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: Super thanks to Frolic, Pepperdoken and MathIsMagic for their help and brainstorming!

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Chapter 145

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But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine. ~ Thomas Jefferson

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When Sasuke and I rocked up to our training field the next morning, it was already in use.

Sasuke huffed and crossed his arms, even though, technically, we had no more rights to it than anyone else because we hadn't, like, booked it or anything.

I shook my head. "It's Kakashi-sensei and Tenzou," I said, and for a brief second, I wondered if they'd been fighting since we'd left them last night. But no – they'd moved training fields so that probably implied a break in there somewhere. "They're probably waiting for us."

"Who is Tenzou?" Sasuke asked, frowning, but following me into the training field. We headed towards the memorial stone to wait.

I blinked. That… probably wasn't something I should actually say out loud, even if I was sure there was no one around to hear it. "You know," I said vaguely, and brought my wrist up to chin level, hand loosely curled like a maneki-neko. "Nyah."

Sasuke looked at me blankly.

He was still looking at me blankly when Kakashi-sensei and Tenzou stopped fighting and dropped down onto the grass to say good morning.

"I hate you," Sasuke said to me. "There was literally no other way you could have conveyed that information?"

I smirked and shrugged.

"Now, now, don't say such hurtful things," Kakashi-sensei chided. "You don't want to misunderstand each other."

We both gave him a flat look. Though… it was probably a good thing that Kakashi-sensei was advocating clear communication. Progress? Probably.

Tenzou gave a vaguely disbelieving snort, apparently not that impressed by it. But he was here so that also indicated that some form of reconciliation between them.

"So what are we doing?" Sasuke asked, obviously assuming Kakashi-sensei had some reason for arranging a team training, however coincidental it seemed.

Kakashi-sensei just gave a rolling shrug. "You must have been working on something in between classified missions to places unknown," he said, like he wasn't perfectly aware of what we'd been doing.

I hummed thoughtfully. "I mean, we could definitely use some pointers on Earth Jutsu. That's your speciality right, Tenzou-san? I think sensei mentioned it once…"

Tenzou rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "You could say that, I guess."

Sasuke nodded, catching onto where I was leading. "Do you know Earth Flow?" he asked. "We've been working on that."

"You taught them Earth Flow?" Tenzou asked Kakashi-sensei, sounding honestly surprised. "I didn't think you were any good at it."

Kakashi-sensei looked mildly insulted, which probably meant it was true. And it being true was interesting, because there wasn't much in the way of jutsu that Kakashi sensei wasn't good at. "I gave them the information," he deferred. "Didn't know they'd been working on it. How far did you get?"

"Sasuke can do it," I said.

"But Shikako had to point out the … lines," he said back. "And it got away from me a bit. Wasn't very controlled."

Tenzou looked intrigued. "I've never actually managed to teach it to anyone else," he said. "It's very intuitive to me, but Dragon Veins are a complicated concept."

I shrugged. "Not that complicated," I said. "They're points of concentrated natural energy." Then I actually thought about it. "Wait, can you sense them? Or do you like… divine where they are based on, like, topological details?"

Tenzou blinked rapidly. "I can sense them," he said, baffled. "How on earth would you go about divining where they might be?"

"Hah!" I said, gleefully, which totally wasn't an answer to the very good question he had asked. "And Jiraiya said that people couldn't 'just' sense natural energy."

"Just because you found one other person who can do it-" Kakashi-sensei started.

"Is this that Sage thing?" Sasuke asked, over top of him, because, yes actually, he had been there for that conversation, hadn't he? "Wait. I thought Jiraiya said not to use it or you would die. Or worse."

"Jiraiya? Sage?" Tenzou asked, at the same time, bewildered.

"That's totally a different-" I said, also managing to talk over top of them. "We aren't using using-"

We all stopped talking, cutting off into silence.

I cleared my throat, tentatively, and received 'go ahead' nods. Yeesh. "Natural energy is … kind of like chakra produced by plants and animals and things that just… kind of exists in the world. Sages like Jiraiya or the monks at the Fire Temple can use it as a chakra source and bring it into their body – but it's dangerous and requires a lot of training. Earth Flow uses it to amplify jutsu in kinda the opposite way? You synchronise your jutsu to the Dragon Vein, without actually touching the natural energy yourself." I paused. "Right?"

"Well, yes. A Dragon Vein is a concentrated path of energy in the earth," Tenzou said. "You can take advantage of it using earth jutsu, like taking advantage of a river for water jutsu."

