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: Thanks to Frolic, Pepperdoken and MathIsMagic for all the neat discussions about DOS and Naruto.
All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We overnighted on the Fire side of the Fire-Rice border, well behind our own outpost lines, and prepared to cross into enemy territory with the dawning sun. It lost us the cover of night, which we might otherwise have wanted to aid in stealth infiltration, but the trade-off of having better lines of sight ourselves was deemed worth it.
The real worst case scenario on this mission was running into Orochimaru himself, and we wanted to do everything we possibly could to avoid that.
"We'll do reconnaissance first," Cat-taicho said, gathering the team together for a last minute huddle.
We had covered our orders and supplied intel in the mission briefing in Konoha — extremely thoroughly, with a lot of information that could have only been gained from an inside source, including basically a layout of the place. It might have been dated, and Orochimaru certainly knew that he had an information leak so it wasn't quite solid, but it was still a lot more than most missions could ever hope to get — but Cat-taicho apparently liked to double and triple check everything.
"We want to be absolutely sure," he stressed,"that Orochimaru or his lieutenants aren't in the base before we close in on it. If they are, we abandon mission. We're here to retrieve information and to sabotage as much of his operation as possible — not as a hunter-nin squad."
"Taicho," I said, trying to sound serious. "If Orochimaru is here I'm abandoning mission, even if I have to throw you all over my shoulder to do it."
Cat-taicho only huffed a little at the interruption. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that," he murmured.
"While it's unlikely that he would be employing such measures within his own facilities," Crow said, "it can be assumed that Orochimaru does have methods to evade identification by the Byakugan."
I wasn't familiar with Crow, but his chakra was had the same clear quality as Hinata and Neji, if jagged like crushed and shattered glass. A Hyuuga, almost certainly, and he'd only just confirmed it.
During the chunin exam preliminaries, Orochimaru had stood in a room with the Hokage, with a whole host of Jounin, including Kakashi-sensei and Gai, with two Hyuuga utilising their bloodlimit for combat, an Inuzuka, and an Aburame. And that didn't count how he'd gotten into that room in the first place.
You bet he had techniques to avoid detection.
Cat-taicho nodded, mask bobbing up and down seriously. "If anyone has reason to doubt that the coast is clear, we will abort mission. While I am eager to destroy as much of his… work as we can, there's no denying that we wouldn't stand a chance in a fight."
"Especially as the team's combat capacity is down a man," Kisuke pointed out. "I'm strictly reconnaissance, these days."
I wondered how much of that story the other two ANBU knew. Even if they knew about Kato-esque spirit walking techniques, using one twenty-four seven was … unusual. Bound to stand out and cause questions, even in the technically-no-questions zone of ANBU.
Those weren't questions I was going to get answered, because Cat-taicho just nodded to concede the issue.
"Crow will take point until we reach the Kawada river," he continued, back on track. "At which point we will disperse and plant the seal tags for Kisuke. We'll triangulate around the presumed location of the Sound base. Kisuke will travel with Bat — you are comfortable with how to plant the Spiritual Waypoint tags?"
"Yes, taicho," I said because it wasn't like I could say I'd invented them.
Kisuke was still attached to the main Soul Detachment Seal that Sasuke and I had found him in — with my aftermarket modifications — but to increase the distance he was able to travel from it I'd needed to invent a way to extend his range, independent seals that acted like radio transmitters, creating an area that he could… hop across. So long as we managed to plant them in the right places around the base, Kisuke should have full access to it without anyone noticing.
"It's vitally important that the seals are placed correctly," Cat-taicho pressed. "Kisuke's… unique talents won't work if they're not in place."
"I know, taicho," I insisted.
That seemed to get through. He paused. "Have you worked together before?" he asked, mask tilting sideways a little in consideration. It was a typical ANBU move — body language adapted for wearing a mask — but also one I'd seen Tenzou use outside of the ANBU halls.
"I legally can't answer that question," I said, promptly.
He took a very deep breath and let it out in a long sigh that was extremely familiar from watching Tenzou interact with Kakashi-sensei.
