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: Happy New Year!

Also – there's a bunch of you I really want to reply to, but FFNet is doing something weird with reviews at the moment and they're not showing up for several days. Sorry about that – I will try to get back to you, but if I don't… blame the site. :)

.


.

Chapter 113

.


.

Hey young blood
Doesn't it feel like our time is running out?

~ Phoenix; Fall Out Boy

.


.

The ship that took us to the Land of the Moon was larger and flasher than the one we'd taken to the Land of Snow, but it was still a boat, so I was glad when we were able to disembark.

"Home sweet home," Michiru called joyfully, spreading his arms like he could hug the whole country. He was starting to look tired now, like a man who had been on a very long trip who was so close to being home, however enjoyable that trip had been.

We left the majority of the group and items – of which there were a lot because the prince had spent his entire trip just buying stuff – to be unloaded at the docks and only took a single carriage to transport the prince back to the palace.

But as we drew up the road towards the palace, I gestured my team into a firmer formation around the carriage.

"Sense something?" Kiba asked, taking point.

"Not yet," I said with a slight frown. "But if anything is going to happen, this will be the last chance."

We'd been alert the whole trip, waiting for whatever shoe to fall and nothing had. Making it back home would either mean he was safe or we would find out what was really going on.

Best case scenario, nothing was going on. We'd deliver Michiru home, mission complete, turn around and go home. Worst case scenario… well. There were a lot of different worst case scenarios, actually.

There were guards on the gates to the grounds and the driver hailed them to admit us. They conferred for a moment, and I sensed a runner get sent off towards the castle before the gates swung open.

Not unusual, I thought because there were plenty of legitimate reasons to alert people to returning royalty. A welcoming committee would need to be assembled, food readied, preparations made to retrieve things from the docks – perfectly normal concerns.

But I still made sure I knew exactly where the guards along the fence were.

I hesitated for a beat, then swung up onto the step beside the carriage door. "Are there an unusual number of guards around?" I asked through the window, quietly. I had nothing to compare it to, since I didn't know Land of the Moon, but it wasn't a small number.

Michiru blinked owlishly at me, then looked around in confusion. "Oh, I suppose," he said which wasn't exactly a solid confirmation. "I hope nothing has gone wrong."

I made a vague hum and stepped down off the moving carriage, moving back out to a wide guard position. I had no doubt the rest of the team had heard that exchange and they could draw their own conclusions.

The grounds were pretty and well maintained – a driveway that circled up to the palace, a large water feature on prominent display – and the carriage drew to a halt in front of the oversized front doors. Above the doors there was an open balcony with stairs on either side.

The passengers got out of the carriage. "Eh? No one has come to welcome us?" Michiru asked, sounding disappointed.

There was the sound of echoed footsteps, the rhythmic sounds of a score of people marching in unison, and a squad of guards appeared on the second floor, marching down the stairs to surround us. There were maybe forty of them, armed with shields and spears or swords.

We moved into a tight formation around Michiru and Hikaru.

"Hold," I said, quietly, trusting my team to pick up on it. I wanted to know what was going on. These were only civilians and we weren't in trouble yet. We could afford to wait and see how this played out.

"Shabadaba?" Michiru called, looking upwards as a man appeared on the balcony above us and doing an excellent job of ignoring the armed soldiers around us. "What's going on, is something wrong?" There was definite unease in his voice, but he was trying to seem confident.

Irrelevantly, I wondered who on earth named their child Shabadaba. Shaba daba doo? You were honestly just asking for them to turn into a cartoon villain at that point, weren't you?

"Michiru-dono," Shabadaba said with a barely concealed sneer. "I see you've returned from your trip. And Hikaru-dono, too."

And that didn't sound intentionally ominous at all, I thought dryly. Like someone had arranged for him not to return, perhaps?

Michiru put a hand on his sons shoulder and pulled him close. "Yes, of course," he said with fake cheer, eyes moving back and forth across the man above us. "Where's Papa?" he asked with the same determined pep. "Is he not here?"

"The King," Shabadaba said, "is dead. I am now the ruler of this country. So that makes you… quite unnecessary."

