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.

Author's note: The Worst Three-Legged Race is from the Shippuden Flashback Arc. Thanks to DreamOfStories who reminded me that it took place between the Wave Arc and the Chunin Exams.

And thanks again to everyone who reviewed!



Chapter 16



Always remember that the future comes one day at a time. ~ Dean Acheson



I swung by the Missions Desk to drop off my report. Iruka-sensei was there, and he brightened considerably and waved me over to his desk.

"Nice and early," he approved. "I'm glad you didn't pick that habit up from your sensei. We probably wont see his mission report for another three weeks." He huffed.

I nearly giggled. There was nothing Iruka-sensei hated more than late homework, and apparently that extended to mission reports. There wasn't actually an official time limit within which mission reports should be delivered, since there was always the chance of hospitalisation and so forth, so it was just understood that it should be as soon as possible.

He flicked through the pages slowly. I could see that he was actually reading what I'd written rather than just making sure I'd filled it out correctly.

"I guess Naruto must have already told you all about it," I said.

"I'm hoping most of that was exaggeration," he said ruefully. "But I see it really did get upgraded to A-rank."

"Yup. It wasn't really that bad," I tried to assure him. "I mean, it was scary at the time, but looking back I don't think we were actually in all that much danger."

He looked at me, a strange expression on his face. "You know, two months ago you were still my student at the Academy. If some one had told me…"

I waited for him to complete his thought but he just shook his head and smiled. "Graduating has been good for you."

"Thanks, Iruka-sensei," I said, not quite sure what he meant. He didn't say anything more, just stamped my mission report with the date and signed it, leaving me to wander away.

Ino was at training with Shika and they wouldn't be finished till later in the afternoon. Chouji was obviously the same. But I should probably visit Sakura.

I knocked on the door to the Haruno household. Sakura answered the door, a half eaten sandwich held halfway to her mouth. Her hair was tied up for practically the first time I've ever seen, a hasty almost lopsided bun. She brightened. "Shikako! You're back! Come in."

I followed her inside. There were books scattered all over the kitchen table.

"Do you want something to eat? Sorry about the mess, I've got my Basic Anatomy class at two and I was revising."

I declined the offer of food. "Basic Anatomy? You did apply for Medic-nin then." I felt a twinge of guilt. "I'm sorry. I know I said that I'd help you with that, but…"

She waved it off. "It's okay. I know that you can't control when you get missions. And you really did help, you know? I talked to Iruka-sensei like you said, and pretty much decided that the Medic Corps sounded best. It was pretty easy from there to get the application forms and stuff and then I just went to your Aunt and introduced myself and asked her to sponsor me. I met her once or twice with you before, I think."

I blinked. "Wow. That's… brave." It was a different kind of bravery to facing Missing-nins head to head, and probably harder for it. Social bravery. Introducing myself to strangers and asking for favours was the kind of thing that had me breaking out into cold sweat. "And she did?"

Sakura nodded. "Yeah, she looked through my Academy files and made me do some Chakra Control techniques to prove I had good control but she signed it off and the next day I was enrolled in the program." She beamed. "I wanted to go for field medic, but you have to complete the basic training and then do a six month residency before they let you."

"Something for the future then," I said. "Are you liking it?"

"It's great," she said sincerely. "We're only really doing theory at the moment, Basic Anatomy, Basic Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Nutrition and Health, that kind of stuff. Our only practical class at the moment is Chakra Control. We haven't even started learning medical jutsu or anything." She looked a little disappointed about that. "Once we finish Basic Anatomy we're supposed to be allowed to start doing dissections, starting with fish and moving on to small birds and mammals." She looked like she didn't know whether to anticipate it or wrinkle her nose.

That feeling reminded me of doing a science degree at university and making the important discovery that the inside of chickens smells much, much worse than you could ever imagine. Worse than fish, even. "When you start doing practicals, you should take some eucalyptus oil and put a few drops on the collar of your lab coat. That way, when the smell gets to you, you just duck your nose into your shoulder for some relief. You don't want to be known as the girl that had to leave because she couldn't handle it."

Sakura looked like she was making a mental note and underlining it. "Eucalyptus oil, huh?"

"Or anything that smells strongly." I shrugged. "Just a suggestion."

"No, that sounds good." She grimaced faintly. "I'm a lot younger than most of the others, so anything like that helps. There are only one or two Academy graduates. Do you remember Youbirin?"

"Suzu?" I clarified. "I'm not surprised he's there. His clan is pretty heavily into the medic-nin stuff. He was on your team, right?"

"Yeah. That didn't … go well. He's still a jerk, most of the time, but it feels great when I show him up." There was a gleam in her eyes that I recognised.

