning and more climbing, princess!" Anko yelled.
Hinata ducked her head, blushing furiously in embarrasment, and headed for her own tree. Unlike Naruto, she didn't try to simply leap on. Instead, she set one hand against the bark and practiced the complicated chakra flow that would be necessary; it was easier to push chakra through the fingers than through any other body part, and she figured that the hard part would be simply figuring out how to make both flows at once. Two trees down, Shino saw what she was doing and copied her.
Three hours later, Naruto was still ripping chunks out of the trees and sending himself flying. He'd had to shift trees three times when the damage he was causing threatened to tear one down.
Hinata, on the other hand, had the technique down well enough that she could stick both feet to the tree successfully, although if she tried to move either one she would lose control of the technique and fall. The muscle-sheathing element of the technique was familiar—in concept, it was no different from what one did when using chakra to run faster or jump farther—but it was a lot harder, as there were far more muscle groups involved and the necessary flows were larger. Sheathing too many groups, or the wrong groups, would leave the ninja too stiff to move fluidly—fatal on the battlefield. So far, she hadn't been able to manage to both stick to the tree and sheathe the right muscles at once, meaning that she was effectively doing a full-body crunch whenever she was attached to the trunk. She could only hold that for a few seconds before she needed to let go.
Shino had gotten to the point where he could attach one foot and keep it in place, but managing both at once was beyond him and, like Hinata, he hadn't yet managed to both control the flow in his feet and sheathe only the correct muscles. In an attempt to brute-force the challenge, he stuck his right foot to the tree and sheathed all his muscles in chakra, stiffening his body and thereby allowing him to stand horizontally against the tree. With a grunt he swung his left foot up in a clumsy, stiff-legged arc until it contacted the tree. Releasing the chakra from his right foot, he instantly transferred his attention to his left and clamped on, hoping to catch himself before he fell; he didn't manage to make the connection in time and went plummeting to the ground. The stiffness of his body meant that he couldn't roll with the impact, and he knocked the wind out of himself on landing.
Hinata watched his performance with dismay. She couldn't even get this right! Shino was almost managing to walk already, and all she could manage was to hold on—and even that, she was too weak to do for more than a few seconds. And to make it worse, she was running low on chakra again!
Even as she thought that, Anko's voice snapped out from behind her. "Oy, glasses! You and the princess needs a refill!" she called. "Hold still blondie, you need to play battery again! Glasses, get those little creepy-crawlies moving!"
Shino frowned in carefully-concealed irritation at the cavalier way she referred to himself and his allies, but he dispatched them. Moments later he and Hinata were full again; before going back to practicing, he moved to her side.
"It is apparent that you have mastered this technique to a far greater degree than I have," he said quietly. "Could you please assist me?"
"Oh!" she said; she had turned her Byakugan off in order to conserve chakra, and so she hadn't seen him approaching until he spoke. "Uh, I don't really...I mean, I can only just hold on, and I'm not...um..."
"You are, in fact, succeeding at attaching both feet to the tree at the same time," Shino said patiently. "I have not yet managed this. It appears that you are having trouble managing the muscle-reinforcement element of the technique and that once you master this component your completion of the exercise will be rapid. I simply wish for your instruction in order to achieve the same level of success."
Hinata started to respond but was cut off by Naruto.
"Yatta!" Naruto screamed happily, from where he stood against the tree twenty feet away. He had managed to get both feet on the tree and clamp on; his feet had made an inch-deep crater in the tree, but he was successfully sticking himself to the bottom of that crater. As the other two watched, he pulled one foot free, windmilled frantically for a moment, and managed to set it down a bit higher up the trunk. He paused, making sure that it was solid, and then unlocked his other foot...and was promptly blasted half a dozen yards away as he lost control of the chakra flow and ripped a hole halfway through the tree.
Turning back to Shino, Hinata explained what she'd figured out so far about the exercise. He nodded soberly. "Perhaps it would be efficient if I were to work on the muscle-sheathing element while you work on moving your feet?" he suggested. "If you simply lie on the ground with your feet on the tree you can practice that component in isolation. Once we have both achieved success we can exchange information."
