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: Luckily this was nearly finished, because Pokemon Sun and Moon just came out. Guess what I'll be playing 24/7 for the next few weeks. XD.

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Chapter 122

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Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. ~ Robert Frost

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Coming back to Konoha was a little bit like stepping into a heavy metal concert after a month of listening to whale song.

It was loud. It jangled on my senses with a crush of overwhelming information, so many discordant notes that there was no way to make sense of them.

The Fire Temple had been a single entity, a conglomerate of serenity and balance and quiet, centered strength. Konoha was nothing like that. Konoha was not an entity. Konoha was a handful of places where chakra bleed into the ground, a hundred actions repeated until they left a mark, a thousand people marching out of time.

Here, at the gates, the Chunin on guard, leaving entrenched pillars of boredom-focus-wariness. The shinobi and civilians waiting to enter, breathing chakra into the air, tinging the spot with anticipation-nervousness-exhaustion. The walls themselves, laid with seals and traps and echoing chakra-enhanced footsteps. The ghosts of body flickers, hanging in the air, slowly fading.

"Tadaima," I murmured, too quietly to be heard and brushed my hands against the gate. There was no spirit of Konoha, no kami, no god, not yet. But there might be, one day. And until then… until then, there might be smaller spirits, places within the whole that had enough strength and cohesion to become something.

Home was… quieter.

It felt like us. Like mum and dad and Shikamaru and me, our chakra leeching into the space over years and years of living there, until the house was soaked in it.

Comforting. Familiar. A little oppressive.

"I'm home," I said, even though they'd looked up the instant that the front door had opened.

"Shikako!" Shikamaru said, moving towards me even as I shucked my shoes and dropped my backpack. "You're back already?"

I laughed and hugged him. "What, you didn't miss me?" I teased. "It's been a month."

"I thought we'd have to pry you out of the temple library," he grumbled, leaning back a bit. "Asuma-sensei said he didn't even see you after you got there."

"That's because he was busy drinking with his old buddies," I shot back. "No fault of mine."

Mum levered herself up off of the sofa and I hugged her too, a little more awkwardly. "Wow," I said, eyeing her stomach. It certainly looked… more than it had when I'd gone. Obvious. Very obvious.

She huffed a laugh. "Only about six weeks to go," she said, patting it lightly.

"So, how was it?" he asked. "Anything happen?"

I collapsed onto the sofa with a sigh, waiting till they settled back in. "Good," I said, very eloquently and descriptively. "It was quiet. Peaceful. We did a lot of meditation. I didn't get through nearly as many books as I wanted, but I have so many ideas! I'll have to go back at some point!"

"Sounds super fun," Shikamaru deadpanned.

I kicked a leg in his general direction and utterly failed to connect. "Shut up. I mean, some point in the distant future. It was pretty boring," I admitted after a second, feeling a little disloyal for it. "They were nice and all but it was… it wasn't the same." I sat up, straightening. "So, how're things here?"

Shikamaru hesitated a fraction of a second. "Asuma-sensei thinks I'm combat ready again," he said. "He thinks we could get Team 10 back together for a few missions."

"Oh yeah?" I asked, trying to conceal my surprise. I wasn't even sure what I was surprised about – that Shikamaru was ready, or that he wasn't already ready. Had I been assuming that he was already taking missions again? I hadn't even really thought much about it. "That's good, right?"

Shikamaru huffed. "I guess." He shrugged. "I just don't want it to go wrong."

Which was… a fair point, considering the last time a mission had gone wrong on him he'd lost an arm.

I bit back my initial response of no one wants missions to go wrong and sometimes you have to take that risk as being things he would already know and unhelpful. "Well, your team would be with you," I settled on. "Between Ino and Chouji you probably won't have much to worry about."

I didn't know whether that helped, but conversation turned to less intense catching up, so that was some kind of success.

