Title: Dreaming of Sunshine

Summary: Life as a ninja. It starts with confusion and terror and doesn't get any better from there. OC Self-insert.

AN: Impressed Anon: Being not-a-computer-scientist, I just looked that up. Travelling Salesman Problem. Incredibly fascinating. I think Shikako's impression was that, as it was a think Konoha was already doing Shikamaru's job would have been to simply allocate various people and resources to it and maybe make improvements if he saw them. But I love this deeper explanation to it. Hah. Also why Shikamaru is so annoyed by if it, if it's actually too complicated for him to solve.

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Chapter 105

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Success is simple. Do what's right, the right way, at the right time. ~ Arnold H. Glasow

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"People are going to start thinking we're up to something, if we keep this up," Ino mused idly.

"I think they already do," I said absently, Iruka-sensei's comment springing to mind. My eyes wandered over the group. It was… bigger than I remembered it being. Yes, we'd invited Yakumo. And Ino had started to bring Isaribi along while I'd been busy, because she felt the same kind of responsibility for her.

Anko was, therefore, here by default. I wasn't sure if she was still on permanent guard duty or if this was just a 'risky' occasion, but she was almost expected. Kurenai-sensei wasn't. I mean, I could see how she fit into it, and it wasn't like we were going to turn down the chance to get training from her…

"Who's that with Sakura?" I asked.

"Keiko Fukui," Ino said. "She's another trainee medic. Seems nice."

"I was going to bring Shiho, too," I said. "But this seemed a little more urgent. Next time?"

Ino shrugged. "It's not really just a 'medical study group' anymore, is it?"

It really wasn't. It hadn't stayed that way for very long, in fact. But it was still training, still a chance for us all to catch up together no matter what else was going on in our lives.

"Here they come," I said, voice quiet, as three Academy students approached the park. I waved.

Moegi waved back vibrantly and pulled the other two closer with the sheer force of her personality. I'd been a little surprised that Hanabi hadn't come with her sister, but Hinata had said that the three wanted to meet up first. Which was a) cute and b) even better than what I'd hoped for.

You couldn't just throw people together and expect them to be friends. But I could encourage it – make them comrades and give them something in common that none of the other students had. And even if it didn't make them friends… friendly acquaintances was better than nothing.

"Ah, Chiya-chan, before we start," I said solemnly. "I wanted to thank you for my bracelet." It was still tied neatly around my wrist, perfectly visible. I drew a similar one from my pocket – I'd made it this morning. "But these things are always given in pairs. So, this one is yours."

I bent and tied it carefully around her wrist. "See the little bead on it? Try and channel some chakra into that."

She did. The LED seal on it lit up, brightly. It had been a pest to try and write it on something so small, but it was… a personal touch. Something useful.

Chiyako darted forward and wrapped herself around my legs. "Nee-chan!" She wailed into my kneecaps.

I tried not to topple over. Ino muffled a giggle at my expense.

"What is it?" Hanabi demanded of Moegi. "Why is the bracelet important?"

Moegi looked surprised. "They're friendship bracelets! Haven't you ever made one?"

Hanabi crossed her arms and frowned.

Oh. Yeah, okay. She was, from the little I'd seen of her, blunt and forthright in a way that read as rude. Bossy. But that was only because she was a little girl. That attitude – what it really was – was command. And that made a whole lot of sense, didn't it? Hinata had been set aside because she was 'soft'. Of course they were trying to make Hanabi into a better heir. Or maybe it wasn't even that deliberate; Hanabi spoke like she was in command because people listened to her.

Still. It would be a hard attitude to make friends with. Especially if her clan were strict about who was 'acceptable'.

"We can make some more later," Ino said, the two of us meeting eyes quickly, the same understanding passing between us. "I'm sure I still have my old supplies somewhere." She clapped. "But first, let's introduce you to everyone."

It went… well. Maybe it wasn't terribly exciting or anything, but they seemed enamored by the meeting. And everyone was kind enough to keep them involved in conversations, even when they were out of their depth, or share stories from our missions.

