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: Extra thanks to Math-Is-Magic for talking me through a tough spot on this chapter.

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Chapter 141

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Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better. ~ Albert Camus

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"How long can you hold it?" Zabuza asked us gruffly, half shouting to be heard. The rain was fading to the last pitiful splatters of water, and the wind was down to a mild roar. "Restraint team into position!"

Four mist ninja regrouped and circled around, forming the pentagram for their technique. Haku's chakra surged and ice started to climb over Isobu's legs again, massive chunks of it, much rougher than anything I'd ever seen Haku make before.

"Wait! Wait!" I shouted at them. Isobu wasn't reacting – maybe because he trusted we'd stop or maybe because our attacks had done fuck all of nothing so far. I cleared my throat and tried to sound authoritative. "Stand down! Isobu has agreed to stop fighting!"

There was a brief pause like 'those words don't make sense used in that order'. But no one launched an attack, so that was good.

I twisted around, looking for the Mizukage since she was, y'know, nominally the one in charge. It meant I had to let go of Sasuke – our seal wasn't useful anymore and it freed up my hands in case I did need to use another technique, which was good – but also meant that my back was to a bijuu – which was slightly uncomfortable. We were still standing in front of his nose. Even ignoring the possible bijuu ball situation there was still the danger of teeth and general slamming.

"Isobu has agreed to stop fighting," I repeated. And then wondered how the hell I was supposed to actually explain any of this. Should I even explain any of it? "We negotiated a ceasefire," I said, because that sounded nice and professional and it was somewhere to start.

"Isobu promised," the giant Tailed Beast agreed, still sounding surprisingly young.

"A ceasefire," Mei repeated, arching an eyebrow and managing to sound only a little incredulous. "With the Sanbi."

It did sound ridiculous, yes. I fixed a smile on my face because I didn't have a good counter for that.

"Why not?" I said, winningly. "Neither side wants hostilities to continue." I spread my hands like what can you do. "Isobu had a corrupted seal on him – probably the remnants of a Jinchuriki seal – that was meant he was lashing out. Sasuke and I were able to stabilize it in return for his cooperation."

Mei had a tiny splash of lava at the corner of her mouth and she wiped it away with her index finger slowly, either an unconscious motion as she thought or stalling for time. I was momentarily distracted wondering if heat resistance was a natural part of her bloodlimit – it was lava on her skin – or if she had a separate technique for that.

Probably bloodlimit. How else would you be able to spit lava if it burnt you- Not. The. Time. Shikako.

"We certainly don't wish to continue fighting," she agreed, almost idly, watching Isobu with a very sharp and calculating expression. "We are, after all, a new and peaceful Hidden Mist. In the middle of commemorating our new regime, in fact."

"Well. There you go. Uh, this is Mei Terumi, the Fifth Mizukage," I introduced, feeling only slightly ridiculous for defaulting to manners right now. Did they know each other? I didn't know. "And this is Isobu, the Three Tailed Turtle."

Isobu lowered his giant head down, making the water swell out, and blinked a giant eye at her. "I know you," he said. "You killed Yagura." He sounded reproachful. "He was my friend."

Well. That was a nice three seconds of peace while it lasted.

"I did," Mei agreed, unexpectedly meeting the accusation head on instead of trying to excuse it or reason around it, "and I killed you as well. Right here."

"Yagura was trapped too, wasn't he, Isobu?" I asked, softly, trying to provide a more sympathetic counterpoint to such a bald faced truth. "Like you were." I reached out again to put a hand on his face, felt the scratch of rough scales against the palm of my hand. I had no idea if it helped – a giant turtle didn't exactly have facial expressions to read.

There wasn't much else I could say – 'I'm sorry' might have helped but it wasn't mine to say – and things like 'it needed to be done' might have been true but would be really unlikely to make anything better. I certainly wouldn't have liked to hear it.

"He was my friend," Isobu repeated, but smaller. Lonelier. Resigned, more than angry.

Which was good for us but still.

"We can be friends," Sasuke spoke up and glared at me like it was my fault. I hadn't made him offer. "It's not the same, but we could be friends."

"Isobu would like that," the giant chakra demon whispered.

"Let me introduce you to everyone, then," I said, a giddy mix of solemnity and relief. Maybe we'd talked our way out of this one after all. "This is Haku-"

Haku, being the champion that he was, bowed and smiled. "Any friend of yours is a friend of mine," he said. "I am pleased to meet you."

Then he took over, which was good since I didn't actually know the names of most of the other mist ninja. The ones that were in the bingo book, sure, but most of the rank and file? Nope.

Tsunade finished ensuring all the ninja who had been smacked around during the fighting weren't badly hurt and hauled the last mist nin to his feet by the collar of his vest. "Walk it off," she instructed. He looked pretty dazed, which could have been from the bijuu, the healing or her bedside manner.

I could sympathise. I knew that feeling.

Simply thinking that must have turned her attention to me – or she'd dealt with all the more urgent cases – because then we had a Hokage right in front of us. We moved slightly away so that the introductions could continue without us. Wasn't exactly a private conversation, but it was the best we could do.