I spent a quiet afternoon at home, working on drafting some papers for the clan library. Because I'd been on a 'training trip' I was technically expected to be able to show some form of results from that. My sensory skills probably counted, but they were harder to demonstrate, and my seals would still need a fair amount of testing and refining to complete.

Practices of the monks of the Fire Temple and Techniques for the Sealing of Evil; on the Ritual Ninjutsu of the Fire Temple weren't exactly full of groundbreaking stuff – despite the name, it was more an overview than actual techniques – but it was information that wasn't present in the clan library right now. I knew because I'd looked before I'd gone.

On the Chakra and the Natural Energy of the World was harder because I was a lot more tentative in the information that I had. I wasn't even entirely sure that I wanted to put this information out there. At the same time, I really wanted to organize my thoughts and every time I tried I just kept getting more and more tangled.

Which was why, when dad came home he found me staring very intently at a candle flame, occasionally moving my hand in front of the light.

"Meditating?" he asked, after we'd completed the 'welcome home' song and dance.

"Sort of," I said, gesturing at the scattered papers and pens around me. "Uh okay. So. Nature of chakra. Shadow Possession Jutsu works mostly through spiritual connection, right? That's how we get people to mimic us. But it occurred to me to wonder… what about when it's not people?"

Dad looked… mostly blank, actually.

I forged onwards. "We use natural forming shadows to extend our reach all the time. We interact with them; our chakra fills their limits and it adds to our jutsu. We gain something from them. Mostly we just assume that's the physical side of the technique – except we never treat shadows as 'just' a physical thing. They're a reflection, a mirror; they're spiritual."

"There wouldn't be…anything to reflect," Dad said slowly. "If there are no people involved."

"Wouldn't there?" I asked, though rhetorically. "I wonder… but, anyway, even if it's not a direct spiritual influence, there's so much more that could be going on. Would the shadow of a tree be different to the shadow of a rock? What about shadow cast by fire to that cast by lightning?"

"That's very philosophical," he replied.

"No, practical," I insisted, moving my hands animatedly like I could produce proof out of thin air. "If there is a difference, that affects the jutsu. What if I could use shadow that has the resilience of stone? Could I imbue the technique with the… the destructive power of lightning? If there is a connection, if there is an impact, or a way to combine spiritual and elemental affinities- "

I cut myself off.

We stared at the candle together for a very long moment, the silence stretching.

"I have no idea," Dad said, honestly.

"Yeah," I agreed, unsurprised but maybe a little disappointed. I obviously had never heard about anything like this before, but that didn't mean that no one in our clan history had ever thought of it or tried. "It was just a thought, anyway."

"It's worth looking into, regardless," Dad said, squeezing my shoulder. "Philosophical or practical."

"I'll add it to my list," I said wryly.

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After dinner, dad took Shikamaru and I out onto the veranda and attempted to hammer some aspect of village law into our heads.

It wasn't that either of us were bad students as much as… totally unenthusiastic about it. That hadn't changed, despite our new responsibilities and promotions. I might have even been less enthusiastic about it now, when I had so much else to do, stuff that always seemed to be higher priority. And while I found the theoretical aspects of clan responsibilities interesting enough, I had no real desire to be involved in the implementation of them. I didn't want to have to lead, I didn't want to have to come up with new systems for whatever we were being asked to do, or to streamline process or try increase medicine production.

Shikamaru could have it all.

"Can't I just finish this?" I asked, distractedly scribbling in a notebook. "Shikamaru is the only one who really needs to know it, anyway."

"No," Shikamaru answered. "If I have to, you have to."

Dad looked pretty unamused and not in the way that said he was secretly amused by our bickering. "You might have to run a clan one day, so yes, you have to," he said. "Tough it out."

I sighed and acquiesced.

I didn't get any happier when I realized that the topic had 'War Operations' stamped all over. (Literally, it had a formal header from the tower listing the department.) They were slowly but surely refining legislation, changing clan responsibilities and restructuring protocols and emergency response drills. It added to the feeling that Konoha was very seriously preparing – that our general state of readiness wasn't going to be good enough for what was coming next.

