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 143

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You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. ~ Jeannette Rankin

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"Red Team," Tsunade said, as we assembled in her office. It was quiet, the security seals muffling everything outside of this room. "Are you mission ready?"

"At your word," Hawk-taicho confirmed.

She nodded and clasped her hands together. "There's no mission scroll for you today - your orders are verbal only, so listen carefully."

I had no point of reference to tell if that was unusual for ANBU, and no one else reacted, though the fact that she was stating it meant that it probably was? Tsunade wasn't the type to repeat obvious information more than necessary.

"This is a stealth and sabotage mission," Tsunade began. "Highly sensitive. Highly classified. You're being deployed to the Land of Earth – I don't need to stress how little Konoha can afford to have ANBU noticed in the area."

"We'll be discrete," Hawk-taicho said.

Tsunade snorted softly, a clue that she was very aware of who, exactly, she was sending on this mission. "Your mission is the destruction or disruption of the river ports at Kaikou and Kawaguchi, or to otherwise cause disruption to the shipping trade of Earth Country."

Kaikou and Kawaguchi were both ports along the Furukawa River – also known colloquially as 'the Belt' because it ran horizontally along most of the Land of Earth, from the Kouhou Mountain in the west to the Iriumi Gulf in the east. It was part of a pretty important trade route, internally because Land of Earth was pretty mountainous and difficult to carry goods across land and internationally because ships could run straight across the Gulf from Land of Earth to Land of Lightning, which helped explain why those two countries tended to ally against the rest of us more than not, despite being in opposite corners of the map.

I mean, being in opposite corners probably helped. It meant that there was a lot to conquer between them before they ever started competing for resources.

"The reasons for these targets are two fold," Tsunade went on, tapping her fingers on her desk. "Most obviously, to deprive Hidden Cloud of resources. Secondly, to force Onoki to keep an eye closer to home. We've had intelligence that Hidden Rock has sent ambassadors to Hidden Cloud, no doubt to discuss alliances. An attack at this juncture is nearly as likely to come from Hidden Cloud itself, disguised as an enemy attack, as it is to come from Konoha. Which Onoki would be perfectly aware of."

Which meant that our actions – the true enemy attack – could actually be suspected to be from the nominal ally of Hidden Cloud. Convoluted, but yes, it wasn't like the Raikage would pass up the chance to put some pressure on an ally to make them side with him.

"Understood," Hawk-taicho said.

Tsunade leant back in her chair. "I will reiterate - It is imperative that Konoha is not associated with anything that may be perceived as an attack. If you believe it is impossible to proceed with your mission under those conditions, abort the mission and return to Konoha. Any changes to mission parameters while in the field will be at the discretion of your squad captain."

She dismissed us and we ghosted out of her office, to the ANBU headquarters, to gear up. We made a quick stop at the quartermasters, because the kind of thing you needed to destroy entire ports weren't the kind of stuff people regularly carried around.

"What do you need?" Kawauso asked. "Any special mission requests?"

"Demolition charges," Hawk said. "High yield." He tilted his mask sideways, towards me. "Any preferences?"

I paused. "I can work with anything, but Unkyaku type tend to be favoured by Hidden Cloud."

"Those for her," Hawk agreed. "Standard for the rest of us."

I scribbled my ANBU ID number – separate and distinct from my normal ninja ID – down on the required requisition form and Kawauso retrieved the charges from a security sealed vault.

"You also get these," Kawauso said, slapping four stacks of paper down on the table. They were seal tag sized, maybe half a dozen in each. "Hokage's orders. These are now part of your standard loadout."

Hawk-taicho picked them up and flicked through. "The new Nara barrier seals?" he asked, only sounding a little surprised. Towa and Komachi crowded a little closer, to inspect them.

"Know about them?" Kawauso asked, like that wasn't entirely expected. "Guess you don't need a demonstration, then. What about the rest of you?"