"Injuries?" Tsunade asked crisply.

I actually took a second to think about it. I hadn't actually participated in the fighting until the very end and while the Shadow State and massive Shadow Stitching had taken a fair chunk of chakra, it hadn't taken everything.

"None," I said, pleased.

She didn't actually look convinced, and pressed a glowing hand to my forehead. Her chakra swept through me but didn't catch on anything because I wasn't actually lying. She repeated the procedure with Sasuke, also finding nothing.

"You will have to explain this later," she said quietly, lips barely moving. "But for now… good job."

A little bit of tension I didn't know I was carrying faded away. Tsunade approved. That wasn't nothing.

Mei edged her way closer to us, still watching Isobu closely as he was introduced to her ninja. Most of them were keeping their distance. "How certain are you that he won't attack?" She asked.

"I don't think he's any more likely to attack than any other ninja you've invited," I hedged.

"Hmm," she said, with a very great deal of consideration.

"Mei," Zabuza said, low and growling and almost warningly. He wasn't looking our way and probably shouldn't have even been able to hear what she'd said.

The Mizukage glanced at him sideways and blinked, sly, catlike amusement. "But darling, it's our wedding."

Isobu turned back to us. "Isobu has never been to a wedding before," he said, tucking his hands underneath himself. Like a cat loaf. And utterly destroying all the ice that Haku had seeded around him in the process, without even seeming to notice that it was there. It was hard to forget that he was a terrifying force of nature, of course, but… he wasn't putting a lot of effort into being intimidating, either.

Mei smiled. "Isobu, I would be delighted to invite you to my wedding."

That was… a hell of a gamble. If anything happened – if Isobu started fighting again, if he accidentally caused damage – there were a whole lot of very important guests that could get hurt and if anything happened to them the reputation of Hidden Mist would take a beating they could hardly afford. On the other hand, if nothing happened, all those very important guests (including the Tsuchikage) would see that Hidden Mist was just palling around with a bijuu.

And it would certainly counter the damage done by the interruption to the wedding in the first place.

Mei clapped her hands together, a single sharp sound. "Then let's go have a wedding."

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"Our most sincere apologies for the delay," Mei said, as the guests were gently ushered back down to the beach. We'd rescued what furniture had survived destruction and set up again, and tried to make ourselves presentable. The mist nin had known a nifty chakra trick to draw water out of clothes, so we were at least dry. "There was a brief rain shower, but fortunately the weather has cleared up again so we can resume!"

She smiled prettily.

Mostly… they seemed to be buying it. Or at least pacified by the 'no, you were totally not in any danger' explanations. It didn't need to be convincing; it just needed to be reassuring.

The Tsuchikage on the other hand, was absolutely irritable. "You have a bijuu! Just sitting there!" he spluttered at her. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Isobu is a valued member of my village," Mei said, voice filled with shock, one hand coming to her chest as though she were struck with offense. "It's policy of the new Kirigakure to welcome back members who may have left over disagreements with the previous regime. I'm sure we already agreed on this, Onoki-dono."

I was sure absolutely no one had ever intended that to apply to a bijuu, so I was highly amused that she had. His sheer disbelief at the gall of it only made it better. Kurotsuchi and Akatsuchi didn't look much happier, even while wearing appropriately stoic expressions.

"And I'd like to give a special thank you to the Kazekage for the replacement seating," Mei added, since a great deal of it was just… floating sand, including the stuff out over the water where we were, with Isobu. I guess he'd spent so much effort making more sand that it was a shame to do nothing with it. It was pretty amusing how many ninja just Did Not Want to touch it, though. "So if we can all return to our places…"

Given the dramatics, the wedding was over fast. Or rather, in comparison to the effort it'd taken to get here, anything would have seemed anti-climactic. They exchanged vows and sake cups and just as they were walking back across the water to the shore, gentle flakes of snow started to fall.

In October.

I looked at Haku. He was smiling serenely, even as guests ooh and ahhed about it. I caught a flake on my hand, and inspected it closely. This close to Isobu, my chakra sense was practically deafened – but for just a little while, this beach felt like Haku. Maybe intentional. Maybe not.

"It's a miracle," I said, teasingly.

There was a reception, but due to the Isobu situation, Sasuke and I didn't end up going. Anko and Sakura were speedily promoted to bodyguard / mingling duty, which was something I didn't even mind at all. Even Haku had to go being replaced by Ao - who had so far been kept at a diplomatic distance from the Konoha delegation - and Chojuro.

More surprisingly – or less, maybe – was that Gaara stayed on the beach.

"You do have to go, eventually," Temari said, but with the kind of practical understanding of someone who knew that would be exactly if and when he wanted to go and not a moment sooner, no matter how diplomatically necessary it might have been. "Can't hide out here all night."

"We won't even make you dance," Kankurou agreed. "You can just glare at everyone from underneath the hat and sulk in the corner."

