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.



Chapter 112



It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see. ~ Winston Churchill



The thing about travelling with groups this size, was that they went slow. Things had to be packed. There were wagons to load and carriages to hitch and horses to tend to. People had to be organized and directed. Even accounting for the fact that they were civilians, we didn't get far at all. Only to the southern coastline of the Land of Fire, where they'd hired out a beach house that opened out onto a deserted stretch of sand.

We were briefly very busy securing the area and checking the safety of the place, but nothing turned up. The sun went down and we lit a bonfire on the beach, a local band had apparently been hired to provide entertainment, and Michiru appeared to be thrilled with everything.

"I feel so much more at home on the beach," he said, stretching. "Wind Country was very nice, of course, especially the Garden and healing springs, but there's nothing quite like a beach. The Land of the Moon has the loveliest sand – it's so fine and soft – and even in winter the water is warm enough to swim in."

Land of Fire might have been a temperate country but it was still too cold to go swimming. Well. To go swimming for pleasure. Unless you were a masochist.

"Sounds nice," I said.

Prince Michiru nodded. "You'll see when we get there," he said sagely. "People come from all over to visit. There's nothing like them!"

I made vague noises of agreement, and hoped it sounded like I cared about beaches.

I settled myself in next to the bonfire and wasn't even really that surprised when Sai sidled up to me. So far, he'd either been near my side or gone completely. I'd have been more worried about the latter option if I thought there was actually anything around here for him to be doing.

"You are being followed," Sai told me.

"It's just Hikaru," I said, although I suspected Sai was perfectly capable of working that out himself and knew as much – he just… didn't have the experience to distinguish between childish antics and actual threat. I had told them all what Kankurou had passed along, but everyone had noticed the lack of guards on their own and it put us a little bit on edge. "So don't worry, it's not dangerous. I think he's just bored." The kid mostly seemed to be left to himself, so he probably just thought we were the most interesting things around. It would probably wear off in a few days. "Unless you'd like to entertain him?"

Sai gave me the blankest of blank looks. "I am not suited to the task."

I tried not to laugh at him. "Oh, I'm sure you could manage. Your jutsu seem very theatrical."

"I don't know any stories to tell," he said, as if it were an obvious thing.

"That's just sad," I said, lightly, to cover the fact that it really was. It really, really was. I couldn't even stretch my mind to imagine a world like that, where I didn't have stories. Even now, when I didn't read or write as much as I had before… they were still part of me. "We're definitely going to fix that."

I had books and I pulled a few of them out of hammerspace to drop into his hands. Though looking at them now, there was nothing I would have picked if I'd known I'd have to lend them to Sai. I hadn't even read most of them myself – which was kind of why I'd brought them along.

I clicked my tongue in annoyance. "Maybe this place has a bookstore. There's so many things you need to read."

We were on a mission, but it wouldn't be impossible for someone to duck away for a short period of time while the prince was occupied with his daily entertainment.

"Are you making Sai do school work?" Kiba asked, appearing behind me and slinging an arm around my neck, trying to pull me sideways. "For shame, Shikako. Not cool."

I unwound myself out of his grip. "Sai wanted something to read," I explained, which was a kinder way of putting it.

"The Sage of Zen Mountain," Kiba read off the top book, craning his neck to see it. "That even sounds horrifically boring. You should have come to me, man. I have, like, six volumes of Samurai Genji."

"Samurai Genji is awful," I said, appalled. "You can't make him read that."

"It's great," he countered. "The fight scenes are absolutely hilarious."

"Hilariously bad," I said. "The artist doesn't even know how to draw a sword."

Kiba snickered. "I know. It's fantastic," he assured Sai. "You will laugh so much."

"Draw?" Sai repeated, and looked down at the books I had given him as if that might give him an answer. They didn't. "It's an illustrated book? I thought those were only for small children."

"It's a manga," Kiba said, impatiently. "About a Samurai. Named Genji."

"I don't know what that means," Sai admitted.