"I might," I said, and managed to keep my voice absolutely flat.

Sure, the only person who would understand why that was funny was Sasuke, but I could tell he appreciated it. Or didn't appreciate it in a way that I appreciated.

That did actually prompt Kawauso to lay out the seal tags and explain what they were and how to use them, but I figured he had to do that regardless. He had a pretty good spiel anyway, and I resolved to steal it if I ever had to hand them out to people.

"The downside," he added at the end. "No one else has barrier tags like this. If you use them, it's as good as a neon sign that you're from Konoha."

Which would be something very important for this mission in particular, given that Tsunade had been pretty firm about that whole 'not being seen' thing.

We split up, briefly, to grab the rest of our mission packs, and met up again near the ANBU gates, flickering our seals at the ANBU on duty.

"Ready?" Hawk asked. "Any last questions?"

"'Changes to mission parameters at the discretion of the squad captain'," Towa repeated softly, echoing Tsunade's words from the mission briefing earlier. "She gave you a lot of rope to hang yourself with, taicho." He might have sounded vaguely troubled – but bringing it up again almost certainly meant he'd been turning it over since the meeting.

I paused and looked back at him. "Was that unusual?" I asked, because I had graduated the Kakashi Hatake school of mission completion which generally amounted to 'do what you feel like, explain it when you get back'.

Hawk grunted. "Only if we screw it up," he dismissed.

Fair.

"It's a little unusual," Komachi agreed. "But then, we haven't been working with Hawk-taicho for long, either."

So yeah, not ANBU standard then. Good to know.

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We left Konoha straight into the forest, not even touching the roads leaving the village. Or any of the other roads crossing the countryside. Part of the whole 'secret black ops' deal.

It didn't exactly make things difficult but it was a difference, the same way that we stopped talking, only communicating through handsigns. It made the whole mission feel… more serious. More secret.

Not that our normal missions hadn't been serious. They had been. It just felt… different.

We headed north, stopping at the Konoha outpost on the border – or stopping near it and sending Taicho to secretly talk to the outpost commander – to grab up to date intel on the Rock troop movements. And to let them know that we were passing through. Officially, we weren't here, of course, but security measures ought to be able to identify ninja passing through or they weren't good security measures.

It was definitely a more fraught crossing than any I'd done before – we went north through Land of Waterfalls (because our other options were Rain or Grass and neither of those were good choices) and then into Land of Earth from there. That at least put us on the east coast of the country, near the Iriumi Gulf, which was where we needed to be for part of our mission, anyway.

We were running at maximum stealth – all using our best stealth jutsu, all signs suppressed, and doing our absolute best to muffle our footsteps in case the vibrations were monitored – and wove around known outposts and any other people we sensed along the way.

Since we didn't end up fighting… it must have worked.

Land of Earth was, as expected, pretty mountainous. Craggy, might have been the word for it, with a lot of bare rock and jutting spikes. Which broke up the horizon, sure, but there wasn't a lot of growth and cover for immediate concealment.

We made camp, carefully, in a mountainside nook that was hard to spot except from basically directly above, with rock pattern camouflage blankets and careful perimeter traps to prevent anyone from stumbling upon us.

No fire, of course, so we ate our rations cold and planned for our next move.

Hawk unfolded a map, spreading it flat on the ground. "We need to scout out Kawaguchi Port before we make any moves," he said. "The port town is pretty large, and security will be high, so it's going to be difficult to get close enough to complete our mission. We'll approach from the southern cliffs, see if we can get eyes on the target."

In some ways, it didn't feel any different from any other camp. Setup, bedrolls, watch rotation. Perfectly routine.

In others… we were so alone. Cut off. This was it, us in the middle of enemy territory. No backup, no contacts, no nothing.