The soldiers around us tensed, hands tightening around weapons, leather creaking and metal clanking.

"Kill them," Shabadaba ordered.

The soldiers didn't move.

Not that they didn't want to, of course. But they'd launched an ambush on a group that included two Nara. It was doomed to fail right from the very start. And that balcony did cast a very nice shadow down on us.

"Drop your weapons," I ordered. I opened my hands and they did. On the other side of the group, Shikamaru mirrored me which was the real purpose of the statement. The guards didn't have a choice.

Still, the looks on their faces as they followed my orders. Like the words had power.

Sai leapt up, springing from the top of the carriage to the ledge of the balcony in one easy move. His sword was half drawn as he crouched.

"Taicho," he said diffidently. "Shall I take care of this?"

Shabadaba stepped back, the look on his face that of a man who had just made a very large mistake. But not one who regretted it. "Ishidate!" he shouted.

And-

"Three ninja incoming!" I said loudly, chakra sense picking up on the signals inside of the palace. They were moving smoothly but not with a great deal of urgency, like someone whose employer was in trouble. Maybe they didn't particularly like him, either.

Shikamaru and I exchanged looks and pulled out ninja wire, tying it to shuriken to loop it around the guards in an easy restraint. It wasn't particularly binding, but it was fast and we wanted them out of the way if there was going to be real fighting.

"I thought you said you had it handled," the incoming ninja drawled, stepping out onto the balcony. He had a shock of orange spikey hair and a white vest over a blue outfit. The other two ninja with him – a girl and an even larger man – were dressed the same.

Shabadaba bristled, right down to his ridiculous moustache. "Just kill them," he said in irritation.

Ishidate – that was probably his name – sighed theatrically.

Then moved. Fast.

Sai bent backwards and just barely avoided the first swipe. Ishidate's fist passed over his chest, close enough to ruffle his clothes. Then it stopped and reversed, a hammer blow coming down at an angle to crack his ribcage.

Sai retreated in a burst of body flicker, vanishing as the stone he had been standing on exploded into fragments and dust, returning to the ground.

The other two ninja were stayed where they were, hanging back, but that clearly didn't count them out of the game.

I considered our options. Not just if we could manage this fight, but if we should. Obviously we needed to keep Michiru safe from them – that was our mission – but it might not have been our best option to engage these with him right here. We had no idea what their skills were and it would take so little for them to get past us to kill him.

"Watch the damage!" Shabadaba said sharply. "I can't have you wrecking my palace as soon as I take over. These things cost money to repair, you know."

"We'd all prefer things were settled without damage," I offered, projecting my voice up to them. It was a bit of a long shot, but I would much prefer it if we didn't get into serious fights while trying to protect people. "Surely this can be settled diplomatically like civilized people?"

Apparently not.

The girl rolled her eyes. "I'll take care of it," she said, and flicked a kunai down towards us.

Kiba batted it away from the carriage but the smoke bomb attached to it exploded in mid-air and he froze. "Poison!" he shouted. "Don't breathe it in!"

And that decided me. None of this fight was in our favour and none of us had any particular skill at dealing with poison. "Retreat," I ordered. "Get back in the carriage." I gave Michiru a shove towards the vehicle and he scrambled for the door.

The rest of us scattered as far from the smoke as we could without getting too far from our client. It was hard to tell if it made any difference without knowing what kind of poison it was. Not breathing was going to be hard if we had to fight. Oxygen was a necessity.

The carriage started to move, the horses well trained even though they were starting to dance with fear. But the gates ahead were closed and the guards posted around the fence line were drawing inwards, pulled by the fighting.

"Sai, take out the guards," I ordered. "Kiba, get the gates."

Which left Shika and I to stall these ninja so we could get away. Yay.

I flicked a kunai with exploding tag up at the balcony – more at Shabadaba than the ninja, because two could play at this game. Ishidate knocked it out of the way, back into the air, but seemed more irritated than worried.

"Well, Karenbana," he said and crossed his arms. "Are you going to take care of it? Or shall I do it?"

