Inuzuka Tsume is a scary-looking woman. A wild, choppy mess of hair, crazy-looking slit eyes with no visible irises, strong shoulders, claw-tipped hands with tendons and veins in sharp relief -- except for the fact that she has boobs, she looks like Kiba with lipstick.
It would be hilarious, if she wasn't terrifying. Naruto's pretty sure she wouldn't have much of a problem about going straight for his throat with nothing but her teeth. The way she rakes him with her eyes, missing nothing and finding everything wanting, the way she circles with her hands on her hips... And then there's her huge, scarred wolf-dog, who sits there, totally still, and waits for permission to eat him.
"Ma'am?" Naruto says, and laughs, a little nervously.
There's more silence as she straightens up. She's not tall, not really -- Naruto is taller than she is -- but, maybe it's the mane of wild hair, or the creepy eyes; he doesn't want to cross her anyway.
"Do you know what you're here for?" she rasps.
"Er, yeah? I've got problems with the bastard fox..."
She shakes her head, not quite like he's wrong, but like she didn't expect much and wasn't disappointed. "That's all they told you, huh?" The wolf-dog grunts, vaguely contemptuous; Tsume shifts her weight onto her other foot, crossing her arms over her stomach like she's getting ready for a long, boring talk. "Don't expect miracles, kid. I don't know who thought up that brilliant idea first, but I'm not going to be able to fix every single problem you've got."
Naruto scowls. "If you can't help me, then what am I doing here?"
"I didn't say I couldn't help at all. But I have no miracle cure. You're not an Inuzuka and we're not demon carriers. You've got issues I can do exactly jack shit about."
"Great," Naruto grumbles under his breath. "So I'm wasting my time, huh?"
The wolf-dog curls up his lip, flashing yellowed fangs at Naruto. "It's the other way around, punk."
Naruto jumps. "You talk? -- Hey! Don't call me that!"
He glares at the wolf, who gazes back lazily, like he's vaguely wondering which part of Naruto's body would be tastier. Inuzuka Tsume snorts. "You don't listen well, do you."
"I listen just fine!"
The woman sighs, arms unfolding, and in three long steps, she's in front of him, with her hand clamped on the back of his neck to pull him down to her level. Meep.
"Don't make me shake you. What are you, a puppy?"
"... 'm not," Naruto grumbles, avoiding her eyes. She lets him go; he straightens up, disgruntled, and glares at her stubbornly.
"Good. I'm past the age to housebreak them." She gives him an amused look, not impressed by his attitude at all; Naruto sighs and relaxes a little, though he's still tempted to sulk. "Now I said I couldn't fix everything, but there are still tricks you ought to learn anyway. Come on."
The wolf on her heels, she strides toward the side of the house; there's a path between the wall and the fence, with a training field behind.
"The report says you get claws. You'll learn to use them right. Sense of smell as well. How's your night vision?"
Naruto scrambles to follow. "Um, okay? I get by. What do you mean use them right? It's not hard. Pointy end goes into people? Just like a kunai."
She snorts, smirks. "Not really, no. For one thing, you can't have it knocked out of your hand."
"Yeah, but you can't throw it either."
"There are advantages and inconveniences to both. As there are to sense of smell, hearing, night vision, detection of quick movements, sense of balance, etcetera. You'll learn how to use all of those properly, and how to know when it's better not to."
"Okay," Naruto says, and thinks privately that it doesn't sound as immensely useful as he hoped for, but hey, as long as it keeps the Council happy. At least it's not gonna be too hard, right?
As it turns out, he's wrong. And the Council isn't the only one who gets to feel like it's doing something for Naruto's little problem.
After Kyuubi's latest stunt, Naruto is perfectly happy to keep the bastard fox locked up in the darkest, dankest corner of his inner world for the next century, but...
"How are you supposed to learn anything about something you pretend doesn't exist?"