And it was really dense and required a lot of unpacking to see what they actually wanted to change.

So, I was incredibly relieved when I felt Sasuke's chakra at the door. "Oh! Sasuke's here. I'll get that," I said, and bounced away before they could stop me.

"Hey," Sasuke said, only blinking when I yanked the door open before he had a chance to knock. "Heard you were back."

"Just today," I said, letting him in. "What's up?"

Sasuke stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Kakashi-sensei is in the hospital," he said. "Chakra exhaustion."

"Again?" I asked, rhetorically. I headed back outside, Sasuke falling into step beside me with easy familiarity. Shikamaru would probably appreciate the excuse to take a break as well, and dad might even let us get away with it if Sasuke stuck around. "I'll go visit him tomorrow."

Sasuke… hesitated, shoulder twitching in another aborted shrug. "It's bad," he said. "Hokage-sama says it's bad."

I frowned, just a little uneasy. "But," I started, then stopped. "But I thought he wasn't taking missions?"

"No," Sasuke agreed. "I mean, I don't know but… I don't know what happened. Shikako… I think it's bad."

And he looked worried in the way that Sasuke did where it was mostly exasperation and apprehension. I reached out and touched his arm. "Hey," I said softly. "We'll go visit him tomorrow and sort it out. I'm sure it's just sensei being dumb, okay?"

Sasuke huffed and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's a thing," he agreed. But he looked calmer, more centered.

"Nice of you to stop by, Sasuke," dad said dryly. "I'm sure Shikako appreciates your timing."

I smiled, a little sheepishly, because yeah dad knew what the game was.

"Sorry to interrupt," Sasuke said, awkwardly looking off to the side.

Dad waved it off, and then seemed to regard him with contemplative look, as if he were considering something. "You might as well stay," he said at length. "You'll probably need to know this at some point, too. And maybe you can make these two pay attention."

I sank back down with a sigh. "I'm paying attention," I grumbled. "War bad. Clan work hard. Need many medicine."

Dad covered his face with his hand. "Very… succinct," he managed to say.

Sasuke took a seat next to me, cautiously. "What are you looking at?" he asked, eying the papers scattered between us.

"Resource management in event of an official declaration of war," Shikamaru said dryly. "What a drag."

"Okay, from the start-" Dad said, and there we went again.

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The hospital was as the hospital always was and Kakashi-sensei looked no worse than the myriad of other times I'd visited him there.

"I thought the point of taking the War Op. role was that you wouldn't end up here as often," I said dryly.

"I overdid it a little," Sensei said, shrugging it off, "you know how it goes."

The easy admittance bothered me, somehow.

"Sasuke was awfully worried about you," I said, idly, and watched as his shoulders hunched incrementally forward.

"Ah," he said, focusing very intently on anything in the room that wasn't me.

I frowned. I hadn't been worried, but now, I kinda was. I stole the treatment notes off the end of his bed but they only said what I expected them to. Chakra exhaustion.

"The fire temple was very good," I offered, changing tact. Circling like a shark looking for an opening. "Very quiet. Lots of meditating. Lots of reading. You'd probably like it."

Some of the tension faded. "Sounds like it," he agreed. "I hope you did some training while you were there, too."

"After all the effort you went to to send me there?" I parried. "Of course. And I'm looking forward to doing more now that I'm back, too." I gave him an angelic look that was full of hints.

Under the mask, his lips twisted up, but he glanced away. "I can call in some more favours," he said, voice exactly as light and teasing as it should have been. "Gai promised to help you with your terrible grappling. And Tenzou knows more than a few earth jutsu. He'll say 'no' at first but he's weak to guilt trips."

And that was… code fucking red. Actually, there had been a lot of code reds, and the more I looked back the more of them I was starting to realise I had missed.

"I told you it was bad," Sasuke grumbled from the doorway. His hands were in his pockets and he was scowling.