It was still another half a day travel to the river, but by mid-afternoon we'd managed to scout ourselves a position where we could overlook the port town on the river mouth, if we were very, very careful. The southern cliffs were high and dropped away steeply edge along the river and the port was on the north side, where the riverbank was a semi-gradual slope up into a wide open flat where the town itself was built, before the ground burst up into another series of mountains.

Security; high, Komachi signed, both a warning and a question.

She was right.

There were a lot of ninja down there.

We'd expected high security – the ports were important infrastructure, after all – but there was still more than would reasonably be expected. Which begged the question of why.

There were standard guard outposts, and whatever passed for ninja customs officials. There were town patrols. And there were at least two jounin and a dozen chunin that weren't filling any of those positions. That seemed too many to just be off duty or relief.

We waited.

There was no time frame on our mission – though the longer it took the more likely we were to be noticed – and surveillance was too important to even be called boring. We waited, still and silent, overlooking the port, as the people below milled about and the sun sank towards the horizon.

Late in the afternoon a ship came into dock, ninja springing up on the deck. But they weren't wearing the brown vests of Rock ninja but white asymmetric ones. At least four of them, a full squad lead by a jounin. A recognizable one at that – a large man carrying swords and a massive chakra signal.

The cloud nin disembarked. Killer B was met by the two 'extra' jounin, greeting them with what seemed to be exuberance. The three ninja that followed him were less easy to recognize at a distance, but smart money put them as his students.

And then, horrifyingly, he turned, as though surveying the river and cliff – and paused, right when he would have been looking at us.

I pressed down flat, stopped breathing and didn't move, chakra pulled in tight and all stealth jutsu up and active.

Killer B looked away.

The moment stretched out. No one down below reacted. Had he seen us? Had he not? Had it just been… looking?

It shouldn't have been possibly for him to see us – but possible was a shaky concept when applied to ninja, and especially when applied to S-rank ninja.

Withdraw, Hawk-taicho signaled, and we wormed our way backwards off the clifftops, slowly and carefully, and regrouped, well out of line of sight.

"Cloud ninja," Komachi said, voice low with irritation. "Of course they have to show their faces while we're in the area."

"We're can't risk engaging them," Hawk said. "Especially not with Killer B there. We can't really afford to get close – if he noticed that we were there…"

"If they're ambassadors," Towa said, slowly, "that means they'll be heading upriver to Hidden Rock. If not…"

If not, then the whole 'alliance' thing was probably further along than we'd anticipated.

"We can wait them out," Hawk-taicho suggested. "Plant the explosives once they've left the port. It would be doubly suspicious for the demolition to happen once they've just been there."

Too suspicious, really. The chain of logic between who planted them was so solid that, inversely, it would make it look like a set up. Even though it was.

Goddamn ninja logic.

I pointed that out. "And Killer B is eccentric but he's no fool. They'll protest their innocence and use it to their advantage in the negotiations. Especially if he knows we're here."

Which meant another layer of thought – not only was it complex strategically, it might also be a trap.

"So," Hawk said, "to sum it up. We have to destroy the ports – without revealing ourselves or implicating Konoha. Or implicating Hidden Cloud because that is, in effect, also implicating Konoha now."

"We could get to Kaikou Port ahead of them," Komachi suggested, though somewhat reluctantly. "Blow it before they get there."

I calculated the odds. The cloud ninja had arrived late, so they'd probably be spending the night in the city. If we left now, travelled overland instead of up the river…

We'd have no time for scouting or planning. It would be extremely rushed. If there were any complications…

It didn't look good.

"Hm," I said, and unfolded the map, carefully spreading it out on the ground.

Hawk crouched down next to me. "Got an idea?" He asked.

"Maybe," I said, tracing my finger over the blue ink of the river. An idea was forming, anyway. "Our orders were 'disrupt the shipping trade' not necessarily 'destroy the ports'… and we have to do that without it seeming like it was done by ninja…"

It was a crazy idea.

So crazy it might work.

"My idea is," I said, slowly. "We steal the river."