I snickered. "You do that. You're smart enough to be the top of your class, if you try hard enough. And you can always pester your tutors for extra reading or exercises to make up for not being able to name every bone in the skeleton by the time you were three."

"At the Academy, the clan kids were always the best… it's the same at the hospital, isn't it?" She looked a little dispirited.

I winced. That hadn't been my intention. "We have a bit of an advantage, yeah. But it's not as big as you think, and people with advantages tend to slack off a bit…" I admitted. "Just because he's ahead of you now doesn't mean he'll always be ahead of you. He'd probably make a half decent medic nin as he is… but you're not shooting for half decent are you?" I teased.

"Hmph!" She tossed her chin high. "I'm going to be the best!"

"You tell 'em, sister." I chuckled.

"So, uh, do you have any advice?" She asked awkwardly. "I mean, I know you do some medical stuff…"

Medical ninjutsu was so tricky because it required the user to have an in-depth knowledge of the human body. You couldn't just form the hand seals and let the jutsu do the rest. And the human body is a complex machine. There are thousands of different parts and thousands of different ways in which they can be damaged. A lot of study is simply rote memorisation of facts but there were a lot of facts to be memorised. Added to that was the difficulty of forming and holding Yin natured chakra. All in all, it was no wonder there was a only one in a hundred nin ever even tried to study medical ninjutsu.

"Memorise, memorise, memorise?" I shrugged. "There's not really much to say. Just, don't only study for the tests, you know? That's not why you're learning. Knowing the contractile process of sarcomeres might seem useless, but when you're healing muscle you don't want to align them wrong or your patient might never walk again."

"Right," she nodded seriously. "I wasn't really going to. This stuff really is interesting. More than calculating standard kunai pathways anyway."

"More useful too," I said wryly. "No one thinks about that when they're throwing kunai."

She snickered. We talked for a bit longer, but I didn't want to drag her away from her revising. She looked happier and more sure of herself than she had at the Academy. Maybe that was what Iruka-sensei had been talking about.

I went home, did my chores, checked over the deer and immersed myself in my seal work. It was a frustrating process. I'd mostly finished my comparative analysis of the different styles, and could tell you what seals with certain aspects did at a glance, but I was no closer to actually discovering how to put my own seals together. There just didn't seem to be any kind of underlying process.

Must be why people learn seals from Masters and not from books, I mused. There was really no one in the clan that did more than copy medical seals. There was the option of asking Kakashi-sensei and hopefully Naruto would still end up meeting Jiraiya. Then I'd just have to come up with a way to ask him.

At three, I put away my books and wandered around to Team 10's training grounds to find Shikamaru.

"Shikako!" I heard Ino cry before she slammed into me, nearly lifting me off my feet. Ino was actually fairly tall, taller than me at any rate. "You're back! How was it? Lazy-bones over there wouldn't tell us anything."

She set me back down. Shikamaru was slouched opposite a Shogi board to Asuma-sensei and Chouji was sitting nearby eating chips. Team training, huh?

I waved at him.

"Sorry for interrupting your team training, Asuma-sensei," I said, bowing politely to him. I hadn't actually met him, apart from seeing him pick up Team 10 at the Academy.

He waved it off. "We're nearly finished here anyway. It's not like we were particularly busy," he said dryly.

"I was just going to fetch Shikamaru home for some clan training once you were done with him," I explained.

Shikamaru looked semi-interested. "Dad's teaching us?" Dad's teaching methods sat well with Shikamaru because they didn't actually force him to do anything.

"No," I said sweetly, setting up for the wonderful, wonderful realisation. This was going to be good.

"What?" He frowned. I resisted the urge to cackle.

"Mum is."

Shikamaru froze. His fingers twitched. His entire posture screamed 'escape and evade'. "Why don't you tell Ino about your mission?" he said weakly. "She's been wanting to hear about it all day." He cast a pleading glance at Asuma.

"Well, I don't want to interfere with clan training," Asuma-sensei said, amusement writ all over his bearded face as he cheerfully threw Shikamaru to his fate. There was possibly a hint of 'ahaha, revenge!' in the idea.

Ino looked torn between wanting to hear my mission and gleefully throwing Shikamaru into his worst nightmare - work. "We can catch up tomorrow after training," she decided finally.

Shikamaru groaned, sounding like he was in pain already. He was so melodramatic. His next step would be to be completely uncooperative and refuse to move.

"Better yet," I said to Ino. "You can walk with us. I'll tell you on the way. You want to come too, Chouji?"

Game, set, match.

"Ohh, I've heard all kinds of rumours about it," Ino said, before kicking Shika squarely in the thigh. "Up, lazybones, time to get moving. We're not standing around waiting for you forever!" Her voice started to take on her shrill 'dealing with Shikamaru' tone. He hated it.

