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: FFnet has had some problems with notifications recently, so if you haven't been receiving them, make sure to check out chapter 134 if you haven't seen it. And sidestories 20-21.

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Chapter 135

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Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get. ~ Dale Carnegie

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"Hokage-sama wants to see you."

I acknowledged and packed my desk up. It wasn't like that was an unusual request, except that I wasn't really involved in anything Hokage-related at the moment.

I'd taken her up on studying medicine (however lukewarm the actual teachers at the hospital seemed to be about including me. Which was fair enough, no one liked special cases that got special treatment) and was varying my time between War Ops, Intel and the Nara Clan in a pretty random pattern along with, well, everything else I did in my 'free time'.

Sasuke was right in some ways – I had too many people who would notice if I was gone. I had to lean into that, swing with the momentum, because I couldn't fight it. So yes, there were a lot of people. But they were also people who never expected to have my full time and attention because I had fifty million other places I could be.

It wasn't fool proof. But it wasn't the worst cover, either.

So I kinda hoped that this call up was related. I wasn't exactly sure how it was going to go down, but I couldn't actually foresee problems with it. If she'd let Sasuke in, despite being an arguably bigger target, then I should get the anonymity of missions with a white mask, too.

But it didn't seem like that was what it was about at all.

"Good, you're here." Tsunade stood from her desk and swung her coat on. "I need you to confirm something related to your last mission. Are you going to be okay with that?"

"I- Yes, Tsunade-sama," I stammered. Confirm what? My last mission… well, that was obvious, but I couldn't think of anything that was left to confirm about it. Something related to the massacres?

She nodded briskly, accepting that answer, and strode out of the office. I tagged along, confused as to where we were going, but sticking to her heels. We went up, to the open roof of the tower, and I didn't have time to question before Tsunade swept us away in a powerful body flicker that carried us an incredible distance out over the village.

But the direction was familiar, all the same. Ibiki had taken me out here, once. The T&I prison.

what?

Prison meant prisoner. But. That was just as bafflingly incomprehensible. None of the puzzle pieces I had were enough to give me a clear picture of what was going on.

It didn't help as we entered, either, and my chakra sense picked up on Dad and Inoichi and Ibiki all clustered together.

Dad?

He'd been on a mission. And so had Inoichi. Had he returned and been called in to deal with this already. Or had his mission been about-

-he'd asked, I thought wildly, the thought blossoming with faint horror. Nothing concrete, nothing certain, just the vague uneasiness of a possibility. He'd asked about Hidan. He'd asked a lot about Hidan.

Had looked at the bloody file. Had seen how shaken I was about it. And then he'd asked.

My palms were damp. I tucked them into my pockets, unobtrusively, and made myself settle. Dad was here. Obviously. He wasn't hurt. Whatever that was about, I could be sure of that. Everything else was details. And we could work with that.

One step at a time.

Tsunade led me through a truly intimidating number of doors and checkpoints, to a room that was so heavily warded I would barely sense anything inside even when I could see it.

Barely.

I nodded, distracted, at Dad and circled closer to the window – the two-way-mirror – and studied the decapitated head that was sitting on the interrogation table like that was a perfectly normal thing to have in a room all by itself. Grey hair. Mid-twenties, maybe.

Really. Really? But. How?

It opened it's eyes.

He. He opened his eyes.

"I see you," Hidan spat, locking onto me, like he could. He couldn't. Obviously. But Jashin could, or whatever variation on 'see' that a god did, and that wasn't, necessarily, a safer option.

Dad was there, at my side instantly, hand on my shoulder to pull me back and shadow whirling and pulsing around my feet. For a second, up was down, the night sky was below me, I was falling and standing and tripping and floating, all at once.

I squeezed his wrist and didn't move, let his chakra become something supporting, something I was part of, rather than something submersing me, something I had to fight off.

The swooping feeling in my stomach might have been fear, but I could ignore it and pretend it wasn't. How had Hidan's decapitated head got from terrorizing boarder villages to being planted on a Konoha interrogation room table?

Well. The sequence of events was. Workable. If you ignored the insanity that was someone deliberately setting out to fight an S-rank ninja.

Surely there is a more logical explanation than that?

"Do you think you can escape Jashin-sama?" Hidan demanded. "Do you think this is the end, you stupid fool? As long as there is pain, there will be Jashin! As long as there is death, there will be Jashin! And when you die-"

I tuned him out. He wasn't saying anything important.

"You split the body into five parts," I said, tracing the faint threads of chakra, through the overwhelming press of the containment seals. "Limbs and torso, right?"

Dad squeezed my shoulder again, not relaxing, not retreating. His chakra was the night sky. And there were things that hid in the night.

Sometimes those things were us.

I hummed. "They're still… alive. I guess. Connected to him. I don't know if they'd heal, or if he can control them like this, but there's a chance." I glanced at Tsunade. "The other connection is… weaker."

The connection to Jashin. It wasn't gone, not entirely. But it was so faint, so much weaker than the nightmare world where he had bled through the fabric of the world. So much weaker than the connection that any of those monks had had with him, at that place and time.