Kiba paused. "It's … a manga. What kind of rock have you been living under, if you've never read a manga?" He shook his head. "You've been deprived. Just wait here. I'll go and get them."

He took off in a burst of speed that was completely and utterly unnecessary. Shikamaru caught my eye from where he was loitering and raised an eyebrow, asking if anything was up. I rolled my eyes, which I hoped conveyed the utter lack of situation.

"Anyway," I said, "these are probably too long to make an act out of. You'd want something simple and short with only a couple of characters to move around, I think."

For shadows, I needed things with unique shapes – I'd picked the Kyuubi tale mostly because of the tails, they were easy to shape and dramatic to wave around behind me, and I thought next time I might do the tale of Icarus with wings of feathers – but Sai had a different method.

Red Riding Hood? I wondered. It had a wolf, and he mostly made animal shapes. Something with a dragon?

I paused. It was a little bit mean. But also entirely hilarious. "Okay, I've got one for you to draw," I decided. "Let me tell you the story of Sleeping Beauty."



We did stop by the bookshop the next day. I brought an entirely unreasonable number of them, including two copies of Tale of the Gutsy Ninja off the discount bargain table. I snapped them up immediately.

"I never managed to find this one!" I told Sai delighted. "Jiraiya-sama wrote it."

That actually appeared to grab his interest. Most likely because of the small chance that there was actual ninja content in it, but I wasn't going to be picky. Actually, I wondered how many people in Konoha had read Icha Icha at least once under the same idea. And how many of them worked in Intel and actually had to. I knew that they'd probably have to be cleared before publication in case they had anything sensitive in them, because that was just how ninja worked.

I gave one copy to him and kept the other for myself. Or maybe so I could give it to Naruto later, I wasn't sure.

I didn't ignore my responsibilities to read it – we were on a mission here and I took that seriously – but I did tear through it as soon as I had time. The first time, quickly, then again, knowing the path of the story and taking the time to turn each word over, look at the depth and the themes and the scale of it all.

I could see why this wasn't a famous book. It was simply written, but about something that couldn't be reduced to an easy plot arc. What is war? It asked. Why do we fight? How do we stop it? What is peace?

And it never answered those questions, because it couldn't. Because there were no answers, or the world wouldn't be the place it was.

'I'll keep looking,' Naruto said, at the end of the book. Dissatisfying, when you expected a book to have an ending. But ultimately true.

The group continued to move on at a leisurely pace, stopping at nearly every town along our route or at any site of particular interest. I hadn't realized there were so many touristy things to do in Fire Country but we seemed to be experiencing them all now.

It took us nearly three weeks to make it to the capitol and with no incidents worth mentioning from a security point of view.

The capitol was almost a shock after the quiet of the countryside. Prince Michiru had to make an obligatory diplomatic visit to the Daimyo, of course, which meant stopping at the palace, which meant that we had to interact with his guards. And that was, naturally, a serious and complicated endeavor.

The Daimyo's security was headed by the Twelve Ninja Guardians, who were –supposedly – contracted solely to him and not to a village, probably to provide a safety net in case of Daimyo-Village conflict. In practice, some of them were Konoha ninja on long term deployment, like Asuma-sensei had been, simply because there weren't that many non-village ninja anymore. There were a handful of clans that remained around Fire Country, and they were the ones who made up the rest of the group.

Given that we were legitimate Konoha ninja on a legitimate mission for a client from an allied nation (or at least, non-enemy) it really shouldn't have been as stressful as it was.

The Daimyo himself was at least a familiar figure, and his wife more so. He even appeared to recognize me back, which was slightly awkward. But I supposed he had been at the exams, after all. "Oh yes, Shikako Nara," he said, fluttering with his fan. "Quite spectacular. Quite spectacular. I understand I should offer congratulations on another promotion."

I murmured polite thanks, bowing, and settled into seiza with the other guards near the side of the room for the tea ceremony. It was terribly dull and they didn't talk about anything important but it went on and on and on. For once, Prince Michiru seemed to have drawn a cloak of seriousness over himself, and I supposed there was a difference between being informal with your own people and informal with another Daimyo.

