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.

Also, Frolic, our super organiser, has been giving the reddit some new life. reddit r/DreamingOfSunshine

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Chapter 148

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The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones ~ John Maynard Keynes

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Since I figured that I mostly had all my ideas in order anyway, the largest part of my preparations for the training group meeting — did we need an official name for this? — was to buy a catering box from an Akimichi bakery and take it to the tower; if I was going to ask a bunch of people to do me a favour, at least I could make sure we were appropriately fed.

Judging by how heavy the box was, possibly over fed.

I felt like this was a good decision, until I got to the meeting room itself and found that Ebisu had arrived even earlier than me and had brought with him half a dozen A2 sized posters and was busy taping them to the front wall.

There was an alarming pile of things on the desk.

"Ah, Shikako-san! I will be done in a moment," he assured me. "I was simply getting set up."

I smiled back, dropped the catering box on the desk and made a retreat. "Absolutely! I will be right back. There's just... a... thing. A thing I need to do first."

That thing was definitely ask what I'd got myself into.

I mean, I knew what I'd gotten myself into and why, but that had been a brief flash of dawning premonition that maybe I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

I just, you know, could put that off for the ten minutes it took for the meeting to actually start. And then I'd have backup in the form of everyone else who had been suckered into this drama.

This decision satisfied me and I lurked casually around the tower corridors for a few minutes, until I sensed someone very slowly making their way up the stairs. So slowly it was unusual, and therefore attracted my attention even over the busy hum of Tower activity.

I tucked my hands into my jacket pockets and wandered down the stairs, prepared to just casually pass by and take a gander at what was going on.

What it turned out to be was Manabu Akado — and he was going slowly because he was carrying the meeting scroll, a briefcase, and a typewriter while attempting to match the meeting room number with the barely advertised floor levels in the stairwell.

"Good afternoon, Akado-san!" I said, cheerfully. "Need a hand?"

He startled, like he hadn't noticed me standing there, and the typewriter slipped out of his grip, starting its slow collision course for the ground.

That was some terrible awareness, since I hadn't been sneaking, not even a little bit. And he still wasn't wearing anything even remotely resembling a weapon.

I stepped forward and caught the falling object, lifting it out of the air before Akado had time to protest, and examining it with a vague disinterest. It wasn't like I was unaware that Konoha had things like typewriters — tech levels were all over the place and not all that accessible — but there were enough typed forms coming through that it was a background fact. It was just that, personally, I found them irritatingly inferior to a computer keyboard and I was pretty sure that I could write faster than a typewriter could keep up with.

"Ah, good afternoon, Nara-san," he said, papers fluttering in his hands. "I hope I'm not late! I was having a little trouble finding the correct room."

"Not at all, not at all," I dismissed. "You're still early. We're up another couple of floors; I can show you where it is."

I hefted the typewriter, which was a little awkward and bulky but not really an issue, and motioned for Akado to follow me. I didn't ask about it, but apparently the potential of a question was still enough.

"Ah, yes," he said, hurrying after me. "I wasn't entirely sure what the system is at the Hokage's Tower so I requisitioned a typewriter from the Genin Corps to bring with me, just in case there wasn't one available here."

I made a noise of understanding even that only answered, like, half my question. "But no storage scroll?" I asked, because that would have been a much easier way of transporting a thing.

"Oh, I didn't have the authorisation to requisition one," he responded, which actually took me a second to parse.

Well, yes. I supposed that technically storage scrolls were office equipment. And therefore would be under the control of whatever requisition system existed in the department — and I supposed that if you weren't a field shinobi you probably didn't just have storage scrolls.

Although there were probably a fair number of field shinobi that didn't have them either. I ran my tongue over the barely perceptible water seal on the inside of my cheek.

Weird.

Those people were not living their best lives.

"Well," I said. "Remind me before the meeting ends and I'll make sure you've got one. No point you lugging this around when there's an easier way."

"Oh, I wouldn't want to make problems," Akado said.

"Trust me," I said dryly. "That's really not going to be a problem."

We arrived at the meeting room, which was slightly more intimidating now that there were complex charts taking up three walls, but on the brightside, Anko had also arrived and opened the snack box in order to help herself.

I set the typewriter down on the table and Akado gingerly settled himself into a seat, opening his briefcase to reveal a pretty well organised stationery set up and starting to put things on the table.

"Hey," Anko said, waving lazily. "I told you, kid, you should have just taken the Kunoichi Club. It'd have been way easier than all this."