Karenbana glowered at him. I caught the brief flicker of light on metal as she palmed a kunai, then she vanished in a burst of speed.

I twisted, tracking her by chakra not sight, to avoid the attack.

Her kunai scored a line of fire across my cheek.

Wha- I dodged that!

But there was no time to voice the thought. She was too fast. I couldn't react in time, even if I could sense her changes in direction. Had no time to start a jutsu to catch her when I was so busy trying to dodge.

Then Shikamaru's shadow raced around me, encircling me and providing a barrier of safety she couldn't cross without being caught.

I staggered, and ran a thumb across the cut on my cheek. "The poison," I said, more a warning to Shika that because I needed to realise it out loud. Also because I needed to stall for a moment – my hand dropped to my vest, flicking open one of the front pockets. "It dulls our reactions. Senses as well."

Karenbana smirked but didn't reply.

Behind us, Kiba was spinning into a Tunneling Fang, bursting the gates open to let the carriage out. And I could feel the fluttering of Sai's ink animals subduing the guards.

Time to leave.

"Shadow Stitching Jutsu!" I called, dropping four small finger sized scrolls down onto the tendrils. They snapped out, extending rapidly, not at Karenbana but past her. Two reached back to the walls of the castle and two only slammed into the ground only steps in front of us.

"Sealing Style; Four Corner Barrier Seal!"

Blue light snapped into reality, translucent walls filling the air between the seals. The two rear seals were far back enough that it curved up over the balcony, locking all three of our enemies inside. Usually, you set barriers up to keep things out but they worked just as well to keep things in – all you had to change was to put the seal tags outside of it.

Karenbana slammed into it, just a few seconds too slow to escape. Her face was filled with rage.

My one seal barrier had failed utterly in the Chunin Exams. I'd had to take a step back, go back to the original barriers and start again. This wasn't even one of my creations – but I was now really glad I had brought it along.

Shikamaru grabbed my arm. "How long will it hold?" he asked as we spun and chased after the carriage.

"Hour, maybe," I said. "Unless they have some way to break it."

Which was a possibility you could never discount. I was hoping it would hold, that it would give us time to get away and get our client somewhere safe – give us time to regroup and shake off the effects of this poison.

I kept an eye out behind us as we caught up to the carriage careening back along the streets. Nothing came chasing after us and nothing attacked, so they hadn't broken it yet.

The horses were slowing down, unable to keep the pace, breathing heavily and sweating. It was going to be faster to leave them behind soon, and travel on foot, but that raised the question of where we were going to go. Getting away was one thing. Now we had to work out what we were doing next.

At the front of the group Akamaru barked. "Yeah, guards ahead," Kiba agreed, translating for us. "Not ninja, though."

The guards were dressed the same as those from the palace, but they weren't barring the road. On the contrary, they were waving, like they were trying to hail us down. "Michiru-dono! Michiru-dono, this way, quickly!"

"Captain Korega?" Michiru said, unwinding just a little and looking out the window. He kept Hikaru pressed tightly to his chest. He was pale and shaking but that was almost to be expected after what had just happened.

"You know him?" I asked, hopping up onto the footwell. That wasn't exactly a vote of confidence, given the whole coup situation but… it would be good if there were locals on our side.

"Yes, he was the captain of the guard," Michiru said. "Do you think…?"

I bit my lip and looked over my shoulder. "Go with them," I decided. But I exchanged a look with my team that said 'keep an eye open, just in case' as well.

The carriage turned down a side road, winding away until it was off the main streets. There were more guards there, waiting, but they had horses with them.

"We thought you were dead," Korega said, sounding relieved. "And Hikaru-dono, too. It wasn't until we received word from the docks that you had returned that we began to hope. And even then we thought we would be too late… But this isn't the place to talk. My men will take care of the carriage and dissuade the pursuers."

He helped the prince out of the carriage and onto one of the horses but hesitated when he turned to us.

"These are my bodyguards," Michiru said. "Shinobi from the Village Hidden in the Leaves. You are staying, aren't you?" he asked anxiously.

