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: Nemesis Jedi - It's funny that you mention Hammerspace… XD And yeah, pretty much everything with Orochimaru is delaying the inevitable. At this point Orochimaru is a Hero Killer; they don't stand a chance against him.

There's a little bit in here at my attempt at explaining some of the reactions in the anime fights, since no one ever seems to get actually hurt. You'll know what I'm talking about. XD



Chapter 18



A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles. – Tim Cahill



The Academy was bustling with ninja from all nations. We'd shown up early as a tactical decision to scout out the place and competition before the Exam began but it was already busy.

The Academy building was compact and sturdy and highly defensible. It might have been quicker and easier to chakra walk up the walls to the third floor and enter through a window instead of having to push through all the people in the hallways, but that was actually impossible. You couldn't get in through the upper level windows.

Inside, the hallways were maze-like and the staircases staggered by being in different places on each floor. It was annoying and time consuming, but it was also a good way to slow and confuse invaders and attackers. The three of us were able to navigate with ease, having spent years in this building already, though some of the foreign ninja looked annoyed and confused.

Honestly, if they couldn't find stairs they weren't very good ninja at all.

The second floor was even more crowded than the first and it only took the intrusive spike of a genjutsu for me to know why. I grimaced. It was an area-of-effect genjutsu. I did weaken it, shunting it into a corner of my chakra system, so that the illusion wavered and diluted in front of my eyes like I was staring through coloured cellophane, so I could see both what was real and what they wished us to see.

"You're taking the Chunin Exams and you can't even get past us?" one of the two 'Genin' guarding the door scoffed as they kicked back a green suited boy. Rock Lee, I suspected, though I had never seen him before. The spandex suit was too distinctive.

"Let's move on," I murmured quietly to my team mates. Sasuke's eyes flickered to me - he saw the genjutsu too. But Sasuke preferred confrontation to secrecy. I didn't mind underestimation, and Naruto liked tricking people, but he demanded to be taken seriously.

"Please let us through, we're supposed to go in there," Tenten pleaded to the two door guards, making her own attempt at getting past them. She was knocked back too, landing heavily beside her team mate. It was a decent tactic, making people think you're weak, but not worth taking injuries before an unknown exam. Well, unknown to them.

"Aww, that's harsh," someone in the crowd muttered in protest. Idly, I wondered how many of the watching Genin believed the scene playing out in front of them, and how many were playing their own 'underestimation' game.

"Did you say harsh?" One of the two door guards scoffed.

"Don't kid yourselves," the other picked up. "We're being nice by comparison. The exams will make this look like a picnic. "

"Some of you will die in the Exams, others will be wrecked for life. Some of you may go crazy. For Chunin it's always life and death," the first said, puffing up and staring at the crowd.

"You think it's a joke?" the second one continued. "Chunin are qualified to lead missions. The lives of your squad members are in your hands. So you better be tough enough to take the heat. "

Give away. Giant give away. They were way too proud of what being Chunin meant to be anything but. There was no way that these two were actually Genin.

"Real nice speech," Sasuke interrupted cuttingly. "Now both of you step aside and let me through. And while you're at it, release the genjutsu, we can see through your illusion anyway. We're going to the third floor."

"Well aren't you the smart ones," one of the door guards said. "Big deal. So you noticed an illusion. Let's see you deal with this." He lashed out towards us, one leg arching in a wide swing.

Sasuke responded smoothly, shifting his weight backwards and kicking out to precisely block and deflect the incoming attack.

Then, suddenly, Lee was between them.

"He's fast," Naruto said in awe.

Really fast, I noted.

Sasuke disengaged easily, sliding backwards and reappraising someone he had just written off as weak.

"Hey," a smooth, but annoyed voice interrupted. His white eyes marked him as a Hyuuga and his covered forehead as a Branch House member. Neji. "What happened to the plan? I thought you were the one who said to keep a low profile and not to let anyone see our skill level."

That was… doubtful, but it was a smooth recovery on Neji's part. If you couldn't make it work for your whole squad, make Lee seem like he's the best of you.

"I know, but-" Lee protested half heartedly.

"Never mind, it's over, forget it," Tenten said, trying to peace keep between her two team mates. I knew how that felt.

"It is just that," Lee said, turning to Sasuke with a strange intensity in his eyes. "I wish to challenge you!"