Chouji wandered over and offered me a chip. "That's kind of mean," he commented. "Setting Ino on him like that."

"I'd never get him home otherwise," I admitted. "We'll not if he knew there was training waiting for him and if I didn't say anything he'd suspect it anyway."

Chouji chuckled. "Why is your Mum training you anyway? I thought your Dad usually handled that."

I shrugged. "It's to do with my mission. Mum got worried, you know? So she wanted to make sure we weren't going to get hurt out there."

"Your mission?" Chouji asked.

"Well, it went downhill pretty badly," I started. Ino practically dragged Shikamaru over by his hair and the four of us headed towards the Nara Clan grounds.

I didn't spin the story nearly as much as I had with my parents. There wasn't really a need to. Chouji listened non-judgementally, while Ino oohed and ahhed over what 'her Sasuke-kun' had done. By the time we reached the house, she had stars in her eyes and was probably going to race off to see him.

I shrugged. Not my problem.

Training was harsh. It would surprise exactly no one to learn that Mum was a strict taskmaster. She didn't just teach us the Earth Walking skill I'd asked, she drilled us in Taijutsu, throwing skills - not just stationery but running, jumping, twisting throws - and even our Shadow Possession capture speed.

Even flushing my muscles with chakra to wash away built up lactic acid didn't help that much. Halfway through training I had to switch over to chakra enhancing everything like Shika was doing just to survive.

"Alright," Mum said, finally satisfied as the light started fading. "That'll do for now.

"For now?" Shika croaked, falling backwards to lie on the ground. "Never again."

"If you kept up with your training, you wouldn't be so tired right now," Mum admonished. "Don't think I don't know that you've been skipping your exercises."

Shika looked faintly guilty. "Troublesome."

"We've still got a long way to go." I yawned. I hadn't been slacking, but I think I could have been pushing harder as well.



The next morning dawned bright and clear. It was easy to fall back into the routine of going to the training fields and waiting for Sensei to show up.

"Spar?" Sasuke offered with a smirk.

"You're on!" Naruto said, immediately.

I nodded. "Same rules as usual?"

Sasuke cast a considering gaze at both of us. "Let's have a free for all," he suggested. Teamed up, Naruto and I always beat him, though that was pre-Sharingan.

Naruto froze and then grinned. "I'm totally going to kick your ass," he said, elated. Because Sasuke had just recognised him as a credible threat in his own right.

We spread out across the clearing, triangulated to keep an eye on each other. Then, with no signal any observer would notice, the two boys blurred into action.

Silly, silly them, focusing on each other like that.

That just gave me time to set traps and genjutsu and lure them in.

Naruto flooded the area with thick mist, which might have been a good way to stop Sasuke's Sharingan if he'd been able to move in it himself. He spammed Shadow Clones and Lightning Release: Radiating Shockwave all over the place in an attempt to box Sasuke in.

Sasuke, in turn, could dodge the loud and noisy clones, but had no luck at all in locating the real one. Every time he took out a clone, that only alerted the rest of them to where he was.

I dropped the real Naruto into an genjutsu the second he spread the mist. With no visual cues to alert him, he didn't even notice the change. It was easy, then, to pull him Headhunter style into the ground and put a remote activated knockout tag on his forehead. I needed his clones for now, but when I knocked him out, they'd vanish.

The clones knew I was there now, but they had even less luck finding me than they did Sasuke. I could avoid them much easier.

Sasuke was pushed back to the trees, and it was easy then to snag him in a Shadow Possession and smack a knockout tag on him too.

A single hand seal and I won.

By the time they came around, the mist had long since gone, and I was sitting calmly on a tree branch reading.

"That was mean, Shikako," Naruto whined.

"Hey, I pulled you out of the ground," I pointed out. "And we were sparring. It's not my fault you guys ignored me."

Sasuke 'hn'ed in acknowledgement. "I couldn't find the real Naruto," he admitted, starting our post fight discussion. "I'd have probably been better off setting up trip wires or neck traps so they didn't know where I was."

"Yeah, every time you popped one, I just sent more clones to that place," Naruto said. "We got you a few times, too."

"Yeah," I said. "But you couldn't see through your own mist, could you? That was dumb. You need a way to be able to find people in it if you're going to use it at all. Zabuza used sound and I can sense people in it…" I trailed off. "Can you still feel the chakra you use to make the mist? You could use that to find where people are in the mist."

"Not really." Naruto scrunched his nose up. "I could try though! That'd be cool!"

"It'd be a good idea. Scent is really the only other option… It'd be a good idea if you worked on a way too, Sasuke. Especially if we ever use it on missions."