"We are," I said, reassuringly. "Our mission was to return you home safely. That hasn't happened yet."

"That is fortunate," Korega said, though he did look a little dubious after examining us. "There are rumors that Shabadaba has hired ninja himself."

"It's true," Shikamaru said dryly.

Korega and his guards lead us all out of the city, into the forested area that made up the outer edge of the islands crescent shape. We did our best to obscure the trail we left, but if Shabadaba's ninja had any forest skills they would probably be able to find us.

As we fled I ran a diagnostic jutsu on myself, trying to find the poison. But poisons were not my specialty – they were nothing so obvious as bleeding wounds or broken bones – and there was little I could do. It might have broken down inside me already, if it were such a fast acting thing.

There was a surprise waiting for us, when we reached the little cave that they were using as a campsite. I sent Shikamaru and Kiba off to quickly set up perimeters and to scout around and Sai hovered quietly behind me.

"Papa," Michiru called, dashing inside to the figure that was laid out on a futon. "What's wrong, papa?"

So the king wasn't dead, after all. That… might be helpful.

"The king is very ill," Korega said quietly, as the form on the futon failed to stir at all, no matter how much Michiru begged. Hikaru hovered like a quite shadow, hand curled in his father's shirt.

"What happened?" I asked. I could fill in the general picture, of course, but this was someone who likely knew the details.

Korega nodded, like he understood what I was asking. "The King and the First Minister have always had their differences," he said. "But it became much more apparently recently. The King began to implement a new social security program – helping those in this country who do not have the means to help themselves. It was very taxing on the treasury and many of the wealthy did not support it. The King thought that they would come around, once it became clear that the program was working and that the country was not suffering for it. But it seemed that they only cared about the bottom line."

Ah, money. So many things came back to the money.

"We advised the King to be careful but it seems even we weren't prepared for how far Shabadaba was willing to go," Korega admitted. "He staged a coup and though we got away, the King is… well. I don't know how to describe it. You should see for yourself."

He waved me inside. I left Sai standing sentry and ducked into the cave, my eyesight adjusting to the shadowy darkness.

"He won't wake up," Michiru said to me tearfully. "Can you help him?"

"I can try," I offered and ran through a diagnostic jutsu.

And then paused. The data came back, jumbled and vague.

I reached out and turned the covers down. Michiru gasped in horror. The Kings arm and chest had been turned to stone. I touched it, gingerly. It was crumbly and rough but hard. Stone.

"We don't know how it happened," Korega said. "Or how to fix it. We think one of the Ministers ninja must have done it but…" he trailed off.

"I haven't seen anything like it before, either," I admitted, running through a diagnostic jutsu again. It still came back a jumble of useless information but I thought, maybe, I sensed natural energy in the stone portions of his limbs.

Natural energy does turn things to stone.

That gave me exactly zero idea of how to fix anything, though. And the fact was, the petrification was causing a lot of other problems with his body and systems. One lung was partially petrified, and there were veins and arteries and nerves…

I rocked back on my heels, painfully aware that he didn't have long to survive. Maybe Tsunade could have saved him, right now, but I was no Tsunade.

"I can wake him up," I offered, tentatively. "But, I'm sorry, I can't heal him."

Korega closed his eyes, but the admission didn't seem to surprise him any. It was grief, quickly wrangled and barred behind gates of duty.

"Wake him up," he agreed. "Let him see that his son has returned."

I changed the humming of chakra in my hands, coaxing the old man to consciousness. His breathing was heavy and labored, but his eyes slowly cracked open and there was intelligence there.

"Grandfather?" Hikaru asked, timidly. "Grandfather, are you hurt?"

The old man drew in a rattling breath. "Ah, Hikaru. How nice to see you again." He smiled and it seemed real, even if it was tight with pain. "And Michiru. You've both come home."

"Yes, papa," Michiru said, clutching his hand. "We're here now."

"And how," the King started, then paused for breath. He looked up, past his son to the captain of the guard. "And how is the country doing?"

Korega shook his head. "The coup goes on," he admitted.

