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: I located all the storyline scenes for Komachi and Towa from Clash of Ninja 2 Revolution and posted them on youtube, if people are wondering who they are.

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Chapter 137

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The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today. ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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The rest of the team was waiting for us on one of the training fields on top of the mountain itself.

Technically the mountain wasn't a secure site – the viewing platform out over the Hokage Heads was a popular spot and there were a couple of administrative buildings up here – but it was also out of the way because it was at the top of the mountain and people didn't tend to go there without cause. And the training fields were all fenced off and stamped with 'danger' signs, like the Forest of Death had been.

Whether that was a bluff or not was yet to be seen.

"Taicho!" Two ANBU appeared suddenly in front of us and I was once again glad for my sensing ability because it meant I'd had warning and didn't jump.

I eyed them critically but neither seemed familiar to me.

"So, what was the big meeting all about?" One asked. He was reasonably muscular with dark silver hair in a lopsided ponytail, a bird mask, and a fascinating red seal wrapped around his right bicep.

"We got a rookie," the second one guessed, sounding a little amused. She was a little taller than me, but not by much, with long, dark blonde hair held back with hair sticks – no, they were senbon holders – and a cat mask with delicate red arcs.

"We got a rookie," Sasuke confirmed. "This is Bat. Bat, this is Towa and Komachi."

"Yes," Komachi said, as if answering an unasked question. "Those are our call signs. There are about twenty people running around with cat masks, so even if you take into account Tiger and Lion and so on, there's still a shortage of names to masks."

"If you look at it that way," Towa added on, "those of you with animal call signs are really in the minority."

"Yes, thank you," Sasuke said, repressively, like he had definitely heard that before.

Well. That was something I hadn't thought to wonder about. Then again, where had the assumption of animal-code-names come from? I had no idea. It was just a thing people knew, which was very suspect when talking about a division that no one really knew anything about.

"Bat is a sabotage specialist," Sasuke said.

There'd been a lot of testing during training for them to come to that conclusion and I still wasn't quite sure how they'd reached it. Better than labelling me a sensory specialist, though, because that would have narrowed my possible identity down substantially.

"Are we being re-speced, taicho?" Komachi asked. She seemed relaxed enough, maybe intrigued. "I thought we were being slotted into a defensive specialization."

"I wouldn't worry about it yet," Sasuke said. "But if we are, we can handle it."

I wanted to ask what their current specialization was then, but I knew that Sasuke at least had been on patrol and guard-the-hokage-house duty recently.

"So, this is Red Team," Sasuke said, sliding back into introductions mode. "We might pick up a fifth squad member if we need one on missions, but the four of us are the core of the squad. We aren't currently rostered on to patrol and I have a solo mission coming up, so we'll have plenty of time to train together before we're sent out."

"We'll take good care of our rookie while you're gone, taicho," Towa said, voice calm and sincere. I was instantly suspicious.

Sasuke snorted. "I bet." He ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, so Red Team is a masks-on squad. All the time, no exceptions. If you want to take your mask off in HQ, I can't stop you but I recommend against it. And if other people are removing their masks and you identify them, that isn't an invitation to make use of that knowledge."

I signed Affirmative.

"You can talk, you know," he said, mask tilting to the side. "You don't need to take the secrecy that far."

I paused. Then signed Affirmative again.

I could absolutely imagine the pinched, exasperated look on his face.

Sasuke crossed his arms. "What else?" he muttered, more to himself. "Oh, yeah." He fixed me with what would have been a solid stare and just ended up being a blank mask face. "I don't care what kind of rumors you heard about suicide missions. You did not come here to die."

I blinked beneath my mask, actually startled for a second. That was not just his serious voice, it was fierce. Was this an issue that came up a lot? Was I emitting some kind of 'seriously unhinged ninja' vibes?

Affirmative, I signed.

The silence stretched uncomfortably. I wondered if I was dragging this joke out too long – should I just speak and give it away? Sasuke's reaction was going to be pretty funny either way…

"Shall we begin with teamwork exercises?" Komachi asked. "The training field is ours for another hour."

