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:

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Chapter 127

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Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. ~ Rabindranath Tagore

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I'd been a little off base in suggesting that only 'two or three' would remain after the lectures. It was closer to ten.

Still a huge decrease in numbers from 'all' but way more interest than I thought there would be. (There had, briefly, been a spike in numbers once we'd moved from 'general theory' to 'explosive notes' but it had vanished pretty quickly under the sheer tidal wave of math that was responsible for even the smallest of booms.)

It was still mostly RnD people, Takatori and Nanto chief among them, but Kurome and Yuumei were both field chunin.

"There are others who prefer self-study," Takatori had told me, once, during the course. "Since the materials are all going to be available, anyway, they found it difficult to schedule time for the lectures."

He might have expected me to be upset about that, but I really wasn't. It was a) how I'd learnt in the first place and b) pretty much what I wanted out of this.

We'd managed to downsize enough to fit back into the RnD meeting room, though. That was something.

"Okay," I said, dropping into a chair at the table and slouching. "No more lectures. This is going to be more like… a workshop. A study group. You're all going to be helping each other as much as I'm helping you."

That got me a variety of blank stares.

"What you have to realize," I said, "is that I packaged up nearly everything I've been studying in the last year and a half. Congratulations. That's it. That's all I know." I spread my hands, palms empty. "You've caught up to me. The trick from here on out is going to be find a sealing method that you, individually, can understand and modify."

"And how do we go about that?" Nanto asked, just a little apprehensively.

I shrugged. "When we covered the variations, were there any parts that stood out as being more logical than others? That made more inherent sense to you? Personally-" I sketched a quick seal on the whiteboard. "- mine a very heavily mathematical and scientific method. I understand what I want to do by quantifying it and its effects. It means I can get very specific and can change variables to be flexible, but it isn't the only way of doing things."

"But the only way you can help us with, right?" Takatori asked, leaning back.

"Which is why you might have to help each other," I agreed. "But you could do worse than start with what's familiar and then work your way onwards. The standard Konoha style was created by Jiraiya-"

It was pretty slow going. No one seemed to have found a way to 'click' the way I had when Jiraiya had tipped my idea of sealing upside down, but they'd also been studying it for a far shorter period of time. Maybe not all of these would find a way to 'click', but even then, the ability to breakdown other people's seals and tell what they'd been doing wasn't to be scoffed at.

But we didn't actually get too far with it, because halfway through my allotted time period, Shikamaru knocked on the door impatiently.

"Mom's in hospital!" he blurted out the instant he saw me. "I just took her there now."

I nodded. "It's about that time," I acknowledged, shuffling my notes together and passing them to Tenten. "Did you fetch dad already?"

"The hospital sent a runner to him," he said, already on his way back out the door.

And they couldn't exactly send one here. Well, not unless they had a Nara right on hand. Hence Shikamaru coming to get me himself.

"Sorry," I said to the group. "Duty calls. These are the worksheets and some example seals. Maybe try to break them down, or re-create them in another style?"

Tenten hovered awkwardly, half standing from the table. "Should I-?"

"You could finish up here?" I suggested. "I mean, you could come, but I think they have a visitor limit and it's just going to be a lot of waiting around at the hospital."

I couldn't tell whether she liked or didn't like that answer, but she did sit back down.

"Give our best wishes to Yoshino-sama!"

Shikamaru was already gone, but I didn't exactly rush. I was no expert, but babies didn't hurry. Since it was on the way, I stopped by the Yamanaka flower shop to let Ino know, and suspected that that would take care of the rest.

At the hospital, mom was in a private birthing room in the maternity ward and there was a pretty strict 'two visitor' policy in order to keep crowding down. Dad was already there, and Shikamaru switched out with me so I could go in.

"Do you need anything?" I offered. "I can go and fetch stuff. Or people. Or whatever."

"It's all under control," Mom assured me. "Funny enough, I've done this before."

I laughed. "I suspected as much," I said sagely. "I'll send Shikamaru back in, okay? Before he starts harassing the nurses for updates."

It might have been an exaggeration, but it also might not have been. The waiting room served the whole ward and was a fair distance from where mom was, and while Shikamaru wasn't pacing, he did bolt out of his chair the second I came back.

"You can go back in; I'll wait here," I told him.

"Are you sure?"

"I can tell what's going on," I said, tapping my index finger to my temple, which wasn't exactly a signal for sensory techniques but was probably understandable. Also, maybe not exactly true for this situation, but I could track the comings and goings of nurses and medic nin so that was close enough.

"Right," Shikamaru said, looking relieved.

So, I waited. There were other people in the waiting rooms, groups coming and going to the other women in the ward and I idly tracked the movement of people around me, like a busy swarm, all with jobs and purpose and winding their way past each other. Eventually Ino and her dad showed up with massive bouquets and the Akimichi followed shortly after that. Tenten sidled in, looking awkward, and then so did Sasuke much, much later.