I shrugged. The Kunoichi Club was the last thing I was worried about. "Oh, we'd probably still have ended up stuck with it but then I'd have two things to do," I said. "And then I wouldn't have been able to ask my Anko-senpai for advice, would I?"

"Flattery gets you everywhere," Anko said, grinning. She slouched down in her chair, looking relaxed. "Ibiki is pretty interested in whatever you've got going here," she confided. "So I expect it to be good."

"I hope we live up to your standards," I said dryly.

Sasuke and Iruka-sensei arrived; Sasuke just turning up casually in the room without actually opening either the door or window — which was just showing off — and Iruka-sensei bustling in with an armload of papers and apologizing about being late.

I looked at the clock. "Yes, those thirty seconds are really setting us back, Iruka-sensei," I said dryly. I stood up and awkwardly dusted my hands. "I guess we should get started then."

Akado raised his hand. "Should I… take the minutes?" he asked.

"That's a great idea," I answered, seamlessly, as though I had planned for anyone to actually take minutes and not just, like, remember stuff. "Thank you for offering. Uh, this is Manabu Akado from the Genin Corps training program, Anko Mitarashi who runs the Kunoichi Group, Iruka Umino from the Academy, and Special Jounin in tutoring, Ebisu. And Sasuke Uchiha, who's the other project head alongside me."

Most of the introductions were for his sake, because I was pretty sure everyone else knew each other, if only in passing. But it did sound nice and official and like everyone had valid reasons for being here.

"Oh, Ebisu," Akado said with recognition. "I've read some of your training proposals! They were very clever. I know Yuuhi-sensei has always rejected them, but we did implement a few of the suggestions individually."

Ebisu looked very pleased. "Well," he said, adjusting his glasses. "I didn't know that. I'm glad to hear it!" he said, as though actually making changes was his goal and he wasn't the slightest bit disappointed that he'd received no recognition for it or even been notified.

I quickly rattled through the set up of what we'd initially thought for the Police Force — the Force training itself, the Junior Police Cadets, the internships — and then gratefully sat back down and handed the entire thing off.

Ebisu started with, "Yes, I considered what you suggested and had some thoughts," and then he and Iruka-sensei pingponged back and forth in a slightly frightening manner.

Anko started off much slower; which was fair considering she hadn't had the spiel before.

"Are... you suggesting changing the entire village training system?" she asked, slightly bemused.

"Obviously any massive change, like what we're suggesting for the police, is going to have carry over effects on other departments," I said, trying not to sound too much like I was rehearsing bureaucratic legalese to get away with something. "We're simply looking at the scope of maximum change to make sure that we account for all those effects." I widened my eyes innocently. "We wouldn't want to cause any chaos to the functioning of Konoha by implementing changes that aren't fully understood."

Anko chuckled, low and throaty. "You don't have to convince me," she said. "I've seen enough gaps in the system already."

That was more interested and invested than I would have predicted. Then again, she was a Jounin-sensei — to some… nonstandard students, even — on top of running the Kunoichi Club so it wasn't like she didn't have experience and input.

"Yeah," I admitted. "We're looking at changing the whole system."

No one had told us to. But equally… no one had told us we couldn't. And wasn't that what jounin projects were all about? Identifying things that could be changed for the better?

Correct.

I wrote that down and underlined it, along with my earlier statement to Anko. I had a feeling I'd need to repeat them to Tsunade.

Ebisu brought up some great ideas about general forces training — like optional classes for OR hours, sign up sheets for those willing to teach particular skills, teaching classes for those willing to teach, discussion groups like this one for people aiming for jounin — which I agreed with. The changes to the Genin Corps I was less familiar with, but after a few questions, Akado seemed willing to speak up and engage with Ebisu so that all seemed to be in good hands.

To be fair to the Genin Corps: it did what it was supposed to do. It channeled a very large number of people into an effective work force that ran consistently in the background without ever really drawing attention. And I bet that 90% of the time, that was perfectly fine and there were plenty of people who wanted a stable job delivering post without the risk having to fight S-rank ninja.

But that didn't mean it couldn't be done better. That there weren't ways to be more efficient, to reduce injuries and increase skill sets. And the edge cases, the people who wanted to, or were skilled enough or determined enough to move into the General Forces… there needed to be something for them, so those skills weren't wasted.