"Hearing," he voted immediately. "It's more reliable than scent." Scent patterns would change depending on the wind, so wouldn't always be able to point out exactly where a person was. It was better for tracking because it lasted long term but it took more training to learn, as well.

We discussed the fight a bit more, until Sensei showed up.

"You're late!" Naruto hollered. By Kakashi standards, he actually wasn't all that late. Only an hour instead of the usual two or three.

"I was attacked by a raccoon and had to stop by the hospital to make sure it wasn't rabid," Kakashi-sensei said seriously.

Naruto and Sasuke snorted in disbelief. I ignored them and jumped to my feet, pulling three sealing scrolls out of my jacket.

"Here!" I chirped, handing a scroll to each of them.

"What is it?" Naruto asked eagerly, already unrolling it, while Kakashi-sensei looked at his with widened eye.

"It's a present!" I responded, waiting for them to unseal it. I liked giving presents. I liked seeing people's reactions when they unwrapped them.

Kakashi-sensei regarded his like it might be a live explosive note.

Naruto pressed his chakra into the kanji to disgorge a picture frame. It was from our celebratory dinner, of the four of us playing Shogi. It was a good picture. I was gesturing at the board and talking to Sasuke who was almost smiling while leaning on Naruto who was grinning ear to ear, while Kakashi-sensei sat on the sofa, forearms casually braced on his knees looking over our heads. It was much less formal than our team photo.

"Mum had them printed," I said. "I thought you guys would like a copy."

The silence started to stretch. I began to wonder if it really was such a good idea.

"This is really awesome!" Naruto enthused, tackling me with a hug. His eyes were a little misty. "I'll put it on my shelf next to our team photo! Believe it!"

I giggled.

"Thanks," Sasuke said, voice soft. He tucked his scroll away into his pouch.

"You're welcome," I said.

"Well, it's nice to see you all so happy," Kakashi-sensei said after a pause. "Because it's back to doing D-ranks."

Naruto groaned.

We'd done a few more D-rank missions, weeding gardens and walking dogs and shopping for groceries and the utterly infamous catch Tora mission, before the Hokage offered us another C-rank.

"A small band of thieves have stolen a artefact from one of the ladies of the Daimyo's court. It's apparently made of solid gold, so is worth quite a bit," the Hokage explained. "But more than that, it's a traditional heirloom and an important symbol of the family. Your mission is to retrieve the statue with a secondary objective of capturing the thieves. None of the thieves are noted to have ninja training, but you should be on your guard all the same."

"You bet, old man!" Naruto exclaimed. "We'll have that statue back before you know it!" He grinned, folding his hands behind his head.

The Hokage chuckled. "I'm counting on you to do that, Naruto." He threw Kakashi-sensei the mission scroll.

Kakashi-sensei scanned through the details quickly. "Alright kids. Grab your mission packs and meet me at the gate ASAP. Short term mission gear only. This shouldn't take more than a day."

"Yes, Sensei," we chorused, scattering to retrieve our packs.

Mum was a little worried that we were taking another C-rank mission so soon, especially after what happened on the last one, but there was really nothing she could say. She had been a ninja too and for all her worry, she understood missions.

Sensei wasn't even late meeting us at the gate. "This is a 'find and retrieve' or a 'track and capture' mission. It's a little different from our last C-rank which was a standard 'body guarding' mission. We don't really have time to go over the details now, but I'll brief you when we get closer to the location," he said, perfectly business like.

We jumped through the trees, pushing hard but not enough to tire ourselves out. We seemed to be heading north, which made sense as the capital was located to the north-east of Konoha.

We broke for a late lunch, and Sensei spread out a map on the ground. "Now," he started. "We're not exactly a tracking team like Team Eight but that doesn't exactly matter. If you have enough information, you can substitute logical deductions about enemy movement to chase and pursue tactics. In some cases, that's even better, since we can cut them off from ahead instead of trying to run them down."

"Huh?" Naruto asked. "How are we going to find them?"

"According to our Intel the thieves who took the statue are headed towards Ikeda Lake. The palace guards pursued them as far as Toge Pass but were overcome. Therefore, they'll be either travelling on land following this forest path or sailing by boat down the Kanagawa river," Kakashi-sensei said, tracing both routes out on the map with his finger.

"If they were clever, they'd do both," I said, eyeing the map. "One with the real statue, the other with a decoy."

Kakashi-sensei hummed. "The palace guards reported there were only a small number of thieves, five or six, so it's unlikely they'll split up unless they're very confident in their skills… and trust each other."

Unlikely. The thing about thieves was that they stole things. Even from each other.

