Naruto woke up sputtering and soaked.

"What the hell was that for?!" he shouted, glaring at his teacher who was crouched on the end of his bed, holding the bucket she had just doused him with.

"Gooooooood morning, sunshine!" she caroled with an evil grin. "Wakey wakey! Time to get to cleaning that grease trap—you wouldn't want to be late to training, would you?" The evil grin became an evil scowl. "After all...bad things happen to those who are late for training."

Naruto glanced out the window; the stars were still shining.

"But it's the middle of the night," he whined. "Can't I do it after practice?"

Anko clapped her hands to her cheeks in mock horror. "After practice?!" she gasped. She frowned in fake thoughtfulness. "Well...I suppose you could have, yes. But, you're awake now, so you might as well get to it. Come on, ally oop! Let's go!"

Naruto moaned miserably and considered just rolling over, pulling the blanket tight over himself, and hoping she went away. Unfortunately, the bed was so wet it squelched, so the idea was pretty unattractive. Grumbling all the way, he swung his legs out of bed and stood up, stretching, and went to the closet to get the bedroll and towel from his go bag.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," he grumbled. A clone appeared, staring at him stupidly before turning to Anko.

"Here, take him. He can clean it," he growled, shaking out the bedroll and starting to towel himself off. He was definitely glad he customarily slept in his shirt and boxers; had he slept nude, he just knew that Anko would have been leering at him the whole time. He'd change once she was gone.

A kunai shot through the clone's head, popping it.

"You'll do it your own damn self," Anko said calmly.

Naruto glared at her, but grabbed some clothes from the bureau and sloped to the bathroom. He'd barely turned the shower on when Anko yelled from the other room.

"Oy! I'm bored, hurry it up!"

"Don't get your panties in a bunch, you old witch!" he called back. "I'll be right there!"

Insouciant reply or not, he hurriedly shucked off his clothes and stepped under the freezing water. The water heater had been broken for six months—the landlord wasn't great about maintenance or repairs—so he'd gotten used to cold showers.

He was just starting to soap up when the curtain was yanked back and a kunai slammed into the wall in front of his nose.

"I don't wear panties," Anko hissed, her face two inches from his own and twisted into a psychotic scowl. She locked eyes with him for a moment, then deliberately glanced down. The scowl changed to a smirk and she stepped back, pulling the curtain back into place. "You've got one minute, brat!"

Naruto stood frozen for several seconds, then started washing as fast as he could.

o-o-o-o

Hinata was moving a little stiffly that morning, so she took care to arrive fifteen minutes early; she would need the time to stretch. She was surprised to find that Naruto and Anko were already at the training ground when she arrived. Her stomach knotted in embarrassment at her failure.

"I'm s-s-sorry I'm late, sensei," she said repentantly. "I thought we weren't starting until eight."

Anko waved a hand casually. "No worries, princess. You're early; it's just that Naruto had some chores to do this morning, so we're even earlier."

Hinata glanced covertly at Naruto and then frowned and looked more closely. He was glistening, and not with sweat.

"Naruto-kun, are you...all right?" she asked hesitantly.

He pulled a face. "Yeah, I'm fine, Hinata-chan. Someone woke me up at four to clean the grease trap, then wouldn't let me shower afterwards." If looks could kill, Anko would have been a smoking crater.

Anko's eyes went wide in surprise. "Ohhhh! You wanted to get clean? No problem! Suiton: Wild Bubble Release!" A stream of bubbles poured from her mouth, expanding outwards in a cone with Naruto at the center; the ground instantly turned slick as glass. Naruto was taken off guard and his feet went out from under him, but long training made him reflexively slap out, taking the sting out of the fall.

"Suiton: Wild Wave Wall!" Anko called. The bubbles stopped issuing from her mouth, to be replaced with a firehose of water that sent Naruto tumbling a dozen yards across the grass. He struggled to his feet, soaking wet and sputtering as he glared death lasers at his sensei.

"Not! What! I! Meant!" he shouted, water dripping off his nose.

Hinata covered her mouth, trying not to giggle. Anko just shrugged, grinning maniacally. "Sorry?" she offered, completely unrepentant. She cocked her head in curiosity. "If you didn't want to get hit, why didn't you dodge?" she asked.

Grumbling, Naruto took his shirt off and squeezed as much of the water out as he could. Hinata looked away, blushing; short and stocky he might be, but Naruto was very nicely muscled. And very clean, she thought, trying to suppress another giggle.

"Good morning," Shino said, bounding up. He looked from his happily crazed sensei to his dripping wet, half-naked teammate to his blushing other teammate and clearly decided not to ask. "What are we doing today?" he asked. "More tree walking?"

Anko shook her head. "Nah. We did that yesterday; it's boring now. You brats can practice that on your own. Today we're doing something fun! Taijutsu!" She grinned, then blurred across the space between them and landed a palm strike on Shino's chest that sent him flying.

He glared furiously at her from the ground, his face flushed red, then pushed himself to his feet and attacked, hands and feet flashing in well-trained combinations.

Anko stopped each attack with one hand—sometimes with only one finger. She never blocked directly, preferring to simply push him off balance so he had to abort the attack. Periodically she would give an exaggerated yawn, covering her mouth with her free hand; the condescension made Shino's face tighten in anger, and he redoubled his efforts...all to no avail.