I withdrew a little, met Sasuke's eyes who shrugged at me like 'this is your doing' and then started to doodle a storage seal on a scroll for Akado, because I had said I'd give him one.

It wasn't a hard task and definitely didn't keep my attention, which was why I was watching his hands fly over the typewriter, and noticed the particular set up of paper and white out and ink and notepads and pens he had arranged all around him. And all of that could definitely have fit in one large storage seal, but it amused me to create specific and tiny ones, dividing the scroll further and further into zones of use.

Then I flipped it over and wrote another storage seal on the back, labelled 'desk' because you might as well have all the things you needed with you. And I'd had to borrow Tenten's camping table to use as a desk, back at the Chunin Exams in Grass, which was an oversight I'd since corrected.

The scroll ended up being the seals equivalent of a colour coded binder, and I scrawled 'Manabu Akado's storage scroll' at the top in pretty calligraphy because a) I didn't want it assumed to be a requisitional scroll and taken from him and b) I was pretty sure it'd never be useful to anyone else ever anyway.

We segued into the Academy curriculum, because the internships meant we were effectively slapping another year onto the graduation age and surely that had to come with changes. Iruka-sensei seemed like he'd been building up quite the wishlist over the years.

"Should we add something about the Mist Academy?" Sasuke asked, rolling a pen around on the table looking bored.

"Oh," I said, blinking. "I'd forgotten about that."

"Mist Academy?" Iruka-sensei asked.

"When we were in Hidden Mist for the Chunin Exams we were shown a tour of the village and Academy," I explained. "Their new Academy is very heavy on practical teaching — they have no actual classrooms, just training halls. More physical learning would be a benefit to kinesthetic learners, but it would definitely require more teachers and a more hands on teaching style."

"And removing theoretical study would be detrimental to the training of our medical and administrative staff," Sasuke added, which I was pretty sure was a direct quote of what Tsunade herself had said at the time.

"Fascinating," Ebisu murmured, adjusting his glasses.

That sounded… slightly dangerous, but I nodded and smiled anyway. "Yeah, I don't know what they did before but it sounded like Zabuza had basically created their new Academy from scratch. Probably from his own experiences training Haku."

There was a strained silence.

"Zabuza Momochi is teaching at the Mist Academy?" Iruka-sensei asked, sounding slightly strangled.

I glanced at Sasuke, slightly confused. He shrugged, no help.

"He's the Head of the Mist Academy," I answered. "But yeah, I think he does teach there? And was the Jounin-sensei to Yoro and Shiku's team. At least during the Grass Exams."

"And during the Mist ones," Anko said, then shifted a shoulder when attention was drawn to her, slightly defensive over it. "What? We hung out. Jounin-sensei to Jounin-sensei. He seemed nice."

I nodded at her. Anko knew what was up.

"Please tell me as much as you know," Ebisu requested, eyes gleaming, "about their teaching style."

And in the following interrogation wanted to know far more details than either Sasuke and I had had access to in the five-minute tour that Mei had allowed us.

"It could be something to consider for the internship kids," Anko said, when it became increasingly clear that there were no answers to his questions, because she was an actual star. "They ought to be doing the theoretical part in their actual job, right?"

Which brought up the next issue; I was convinced that a year of part-time work in various departments would be a really good idea both for kids and the departments themselves, but Iruka-sensei was worried that conditioning and field training would lapse during that time.

It was a solid concern. But also the same kind of concern that applied to the shinobi forces at large.

By the time the meeting ended, it was late, we had zero solutions and many questions, Ebisu-sensei was practically vibrating with excitement and I was sure that this was going to be a completely over-the-top disaster.

Eh, it would probably work out.

"I think we should have another meeting like this," Ebisu-sensei said, carefully pulling down his now-heavily-annotated posters. "It was very productive. There are so many different angles that we should consider and explore." He glanced at me. "Of course, I don't mean to overstep…"

I waved my hand. "Overstep away," I said. "I'm perfectly happy to hand this part off to you, if you want." Which would be ideal from my point of view, though really a little rude to just… give Ebisu so much extra work.

I packed up my own stuff, and slid Akado's new storage scroll to him. "Oh, here. Before I forget. You've used a storage scroll before right?"

"I have," he answered, and unrolled it slightly to glance at it. Then he unrolled it completely and intuitively matched it up against his desk set up on the table. "Oh, wow. This is… impressive. Where did you get this? Did you… make this?"