I had planned some activities, just in case, but it didn't look like I would need them. Though, maybe…

"If you're free tomorrow, we can meet up for some more training," I suggested, just before they went home.

They looked thrilled and not like I had just suggested more work on a Sunday.

"Moegi, can you invite Konohamaru and Udon?" I went on. I'd get Yakumo to pass along the invite to Ranmaru as well; hopefully this wasn't too short a notice. "We can make it a team verses team exercise."

"I will ask father," Hanabi said, which was the only small piece of dissent.

Because if there was one thing you could count on Konohamaru to be, it was loud. And he would be more than willing to tell everyone what had gone down. While I hoped that Iruka had given the girls their invites in a particularly public way, it worked better if someone was able to rub it in afterwards, and none of the three were really the type.

I should have felt bad that I was plotting such vindictiveness against an eight year old I didn't even know. I didn't.

"Alright!" I said to their cheerful faces the next day. "You all know how to do the replacement jutsu, right?" If Iruka-sensei kept with the same approximate lesson progress, they would have started learning it. It didn't matter if they had it down perfectly yet, because this would help.

The old Team Seven favourite. Replacement Tag. Or Replacement Tag Cops-and-Robbers since that was the easiest way to play two teams off against each other. It probably wouldn't have been too different from any of the other games of ninja that they would have played. Only with jutsu. Jutsu made everything cooler.

"This will be the prison," I said, gesturing at the stumps that Kakashi-sensei had threatened to tie us to. "If you get tagged by the police-ninja, you'll be taken to the jail. However, if one of your team sneaks in and tags you back, you're able to go free."

"Do people really use Replacement Jutsu?" Hanabi asked, almost doubtfully. "Grandfather says it's not worth learning to use."

"It absolutely worth learning to use," I said firmly. "I've used it in some very dire situations. And Naruto once saved an entire village with it."

"He saved me!" Moegi piped up. "When I got kidnapped."

Konohamaru clamored in with the rest of the story, the two of them talking over each other, while giving a triumphant look at Ranmaru. Apparently he'd taken offence to the fact that the other boy had been on an actual mission with Naruto.

"Exactly," I said, trying to get things slightly back on track. A little bit. "Is everyone clear on the rules?"

They were, so I sent them off. I played referee, making sure there was no step-violations going on and that rules were adhered to. And also occasionally catching people – Konohamaru – who overestimated how well they were likely to stand on tree branch post jutsu.

When they started looking tired, I called half time and stuffed them full of energy rich food and drink. It perked them back up enough for a round two, so I switched the team roles over.

And they weren't bad. Team Konohamaru clearly knew each other, and that gave them an advantage. But Team Hanabi – and she'd fallen into leadership easily, though could, perhaps, do with a few lessons on making sure her team was okay with that – wasn't bad either. They were pulling together.

And Hyuuga, Aburame and genjutsu user… give them an Inuzuka sensei and they'd have the same skill set as Team Eight.

Okay, that might have been getting a bit ambitious. I would be glad if they just got along.

"Okay, and that's the end!" I said. "I have to get to work soon. Seal of reconciliation, everyone!"

"But who won?" Konohamaru asked, even though he held up his hand as asked.

"Who do you think?" I asked back, since I hadn't exactly been counting points, and directed the question at the whole group. Which then turned into me leading them through a deconstruction of the game and who had done well and who could have improved at what things. I didn't tell them, I just helped them work it out themselves.

"Can we train again next weekend, Shikako-neechan?" Chiyako asked hopefully, staring up at me.

I hesitated. "I might be on a mission," I said diplomatically. "But there's no reason that you can't all get together to train. Just be sure to get someone to supervise if you want to do jutsu, right?"

I felt a little bad. But it wasn't untrue. I might have been going on a mission. I just didn't especially want to give up all my weekends. One, I could fritter away like this – but there were so many things I needed to do and get done.

Going to work was important, anyway, because I could pester Aoba into showing me how one went about 'suggesting' improvements to systems of the tower. He was slightly bemused by it, but accommodating as he had been all along.

There was paperwork for it, of course there was, so I took a copy.