After a few more exchanges, Anko started slapping Shino in the face after each block. The last traces of his Aburame calm vanished; his attacks grew clumsier as his rage robbed him of fluidity and sense. Anko let it go on for a minute, perhaps two, and then she put two fingers under his chin and lifted, forcing his head back until he lost his balance and dropped flat on his back.

Shino glared furiously at her from the ground, his face purple with rage. "Aburame Clan Secret Technique: Insect Tornado!" he yelled, thrusting his arms at her.

A storm of kikai bugs flooded out of his sleeves, descending on Anko with a fury that promised death.

A moment before the bugs reached her, Anko vanished, only to reappear beside Shino's prone form. She had pushed him down on his back, one knee on his chest and one hand pressing on his forehead to lock him down. Her kunai hovered a millimetre from his right eye.

"Put them on the ground," she said calmly.

For several seconds Shino did everything he could to kill her with his brain but, after a moment, his insects landed in the grass a few yards away. Anko smiled and rose smoothly, offering a hand to Shino to help him up.

"Not bad, kid," she said. "Your form is decent for a new graduate, you can launch jutsu quickly, and you have excellent wordless control over your allies. Nice."

Shino ignored her hand and scrambled to his feet, but didn't attack again.

Unconcerned about the murderous look she was getting from her student, Anko turned her back on him in order to glare at Hinata and Naruto. "What's wrong with you two?!" she yelled. "Your teammate was under attack by a superior opponent, and you just stood there?! Drop and give me five hundred!"

Naruto gaped in shock, but quickly dropped to the ground and started pumping out pushups. Hinata joined him immediately, her sense of overwhelming shame bringing tears to her eyes.

Anko turned back to Shino. By now the bug user was starting to calm down, although he was still glaring daggers at her as he rubbed the massive bruise on his chest.

"Okay, let's get to work," she said. "You're overextending your kicks, your guard is weak on the left, and you telegraph your attacks." She held one hand out to the side at waist level. "Here's your target; start kicking. I'll knock you down every time you overextend."

Shino took a deep breath, letting the last of the anger drain out of him. With a glance he called his insect allies back to him, then took a stance and started firing off kicks at his teacher's hand, obviously feeling great satisfaction at being allowed to hit her.

He was ten kicks in and had been dumped on his butt three times when Anko glanced to the side and frowned. "Hold up," she said absently, stepping over to where Hinata was wincing as she did her pushups. She pressed the girl gently to the ground, then yanked her shirt up to expose her back.

"What the hell, kid?" she demanded, staring at the bruises that covered Hinata's entire back; they were especially bad over the kidneys. "What happened?"

Hinata blushed furiously. "I slipped on the stairs," she whispered.

"Bullshit," her sensei said, her voice utterly calm. "I ask again: what happened?"

"I s-slipped on the stairs, sensei," Hinata insisted.

"Uh-huh." Anko frowned, then turned to Naruto and Shino. "Shino, start on katas one through eight; focus on not overextending. Naruto, do the leaf sticking exercise. Nither of you are to leave the training field under any circumstances, and do not do anything aside from your assignments until I get back."

She scooped Hinata up in her arms and shunshined away in a swirl of leaves.

o-o-o-o

"Yes, in theory it could be a fall," Iesada admitted. The medic-nin's face was grim and his tone made clear that he didn't believe it for a second. "She'd pretty much have had to dive headfirst down the stairs and do a flip, though."

Anko scowled. "Can you claim a concussion and keep her overnight?" she asked.

Iesada grimaced and waffled one hand. "Maybe. She doesn't have one, though, so if anyone"—he gave her a significant look; he wasn't going to say her father out loud—"wanted a second opinion it would be obvious we were keeping her deliberately. He could make a case that that's abuse of medical power." He paused, thinking. "What I could do, though, is give her food poisoning."

Anko nodded, relieved. "Great. Do that. I need to talk to the Hokage."

Iesada nodded and walked off, headed for the drug cabinet. His patient wasn't going to be happy, but she also wasn't going to be home.

Anko glanced into Hinata's room; her face was calm but she couldn't completely hide the rage that burned in her eyes. After a moment she nodded to herself and shunshined away.

o-o-o-o

Anko stalked down the hall towards the Hokage's office, killing intent boiling off of her. The ANBU guarding the door stepped smoothly in her path. Like all other ANBU, the special ops soldier was dressed in dark grey with a sword over his shoulder and his face covered in an animal mask—in this case, a stylized cat face.

Anko didn't even pause. Still twenty feet from the ANBU, she started gathering chakra in her hand. "Swear to kami, you move or you die," she said flatly.

The ANBU silently drew his sword and took a kenjutsu stance. Anko raised her hand, preparing to fire a technique...only to be interrupted by a voice from within the office.

"It's all right, Cat. Let her in," called the Hokage.

The ANBU sheathed his sword and stepped silently aside, pulling the door open for her with a shallow bow. She didn't even look at him as she stormed through the door.

She barely waited for the door to latch behind her before she started in. "Did you know that—" she began.

"—Hinata is being abused? Of course," the Hokage said calmly.

Anko's killer intent redoubled, almost physically pressing against the walls of the room.

"Why the hell haven't you done anything about it?!" she demanded.

The Hokage sighed and gestured her to a chair. "Have a seat," he offered.

"I'll damn well stand!" she snarled, fists clenched.

The Hokage raised an eyebrow. "Sit. Down." Anko's killing intent was utterly swamped, buried under a tsunami that crushed it out of existence as the man known as 'The God of Shinobi' made his power felt. Anko's face went pure white and she dropped bonelessly into the chair.