"We're going to split up into two teams and lie in wait for them. In terms of team balance, I should go alone and you three should stick together."

I nodded. It made sense. Splitting us up would weaken us, and none of us could offer much to Kakashi-sensei anyway.

"What do you mean by that?" Naruto asked, tilting his head in confusion. "Are you saying Sasuke needs all the help he can get?" It was said so innocently that I did a double take.

Sasuke twitched. "You're the one that needs all the help you can get." He turned to Sensei. "I know we're not up to your level yet, but isn't three to one too much? You could take Naruto off our hands. Subtract his skill from yours and we'll be even."

"You've got to be kidding!" Naruto yelped. "Why would you subtract my skills?"

"Because you've got nothing to add," Sasuke retorted smugly.

The words were harsh but their tones were more teasing than insulting.

"Settle down and pay attention," Kakashi-sensei admonished. "I'll watch the pier and you three watch the forest path. If the thieves appear, notify me immediately. Do not take them lightly. Our mission is to retrieve the golden statue."

It was a reminder that we shouldn't just willy-nilly attack the thieves. We had to make sure that we could retrieve the statue or it would all be for naught.

Kakashi-sensei withdrew two hollow bamboo tubes and handed one to me. I regarded it warily. What was this?

"We must proceed with utmost caution. If the thieves appear on my side, I'll send up a signal with this." He tapped the hollow bamboo tube. "When this Lightning Barrel is activated it will release one thunderbolt. Once you verify it, rush to that location."

A Lightning Barrel? They were used to send up signals, but they were rarely used because they were bulky and obvious. If you sent it up everyone would know you were there.

"Now remember," he stressed. "You are not to act alone."

We nodded and agreed that we wouldn't. It wasn't like we had any reason to go against Sensei's wishes. Not like the Zabuza situation.

We scouted out several kilometres of the forest track and after seeing no sign of the thieves, settled in the branches to wait. It was boring, but at least we were prepared for that.

"Incoming," I murmured, an indefinite period of time later. The chakra I was sensing was … strange.

The two boys sharpened to attention.

Below us, tramping slowly at civilian pace, came five men leading a horse. They were all wearing jackets with the same symbol on their backs, like some kind of gang mark. I think it was supposed to be a fish, but that wasn't the first thing that popped to mind.

Target? Sasuke signed.

Not sure. I signed back. It was possible, but it wasn't certain. This wasn't a busy path, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be other travellers.

The guy that was leading the procession was tall, with dark red hair tied back into a ponytail and a pointy goatee. His face was set in a smirk, that I disliked on sight, but more than that, his chakra was distorted. Heavy and thick, almost like slime.

The horse stumbled on the loose ground. The poor thing, it was probably overworked. They nearly lost it down the bank and into the river when the leader turned around. I couldn't see what hand seals he used, but a rope of chakra, dense enough to be both visible and solid, shot out from his hand and wrapped around the horse, pulling it back to safety.

"Idiot," he barked. "Careful with the treasure."

"Sorry, boss Jako!" The underling stuttered.

So he was the leader.

I signalled the others to retreat back so we could converse where they couldn't hear us.

"They've got the treasure!" Naruto hissed. "Let's get it."

"It could be a decoy, still," I said. "They might have called it the treasure because they knew we were here."

"There's five guys down there," Sasuke put in. "That's what Sensei said the whole force was. It looks pretty likely that that box is what we're looking for."

I nodded. "It does. But we're not going to just leap down there, okay?" I glanced at Naruto who might have done just that. "We need to set up a proper ambush. One of us going for the box while the others take down the thieves and call Kakashi-sensei. If we set off the thunderbolt too soon, they'll know we're here… too late and Sensei wont get here in time."

"We can take care of it ourselves!" Naruto argued.

"Sensei did say to call him," I reminded him. "Specifically ordered it, in fact."

Sasuke nodded. "Four hundred meters back. There's a bit where the bank is steep on either side of the path." He scratched a approximate map into the ground. "They'll have to keep together to get through there, so…"

"If I wait here…" I gestured. "I can get them all with my Shadow Possession. If Naruto sets off the Lightning Barrel and creates clones to tie the thieves up quickly once I've got them, that leaves you free to grab the horse and check the box to make sure it's our target."

It was a pretty simple plan. Naruto looked a little disappointed that it didn't involve more fighting, but reluctantly nodded.

"And be careful of the guy with the red hair. His chakra is … strange, and you saw that technique he used to catch the horse. It looked like some kind of Chakra String."

"Don't worry! None of these guys are even ninja," Naruto said. "They aren't a match for us."

I wanted to scold him for underestimating them, but didn't bother. He wouldn't listen.