"Well, yeah," I said awkwardly. I didn't think anyone had been impressed at a storage scroll since I was in the Academy myself. Even the whole NaraTen seal thing hadn't really been impressed as much as… extremely irritated. "It's no big deal. Just… consider it a thanks for your help, okay? I know this was kind of out of the blue for you."

"Oh, of course, Nara-san. Anytime!"

"Oh, that looks very useful," Iruka-sensei said, admiringly.

I glanced at him, but he didn't seem to be being facetious. I was pretty sure Iruka-sensei could make basic storage scrolls — it wasn't much more of a step up from there to make a dozen on one scroll. Overkill, sure, but not that much more complicated. I'd done it, before Tenten had created a superior option.

"Well, if you want something similar let me know," I offered, though somewhat dubiously.

"I might want one," Anko said, leaning on the table, though with a smile that said she might not have been entirely serious. "For Yakumo."

"I should probably have thought of that," I said, slightly chargined. I'd suggested Yakumo look into more combat oriented uses of her technique, but when she'd sparred with me she'd still required a whole… set up. "She'd probably want… something for an easel, right?"

"It'd be good if she were able to unseal a couple of things at a time without having to go through everything or having to carry multiple scrolls around," Anko said. She tapped her fingers thoughtfully.

Though like really, there probably should be a way to trigger all the seals together as well and just… instantly set up the whole thing.

"Okay, okay." I waved a hand. "Anyone who wants one just… draw up a scroll with whatever sections you want. Um, if we're going to be having another meeting, I can do them then."

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It seemed every time I turned around there was more work to do; the Nara Sealing Group managed to schedule time with a seal expander, which was useful for a) teaching them about compressed seals and b) getting another glance at how they worked myself so that I could finish the final rough edges on my seal microscope glasses. And Takatori wanted my opinion on a variant tracking seal that he wanted to use to catalogue books in the research library.

I bounced some ideas around with him, but like a lot of the projects that individuals in the Sealing Group were starting to run with, there wasn't actually a lot of help I could offer once they started adapting things to their own areas of speciality.

I could probably help them even less than they could help each other, if I was honest.

And that was on top of team training and ANBU training and medical training, so it wasn't like I wasn't busy. But somehow, over the next few days, I found myself drawn back to the police headquarters, even though we'd gone through and found anything relevant. It wasn't that I thought we'd missed anything — we'd been really thorough — it was just…

I didn't know.

It was so quiet. So obviously abandoned, so far out from the nearest lively part of the village, that it should have been creepy. It was creepy, a little, especially when I had flashes of knowing people had died here — not just vague general awareness but their faces and names and how they'd gone — but mostly…

Mostly it was just sad.

I cleaned up, because we'd been efficient but not tidy, and modified my skin cleaning jutsu to slide chakra across the walls and floors and pull the dust off into a contained chakra bubble that didn't cause it to rise up into a tornado and smother me.

See? Progress.

But there were so many small things, so many touches of who these people had been. There were photos, scattered around the bulding — a group picture on the wall of everyone at some kind of festival or picnic. One in Tokimi's desk of her and her daughter Uzume, laughing merrily next to a stone faced Hyuuga man in an ill fitting police uniform. Koyane had one of him and a Nara — Kasuga-oji — drinking tea and playing shogi looking like disapproving old men.

I didn't want this. These people were dead and gone. There was nothing I could do for them, nothing I could have done for them. I didn't want to think about them as having had lives and dreams and connections.

But I set the photos aside gently, anyway. They could probably go up on the walls when the police were re-established. I wasn't the only one who shouldn't forget. The rest of the personal effects I neatly sealed away, labelled with names, so that all that was left was typical office furniture.

And then Sasuke also turned up at the police headquarters, and we stared blankly at each other. I felt a little like I'd been caught doing something I shouldn't have been doing.

"Were you… looking for something?" he asked, eyes flickering around the room.

I shrugged. "Mostly just cleaning," I said lamely. "I figured this would still end up being police headquarters so… it would need to be done eventually."

Sasuke nodded, not quite looking like he bought it, but it was the only reason I had so, that was all he was getting.

"You?" I asked, changing the subject. He had a set of files in his hand. "Are those the unsolved cases?"

"Yeah," Sasuke said quietly. He brushed past me to sit down at one of the desks, dropping the files on the top of it. "I don't think there's anything we can do with this one," he said, a twist to his lips that was too sour to be described as 'rueful', as he slid one across to me.