"Can't you just say 'it's classified' like a normal person?" Cat-taicho complained, so yes, it was exactly like watching him interact with Kakashi-sensei.
"We haven't, Tenzou," Kisuke said, spoiling my fun winding up our captain. Or at least, giving him the hint that if we had, it wasn't as Bat.
It seemed odd for him to refer to Cat-taicho by name but then… Tenzou was ANBU through and through. 'Tenzou'might have been an ANBU name as well. And it wasn't as if Kisuke himself was wearing ANBU gear — just casual clothes — since he couldn't exactly get changed. This team clearly didn't abide by such strict masks-on policy as Red Team.
"But I can talk her through them, if there seems to be a problem," he continued. "That's why you're sending me with her, isn't it?"
Cat-taicho said, "Yes," very unconvincingly. Which definitely meant he was sending Kisuke with me because he suspected I'd get into trouble, and not just because I was the rookie of the team. I'd have taken offense but on the off chance that he was right I wouldn't mind backup.
"We have permission from the outpost," Crow said, breaking into the conversation. Since I'd seen no such signal, I assumed he had his Byakugan active. "We should go before the gap in patrols closes."
Ideally, even our ANBU shouldn't be able to slip through our patrols, even on secret missions, and everyone liked to believe that, so there was a process to signalling to the outpost and receiving permission to pass. And of getting up to date intel from the outpost, if required.
With absolute silence, we leapt into motion and cleared the border. There was no comparative security on the Rice Fields side, which was slightly unnerving. No security usually only mean no security you knew about, especially when you were facing someone like Orochimaru.
On the other hand, there was the distinct possibility he just… didn't care.
The country itself was, contrarily, both hilly and exposed, with the hillsides carved into flat terraces for rice paddies, and winding roads between them. There was no foliage, no cover — the rice paddies that were empty were just flat water, and even the highest grown of the rice plants were only up to my waist.
In efforts of speed, we did not army crawl through the rice fields to stay below the line of sight, just trusted in our stealth jutsu and range of awareness to keep us from nearing people and attracting attention.
In the areas of the country that were too mountainous to even turn into terraces, which would be next to inaccessible to civilians given the number of sheer vertical cliffs there were more familiar trees — as large if not larger than any that grew around Konoha. It was nice to get back into proper cover, but the downside of approaching somewhere Orochimaru might be — at the very least where he had been and left terrible things behind — dampened the feeling somewhat.
"We meet back here at sundown," Cat-taicho reminded us. "If there are any problems, send up the signal and abort immediately. If you see someone else send the signal, immediately return to the outpost in Fire Country. Any questions?"
What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? probably wouldn't go over well. "No, taicho," I said.
"Right, let's go."
We dispersed. Kisuke switched into full ghost mode, becoming invisible to everyone except the person that carried his seal, which was me. It meant I didn't have to worry about anyone spotting him, just about keeping myself hidden.
The location of the Sound Base, according to our intel, was directly to our west of our meeting spot. Cat was going to circle to the north, and Crow was going to go south and around to the west and I had been given the nearest triangulation point to plant a seal that was nearly a straight run from where we were. The overlapping radii of the three seals would give Kisuke plenty to work with.
It was hardly a difficult task — go, apply seal to a hidden spot, done. Kisuke politely started to hover slightly further away, now that he could, but didn't take off to reconnoiter just yet, and probably wouldn't until at least one of the other tags had been planted.
Which left us to do a thorough but normal sweep of the location. There were a few towns nearby — one near the river that was nearly abandoned and another further away that seemed slightly better off but still like it had fallen on hard times. I didn't get too close, because there were plenty of people there and many of them seemed to have chakra too high to be just civilians but unless it was a decoy town for the Sound base, we weren't actually here to mess up the locals.
Further along my sweep, I found something that was much more interesting.
There was a ninja in the forest writing seals onto the ground.
She was dressed plainly, a full ski mask across her face and head, with orange hair peeking messily out the base of the cap. No identifying symbols or village insignia. Nothing to say who she was or what she was doing.
Interest caught, I circled around in the canopy, jumping branch to branch until I could get a look at what she was doing.
"Bat?" Kisuke said, warily. "I don't think you should get too close to that."
