Ed scowled as he limped into town, Al by his side. Anko had been chasing them around all week. By now, they were picking up on her movements enough that she was taking them seriously instead of toying with them. Or at least, that's what Ed assumed, as her cackles died down to a sickening smirk. Well, at least she wasn't laughing at them anymore. She still made cracks about his height, though. Ed ground his teeth together at the thought.

He and Alphonse plopped down at another food stand and ordered five of whatever the place had. Shikamaru and Chouji sat down beside them. "Yo, Elrics."

"Shikamaru, Chouji." Al greeted with a tired smile. He, too, was not immune to Anko's cruelty.

"So, what's life like for you, when your teacher isn't out to murder you?" Ed asked.

"Well, Iwagakure didn't like the idea of the Kazekage leading the Allied forces, so they pulled out," Shikamaru complained. "If one more village pulls out, the Alliance is going to collapse." He and Chouji ordered their food.

"You'd think against an opponent like Madara these places could all band together," Ed muttered. Shikamaru sighed in agreement.

They talked over food, and the Elrics bid the two goodnight. They needed to be up to par with Anko in the morning, so they needed all the sleep they could get. As annoying as it was to have their apartment stacked to the ceiling with unread books, research would have to wait. Survival came first.

"Well, well, well. Look who came crawling back. I'm surprised you actually showed up. What with being such a shrimp, it must've taken you twice the effort to get here." Tick marks dotted Ed's forehead. He gave a low growl. "Oh, already feral today and it's only six in the morning." Anko grinned.

"We're here to learn to defend ourselves," Al replied. "We'll always come back here." Anko nodded.

"In you go," she said, swinging open the gate into the Forest of Death. By now, the Elrics knew the forest was aptly named. They'd run into pretty much everything that lurked inside it. Ed sighed.

"Back to this already? It's not even scary anymore." Anko's grin got wider.

"I'll show you scary, boys." Cue Anko's snakes, kunai, explosion tags, and a couple of Fire country tigers and giant spiders (yes, spiders). Well, at least they were sweating, Ed thought. It was actually a half decent workout, and the two Elrics had gotten lazy in their training after Izumi left.

"I thought you were going to show us scary," Ed taunted back to Anko. "This is nothing compared to pissing off Teacher in the morning. Even Al is scarier than you, and he's soft as a kitten." Al objected to that.

Cue bursts of fire. Really, that was so unoriginal. Mustang owned the corner of scary fire tactics. Ed pulled flips, spins, and jumps while shooting alchemy spikes at Anko. He spun in mid-step and launched himself at Anko. She was so surprised he landed a solid punch at her with his right fist.

Unfortunately, he placed himself in her snake range while doing so, and found three of her snakes attached to his body. Ed threw off the two trying to attach themselves to his automail, bashing one in the head with his boot. He grabbed the last one in his left shoulder with both hands and pulled.

He was still struggling with the last snake when he lost consciousness.

...

Ed groaned as his world came back into focus. Where was- he was at the hospital, wasn't he?

"Big brother!" Al leaned towards him. "You're awake."

"Yeah. Why am I in a hospital again?"

"Anko-sensei's snakes bit you." Oh. Right.

"You really shouldn't antagonize me, brat. You should've learned at least that by now. Maybe I should dump you off with Ibiki. If you think I'm bad..." Ed scowled at Anko's remark.

"What? Did I hurt your feelings?"

"Yeah, you did, but hurt your something a lot worse," she grinned and stood up. "Since you're obviously awake and argumentative, let's get going. You two pass; we're moving on to the next step of your training. To the secret lab!" Ed and Al sent each other matching looks of disbelief. "Er, the T&I Corps."

"Riiiiiiight."

"Oh, and we're going out the window so I don't get caught sneaking you out of here."

"You know, for once, I agree with that," Ed replied. Out the window they went. Once they hit the ground, Anko started skipping to their destination. Ed tried his best to look like he wasn't associated with her, but he didn't think it worked very well.

Once inside, Anko took them up to an empty second floor room. There was a table with three chairs in the middle, two chairs on one side and the last chair opposite of it. Windows, Ed noted with a smirk, lined the outer wall. "Meet me here in the mornings from now on," she said, and gestured for the two Elrics to take the seats on the same side. She sat down across from them. "You two are now pretty much immune to the intimidation I've inflicted upon you in the Forest of Death. What was that kind of intimidation supposed to accomplish?"