Damn Tsume for making sense. So she makes him drag out the red chakra, just like Jiraiya did, and then she makes him manipulate it -- he's never done anything so hard and tedious since he learned to tree-walk.
He learns -- tries to learn -- to pull it to his nose in a handful of seconds, to heighten his sense of smell; she makes him track things across the field, and if he steps out of the path his target took, or even just if she feels like it, she throws stinking things at him. Vinegar, bleach, horse manure, moldy cheese; she says it's so he learns to turn off his sense of smell quickly, in case it's ever targeted, but he really thinks she's just that evil. Maybe she's taking revenge for that fart in Kiba's face six years ago.
He tries to learn to pull the red chakra to his hands, his feet, but to keep it inside his skin, change his flesh to fit it instead of letting it bubble over. He started out needing at least five minutes to grow full claws, and one time he got real frustrated and his arms got kind of furry, but now he goes from blunt nails to talons in under thirty-five seconds, and it's not awesome, but it's the best he can do. Sometimes the skin on the underside of his fingers and the heel of his hands hardens, too, and he can see it makes Tsume frown, but he thinks his control is already fine enough and he's not going to bother working on narrowing the affected area; it's easier to lean on his hands with pads, and anyway his calluses were almost just as thick already.
Tsume doesn't give a damn that sometimes his mind gets kind of hazy. He's got to do the drills anyway -- claws in! Claws out! Night vision! Nose! Let go! And if he gets angry, even black Kyuubi-rage, she just grabs him by the back of the neck and shakes him out of it.
In matters of chakra level, Naruto is stronger than she is. He's faster, too. Yet he still hasn't managed to dodge her neck-grab-and-shake trick even once. He thinks it might be a secret mom power.
As for the animal instincts that come sometimes, Tsume says she can't do much -- it's not a jutsu you learn, it's an ingrained habit that the members of your pack teach you -- but the first time Naruto tries to sniff Inuzuka Hana's crotch, he ends up kicked clear across the field and chased through half of Konoha by three snarling dogs; after that, fox-hazy or not, there is no second try.
Sadly, his chakra-manipulating skills don't progress as well as his socialization; so one morning he arrives at the Inuzuka's, and Tsume is grinning. He almost starts running the other way.
"I asked Hatake for advice," she says, and Naruto does start moving the other way, except her black wolf-dog is standing in his way.
They herd him down the road, right outside the village. Tsume is whistling, and Kuromaru's tail wags. Naruto is mildly terrified.
She unlocks one of the gates into the Forest of Death, gesturing at Naruto to get in first, and then when he trustingly walks in, she locks the gate behind him.
"I hid three things in this forest, kid. Find them and bring them back, and you pass."
Naruto relaxes enough to grin. He's survived the Forest a couple of times now. It will be fine. Go in, track her scent, get out. Easy as pie. "What do I gotta find?"
"Now that would be telling, wouldn't it?"
And then she walks away, leaving Naruto behind the fence.
"Hey, no fair! At least give me a clue!"
Tsume laughs, rough and low, and her dog's tongue lolls out of his mouth. "No clue. But I'll give you a tip, pup. There are many creatures born in this season." She pauses, smirks thinly over her shoulder. "Oh, and don't worry for your teammates, I'll tell them not to fret for at least a week."
Naruto has the strong feeling that he's going to die.
By "many creatures born this season," Tsume apparently didn't mean cute little fawns and bunnies. She meant baby giant tigers -- which means their mother is out hunting.
She also meant giant centipedes, and blood-drinking wasps, and a bazillion metric fucktons of snakes.
He spends his first night running from tigers, and his morning pulling leeches from his legs. Next time mommy tiger comes after him, fuck the adorable giant kittens. He only finds fruit to eat, and ends up with a mild case of the runs. By mid-afternoon, it starts drizzling.
He trips on his first item -- an empty kunai pouch -- while busy swearing up a storm about the scent trail being erased by the water.