Aoba looked like he was dying of curiosity. "Please tell me," he said.

I tried to look virtuous. "A good ninja should always be looking for improvements."

"But I need to know," he said, trailing after me. "It's my job to know things. I'm teaching you how to do this job, so you should tell me."

"Maybe after," I said, relenting a little. "It spoils the surprise if you know first."

Also, no one was going to be warned.

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Nara R&D green lit our seals.

I gave Shikamaru the process change paperwork to submit to his section head alongside a logistics plan he'd developed that would show just how significant a change it was, in terms of manpower savings.

It was a perfectly normal, if slightly ambitious thing to do. 'Hey, I see a better way to do the thing you do – here's how'.

Given the scope of the change we were proposing, I had expected that I would be called up to somebodies office to explain it. I hadn't expected that somebody to be Tsunade but maybe I should have. Well. It would do. It would more than do.

Dad was there and he gave me a weary look but… yeah, he was totally amused. There was Heihou, who must have been a department or division head of some form – I really had to find out the specifics of how departments not Intel were organized – and another, very agitated man who kept glaring at Shikamaru.

Bingo.

I smiled cheerily and stood next to my brother's slouching form. He gave me a very droll look. Maybe he hadn't expected how much like dropping a bomb this would be. For shame.

This was exactly like dropping a bomb. I'd predicted it would basically upturn the entire Logistics division, if not more. This upset the foundation for basically every task they had – every roster, every plan, every forecast and prediction… anything that used the current seal was now obsolete. Useless. Ruined.

They were staring down the barrel of an improvement but it was an improvement forced on them with no warning and no chance to prepare for it. They were going to be goddamn swamped with work for weeks, for months, just to be able to use it.

But the sheer value of it would mean they'd have to.

"Evening, Hokage-sama!" I chirped, happily. "What can I do for you?"

"I should have expected you to be behind this," she lamented, looking at me with a sigh. "Go on, then. Explain yourself."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," I said, eyes going innocently wide. Think fawn. Cute. Harmless. "What seems to be the problem?"

She gave me a look like she knew I was playing a game. "Storage seals?"

I gave a hum of recognition. Like I hadn't known and her words had reminded me. "Oh, yes. Nara R&D has finally approved them." I babbled into a rundown of the seals and capabilities, throwing the conversation to Shikamaru to draw him into it and explain the logistics side of it. He'd helped do most of the paperwork – he knew enough to babble along with me. To sell the seal. To make it sound impressive and to expound on all the things that it could do.

"-potentially it could be used to introduce a whole 'nother type of missions," I went on, after we'd covered all the bases and no one had stopped us yet. "It's a safe and secure method of transporting goods, so I imagine that many merchants would consider it. It has all the convenience and speed of a simple message delivery, while at the same time eliminating losses of goods due to damage during transport. It's possible Konoha could charge more for the service than it does for guarding caravans, despite it being markedly less work-"

And Tsunade still wasn't stopping me.

Shikamaru picked up the thread. "It could also be used for long term storage facilities," he pointed out, at a much slower pace than my own rapid fire. "We could stockpile greater quantities of goods in less space making certain outposts much less vulnerable to loss of supply chains."

"Alright," she said finally, lacing her fingers together and staring at us over them. "It sounds very impressive. If we do utilize these seals, what kind of manpower savings are we looking at for resupply?"

"Nearly two thirds," Shikamaru said, with a shrug. "And that's even if we return to sending ninja out in pairs, rather than solo as is current practice."

"Double it. Send them out as full teams," Tsunade ordered, though she lifted her eyes to direct that to Heihou rather than us. "If our ninja are carrying so many supplies I don't want them ambushed."

And that, right there, was probably the reason why Konoha didn't already have generic large contents seals already, despite the use they would have been during a war. Because it would have been easier to teach your stronger ninja how to create a storage seal, and then get them to carry the supplies around. That way, if the supply train was ambushed, as it probably would be … the enemy still had to deal with Jiraiya. For example.

"Logistics and Supply can put together a purchase order for however many units they'll need and I'll authorize it," she went on. "I'd like to see this in effect as soon as possible."