The King sighed, a long mournful thing. "I see," he said. And clearly he did – he understood exactly what was going on here. "Tell me, Michiru. What do you think of this country of ours?"

Michiru blinked in confusion, but gamely tried to answer. "It's a wonderful place," he said. "Full of value and beauty."

"Yes," the King agreed tiredly. "But so much more than that too. I dreamed of building a country that was full of smiles and happiness, of hope and dreams. But recently I looked down on my people and found that those things were missing. We didn't become happy with only prosperity. I tried to fix that but it was too late."

He fell silent, nearly gasping for air.

Michiru looked bewildered. "Papa, I don't understand."

"It will be your job now," the King said. "Michiru. I am sorry to leave this to you. I know you are not ready. But won't you please make this country a place where people can be happy?"

His eyes were fluttering shut.

"What? Papa!" Michiru shook him, gently at first then harder. "Papa, wake up." He turned to me. "Please, wake him up again!" There were tears gathering in his eyes and starting to stream down his face.

I sat back. "I'm sorry," I said quietly.

Hikaru started to cry, loud and messy. "Grandfather!"

I slipped backwards, out of the cave and unnoticeably as I could. My team was waiting outside, but I had no doubt they'd heard. "The King is dead," I said. "Long live the King."

Politically, our mission was even more important now. Our client was the King. We couldn't afford for him to get hurt.

"Do you have more barrier seals?" Shikamaru asked. "We can surround the camp."

"Only one set," I admitted. "And they wouldn't last long enough." I stared out into the darkness and tried to narrow down our options. There was a lot hanging in the balance and I wished I wasn't the leader here – I didn't want to be the one making the call. "How do you feel about fighting those ninja?"

"The poison is going to be a problem," Kiba said bluntly. "We barely got any of it and it still made you stumble. If we breathe more of it, we're done for."

"We don't know what the others can do, either," Shikamaru pointed out. "Or how strong they are. It's too risky to engage them."

"We can't expect to escape them," Sai pointed out, the voice of pessimism. "Or evade them for long. The island is not large and they will expect us to flee."

I grimaced, because they all had good points. We could call for backup but we'd still have to hold out until backup reached us. We could run but we'd have to get away.

"We have a boat off shore," Korega said, ducking out of the cave. His voice was quiet. "We couldn't move the King but…" he swallowed. "If we get Michiru-dono and Hikaru-dono to it then we can take them to safety. There are allied countries we can ask for help."

I nodded slowly but- "They'll expect us to flee," I echoed Sai's words. I couldn't see any way around having to fight again. Which meant we were going to need a way to deal with the poison.

I tapped my fingers together.

"Got an idea?" Shikamaru asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"For the poison," I elaborated. "I think I have some medical masks. They won't keep the poison out, of course. But I could put a seal on them…"

"To filter it?" He asked.

"No." I frowned. "I'm not sure anyway. And there's not really a lot of time to experiment. But if I just make a storage seal and put a whole lot of air in it…" I wave a hand around, gesturing at all the very clean, very nice non-poison air we happened to be breathing. "And then just let it release constantly while we were wearing it…"

A primitive hack job of an oxygen tank, basically. But it would keep us breathing fresh air, which would be the thing that mattered.

No one seemed to have an objection to that.

"Right," I went on. "That's the poison issue, then. But Sai is right –they'll be expecting us to leave. They're probably watching the beaches. Can your ink creations hold a transformation? Can they look like people?"

If Naruto had been here, shadow clones would have been perfect. Otherwise we'd have to use transformation ourselves – and have an obvious lack of ninja – or illusion clones which were insubstantial.

Sai blinked. "I can make Ink Clones, yes," he confirmed.

"Good," I said. "We'll make a diversion then. Take a couple of ink clones down to the beach and stall the ninja when they attack us. Korega will wait with the real Michiru behind the barrier seals and then make a run for the boat once the fighting has started."

.


.

The sun had set and left only the light of the moon to guide us by the time we were ready – by the time I'd made our masks, by the time we'd relocated closer to the shore line and found somewhere safe to put up the barrier seals to keep Michiru and Hikaru protected. They had to be close enough to know when it was safe to go, yet far enough away to remain undetected.