Hinata nodded jerkily. "Th-that's a good idea, Shino-san. Thank you."
Shino nodded again. "In the meantime, I would suggest that you go explain what you have learned to Naruto-san. I do not believe that Anko-sensei was joking when she said that we would not be allowed to eat until we succeeded, and I do not believe he will succeed tonight without assistance."
Hinata suddenly started to look panicked at the idea of talking to Naruto; Shino forced himself not to sigh.
"I believe that he will be more receptive to instruction from you than from myself," he said patiently. "Furthermore, since you were the one who deduced the method, you will be able to explain it more clearly. You will, in fact, be helping him a great deal."
Hinata gulped but turned towards Naruto and started walking. Shino allowed himself to sigh aloud this time. The two of them were so frustrating; Hinata refused to take action to improve her situation and Naruto was too oblivious to even notice how she felt. It was all terribly irrational.
Three more hours passed; the sun was just touching the horizon and none of the three had succeeded. Shino and Hinata had recharged their chakra off of Naruto twice more—supporting themselves with pure chakra was far more exhausting than simply attaching to the tree, and consumed chakra proportionately faster. They had each gotten to the point where they could stick both feet to the tree and sheathe the appropriate muscles to maintain themselves in a fixed position. Naruto had progressed to being able to reliably stick one foot to the tree without damaging the wood, but hadn't managed to replicate his prior success at attaching both feet at once.
None of the three had eaten anything since breakfast over ten hours ago; stomachs were growling and tempers were shortening. It wasn't helped by having to watch Anko eating dango while lounging in a beach chair, both of which she'd pulled out of a storage scroll. When she finished sucking a skewer clean she would twirl it around her fingers and send it lancing into a tree off to one side.
"Come on, you three! It's getting late and I'm tired! Hurry it up!" she shouted mockingly. "No food and no sleep for any of you until you can tree-walk at least fifty feet up a tree without falling."
Shino paused, turning towards her consideringly before making a noise of disgust.
"Hinata-san, Naruto-san, would you come here please?" he called. The other two looked at him in confusion but came over.
"What's up, Shino?" Naruto asked curiously.
"I ascribe a high probability to the proposition that Anko-sensei has presented us with a non-obvious test," he said. "Please note that her words were precisely the same on both occasions that she said them: 'until you can tree-walk at least fifty feet up a tree without falling.' I believe she is intending for us to engage in lateral thinking instead of attempting to master, in just a few hours, a technique as complicated as this one. I do not, however, know what solution she wishes us to find."
"Huh?" Naruto asked. "What are you talking about?"
"I believe Shino-san means that Anko-sensei is not testing us on our ability to perform the tree-walking exercise," Hinata said softly. "She is, instead, testing us on our ability to...see underneath the underneath?"
Naruto blinked; Shino could see his prankster brain engage, turning the problem over and poking at it from strange directions to see what could be made of it. "Yeah," Naruto said slowly. "All she said was that we had to tree-walk fifty feet up the tree. She never said we had to do all the walking ourselves, did she?"
The other two looked at him in confusion; Naruto smiled and waved them over to one of the largest trees in the area, a giant oak fully ten feet across.
"Hey, sensei! We've solved your little test," Naruto called back to where Anko was still lounging in her beach chair. "Watch this!" He carefully set one foot against the tree and clamped on, then sheathed all his muscles in chakra to render himself completely rigid.
"Okay, Shino, climb up and clamp on," he said, grinning at his teammate. Shino looked at him for a moment, then snorted in understanding and hopped up to stand on Naruto's thigh. From there, he set one foot against the tree and locked it to the bark, then used chakra to make himself rigid. Hinata scrambled up on Naruto, then onto Shino, and attached herself to the tree a bit higher. Naruto grabbed hold of Shino, unlocked himself from the tree, and climbed up to stand on Hinata—being very careful where he put his hands and feet—and attached himself to the tree a bit higher again.