Agitated Guy spluttered, clearly unhappy. "Hokage-sama," he protested. "They're clearly pushing some kind of, of clan agenda. It's no coincidence that this change wasn't suggested until they benefited from it!"

As if anyone cared if it was a clan agenda. Clan agendas were how things got done. Because you had a whole group of people with power pushing for it to happen. People who had the skills and abilities and resources and connections to get things done.

"How could we suggest a system change if we didn't have a solution to the problem?" I asked, eyes wide and curious. "What could we have possibly said?"

Without a solution, it would just have been baseless complaining.

But he rallied with a valiant attempt. "Once the problem and solution had been identified, the seals could have been created by the Research and Development Department. That would have been the appropriate course of action, rather than contracting out to a clan." He seemed to realise he was on to something. "In fact, we can ask them to create a similar system, Hokage-sama. Then there's no need for us to engage in this… this spectacle of extortion!"

Triumph was a cold, glittering thing rising in my chest.

Dad had always described battle strategies in terms of Shogi. Shikamaru understood it like that, but it had never really fit for me. But this… yes, this was Shogi. This was being in control from the very start, having moved your pieces into place and set the board to your liking. This was every step prepared and known in advance and watching it unfold.

Even in his denial he had accepted our success; he just didn't realise it. He had switched to arguing which seals to use, not whether to use them at all. He had all but surrendered.

"You're welcome to ask R&D to create a similar system for you," I agreed most sweetly, trying to channel Sakura as my inspiration. "Their waiting list is six months. For consideration of a project."

Too long to wait when you had an alternative right there. Our seals were safety certified. They could be in production tomorrow. A much better option than a maybe six months down the line.

He couldn't let it go. Took the rope I had handed him and ran it out, long enough to tie a noose. "There are bound to be other storage specialists in the village!" he protested, desperately. "Who could be contracted for this."

He didn't even see the trap. Didn't realise he had been out maneuvered and defeated before he'd even known to rouse his troops for war. Had no idea.

"There is Gai's girl; Tenten," Tsunade agreed, slowly. Her eyes were piercing. "She's shown certain aptitude with them. She has at least one unique creation."

"I'm sure she would be delighted to discuss it with you," I agreed smoothly. "If you look at the applications, she's the second author."

Snap.

She was ours. I'd moved her out of their reach before they'd even know to look for her. Denied them options and left them with only one path to take.

They'd have to take it. No one could do better, not so fast and so easily – and if I knew bureaucracy it was that people liked to sign off on the easiest option. Tsunade was already on board. It was happening.

"You can investigate alternatives," Tsunade said, and it was nothing but a concession, "but I'm giving the preliminary go ahead for the implementation of these seals into Logistics. I suspect there will be a lot of changes to be made to our current systems."

She raised an unimpressed eyebrow at me.

Oh yes. We'd taken the entire system and shaken it. It was exactly like dropping a bomb. The collateral damage was going to be magnificent.

I clasped my hands together and bowed. "I'm very pleased to present the NaraTen Storage Seals to you, Hokage-sama," I said. "Thank you."

Nara. So everyone would know. So every time they used them, planned to use them, they would remember just how this came to be. I'd stamped our mark into it, so there was no denying.

Triumph was a cold, glittering thing indeed. My smile was sharp enough to cut.

Tsunade dismissed the two logistics ninja, but kept us there. She leant back in her chair. "You've done a great service to the village," she said formally. "I'm putting a commendation on both of your files."

"Three," Shikamaru said, sticking his hands in his pockets. "Tenten was also part of this. She deserves her share of the credit."

Tsunade accepted that. "Three of you, then," she corrected. "I have no doubt these seals will greatly benefit, not just Logistics and Supply, but other departments within Konoha." She paused. "That said, the next time you get the urge to overhaul an entire system… there are many more efficient ways to introduce it. Things are going to be incredibly chaotic now. "

No, it had done exactly what I wanted. That meant it was the most efficient way. The chaos was, as they said, a feature not a bug.