Then we stepped out onto the beach. All the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, as the feeling of walking into a trap intensified.

It wasn't the closest stretch to the palace. We weren't trying to look obvious. But if they were paying attention, it certainly wouldn't take them long to get here.

I fixed my mask over my mouth. The air was like a steady wind blowing past, slightly chilled. Half an hour worth, maybe, if I'd calculated it right. Shikamaru and Sai were wearing theirs but Kiba had his slung around his neck.

"I can't smell anything," he said. "I'll put it on when I have to."

"Your call," I said. He knew himself best. I'd just given everyone the best tools I could.

We moved slowly across the sand, the ink clones mimicking the heavy slow tread of the prince- of the king.

We almost made it to the water's edge, to the small rowboats waiting for us, when I sensed them coming. I gave the signal.

Sai drew an ink bird and took to the sky, getting distance for an extra layer of safety. Kiba snapped his mask into place, and Akamaru transformed into his Human Beast Clone form and was given one too. I dropped my resistance seals and enhanced my muscles with chakra.

We were as prepared as we were going to get when a barrage of kunai flew out of the trees towards us.

"Earth Style; Earth Wall!" I barked, slapping my hands down on the sand. A dune of sand surged higher, catching the kunai, though to call it a 'wall' would have been charitable.

Sand scattered in the wind as the kunai exploded and there were plumes of worryingly coloured smoke. It wasn't close to us but I was acutely conscious of the fact that we were dealing with unknown poison.

"You are going to pay," Karenbana hissed, voice low and furious as the three of them landed on the beach. "I'm going to enjoy killing you."

There were times for attempting to de-escalate situations. And there were times when those times were passed. "You wanna come down here and say that to my face?" I asked. "Or are you too scared?"

Her face contorted in anger and she vanished in a swirl of flower petals that twisted like a tornado.

Unimpressed, I shattered the genjutsu with a twist of my chakra.

And then Kiba and Akamaru slammed into the group, throwing swathes of sand into the air with their Fang Over Fang.

I darted forward, using the sand as cover to launch my own attack. The sound of my lightsaber cut through the air, giving the barest of warnings before I could stab Ishidate in the back. He twisted out of the way, retaliating with surprising speed. But I had speed now, too. And light. And shadows.

The third ninja – Kongo – was equally as fast but even stronger. He caught me with a blow that sent me tumbling across the sand. But then I was back on my feet and back in the fight. It was a fast paced whirlwind of techniques – between Shikamaru and I using launching shadows and Kiba's Inuzuka taijutsu and Sai providing tactical support from above – we weren't winning but we were definitely stalling.

And then Kiba stumbled. Or not Kiba; Akamaru. He turned back, whimpering, and staggered sideways on the sand.

"Akamaru?" Kiba yelped, alarmed. He turned.

"Did you think," Karenbana mocked. "That just because you didn't breathe it, you were safe?"

I understood our mistake all at once. Contact poison. Fuck. Akamaru was the smallest of us, had succumbed first, and it was a warning that we needed to get out. Now.

Kongo leapt for Kiba. I felt the world slow as I saw it – the killing blow that would land. Kiba wouldn't, couldn't, react in time. I couldn't react in time.

And then Shikamaru's shadow was there, punching through his shoulder and pinning him in the air, holding him aloft like a particularly ugly prize.

Shikamaru panted and sunk to one knee, one hand outstretched to direct his jutsu.

Ishidate grabbed it. The black glove on his hand flared to life suddenly, ugly crimson light filling the air. It felt like it dragged, like it had a gravity all of its own, pulling chakra into it.

There was a sound, almost like the cracking of ice.

Grey stone spread out from under his hand. It climbed down, covering wrist and hand, and up past the elbow.

"Shikamaru!" I yelled, eyes going wide with horror. Karenbana's kunai lodged itself in my back, totally irrelevant compared to what I could see.

Ishidate twisted his hand.

And Shikamaru's

arm

shattered.