The killing intent disappeared and the Hokage smiled. For a moment, he busied himself pouring tea from the pot at his right elbow before offering her a cup. Anko took it clumsily, her composure shattered.

The Hokage raised his cup to her politely and took a small sip, then set it on the desk with careful precision.

"That's better," he said. "Now, am I aware of Hinata's situation? Of course; that's part of why I assigned her to you. You have no decorum and no particular respect for authority"—his eyes twinkled for a moment—"as we just saw. As such, you're unlikely to stand back simply because the girl's abuser is one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the village."

"Why haven't you done anything?" Anko asked, her tone more plaintive than accusing.

The Hokage rubbed his face tiredly; for a moment, one of the most powerful ninja in the world looked like nothing so much as a sad old man.

"What would you have me do, Anko?" he asked. "Send ANBU to take the girl from her family?" He grimaced. "If I did, it would tear the village apart. No clan would accept the precedent that the Hokage could simply take a child from her home. All of them would unite against me, and Hinata would still end up with her father. Or perhaps I should accuse Hiashi in public, send him to trial? I couldn't win. Hinata almost certainly wouldn't testify, and without her testimony the charge wouldn't stick. I would lose the case and the Council would unite against me. At best they would put me out of office and replace me with someone less likely to interfere...at worst, it would spark a civil war."

Anko's face fell. "But..." She gathered her thoughts for a moment, then rallied. "What about getting a Yamanaka to read her memories? She wouldn't need to testify."

The Hokage shook his head. "Even if she were willing, she's a minor, so her father could object. The privacy laws state that no citizen of Konoha can be mind-scanned against their will unless there is a threat to the village or clear evidence that they've committed a crime." He grimaced. "And, unfortunately, it's almost impossible to prove child abuse against a genin—the abuser can simply claim that the damage was from training."

Anko looked around forlonly, then glanced back to the Hokage, her eyes widening in excitement. "I don't suppose that we could—"

"—cause Hiashi an unfortunate accident?" the Hokage said, cutting her off. He snorted. "No. We most definitely cannot. I'm not about to let anyone set a precedent that assassination is an acceptable way to deal with problems inside the village. Not even for a sweet little girl like Hinata." His sighed. "Honestly, I can't even afford to remove Hiashi from the Council; he's a necessary counterweight to Danzo and some of the other extremists."

He looked down, shuffling some papers on his desk and idly tapping his finger on one. He stood up and paced over to the bookshelf on the wall, thoughtfully running a finger over the spines and carefully keeping his back to her.

"No, I'm afraid there's nothing I can do," he said, in a voice that was full of very clearly false regret. "I have no possible help that I can offer you."

Anko frowned at his back, confused; after a moment she leaned forward and picked up the paper he'd subtly indicated, flicking her eyes over it quickly. A devious smile spread over her face as she read.

"My, my," she murmured. "Isn't this interesting?" She set the paper back on the Hokage's desk, carefully placing it back in exactly the same position so that it would seem she'd never touched it...and so that the Hokage would have plausible deniability about showing it to her.

Anko straightened up in her chair, her face very serious. "Hokage-sama, I would like to request a C-rank mission for my team. Do you have anything appropriate?" she asked, with a "butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" tone.

The Hokage turned from the bookshelf with a theatrical look of surprise, then paced back to his chair and sat down. "Are you certain, Mitarashi-san?" he asked formally. "They are only two days out of the Academy; ordinarily a team would do D-rank missions for a few weeks before requesting a C-rank. Are they really ready?"

Anko nodded innocently. "Absolutely. They may be new graduates, but they are graduates from the Academy, not some good-enough school. They are highly skilled, they show good teamwork already, and I feel that their development will be best served in the field instead of painting fences, walking dogs, or guarding the marketplace."

The Hokage carefully looked dubious. "I see." He shrugged. "Well, Mitarashi-san, I'm sure that you know your team best. If you say they are ready, then they are ready. Since I did not in any way suggest you do a C-rank mission, I find myself surprised that you are asking for one." He frowned at her and wagged a finger. "Indeed, I find myself uncertain that this is a good idea, Mitarashi-san. Please be aware that I will need to make a note in your file about this. Should anyone ask, I will tell them that you insisted and I gave it to you against my better judgement." His smile would have looked perfectly appropriate on a cat with cream in its whiskers. For a moment, there was no trace of the Hokage, or The Professor, or any of his other titles. There was only Sarutobi Hiruzen, eyes dancing in tightly controlled glee.

He made a show of shuffling through the papers on his desk, considering several with thoughtful hmmms before shaking his head and setting them aside. Finally, he picked up the paper that he'd pointed out to Anko and considered it carefully. After a moment, he nodded and passed it to her. "I believe this would be appropriate for your team. Good luck, Mitarashi-san."

Anko stood up and bowed deeply. "Thank you, Hokage-sama," she said, then turned for the door, the mission assignment clutched in one hand. She was practically skipping as she left.

The Hokage smiled and shook his head; the first moves had been made and all that remained was to see how they played out. With a sigh, he went back to his paperwork.

o-o-o-o

Shino and Naruto were still doggedly practicing their assigned exercises when Anko returned. Shino was starting to look tired; given her orders, neither of them had taken a break since she left three hours ago.

"Okay, end of class!" Anko called as she appeared beside them. "Go do whatever you want, but be at the south gate tomorrow morning at 0600. Don't be late, or else." She vanished, a flutter of leaves marking her departure.

