Tales of the Foxcat
If there was a word Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts would never use to describe himself, it was that. He was never helpless and there was always a way to achieve victory; even in the face of impossible odds. Sometimes it was a technique. Others it was the postponement of hostilities until a technique could be found. Often it required a liberal amount of ass kicking, but Ranma Saotome didn't lose and he was never helpless. He overcame. Adapted. Improvised.
The pigtailed boy rung his hand nervously as the roiling sickness in his stomach threatened to overcome him again.
Today, he had been helpless. Utterly powerless to stop the violation of his mind, and in turn his body. Her body. Both. He knew the visions couldn't possibly have been real, but they were in every way that mattered. Formless agents asked him questions to which he did not have answers to and then the interrogation began. Ranma clenched his jaw with the fury that boiled through the disgust and horror. That by itself was excruciating, but when he refused to break they had switched to alternate methods. Even worse, they had made him like it. He couldn't stop their efforts in any meaningful way and by the time they were done he had happily told them anything they wanted to know; every little detail. Every dark secret. Obeyed their every command.
A warm fuzzy contentment wrapped around him like a blanket in the knowledge that he had been such an obedient little-
"DAMMIT!" Ranma's fist came down, crushing the steel cart next to his bed while causing the nurse in close proximity to cringe. Kurenai Yuhi looked concerned by the reaction but remained still, watching as the boy pulled his hands out of the crumpled remains of the cart while staring at his hands once more.
The symptoms were easy enough to recognized as a practitioner of the art and at the moment Kurenai was more than willing to let the martial artist stew until he could sort things out for himself. Still, it was clearly obvious she had underestimated the potency of her own technique on the child. She watched Ranma reach for one of two pitchers he had demanded after regaining consciousness and splashed himself into a female before lapsing back into the thousand yard stare at her hands. The pigtailed girl had already splashed herself back and forth several times, as if trying to decide which body were the lesser of evils. Any victory the Kurenai may have felt in smashing through the redhead's ego had evaporated as she witnessed the results of her handiwork.
'Perhaps too overzealous in my efforts?' She queried herself, but shook her head mentally. Perhaps, but this was worse. Of course the girl had next to no genjutsu resistance and she had meant to highlight that fact, but this... The med nin cast a speculative glance back at her before moving in. The girl didn't seem to notice as Doctor Odoka pressed a stethoscope to her back and probed several points before retrieving it.
"Heart rate elevated, but not unexpectedly so. Breathing likewise." She reported and let the device hang from her neck. Her now empty hands moved in under the blue silk shirt, tracing her fingers along Ranma's back to probe the girl's major tenketsu by touch, if not sight. "His... her chakra is spiky. Given her physiology, I'm not sure what that means exactly, but it's a sharp contrast to what we had before she started."
Kurenai merely nodded and watched the girl shiver; her eyes fluttering closed with a purr and a pleasant smile that remained for almost five seconds before snapping open with a readily apparent frown. The frown instantly degenerated into a near snarl that left a tick on the redhead's cheek. The pale kunoichi had her own theories as to the child's genjutsu vulnerabilities and explaining them would serve as good a distraction as any for her protégé. She stepped over to the girl and a pair of angry blue eyes snapped up to meet her presence. "I believe I might have a-"
"Get. Out." Ranma growled as a sickly greenish-black glow began to boil off the girl. The hand grasping the bed frame and it creaked with sound, then began to curl in her grip. The sight instantly reminded Kurenai of the girl's strength in spite of her thirteen year old frame. The tick became more pronounced and Ranma sought to make her demand crystal clear. "Now."
"Now." The med nin nodded, overriding any attempt Kurenai might have made to rationalize what had happened. The kunoichi seemed to stand in place for a moment until her partner took the kunoichi's arm gently and led her back to the door, insistently shooing her through the threshold. Doctor Suki paused afterward, turning back to the trembling martial artist. "We'll have somebody posted at the door should you need anything."
The trembling remained but a single, focused nod accompanied it. The door closed, sealing the martial artist alone and the blue haired med-nin paused outside, taking a deep breath. After a moment she shook her head, eyeing Kurenai directly. "What the hell did you do to her, Yuhi? Her reactions are something I'd expect from a full up combat genjutsu, not some test."
"And that's all it should have been," The red and white clad ninja pinched the bridge of her nose. She opened her mouth to start anew when something suddenly a furious scream reverberated through the door, followed by a devastating crash. Kurenai winced with the impact. All it should have been was the suggestion of helplessness. Confinement. The victim's mind would take care of the rest, but her reaction... The black haired nin cut the introspective off, returning to the here and now. "The suggestion of sexual torture would have been implied from the beginning, of course. That was the point, but to have it blow up this badly would suggest something entirely different."
"A deep seated insecurity?" The doctor theorized as she tucked the stethoscope into one of her white lab coats' deep pockets. Another impact and the sound of something being crushed reverberated through the door, causing her to cringe.
"It wouldn't be surprising with that bloodline, but even then I didn't give it that sort of power." Kurenai extrapolated as she worked the problem backwards. "For all I know it's the flat chakra she utilizes may have aggravated the technique."
"Dammit, dammit, dammit!"
Both women looked at the door. This time glass shattered from behind the barrier and the physician took a polite step away from the door. The kunoichi followed as Suki continued their conversation from a safer distance, favoring Kurenai with a no-nonsense look. "We will treat this just like we would a combat genjutsu trauma case. As attending physician I will insist on a full psyche evaluation once she has calmed down."
"Of course, Doctor," Kurenai nodded her agreement as the woman put her foot down further.
"I would also highly recommend you have a Hyuga in attendance as you explore the width and breadth of your protégé's chakra, especially during these sort of activities." The blue haired ninja advised. It was an advisement to which the kunoichi frowned.
"We'll...do our best," Kurenai temporized, remembering the last time they had solicited the clan head for his input. Hinata was barely adequate in the role and didn't have nearly the experience necessary to help them in what they were up against. She was about to elaborate on the challenges in that area when she cocked her head, noticing silence. The med nin stared at her curiously then looked at the door herself with growing concern.
"We had better-"
The kunoichi was already turning the handle to step into the room, only to find exactly what she had expected: One completely trashed room and no martial artist present. The open window was the obvious exit and the nin muttered a curse. 'This is not how it was supposed to go!' Kurenai Yuhi chided herself as she whirled around, stepping around the physician and back into the hallway. "Keep watch to see if she returns. I have a report to make."
With that, the red eyed woman was gone down the sterile white hospital walkway at a brisk pace.
"Jeez, I thought that yelling would never stop!" Naruto Uzumaki stared at the east wall of the hospital room where the muffled cacophony had originated. That, and the crashing of obvious property damage undoubtedly taking place within beyond their sight. The blond Jinchuuriki waited a moment longer, wondering if the ruckus would resume as it had for the last ten minutes. When it failed to materialize, he rolled his eyes, turning back to his bed ridden partner. "They must have some really psycho people in this hospital."
The bandage swathed nin lying before Naruto merely stared straight ahead, prompting the younger genin to frown at the lack of response. Intravenous fluid bags curled down from their stands into Haku's blanketed body while an EKG kept track of his vitals via more wiring. The boy's naturally pale complexion ensured that each and every one of the bruises he had sustained were clearly visible, causing Naruto further mental consternation.