And then, finally, the buzz of activity in mom's room got busier. A pair of medic-nin came and stayed.

Shikamaru stumbled out, looking a little grey in the face. "You can go in."

Yeah, no. I gently put my book over my face. "No thanks," I said, muffled and then pretended to be asleep.

Inoichi chuckled and patted my head as he moved past. "Well, if it's anything like when you two were born, your dad might need someone to hold his hand."

"That sounds like a story," I said, still muffled. But I was glad Inoichi had volunteered to go, because I didn't particularly want to. I'd never seen a non-TV birth and I was content to keep it that way.

From a distance was bad enough. Mom's chakra kept flaring and shuddering with pain, probably timed with contractions or something, but it was distracting. It just kept going on and on.

And then it didn't. The room started to empty out, nurses continuing onto other rooms and Inoichi making his way back to us.

I took the book off my face and peered down the hallway.

He was smiling. "They're just moving them to an overnight room now," he said. "Then we can all go and visit."

Shikamaru let out a very long sigh and sagged into the plastic hospital chair. "What a drag."

Ino rolled her eyes at him so I didn't have to. "You didn't even do anything," she pointed out. "Come on, at least carry the flowers!"

It was a pretty cheerful group that shuffled through the halls of the maternity ward, all told. The tension from waiting had fizzled out, and all that was left was a kind of happy, eager anticipation.

The hospital room was pretty cheerful as far as hospital rooms went, and became more so the minute we all piled in, Ino setting up the flowers on the side table and a fruit basket materialising from somewhere – probably the Akimichi, though how it hadn't been eaten during the wait I didn't know.

Dad was holding a swaddled bundle but I sidled through the crowd and closer to mom. She was half asleep and looked kinda drugged, and her hair was all sweaty and there were lines of pain around her eyes, but she looked okay. She took my hand and gave me a smile.

Dad cleared his throat. "I'm pleased to introduce the newest member of our family," he said. "Kinokawa Nara." He tilted the bundle towards us and Shikamaru stepped up to hold it.

"After my family," Mom murmured quietly.

I squeezed her hand and wondered. Was it a weird choice of name? Or no weirder than calling a kid 'Konohamaru'? Was that just a homage to her family, naming a son after them? Or a subtle statement to the clan? You took the twins but this one is mine?

Or was I overthinking it? Did it even matter?

"Kino-chan, huh?" Shikamaru asked, looking pretty besotted.

"Come and hold him," Dad said, beckoning me over.

I untangled myself from mom and awkwardly received the baby from Shikamaru, Dad monitoring the transfer to ensure safety and baby neck support.

Yep, I thought. That is a baby.

It looked like a baby, kind of squished and red, swaddled in a whole lot of white blankets. Tiny - very dangerously tiny and breakable – but just… a baby. I looked at it and tried to feel but there was no sudden rush of love, of connection or possession or anything that I saw in my family's faces. There was nothing but faint awkwardness.

It felt like mom, chakra wise. Exactly like her. Which was…strange. I remembered the feeling of growing chakra coils and itching, so I supposed infants didn't develop their own immediately.

How long is appropriate to hold it? I wondered. Thirty seconds? Or is that too short?

I couldn't remember, in that other life, if I'd loved my siblings immediately. Had I? Or had I been too small, too young to be anything but curious about it.

But I hadn't… I hadn't loved Shikamaru immediately. Or mom or dad. I'd been too lost and confused. But I did now. I did now. It just- time. That was all. I'd just need time.

"Aww," Ino cooed, leaning over my shoulder. "He's got his mom's eyes. Going to be such a heartbreaker when you grow up, aren't you?"

How on earth could she tell?

"Uh, congratulations," Sasuke said, edging towards the door. His eyes were suspiciously sharingan red. "I have to go. So. Congratulations, again."

"You're going to leave without holding him?" I asked, seeing an excellent opportunity for a handover. Sorry Sasuke. It's every man for himself in situations like this.

Sasuke glanced at dad, seeking reassurance and/or release from obligations. Seeing as he ended up next to me, I knew what answer he'd received. His hands felt a lot steady and surer than mine, but since his sharingan was on I knew it was all a dirty lie.

Ino sighed and threw her arms over my shoulders from behind me. "So cute."

"You can be next in the baby holding brigade, you know," I said, folding my arms so no one tried to put a baby back in them.

She laughed. "No, I think Shikamaru is staking a claim for another turn," she said. "It's okay. There'll be plenty more days."

I hummed an agreement.

People didn't so much as drift away as much as get very competently ushered out by Inoichi when an appropriate 'visiting time' had passed with lots of comments to mom about getting plenty of rest. Setsuko Akimichi promised that she was personally going to feed the lot of us for the next week – at least! – so we better not even try to cook.