Sasuke was frowning, though. "Okay, but I'm not trained in any of that."

"Ah, but you are kind of naturally attuned to natural energy," I said, a little apologetically. I raised my hand to my collarbone and tapped my thumb over the point where Sasuke's curse seal was on him – even though everyone here probably knew about that too. The curse seal had definitely had a natural energy clause, and the pills and barrel situation had been designed to catalyse a full body change for him. The second stage curse seal was effectively a kind of sage mode. "Or the sharingan is a cheater."

I'd never doubted Sasuke could do it, but I hadn't actually thought about it in terms of his curse seal, before suggesting Earth Flow as a solution on our mission, but it made sense. The curse seal was basically a hacked sage mode – well, on a very lose interpretation – so clearly he was further along the scale than most people. I could sense stuff, but even with the Fire Temple training, I didn't have much in the way of knowledge on how to actually use it.

Following that thought, it was more interesting that Tenzou could.

Then again.

Mokuton was weird as far as bloodlimits went, and not just for the rarity. It had been explained as a mix of Earth and Water affinities, but that was clearly not the full story – there was also a Mud Release bloodlimit that was made up of the same, and that one made ontological sense.

Mokuton clearly had a little bit more. Something living. Did it also require an affinity for natural energy, some ability to be a sage?

Did Tenzou inherit that with the bloodlimit, or had he naturally had the ability and that had allowed him to survive it?

Not my place to ask.

"So please, if you have any advice…" I said, leadingly. "We'd be very grateful."

Tenzou did have advice – some of which was familiar from my training with Tonbo in the Sensory Squad, but which seemed new to Sasuke. We couldn't actually practice here, because there weren't convenient Dragon Veins running through our training field and even if there had been it was probably a little too destructive to throw around inside Konoha, but Kakashi-sensei suggested scheduling training later at the place he'd taken Sasuke during the Chunin Exams.

When we wound down, Kakashi-sensei offhandedly suggested we get food, which was sweet coming from him.

"You guys go without me," I said, shaking my head. "I need to get to the hospital."

Three pairs of eyes immediately snapped to me and started scanning for injuries, like I was going to spontaneously start bleeding everywhere.

"For class," I said, exasperated.

Studying medicine gave me a good excuse to hang out with Sakura, even though we weren't in any of the same classes. I had a good advantage, what with previously having studied anatomy and biology and knowing the basic jutsu, but Sakura had taken to medical ninjutsu like a duck to water and was deserving of the interest that Tsunade had shown in her for it.

"How goes training, Sakura-senpai?" I teased. "Finally mastered the strength technique?"

She went a little pink. "Not mastered," she said, demurely, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "But… I'm getting pretty good. Shishou says I still have a long way to go, though!"

I was genuinely happy to hear that. "I think Tsunade-sama thinks we all have a long way to go."

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Red Team ended up rostered onto in-village patrols for the next few weeks, which was possibly the equivalent of downtime after a strenuous mission.

Not that it had been terribly strenuous? Just… requiring of inventive problem solving, with the potential for a confrontation with Killer B on the horizon.

It meant we were still in Konoha for the New Years Festival, though, which was lucky because it would have been extremely difficult for me to totally vanish for that. Too many people would have made a point of looking for me to buy the 'oh I was Somewhere Else And Busy' excuse.

Like the previous year – god, had it been a year already? – Sasuke came to our house before we all left for the festival.

"You'll love this," I said, "come on."

Kino, who had been woken and dressed in a teensy tiny kimono and was thrilled and delighted to be up in the forbidden past bedtime hours, took one look at us, raised his arms, and cried, "Ni! Ni!"

"That's right, little knight," I said. "Ni, ni to you too."

Sasuke scooped him up, bouncing him in the air and gained a few more happy 'ni!'s.

"It's his new favourite word," I explained to Sasuke. "Everything he likes is 'ni' right now. Shikamaru, me, Teddy, food… except for Kaa."

"Kaa!" Kino repeated eagerly, looking around for mom. He waved at her, frantically and uncoordinated. "Ni!"

"That's … fair," Sasuke said, voice cracking only slightly.

Kino didn't really stay awake that long. Even his wide eyed delight at the festival flagged quickly because of the late hour, and Sasuke ended up giving him back to Mum so that he could get some sleep.

I hadn't really given the festival much thought – if I had I probably would have thought that it wouldn't be as big or as joyful as previous years. Not with half our shinobi deployed to the front and in-village security getting wound tighter and tighter.