Gaara ignored them both. In fact, he walked towards Isobu who regarded him with a faint interest. Gaara didn't seem exactly fussed with the whole 'giant bijuu' situation but then again he'd dealt with this before. Every day. Inside his head.

"I would accuse you of planning this stunt except it's kind of over the top even for you, sparky," Kankurou said.

I turned to him, puzzled. "What?" I glanced at Sasuke, he didn't seem to get it either.

"Hidden Leaf gets accused of evil mass destruction," Kankurou said, ticking down a finger, "then you very publicly solve a disaster in the most peaceful way possible. It'd be suspicious if I thought there was any possible way you could have done it."

I rolled my eyes at him. "Summoning bijuu out of the ether is a little beyond my ability, sorry," I said. "I'm pretty sure our plan was just to smile and look harmless."

The risk inherent in setting up a situation like that – even minus chakra monsters – was too massive to even think about attempting under the eyes of the greatest ninja in the elemental nations. Someone would work out you were playing them.

And besides. It's not like both things couldn't be true.

"Well, I think you blew that one," Kankurou said, glancing at Isobu. "But it looks like they're done talking so we're probably going to head inside and eat fancy party food. Have fun out here."

Strains of music and party-noise were drifting out from the hotel. It made the atmosphere a little lonely, all of us outside, kept at a distance.

I hummed, dipping my hand into the ocean and curling chakra into a ball of water. I drew it out into a ribbon, compressed it back into a ball and juggled it. Ao was watching me sharply, but Chojuro looked more interested than suspicious, so I magnanimously decided that that was probably just his face.

"Sasuke," I grinned. "Fire dancing. But with water."

He scoffed at me, but he was already drawing water into his hands to do the same.

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Once all the partying had been had and all the little daimyos sent off to bed or whatever, the Mizukage came back.

Her smile might have looked slightly fixed, but I didn't know her well enough to tell. Zabuza looked grumpy, but that wasn't exactly the shock of the year.

"Thank you for standing guard," she said to us. "You can turn in now; get some sleep."

It was a clear dismissal, so we saluted and left. I guessed that after several hours of not rampaging and killing everyone, they'd decided Isobu probably wasn't going to start now.

Tsunade was waiting in the hotel suite for us, Anko lounging casually against the wall and Sakura blinking sleepily on the couch.

"Any problems?" Tsunade asked, when we let ourselves into the room.

"Nope," I said, shaking my head. "Do you know what the plan is from here?"

Tsunade waved Anko away, and she took a yawning Sakura with her back to the contestant barracks, before taking a seat on the sofa herself. "They'll undoubtedly try and make a Jinchuriki," she said. "Though if they can put the sealing off until we're all gone, they will."

"So no one interferes?" Sasuke asked.

"And so no one can study it," I guessed. "The restraining technique they were trying to use before would have only been part of it."

"Most likely," Tsunade agreed. "So. What can you tell me about the seal that the Sanbi was trapped under?"

I hesitated.

"It wasn't a seal," Sasuke said. He crossed his arms, frowning.

The Hokage blinked at us, still and serious. "Run that past me again."

"It wasn't not a seal," I temporalized. "I mean, effectively, the way it was implemented made it a seal, even if it might not have been a conventional paper-and-ink one. And seals are really only just-" I cut myself off because it was probably not the time to digress into fuuinjutsu theory. "But uh… it was a genjutsu. And Isobu's right eye…"

Tsunade looked at Sasuke. "That wasn't you?"

He shook his head.

"We managed to… interact with the technique," I said, because finding words to describe what had happened was hard. "Metaphysically. And while we were there, there was a specter, the remnants of the person who cast the genjutsu. He definitely had the advanced form of the sharingan."

"Can you identify him?" Tsunade asked.

I considered and then shook my head. "It didn't show his face, or anything like that. Just the eye. And the… form of the eye was different than Kakashi-sensei's. Than Itachi's."

"There weren't that many who unlocked that level of sharingan," Sasuke said, uncomfortably.

"That's not good," Tsunade said, which was a masterful understatement. "If Mist thinks that Konoha is responsible…" she frowned, thoughtfully. "But it doesn't make very much sense at all. Especially if Yagura…"

"It felt old," I added, shifting slightly. That was… more of a guess than not, actually. "Like it had been there for a long time. It had started to wear away a bit but it was still pretty strong. You'd have to ask Isobu how long he'd been trapped."

Tsunade sighed and dragged a hand over her face. "This is all classified," she declared wearily. "I don't want it mentioned to anyone."

"Yes, Hokage-sama," we chorused.

I hesitated but asked anyway. "Does Hidden Mist know about Akatsuki? If- if they're going to end up with a Jinchuriki…"

"They're aware," Tsunade said, somewhat dryly. "And even if they weren't, the Kazekage also has opinions on the topic. Don't concern yourself with it."

When did I ever 'not concern myself' with something? But I accepted her words as reassuring enough. This particular avenue was covered, or something like it.

"Get some rest," she added, without moving from the couch. "We're heading home tomorrow."