"Aw, come on. You're still not holding that against me, are you?" Haku's sight remained focused on the wall beyond; the now thankfully silent wall beyond Naruto. Unfortunately, the ice nin was just as silent and the blonde's shoulders slumped. "Look, I said I was sorry already. I had no idea sensei's technique was going to be that bad." Silence dominated the room and the boy sighed. "I'll be back in a few hours to check up on you, alright?"
The lack of a response further disheartened Naruto as he turned to pick his orange jacket off the bed post. Sure, Haku had deserved the ass kicking at the time, but he was a good person that really didn't want to hurt anybody. Naruto hated to see that potential friendship go to waste, especially when he himself was in such dire need of them. With Ranma and the girls it wasn't so bad these days, but any-
Those two barely audible words stopped Naruto's sullen retreat from the room, causing him to turn back toward the only other occupant curiously. "You what?"
Haku still hadn't moved and the blond had to wonder if the words hadn't come from the room next door until the bedridden teen continued, his brown eyes tracking on Naruto for the first time. "A tool that fails in its function is worthless."
"Hey, don't-" Naruto was about to console his maybe friend; at least until the words actually processed through his brain. The end result was his face scrunching up in irritation. "Not this crap again."
The ice nin blinked at the reaction that was somewhat at odds with the boy standing over him; so much so that he actually turned his head to get a better view of the blonds contorted expression. "Crap?"
"Do you know what I had to listen to the entire time I was carrying you back?" Naruto stepped away from the bed and was now pacing the limited space of the room in clear agitation. He threw an annoyed glance back at the nin and began to mime his answer sarcastically. "He's a tool this. My tool failed that. He's worthless. Blah blah blah..."
Each refrain was another dagger slipped into Haku's soul until Naruto stopped by his bed with that same grumpy expression. "Well you know what I told him? I told him he was the tool and if he didn't shut up, I'd drop a tornado on his ass too!"
The pale black haired teen opened his mouth to interject but the blond in orange had built up a head of steam fueled by frustrated indignation. "He's your precious person and I won't let him throw that away! It's worth too much!"
Haku's eyes had widened fractionally with each sentence until silence finally settled back over the room. He watched his former adversaries' trembling frame slowly calm as the anger over reliving the discussion spent itself. Another moment slipped by unnoticed before Haku finally found the courage to speak.
"What... Did he say to that?"
"You're his precious person too." A small smile etched its way onto the blonde's face before it scrunched back up into exaggerated irritation. "Though it was like pulling teeth for him to admit. Pain in the ass."
"Momochi-san... is like that." Haku nodded slightly, now staring at the ceiling in wonder. 'I'm... his precious person too?' Naruto merely nodded with the sentiment, continuing on.
"Anyway, he told me to tell you to rest and that you'd both be staying in Konoha for a bit." Naruto relayed easily now that he was past the more emotionally volatile subject matter. "The old man told me to tell you that you're guests but please do not try to leave the village walls until things are sorted out or something like that."
Haku knew it was a polite way of saying "prisoner" even if the blond didn't realize it for himself, but he could abide; nor was it likely he would be attempting an escape anytime soon. He could feel the cuts winding up and down his body and even if he couldn't, the stained gauze wrapping along his visible flesh told the same story: He wasn't going anywhere for a while. Regardless, an internal glow warmed the ice nin. His special person had sacrificed his freedom for this.
He would be patient.
Three kilometers away, Haku's special person stood before an old man. Now in his sixties, the old man himself was hardly imposing on the surface, but the surface wasn't what stayed Zabuza Momochi's hand. Had the leader of the Konohagakure simply been in an old man, the odds would have certainly been in the nuke-nin's favor if it came down to dispatching him. Merely a desk and a handful of meters stood between him and the deed. No ANBU were present to ensure the village leader's safety and Zabuza had been allowed to retain his sword. The geezer's death would be a foregone conclusion...
...Except this wasn't simply an old geezer.
This particular old man was the very God of Shinobi himself and one of the few men that Zabuza would be hesitant to face in an open confrontation. As such, the very last place his hand was about to stray was to the hilt of the massive sword sheathed at his back. Instead he merely watched as the village leader's attention was fixed upon a notebook through which he would turn a page every few minutes or so until finally sighing, looking back up at the assassin standing warily before him. The penetrating stare lasted for a full thirty seconds before the Hokage merely shook his head.
"That could not have been your best idea."
Zabuza's eyes narrowed with hostility at the perceived insult. "Don't judge me, old man. I did what I had to for my village."
"You took up arms with crime lords and brigands." Sarutobi dismissed the justification outright, taking a puff from the long stem of his kiseru before continuing. "While I'll not debate the cause, yours is built on a foundation of blood; doomed to failure before it started."
"And what would you have me do, Hokage?" The Mist swordsman all but sneered Sarutobi's official title, turning away to pace the confines of the office. "Maybe ask him to end his tyranny over tea? Suggest that he step down out of common courtesy?" The sharp tooth nin turned back to Sarutobi with a cruel intensity glowing within his eyes. "No. I will have him. By any means necessary."
The Professor stared back at the imposing wall of muscle with a thoroughly bored look. "And how, exactly has that been working for you?"
The nuke-nin maintained his stare for a moment before dismissing the Hokage's doubts with a contemptuous sniff, leaving the older of the two to shake his head in dismay. "Regardless, you are apparently my problem now. Any suggestions as to what I should do with you?"
"Help me debase the bloodthirsty child thinking himself the Mizukage," Zabuza shrugged with indifference, but turned back to Sarutobi with a baleful look. "Or kill me, I don't care which. But hurt Haku and I shall hunt you through the afterlife and beyond."
The village leader studied the missing nin intently, seemingly impervious to the killing intent flowing through the man's gaze. He took another puff from his pipe before setting it aside to examine the notebook before him once more, then returned his attention that assassin. The slightest edge of a smile found its way to his aged lips, blunting Zabuza's fearsome countenance.
"Of that I have no doubt." The Hokage nodded, signing it with an ink tipped brush. "Consider this your parole until I figure out exactly what to do with you and your apprentice. Leave these walls or molest those I watch over and you will find your death to be quick and instantaneous, are we clear?"
The former mist nin stared warily upon the man, cocking his head as if unsure of the trap he was being led into or if there even was a trap to begin with. After several long seconds he produced a single terse nod then turned for the doorway, only to be stopped as he reached for the handle.
"And if you should want to discuss other alternatives to your dilemma, I will need information." Zabuza blinked and slowly turned back to Sarutobi. The old man's gaze bore steadily on him, hands folded at his chin. "Detailed information. Disposition of forces. Locations. Bloodlines. Secrets. Codes. Everything."
The swordsman now looked upon the Third with a mixture of doubt and intrigue, unsure of which he should address the village head with. "I won't turn Kirikagure into a puppet of the Leaf, old man."
"Nor would I expect you to." The Hokage merely nodded. "But you've already deemed outsiders necessary to your plans to overthrow the Mizukage and a stable regime is far more beneficial to us than what is present now. Think about it."
The nuke-nin's study continued for several more moments before he simply harrumphed and stepped through the doorway, leaving the Hokage to his thoughts. Just as he was about to reach for another scroll to be considered, a pale kunoichi with red eyes admitted herself into his office, all but causing the man to all but groan mentally.
The Saotome child was becoming more trouble than what he was worth.
Ninja land was getting to be more trouble than it was worth.
That was the predominant mental theme coloring the thoughts of Ranma Saotome as he turned a corner and ducked off the main street into an alley. His destination...