"Fine, fine. You take the Lightning Barrel and we'll get into place. Maybe set some traps to stop them moving forward or backwards once they're in the ambush zone."

"Right," Sasuke said and we all sprung into action.

The pass was long enough for ten men to walk in single file, so the five of them should be in the middle of it before we attacked. It wasn't obvious to an untrained eye that it was a blind corridor either, up until this point the bank to the river had dropped away gently and the forest side had been steep but not impassable. That wasn't the case here. The river bank was a sheer drop and the trees were practically horizontal.

We strung wires up across the exit end of the path and reverse spring traps at the entrance. They'd pass over them easily coming in, but if they tried to turn around and leave they'd be in trouble.

"Okay, everyone ready?" I asked. "Sasuke, you mark when."

I tended to wait too long and be too cautious while Naruto was the exact opposite. Sasuke was the best of us at split second decisions like that.

We waited, tensed and ready. The thieves came into view. They stumbled and staggered and shouted. They passed underneath us.

"Now!" Sasuke yelled.

It all happened at once.

I dropped straight down, landing right in the middle of the group, shadow arching out and snaring them.

Sasuke sprang for the horse, using a kunai to pin it's reins to the ground and stop it moving. He used another kunai to slice the ropes holding the box down and lifted it off.

Naruto slammed the Lightning Barrel into the tree and shot a thunderbolt into the sky.

Jako reacted fast, too. With one hand, he shot a glob of chakra into the air, snaring the lightning bolt out of the sky, even as my shadow latched onto his and froze him in place. I couldn't stop techniques that didn't take hand seals.

The other hand shot a glob at Sasuke.

"Look out!" Naruto shouted, throwing the useless bamboo tube at Jako, and leaping to pull Sasuke out of the way.

I solidified my hold, spinning my hands until my palms were facing my eyes. If Jako tried again, he'd shoot himself in the face.

Sasuke twisted out of the way, trying to keep hold of the box and keep his footing on the steep rock. The boys collided, rolling back from the bank, the box wedged safely between them.

"Hey! What the hell is this?" Naruto shouted as he tried to stand and found the glob of blue chakra sticking his and Sasuke's hands together.

"Like it? I'm a natural born thief who's rotten to the core. So as you can see, even my chakra is foul." Jako chuckled. "Even a ninja is helpless when his hands are tied. When I get free, I'm going to kill you all."

"Whatever. Get off me, Naruto." Sasuke appeared very unimpressed at Jako's threat. He used his one free hand to wedge the box open. "This is the treasure," he confirmed.

"Good," I said, starting to feel the strain of holding so many people in Shadow Possession. "Can you tie these guys up now?"

We exchanged looks. Could they?

Oh, crap.

"Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Naruto shouted. Nothing happened.

"Idiot! You can't form hand seals with only one hand," Sasuke shot him down, then looked at me apprehensively.

Shit. What were we going to do? I could try restraining them with the chains they were all carrying, but it would be tricky and not all that stable.

"I have knockout tags in my pouch," I realised, in relief. "Just stick one on each of them."

It was a little awkward, but it worked. Once they were out and down, I tied them up securely with ninja wire, taking extra care with Jako, so that he couldn't use his weird chakra again.

Then I tied a flash-bang tag around a kunai and threw it high in the air. It might not have been the pre-arranged signal, but hopefully Sensei would investigate.

"Let me see your hands," I said, hoping it wasn't anything serious. I tentatively touched the solid, almost gooey ball of chakra. It was opaque and I couldn't even see their hands inside it. I probed it with my chakra. "Hmm. It's strongly bonded together like Earth Chakra but almost liquid like Water Chakra… the bonds are already starting to decay…"

"Can you fix it?" Naruto asked hopefully.

I studied it a bit longer. "I think that it'll crumble apart on its own. Maybe two or three days."

"Like I can put up with him for that long!" Naruto snapped, though a bit of tension leaked out of his shoulders.

"That's my line," Sasuke retorted.

"So what's this mysterious treasure that we were sent to retrieve?" I asked, trying to distract them from arguing.

Sasuke grimaced and opened the box again.

It was… a teddy bear eating a fish?


"I can't believe they stole something stupid like that," Naruto lamented.

"You know, kids," a voice said from behind us. "When I said 'don't act on your own', funnily enough, I meant 'don't act on your own', as in 'call me before you do anything'"

We turned. Kakashi-sensei was giving us a 'not impressed' stare.

"We tried to signal you!" Naruto objected. "But they stopped the stupid tube thing from working!" He huffed and tried to wave his arms, only to fail as Sasuke didn't budge. "So it's not our fault."

"We achieved both mission objectives," Sasuke added, scowling.