I should have made one of the others do this part, I thought trying to remember what my original decision had been. Probably something like 'I'm the mission leader so I should probably be the one to go'. Sadly, it was still probably true.

Once it was all over though, it was like a switch was flicked and Michiru turned immediately back into his normal entertainment seeking self.

"The real reason I wanted to come to the capitol," he confided to me. "Is that Yukie Fujikaze's latest movie has its opening night here. I love her movies."

"Oh, the Princess Fuun movie," I said, slightly startled. It had been months, but I guessed that was normal – there was all that editing and post production stuff to do even if they hadn't had to keep filming to make up for how everything had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

"You've seen them?" Michiru asked, with all the enthusiasm of a fan finding another fan.

"I was sort of involved in it?" I said, awkwardly, because wow, how did one even go about describing this. "My team was hired to be her bodyguards during the filming."

"You absolutely have to tell me all about it," he said, stars in his eyes.

I humored him as much as I could, but it wasn't like I was great at telling stories about things I'd seen. They never seemed quite so interesting when put into words. And, well, the whole 'murdered family' thing seemed a bit heavy to be used as a funny anecdote.

The movie premier was a big event. There were red carpets and mingling, both of which I wanted no part in. I felt both underdressed and out of place in my ninja gear, compared to the way everyone else was done up.

There were even paparazzi with cameras of various types, flashbulbs going off again and again like a nauseating disco. I was trying to ignore them and pay attention at the same time because that kind of distraction was a pretty good example of an opportunity.

But all that happened was someone calling my name.

Hidero, the actor that had played Shishimaru in the movie, dropped an arm around my shoulder and carefully posed us for the cameras. "The director said you weren't coming," he said cheerfully. "Is the rest of your team with you? I have a feeling that Sasuke is going to be quite popular – that kid shows up well on camera."

"I'm sure he'd be delighted to hear that," I said with a small smile. Somewhere scattered in the crowd, Kiba gave a hacking cough that said he had definitely heard it. "But no, they're not here. I'm actually here as the bodyguard for Prince Michiru – I wasn't aware the movie was showing until we got here."

I stepped away to introduce them, but it was unnecessary. Michiru shook his hand with enthusiasm, and gave a genial endorsement of his acting skills from the last movie.

"Thank you, thank you," Hidero said with all the composure of someone who actually did this kind of thing for a living. "I hope you do enjoy the movie. It's been a real blast making them and I'm a little disappointed they're over, to be honest. But there'll be more movies in the future, I can guarantee that!"

Hikaru seemed to be getting really bored by the whole thing and I kept an extra eye on him in case that meant he was about to run off and / or start shooting things with his toy bow. But we managed to make it inside to the actual theater before too much longer and got to the part of the evening where the movie actually started to play.

It started off fine. Fuun and her team having finished their quest from the last movie and deciding to go home to reclaim the land that they had to leave at the start. Then they were ambushed by sorcerer Mao, in a scene that I remembered filming on the iceberg.

Annnd that was approximately where it became terrible. I sank down in my seat. I hadn't expected them to entirely cut us out, but I also hadn't expected there to actually be that much usable footage, given everything.

Sloppy, I winced as the camera jerked back to me-on-screen launched a lightning jutsu that fizzled into the air. What terrible technique. And I looked terrible. Why had they allowed this.

The camera jerked around again, cutting rapidly between the different portions of the fight, and the music was a heart pounding rattle of drums. I felt tense, even though it was all already over, even though I knew how it had all gone in real life. I chanced a glance at the others, who looked entranced by the whole thing.

On screen, Fuun's fight went badly and it segued into the Shishimaru death scene that they'd filmed on the boat. Fuun wept over the body and the music swelled into something terribly sad and there were reaction shots of all of us that had to be cribbed from various times of the journey.

On-screen-Shikako leant on the railings, looking sad instead of seasick. "Near, far, wherever you are," she sang, music cutting off until all that was left was her voice.

I sank even lower into my chair, mortified. They'd filmed that? Really?