"He's… stronger for it," I said, haltingly, trying to describe the miasma that hovered around Hidan. "Anything that was on this side when the door closed probably went to him. But … the door is closed."

I didn't look to see if there was any relief on her face, because I was too busy feeling it. The door was closed. Jashin was shut out. Not dead, and not gone forever but… this danger had passed.

"Do you think the seals will hold him?" She asked, voice neutral.

I pursed my lips. "I don't know," I said, because it was the only answer I could give. "I can't… I couldn't sense the other type of technique they used, so I don't know if it would have any effect."

And that would mean that anyone that got too close was in danger. How close was too close? You wouldn't know until it was too late.

Tsunade sighed, and accepted that. "Inoichi, did you get any preliminary information?"

"No, Hokage-sama," Inoichi responded. "After… Well. We were aware that there was a mental component to his abilities that had the potential to be devastating. I didn't think it wise to try without protective seals."

I shivered.

"Be careful," I said, quietly. "People aren't meant to see the world like that." Throw him in a deep pit and fill it in, I didn't say, because they wouldn't. Not if they had the chance of getting information out of him. It's wrong in ways you don't even know the world can be wrong.

"Hold off, for now," Tsunade said, mouth pulling down unhappily. "See what you can get out of him, Ibiki. And be careful. You have so much as a headache after interacting with him and I want to know about it."

Ibiki didn't say 'I have a headache right now' even though that would have been, like, the perfect opening for it, and his face communicated it quite clearly.

"I request Shikako Nara as a consultant," Ibiki said. "He clearly has an… emotive reaction to her."

"No," Dad said.

"I'll think about it," Tsunade said.

I shrugged and looked back out the window. Hidan was still spitting invectives about my impending death and horrific torment. "I don't know if that's very useful information," I said, idly.

"That's only a matter of asking the right questions," Ibiki said. He didn't grin menacingly, even though that also would have been the perfect opening for it, probably because no one but me would have found it very funny.

Still. A pity.

"So, uh," I asked, turning away. "Do I get to know how this happened?"

Dad shrugged, casually, calmly. "Konoha finally had enough intelligence to send a Hunter-nin squad out after him," he said. "Live capture was prioritized for intelligence gathering, but that didn't exactly make things more complicated." His lips quirked up.

"Uhuh." I looked at Tsunade. She looked exactly the kind of unimpressed that she got with my team. "Since when are you a hunter-nin?"

"A good question," Tsunade said, pointedly.

Dad huffed a laugh. "The Ino-Shika-Cho has always been optimized for prisoner capture," he said. "And your old man still has a few tricks left in him yet. We managed."

He had. Obviously. The proof was right there. But I would have never chosen to send him out against Hidan. To send any of them. And if I had known before they came back, I didn't think I would have been able to live with the horror of expectation. Of anticipation.

I stuffed my hands back into my pockets.

"Guess so," I said, noncommittedly.

The thing was, without that worry, now that everything was completely over – if it could be said to be completely over – the moment felt … empty.

It was good that they had captured Hidan. (Probably. Assuming there was no retaliation, assuming this didn't set into motion things I didn't know were coming…)

It was a good thing. But… after everything that had gone into getting that information...

Now it was meaningless. A coin that had been spent.

And it didn't feel like…

Of course it's a good thing, I scolded myself. You saw the photos. He wouldn't have stopped.

He would have kept killing people. And maybe hunting me down, if whatever descriptions Jashin had given him were enough to ever narrow the field – if rumours spread, if people kept thinking 'yes, maybe her' – and I didn't want that.

I just.

Didn't know what I wanted.

"Don't think there won't be a debriefing," Tsunade said, levelling Dad with a flat look. "And a long talk about acceptable risk."

"Leaving him free would have been an unacceptable risk," Dad said back, as easily as ever. He squeezed my shoulder, again. "Tell your mother I should be home in time for dinner, okay?"

I knew a dismissal when I heard one. "Will do."

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When my introduction to ANBU came, it didn't actually come from Tsunade. Or, I mean,it did, just not directly.

I got given a mission scroll that was exactly identical to every other mission scroll I'd had, until I opened it. And then it was incredibly suspicious. The inside was basically blank. It had a time and place, an estimated duration of two weeks and that was it. It was signed with the Hokage's signature - chakra signature, even – and that was it.

Right. I tucked it away and tried to pretend it was nothing unusual.

"I have a mission tomorrow," I said, at dinner that night, because it had occurred to me that my mission cooldown wasn't exactly common knowledge and the best cover was the most obvious one. The only one who would probably see through it was Dad and… well. I didn't think he'd call me on it. "Just a short one, maybe a week or two."

The location on my mission scroll turned out to be a change-over point pretty much like the one Sasuke had taken me to, way out near the higher number training fields. In one of the drawers there was an ANBU uniform and another scroll – with a new location on it.

Yay, scavenger hunt.

I put on the uniform. I had to admit I appreciated the armour but I wasn't totally in love with the 'covers everything but your armpits' design. Really? Was that necessary? I got that it showed off the ANBU tattoo – or in my case, the lack thereof – but still. Uncomfortably breezy.