From there it was straightforward; they climbed each other like a ladder until all three of them had passed the fifty-foot mark, at which point they were able to release and jump down onto a pile of Naruto clones.
"About friggin' time you figured it out, rodents!" Anko told them, frowning ferociously. "I was starting to run out of dango! Naruto, your control blows. Stop trying to walk or support yourself against the tree, just lie on the ground and focus on locking each foot to the tree without damaging the trunk. Hinata and Shino, your control is fine but I want both of you to focus on your reserves for now. Your chakra capacity is largely defined by your rate of chakra regeneration, and that increases the more you use it. During group training we'll keep using Naruto as a battery so you two can keep working. Outside of training, I want you to spend as much time as you can running your chakra down and then letting it recharge."
She reached into a pocket and handed them each a slip of paper. "Here, a reward for good work: fifty percent off a bowl of ramen at Ichiraku's. Go have some dinner and I'll see you all back here tomorrow morning at eight." Without another word she shunshined away.
Naruto leaped into the air, victory-pumping his arms and shouting "Yatta! Ramen! All right!"
Hinata stared at the coupon in her hand; she knew that she was expected at home for dinner and her father would be furious if she skipped to go to dinner with Shino and 'that boy.' Despite that, she couldn't bring herself to say anything. Sensei did tell us to 'go have some dinner', so I can claim that it was an order, she thought, not terribly hopefully. It would make her choice plausible, but she knew she'd still be punished. Still, it was worth it to spend time with her new...friends? Well, maybe not yet. Teammates, certainly.
"I believe there are some topics we should examine while we eat," Shino said thoughtfully. Even as he spoke he was turning his steps towards Ichiiraku's. "I noticed some inconsistencies about sensei's behavior over the course of the day, and I would like to hear your analysis of them," he said, nodding to his companions.
"Sure, sure," Naruto said. "But let's get ramen first!" He bounced on his toes and shifted from a walk up to a run—not pushing as hard as they had on the way to the training ground, but still making the others stretch their legs to keep up.
At that pace there was no breath left for talking, but they reached the ramen stand quickly. After ordering, they took seats and looked to Shino.
"Hinata-san, how would you characterize sensei's behavior today?" he asked, the tilt of his head indicating curiosity.
"Ah...well...she seemed very...um...brusque," Hinata stammered.
Shino nodded. "Indeed. She spoke with disparaging terminology when she called us 'rodents'. She used irritating nicknames for each of us—'blondie' for Naruto, 'princess' for you, and 'glasses' for myself. She referred to my allies as 'creepy-crawlies' and 'little monsters', both of which are extremely offensive terms to use to an Aburame. She used offensive language when telling Naruto that his chakra control requires development."
Naruto nodded. "She also made a point of showing off her body," he said thoughtfully. "She pushed her shoulders back to make her boobs look bigger, and she spread her feet so we could see up her skirt. But she only did it once—after that she was careful to keep her coat closed, and she stuck it to herself with chakra when she was tree-walking."
The others stared at him in surprise.
"What?" he demanded.
"That was a rather more...astute observation than you typically exhibit," Shino said slowly, busily revising his opinion of his new teammate. "It also showed a greater degree of awareness concerning human sexuality than I would have expected from you."
Naruto snorted. "You've heard of my Sexy no Jutsu, right?" He waited for the others to nod (obliviously ignoring Hinata's tomato-red blush) before continuing. "Just changing into a sexy girl isn't enough—I had to learn how to move and act to maximize the effect. It works well, too; I fast-talked an ANBU with it."
Shino was so surprised his eyebrows actually rose into view above his glasses. "When was this?" he asked.
