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 142

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There is nothing permanent except change. ~ Heraclitus

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The trip back to shore was boring which I guessed was better than it being exciting.

Haku had turned over the pleasure of escorting us back to Chojuro, in favour of a vague 'new responsibilities' that in the absence of other information I took to mean 'that whole bijuu situation'.

Which was understandable but a shame. There hadn't been a whole lot of socialisation time during the trip. We weren't even on the same ferry back as the Sand Siblings - probably because Hidden Mist wanted to keep all ninja parties separate just in case - so there was no option to talk to them either.

It was a chattier group we were with this time, though. Sakura, Isaribi and Yakumo were more than willing to fill us in on what had happened during the first and second exams.

"I guess it wasn't quite as explosive as any of your exams," Sakura said, somewhat slyly.

I forced a smile. Sakura didn't mean anything by it. It was an old joke, started way back at the Academy. I doubted she even really remembered how it started. It was the kind of thing people just repeated, because it was funny, until it took a life of its own.

Only it wasn't funny now.

It really, really was not funny.

And also - it was dangerous.

"I've rebranded," I chided, trying vainly to keep my tone light. "Didn't you know? I'm a kenjutsu user now." I groped about, trying to come up with reasoning Sakura would like. "A far more ancient and elegant art, with legendary blades passed down from the hands of masters..."

She practically sparkled, hands clasping together and eyes wide.

"I don't know if anyone would call your fight with Zabuza 'elegant'," Sasuke said, deadpan. I tried to glare at him, but I was too relieved he was pitching in to help shift the conversation to really manage it.

"Elegant and mysterious," I insisted, which was generally only the point of view of people who had never seen a sword used on a battlefield. Or maybe there were people that found stabbing to be elegant. The world had all kinds. "Oh, did I ever tell you about the time I ran into a wandering swordsmith? He'd been accused of murder-"

The story of Sazanami - stripped of pretty much all identifying features and information in order to make it acceptable to tell in public - made an exceptional distraction and conversational redirection.

I really owed that dude a lot.

The rest of the trip back went much the same - no mysterious clouds of chakra, no bijuu, no ambushes - and Anko put her team in charge of setting up camp claiming they needed the practice, which was fine by me. And we got to observe Tsunade teaching Sakura some medical jutsu, because apparently winning the chunin exams was no excuse to interrupt her mentorship schedule.

Returning to Konoha was... a little uncomfortable. After the hostility at the exams, the atmosphere at home should have seemed less abrasive, not more, but somehow it didn't work that way.

When Tsunade called us back to her office several days later, I was hopeful. Though it was as ourselves, not as Hawk and Bat. Which led me to believe that it was a debriefing from the mission past and not actually a new mission.

I was half right.

"I can't promote you," Tsunade said, bluntly. "You understand that, don't you?" She seemed tired, which was probably from catching up after being away for a week, without even the additional stuff that had happened during the exam. "I can't send you out of the village. At the ranks you have, that's doable. If you're Jounin…" she trailed off.

I nodded, exchanging a look with Sasuke.

We had bigger targets on our backs than we could handle. We were good, sure, but we weren't shrug off a bijuu good. Only now, everyone thought we were.

It was no wonder that Tsunade didn't want to send us anywhere.

"I'm… not pushing for a promotion," I said, somewhat uncertainly.

She scoffed but looked amused. "You might not be, but your actions are," she said, which… okay I could understand that too. Again. The 'shrug off a bijuu' thing. "At some point, it's out of your hands. Once you reach a certain level, questions start being asked about effective utilisation of shinobi and their skills."

"So what do we do?" Sasuke asked, because it was pretty clear we couldn't unfight Isobu.

Tsunade smiled thinly. "So glad you asked." She lifted a scroll off of her desk and held it out.

Sasuke hesitated before taking it. I could see why – the scroll had his clan symbol on it. Or a modified version of it; red and white fan on a dark star background.

"If I'm promoting you, you're going to earn it," Tsunade said. "A jounin has to demonstrate that they're a leader of people, that they're beneficial to the whole of the village. They have to contribute, to develop, to push forward and establish changes."

"Or re-establish, as it were," I murmured, seeing pretty clearly where this was going.

Tsunade nodded. "For the next six months, your assigned mission is to draft a proposal for the re-establishment of the Konoha Military Police. Make no mistake," she added, dryly, "six months is not a deadline. I know that you're both terrible overachievers and like to perform miracles within the week, but I do not want you finished earlier. This is effectively, a six month moratorium on your promotion, nothing more, nothing less. You can put this scroll in a dark corner and forget about it." She considered. "Though I wouldn't recommend it, given that everyone is going to know you're supposed to be working on it."

"Hmm," I said, tapping my chin.

What did Konoha do now, with no police force? I'd had a bit of experience with the judicial arm, which was different. And the prison, which was run by Intel. And Ibiki, checking up on my on-mission actions when they'd thought I'd interrogated someone. Actually, what was the scope of the police force, even? Civilian crimes? Ninja crimes? Ninja on civilian crimes? Crimes within Konoha?

"Dismissed," Tsunade added.

"Well," I said, as we left her office. "I think I know where we should start."

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I received my copy of the new issue of the Konoha Bingo Book and cautiously checked my own page. It… wasn't as bad as expected, which was probably a given with how Tsunade was trying to downplay everything. But it was there, which was new and concerning.

But that also meant that it was time for the annual Special Jounin 'laugh at stupid Bingo Book pages' party again. They'd hired out a pub again, and I wove through the crowds to pick up a soda from the bar.

I glanced around, searching the room until I caught myself and realized I was looking for someone who couldn't possibly be here.