'...Fuck if I know,'he thought bitterly, but continued to walk regardless. One thing was certain, however: He needed space. Mental space and physical space after what had happened. Space where he wouldn't be tempted to dispense an ass kicking in response to what he had just been subjected to.
Ninja land had certainly started out okay, Ryoga aside. It was almost a martial artists dream in some respects with techniques all but falling out of the sky and the discovery of chakra. Sure there was the impression that things were rough and tumble beyond the village walls, but none of that had chosen to visit itself upon him... Until now. Now Nerima was looking pretty damn good. Of course there were psychotic fiancées waiting for him back in Japan, but he could deal with those. The rivals?
'Bring em on,' Ranma snorted, already resolved to a shakedown once he got back. If he got back. That shadow of doubt always lingered in the back of his mind, but up until now it all hadn't seemed so bad... At least until Kurenai sensei had pulled her goddamn Jedi mind trick on him.
The very remembrance forced Ranma's walk out of rhythm as his psyche shivered in equal parts disgust and anticipation; the former caused by the latter. 'And damned if I didn't ask for it,'he growled from the privacy of his own thoughts. It was tough to remain bitter at the woman in light of his own failure, but damned if that secret whisper somewhere in the back of his mind insisting that he should have just sat back and enjoyed it wasn't making it easy to. The martial artist growled back at the shadowy whisper and balled his fists, forcing himself back into a coordinated stride. While he didn't know exactly where the end destination was, the village walls were looking damn good at the mome-
"How unfortunate. Did the young hanyou bite off more than he could chew?"
The melodic female voice stopped Ranma in his tracks. His head swiveled up to find the orange haired kitsune lounging on the overhang above her, her shapely leg departing the high cut of her yukata to hang over the edge without care; like an overtly enticing placard for all the world to see. Slitted yellow eyes considered the Saotome with mirth. "Do not tell me the monkeylette's mind games shattered that horribly fragile psyche of yours already? I was just starting to enjoy our games together."
"Shut up, Fox." Ranma huffed and continued his walk. The kitsune kunoichi rocked up to stand then jumped down to the street behind her quarry to keep pace with a taunting smile.
"What games did she play within your mind, hmm?" The teenage avatar of Kyuubi leaned forward, her tone purposely condescending. "Did the monkey tell you a sad story? Perhaps called you names?" Ranma threw a glare back over his shoulder at her sweet smile, though she continued none the less. Her sarcasm darkened, however as the smile slipped into a colder line. "Or perhaps there was torture involved. The defilement of your mind. Perhaps your body as well, kit?"
Ranma stopped dead in his tracks and turned to favor the girl his apparent age with his own hardened glare. Her smile remained, but it held no humor and he had already lost patience for it. "What's your point, Fox?"
"Now do you see why I despise them so?" She hissed through the cold smile, allowing an edge of fang to slip between her lips. "They seek to control us, kit, these monkeys with their endlessly irritating jutsus and infernal bloodlines. Stamping them out would be a kindness to their under-evolved species."
"Yeah, sympathies from the under-evolved ape here." Ranma commented dryly and turned on the ball of his foot to leave when her voice stopped him once more.
"They will turn on you as well, little one." Kyuubi insisted direly, effectively halting the black haired boy even if he refused to turn around. "They will see you for what you are and what you have become... And then they will turn on you as readily as they turned on the blond whelp."
"'Zat right?" Ranma finally glanced back in a blase tone. "And just what do you think I am, huh?"
Both fangs made their appearance now as her lips turned upward into a distinctly predatory smile. "Why, family of course."
"Family?" Which told the martial artist absolutely nothing concerning the topic that she continually dangled before him, nor could he muster the energy to care at the deeper implications with his latest crisis only an hour old. Instead only dead humor found its way past his lips. "Sure, why not? You'll fit right in next ta the lazy panda and my katana chuckin' mother." Ranma shook his head with derisive mirth. "Sorry, but I got shit to do."
"And where shall you run to where they cannot find you child?" The kitsune regarded him with lazy skepticism to which Ranma simply shrugged.
"It ain't runnin'" the martial artist countered impatiently. "It's a strategic withdrawal."
A silver length flipped into Ranma's hand and slipped through the air in a blur, disincorporating the shadow clone avatar before it could utter another word. It thunked into the wall behind the evaporating cloud of chakra. Ranma reached to retrieve the kunai while regarding the space where Kyuubi formerly stood. After a moment of silent regard, the martial artist sighed, shaking his head.
"It's called gettin' while the gettin's good."
Up until a month ago Ino's Yamanaka's life goals were fairly well defined for a girl her age. There was, of course, the goal of carrying on the Yamanaka family legacy to become a skilled kunoichi. Part in parcel to that was learning the family art; a road she had already started down and could claim reasonable advancement. Sadly, both took a back seat toward a more hormonal goal that afflicted many teenage girls her age and it went by the name of Sasuke Uchiha; a goal that put her in direct conflict with that of her former best friend.
The last Uchiha was undeniably cool. Brooding silence wrapped around him like a cloak and if his good looks weren't enough, the man had skills. Who wouldn't want a piece of that?
'Only most of the girls in our class,' she sniffed with the slightest edge of mirth. Sasuke Uchiha was a popular bandwagon to ride, which was why she was here, now, waiting alongside her two teammates for their sensei to arrive. There was only one way to negate Forehead Girl's proximity advantage and that was to be better than her in every way. 'A better fighter and a better lover,'she pined while a thin smile betrayed her inner thoughts.
It was also an ideology that had taken a severe hit over the last couple days however, and the smile flickered into a frown as she watched an orange clad figure no older than her walk along a path toward them, waving enthusiastically the entire time. Technically Naruto Uzumaki was not only an uninvited guest, but the complete anti-thesis of cool. 'Village idiot' was a term she would have used for her classmate prior to their special training, but even she had to admit it was one that was getting harder and harder to apply. Sure, he was immature for his age and yes, he advertised his bad fashion sense for all the world to see...
The blond haired girl watched as their uninvited team member cleared the embankment and began his decent down the concrete stairs into the practice range, waving and smiling like the village idiot he was. Or wasn't. It was a tough pill to swallow, but even she couldn't ignore the obvious when it was dropped her lap over and over and over again. Sakura had missed it and she was first in their class academically. Sasuke had missed it and he was first in the techniques portion. They had both missed it just as badly as she had.
'Not everybody,' Ino reminded herself as she focused on the boy crossing the field. Iruka had chosen to pass the prankster in spite of his horrible reputation. And Ranma-sensei, who didn't even take shit from Hyuga-san hadn't tossed him from a practice session yet in spite of not being a real kunoichi. And now that they had been training with him?
Prankster and village idiot didn't even scratch the surface.
While she may have trailed behind Sakura's book smarts and Sasuke's techniques, Ino knew people as a way of life and it had all but stunned her when she finally focused those social skills on their blond annoyance. Losers didn't graduate the academy. Idiots didn't learn S-Class techniques. Morons didn't attract the attention of somebody as skilled as their sensei and write-offs didn't defeat high ranked chunin with ultra rare ice bloodlines.
It almost made her want to cry at a professional level that she hadn't noticed it all until now.
None of that even took into account the burden he was carrying inside him. Another look at the wide smile plastered across Naruto's face as he closed the final meters worth of distance caused Ino to shake her head mentally. 'Could I do that?' she wondered while staring. 'Stay happy...? Hell, stay sane knowing that thing was inside me?'