"Last night," Naruto said smugly. "I failed the graduation exam, but then Mizuki-sensei told me that there was an extra credit option—I just had to break into Hokage Tower, steal the Scroll of Forbidden Techniques, and bring it to him at midnight. I got in, got the scroll, and was on my way out, but this ANBU caught me in the corridor. I heard him coming so, just before he came around the corner, I did my Sexy no Jutsu. If he'd seen Naruto there he would have known something was wrong, but when he saw a pretty girl in a tight, translucent top and short-shorts he didn't react quite as fast. I convinced him that I'd been there for some late night hanky-panky with one of the clerks. I blushed a lot and talked fast while stammering a bit and he eventually let me go." He smiled sardonically. "He checked my purse, of course, but there wasn't anything incriminating in it—I only carry it as a decoy. I'm just glad he didn't frisk me; I had stuffed the Scroll down the back of my shirt and he couldn't have missed it if I'd ever turned my back on him."
Hinata seemed to be trying to say something, but couldn't find the words. Had it been Sakura in her place, those words would likely have been something along the lines of 'are you crazy? that was completely insane and irresponsible and it was treason!', but the shy Hyuuga girl couldn't bring herself to say that to her role model-slash-crush.
"That sounds...interesting," Shino temporized. "I was not aware that such an extra credit option existed."
Naruto started to explain but was interrupted by Ayame setting their food down with a smile for her favorite customer. He thanked her politely before falling on his ramen bowl like a starving wolf on a lamb shank. The others ate more sedately, and were only halfway through theirs before Naruto finished and ordered a second bowl.
"Uurrpp!" Naruto belched, patting his stomach happily after finishing the second bowl. "Anyway, like I was saying—I got away from the ANBU with my Sexy no Jutsu, then I took the scroll out to meet Mizuki-sensei. While I was waiting, I studied the scroll and learned the Kage Bunshin technique. When Mizuki-sensei showed up, it turned out that he was actually a traitor who just wanted the scroll for himself. Iruka-sensei showed up and caught him, but he beat Iruka-sensei so I made about a thousand clones and we beat him senseless and carried both of them back into the village. I dropped Iruka-sensei at the hospital and gave Mizuki-sensei to some ANBU..." He paused, head cocked in surprise as a connection was made. "Huh. One of the ANBU said something about 'Ibiki will be happy.' That must be the same Ibiki that sensei is dating. What's up with that, anyway? How can she be dating two people—and one of them's a girl?"
"Same-sex relationship are uncommon, but they exist," Hinata said softly. "They are not usually discussed, however, as they are strongly frowned upon—I believe there are even still a few laws against them. Anko-sensei is very bold to admit to it so openly."
"Going back to the original subject," Shino said firmly. "I find Anko-sensei's behavior interesting. The first thing I find curious is that she was here at all—she was not one of the jonin that was expected to be taking a team this year."
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked curiously.
"My clan ran a prediction market as to which jonin would be in this year's draft," Shino explained. "Although Anko-sensei's name was in the market, the odds associated with it never went above four percent."
Naruto frowned. "What's a prediction market?" he demanded. "Is that some kind of secret Aburame clan jutsu?"
Shino shook his head. "It's not a jutsu, although it is true that the Aburame is the only clan that seems to make significant use of the technique. It is simply a method for resolving the probability of an arbitrary logical proposition based on the explicit knowledge and implicit assumptions of all members in the market, by means of collective wagering."
Naruto blinked. "What?"
"A prediction market is when many people bet about how likely something is," Hinata translated softly. "A statement is established such as 'Mitarashi Anko will take a team this year'. Each person then states what they feel is the likelihood of that event."
Shino harumphed quietly. "There's a bit more to it than that," he said, a trace of grumpiness in his tone. "Once the bet resolves, each bettor is awarded a number of positive or negative points based on the difference between their bet and the previous bettor. The number of points is based on a logarithmic scale so as to strongly reward or punish comparatively larger moves. The points are tracked for each individual clan member and are used as a form of intra-clan currency that allows purchase of colonies, excusal from unpleasant duties, or assignment to desired ones."
Embarrassment was almost visibly pouring off of Hinata. "Excuse me, Shino-san; you are correct, of course. There is more to it."
Shino sighed and nodded his apology. "My apologies, Hinata-san; I should not have snapped. My mother has told me repeatedly that I have a tendency to be pedantic."
"Yeah, and you're too fussy about silly little details, too," Naruto said, grinning wide enough that Shino gave him a narrowed-eye stare, trying to decide if the blond was messing with him or not.