"I believe that the heart does go on."

And then came the flashbacks. Apparently I was Shishimaru's little sister, left behind when he went to join the princess on her quest, who joined up with Mysterious Mentor Kakashi to fight for the country in our own way. And we'd found Fuun and her team just in time to watch the beloved big brother die. How very tragic.

There were sniffles in the theater. I was too embarrassed by actually being in the movie myself to get into the storyline. If I could have left and never actually watched the movie, I would have.

This was actually worse than having to do shadow puppets. At least I didn't have to see myself, then.

But the movie trucked on. Clever editing put Mao and Dotou working together. The attack on the train, the invasion of the castle, the fight on the ice and the transformation of the country into spring… and then the mirrors cleared and shone and the hologram of Koyuki's childhood started to play. It looked good on the screen, and I was pretty sure no one was going to believe that it wasn't CGI.

"And now we will have spring," Fuun said, camera zooming into a close up on her face, and laughed softly.

The movie cut to her coronation.

I shifted, rolling my shoulders to release the tension in them, now that I was no longer going to be embarrassing myself on screen. We had to sit through the end credits, and wasn't that odd, seeing my own name up there. Not something I'd ever thought would happen.

"You're a movie star," Hikaru said the second it was over, half in awe, half accusing. We stood and started to move towards the exit to go wherever people were mingling for the reception. (Afterparty? Whatever it was called.) It was slow going, with the theater as full as it was. "You didn't say that."

I cleared my throat. "That's a bit of an exaggeration." Why, oh why, did it have to be this movie? Anything else and I would have been fine.

"Our very own movie star," Kiba echoed, leaning over the seats with a very wolfish grin. "Shikako Nara, you have been keeping secrets."

It was much easier to be annoyed at Kiba than it was to be annoyed at clients. "Oh yes, very secret," I said, voice sharp with sarcasm. "It's only recorded and about to be broadcast on giant screens all over the country."

"It seems unwise," Sai offered. "To allow your abilities to have been recorded like that."

"It's all out of date by now," I said, because he wasn't entirely wrong. "And it's not like any of it was secret after the Chunin Exams anyway."

Shikamaru wasn't saying anything. I glanced at him, but he was slouching with his hands in his pockets, still staring at the blank screen. And saying nothing.

I really wanted him to say something, but I didn't even know what. What was there to say about it? It was just a movie. It didn't matter.

"Hikaru," I said, changing topics to something that wasn't me focused. "Did you want to stay or go back to the hotel? One of us can take you, if you want."

He frowned, and looked around indecisively. "I'll stay."

The reception was a whirlwind of way too many people, which was terrible from a security point of view and also because all of them seemed to assume I was there as, well, one of the actors. Given that my face had just been on the big screen, I got recognized.

I hoped the rest of the team was making up for the fact I kept getting sucked into conversations with people.

"My dear!" Director Makino said, beaming at me. He shook my hand furiously. "I'm delighted you're here! I sent a message to Hidden Leaf but they told me none of you were available."

"I am currently here as Prince Michiru's bodyguard," I said, gesturing. "He's a huge fan of your movies."

"Yes, yes," the Director agreed. "It was marvelous, wasn't it? It was a dream, to film a movie about a princess using a real princess. And with real ninja, too! That might be my next great work. The only way to top the Unlucky Princess finale; a movie about ninja made with real ninja." His hands arced through the air, like he was tracing a rainbow.

I was about to smile blandly, politely, and assure him it would be great. But then I paused.

"I know a ninja story that would look amazing on the big screen," I said, and twisted my wrist to bring my copy of Tale of the Gutsy Ninja out of hammerspace. "This was written by the author of the Icha Icha series, before he went on to writing romance. It's a very important story in certain shinobi circles."

I pressed it into his hands, not letting him wave it off. This probably wouldn't work. It would probably go nowhere. I was just leaping on the barest hint of an opening, with no idea how it would play out. If it would ever play out.