I mean, obviously, we protested the kindness, but only for forms sake. She was a fantastic cook. It was an argument I was happy to lose.

Mom stayed in hospital for the next few days, so it was only the three of us at home overnight which was… odd. It wasn't that the house was empty or anything like that, but the house without mom was unusual. Usually she was the one you could count on to be there.

I ended up winning the 'who relocates downstairs' contest, pretty much on account of the fact that I could pack everything up into hammerspace and empty my room out within seconds. After that it was up to us to set up the crib and baby things that mom and dad – read: dad under instructions from mom – had carefully unearthed from the attic in preparation.

Which mostly amounted to dad and Shikamaru puzzling over disassembled pieces of wood and an odd number of screws, while I stacked soft toys into piles and shoved baby clothes into the closet.

"Oh hey," I said, picking up a fuzzy bear that had been Shikamaru's particular favourite. "It's Kage-kage."

And when Shikamaru looked up I beaned him right in the face with it.

He spluttered and protested.

Dad sighed. "Children."

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About a week later, I woke, disorientated, not because of nightmares or alarm, but because there had been a surge of chakra in my room.

A small one. It still had me on my feet and armed before I was really aware, but the house was still and silent around me. Everyone else was asleep.

I put my kunai away and padded on silent feet towards my desk.

There.

The coin – the twin of the one I had given Tokichi – had changed. I checked it frequently, hadn't honestly expected to be able to feel the activation, and knew with absolute certainty that the numbers on it were different.

I jotted down the coordinates and considered the time. It probably wasn't so urgent that I had to rush off now, before the sun was even in the sky. But neither could I afford to delay by any considerable amount.

I compromised, getting dressed and slipping outside to head to the tower. The Intel Department was always active anyway, and nightshift suited my needs well enough.

I logged the message in – information requiring pick up.

It was a fake, of course, but there were many reasons and ways to log in a fake message in Intel. There were plenty of codes, plenty of fake ninja ID's to use (some wholesale invented, some poor saps that continued to serve the village after their untimely deaths) to make it look, objectively, like everything was as it was supposed to be.

But I authorised the pick up under my own name, sending myself to do it, and filled out the associated mission scroll to go with it. If it was tracked back, it would still come to me – I wasn't trying to avoid that. I just didn't want a second party to have to sign off on it right now.

Then I submitted the first, tucked the second into my vest and went home to make breakfast.

I ran into Tenten on the way, which wasn't exactly unusual given the hours that Team Gai preferred for training, but we were literally going in the opposite directions so it indicated she'd been at my house.

And seemed, if not upset, then slightly annoyed.

"Everything okay?" I hazarded.

She forced a smile. "Yeah, fine. Hey, did you want to spar or something later?"

"I… can't, sorry. I have a mission," I said hesitantly. And the obvious conclusion from the facts presented to me… "Did Shikamaru not want to?"

"I thought that since the baby was here now he wouldn't be so preoccupied with it," she said. "I mean. I get it. Family is important," she added hastily, fluttering her hands. "It's fine."

"Ah," I said, then cast around desperately for something to say. I didn't actually want to get in the middle of relationship things. "Well. If you have time and want to hit things therapeutically, could you destruction test some barrier seals for me?"

She snorted, but the smile seemed a little more real. "That does sound pretty fun."

"If you write it down, it becomes science," I said wisely.

At home, Shikamaru was in the kitchen, starting to prepare breakfast. Mom and Dad were moving around in the nursery upstairs, probably feeding Kino breakfast. The baby had been pretty quiet, so far, but that might have been because night-time feedings were done with all the precision timing that proved this was a ninja household.

"You skipped your chores," Shikamaru said, disapprovingly as I washed my hands and slipped in next to him to help.

"Sorry," I said. "I had to go to the tower. I have a mission." I shrugged. "Should only be a short one – in and out."

"Now?" He said with… mostly surprise. A bit of disappointment.

"It should only be a short one," I repeated. "I'll be back before you know it."

We fell silent, moving together to prepare breakfast, orbiting around the kitchen with easy grace. It wasn't hard, for all that this wasn't really something we usually did together.

"What are you thinking?" he asked, suddenly.

I looked at him, breaking my gaze away from the window. "Huh? Oh. That I could probably put a Four Seal Barrier around the house if I tag it to those two trees and the posts out front. It's not square, but I'm pretty sure I could make a trapezoid work."

He blinked. "Okay. That was not where I thought that was going to go." He paused. "How would you activate it, thought? From the corners?"

I hummed. "That doesn't sound very efficient, now that you mention it. Maybe… I could put a trigger seal in the house…"

That at least provoked a spirited conversation between us, bouncing ideas about security versus safety versus practicality.