There were no ghosts in this crowd. My chakra sense removed all doubt. And yet. I still felt like there was - or if not a ghost then an empty space where Aoba should have been. Last time I'd been here, he'd been the one to invite me, the one to make sure I came.

You need to check this out, he'd have said, they've updated-

-and the illusion blew away because I didn't know what he would have said, what they would have updated or for who. There was only a gap where his knowledge should have been, the carefully collected knowledge of a lifetime, erased into dust and ash.

I wondered how many empty spaces were in this room, how many not-ghosts walking around that I didn't know to miss.

I sipped my drink and contemplated just… going home.

But no. That wasn't productive. I needed to stay, to associate with my comrades and to learn what they thought and how they felt about the current situation.

There was a nearly empty table to the side of the room, and I slid in across from Ibiki in a near replica of the last year.

I didn't think I had seen Ibiki since the hospital, if that could be called 'seeing'.

And that was…

It wasn't like I could hold it against him - it was his job to figure out how people ticked. Heck, he'd already had me in an interrogation room once already. Just because we were on the same side didn't mean it would never be turned on me.

I was fooling myself if I ever thought otherwise. That wasn't how ninja friendships worked.

And yeah, Ibiki asking questions had sent me crashing further. Would I have recovered faster, better, if he hadn't been so good at his job? I didn't know, and I didn't think anyone else did either. It was in the past now, there was no way to go back and try another strategy. We just had to live with what we'd done.

And really. What were his actions against that?

"Hey," I said, shrugging one shoulder.

Ibiki nodded, gravely. "Hello."

Well. Hopefully that meant it was settled. I didn't actually want to have a conversation about it. Especially not here.

I took another sip of my drink. Rolled the cool glass between my palms. Watched the bingo books get passed around the crowd. Listened to the reactions and outrage and hoots of laughter.

And then the bar door burst open. "Guess who!" Anko shouted, coat flapping. She struck a pose. "You can all call me Anko-sensei!"

"Special Jounin only!" someone from the crowd shouted. I suspected Genma. "No Jounin allowed!"

"The Jounin party is boring!" Anko shouted back. "And I know you miss me!"

The crowd jeered. But in a friendly way, because there was plenty of backslapping and congratulations thrown around and Anko was beaming brightly. They were happy for her, for her promotion.

Eventually she struggled through, a free drink in one hand and a blue Mist Bingo Book in the other. "Ibiki! Still hiding in a corner, huh?"

She slapped the book down on the table, triumphantly. "Check this out." It fell open to Haku's page. I read over it, the picture of his gentle smiling face at odds with how terrifying he sounded on paper.

"Huh," I said. "I didn't think they'd put that in the Bingo Book."

Host to Isobu - the Three Tailed Turtle.

Ibiki arched an eyebrow. "It's an imposing threat," he said. "Exactly the kind of detail that Bingo Book advertising is for. The only nation that doesn't list it's Jinchuriki is Konoha and I suspect that will change before too long."

Fair point.

I wasn't sure how I felt about it though – Tsunade had said that they would do it and I'd suspected it would be Haku. It made me worry for the target it put on him, but both Naruto and Gaara had the same target and that was… just something that had to be dealt with.

For Isobu…

It wasn't like they could have just left him roaming free. Not just because of the potential threat of Isobu returning (that was mostly allayed by being able to actually talk to him) but the fact that someone would have ended up sealing him if they didn't. If it wasn't Akatsuki it would have been Hidden Cloud.

I'd bet they'd be down off the mountain with their bijuu sealing jar instantly, if they'd realized he was loose.

Bijuu weren't just wildcards. They were weapons. And Hidden Cloud did like to collect those.

Maybe Isobu could have left - the ocean was massive - but... I wondered. Was it coincidence that all the bijuu were still here, in the elemental nations? It had been a long, long time since the sage had created them, and less than a hundred since humans had discovered jinchuriki. Had they just not wanted to leave? Had they left and returned? Could they leave?

Irrelevant, now, I guessed.

It had been done. And it hadn't been my decision. Maybe it was one of the unsolvable problems that we'd have to work on – what to do with the tailed beasts that wasn't endlessly caging them – alongside world peace. Maybe Naruto would have an idea, after talking with Kurama.

A problem, as they said, for future me.

Anko disappeared into the crowd again. I nodded to Ibiki, fortified myself and got up to mingle.

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Life in Konoha continued at a pretty breakneck pace. I wrote seals for the clan until my arm fell off - metaphorically -, completed assignments for medical training at the last minute and dreaded when they surpassed what I already knew, because learning medical jutsu was a full time job in itself and not something easily squeezed between about four other full time jobs, trained, trained with Sasuke, trained with my ANBU squad, subbed in at the tower, and tried to find five minutes to work on this new Police Force thing.

You would think 'so what did the Police Force do?' would have been an easy question to answer. You would also be wrong.

By unspoken agreement, we didn't actually start with the physical police buildings, which put a bit of a damper on things, but was understandable. I'd figured the Konoha side would have had equal records, anyway, but that wound up being a nightmare and a half. Even with Tsunade's 'mission' providing authorization for access, getting departments to fess up records was a headache - and then trying to find out anything relevant, or trying to work out what had changed when... things had changed over.

The Konoha Military Police had had an uneasy symbiosis with half of Konoha, from the sounds of things.

Even just asking the older cohort that had been around and worked with them... didn't give a lot of answers. The Police (and the Uchiha) had been pretty insular.

Which meant we probably would have to tackle the old Uchiha properties to get anything in the way of answers.

So it was no wonder I was perfectly willing to drop it all when Hawk-taicho told me we had a mission.