Shino and Naruto looked at each other in confusion.

"Was that as strange as it seemed?" Shino asked.

Naruto nodded. "Yep." He considered for a moment longer, then shrugged and turned for the village and home. Shino jogged quietly along beside him.

o-o-o-o

At five the next morning, Anko appeared at the hospital wearing her uniform, field boots, and a backpack. She bundled Hinata out to the south gate of the village, refusing to answer any questions. Hinata looked a bit wan on the way; her stomach was still queasy from when the hospital food had set her to vomiting. Anko wordlessly handed her a flask of peppermint-and-ginger tea; much to Hinata's relief, it worked quickly to eliminate the nausea.

Naruto and Shino showed up fifteen minutes before time; they had already figured out that when sensei said 'or else' it was wise to make sure you didn't find out what she meant.

"Good, you're all here," Anko said, surveying them carefully. They wore what they normally wore to training; a standard genin uniform—or, in Naruto's case, an orange jumpsuit—with leather-soled tabi on their feet and a few weapon pouches on their belts. She smiled very privately; this was going to be fun.

"Soooo...remember on the first day, when I said that you would regret being late to the training ground?" she asked. "Well, today's when the regret starts. We've got a mission, and we're leaving right now."

All three of them gaped at her.

"We don't have our gear!" Naruto yelped. "We can't go on a mission with just a few kunai pouches—no food, no water, no nothing!"

Anko shrugged. "Not my problem. If you aren't carrying your go bag at all times, you aren't prepared for ninja life. Storage scrolls aren't that expensive, and they'll let you carry everything you might possibly need. Besides, having to make do is good training." She looked at the sky, which was becoming lighter where the sun was just about to heave itself over the horizon.

"Come on," she said; she checked to make sure her backpack was settled and then set off, loping down the road at speed, her genin trailing in her wake.

After three hours of rapid travel, she suddenly stopped and started walking backwards, stepping carefully in her own tracks.

"Sensei, what the hell are you doing?" Naruto demanded.

Anko didn't glance up, focused on matching her prior movements with exacting care. "Escape and evasion training; we're going to treat this mission like an escape from hostile territory, starting now. If any of you leave tracks going back I'll have you doing squats until you puke, so be careful."

"But why?" Naruto asked, thoroughly flummoxed.

Anko shrugged, still not looking up. "It's good training. Escape and evasion is a critical skill for a ninja, and there isn't enough time to give it real attention in the Academy curriculum, so you'll just have to learn on the fly. Come on, back we go. Remember, on our way in we were traveling at a jog, so your weight was on the balls of your feet. Make sure you reproduce that on the way back or you'll leave traces. Pretend that you're trying to evade someone with Byakugan or some other overpowered sensory power."

All three genin looked at each other in bafflement. Something strange was happening, and they didn't understand it. Nonetheless, they started copying their teacher's movements.

She made them travel two full and very uncomfortable miles like that before turning sharply left and leaping into the trees. Once off the road she accelerated, bending her course steadily to the left in a wide loop around Konoha until they were headed north at top speed.

"You could have told us we'd be doing this!" Naruto groused, leaping on a branch to her left and then pushing off smoothly to another a few yards ahead. Anko frowned as she noticed the scar in the tree branch where he'd jumped; as always, his chakra control sucked, and he was pushing way harder than necessary. More important, he was leaving a trail.

She leaped after him, coming up from behind before he knew she was there, and scooped him up into a shoulder carry.

Naruto stiffened, then began to struggle. "Hey! Put me down!" he demanded, sounding slightly panicked.

"Relax, kid," she said, deliberately pitching her voice to be calm and amused. "You were leaving too much of a trail, that's all. I'll put you down once we clear the forest, I promise. You want to ride piggyback instead? Might be more comfortable."

She could feel him hesitate, but he squirmed around so he was clinging tightly to her back. She pulled his arms down a couple inches and forced herself to chuckle. "Hey, watch the hands, kid," she said in amusement. "I need that throat." He obligingly shifted his grip down a bit.

"Shino!" she called over her shoulder. "Keep all of us topped up, I want to make some distance." She turned, heading west for a few miles before turning north again. The kikai bugs were too light for her to notice their weight, but she definitely noticed the steady river of Naruto's chakra flowing into her coils, ensuring that she had to spend none of her own.

With access to effectively unlimited chakra, there was no reason to slow down and Anko pushed them hard. Fortunately, Hinata was moving smoothly; bruises, even ones as severe as Hinata's had been, were no challenge for a medic-nin, and Iesada had healed every trace of the damage, as well as giving her a 'tune-up' by releasing muscle tension, scouring out fatigue poisons, clearing some minor blockages in her chakra coils, boosting her immune system, and doping her with a pint of extra blood for increased oxygenation of her muscles. It was much more than a medic would normally have done, and Anko silently thanked him for it. Even with the chakra sheathe around the leg muscles doing most of the work of running, moving this fast was still tiring, and Hinata had the least stamina of her students.

She kept them moving at a flat-out run throughout the day; they broke out of the forest after a few hours, but she didn't let them pause. Once they were back on flat ground she dumped Naruto back on his feet, steadying him for a moment until he caught his balance, and kept going without a word.