But that wasn't really the case. On the contrary, it seemed even livelier – more stalls, louder music, more people dressed up – like everyone was making a special effort to enjoy it simply because everything else was worse.

Yeah. I felt that.

I squared my shoulders and made a concentrated effort to do the same. "Oh," I said, spotting the nearest food stall. "Taiyaki! Let's get some."

Sasuke smirked. "You're just going to spend the whole night eating sugar, aren't you?"

I grinned. "That sounds like a great plan, taicho."

He scoffed like that wasn't a suggestion, but also brought a savoury waffle fish, despite the sweet ones being clearly superior.

We ran into Kiba fairly early on, who dragged us towards a pack of Inuzuka and dogs with an arm around each of our shoulders. Akamaru gave me soulful puppy eyes until I forfeited the last bites of taiyaki to him.

"Weak," Kiba said, shaking his head and laughing. "You gotta learn to resist."

"I'm sure I'm not the only one," I claimed, watching an impromptu performance of dogs being adorable and backflipping over each other to the extreme pleasure of the gathering crowd. "Besides, it means I can buy more now."

We chatted for a little while, applauded the performances, until Kiba was swept up in it again.

"Oh, also! If you see Sai tell him to come find me!" He asked, because apparently there'd been a new release of some terrible manga that he wanted to share with him. "I've been looking for him, but can't find him."

There was a crease of irritation on his forehead, the sting to the professional pride of a tracking specialist who had unknowingly been trying to track an ANBU and failing.

I tried not to smirk. "Will do!" Though it wasn't like I knew how to get a hold of Sai regularly either. Did he even have an apartment? Did he live somewhere off the grid with ROOT? Would it be a problem for him to just randomly go and see Kiba, or would that be standard under 'maintaining cover'?

Definitely not questions I wanted to be contemplating while trying to enjoy myself at a festival.

I had hoped to run into Ino and the rest before the fireworks, but that wasn't the case, so Sasuke and I found ourselves a good view point on one of the rooftops that had been converted into little picnic seating areas for the night. It was a little out of the way, so it wasn't crowded but it was still populated.

Including by a familiar presence lurking in a back corner.

"Hi, Ibiki-taicho!" He wasn't even dressed up, still in his ninja uniform and black coat, which somehow looked even more incongruous than on a regular day. But, there was an open bottle of sake and saucer on the table and he looked relaxed so it wasn't like he was working. "Wow, it's a nice view from up here."

And I wasn't even being facetious. A good view of the fireworks – of course – but also of the central streets where the main part of the festival was, and of the river where the fire dancing and more physical activities and competitions were happening.

Ibiki looked amused. "It is, yes."

The fireworks themselves were fun. I'd worried – for a split half second, when the first boom and crack had sounded and the flare of light hadn't yet lit up the sky – that I wouldn't enjoy them. Worse. That they would remind me-

But of course not. There had been no boom and flash. No gunshot sounds for my mind to worry over. That wasn't what anything had been about.

Fireworks were just fireworks.

"How is your Jounin Project going?" Ibiki asked casually. It wasn't exactly a secret what we were working on, in fact, given the number of questions we'd gone around asking about it, it was pretty much the opposite of a secret.

"Slowly," Sasuke admitted, leaning his elbows on the table.

Ibiki raised an eyebrow. "I would think that simply reinstating a department that previously existed would be simple."

That was so bland as to be a challenge. There was absolutely no way that Ibiki thought it would actually be easy.

"Sure," I agreed, amicably. "If you only wanted to reinstate it exactly as is. And even in that case, resurrecting it simply from documentation and without input from shinobi with experience using it is a challenge. But Konoha has adapted to … not having a police force, so there need to be decisions about where it should take back over and where the new system is better – or if a different change needs to be made." I shrugged one shoulder. "You probably have input on that, don't you, Ibiki-taicho? The Intel Division and prison must have had quite a bit of overlap with the Police."

"A thoughtful point," Ibiki said, casual enough that he had absolutely already thought of that.

Of course he had. Everyone who was going to be mildly affected by our plans had probably run through exactly what it could mean for them.

If they would just tell us what they were worried about-

Could we make submission forms or something? Send out a survey?

Something to consider.

I smiled, a touch ruefully. "We would, of course, be grateful for any of your advice. I'm sure your department runs extremely smoothly."

Ibiki agreed to meet up with us at some point to go over it all, which was exciting. I looked forward to working with Ibiki again, especially on something basically harmless. That probably tipped this police force thing from 'tedious make work assignment' to 'fun collaborative group project'.

You know, for a given value of 'fun group project'.