"In any case," the bug user finally said. "As I was saying, the odds of Anko-sensei taking a team were considered to be negligible, which means that no one in the Aburame clan was aware of any information suggesting the idea. That implies that it was a last-minute decision on the Hokage's part, which is interesting on its own; the Hokage is not noted for disorganization, so if he was making a last-minute change it was either as a result of new information or as part of a political strategem in which he desired to outmaneuver an opponent without giving that opponent time to react."
Naruto frowned, his lips moving as he ran the words back through his head. "You think that Anko was appointed to spite a political enemy?" he asked.
Shino nodded. "It would seem likely," he said. "Although, of course, it could be simply that new information became available that required the change. Hinata-san, your father is on the Council and operates at a high level in village politics. Can you think of any reason that Mitarashi-sensei's appointment would make sense?"
The white-eyed girl hesitated. "Father does not generally discuss Council affairs in my presence," she temporized.
Shino nodded. "Understandable. In any case, I find Anko-sensei interesting. She tests us on lateral thinking, tests us on our ability to handle sexual situations. She is also quietly solicitous, in that she ensures that we do not run out of chakra. Despite the derision in her normal address, her evaluations are crisp, clear, professional, and she made a point of complimenting each of us on our hobbies and providing positive reinforcement at various occasions through the day."
"So, what's so confusing about that?" Naruto demanded. "She's a big softie who wants to look like she's a hardcase to make us work hard."
"I do not believe that any jonin could be characterized as 'a big softie'," Shino said reprovingly. "I think it is far safer to assume that she actually is a hardcase, as you put it. This then begs the question—why is she being so gentle with us? Furthermore, I find her psychological ploys..." he hesitated, groping for the right word. "Important. As Naruto-san pointed out, she exhibited her body to gauge our reaction. She used a combination of positive and negative reinforcement to maximize our performance. Did either of you notice anything else like this?"
"At the Academy, she said she wanted to do a skills test," Hinata said hesitantly. "But there was no skills test—no sparring, no jutsu, no weapons. Just an endurance run, some questions, and then a challenge that appeared to be about individually learning a technique, but it actually required teamwork and lateral thinking."
"Also, when she shunshined on the Academy roof, she didn't go straight to the training ground," Naruto said thoughtfully. "She must have stayed around, because she knew about my clones."
All three of them paused to consider that.
"It would appear," Shino said, "that we have a sensei who is substantially different from her public persona, is fond of mind games, and is caught up in some sort of high-level politics. I suggest we should all be careful."
Author's Footnote: A few (relatively) quick notes:
This is a rationalist version of the Naruto 'Verse. Naruto is about the least rational story I've ever seen and making it work is really hard, so there's a bunch of changes. I've listed the important ones below, as well as a short glossary for those unfamiliar with the terms.
* Naruto himself is smarter and less annoying than in canon.
* The timeline has been changed. I spent a while looking around, trying to find a canon timeline. I couldn't find one, so I started compiling my own and discovered that the canon version is both a complete mess and contains ridiculous things like four-year-olds entering the ninja Academy. I've changed it as little as I could manage, but that's still quite a bit. If you sign up for my mailing list (see below) you can see a non-spoilered version of what I've come up with.
* As part of the timeline changes, certain characters (including the genin of Team Anko) have had their birthdays adjusted and/or been aged up a few years. Please don't tell me that (e.g.) Hinata should be younger than Naruto; I know. It was a deliberate choice.
* Two major characters (not Team Anko members) have had their personalities significantly altered in order to make them less two-dimensional. This was a deliberate choice. I'm not going to spoil it here, but if you send me a PM I'll tell you who they are. If you're familiar with canon you'll obviously figure it out on your own when you get there. If you're not familiar with canon, you probably don't care. I will comment that, as I write this, I'm 13 chapters in and almost everyone seems to like the new personalities, so it shouldn't be an issue.
* I do not answer questions about pairings. If you are too inflexible to read something that does / doesn't have a particular pairing, move along.