"Physical exhaustion, for one," Ed replied.

"Accessing our pain receptors," Alphonse added.

"Why?" Anko grilled.

"People slip things when exhausted," Ed answered.

"And the relief of pain is a powerful reward." Al looked down. "Not very nice to think about." Ed gave his brother a sympathetic look, and gave his brother a little nudge.

"Right, well, it's my job to think about these kinds of things, and know inside and out what motions those disturbed minds are most likely to utilize. It isn't pretty, but it has to be done for the sake of the village," Anko replied in the most serious demeanor the Elrics had ever seen her use. She was frowning slightly, eyebrows drawn together.

"It's impossible to completely prepare anybody for torture," she continued. "There's no way to account for all the different possibilities, and the situation would be completely different in the enemy's camps anyways. My job as your temporary sensei is to get you in the right mindset to face these challenges. After that, you should be free to go wherever you please without any Leaf ninja stopping you. I've divided the things you need to learn into various steps. Once you complete one, you will go on to the next- whether that takes a day, a month, or a year. Once I'm satisfied that you've learned enough, I'll send you to another proctor for the test. Fail it, and you'll have to wait at least two years to try it again. We're a mutual team in the sense that when you feel you're ready, and when I feel you're ready, you will take the test." The Elrics nodded.

"Alright, then, tell me what you know about interrogation." Ed wondered why she hadn't started with this in the first place. Maybe their survival in the Forest of Death was akin to their survival on the abandoned island for Izumi Curtis. He wondered what would've happened if they had failed the trial. Then again, they hadn't, so what did it matter?

Al exchanged a look with Ed. "Well, the purpose of interrogation is to gather information," Al said. The two Elrics had picked up plenty from the military. They weren't prodigies for nothing.

"Sometimes the enemy will have standard procedures in place to ensure their prisoners aren't tortured, and sometimes they won't," Ed added. "Even if they do have standards, they don't always live up to their word. They'll hush anything up that the public won't like to hear."

"What are some of the methods they use?" Anko asked.

"They'll pretend to be your friend, if they're nice." Alphonse, of course.

"Threats." Yup, they'd had enough of those thrown their way. "Torture."

"Correct," Anko stopped them with a word. "One of the most common torture used against enemies in the world of shinobi are stress positions. Stress positions are unnatural positions that place a lot of weight onto a single muscle in your body. So, guess what we'll be doing?" Ed and Al exchanged concerned looks. Anko laughed.

"Wrong. We'll start out with flexibility training and then resistance. By the end of the week, we'll be talking stress positions. I'll have you in each of the most common five, and you'll brainstorm ideas for coping and escape. For now, I'm taking you to one of the training grounds. It's much too small in here."

...

"You like the brats," Ibiki stated when Anko returned to the T&I Corps alone that evening.

"What? Nah, they're just fun to play with."

"I'm the head of Interrogation, Anko. I know when people are lying." She shrugged.

"Okay, maybe they're a little more than just play toys. I'm not going soft, Ibiki." She leveled a look at the older, scarred man. Where people saw a harsh, frightening man in Ibiki, she saw a loyal, long-time friend. She hadn't been afraid of him when he'd tried grilling her about- about that man- and she wasn't scared of him when he'd mentored her as a T&I intern. It was safe to say that he knew her better than anybody else, and for that reason, he wasn't impaled by kunai, shuriken, or snakes when he said the things she'd rather not hear.

"How long do you think you have with them?" he asked.

"A month and a half." Ibiki blinked.

"They're that good? Didn't they only start learning about the shinobi arts a couple of weeks ago?"

"Heh, that's right. They're pretty darn smart, and that's an understatement. Besides, you know better than anybody that you don't have to be a shinobi to resist torture." Ibiki conceded her point with a nod.

"Well, I'm about done here," he said as he started up the steps to the main level. "Come on, I'll buy you some dango."

"Aw yeah! You're the best, Ibiki!" He chuckled in response as they started up the street to the dango shop.

"Try to remember that dango isn't a balanced diet. I really shouldn't feed your addiction."

Less Elric abuse in this chapter, hmm? Well, suppose they deserve a break, as things will be heating up soon. Here's my update for updates: any time there is an extended holiday/vacation, I will write a chapter, at the very least. Hopefully as the end of the school year comes to a close, I'll be writing more, but at this point I just can't make any promises. Chapters should be getting longer, too.

~Reviews muchly appreciated.~