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.

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Chapter 139

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The language of friendship is not words but meanings. ~ Henry David Thoreau

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To the surprise of no one, the exam site was on the water. Well, where else were they going to put it?

A square was marked out with buoys and three sides were edged with raised docks - high enough to be out of the splash range - with graduated seating going up and back. The area had a few raised and jagged rocks that indicated that the ground below the water wasn't just sand, and there was a half sunken ship tipped across the far side, which at least made this the most interesting exam arena I'd seen.

It'd give a bit of cover and a bit more strategy than the totally flat and open arenas of our exams. Might make things interesting, as long as it didn't actually turn into a game of hide and go seek.

The lower seating areas were slowly filling up with the audience, people chatting and making noise. There were plenty of Hidden Mist ninja sprinkled throughout, acting as ushers and generally trying to keep things moving smoothly.

We all filed in to the designated Kage seating at the very top of the stands, overlooking everything, Sasuke and I the customary pace back and to the side of the Hokage as her guards.

I wanted to pause but couldn't.

The designated Kage seating was… lounging beach chairs, with stripy, colourful fabric suspended on wooden frames. Colour coordinated, even, since the Konoha seat was very clearly red-and-white.

Well. I guess it would be comfortable. Tsunade settled in, retrieved a drink, and even pulling the Hokage hat low to shade her eyes like a sunhat.

We didn't get seats, but such was guard duty. We settled in, steady but alert, close enough to be useful but far enough that we weren't actually crowding.

We were perhaps a little early but the Hidden Sand delegation was already here, as well. I caught Kankurou's eye.

Then stared out over the water with my best I-am-a-serious-ninja-no-I'm-not-laughing face on. Not even a little bit. We were like the Queens Guard at Buckingham Palace, right now. No moving, no laughter.

No matter how goddamn ridiculous this was.

The Mizukage wasn't here – which was why we counted as being early – but since there were two empty chairs and the Tsuchikage was supposed to be arriving for the exam, I could take a wild guess as to where she was.

A guess that was proven correct when both Mist and Rock delegations turned up together. The Tsuchikage looked both hilariously outsized by his own bodyguards – Akatsuchi and Kurotsuchi – and also very, very annoyed.

"Tsuchikage-dono," Tsunade said in greeting. She had a drink in her hand and raised it in salute. Everything about her seemed casual.

"Senju," Onoki said, which was… interesting. Not entirely disrespectful, but very few people addressed Tsunade by her clan name. His eyes flickered, left, towards me. "You have some nerve bringing her with you."

"I don't know what you're implying," Tsunade said, evenly. "Any available ninja may serve as a bodyguard to the Kage at official functions."

Everything around us was still and quiet. I could feel the focused attention of everyone else in the Kage's Box. There was no doubt everyone wanted to know what was being said. We'd danced around this topic already, but our allies couldn't push it – not without accusing us.

Onoki clearly didn't have the same compunctions.

"Hmph," he snorted. "The buffer country between you and A vanishes, and you don't think the rest of us are going to be asking 'why'? Bold, for Konoha. I didn't think you'd have the guts to make the first move. Or the power."

Stick to the script.

I crossed my arms. "I don't appreciate the accusation," I said, voice admirably flat. "I was in Land of Rice Fields locating Orochimaru." I cocked my head to the side. "You know, attempting to deal with our missing nin."

The challenge was there. Not that you'd know anything about that. And the reminder that, oh yeah, Hidden Rock did have that one missing nin known for blowing shit up. Funny. Maybe there was a reason Onoki was being so quick to throw the first accusation?

"Nara," Tsunade said, voice a mild rebuke. "We can hardly hold Hidden Rock responsible for the actions of their missing nin. Such is the nature of missing ninja." She swirled her drink, looking at it thoughtfully. "And there is, of course… no evidence that Hidden Rock has been colluding with the Akatsuki or, say, hiring them for missions."

The stretched pause before 'no' indicated that there might, possibly, be some shred of evidence and wouldn't that be interesting, indeed?

It didn't quite put the issue to bed, as Onoki's darkening face indicated, but suddenly I wasn't the only one under intense scrutiny, so that was good in my books.

"However fascinating this is," Mei cut in, when it seemed obvious that the volley was over. She looked reasonably pleased, but I couldn't tell if that meant she'd learned something new or merely had everything go as expected. "We are on a tight schedule here. Please take a seat and we will begin!"

The Mizukage gave the opening speech, and just like that, the Chunin Exams were on.