I fidgeted with the long sleeves on the gloves, making sure the straps of the guards were in place and that it covered all my identifying tattoos, and wound my hair up into a bun. Then I affixed the mask which was plain white and more human-like than any I'd seen actual ANBU wear and creepy in its own special way.

My next point of contact was out in the training fields, so I snuck my way out there, using my chakra sense to make sure no one was around. I felt hyperaware of myself, of the uniform, of how out of place I was. It was strange.

There was no one at the meeting point – no one within sensing range – so I knelt in a ready position and waited, trying not to let nerves and doubts get the better of me.

I had experience waiting.

I wasn't alone for long; four more trainee mask ANBU showed up within minutes. They seemed confident enough but I wondered if any of them had any more idea of what was going on than I did. It made me wonder what the recruitment and attrition rate was for ANBU. Everyone always thought it was high, it was known to be dangerous, but just because everyone knew it didn't make it true. Was five a lot? How frequently did they hold these training camps? How many ANBU were there in total, anyway?

Then the actual ANBU arrived, two of them body flickering into the training field to stand before us. They were impressively intimidating - silent, chakra tightly leashed and compressed, and seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Pretty much every ghost story you thought about when you thought about ANBU.

(I'd sensed them coming. But I didn't think anyone else had, no matter how little they reacted.)

"Welcome to ANBU," said the – possibly female – ANBU, punctuating the statement with an unknown hand signal that I presumed meant 'ANBU', just from context. Her voice was distorted almost mechanically, which was something I hadn't heard used before. "This training is going to be the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging thing you have ever experienced – until you join ANBU itself."

"You can leave at any time," said the second – probably male – ANBU. "The course itself is pass/fail. If you make it through, you pass. If you don't, you fail. In that sense, nothing about this training is assessing your suitability to join ANBU – that's already been decided. This is simply the training that makes sure you know what you need once you get there."

"And there is a lot that you're going to need to know," the first said, switching back seamlessly. "No matter how good you think you are, ANBU is nothing like General Forces. You're about to enter a whole different world. You're going to need to trust your unit without ever seeing their faces or knowing their names. You're going to need to push past any limits you think you have. You're going to need to learn how to operate so far in the shadows that you don't exist."

We were silent.

"If you don't hate it, then we haven't done our jobs," the second added. "I'm Bull and this is Magpie," he marked the names with representative hand signs.

"And your training," Magpie said, "starts now."

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They were absolutely right.

I hated it.

It didn't actually start off too badly – for a given value of 'too badly'. It started with intense physical exercise, but that wasn't exactly unusual. More intense than I would have done daily by myself, but if they were aiming for physical exhaustion then it wasn't exactly surprising.

I… held back.

Or… not exactly. That wouldn't have gone over well. But I wasn't going to make the same mistake I'd made fighting Gaara, exhausting myself just because I thought it was safe. So, I didn't use my chakra, smashed that impulse down and relied on pure physical conditioning to see me through. It made me struggle and lag behind the others but not so badly that I would fail out. And it meant that I could choose to use my chakra in small doses to recover between activities, healing up and being ready for the next task.

We'd started early in the morning and lunch came and went without a break and dinner came and went without a break. Nightfall came and went.

No one was stupid enough to believe that was an oversight. This was going to be a long, hard slog in a lot of ways.

It wasn't just physical training though. They were also teaching us the ANBU sign language, mostly by demonstrating a sign alongside a verbal instruction once and expecting it to be remembered. Which was slightly difficult when one was upside down doing a hundred hanging sit ups off a tree branch. As the day went on, the verbal instructions grew less and the non-verbal ones took over.

The first time someone misses one is not going to be fun.

In that, at least, we had safety in numbers. Until they started giving us individual instructions, anyway.

When we did stop for the night, hunger was a real and clawing thing in my insides. We made camp, to the strict instructions of the ANBU trainers, a perfectly invisible, defensible site that we could disassemble and move out from within minutes – which I knew, because they made us do it until we could do it to standard. The rations they gave us afterwards technically had the caloric content to see us through, but between the long hours and the strenuous exercise, it wasn't going to be easy.

"This," Magpie said, dropping a thin book on each of us, "is greatest manual you're ever going to have. Read it. Learn it. Love it. Tomorrow we'll cover chapters one and two – I suggest you come prepared."

"Your wake-up call will be in three and a half hours," Bull added, almost cheerfully. "Sleep tight."

They left, actually left or at least far enough that I couldn't sense them.

One of the other trainees groaned, slumping down on the ground. "Read it in the morning," he suggested.

I arched an eyebrow. Obviously, with the mask on it was less effective. "You think they'll give you time?" I asked, pitching my voice low and feeling a bit weird about it. Was it entirely necessary? I had no idea. This secret identity business was hard.

He exhaled, noisily. "Fuck."

Yeah, I didn't think so either. There was a pretty strong chance our 'wake-up call' would come a lot sooner than expected, even. That seemed like a thing they would do.