We hadn't agreed on a meeting time, or said when we were going to be here, but the fact that Sasuke and I turned up within minutes of each other anyway really did say something about us. And it meant that if Sasuke was worried, I should be too.

I looked at Kakashi. In a lot of ways... I didn't want to ask. I didn't want to know. I was happy to let Kakashi be Kakashi, to deal with his own issues how he wanted. But Sasuke was worried. I had to at least address that.

"What happened?" I asked, forgoing casual to just directly ask.

Kakashi-sensei looked uncomfortably. "I just overdid it a little," he repeated. "It's nothing for you kids to get so worried about." His eye curved into a smile.

Kakashi was admitting to overdoing something. He'd said that twice. Did anyone in our team ever admit to weakness, unless it was to cover another, even bigger, weakness?

"Sensei," I said, frowning. I tried to think of things he could be covering for. "We've been on missions with you. We've seen the types of jutsu it takes to exhaust you. You wouldn't be throwing those around in Konoha without a reason. Is something going on?"

Sasuke shifted uneasily, switching between his more casual concern and something that was more alert. Wary.

"No," Kakashi cleared his throat. "No, there's nothing like that." His hand twitched on the white sheets, fingers curling over.

"Just tell us," Sasuke said. There was something approximating an order in his tone. "We know something is going on. You know we'll find out eventually."

The room plunged into fraught silence. I closed my eyes, listened to the bustle of the hospital around us. Breathed calmly and sensed the medics moving around, the green calming sense of Tsunade nearby on her rounds, heading this way. The hospital was a bustle of overlapping chakra – bursts of healing jutsu, the steady pulse of monitoring seals, the bracing protection of its defenses – and the lingering tastes of so many repetitive actions – some of them tinged with fear and pain, but so many more of the steady determination of the medics.

"What was the surgery that Tsunade wanted you to have, sensei?" I asked quietly.

"Surgery?" Sasuke echoed, looking sharply between us.

Kakashi-sensei tensed, shoulders as tight as an overdrawn bowstring… and then snapped like one. "I can't," he said, voice low.

I moved forward, perching myself on the end of the bed next to his feet. It was the time for closeness now. The posturing was over. The defenses had been lowered. Mostly. For this topic. As much as they ever would be.

"The chakra exhaustion comes from the sharingan," Kakashi said, running a hand over his face in exhaustion. His fingers rested on the jut of his eye socket, underneath the aforementioned eye.

That wasn't anything we hadn't suspected already.

"You've had it for years," I pointed out. "It's not like…" not like he didn't know how to cope with it, how to make allowances for the drain, like that was any kind of new information.

"It's getting worse."

Sasuke and I looked at each other. I frowned.

"Worse, how?" Sasuke asked, uneasily. "Why?"

Sensei just stared at us, single eye drooping tiredly, ignoring the questions. "The Hokage wants to remove it."

I… absorbed that but I didn't… didn't process it, not exactly. Kakashi-sensei was the sharingan. He was Kakashi of the Sharingan. He was Kakashi the Copy Ninja. Kakashi of the Thousand Jutsu.

None of those things were accidental. They weren't… just chance. The legend had been built deliberately, purposefully, so that the sharingan was an incontrovertible part of his story. I'd seen Kakashi-sensei fight with the Sharingan, against Zabuza, in the Land of Snow, the way he'd used the eye to mirror his opponent – and the fact was, there were smarter, better ways to fight. You didn't fight water with water. You fought it with lightning. And he was perfectly capable of that.

But he didn't. Because he was of the Sharingan. He was one last part of his teammates legacy. He was using that gift to the best of his ability, maybe not in the way it had been intended, but in a way that was known.

He would never allow it to be removed.

"Re-implantation has a 40% chance of success," Tsunade said mildly, sliding open the door and entering the room like she'd just been waiting for a moment like that. Maybe she had been. She'd practically challenged me to ask about this, last time we'd been here. "And a 60% chance of improving your chronic chakra drain if successful."