Kakashi-sensei sighed. "So you did. Good job. Alright, I'll set a maker here so the local patrols can come and collect them. We'll take the statue back to Konoha with us… and what is up with your hands?"



Four days later we were on our way back from another D-rank mission when I noticed one of the messenger birds circling overhead. The type and flight pattern was coded for a Jounin response, so I wasn't surprised when Kakashi-sensei spoke up.

"Well, how about we break here for the day? I have to go and submit a mission report." He smiled, his eye crinkling into a curve.

That was the beauty about being known for having lame excuses, I guess. He didn't even try and come up with anything believable.

"Bye, Sensei," I said, as Naruto grumbled.

Kakashi-sensei vanished with a cheery wave.

We looked at each other awkwardly for a second. "Want to do some training?" I asked. During the time they'd been stuck together, Kakashi-sensei had decided it was a great chance to do teamwork drills. Today, as celebration for finally being free, they'd spent the morning beating the crap out of each other.

I'd stayed out of it.

We were set to head back towards the training fields when Naruto twitched.

"Is that… supposed to be a rock?" He asked disbelievingly.

I glanced over my shoulder. In such a public setting, I didn't automatically catalogue every chakra signature around us. My lips twitched. It was a very square rock. "Friends of yours?"

"Hmph!" Naruto marched forward, taking exaggerated steps.

The box followed.

I looked at Sasuke. He rolled his eyes, but there was amusement in his face. "What an idiot."

"A square rock with two eye holes like that doesn't exist!" Naruto finally shouted, turning around and facing it. "It's so obvious!"

"I should have expected that from my rival!" the box announced before exploding in a cloud of smoke and flying debris. A big cloud of smoke. "Hey! You used too much gunpowder!"

As the smoke cleared it revealed the hunched over forms of three coughing children. They were about eight years old and looked a little familiar.

"We are-" they shouted. "Moegi!" "Udon!" "Konohamaru!" "And together the three of us make: the Konohamaru Corps!"

"Just as I thought, it was the three of you," Naruto said, completely unimpressed. "Why do the three of you have goggles on?"

"We copied the old you," Konohamaru explained laughing.


"Oh? You've been treating us so cold lately," Konohamaru complained.

"Well, what do you want?" Naruto asked, hands behind his head.

"You said you'd play ninja with us!" The three chorused with various degrees of hurt.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Ninja playing ninja," he scoffed. "I'm going to the training fields. Meet me there if you're coming." He walked on.

I was torn between following him and seeing what Naruto was up to.

"Really? Well…" Naruto stalled. "I have training to do. I don't really have time to play ninja anymore, right Shikako?"

I blinked at suddenly being drawn into the conversation.

"Who's this?" Konohamaru asked, as the three of them eyed me distrustfully. "Your girlfriend?"

Naruto's face was a study in panic.

"No, I'm his team mate," I corrected easily.

"Oh. Okay. Hey, are you going to play ninja with us too?" He perked right back up. "You can, if you're Boss's friend."

I was about to decline when an idea of utter mischievousness sparked alight. "Play ninja, huh?" I smirked. "I think I've got just the idea…"

Oh it was a delightfully wicked idea. I felt giddy just thinking about it. "Here's what we're going to do…"

The training fields were quiet when we got there. Sasuke was practicing his kata, alone in the middle of the clearing.

"See your target?" I asked the three.

They nodded.

"Sasuke is going to kill us," Naruto said, awe in his voice.

"Shush you. Remember the plan?"

They nodded again.

"Okay, Konohamaru. On your mark!"

I crept away, getting myself into position. Hey, even games of ninja had tactics.

"Now!" Konohamaru leapt out of the bushes, deploying another colourful smoke bomb. Sasuke blinked in bafflement as he was pelted with paper shuriken. He dodged automatically, hands going for his kunai before pausing as he registered what was going on.

In Sasuke's ninja manual there really wasn't a standard response when dealing with kids attacking you with fake weaponry.

I leapt and landed lightly behind him, arms going around him like a very poor version of a bear hug. In fact it was more of a, you know, hug. "Got you~" I sing songed.

The kids cheered.

"What the-" Sasuke stared, looking at me over his shoulder with wide eyes.

"Play along," I whispered in his ear as the kids dragged Naruto out of the bushes. He looked even more stunned than Sasuke.

I gasped and stepped backwards. "Oh no! He got loose! Run!"

The kids shrieked. Moegi grabbed Naruto's hand. "Oh, no, boss! We've gotta run!" She dragged him along. I winked at Sasuke as I slid around him.

"Faster, faster!" I urged. "He's gaining on us!"

They shrieked louder. I glanced over my shoulder and grinned so hard my face hurt. Sasuke was chasing us. And he was chasing us at the same speed we were running, not the speed of a serious ninja trying to catch someone.