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There were some interesting fights. The Mist twins - Yoroshiku – were competing again, and were leagues better than they had been a year ago. Still much younger than everyone else on the field, but they no longer seemed like they'd been fed through a crash course of Taijutsu 101 and hoped for the best.

Hidden Sand had three genin in the competition – presumably from one team – with pretty clear gen-, nin-, tai- specialties. Shira, the taijutsu fighter, was pretty impressive and I'd have loved to see him go up against Lee.

From Konoha's side, Isaribi was in her element. Literally. The water arena was good for her. The downside was, everyone had come to Hidden Mist with the knowledge they'd have to fight water users. People were prepared.

Yakumo was a crowd pleaser, throwing down lightning strikes and even setting the half sunken ship on fire at one point, only to wipe the genjutsu at the end of the match and revert everything to an undamaged state. She seemed to have reduced her artboard down to a small postcard and her palette into a metal travel tin, which was good thinking.

But it was Sakura that made it to the final round.

Guiltily, I had to admit I was surprised. I mean, obviously Sakura was Tsunade's apprentice. And she was hugely intelligent and determined. And in another lifetime, she had been an excellent field ninja.

But it was definitely true that in term of actual battlefield experience, actual fights… she had very limited involvement.

The other finalist was a boy from Hidden Valley – the Land of Rivers. He had used some water ninjutsu in previous matches, but given how the tournament was all packed into one day this time, I wondered how his stamina was doing.

Okay, presumably, since his opening move was a barrage of water needles, firing a constant, wide stream of them at her. Given the location, running out of material for them wasn't much of an issue.

Sakura proved that Tsunade had really hammered home the importance of dodging – possibly literally – as she flipped, wove and dove across the field. There wasn't really an 'out of bounds', given the seating around the edges of the field, but she ended up backed uncomfortably into a corner of the arena.

Sakura dodged under the needle barrage, and shifted her stance from evasion to attack, planting her feet firmly and drawing a fist back in a clearly telegraphed punch.

"Cha!" She punched downwards into the ocean. And where earth would have split and cracked apart, the water wobbled violently at the point of impact, surging up and away, rising into a wave that smashed down heavily on her opponent and slammed him into the sunken ship.

The crowd exploded into a mass of cheers, whooping and hollering.

Follow through, I urged. You've got him on the ropes, make sure he stays there!

But she held back, waiting and when the water finished streaming off the side of the ship, her opponent was nowhere to be seen.

With my chakra sense, I could track him underwater, but Sakura couldn't. It was a reasonably obvious tactic, but she had to first see and look around and check for genjutsu and by that time there were hands on her ankles, pulling her underwater.

And either her opponent had as much lack of follow through as she did, or there was a brief underwater tussle, because they both surfaced and pulled themselves back on top of the water several feet apart.

"Your apprentice in more than medical jutsu, I see," Mei said delicately. "That was a very remarkable punch."

Down below, Sakura raced through handseals and then blew away in a burst of pink sakura petals. Her opponent twisted around, checked his blind spots and then realized it was a genjutsu and blew it away with a sharp 'Kai'. Sakura had covered the distance between them, though not launched an attack, and they engaged in a brief taijutsu tussle.

Her taijutsu was good, in that it was very by-the-book perfection, and if she'd been able to hit him with any kind of charged attack she would have had the upper hand. But this was where her lack of field experience seemed to let her down again, and she couldn't quite buy herself enough time to do that. I didn't think her opponent was a close range fighter, though, and that was probably why neither could really get the upper hand.

They ended up on the sunken ship, breathing hard.

The Hidden Valley boy paused, eyes flickering around the arena, and then threw his hands together for a very long sequence of seals.

Last chance move. This was the final match. If he had anything big to throw down, he'd do it now. Reserving stamina didn't really matter much, as long as you could take out just this one last person.

"Water Style: Water Catapult!"

The surface of the arena blobbed together, forming three droplets about the size of a person. The first detached from the ocean, and shot itself with extreme speed towards Sakura.

She dodged.

It slammed into the ship, punching hole clean through, side to side. Where it hit the ocean outside of the arena, water sprayed into the air like a geyser.

The crowd went oooh.

The second droplet moved.

Again, Sakura dodged. The shipwreck was looking pretty wrecked right about now. There wasn't very much stable footing at all. She'd have a hard time dodging the next one and it looked like she knew it.

The third droplet finished forming.

Sakura moved. Not off the ship, or towards her opponent, but towards the ship mast. She wrapped her arms around it and lifted. Wood cracked and groaned and then tore free.

She twisted, hefting a massive log of wood like it weighed nothing and then smacked that last Water Catapult out into the open ocean like the best home run in history.