Sasuke considered. "I want to spar with her first," he decided. "Get a baseline idea of where her skills are at. Bat, are you injured from testing?"

Negative, I signed.

He tilted his head. "Then get out here." I was pretty sure he was smirking under the mask.

Yeah, well, so was I.

There was no way Sasuke wasn't going to recognise my fighting style, even if I didn't use seals, shadow jutsu or anything more 'me', especially if he was smart and used his sharingan. There was the Taijutsu style I used, the moves we'd all seen and incorporated over our careers, any personal ticks I had…

So, with that in mind, the instant that the spar started, I flickered in with Lee's Leaf Hurricane, swept his legs out from underneath him and booted him into the air.

I didn't follow up with the Shadow of the Dancing Leaf because I wasn't an idiot and he was already turning in the air, more than familiar with this style of attack. I flickered away, instead, pulling on my new stealth training to try fade out and come in from an unexpected angle.

The sharingan was an exceptional combat tool, but it had to see you coming in order to be useful.

It partially worked and partially didn't, but either way it was a new element to keep things interesting.

And when the fight was over…

"You," Sasuke declared, voice tight, "are the worst."

I laughed. Affirmative.

"Don't affirmative me," he said, stalking over and smacking me on the arm, right over my ANBU tattoo. Yep, he knew, alright.

"Took you long enough," I teased. "Were you just not used to seeing me with such massive amounts of uncovered skin?" I gestured vaguely towards my shoulders. I mean, area wise, covering a face probably made up for not covering shoulders but otherwise this probably was the most revealing outfit I'd worn. And given the differences in silhouette between wearing a jacket and the increase in bulk muscle from serious physical training… I probably did look a bit different at a glance.

"Were you planning on just not saying anything the whole time?" Sasuke grumbled.

"Nah," I said. "I figured I'd get bored with it in a couple of hours. That or I'd keep trying the voice modulation jutsu until I got it right."

"The worst," he repeated, severely. "And since when are you a Sabotage Specialist?"

"It's the official terminology for 'ruins everything I touch'," I shot back. "So. Always."

"You two know each other?" Komachi asked. The two of them seemed more interested than they had been while watching us spar, which had been treated with a detached professional air.

Sasuke hesitated. "This is a masks-on squad," he said. "Who we are underneath them doesn't matter." He turned to me. "Right now, I'm Hawk, your squad captain, and you need to listen to my orders."

I sketched a salute. "Yes, taicho."

He rolled his shoulders back, as if stretching out the kinks. "Right. Now, team training-"

Given the restrictions of secrecy and not being able to do 'get to know each other' stuff, team training was, by necessity, heavily physical. I was okay with that. We laid out a training plan that seemed to include a lot of the teamwork exercises Kakashi-sensei had used with us and sparring.

We only did a very short training stint, for which I was grateful because I was still pretty tired, and Sasuke took me back to ANBU HQ for the rest of the tour.

"If this is what you felt like after your training camp," I said, running chakra through my muscles to heal them, "I'm twice as sorry I tried to kill you." And Sasuke wouldn't have had cheaty-healing-chakra.

He snorted. "I think you were plenty sorry already."

Well, he wasn't wrong.

There was plenty of stuff to learn about HQ anyway – mostly it was pretty tame 'here is where you hand in reports' type of stuff, but there was also the more interesting 'here is the entrance and password, if you forget it'll try kill you' type of stuff.

"Cafeteria," Sasuke pointed out as we shuffled past a room with a fair number of ANBU in it. I peeked through the door, but it looked like a normal food court area. "There's cooked food, prepackaged food or sealed lockers to bring your own, depending on how paranoid you're feeling."

I considered. I didn't feel like the risk of someone trying to kill me via food was that high right now. And cooking was a terrible amount of effort. "Not that paranoid. Probably." But I would keep a stock on hand, just in case. And definitely work on that food seal.

"So, uh," I said, because there was no real easy way to ask this and I kinda needed to know, because team dynamics. "That whole 'no matter what you heard about suicide missions' thing… I'm not replacing someone, am I?"