"It might be very dangerous, though," I said, as if an afterthought. "Land of Rain – the place it's set – is a war zone and there were so many complications with the last movie that you probably wouldn't want to be attacked again, would you?"

The Director had never had his priorities straight. He'd zoomed straight into danger, thinking only of how it would look on the screen. He would probably like it more if the fighting was real.

I squashed the tiny bug of guilt that wanted to alight on me for getting people involved in this. People who had absolutely no chance of defending themselves if things went wrong. It was just that if this gave us even the barest possible excuse to get closer to Hidden Rain, to Pein, then I would take it. It probably wasn't even going to work, even if I'd suggested it. It would take forever, even if something happened with it. I was just… setting up an option. A possibility. A wild notion. That was all.

The Directors eyes gleamed. "Dangerous, did you say?"

I gave a hollow laugh and hoped it didn't sound too fake. "Oh yes. But I'm told you have some ninja friends. I'm sure they could help you out."

I was an awful, awful person. But Pein could never be allowed to come to Konoha. Not now.

"It sounds very interesting," Michiru said, rubbing his hands together, and missing most of the by play. "I would love to watch such a movie. Please let me know when you begin searching for investors. I think I would like to be involved!"

Oh, that's something, I thought. A wild idea was one thing. A wild idea that had the potential to have money thrown at it was something else. Something else entirely.

"I will certainly consider it," the Director said with enthusiasm, clutching the book like it was going to be stolen from him. "Yes, yes, I can see it now. My magnum opus…"

We let him mutter on. My heart was fluttering with misplaced adrenaline, nerves from doing nothing.

Nothing. Something. Maybe something, sometime down the line.



The next day, we headed to the outskirts of the city, instead of to the docks. Michiru left most of his entourage behind, taking only a single carriage to carry him and his son.

"I thought we were departing today?" I asked as casually as I could.

Michiru brought what looked to be an entire flower shop and attempted to stuff it into the carriage. "Oh yes," he said, nervous. "Well. There's someone that I wanted to visit first!"

The place we ended up going was not quite what I expected. It was a house by the sea, sure, but it wasn't anywhere near the kinds of places we'd been staying on the trip. Not run down, exactly, but lived in. The type of house that normal people lived in, not princes.

"It's been so long, Amayo!" Michiru greeted enthusiastically, carrying an armload of flowers towards the house. "My honey! I missed you!"

The woman stared at him, mostly just confused. Then she saw Hikaru.

"Hikaru?" She asked, stepping past the prince like he wasn't even there. Like he didn't matter. "Hikaru is that you? You've grown so much."

She ducked down to embrace him.

I tried not to focus too hard on the awkward family reunion that was apparently going on. Security. That's what we were here for. Watching for threats. There could be all kinds of threats happening around us. It was very important to be on the lookout for them. Very important. It should take all my attention.

But the conversation was really hard to miss.

"-That's why we'd like you to come home, Amayo!" Michiru entreated. "I'm lonely and Hikaru is too!"

"I told you," Amayo said shortly. "I don't want to be with you anymore. If Hikaru is lonely, then he can come and live with me." She seemed compassionate enough to her son but had no patience to spare for Michiru.

"Why do you hate me so much?" Michiru asked plaintively. "I gave you whatever you wanted. Wasn't it enough?"

Amayo sighed, like someone who had tried to explain the same point a hundred times. "You missed the most important thing."

The prince's face lit up. "I did? Tell me and you can have it," he promised. "What was it? A mansion? A summer house? I'll give you any jewel, treasure or the Country of the Moon itself."

"No!" Amayo said furiously. "You haven't changed at all! You have no idea what's really important."

I winced and shared an awkward 'why do we have to be listening to this' look with Shikamaru. We were on exactly the same wavelength here.

Michiru trudged back to the carriage an absolute picture of dejection. Hikaru looked equally heartbroken, but for slightly different reasons. He kept looking back at the house –at his mother.

Poor kid.

"Hey, Hikaru," I said, because I might not be able to actually help but I could at least be distracting. "Want to practice your shooting?"



Merry Christmas and / or Happy Holidays, everyone!