I wanted to laugh. The crowd was screaming in a kind of cacophony of sound, and Sakura started to use the mast like a fly swatter – like a whack'a'mole – to hit her opponent, who was very suddenly on the run and looking like he didn't know what to do about that.

She smacked him down into the water, then when he popped back up, swiped him sideways with it. "Shannaro!" She shouted, and the ship mast kept going, turning a full circle to slam into the ship, person and all.

The referee moved forward and Sakura backed off.

"Match!" he called, holding a clearly unconscious boy. "The winner of the Kirigakure Chunin Exams is Sakura Haruno from the Hidden Leaf Village!"

The crowd cheered. Sakura beamed.

Up in the stands, I caught Sasuke's eye. That is the best ending to a Chunin Exams ever, I wanted to say. She just smacked him around with a giant piece of wood.

Sasuke looked reluctantly amused, so yeah. He totally agreed with me.

"Congratulations!" Mei said, standing and her voice carried all throughout the stadium. "To Sakura and to all our competitors of the day. We're going to reconvene now to discuss promotions, and there'll be a ceremony to present awards just after dinner in the main square. I hope everyone attends!"

The awards ceremony was pretty glitzy for something that wasn't really very formal. There was music and fireworks, but it basically boiled down to the four Kage saying a small speech and calling out names and handing over Chunin vests.

Still, all three of ours got promoted so, all in all, a very successful Chunin Exams was had.

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The next morning, that atmosphere seemed a lot more … charged. Not quite tense, but certainly more formal.

Sasuke and I were in our Chunin Blues and vest, because that was the only 'formal uniform' we had, and Tsunade had dressed up in the full Hokage robes. Sasuke and I were both carrying gifts, and I was pretty curious to know what they were. Well no. I had a scroll, and Sasuke had a covered bundle that was most probably a sword, but still. The details.

I got to find out soon enough. Because obviously wedding gifts weren't just about giving something to the bride and groom, they were about letting everyone know what you'd given them. And how valuable it was. And how good you were for giving them that.

There was a presentation. Thing.

And oh boy, were there plenty of guests to get through. Some of the gifts seemed decent – or valuable enough to like anyway – but there was plenty of the obligatory 'ugly vases' to go around. Mei seemed to have the whole 'diplomatic thanks' down pat, regardless of what it was.

Tsunade stepped up.

"Recently an artifact of the Hidden Mist came into our hands," she began. Sasuke stepped up beside her, bundle flat in his arms for her to unwrap and reveal. "So I return to you Kiba, the lightning sword, of the Seven Legendary Swords of the Mist."

She passed them over, two handed and respectful.

Mei received them with the same formal attitude. "I thank you," she said.

Tsunade nodded. "Though it would be a poor gift to merely return something that belongs to the Hidden Mist," she went on. I stepped forward and held out the scroll and she plucked it from my hands. "So I also offer this. Three places in the Konoha Medical Training Program for whoever you deem fit. And the stationing of two fully trained Konoha Medics inside Hidden Mist until their training is complete."

There was a low whistle from the crowd and I was almost entirely certain it was Kankurou. Which. No kidding. That was pretty goddamn generous. Though it really did double back into 'helping ourselves' if Tsunade's negotiating with alliances came to fruition.

Once that was done, the guests were all herded – gently and with kindness – by a variety of Mist ninja down to the beach where the wedding was going to take place. It was nicely set up, with benches arranged on the beach and a little white gazebo just floating on the water.

Huh. Nice. Well that was thematic. And I mean, to ninja water was just another surface and it did give it just that little touch of magic.

The three of us were seated near the front in prime location – because Tsunade was a Kage – but I did catch sight of Team Anko (all also professionally dressed in chunin blues) in the standing section near the cliffs.

Then the music kicked in and the groom and officiant appeared and Mei, beautifully dressed, made her way out onto the water to meet them.

And then the water beneath her feet began to tremble, like a glass of water during an earthquake. The ripples lapped against the beach, against the rocks, faster and more violently, going from gentle trembling to white capped waves, crisscrossing over themselves.

Then, in the distance, a giant body burst out of the ocean, water streaming violently off its sides, and screamed defiance into the sky.

Well, I guess that was what I was sensing, I thought almost off-hand in that one perfect moment before everything turned to absolute shit. It was the Three Tails reforming. Good to know.

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I thought I could get the exam, the wedding and the fight all done quickly in one chapter, but that does not seem to be the case at all. Kudos to everyone that guessed '3 Tails' as the mysterious chakra.