There was a blank pause. "Oh. No. Nothing like that," Sasuke said finally. "Red Squad is new. But I was a floating captain for a while, moving between teams, and there are a lot of people here who are a bit…" he made a sort of hand gesture that wasn't part of a hand sign lexicon but was still easily understood. "And that's just not happening on my team."

"Makes sense," I agreed. At least that was one problem I didn't have to contend with, then.

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The other thing I did was round up the Seal Research Group and see what progress they'd made on the barrier seals in the two weeks since I'd handed them over.

It … varied.

Takatori had written what amounted to a fourteen page dissertation on how they worked. Kurome had a bullet pointed list of potential lines of attack on someone using each barrier. Someone had suggestions potential improvements, some possible, some not, some requiring serious thought.

"Awesome," I said. "Okay, we're going to try iron out as much of this as we can, and then push the seals for approval."

Which was easier said than done in a committee setting and with the fact that they were really 'my' seals and not things the others could change or alter easily.

I spent a fair chunk of time answering questions as well. They'd started to branch off with their own projects and ideas – pushing down their own paths and trying to create their own style. I felt less than helpful, like the blind trying to lead the blind, but I was still able to offer some advice. And it was interesting to see where this collaborative group exercise was going because it wasn't like I was driving.

Which was how I ended up with my paperwork spread out on the kitchen table at home, filling out the registration application for my barrier seals – I'd had a half thought about foisting it off on one of the others, but that would probably have been an abuse of power. Unfortunately.

That was also how I ended up distracted from filling in paperwork and instead creating a hammerspace variation for liquids. I'd hacked up a storage seal to release air when we'd been in the Land of Moon but that wouldn't exactly work either. It'd need a valve. A tap.

I sketched out some seals, experimented using the kitchen sink and only made a small mess that was easily cleaned up. Getting water in was the tricky part – storage seals generally took objects as a whole, and the whole purpose was not to have a container. Which meant I had to hold the water in a chakra bubble and then seal that away, which was an interesting experiment in control.

And that was why, when mom walked into the kitchen, I had a calligraphy brush in my mouth trying to paint seals on the inside of my cheek.

"I don't think I want to know, do I?" she asked.

"Uhnuh," I agreed. I could write most of the seal on paper, but it needed an anchor point to compress around and I really hadn't thought this through. It was much more complicated than inking seals onto my wrist. But the whole point was that it needed to be somewhere useful.

Eventually I got it right, and set it with chakra, the rest of the seals winding off the paper and into my mouth. The inside of my cheek felt funny and I ran my tongue over it, but there wasn't even the residual taste of ink. A little dry, from keeping the saliva away, but nothing else.

A small, careful trickle of chakra into the seal and cool water spilled out into my mouth. I cut the chakra and swallowed.

Perfect.

Then I did it all again on the other side and started mixing up protein powder shakes.

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I had plenty of advance warning for the bodyguard slash escort mission to the Mist Chunin Exams, so when I was officially assigned the mission there was only a little to do. Check my pack, clean my gear and make sure everything looked spick and span and professional. This was as much about show as it was about practicality – more probably, since there wasn't anything I could do that Tsunade couldn't.

In that vein, the biggest surprise was when I saw who else was on the mission team.

"Sasuke?"

Solo mission? Not quite. Maybe he'd internally justified it as 'well, the only ANBU on the team' but that wasn't true any longer. Or maybe he'd just been flat out lying. Probably that.

He raised an eyebrow at me. "Huh."

I shrugged. I guessed it made sense. Any justifications you could use to make me a Hokage bodyguard equally applied to Sasuke. Good showing at the last exams, good reputation, growing strength, not exactly required to be anywhere else right now… and safe under the Hokage's eye the whole trip.

"Well, it'll be cool to see what Hidden Mist is like," I said. "I hope we get to catch up with Haku."

"I hope it's less exciting than the last two exams," Sasuke returned, deadpan.

"That too."

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I wanted to watch a couple of filler arcs that I haven't seen before to get some information right, but I didn't get around to it. Which is a partial justification for the delay.