The second day, nothing, apart from an impressive nest of snakes. The half-erased scent trail he finds turns out to belong to some Inuzuka cousin or other -- the dog is female -- and -- it takes him a while to find a dry patch of grass to compare -- to be at least a week old beside.
After the fifth time the swarm of humongous spider-bees come after him, he learns to stop wasting his chakra with tree-sticking. The bitches feed on it; it's like broadcasting offers for an all-you-can-eat free buffet in Chouji's neighborhood. At least, the claws make for nice traction even on the wet bark, and he thinks he'll even learn to switch directions faster once he gets over his wondering what happens if his claws get stuck in the wood. He tore off nails before and, well, there's a reason it's a form of torture.
The second night, he gets some sleep all the way up in a tree. It's barely dawn when a vulture pecks him awake, mistaking him for a corpse with yummy fresh eyes. At least Naruto has a nice breakfast, even if the grilled chicken is a little gamey.
The third day, he decides to get fish. The decision comes to him after he jumps in the water to get the infestation of fire ants out of his clothes, but hey, no need to waste such an occasion.
The fourth day he starts getting a little better at sharing his attention between the trail he's following and the predators following him, and so when the fangy monkeys try it, he's ready to kick ass. He finds the second item hidden in an eagle's nest; getting the parents away long enough to get to it while keeping his eyes unpecked needs some creative use of Kage Bunshin, but he's pretty alright with that part. Pulling the old dog collar free from the nest without breaking the eggs is something else. Surely eagles can't count anyway.
The fifth day, nothing. The track doubles back almost every ten seconds and crosses the river a dozen times, or maybe he's losing count because he can't keep track of which end goes in which direction anymore. In the end he has to step back and circle the area as widely as he can to find the track again. By now, it's starting to fade, so he keeps going even when it gets dark.
Getting whipped in the face by vines that might actually be snakes or strange man-eating flowers is good incentive to learn to activate his senses of sight and smell in tandem, but in the end, the trail stops at a pond and nothing he does helps him find it again. He has a small screaming fit that frightens his corner of the forest into complete silence for at least ten minutes, which is creepy enough to calm him down.
The sixth day is better left unmentioned.
The seventh day, he braves the leeches in the pond, to make sure that the item he's looking for just didn't fall in from some overhead branch. It didn't. But there's a tunnel under the slimy surface and prickly plants that wasn't dug out by a beaver.
The item is a little plastic tube with a note on it. The note says "Good job! Now inject the antidote before the poisonous algae does you in."
Naruto starts to laugh, vowing to kill Inuzuka Tsume the second he's safely back out of that goddamn forest.
At least the trip out goes faster than the trip in, though still slowly enough that he has some time to notice everything he learned to do. Pop out the claws in five seconds or less, switch from scent to night eyesight and then back, hold onto both together, learn to track properly...
Sure, he kind of used almost all of what she taught him before, instinctually. But sometimes -- when he was angry -- the Kyuubi-influenced stuff was easy; sometimes it didn't even come to mind as a possibility. Now he doubts he'll ever forget he can do all that. And the more tightly he controls where the chakra goes and how much of it he uses, the fewer headaches he gets, and that's worth the whole training by itself.
She's waiting when he reaches the gate. He howls an incoherent threat at her, but he's so tired it comes off as some kind of dying moo.
"... 'm done. Tell me it was all Kakashi's fault."
Tsume chuckles softly. "Not really. It's an old method of nin-dog training."
Naruto gave her an incredulous look. "You're training me like you would a dog?"
Kuromaru snorts. "If by dog you mean a puppy."
Naruto utters a short, shrill scream of frustration, grabbing his hair with both hands. "Here are your stupid items, now get me out of here!" He's famished, he stinks to high heaven, he's bruised all over and his clothes are ruined. If she doesn't approve, they're going to have words.
"Good!" she grunts.
Naruto feels like melting in relief and taking a nap on the spot. He grins, proud and exhausted.
She grins back.
"Now you're ready to do it with a blindfold."
[Rise (Sakura)] - [Ghosts