"Where's Saotome-sensei!?" the young man blurted, looking around the empty field obnoxiously as he joined the trio of kunoichi. "He better not be late! I want to learn more super-cool techniques!"
"She," Ten-Ten corrected while absently sharpening a kunai with a oval stone. She looked up to put a sharper point to her words. "When Saotome-sensei is training us, she is a she."
"Whatever," Naruto shrugged, but clasped his hands together. A familiar oppressive power began to build within the boy and spill across the visible spectrum in the form of an angry red aura. Hinata frowned slightly at the effort while Ten-Ten winced at the biting chakra that had settled around their immediate area. Ino averted her eyes as the red glare's intensity peaked, all but knowing what was to come next.
"MINAKO NO JUTSU!"
When the crimson had finally washed away it left behind something familiar and not so at the same time: A blond kunoichi slightly taller than Naruto's normal height but sporting the same hideous orange cloths now draping across her more slender frame. This Naruto was most definitely female and standing in a proud stance with a peace sign thrust out toward them. Ten-Ten merely sighed while shaking her head while Hinata's cocked hers, as if she never got tired of seeing the transformation.
For Ino, the word 'idiot' was just forming on lips, only to be stopped short by the revelations of the last two weeks; all culminating in the last half an hour of introspective. Much as she wanted to call their training tag-along an idiot, she just couldn't bring herself to voice the word aloud.
'Guess it wouldn't hurt to be just a little nicer,'She decided, rolling the concept around in her brain against what she knew of the boy. With a mental nod, a friendly smile found its way to her lips. "If you're that determined, I guess you can stay, goof ball."
"Yatta!" Naruto pumped her fist, all but springing forward to join the group. Something caused her to stop short, however, staring back and forth between the girls. "Ah, something wrong?"
'Of course, there's something wrong,' Ino rolled her eyes mentally. 'You're a boy who just turned into a girl with a giant nine tailed...' The Yamanaka heiress' thought process trailed off upon noticing the complete silence accompanying the question. She glanced right and found Ten-Ten blinking at her curiously, her sharpening kata frozen mid-slide. That, however, was nothing compared to the eerie, pupiless stare emanating from Hinata.
Ten-ten shrugged and returned to sharpening her kunai. "Guess all the clones do make good target practice."
Hinata continued to stare.
It was creeping Ino out frankly. First, just looking at those eyes for any length of time was a tad unsettling. Second and more importantly, the girl never maintained any sort of eye contact. Ever.But here she was, staring a damn hole in her with no expression whatsoever. The Yamanaka girl suddenly felt the urge to be anywhere but where she was sitting now.
"Eh, heh..." Ino dissembled, trying desperately to break away from the impromptu and frankly unnerving staring match. It felt like the girl was looking through her. 'She probably is,'the blond shivered with the idea and suddenly found it necessary to be somewhere else. She snatched at Naruto's hand, who in turn blinked in surprise. "Ah, let's go train! Right now!"
Ten-Ten's sharpening ground to a halt once more as she stared after Ino, who was now bodily pulling their very own neo-girl onto the practice range. For her part, Naruto was too confused to resist, or even notice Hinata's unblinking gaze track the pair in an almost mechanical fashion.
Ino Yamanaka risked a glance back as they stepped out onto the grass of the field and all but grimaced, finding those creepy, milky eyes still riveted upon her, then watched her blink as if the trance had been broken. Another blink and shy Hinata returned as if a switch had been flipped. She broke eye contact and produced a soft, shallow nod.
"T-training is fine."
'Too wierd,'Ino noted to herself and watched the Hyuuga heiress stand up from her position on the log to follow Ten-ten onto the field when she abruptly stopped and took a quick step back. The slight hiss of wind accompanied her movement and silver flashed between the girls.
All eyes snapped to the tree where the silver length had impaled itself and found a kunai embedded in the tree. A small note attached to the counterweight; the paper slip fluttering in the breeze. Ino's eyes were now almost bulging out of their sockets while Hinata turned to scrutinize the vector from whence it came.
"What..! What the hell!" Naruto pointed at the tree borne kunai with disbelief, though only Ten-ten appeared unfazed by its sudden appearance. She walked up and calmly pulled the blade from the tree.
"Saotome-sensei," She commented absently, separating the note from the kunai. She glanced back at the wondering looks and elaborated, flipping the blade in hand. "Her throwing style. They always land at vertical angles, too."
Ino simply nodded dumbly and watched with the rest of her team as Ten-ten read the note. "Practice canceled for today. Take a break. -Ranma"
Three girls and one neo-girl stood in silence for a moment, contemplating the message and its method of delivery until Ino broke the moment with a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank God."
"WHAT?!" The blond kunoichi was nearly bowled over by the force of the counterpart's indignation. Naruto stomped over and snatched the note from Ten-ten's hand, leaving her blinking at empty space while the demon container ranted at the note itself. "She can't cancel practice! What about sparring?! What about the techniques!?"
"N-Naruto," Hinata stuttered, tentatively reaching for him even though she never closed within a meter of him. "Maybe-Maybe you should calm..."
"How am I gonna be an awesomer ninja if I can't-!"
"ALRIGHT ALEARDY!" Ino screamed, taking the note for herself and crumpling into a ball. Blue eyes flashed at the faux girl angrily. "It's not like we can't practice on our own, sheesh!"
The grumpy Yamanaka flicked the ball of paper at the Jinchuuriki, causing it to bounce off Naruto's forehead even as she stomped off further into the practice field. Ino stopped, noting nobody was following and threw them an angry glare. "Well?! What are you waiting for, dammit?!"
Naruto's mouth opened to protest some more until she actually processed her words. A huge smile enveloped his features. The transformed female practically leapt after her. "You're the best, Ino-chan!"
Ino grumbled something intelligible in response, but neither noticed the twitch that had subtly taken to Hinata's cheek as she stared after the pair, watching as Naruto began to square up with her sparring partner. Three hollow pops signaled the creation of three of her signature shadow clones who in turn arrayed themselves around Ino.
Ino nodded and stepped into her own defensive stance while another portion of her intellect curiously noted that even though Naruto was currently in his female form, the clones themselves were male. She was just opening her mouth to point out the fact when one of the clones- the one on her left flank -raised its hand as if it were attending a class.
Two male clones, one neo-girl and three kunoichi blinked with the advisement, wondering just why the clone wasn't ready to participate in the imminent hostilities when it smiled. Ino frowned as the smile was distinctly un-Naruto like. in fact, if she didn't know any better-
The third clone began to melt in upon itself in an all too familiar manner, causing every single girl to jump back and draw weapons while the previously male form solidified into a thirteen year old girl with luscious orange hair and slitted yellow eyes. She was smoothing out her black on crimson yakata when Naruto-chan stomped over indignantly. "Dammit! Stop stealing my clones!"
The most destructive force ever unleashed on Konoha ignored the blond girl entirely and turned to the three kunoichi instead, leveling a stern countenance upon them. "Your sensei is departing this pathetic excuse for a village."
It took a full twenty seconds for the statement to sink in and when it did, was met by gibbering and denial.
The last, most vehement protest was from the very person named her jailor and she turned lazily back toward Naruto with a drawl in her voice that conveyed her skepticism without question. "Really now?"
"Saotome sensei would never do that!" The blond insisted, folding her arms in a defiant gesture to which the kitsune tisked.