She ran them for a full twelve hours before stopping just below the timber line of a small mountain. The sun was just drooping towards the horizon and they had covered almost five hundred miles all up, putting them over two hundred miles north of Konoha and only a couple hours from the border of Fire Country. She carefully hid her satisfaction; a chakra-boosted ninja could run faster than a horse, but the chakra cost added up. Without Naruto's nigh-infinite chakra to draw on, no other ninja of Konoha could have covered anything like this distance in the same time.

"Well, that was bracing," she said casually. "Now that we're warmed up, get the camp put together; we'll have some dinner and then get some training in."

Naruto stared at her in amazement; Shino's eyebrow was actually visible over his glasses, and Hinata looked like she desperately wanted to object but didn't quite dare.

"You're kidding, right?" Naruto demanded.

Anko looked at him in feigned surprise. "No, why would I kid? This is a mission, but we still need to train."

"W-w-we do not have any camping gear, sensei," Hinata said hesitantly. "Or food."

Anko snorted. "Are you ninja or not? Shino, make shelter; Naruto and Hinata, hunt some food. Oh, and you better make a fire or you'll sleep cold."

"Will you be bunking with Hinata, sensei?" Shino asked tightly.

Anko shook her head. "Nah. I brought my own." She pulled a storage scroll from a pocket on her thigh, reached in, and came out with a rolled-up tent, which she proceeded to set up with the ease of long practice. She crawled inside to set the tent pole and lay out her bedroll; after a moment, she poked her head out and looked at them in surprise. "What are you doing still standing there? Snap to!" She ducked back inside the tent, leaving them gaping in bemusement.

Naruto snarled and tossed off a handseal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" he called. A dozen clones sprang into existence; they looked at each other and their summoner for a moment, then shrugged and leaped out of the camp in all directions, kunai in hand as they went hunting.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Naruto said again; half a dozen more clones appeared, looking around dully before tromping off into the woods to gather deadfall. Their movements were clumsy and their expressions vacant; both Shino and Hinata looked on in surprise.

"N-N-Naruto-kun," Hinata said. "Why did you make the clones twice? And why did the second group look so...different?"

Naruto shrugged. "The first group needed to be smart to hunt, but if I make 'em too smart they start arguing with me. Hunting is fun, though, so they didn't mind." He waved toward where one of the second batch of clones had gone. "The second group was just getting firewood, which is boring, so I made them dumb so they wouldn't give me any grief."

His teammates took a moment to digest that.

"Your clones...argue with you?" Shino asked in disbelief.

Naruto nodded. "Yeah, if I make 'em smart. They're basically just me, only more or less solid, more or less smart, and so on."

"H-how intelligent can you make them?" Hinata asked, curious. "Can you make them smarter than a person?"

"Nope," Naruto said. "Like I said, they're just copies of me. I can leave out some of their brains so they're stupider than I am, but I can't make them smarter than me." He rubbed his head, chuckling ruefully. "It would be great if I could, and if I could have made them at the Academy—I wouldn't have had to worry about homework!"

Shino looked appalled. "You can leave out some of their brains?!" he said in shock. "Do you mean, actually leave out a piece of their brain matter?"

Naruto paused. "I...don't think so," he said slowly. "The scroll wasn't really clear on that, it just said that their intelligence could be varied." He flashed his trademark grin. "I mean, it's not like I've actually checked," he said.

Shino nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I see. I remember that from the unit on medical chakra—a sharp blow will dispel a clone, but so will too much foreign chakra, such as is used in a medical scan or chakra surgery." He brightened. "Although, I've heard that the hospital at the Fire Daimyo's palace has something called an 'X-ray machine', which apparently lets you look inside the body without cutting, and without using chakra. I wonder what the insides of a clone would look like? Or a person, for that matter."

Naruto rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably. "Weeeellll," he began. "That thing about not being able to do surgery. That's not...quite true. I can make 'em as solid as a person. They'll pop if they run out of chakra or if they take a fatal wound, but otherwise they stick around. If you were really careful, you could probably cut their head open and check their brain." He made a disgusted face. "But that would be horrible."

Hinata felt her gorge rise at the mental image of Naruto strapped to a table, the top of his head cut away to reveal his living brain. Clenching her jaw tightly, she dashed to the nearest bush and was violently sick.

Anko popped her head out of her tent and glowered at the boys. "Hey!" she snapped. "Are you two going to stand there all night, jawing and making Hinata sick? Get that fire built! And the shelters!" She stepped all the way out of the tent and went over to where Hinata was still puking; Anko rubbed her back gently, waiting for the heaves to stop. Once they did, she silently passed Hinata the canteen of peppermint-and-ginger tea to rinse her mouth.

While Anko was helping Hinata, Naruto guiltily summoned another dim-witted clone; it promptly set to work digging a firepit. He and Shino started gathering and piling up duff beds for the three of them.

After a few minutes the firewood-seeking clones came back, lugging stacks of twigs, branches, and logs. There weren't as many as had gone out, so clearly some had popped themselves by mistake. The rest dumped their firewood in a pile and then stood still, staring vacantly at nothing.

"Why are they simply standing there?" Shino asked.

"They've finished their orders," Naruto said casually. "When I make 'em, they have my memories, so if I decide something like 'now I will go gather firewood and bring it back' and create a really dumb clone, it does that. These ones aren't smart enough to decide to do anything after that, though. Hey, you guys! Go get some water from that stream we passed."

The clones stared blankly, then turned and sloped toward the stream a few hundred yards away.

"How will they carry the water?" Shino asked.

Naruto slapped his head. "Right; thanks. Oy! All of you! Use Gama-chan as a canteen!"