I hadn't been paying too much attention to those, if I was honest. They were interesting as examples of how things had been done, and that was important, but they were cold cases by any stretch of the imagination.

"What is it?" I asked, with mild trepidation, because Sasuke was hard to shake.

There could be a lot of awful things hidden in those files, now that I thought about it.

He swallowed and shook his head. "The official ruling was suicide," he said.

I leaned on the desk and opened the file. The first page was a neat handwritten case summary, a photo clipped to the top left – clearly an official ninja ID. An Uchiha, maybe around fifteen with short spiky hair. He was smiling in the photo.

I skipped my eyes over it, to the investigation. Uchiha Shisui. It was dated three days before the Massacre.

"Oh," I said, lamely.

"Yeah," Sasuke said, with a humourless smile. "They even—" he faltered. He braced his elbows against the desk and hunched forward, like he'd been winded.

I waited. He wanted to say this. Or needed to. Or… had prepared to, or something like that. I wondered how long he'd been going through these cases – I'd never considered there might be something about the massacre in them, had assumed they'd probably be as distracting for him as throwing about new training ideas was for me.

Clearly, I had been wrong. So wrong.

And now I just had to ride out the tidal wave of disaster that had sprung from it.

"The day before," Sasuke said, voice so measured and precise that it was nothing but the most extreme act of will. "They – the police – they came to our house. Said Shisui was dead; accused Itachi of killing him." He inhaled sharply, like it hurt him to say. "I thought he was going to fight them. He was so angry. Even then I was frightened."

I swallowed. Was there even anything I could say here? Anything that would mitigate, would soothe, would somehow lessen the pain?

The truth weighed heavily in my throat and it had never seemed more impossible to speak.

"Shisui was his best friend," Sasuke whispered, like that explained everything. "Of course I didn't believe them. But what if we had?"

I closed my eyes for a brief moment. Oh, no. That was worse.

What if there were warning signs and we ignored them? What if there had been something we could have done?

"I think," I said, carefully measured. "That some things get set in motion a long time before we ever see them and by the time we do see them, it's already too late because too many things have happened along the path."

Would it have changed anything? Maybe. Maybe not. I didn't know. Because Itachi hadn't been the root of the problem, as it were.

Sasuke sighed and pressed his fingers against his closed eyes. "Yeah," he said. "And anyway. That's not the whole… just read the file okay?"

With some reluctance, I did. I wasn't exactly sure what Sasuke wanted me to see, but I supposed it would be obvious enough to jump out at me.

It didn't at first — because it was something I knew, was something so obvious I overlooked it. And that would have been hard to explain.

"His eyes were missing," Sasuke said, when I stalled on the autopsy page. "After the shrine... "

The eye from thy brother is eternal.

The autopsy report suggested, sounding dubious itself, that they'd been eaten by fish in the river — gross — but the complete lack of other soft tissue damage and the fact that they'd fished him out within a day didn't really support it.

Which left Itachi as the prime suspect.

Which I guessed was better than suspecting the truth — I didn't really want Sasuke going after Danzo for eye related crimes. I didn't think that was a fight we would win.

"Well, that... sucks," I said, stilted.

Sasuke huffed, not quite a laugh. "Yeah, it sucks," he said. "Do you think you could make a seal?" he asked, abruptly changing the subject.

I blinked rapidly and didn't quite follow. "A specific seal?" I asked, because obviously I could make A Seal. What he wanted it to do was the question.

"You know." He traced a finger along the underside of his eye. "To keep them where they should be. I know the Hyuuga have one. I bet you've been studying it."

"Huh." I tilted my head. "I mean. For a given value of study, where I have no access to any information about it. Yes, kinda. I've mostly been thinking about… well… countering it, which, uh. Is probably illegal so let's not mention that. But it wouldn't be impossible to create something similar…"

I let Shisui's file flip closed, so he was no longer staring at me accusingly, and tapped it against my palm.

Obviously there were definite aspects of the Hyuuga seal that were coming nowhere near my friends, but on the whole, the concept of 'prevent eye theft' wasn't bad. I would very much like Sasuke to not get his eyes stolen too, even if I didn't think Itachi was likely to be the culprit.

…But that was another issue, too, wasn't it? If Sasuke ended up going Mangekyo blind, I didn't want my seal preventing him from treating that.

"I will… start drafting ideas," I said, distracted thinking about it.

Something infinitesimal relaxed in his shoulders. "Thanks."

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