"And there you are so very wrong, ignorant hanyou," Kyuubi merely shook her head dispassionately. "In that, we are very much alike; the kit and I. Neither will be cajoled or controlled into monkey servitude."
"We... we don't believe you." Ten-ten mustered enough courage to confront the kitsune directly, only to be met with a contemptuous snort.
"And I care not." Kyuubi's attention returned to the girls with a lidded stare. "You will not believe these words and the shape shifting child will have gone, leaving you to wallow in despair."
"But.. but Saotome-sama..." Hinata mumbled, staring at the demonic fox girl with a shell shocked expression on her face. Kyuubi turned away from their group as if to affect disinterest.
"My last sight of her was moving through the side streets toward the east wall."
"We've got to stop her!" Ino blurted, spinning around to face the east wall barely visible above the practice range's retaining barrier.
"I... I agree!" Hinata agreed with a surprising amount of forcefulness. Ten-ten nodded her consent firmly and Naruto stepped over to join the group.
"I'm not about to let the best teacher in Konoha leave without a fight!" The neo-girl announced and this time Ten-ten threw her left fist into hand with a hard slap.
"Then it's time for Special Team 13's first real mission!" She turned back to her sisters in arms with a determined smile. "Operation: 'Sensei Retrieval!'"
"Then let's go!" Ino jumped into a sprint, followed by the others in a cloud of dust. Left behind was a single kitsune girl, watching after the Leaf Kunoichi team as they disappeared from sight.
A single fang accompanied the slight smile forming unseen along her lips.
At over forty meters high the great defensive walls of Konoha were almost a monument unto themselves, protecting the inhabitants of the Hidden Village from threats both mundane and exotic. They were designed as proof against sieges and summons, though few would have expected they would face the dreaded power of Nine Tails itself. To the builder's credit, it had been the only time in Konoha's history that the walls were breached outright and thus the great divide had stood as Konoha's primary defensive line for the better part of two centuries.
They were also the location where Ranma Saotome had chosen to think. The eastern wall itself had seen little action save an instance of chakra spiders summoned during the siege of the Third Shinobi War, but that was the past. Ranma, however, knew nothing of the walls' history, chakra spiders and barely knew the basic facts surrounding of the Third Shinobi war. His thoughts were focused on the here and now.
And the future...
...Specifically his future within the Hidden Village of the Leaf. The supreme irony of the situation was not lost on him. His childhood. His art. Everything he knew had ideally shaped him for a world that didn't exist, and now it did. That was good, right? Everything he had known or been taught was not only directly relevant, but actually had a use beyond the occasional martial arts challenge. It was great until one dug a little deeper and realized all that skill had direct, lethal applications in this new ninja world. His art was no longer an abstract and being the best seemed like a naive afterthought in that light. It was a world where he was expected to kill at the drop of a hat. A world where fates worse than death awaited those who were captured.
Ranma shivered with the recollection and his body shifted from male to female unnoticed. Kurenai-sensei's technique had been a small, bitter taste of that. 'And damned if I didn't ask for it,' the now redheaded teen recalled dourly. With that bitter taste came the reality of the situation: Either she acceded to that reality and the training that went with it or she struck out on her own.
The martial artist's blue eyes swept over the chaotic sprawl of the village she had called home for the last two months, then out to the forest beyond. The wall she paced was fitting symbolism in her eyes- Accept the Konoha facts of life or leave and blaze her own trail. She paced closer to the forest side of the wall and stepped to the very edge, staring out into the wilderness without really seeing it. The tangibles were easy enough to determine. If she stayed she did things their way. Sure she could bend that a bit, but it was literally their way or the highway and she just happened to be standing at the crossroads of that very highway. On the plus side, she had allies to help her acclimate, techniques to learn and possibly even find a way home.
'Then there's the road,' Ranma revisited the alternate choice available to her. Forge a new path, find her own goddamn way home and to hell with their ninja reindeer games. Something in that line of thinking appealed to her independent nature and the remembrance of her domineering father, but...
"Tough choice, huh?"
Ranma turned around to find a familiar face. Spiky black hair, sharp facial features and a tan trench coat fluttering lightly in the wind. A hint of the kunoichi's skin tight armored fishnets could be seen beneath the trench coat, sealing her identity. Ranma gave her a nod.
"Here to talk me out of it, Anko-chan?" Ranma asked dully, turning back to the scenery beyond the wall.
"Not really," She shrugged, joining Ranma on the ledge with a smile that belied the seriousness of her presence. "Kill you if you leave? Yep. Talk you out of it? We all have our own choices to make."
The martial artist nodded with both of her points as the nin sat down for herself, legs dangling off the edge. Ranma joined her in slight mirth. "Threat to the village, hands and eyes and all that?"
"You know it," Anko grinned toothily, then began to dig around in her trench coat. A minute later two sticks of dango were produced and she proffered one of the syrupy orb laden treats to the redhead. Ranma looked at and sniffed with slight humor, taking the proffered sticky for herself as the woman continued. "Personally, I like the way you shake things up but if you have to move on, I understand. Been there, done that, have the mental scares to prove it."
"Your ol' man screwed you up too, huh?" Ranma snorted with dry humor. "You sure we ain't related?"
"You might say that," The woman replied in a subdued tone, taking a bite out of one of the three dango residing on her sticky. "I faced the same choice years back actually. Stay or go."
Ranma took note of the suddenly weighty topic and carefully posed the most obvious outcome given her presence. "So you stayed?"
"I left," There was a lengthy pause as the woman focused on the forest beyond, but the redhead saw the unfocused look in her eyes. Another moment passed and Anko was animated again, popping another of the chewy treats in her mouth while glancing up at Ranma. "Young and naive, you might say."
And yet here she was on the wall with her, implying that her choice had left her with bad memories of their own. Ranma merely nodded, unwilling to pry into the personal matters of somebody she was willing to call a friend. Instead, she turned back to her own problems.
"I mean, I can take all the ninja-ing crap," The martial artist commented absently, then shook her head irritably. "I don't even mind teachin' the girls, but dammit, I didn't have to deal with this crap back home."
"Just where are you from, kid?" Anko shook her head with a slight chuckle, staring up at him in wry amusement. "Every time you mention it, I picture some fairytale land with rainbows and dango growing on trees."
"Didn't think so at the time," Ranma merely nodded in reminiscence; especially since Anko's description of Nerima was certainly closer to accurate than her current here and now. Konoha. Fire Country. 'Wherever the hell I ended up,' the pigtailed girl appended to her current geographic coordinate. Wherever the hell she had ended up, unrestrained violence and indiscriminate killing was apparently alive and well. Compared to that, Nerima was all rainbows and dango.
"Beat people down, sure," Ranma continued, more thinking her position aloud than actually explaining anything to anybody. "Kill em? Never had to go that far. Once, but that didn't count."
"And how exactly did that one not count?" Akno arched a skeptical eyebrow for the girl and her recollections.
"Dumbass resurrected himself," Ranma rolled her eyes, earning yet more staring from the kunoichi. "Figure going through puberty again is gonna be punishment enough."
Anko Mitarashi continued to stare at the redhead. The resurrection part sounded disturbingly familiar. The puberty? Not so. Still, she had to pose the next crucial question. "This dumbass... wasn't snake-like was he?"
"Phoenix-like." Ranma shook her head as if the question was in no way out of the ordinary.