* I will say this much about the romance: pedophilia will never come from my quill. If you're either worried about, or hoping for, Anko/anyone-on-her-team it won't happen. Yes, people hoping for Anko/team-member is a thing and I've gotten requests for it. Not happening.
* I don't do trigger warnings. I don't feel that there is anything inappropriate for teenagers, but there is swearing, killing (it's a story about ninja!), and Full-Metal-Jacket-style (i.e., ridiculously harsh) training.
* chakra: magic energy. If you get low on it you get tired and if you run out you die. It's possible to get tired without getting low on chakra.
* jutsu: ninja techniques. Broken down into taijutsu (martial arts), ninjutsu (spells that do physical things), genjutsu (spells that affect the mind), and fuinjutsu (creation of seals, the written version of spells).
* genin / chunin / jonin: Beginning / middle / advanced ninja.
* Katon / doton / fuuton / suiton / raiton: fire / earth / air / water / lightning. Usually used in the context of jutsu, e.g. "Katon: Grand Fireball" means "Fire technique: Grand Fireball".
* Hokage / other '-kage's: The head ninja of a ninja village. (You will see that sometimes something is referred to as a 'village' and sometimes as a 'town / city'. The traditional name for a ninja dwelling place is 'village', so most ninja use that. The narrator and civilians generally refer to it by the size of the place—village, town, city, etc.)
* bijuu: super-powerful demons. There are nine of them: the One-Tail, Two-Tails, etc up to the Nine-Tails. Each looks like an animal with N tails: the One-Tail is a tanuki (Japanese racoon-dog), the Nine-Tails is a fox, etc. They used to all be part of the Ten-Tails, but the Sage of Six Paths (super powerful guy from about a thousand years ago) broke the Ten-Tails up into the One- through Nine-Tails.
* jinchuriki: A person with a bijuu sealed inside them.
* Names are kept in the Japanese (e.g. Maito Gai, not Might Guy), and the order is surname/given-name in the Japanese style. Also, I'm not doing the macrons (e.g. the bar about the 'u' in Hyuuga; they break find-and-replace and are a pain in the butt to write.
* kawarimi: A jutsu that switches you with another object. It costs more to switch with something that is higher/lower mass than you are.
* shunshin: A jutsu that lets you move faster than the eye can see. Because it's movement, not teleportation, there has to be an actual path from A to B that you could traverse by running. (ie, not jumping or swimming). This path might include treewalking. These restrictions may or may not be canon; it's hard to tell.
* henge: A jutsu that allows you to disguise yourself as someone or something else. The henge can be either an illusion or a physical change. It doesn't need to be a human form—you can henge into a dog or a bucket if you want. If it's an illusion it's a flat cost to change, a trivial maintenance cost, and it can be pretty much whatever you want within a fairly large size range - roughly from the sizes of 'infant' to 'large human'. If it's a physical change it's exponentially more expensive to change, and more expensive to maintain, depending on how much mass you gain/lose. Physical changes to delicate organs like the eyes are a bad idea unless you are really good at the technique. Note that there are several departures from canon here. I know, you don't need to tell me.
* bunshin: A jutsu that creates an illusionary clone of you. Any physical contact or damage to the clone will disrupt it. The clone can be given pre-programmed instructions or can be remote-controlled as long as you concentrate. You do not see, hear, etc through its senses.
* kage bunshin no jutsu aka shadow clone: A jutsu that creates a physical copy of you which is actually intelligent. In canon they pop if they take any damage and when they pop you get their memories and their remaining chakra back. THIS IS NOT HOW IT WORKS IN THIS FIC. You'll see how it does work as you read.
* hara: A term used in real-world martial arts. It refers to your 'center'—the part of your body about three inches behind your navel. Pretty much all movements in real-world martial arts work from or around your hara, and the same is true in Naruto-verse.
Author's Footnote, part 2: I have other stories for sale! You can find them on Amazon. Search for 'David K. Storrs'.
Also, I have a mailing list. (bit. do/dks-list if you're reading on something that eats links.)