Tenten sighed. It was an 'I should have expected that' sigh. "But Lee… the Exam…"

"I challenge you," Lee repeated, ignoring her. "Everyone is always talking about the Uchiha Clan and how great they are. I want to see if it is true. I figure you will be a good test for me."

Beside me, Naruto scowled. "Uchiha, Uchiha, Uchiha. It's always Sasuke."

"You've heard of the Uchiha Clan and yet you're challenging me? You must be even more psycho than you look, if that's possible." Sasuke was irritated, yet it didn't seem like he was going to turn the fight down. The Uchiha Clan was a sore spot for him, understandably. Living up to the weight of that name must have been difficult; the dead have no faults.

This was just what we needed, some idiot stirring up problems when we most needed to stick together. "There will probably be chances to fight during the Exam," I mentioned, trying to divert them. "And we really need to get our applications in before three…"

"This will not take long," Lee said.

That riled Sasuke up. It was one thing to be challenged. It was another thing entirely to be dismissed. His eyes narrowed. "You're right, this wont take long. You're going down."

"Excellent. We will take this to the practice hall." The Academy had a number of large empty rooms that could be used for a variety of purposes, assemblies, physical exercise and so forth. It would be better to find one of them to fight in than to do it here, in the corridor.

Neji snorted. "I'm not waiting around while you pick fights. Tenten, let's go."

"R-right, Neji," Tenten said. "Lee, don't take too long, okay?"

I sighed and followed the boys towards the hall. My chances of talking Sasuke down now were pretty much non-existent.

I studied the set of his shoulders quietly. Annoyance, yes, but he was still confident that he could best Lee. And maybe he could, but not here. Being inside would limit Sasuke from using his jutsu, and I was hopeful that he wouldn't exhaust himself before the Exam by using ninjutsu anyway.


"If you two aren't finished by half-past, I'll stop this fight," I said quietly as we entered the hall. There was a large open floor, and a balcony for observers. "We are not going to be late."

Sasuke nodded curtly as they jumped down to the floor below.

"Why is it always Sasuke?" Naruto muttered as we stood on the balcony looking down. Sasuke and Lee had taken to the floor, staring at each other.

"There'll be plenty of people to fight during the Exams," I said. "Don't worry about that. Now… watch how Lee fights, so that if we come up against him later we'll know how to beat him."

"Heh," Naruto smirked. "Bet he's not expecting that."

Sasuke darted forward, leading with an easy right cross to the head. A testing move. He wasn't moving at his full speed, yet, but it was still fairly fast. Lee made him look like he was moving in slow motion, ducking down easily into a crouch and pivoting, a long leg circling around to knock Sasuke's legs out from beneath him.

"Leaf Whirlwind!"

Judging someone else's speed was hard. I could almost match Sasuke normally and if I chakra boosted like everyone else was always doing I doubled my speed. That was maybe about the speed Lee was moving right now, and he was still wearing his weights. I doubted this was even his maximum encumbered speed.

Sasuke flipped over the leg sweep, hand springing to gain some distance. Lee didn't let him recover, leaping into the air and descending on him with a roundhouse kick.

"Leaf Hurricane!"

Sasuke twisted, not quite able to dodge the blow, but enough to take in on his crossed forearms instead in the face. He skidded backwards.

"You're fast," Sasuke acknowledged. "I think it's time to use this." His chakra pulsed and his eyes began to spin, black bleeding into red.

"Your Sharingan will not help you here," Lee declared. "I know your technique. I know that you can see through your opponents Jutsu. That Sharingan gives you the ability to read his chakra and decipher his handsigns and movements. You can guess what he's going to do almost before he knows himself. The problem is… Taijutsu is a little bit different."

"What's your point?" Sasuke said, annoyed.

"I do not try to hide or disguise my moves. I do not have to. Even if you can read them, you still cannot stop them. You are too slow. Your eyes may be quick enough to keep up with me, but if your body cannot follow, what good does it do?"

He blurred forward again, swinging low and kicking upwards, intending to catch Sasuke in the chin. Sasuke tipped sideways, the foot grazing past his cheek. It wasn't much of a dodge, but it worked all the same.

I knew that speed was one of the weaknesses of the Sharingan, and I'd made sure Sasuke knew it too. It had given me a chance to work on my speed in combat and forced Sasuke to work out how to predict and respond to fast movement.