"Ah," The black haired woman nodded slightly with a measure of relief. With one less problem to worry about, she returned to the topic at hand. "Don't know what to tell you. It's a ninja eat ninja world out there and I've seen some pretty fucked up shit. Participated in some pretty fucked up shit. Compared to where you're from..."
"...Dango trees and rainbows, right," Ranma nodded without enthusiasm, then focused on the topic that irritated her the most. "I'm just sick of dancin' to somebody else's tune. Was getting old in Nerima and now Kurenai sensei all over me with the classes."
"Classes?" Anko's interest perked up between bites.
"Some anti-seduction crap," Ranma grumbled and the kunoichi watched with overt curiosity as her friend melt into a boy before her very eyes. The now black haired martial artist didn't even seem to realize the change had taken place as he continued on the topic of her consternation. "Even worse, she kicked my ass with that technique of hers."
"The one with the vines." Anko nodded knowingly. She had sparred with the woman enough to know-
"The black dream one," Ranma all but growled and the corner stone he was griping was beginning to fracture within his fingers. The nin beside him blinked, forming a silent "oooh' with her lips as the boy began to tremble. Ranma's blue-gray eyes flashed upon her. "I... she... Dammit, I couldn't stop it! I shouldn't have to deal with this crap to begin with and I couldn't do a damn thing to resist it!"
Anko stared at the agitated boy, who immediately fluctuated genders, sporting a bright red crop of hair before collapsing back into a young boy. While it was frankly amazing to watch his bloodline in action, there was a more pressing issue at hand and this time she took it utterly seriously.
"Helplessness? Completely at the mercy of your abductors?" Anko questions were completely rhetorical as she named the techniques primary attributes. "Hints of sexual obedience. Enjoyment. Servitude." Ranma seemed to tremble with each point and Anko sighed without enthusiasm. "Yeah, that's it. Common interrogation tactic. Break the mind and the body will eventually follow."
The stone corner in the pigtailed boys left hand crumbled to porous rubble. He eyes the woman with an accusing countenance. "Ya seem to know a lot about this."
"I've done it." Anko shrugged with indifference, then looked out over the forest beyond. "Done it and had it done."
The first response was met with an initial fount of indignation, immediately followed by a wide eyed stare. "Had it done?"
The woman simply nodded her head lolling lazily back to Ranma. "Like I said, it's a nin eat nin world. Put in enough missions and its bound to happen sooner or later."
"You make it sound like it's just the weather changin' or somethin'." Ranma stared in dry disbelief, then shook her own head. Still, he was staring at somebody who had been there, done that and was still around to tell the tale. The circumstances around his own mental collapse were a potent enough lesson and for once, he wasn't above asking for advice. Counsel. Help.
"How... eh, how did you deal with that, anyway?"
Anko studied the black haired boy next to her for a moment before deciding on an answer. "The SAS guys will teach you compartmentalization techniques. Mind games. Self hypnosis. I say screw that."
Ranma blinked with slight surprise, having fully expected the woman next to him to tow the party line.
"Mental compartmentalization can be compromised. Mind games defeated. Hypnosis broken," Anko explained while chewing on the stick that used to hold her favorite treat. Her gaze took on a sinister countenance and she spit the stick out, letting it tumble down the wall. "Fight fire with fire. Play their game. Enjoy it. And when they're done trying to mind fuck you, rip their goddamn balls off."
Ranma simply stared in disbelief and the first words out of his mouth were to pass her experience off as some sort of joke, but deep down he knew better. Those were the words that came out of his mouth instead. "You ain't kidding, are you?"
"It means knowing yourself," the spiky haired kunoichi stated, her serious gaze never leaving the boy. "It means making friends with those dark, ecchi fantasies you would otherwise never admit to another living soul so they don't come as a complete shock when they're used against you."
Ranma simply could not stop staring. The woman's advice was shocking. Unexpected. Alien.And most surprising of all, not so. Sure the content of her words were scandalous, but the very idea found an unexpected ally within the roots of his thought process; one that he had been raised with since childhood.
Anko's advice was simple at its core: Take the enemies techniques and adapt them for his own purposes. It wasn't simply a defensive measure either. It allowed the afflicted to flow from defense to offense whereas the only other alternative offered so far had him hunkering down behind a wall of techniques, hypnosis and mind tricks until it was all over. How to acclimate himself to such a feat was almost inconceivable and utterly embarrassing to comprehend, but that same portion of Ranma's mind that analyzed techniques and combat strategy saw the potential in the kunoichi's explanation.
"With that bloodline, I'd imagine you'd have more kinks than most." The woman smirked after she tired of the boy's incredulous staring, causing him to nearly topple off the wall choking. When he finally recovered, it was a redhead that regained her balance still choking on the spittle she had managed to inhale. Anko's gaze turned downright sultry. "I'd be happy to help you out. All you have to do is ask."
"I'm thirteen right now!" The agitated girl squawked, then looked down at herself as if just realizing something was amiss. Somewhere during their conversation she had changed and Ranma shuffled back several steps from the leering woman. "And a girl, dammit!"
Anko Held the smoldering gaze for a moment before chuckling herself.
"Way too easy," She sniffed with humor, folding her arms as Ranma's expression turned dour. The flirty edge returned to her smile, however. "Don't worry, we'll work on that too."
"Paybacks a bitch," Ranma grumbled, prompting the kunoichi to look entirely too pleased with herself.
"Oh, so girl on girl then?" Anko teased causing Ranma's face to scrunch up in cute, flushed frustration.
"I sohate you."
"Liar," Anko grinned. "You know-"
A single kunai tumbled up over the ledge from the village side of the wall and both martial artist and kunoichi watched as it bounced with a metallic clink between them while the tag tied to the counter weight ring burned down. It's identification as a smoke tag was instantaneous and it consumed itself less than a second later, promptly detonating with a hollow thud in a five meter cloud of smoke that billowed around the pair. Shadows dropped in around Ranma and Anko and the smoke cleared seconds later.
While Ranma Saotome stared at the source of the loud proclamation, she could have been blindfolded and still recognized the light female lilt punctuated by course male grammar immediately. Naruto Uzumaki stood before her as a blond female pointing an almost accusing finger at the surprised martial artist. Beside him another blond girl with her hair pulled back into a pony tail who stood triumphantly; hands on her hips.
"...Has arrived!" Ten Ten finished Ino's boisterous statement. Hinata nodded with surprisingly firm resolve and Ranma's study flicked between the three girls that represented her defacto team and their neo-girl tagalong. She turned back to Anko, who likewise stared.
"You put them up to this, didn't you?" Ranma accused doubtfully and Anko merely shook her head.
"Clueless as you are, kid." The kunoichi confirmed and both turned back to the girls just in time for Naruto's bluster.
"So you are trying to leave!" Naruto protested, balling his fists in overly obvious indignation. "Well you can't!"
"I can't?" Ranma simply arched an eyebrow. Ino answered the skeptical challenge in kind.
"We won't let you." She folded her arms defiantly. Hinata produced another firm nod, followed by Ten Ten's agreement.
"And... And dammit, I won't forgive you if you do!" Naruto stomped forward, invading the redhead's personal space. The blond haired neo-girl's eyes flashed with anger and betrayal. "You made me a promise, so you can't just leave!"
"And you're our sensei!" Ten-Ten added another metaphysical weight onto Ranma's conscience. She watched the four girls stare back, then glanced over at Anko who shrugged.
"Please don't go, Saotome-sama."