It looked like she was using an obscure variant of circular sealing, which wasn't something I was incredibly familiar with — Konoha used spiral sealing from the Uzumaki as the closest comparison and even that wasn't a huge part of my repertoire — and I could only slightly parse what it was for. It looked like a barrier seal, but somehow inverted, which was… interesting.
I got the answer to that question sooner than expected, when she activated it. The seal created an upside down pyramid of an almost oily looking chakra barrier appeared digging into the dirt beneath the seal, carving chunks of ground away and making it collapse. It didn't make a shallow cut, either, digging at least two stories down.
The seal maker staggered back, seeming not quite prepared enough for the way the ground crumpled beneath her, but recovered from it well enough.
As the barrier was dismissed and the dust raised by the destruction cleared, it became obvious that she had chosen her location well. The way that the ground had been carved in had severed an underground tunnel in half and since I knew who had underground lairs in this particular area…
Maybe very foolish, though. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on anyone who wanted to attack a castle singlehanded, but it wasn't exactly a thing that was easy to pull off.
"We need to pass this information to Cat, immediately," Kisuke stressed. "If there's another group attacking at the same time, our purposes may cross."
But there wasn't a group here and now. There was just her.
And inside the tunnel — inside the base it was connected to — people were responding. A strong chakra signature had honed in on the break in and was getting closer by the second.
The ninja threw a handful of smoke bombs down the opening, ones powerful enough that when they exploded a wave of smoke flooded back out. It probably would be pretty overpowering inside the tunnel, and might not have been a bad strategy — but the Sound nin just charged right through it, leaping up and out and nearly skewering the intruder before she even had time to enter.
Didn't capitalise on your opening fast enough, I thought, even though it wasn't like I had the chance to offer constructive criticism.
She ducked and weaved back, avoiding the first charge and attack with more grace than expected, striking back with rapid fire taijutsu and jumping back for distance.
"Sasame!" the Sound ninja — a tall guy with purple hair — yelled out, sounding more irritated than one should technically sound when yelling at an enemy. Familiar. "What do you think you're doing?"
Ah, I thought, disappointed despite not being involved at all. She's a Sound ninja too?
"Arashi," Sasame said, yanking her ski mask off. She was younger than I'd thought, not much older than I was. She sounded hopeful. "You have to come home! Orochimaru is destroying us."
Maybe not then. Awkward family drama but maybe useful awkward family drama. Any group of people that was anti-Orochimaru was worth something surely.
Arashi sighed, sounding tired and patronising. "Just go home, Sasame. You're just making everything worse. Once Orochimaru-sama sees how strong we are then everything will improve for the Fuma clan, okay? We're so close. I've been given leadership of this base, don't you see? I'm respected. It won't be long now."
Now that was interesting information to overhear and worth the detour. We hadn't had any serious information on who might be in charge — speculation had pointed to Guren, a woman with a crystalisation blood limit who was on our list of people to avoid — and I gave him a much more serious look. Most notably, he didn't appear to have a curse seal, which was a pretty standard feature for any of Orochimaru's lieutenants.
Chances were… we'd probably have to fight this guy.
"And what does it cost?" Sasame asked, sounding abjectly miserable. "It's not worth it. You haven't seen what he's done to the town. To the country. All the ninja clans are suffering, not just ours. Everything has gotten so much worse since Orochimaru came here and started this stupid village."
"Does it matter?" Arashi said back. "He's here now and we have to work with that. What do you think you can do about it, Sasame? Kill him?"
"If I have to," she said, defiantly.
"You can't even beat me," he said scornfully. "Do you think you stand a chance against a legendary ninja like that? They say he killed two Kage! Better to be on his good side than be crushed as his enemy."
"No! You're wrong," she said. "I can't believe you think that!"
"Things change! Get out of here, Sasame, before someone who will fight you arrives."
More chakra signatures were starting to converge in the tunnels, so he wasn't that far off. Sasame didn't budge though — maybe she thought he was bluffing, or couldn't tell there were more people coming, which didn't necessarily require sensing as much as… anticipatng that throwing about architectural destruction would invite retaliation. But I thought I saw a flicker of fear across her face when three ninja emerged from the tunnels, arraying themselves behind Arashi.