The clones stared dully at their creator, not moving.

"Don't just stand there!" Naruto said angrily. "Get the water in Gama-chan!"

"I don't think they understand, Naruto-kun," Hinata said softly, moving back to rejoin the others. Anko had vanished silently into the bush, muttering something about 'perimeter check' to Hinata, which left the three of them standing alone.

Moving to the nearest clone, Hinata took Gama-chan—Naruto's frog-shaped oilskin wallet—out of his jacket pocket, put the contents back in the pocket, and curled the clone's hands around the open wallet.

"Get water," Hinata said carefully, looking the clone in the eyes.

He looked at her dully, then nodded. "Get water," he said thickly, before turning and shambling off. Hinata stared wide-eyed for a moment at hearing the clone speak, then shook off her amazement and moved to the next one to repeat the process of giving it an empty Gama-chan for water carrying.

Shino was eyeing the process in surprise for a different reason. "Your wallet was duplicated?" he asked. "Including the money?"

Naruto nodded, grinning. "Yeah. Pretty awesome, huh? I am so going to clean out the ramen section at Madame Watanabe's when we get back."

"W-w-won't the money vanish when the clone does?" Hinata asked, wildly uncomfortable at the idea of seeming to criticize Naruto. It seemed important, though.

Naruto shrugged, unconcerned. "She always overcharges me. I think it's only fair that I underpay once." He grinned. "Besides, what an awesome prank!"

Shino was looking around, seeming distracted. "Shouldn't your hunting party have returned by now?" he asked. "I have noticed plenty of small game in the area; it shouldn't have been difficult to acquire."

"Byakugan," Hinata said, activating her bloodline power. The veins around her all-white eyes bulged and her normally-invisible irises became a very pale, just-barely-visible gray as her vision expanded outwards, showing her everything around them.

She immediately pointed roughly east. "They're over there," she said. "They're...um...eating."

Naruto frowned thunderously and went stomping off into the bushes to find his treasonous clones. Shino and Hinata followed close on his heels.

"What do you all think you're doing?!" he shouted, stalking up to where a dozen clones sat in a circle around a small campfire. Six of them were toasting squirrel meat over the fire, while the others were already gnawing on theirs. A dozen more squirrels were piled off to one side, not yet skinned.

"You were supposed to bring the food back!" the original Naruto shouted, glaring furiously at his clones.

The leftmost Naruto shrugged. "Yeah, we will. We just figured we'd have a bite first—I mean, we're all going to pop in a few hours, right? Don't we deserve a decent meal first?" He waved casually at the squirrels piled to the side. "Don't worry, there's plenty. We wouldn't let Shino or Hinata-chan go hungry."

Shino and Hinata watched in bemusement as Naruto argued with himself. After a moment, Hinata spoke up. "Perhaps, since we are here, we could join you?" she said quietly, looking down and pressing her fingertips together. Being around a dozen Naruto-kuns was a little...overwhelming.

Third-from-the-left Naruto smiled widely and patted the log he was sitting on. "Sure!" he said happily. "Have a seat, Hinata-chan. You can have this piece—I'll toast another."

Blushing furiously, Hinata took the indicated seat; third-from-the-left Naruto held the skewer out to her and she carefully pulled the hot (and only slightly charred) cubes of squirrel meat off and slurped them down gratefully.

The Naruto clone smiled brightly at her. "Good, huh? Man, after the way Anko-sensei ran us, I was starving! I mean seriously—eating ration bars on the run, no stops except to pee? Who does that, am I right?"

Hinata nodded, ducking her head in embarrasment. It was very strange to hear this...other Naruto...discussing things that had happened to the original.

"Speaking of only stopping to pee," Naruto #8 said. "What was up with that? She was in a tearing hurry to get somewhere, but we aren't anywhere—we're just on the side of a mountain. We could have made it to most of the cities in the Land of Fire today, but instead we're camping in the woods. Why?" He looked over at Shino expectantly.

Shino shrugged in honest puzzlement. "I have no idea," he said. "I agree that her actions are strange, but lacking further information I would assume that it somehow relates to the mission."

He hesitated. "Also," he said, "why did she hurry us out of the city at dawn without even letting us get our gear?"

Shino looked at Hinata and the Narutos, the part of his face they could see a study in confusion. Hinata stared at the ground, her fingers twisting around each other in discomfort. The Narutos looked at her and then at each other. Their expressions got grim.

"I'm sure she had a good reason," one of the Narutos said. "She'll tell us eventually. It was probably just because she's a sadistic weirdo. Right, Hinata-chan?"

Hinata glanced up at him in surprise; the look he was giving her was significant, and sympathetic. He knows, she thought in surprise and no little horror. Naruto-kun wasn't known for his restraint and, should he take it into his head to 'do something' about her situation, the results could be disastrous.

Swallowing the lump of fear in her throat, she made sure her voice was normal before replying. "Yes. I'm sure that's it, Naruto-kun," she said, giving him a tiny headshake.

Shino looked from one to the other of his teammates with a carefully concealed frown. There was something passing between them, but he wasn't sure what it was. He shook his head slightly; it would come out eventually.

"I also wonder why she hasn't told us about the mission," Hinata said softly, eager to change the subject.

"Maybe because you three haven't asked," Anko said, stepping out of some bushes that really should not have been thick enough to conceal her.

All three of them jumped. "Where were you?!" Naruto yelped.

Anko shrugged casually. "Out and about," she said. "After all, someone had to scout around and check for threats while you lot were setting up camp. I hope you saved me some squirrel?"