Kakashi-sensei gave her the same bland look he had then. I wondered how many times they'd had this conversation. How low 40% sounded, when it was something more important than-

"What happens," I asked, very, very slowly, "if he doesn't have the surgery?"

"Medical information is confidential," Tsunade said primly and then stared, laser eyed at Kakashi-sensei. She wanted him to tell us. She wanted us to protest. To argue.

She thought we could change his mind. She'd tried to use me to make this point, weeks ago but I hadn't wanted… hadn't wanted to be involved.

"Hypothetically," I rephrased. "A medical case. A shinobi with an implanted sharingan refuses to have it removed. What happens."

"Hypothetically," she said dryly, "that shinobi has already been removed from several facets of active duty. Hypothetically that shinobi was given what should have been a low stress role in teaching a genin team. Hypothetically that shinobi shouldn't be using chakra. Hypothetically, that shinobi has another six months to a year before the rate of chakra drain exceeds production."

Sasuke sat down in the visitor's chair, very carefully and very controlled. His hands were fisted with white knuckles on his knees.

Kakashi-sensei looked out the window.

But, I thought, that's not what happened.

That wasn't what happened. Kakashi had been there, in the later parts of the story, and stronger than ever. He hadn't… hadn't faded away and died.

Had he had the surgery? Risked it and come out stronger – sharingan re-implanted and fixed?

If so, why was he hesitating now?

"Are you going to have the surgery?" I asked.

"No," Kakashi-sensei said, and it sounded defeated. "No. Please don't ask me to."

I didn't... I didn't necessarily agree. To face death for a legacy. To cling tightly to something that could be fixed, even if it was a sacrifice. To not fight for survival, for just one more day, just a little bit more.

It was stupid.

But he said please.

(In the back of my mind I knew... if it came down to it, to the crunch time, to the point of no return... I would argue it. I would poke and prod and convince, no matter how little he wanted it, because I wanted him to die even less. He'd hate it, maybe resent me for it, but I'd do it. But it wasn't crunch time yet.)

Had this even happened, in that other life, in that story? Or had there been another solution? Something that was supposed to have happened but hadn't?

There was so much I didn't know. All I knew was that Kakashi-sensei didn't die like this.

I closed my eyes. Considered the situation from all those angles. There had to be another option, then. Another choice. Another path. We just had to find it.

"I'm going to need your medical records," I decided, then looked at Sasuke. "And whatever your clan has on the sharingan. And we'll need… Sakura. We'll need Sakura to help us."

Maybe Sakura was the key. Tsunade's brilliant apprentice – maybe the reason it had never been mentioned was that she would have noticed this sooner, found a way to fix it.

"You think you can find something I didn't?" Tsunade asked, arching an eyebrow. "You'll need a miracle."

"Then we'll make one," Sasuke said, rising to his feet. He had a goal now and there was fire in his eyes. Sasuke always worked better with a goal. "I'll find what I can. And tell Sakura to meet you here."

Tsunade crossed her arms and huffed. "I'd be insulted," she said, "if I even thought there was a possibility that it was something so simple. I've been over this. The whole hospital has been over this for years. This is the best, the only, possible treatment. All he has to do is agree."

"You know he's not going to, right?" It was too bold and too blunt and too true. And yeah, maybe I didn't think it was right – to place a legacy above survival, above keeping going and trying more and living – but it wasn't my choice to make. "Maybe there's nothing. Maybe we're just wasting our time. But we're going to try. You don't lose anything by letting us try."

She sighed. "You'll have to authorize access, Kakashi," she said. "And no one is to try any kind of treatment without a medical ninja present. A fully qualified medical ninja. Actually, you'll run it past me before you try anything at all."

She swept out of the room, leaving me with Kakashi-sensei.

"You can try," he said, quietly. "But don't… if it doesn't work… you have to know…"

"We can try," I corrected. "Don't think you're getting out of doing any work, sensei. I'm going to make you complicit in saving yourself."