Lee retracted his foot, then lashed out again, catching him square in the stomach, throwing him back across the room.

"Grk!" Sasuke grunted as the air was forced out of his lungs. He forced himself to his hands and knees, then stood, trembling slightly.

Unfortunately, that was the most common conclusion to ninja fights.

They didn't end through broken bones or injuries… but through chakra exhaustion and disruption of the chakra enhancing your muscles. If you hadn't practiced moving, fighting, living without chakra boost, like I had, moving without it seemed impossible. It was almost like paralysis. That was why, after a strong hit, most ninja staggered and stumbled on their feet as their chakra system resorted itself.

Pain disrupted chakra. That was the whole principle of escaping genjutsu. But it could work against you, too.

"You know what I believe?" Lee said, once more taking his opening stance. "There are two kinds of ninja. Those like you who are born with talent and do not have to work at it. And those like me who have to train every day of our lives! The fact is, your Sharingan is the worst match for my extreme Taijutsu."

Sasuke had gone from annoyed to angry. He darted forward again, lashing out with all kind of combinations. Lee blocked everyone and retaliated with moves that Sasuke could only move with or lessen but never avoid completely.

It was interesting though, that Sasuke was sticking completely to Taijutsu too. It wasn't a good idea to use Ninjutsu inside but he hadn't brought out any kunai, or shuriken or used ninja wire to trip or slow his opponent.

He was playing Lee's game.

A strike caught Sasuke in the stomach, throwing him up into the air.

"Here's what I mean!" Lee said, jumping up after him in the pattern of Shadow of the Dancing Leaf. "Now I will prove my point. That hard work beats out natural talent."

The bandages on his hands started unwrapping, coiling and snapping in an invisible breeze. I didn't see how he could do that without chakra.

And then they were slammed into the wall, pinned by an incongruous and fragile looking paper pinwheel.

I blinked, startled.

"Alright! That's enough!" The deep booming voice of a tortoise admonished. It was a summon. I could see the Konoha headband that it wore around it's neck.

"What the hell?" Naruto yelped. "It's a turtle!"

Lee, momentum halted by his trapped bandages, was pulled out of his technique, landing in a crouch on the ground. Sasuke twisted agilely, landing like a cat. The deep set of his mouth betrayed his aggravation.

"That last technique is forbidden! You know that!" The tortoise growled.

"I am sorry. I did not mean to… I was not planning to use a forbidden jutsu. I mean, I was just in the middle of a fight… you understand…" Lee flailed about trying to explain himself.

I ignored him, mostly, jumping down to land lightly beside Sasuke.

"Alright?" I asked, assessing him. It didn't look like anything more than his pride was hurt.

He grunted.

Naruto landed ungracefully beside us, apparently deciding he didn't want to stay up on the balcony alone.

Lee's telling off continued behind us. "You're a disgrace! You think you'll get away with a bunch of lame excuses like that! A shinobi never reveals his techniques unless it's absolutely necessary. It's such a basic rule you should know it by now."

"You saw his hands, didn't you? When he took off the tape? I bet old bushy brow has been training until he drops. Day in and day out," Naruto muttered, voice hushed.

I hummed. "His Taijutsu is very good. But that just means we should avoid matching him in a Taijutsu fight."

Sasuke smirked at the idea. I was relieved to see the anger drain out of his body. He nodded. "This Exam will be interesting…"

There was an explosion of chakra smoke, revealing a man standing on the back of the tortoise. Maito Gai.

Konoha had such an eye-catching history of 'dead lasts' that most people probably assumed that Gai was one of them. Rock Lee's enthusiastic mimicking of his sensei didn't help matters, particularly among our generation.

The truth was, Gai was one of the lauded prodigy children. The genius kids. He had graduated the academy at seven, fought in the war, made Chunin at eleven and Jounin at fifteen, only slightly behind Kakashi's own record. That was, I suspect, where the 'Eternal Rivalry' developed, between the two that were so far advanced from the rest of their peers.

Out of all the sensei for the Konoha Twelve, Kurenai was the one that was most ordinary. She had been born to the extended family of a minor ninja clan, become a Genin at nine (the graduating age due to the war) and Chunin at thirteen. She had reached Jounin at twenty six after a long hard struggle to be taken seriously as both a kunoichi and a genjutsu user.