Wordlessly, Naruto #11 passed her a heavily loaded skewer. With delicate fingers, she pulled the first chunk of meat off and tossed it in the air, catching it in her mouth on the way down and chewing with satisfaction.

"Mmm," she said. "Good stuff. You've got some talent in the kitchen, blondie."

Naruto shrugged. "I've had some practice," he said casually. "You were going to tell us about the mission?"

Anko didn't respond for a minute, eating the rest of her skewer first. When it was all gone, she dusted her hands off with a contented sigh and looked around.

"How much do you three know about trade with the Republic?" she asked.

Fifteen quizzical looks came at her.

"The Citizens' Free Republic is approximately one thousand miles northwest of the Land of Lightning," Hinata said, clearly reading off a book in her mind. "Although it defies all medical science, the citizens of the Republic appear to have no chakra whatsoever. Lacking chakra, they have focused on mechanismics, advancing far beyond our own level in that particular field. Trade between the nations is limited, but valuable to both sides. Both sides permit landings only at a single designated port on each continent, and members of the other nation are not permitted outside of specific areas of the port. As a result, we have very little data on the day-to-day or political lifestyles of the residents, but their quality of life appears to be quite high. In addition—"

Anko waved her to silence with an approving nod. "Impressive. That's more than I was expecting." She cocked her head in thought and asked, "I don't suppose the Hyuuga might happen to know more than is in the books?"

Hinata blushed and looked down, allowing her bangs to fall in front of her face. "I'm not sure what you mean, sensei," she said quietly.

"Well, if I were the Raikage," she said delicately, "and I had all these strange foreigners with powerful mechanismic devices showing up on my shores, I would have spies showing up on theirs. And, were I a clever Raikage, I might try to hire some Hyuuga with their all-seeing eyes and ask them to spy out what the Republic port city looks like behind closed doors."

Hinata shifted uncomfortably. She didn't want to make sensei angry, but she couldn't dispense clan secrets either. And she had a feeling that Anko-sensei would instantly see through any lie she tried to tell. For a brief moment she felt panic fluttering in her throat; refusing to obey one's team leader in the field was a capital offense. Even if Anko-sensei didn't decide to kill her for a lie, would she lose faith in Hinata? Would she kick her off the team?

Anko waved her to silence. "Meh, don't worry about it, kid. It was just a thought." She waved to a Naruto and he passed her another skewer of meat; she took a moment to nibble on a piece for a minute until Hinata's tension had drained away.

"Anyway," Anko said, looking up again. "One of the prime things that we trade with the Republic is seals. We've never managed to come up with a printing press that could reproduce seal characters with sufficient accuracy to be functional, but they have one. We ship them the chakra paper and the chakra ink, they print the seals and send them back to us to be energized, then we trade them the finished seals for some of their mechanismics." She snorted. "Of course, all the trade goes through the Land of Lightning, and each intervening nation applies their own tariffs, so the stuff ends up pretty spendy by the time it gets to Konoha. You've probably seen a few of their things around, though—the camera that we use to take your genin pictures at graduation, the gas lights in Hokage Tower and some of the wealthier houses"—she nodded at Hinata—"the bound books in the Village Library, that sort of thing. It's all very valuable, and very expensive. The Land of Lightning has a lock of the trade, and it's making them a fortune.

"And that brings us to our current mission," she said, rubbing her hands in glee. Picking up her picked-clean squirrel-cooking stick, she scratched a rough map in the dirt. "You should recognize this, but I'm no artist, so I'll lay it out. Here's the Land of Fire," she said, indicating the roughly Land-of-Fire-shaped blob in the south. "And here's we are now." She tapped her stick at a point just inside the northern border. She quickly sketched in the surrounding nations and then tapped the three nations to the north and east. "Land of Hot Water, Land of Frost, Land of Lightning." The first two were small, but the Land of Lightning towered, spreading northeast in an enormous comma that was easily as large as their own Land of Fire.

The pointer moved back to the Land of Fire and then due north to a tiny rectangular country. "Land of Sound, and over here"—the pointer hopped two countries to the west—"we have the Land of Waterfalls." The pointer hopped back to the country it had skipped—a long, potato-shaped area that adjoined the Land of Fire, Sound, and Waterfalls.

"Sound and Waterfalls have hated each other ever since the Sage walked the earth," Anko told them. "They've had on-and-off wars that entire time; finally, a little over fifty years ago, they got together and agreed that this area would be a buffer zone between them that neither would enter. It's worked so far." From the unnamed country she dragged her stick through the dirt to the north, then off to the north-northwest. "The Republic is over here somewhere," she said, tapping the map.

She let the stick rest on the ground while she looked around. "Okay, you've got the information. Analysis? Hinata, you start."

Hinata stared at the map for a moment, unsure how she was supposed to answer. She was beginning to feel a tinge of panic when the answer suddenly clicked and her jaw fell open.

"The buffer zone sticks well out into the ocean," she said. "The Land of Lightning extends further north, but the buffer zone is at least as close to the Republic. Does the Hokage want to engage in smuggling?" she asked fearfully. She'd heard descriptions of some anti-smuggling missions her father had ordered; they weren't pretty, and she didn't want to think about her village being the target of that.