Ranma's gaze flicked back to the girls and found Hinata kneeling of all things, prostrating herself on the stone surface and eyes low. The martial artist shook her head, squinting her eyes at the injustice of it all. "Oh for cryin' out loud, get up already."
The girl failed to move and the accusing stares from her teammates continued unabated. Ranma ignored them in favor of the kneeling Hyuuga and finally gave in to the railroad spike of guilt that came with the kneeling girl. "I ain't goin' nowhere, Nata-chan."
The girl's milky gaze lifted ever so slightly from the stone to look up at Ranma. "R-really?"
"Ask Anko-chan here," Ranma jabbed a thumb to the kunoichi beside her, who nodded happily.
"Don't worry. I'll kill her if she does." the black haired kunoichi replied sunnily.
"See?" Ranma nodded agreeably. Though her decision had been made only minutes before their arrival, the girls had reminded her of something important. She had an obligation to them. While she theoretically could just walk out on it...
'...I'd just be like my old man,' She realized soberly, and that realization left a bitter taste in the redhead's thoughts. Her gaze drifted over the hopeful girls, just knowing that her father had been in the exact same position at one time, if not several. The decision had already been made grudgingly, but it was their eyes that told her she had made the right one...
...however distasteful the cost.
"Trainin's still cancelled for the day," The redhead reminded them. "Go take a break."
"Don't worry, sensei!" Naruto bounced eagerly now that all was right with the world once more. "Ino said we'll train by ourselves!"
"She did, did she?" Ranma's study flicked over to the other blond of the group and her crestfallen expression that plainly indicated she wasn't nearly as enthusiastic as Naruto about it. The redhead shrugged regardless. "Don't go overboard then. Try catchin' Hinata some more, but I'm gonna let her hit back this time if she wants."
The normally shy Hyuuga heir cocked her head as if considering the idea, then looked down their ranks to focus squarely on Ino. Ino's eyes widened with Hintata's purposeful eye contact while the thought that maybe the girl they couldn't even touch would actually be hitting back today. Hitting her today. Ranma didn't notice the consternation and continued. "Alright, then scat. Gotta wrap things up here."
Ten-Ten smiled with the satisfaction of a mission well completed. She palmed a tagged kunai and turned to the rest of the girls. "Team Thirteen... Departs!"
She flicked the kunai into the stone at her feet and it detonated a second later, obscuring Ranma's team from sight. When the smoke cleared moments later, the four girls were nowhere to be found atop the wall.
"They've got a flair for the dramatic, that's for sure," Their antics incited Anko to chuckle and she eyed Ranma with amusement. "Wherever did they get that from?"
"Beats the hell out of me," Ranma rolled her eyes, feigning ignorance. She let the humor drift between them for a moment before turning back to the more serious topic. "So about that wrap up...?"
"We'll drop by the Old Man's office, he'll read you the riot act and we'll be good to go." The special jounin advised easily.
"Don't forget the stare of guilt," Ranma shook her head, not looking forward to another trip to the principal's office as she stepped toward the city side of the walls edge.
"I thought that implied," Anko replied cheekily and both jumped off the wall's ledge in tandem, disappearing from sight
Half a kilometer away a Hiashi Hyuga watched from a rooftop that allowed him a high enough vantage point to deploy his Byakugan with little to no obstruction from the structures around his position. Beside him, two nins wearing masks flanked him, patiently waiting for clan head's orders. All three had watched the meeting atop the wall, though it was only Hiashi himself that would be able to track their quarry if he- now she -had decided to activate her stealth jutsu and abandon the village.
Apparently that wouldn't be necessary.
"We will stand down," He ordered stoically, deactivating the his own technique. Both ANBU nodded and instantly evaporated into little more than leaves tumbling with the wind, leaving the clan head alone to reflect on what he had witnessed. It was... enlightening; especially to see his daughter bow down before somebody who was all but a nobody within the village. On one hand it rankled Hiashi that his own blood would bow before another. On the other...
...On the other, Hinata Hyuga had done so voluntarily. Out of respect.
Of course, the Hiashi knew he could achieve the same results, but mostly through his title as clan leader and father figure. Respect... He wasn't sure he had that anymore where Hinata was concerned. It also indicated an unforeseen depth in the child that had bested him in their mutual duel. Hiashi Hyuga continued to watch the two females as they hopped from rooftop to rooftop, focusing on the redhead in particular with one thought on his mind.
"We must stop meeting like this Saotome-san." The Third Hokage advised flatly, not even bothering to look up from the scroll he was studying. He took a moment to dip a nearby fude into an ink well for a quick brush stroke across the scroll. He made another such stroke then looked up, his wizened gaze piercing the redheaded girl without humor. "No, really. This must stop."
Ranma Saotome, displaced heir to the Musabetsu Kakutō Ryū simply nodded without word. Sarutobi took note of the atypical response and continued, reading through the report. "Your reaction to Yuhi-san's challenge was hardly positive. Of the two choices offered, you chose a third alternative... A very unwisethird alternative."
Another brisk nod and Professor continue to let his stare burrow into the girl, then drift to the women flanking her. To Ranma's left was a kunoichi clad in a red and white yukata-like wrap standing at passive attention. To her right was another wearing a trenchcoat; tense, but also standing at attention. Sautobi's gaze flicked back to Ranma. "Would you like to say anything in your defense, Saotome-san?"
Sarutobi watched the girl cock her head slightly as if composing her thoughts- more atypical behavior in his opinion -pursing her lips before finally choosing to speak.
"I... I've got issues," Ranma hesitated, her own eyes flicking from the village leader to the floor and back. She took another moment to pick over her words before speaking again. "All of this... Especially with Yuhi-sensei... It ain't easy for me."
Even as the Hokage continued to level a dire gaze upon the girl, it didn't take a God of Shinobi to realize how humbling just stating that aloud must have been for the girl. He returned his attention to the scroll and made several more brush strokes. He glanced back up briefly. "Would it be safe to assume you will not be availing yourself to the third alternative you have created for yourself?"
"Wouldn't be here if I was." Ranma advised evenly. The remark could have been interpreted as sarcasm if not for the complete lack of enthusiasm in her tone.
"No, you wouldn't." Sautobi agreed solemnly. "You would, in fact, be dead. Your actions would have forced Mitarashi-san to eliminate you. Failing that, one of the several teams of ANBU standing by for just such a contingency would have eliminated you." Ranma remained silent and expressionless as the village leader continued. "As you were advised upon your arrival, I cannot and will not abide by threats to my people and their home. That which resides inside of you- in the hands of another -represents a potent one."
No challenge met his words and he held his gaze another moment before it softened ever so slightly. "That said, I recognize ones challenges when I see them. Your bloodline is unique to say the least and our village holds no analogs to it in any way, shape or form. Even our physicians agree that the psychological impact must be... strenuous."
"That's one way to put it," Ranma agreed in a humorless tone.
"As such, I have chosen to allow this trespass to remain unofficial, which brings us back to the original two options," The Hokage returned to the matter at hand, still the visage of complete seriousness. "You were issued a challenge; a challenge which you accepted and failed. You will now make a choice which will bequite official: Accept SAS training voluntarily or retire from any and all activities pertaining to the Konoha Shinobi Corps, including the special instruction you are currently engaged in."
"I'll take the SAS courses, Hokage-san," Ranma replied without hesitation, prompting the Third to redouble the intensity of his stare.