Regardless, for all his ridiculous posing, Maito Gai deserved to be a Jounin.

"Hey, what's shaking? How you doing, everybody? Life treating you good? Hi, Lee."

It was just that everyone's first impression was shock. Maybe a little bit of horror. The fact that he was over the top melodramatic… It was sort of something you had to grow used to.

The three of us exchanged glances with each other that conveyed large amounts of 'what the hell?' combined with 'who is this guy?' and 'can we get out of here?' as Lee and Gai-sensei had a Moment behind us.

Don't get me wrong, I like Lee and Gai. It's just… this might not have been the best introduction of them.

"That is…" Sasuke trailed off. "How did I lose to that guy?"

"Well, it's kinda sweet the way they're all huggy and stuff," Naruto said. That comment was Naruto through and through. Yeah, he might have been shocked and weirded out but he could still appreciate people who acknowledged each other.

"Tell me, how is Kakashi-sensei?" Gai-sensei asked, turning to us.

"… Do you know him?" Sasuke asked. He didn't quite sound either surprised or disbelieving but the potential was there.

"Do I know Kakashi?" Gai chuckled then smiled brightly. His teeth gleamed. "Well people say … he and I are arch rivals for all of eternity."

"There's just no way!" Naruto blurted out, shocked.

"How dare you?" Lee asked, outraged. "If Gai-sensei says it is so then-"

"Let it slide, Lee. A ninja's actions always speak louder than words," he said seriously. Then vanished. "My record is 50 wins and 49 losses." He was freaking behind us. It startled me so badly I nearly lashed out even though this was not a combat situation. "Which is one better than his, by the way. You see, I'm stronger than Kakashi… and faster."

"You see?" Lee said, vindicated. "Gai-sensei is the best there is."

Ninja battles weren't just fought on strength and speed, though. And a ninja's prowess didn't always come from fair fights. That didn't make either of them better than the other, just better at different things.

"Now Lee, you should accompany these fine young ninja to the classroom. Remember, give it your best." He gave us all the thumbs up and vanished.

We shook ourselves out of our stupor.

"Right," Sasuke said. "We need to get to room 301."

We turned to leave, but I hesitated, turning back to Lee. This had bothered me. "Oh, Lee? You said there were two kinds of people, genius' and those who worked hard… but just because someone has natural talent doesn't mean they don't have to train hard, you know. All shinobi walk the same path to grow stronger; even if some start out ahead of the others it doesn't matter because, in the end, we're still all headed for the same place…"

Sasuke works hard too, y'know?

I hesitated, unsure if what I'd said made sense, then shrugged.

"All shinobi are walking the same path to grow stronger?" Sasuke asked, brow arched as I caught up to him.

I bumped our shoulders together playfully. "Don't you know some journeys are better with friends?"

Naruto clenched his fists. "Yeah! You might have started out ahead of me, but I'm catching up! Believe it!"

"I think you already have," I said.

We grinned at each other. Or well, Naruto grinned, I smiled and Sasuke smirked.

"I'm glad you all came," a low, calm voice intruded on the moment.

"Kakashi-sensei," I chirped and darted forward to hug him. That was a little bolder than I normally was, to be sure, but it was Kakashi-sensei. Safe. Familiar. "I'm glad you're here!"

"Yeah! You're the best sensei ever!" Naruto echoed. "Even if you are late all the time and read those weird books…"

I think all three of us shared a joint vision of what could have been. Green spandex. Youth and vigour. We shuddered.

Kakashi-sensei eyed us warily but didn't ask. He probably knew exactly who we'd run into. "Riiight. Now, you can formally register for the Chunin Exams. Only groups of three are allowed to apply for and take the Exam, so it's good you all came together."

That hadn't been what he'd told us when handing out the applications - exactly - but I'd known it anyway. There was a faint twitch of surprise from the boys though, so maybe that was one of those 'unspoken rule' things that they'd missed out on.

"I'm proud of you." He smiled. "Couldn't ask for a better team. Good luck."

"We wont let you down, sensei," Naruto said, beaming at him like a sunrise in the morning. A few words of praise and his confidence was unshakable.

I nodded firmly and we opened the doors and stepped inside.