"Sasame," said the apparent leader of the new three — a plain looking guy with black hair and a strange double bladed sword on his right arm. "What a reunion."
"Should have known it was you, causing problems," said the second man — bald with a jagged scar running down over his right eye. "Orochimaru-sama's not pleased that we keep getting attacked, you know. Seems to me like we should… deal with that."
Sasame glanced at Arashi, and the fear flickered over her face again. She backed up a step.
"I said you should leave," Arashi said, face falling into a stony, impassive mask. "We must not displease Orochimaru-sama."
"Then our course is clear," strange-sword-guy said. He leapt past Arashi, sword arm rising and turning and the blades shifted — it wasn't a sword it all, it was some kind of giant scissors and okay, dammit, I knew some ninja specced into weird weaponry but that was kind of stupid — coming down in a attack that Sasame dodged clear of.
"Kamikiri!" she cried. "You traitor."
He scoffed. "You're the traitor, kid. You think attacking Orochimaru-sama's bases was ever going to end well for you?" He attacked again and Sasame blocked it with a kunai, but it still knocked her back a step. He'd overpower her before long.
Behind Arashi — who didn't appear to be joining the fight, thus depriving me of the chance to gather even more valuable information on him — the bald man crouched down and there was a wave of something on his hands, black and skittering and for a half second I thought he was an Aburame and they were Kikaichu.
Then I looked closer and saw that they were spiders.
Oh hell no. Kidomaru had been bad enough. I didn't need Spiders Georg Round Two. I couldn't believe the world was unfair enough for that to have been a shared technique, not just his own personal aesthetic.
God, was there a whole spiders clan?
I hated it.
"Bat, we need to go," Kisuke insisted in my ear. "They can't spot you."
If Arashi was highly ranked in Hidden Sound to be in charge of a fairly large base — he was probably an opponent that I shouldn't leap into fight for the sake of a complete stranger. Four on one wouldn't be good odds for me, and I was supposed to be abiding by mission stealth. Letting the Sound Ninja know that Konoha ANBU were lurking in the woods would ruin everything.
By all accounts, I should leave. Sasame would definitely die, but she wasn't my concern — I had no proof that she was anything but another Sound ninja who'd fallen out with the rest.
Who am I kidding?
I slapped a henge quickly over myself. It was plain, like a stock footage girl, but it didn't look like me so that was about all I needed, and anchored it with a quick seal on the back of my white arm guards.
I didn't habitually use smoke bombs, but they were still part of my Standard ANBU Loadout and Sasame clearly did use them. All I had to do was drop an unnecessary amount of them and set them off in a way that looked like a pre-rigged trap, and viola, the area was flooded with thick, heavy smoke.
I amped my speed up to maximum and grabbed Sasame in a running leap, hauling her out of the fight and gone, vanishing us both back up into the trees and away, long before the smoke had time to clear.
None of the Sound ninja followed us, so it seemed like my professional snatch-and-grab had worked. Or maybe they were just too shocked by the unexpected interference to give chase.
Still — spiders. I stripped chakra over my skin roughly, like the cleaning-off-dust trick just in case and then over Sasame too. Practically. Because they could be used to track us. Not because the thought was making my skin crawl. Obviously.
Sasame seemed pretty shocked. We were nearly far enough away that I would have called us 'safe' before she even started to react — wiggling and squirming.
"Hey, careful!" I said, landing on the ground and letting her drop gently. "Geeze, that's no way to say thanks, is it?"
"I—" She stammered, looking really confused. "What— Who are you?"
"Netsui," I said, quick enough that it totally didn't seem like I'd paused to come up with a fake name. "Are you okay?"
She swallowed and nodded. "I think so, yes. Oh! I mean, thank you for your help!"
"You're welcome," I said, full of manners. "So. I heard you wanted to fight Orochimaru?"
It was nearing sundown, as Kisuke pointedly reminded me, but I followed Sasame back to the nearby town even though, you know, secret ANBU mission and I probably shouldn't have. She took a circuitous route though, and most of it by rooftops, so I got the feeling she was trying not to be seen too.