"Is that your final answer, Saotome-san?" The older man questioned pointedly. "We will not be having another conversation along these lines."
"I'll make sure she gets the education she needs, Hokage-sama," All eyes turned to the Anko Mitarashi, who was politely holding up her hand. Sarutobi's eyebrow raised skeptically.
"Excuse me?" He blinked, unsure of what was happening while Ranma in turn was staring at her with wide eyes.
"We had a talk and both agree she'll need special instruction," Anko smiled politely, causing Ranma to choke outright. "Given her unique situation, of course."
"What?!" Ranma was finally able to blurted as Anko continued
"Is that...wise?Anko-chan?" Kurenai blinked rapidly, favoring her contemporary with uncertain red eyes.
"Of course it is," the special Jounin waved away her concern and turned her attention back to the Hokage. "I hold all the required SAS instructor certifications..."
"If not the sanity," the redhead mumbled and the kunoichi patted her head, continuing regardless.
"...and will take full responsibility for Saotome-san's training." One male and two females continued to stare into the woman for a full thirty seconds. The Hokage was the first to break his incredulity, shaking his head.
"This cannot be one of my better ideas. Saotome-san?" Ranma's head snapped from the snake jounin to the Third, her eyes still wide. "The choice is yours to accept or decline traditional SAS training or Mitarashi-san's... specialized instruction."
Ranma's head slowly swiveled back to the grinning woman. Anko nodded at the girl. "You trust me, right kid?"
Ranma opened her mouth, then snapped it shut. She took a deep, resigned breath as if she were being lead off to her own personal firing squad. The redhead slowly turned back to the Hokage and answered.
"I accept Mitarashi-san's specialized instruction."
Sarutobi continued to stare, waiting for the girl to back out of her answer. After several second, it became obvious no further response would be forth coming as the girl's face slipped back into one of fated resolve. Come hell or high water, Ranma had apparently resigned herself to do this and with Anko Mitarashi's help no less. The fact was not lost on the Hokage as his study alternated between the pair. She trusted the special jounin. Not simply trusted, but was placing a great deal of mental baggage in her care unless he missed his guess, and Anko wasn't known to be the gentle sort...
...or the type to make friends easily.
The Third made a mental note to reassign Saotome's overwatch to somebody else and returned his attention to the women standing before him. "Then I will consider this matter closed. Mitarashi-san, I expect weekly progress reports. Saotome-san, I expect progress to report."
The reply came simultaneously.
"Mitarashi-san will remain behind," Sarutobi ordered, wrapping up the meeting. "Yuhi-san, Saotome-san; dismissed."
Kurenai turned to leave first, exiting through the curtain partition then Ranma, who was stopped by a light touch on her shoulder. Anko stared down at redhead with a pleasant, if somewhat serious smile. "Don't be too hard on her."
Ranma processed her request and nodded, following Kurenai Yuhi out.
Ino Yamanaka was by no means a taijutsu specialist. While her family was generally proficient in the skill as all ninja were expected to be, it was a given that the Yamanaka clan was destined for other activities within the Konoha Shinobi Corps; namely those pertaining to intelligence and interrogation. Taijutsu and front line hand to hand combat were generally seen as best left to others by and large, while the Yamanakas disrupted their opposition from behind those ranks.
In spite of these facts and the nature of her techniques, she was on the front lines. She was practicing taijutsu and she was getting her ass very much kicked.
Ino retreated back two steps as the knife edge of a hand blew past her, then profiled right as its cousin swept into join the battle. The blond jumped right desperately and felt the impact jar her shoulder painfully. The Yamanaka air took the impact and rolled with it, reducing its potential while desperately attempting to extricate herself from the combination. Hinata Hyuuga registered the attempt and slid left to cut off Ino's withdrawal, and the blond quickly found herself re-engaged.
She was the last.
She had been saved for last.
Ten-Ten had attempted to corner the black haired girl with her kunai while Naruto saturated her defenses with clones. The clones didn't last all of ten seconds and Ino watched as Hinata danced through the blades in a manner vaguely reminiscent of their sensei to take their ranged specialist out in hand to hand combat. The two wooden practice ninjato Ten-Ten deployed must have come as a surprise to the girl, but one touch each was all it took to halve the wooden lengths, breach her guard and gently- relatively speaking -drop Ten Ten.
Ino herself had attempted several taijutsu interventions on both Naruto's and Ten-Ten' behalf, all of which were summarily ignored by Hinata as another wave of shadow clones swept in. Hollow pops filled the air as the Hyuga heir shifted through the clone ranks to destroy them with near impunity. Wisps of vapor surrounded Ino and it was only a shadow perceived out of the corner of her peripheral vision that warned her of the incoming threat.
Even as she dodged and threw out desperate counterattacks, Ino was only now realizing just how right their sensei was. She had thought Sasuke Uchiha was the preeminent taijustsu specialist of their class and their shy team mate had to have ranked somewhere near the back. To rank Hinata Hyuga as number one? Saotome-sensei had to be nuts. But she wasn't.
In fact, she was dead on.
Another knife edged hand found her abdomen. It wasn't enough to disable her by any means, but it hurt and Ino danced away again, doing the only thing she could in the face of the Hyuga's onslaught: Retreat. A detached portion of her brain not wallowing in the incredulity of the situation noted that something indefinable had changed and she was on the receiving end of it. In fact, Ino was now certain that Hinata could end their sparring at any time, but was purposely drawing it out. Making her sweat. Making her hurt.
The emotionless face blurring to and fro before her told her nothing and in that moment, Hinata apparently tired of playing. The blond attempted another counter, pushing an open handed strike into the girl, only to catch air as Hinata floated around it, then the follow-up kick. The back of the black haired girl's hand slapped Ino's leg aside to destabilize her balance, even as her right hand caught the outstretched punch. The Hyuga then seemed to glide straight on past her team mate, taking the arm with her while entangling the Yamanaka's left leg with her own.
The end result was the complete destabilization of Ino's stance. The blond floated through mid air for half a second before gravity claimed its prize and deposited the blond haired girl back onto the grassy earth. Ino bounced once and tumbled flat on her back with a wince. When she finally opened her eyes again, she saw blue sky...
...And the impassive mask of Hinata Hyuga staring down at her. Her solid irises held their gaze for another moment before the girl turned to walk away while Ino tracked her with wide eyes. The normally shy genin made it another two steps before stopping, turning halfway around to address Ino directly for the first time. Her tone was firm in spite of the stutter inherent in her voice.
"Naruto... Naruto-kun is mine. Please remember that."
Most of you know by now that we've had a baby boy recently, which has really screwed up my writing schedule. Changing diapers and feedings all throughout the day will do that. I am, of course, still alive and working on stuff. For previews and snippets, head on out to Fanfiction Federation. You can google it since it should be the very first hit. Aside from that, I'll be working on Hild and Causality, maybe some ATA. And possible some other stuff I shouldn't be working on, but alas. Thanks for hanging in there, peeps :)
The Great Wall; I'm usually met with healthy skepticism when I insist that the walls of Konoha are at least 100-150ft high. To that I simply point said people to any picture in manga (or anime for that matter) that shows these walls. Note that any person in the same frame is usually a speck. The walls are huge and the gates are no less than 50ft high themselves. Thanks to Dwarde for pointing out a conversion error I made.
Special Thanks; To the regulars of course- Materia Blade, Dragon Dagger, Slade13 and DCG, as well as the people on F3.