Anko smiled and gave her a pleased nod. "The mission paper doesn't explicitly say anything about smuggling, but I think it's a safe bet that Konoha will eventually be doing something along those lines." Her lips quirked in an 'I have a secret' smile before she turned to her other genin. "Naruto, your turn. Leaving aside the question of the Hokage's motivations, Hinata's observation about the proximity of the buffer zone to the Republic is correct. What might we be doing here?"

Naruto frowned and rubbed the back of his head before looking around at his clones. After a moment, one of them said, "Well, if we were going to be doing some smuggling, we'd need to have a defined route through the buffer zone. So, maybe a mapping expedition?"

Anko nodded. "Good thought. Yes, we're supposed to map the route through the buffer zone, all the way to the water at the far end." She turned to her last student. "Shino, what else can you tell me?"

The bug user studied the map thoughtfully, considering everything that he'd heard. "Hm," he said. "Perhaps...we are to meet with representatives of Sound and Lightning to arrange safe passage?"

Anko shook her head. "Nope. Reasonable guess, but no—if and when that needed to happen, the Hokage would send professional diplomats, not a genin team and a newly-minted jonin who is considered unstable and possibly untrustworthy. The exact words of the mission summary were 'Team shall execute a thorough mapping expedition to the far northernmost point of the Sound/Waterfalls buffer zone. While in the buffer zone, the team shall avoid contact with all non-Leaf parties and avoid being observed at all. Should contact be unavoidable, team shall conceal their identity as ninja of the Leaf and shall withdraw with all reasonable haste. Hokage's intent: provide thorough maps of a safe path through the buffer zone. Do not cause a diplomatic incident.'" She finished reciting, then turned her gaze back to Shino.

"Try again," she urged. "Think about motivations. Who are the parties in all this, and what do they want? Try to go beyond the details of the mission and look for why the mission is happening. If you know the origin of what you're doing, you can better fulfill the spirit of the mission when things go pear-shaped. Start by asking who originated the idea for the mission."

Shino frowned. "This mission is clearly operating at an international level," he said slowly. "Which would imply that the Fire Daimyo was the one that contracted it. No, wait. This mission is an operational detail, not an objective in itself. The daimyo would have contracted the overall mission, and the Hokage broke this component out into a separate mission."

Anko nodded encouragingly. "Good so far. Who else is involved, and what do they want?"

"In your briefing, you repeatedly emphasized the Republic, and later you said that Hinata's guess about smuggling was correct," Shino said slowly. "Although...hm. Actually, you said 'something like that', didn't you? That implies that you don't think it's smuggling per se. I take that as strong evidence that the Republic are relevant to the answer, but that answer is not actually smuggling. Given that, the friendly parties involved would seem to be the Fire Daimyo and the Hokage, who want to ensure the success of whatever smuggling or similar operation they have planned. The hostile parties would be the Lightning Daimyo and the Raikage, who want to maintain their lock on the trade."

Hinata twitched for a moment as though she were going to say something, then fell silent. Anko looked over at her. "You have a thought, Hinata?"

The girl glanced at Shino uncomfortably. She didn't want to make him look bad by thinking of something before he did; people didn't like it when you did that. So she just shrugged and quietly said, "No, it was nothing."

"If you have a thought, Hinata-san, I would be very appreciative if you would share it," Shino said politely.

Hinata eyed him carefully for a moment to see if he really meant it. "The individual traders from the Republic would also be important, Shino-san. They would almost certainly prefer to have more trading partners so that the Land of Lightning cannot enforce monopoly pricing against them." She stopped there; she had given him enough of a pointer, he would see the rest of it on his own. This way he could get the credit.

Shino's eyebrows rose above his glasses. "Indeed. I had not considered that. Thank you, Hinata-san; I assume that your attention to economics is derived from your clan training?"

Hinata nodded uncomfortably. She didn't want to say 'I was trained in this because I'm the clan heir'. people didn't like it when you pointed out that you were richer or more noble than they were; it tended to lead to bad things. She wished he would stop looking at her and just get on with his own deductions.

It was possible that Shino had some Yamanaka blood, because he might have plucked the thought from her mind. "Moving through the buffer zone could be considered a hostile act by either Sound or Waterfalls," he said. "Even investigating the possibility of opening trade with the Republic would definitely be considered a hostile act by Lightning. Neither the Hokage nor the Fire Daimyo would risk a major diplomatic incident unless they were sure they had something significant to gain. Therefore, there is a high probability that the Land of Fire has already made contact with the Republic and has at least a preliminary trade agreement in place."

He shook his head in confusion. "It seems inadequate, though. We could establish a small port at the end of the buffer zone and use it for minor trade by way of summon transit, but we could not move any significant mass of material that way and many of the Republic's goods are both bulky and quite heavy—for example, that X-ray machine that the Fire Daimyo has is supposed to be half the size of a desk. The fact that we are tasked to scout a route through the buffer zone suggests travel by land, but neither ninja nor pack mules would be up to the task of carrying such."

Naruto #5's eyes got very wide. "You'd need wagons," he said quietly.

Hinata went pale. It couldn't be. Really, it just couldn't, she thought.

Shino looked around at his teammates, confused. Clearly, they understood something he did not, and clearly it was very important. He frowned behind his collar, wracking his brains for the answer.

When it hit him, he gasped and turned to Anko. "The Daimyo wouldn't, would he? That would be insane."


Author's Note: I had a very informative (and therefore long) A/N here. Then I discovered that the FFN rules don't allow long A/N. It's not essential, but you probably want to go over to davidstorrs. com to find the original text. It's in the "Team Anko" forum.