If she wanted to believe it was the result of recklessness and haste, and not exactly what I wanted, then that was her prerogative. Probably better for me, actually, but entirely false.

She dismissed us. Dad put a hand on each of our shoulders and directed us out of the room.

"Do you have something particular against the logistics department?" he asked dryly.

I shrugged. "Only the one that insulted Shikamaru," I said. "He shouldn't have done that."

I regretted nothing. I was the opposite of regretting things. I was incredibly satisfied.

Shikamaru let out a long controlled breath. "I can't believe we got dragged up to the Hokage," he complained.

I grinned at him. "Good thing you handed it in at the start of your shift not the end," I said. "She'd have been way grumpier if they'd had to drag her back in for it."

He shuddered.

I waved goodbye and headed back to the Cryptography office.

"Where'd you get dragged off to this time?" Aoba grumped at me. He hunched over the table, and covered his work with one arm so I couldn't see it. "You better have a good excuse."

"Hokage's office," I said, riding the high of success. I slung an arm around his shoulder, leaning into him. "Thanks for the help, Aoba-senpai."

"Wait, what?" he asked, confused. "What happened?"

Aoba gossiped like a chicken. Nothing I told him would stay secret. It was a known fact. But, oh, wasn't that the point? Everyone was going to know. And everyone was going to know why and who to blame.

I smiled, long and slow, secretive, confiding. "Want to know the whole story?"

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I went back to working at the Aviary, which meant I got to avoid the long, slow implosion of basically everything at the tower. It turned out more than just logistics wanted the seals and were scrambling to re-organise to take advantage of them.

Oops.

During the days, Shikamaru and I mostly focused on fulfilling our end of the Nara R&D bargain – the chakra control and elemental affinity seals.

Surprisingly, Shikamaru didn't immediately ditch the seals to be my responsibility – he seemed willing to keep working on it, and was the one to go question them as to what we actually had to provide and the testing that had to be done.

R&D were alternatively really thrilled at us for the huge boost in sales and annoyed at having to suddenly crank out so many immediately.

"I suggested they ask Tenten," Shikamaru told me, rolling his eyes. Which probably meant that their initial suggestion had probably been us. Nope, I had way better things to do than be a human photocopier. Shikamaru hadn't drawn any of them in the first place and was also entirely too lazy to want anything to do with that kind of workload.

"She might agree," I said, with a shrug. She also might not. She probably had better things to do than be a human photocopier, too.

He sat up and hooked his arms over his knees. "You know, she told me you'd invited her so that she could do the paperwork," he said.

"She didn't want to…" I tried to think about how to phrase it. "Want to be in our debt. And I couldn't exactly tell her that it was just because I needed her out of the way."

He snorted. "And people think you're so kind."

"I know," I said, a little sadly. "But it was fair recompense, right? And you made sure she got credited for it and everything."

Yeah, I should have done that. But it hadn't been my focus. Not really. The seals had been the means to the end.

"Fair for her," he said. "But you really ripped that guy to shreds. And somehow the whole village knows about it."

I shrugged. "No, that was fair," I disagreed. "That was exactly fair."

He looked unimpressed.

I looked unimpressed back. Anyone who insulted him deserved what they got, and he would have done the same. He had done the same, if not worse, if you counted threatening Sasuke.

Sometime after lunch, Tenten stopped by. That wasn't unusual since she'd been here for all our seal planning sessions, but since that was finished I hadn't expected to see her. She had a scroll in one hand, and looked terribly excited.

I stood to greet her.

And was summarily dragged off my feet. It felt a little bit like being hit by a small and slight brick wall, and then dragged around in a circle in excitement, proving that however she protested, Tenten was absolutely a member of Team Gai.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," she chanted.

I clung to her shoulders. "Okay?" I squeaked. Her arms were like steel bands and I was not necessarily breathing correctly. My toes dragged over the grass, unable to really find purchase because she was lifting me too high.

"Tsunade-sama sent for me personally!" she said. "She said the seal was great!"

Tenten let me go. And then proceeded to tackle-hug Shikamaru in a similar manner. He looked like he had expected it even less.

I gave him a thumbs up over her shoulder.