Report in, I signed at Kisuke where she couldn't see.
"Tenzou isn't going to be pleased," he murmured quietly, possibly in warning, and drifted away.
That was a problem for later.
We stopped at a bar that was definitely shadier and grungier than anything I would have set foot in on my own — the banner outside read 'Fuma Lane' so I suspected it was either clan owned or a well-patronised watering hole — and entered via a staff door on the side of the building, keeping to the back rooms and dodging the cooks and waitresses and other staff that were bustling around.
"Hanzaki," Sasame said quietly, as we approached a cramped office. The man inside was tall and square jawed, with a stern, disapproving face.
"Sasame," he said and not particularly kindly. "Failed again, I see. And who is this?"
"Netsui. She saved my life!" Sasame stalked into the office, looking more agitated than she had all the way back, like she was finally allowing herself to show it.
"It needed saving?" Hanzaki asked, which might have been disapproval or might have been worry. "You need to stop going off on your own."
"Arashi was there," Sasame said. "He said he was in charge. And everything is still — still like this. His way is never going to work!"
Hanzaki sighed. "He's been tricked by Orochimaru," he said, and this time it was a little kinder. "Working for approval that's never going to be given. All the members of our clan that he enticed to his side… no matter how strong they get… nothing good will ever come from it."
"Nothing good will come from staying out of it either!" Sasame burst out. "Your way has only made things worse too!"
"Is Sasame the only one fighting back?" I asked, disappointed. She'd been outfitted and trained. Even though she'd been alone I had been hoping that there was something of a group behind her.
At the least I'd wanted to know more about the seals she had used. Barrier seals were my thing.
"It has nothing to do with you, stranger," he pointed out. "You have our thanks, but you can be on your way."
"I'm after something that's inside the Sound base nearby," I said. That something being 'everything' as per our mission briefing. "If you have a grudge against Orochimaru... if you have information about where the tunnels to his bases are… we might be able to help each other."
"You're the same as her," Hanzaki said. "Attacking boldly like that won't get you anywhere."
"Further than you'd think," I said obliquely.
"She's fast," Sasame said, which was cute. "Maybe I can't get inside, but she might be able to."
"I'm going to," I corrected. "Either way. The only question is whether you guys want to benefit from it too."
"You aren't from here, are you?" he asked, after a long moment. He looked at me again, assessing and I knew there was nothing for him to see, but he nodded to himself. "I won't ask where you're from. I know other nations don't care what happens to the likes of us, but none of us are strong enough to fight the likes of Orochimaru."
I winced. Sure, Konoha had declared Orochimaru a missing nin the instant he'd left but no one had ever lined up to actually deal with him. Not that there were many people who could have. Only the Hokage, who'd been the one to let him go.
"Fighting Orochimaru is out of my league," I admitted, instead of addressing the which nation are you from issue. "But destroying his stuff? Making life difficult for him? That I can do."
"That," Hanzaki said, "is exactly what we're doing."
"We?" I asked. I hoped he meant more than just him and Sasame.
"The clans in Land of Rice Fields never had a village," Sasame explained, "not like other countries seem to. We all just lived our own lives, you know? We all had different abilities and took different kinds of jobs, so it wasn't like we were fighting each other. But then Orochimaru came and took over everything! A lot of people joined him, but not everyone."
"The clans are all isolated," Hanzaki said. "But we turned that to work in our favour. We can hit and withdraw, without inviting retaliation. We don't have a lot of resources, but we make the most of what we have."
Covert tactics. Guerilla warfare. Small, unconnected cells.
Holy shit, this was the ninja underground resistance.
AN: If anyone is the type to be interested in fic (or art or meta!) gift exchanges, wafflelate is running a Dreaming of Sunshine Exchange on AO3. Information is available on dreamwidth (dreamingofsunshine. dreamwidth with a link in my profile) and signups close on Sat 30 Mar 2019 11:59PM EDT, so check it out quickly!
If you don't have an AO3 account, hit up the discord server or leave a message on the dreamwidth — there are plenty of people with invitations to share!