We careenered down the streets back into town, the kids laughing and shrieking the whole way. And by kids I included Naruto. It probably wasn't the wisest of destinations. Of course we were going to hit someone.

It was just unlucky that that someone was a foreign ninja.

I skidded to a stop as Konohamaru crashed straight into a black suited ninja with a painted face.


Yes, there was a blonde girl next to him carrying a giant fan. They were both wearing Sand forehead protectors. I expanded my chakra sense and shivered. There was Gaara, in the trees. And there were three more, over there. Genin level, too.

"That hurt, brat," Kankurou objected, grabbing Konohamaru by his scarf and lifting.

"Stop it, we're going to get scolded later," Temari said, casting a nervous look around. She looked mostly bored, but very wired. Like she'd had too much caffeine. Or like she was terrified.

In that vein, Kankurou's aggressiveness reeked of fear.

It reminded me, however young they were, however much they'd become our allies later… right now they were enemy shinobi whose mission was to kill us all.

"Hey! Let him go!" Naruto shouted. I winced. Of course Naruto's first action was to pick a fight.

"I hate impertinent brats like that," Kankurou said in disgust. "It just makes me want to break them."

I intervened. "Shinobi-san, you are from the Village Hidden in the Sand, correct? What is your reason for being in Konoha?"

It was an oddity that I had found amongst the ninja of different villages. We tended to address our home villages in a different manner than foreign ninja did. So to me, the Village Hidden in the Sand was well, that, while they spoke of it as Suna. The same went for Konoha.

It was Temari that answered. "We're here for the Chunin Exams," she said, showing her passport as she was required to do. I might have been only a Genin but in matters of village security, I still had the right to ask to see them.

I nodded, not surprised. I hadn't expect the Chunin Exams to be so soon, but that was the only reason they would be here now. "I see," I said. "May I remind you that the streets are regarded as civilian areas and that violence is prohibited in these locations? If you are wishing to train, I'm sure there are several designated training sites allocated for you."

Kankurou scowled fiercely, expression highlighted by his Kabuki paint. He looked like he was thinking about attacking anyway.

Behind me, Sasuke shifted into an attack ready position.

"Kankurou," a voice rasped. "You are a disgrace to our village." I'd sensed Gaara before, but he'd moved quickly, and now he was visible standing easily on a tree branch. His chakra felt… mad and it was like he was constantly radiating Killing Intent.

Kankurou froze. And then carefully and gingerly returned Konohamaru to his feet. Konohamaru scuttled back, so he was hiding behind Team Seven. "Gaara," Kankurou said, voice wobbling a little bit.

Temari looked uneasy. More than uneasy. She looked terrified. Oh, she was trying to hide it, but every line of her face, every twitch of her body, every hitch in her breath spoke of terror.

"Have you forgotten the reason we came here?" His voice didn't rise or waver and it still made all the hairs on my arms stand up.

"I… I know. They challenged us," Kankurou tried to explain. "See, here's what happened-"

"Shut up. Or I'll kill you." His eyes narrowed, just a fraction.

Kankurou backed down. Fast.

I could feel the astonishment radiating from my team mates. That was an over reaction, from our point of view.

"R-right. I was out of line. Sorry, Gaara. I was totally out of line," Kankurou babbled. Holding his hands out in a surrender pose. Temari shifted beside him.

"I'm sorry for any trouble he caused," Gaara said, turning to us. There was no interest in his voice or expression.

I bowed anyway. "It was just a misunderstanding. It was nice to meet you," I said. Gaara's attention focused the feeling of Killing Intent, but it wasn't particularly strong at the moment. It just had… potential.

Gaara reappeared on the ground in a swirl of sand, ignoring us once more. "Let's go. We didn't come here to play games."

"Alright, sure," Kankurou agreed.

We watched them go.

"So… what was all that about? Chunin Exams?" Naruto asked, puzzled. I felt like face palming.

"Err, boss? Those are the exams every Genin has to take in order to become a Chunin," Konohamaru explained.

"Oh! I am totally there!" Naruto exclaimed. "Chunin, here I come!"

Sasuke was still watching the direction that the Sand Siblings had gone. "That guy… with the gourd…" he muttered. "His eyes…"

I bit my lip. "Be careful of him, Sasuke. His team mates… they were terrified of him. Not just scared, full out terrified. I don't know if there's anyone that scares me so much." Not quite true. Kyuubi did. But I could hardly say that. "More than Zabuza scared us, even."

"I see," he said, but his eyes stayed focused down the street.

I dreaded the look in his eye, all humour from before gone, leaving nothing but a black void.