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 just a little insulting to his big, bad ninja pride, that's all. Sure, she can sense the other guys but… but… I'm better than them. To be fair, she only suspected he was there but hey.

DeeJay-Dubu - You have PM's disabled, so I have to reply here. XD The quotes come from various places. Some of them I already have and am keeping for the right chapter. The rest, I have a vague idea of what I want them to say, or mean, and then go trawling with Google to find something appropriate.

About the strength of the sleep genjutsu: when the camera is doing the pan around the stands, you can see quite a few of the sleeping people are wearing Konoha headbands. What rank are they? Who knows, but the implication is that the genjutsu is pretty strong.

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Chapter 34

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Leadership has been defined as the ability to hide your panic from others. ~ Anonymous

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The genjutsu came fast and strong. I could see why the others fell victim to it so easily. The only one who would have been certain to see through it would have been Hinata, and she was already out of it.

Huh. Maybe that's what Kabuto did?

In my lap, Akamaru growled and jumped back to Kiba, who looked dazed but was forming the seals for genjutsu release. Animals tended to have different nervous systems, or at least different sensory priorities which made them difficult to trap and it looked like Kurenai had beaten it into her team.

I shook the genjutsu off, aware that others were doing the same. Kotetsu and Izumo were up and out of their seats already. Kakashi-sensei had gone straight for the back of the stands where the illusion originated and where I felt a flicker of metallic chakra.

At least he believed me about the ANBU.

Smoke exploded in the Kage's box, billowing out into the air. People were dashing to and fro. It was hard to understand everything that was going on.

But it wasn't just Konoha ninja that were popping up. I pulled out a kunai and deflected the incoming projectiles - carefully, carefully! There were too many people around - before hopping awkwardly up on the backs of the seats and blocking the flying kick that tried to take my head off. I balanced using chakra to stick my feet steady and twisted, slamming him down onto the ground.

I was about to follow up with a downward kunai thrust, but Kiba got there first, looking a little afraid and a lot shocked.

I nodded at him. "Thanks."

"What the hell's going on?" he muttered, eyes wide.

"An attack," I said sombrely eyes darting around. I was glad - vaguely and distantly - that they were wearing uniforms. Black balaclavas, grey tunics with black and white camouflage. If they hadn't been, this would have been much, much more confusing. And yeah, with their faces covered like that… it was easier to fight them. They weren't people, they were enemies.

There! A group of four! Scatter them!

I ripped the plastic covering off the back of a seat and focused, slapping an explosive seal on the it, before sending it frisbeeing into the congregated Sound shinobi. Then I had to duck hastily and backtrack because my lapse in attention to my surroundings was almost deadly.

Note to self. Not good for use in the middle of a fight… The set time was too long. Shit. I hadn't thought of that.

I tumbled to the ground in one of the isles, landing awkwardly, and kept rolling to avoid the kunai that were impacting the ground. The attacker loomed. I tensed, twisted my legs into a position that was painful but would (hopefully) allow me to deliver a full force kick to his face… and then relaxed as an oversize kunai blade slammed straight down through his back.

"Thanks," I muttered breathlessly to Kotetsu, ducking out of the way and back to my feet, as the corpse fell to the ground.

"Welcome. But it looked like you had it covered," he said noncommittally.

I didn't reply, adrenaline thundering in my veins. I glanced towards place my exploding tag had gone off. Three dead. There was another fighting Izumo that had a huge black scorch mark across his side. No damage to the sleepers. Good.

I ignored the little voice in the back of my head that was gibbering. This large scale attack was different to anything I had ever experienced.

There wasn't time to reminisce though. Almost as soon as I was back on my feet I was attacked again and I vaulted over a row of seats. Kotetsu was gone, already fighting. I could see Kiba, out of the corner of my eye. There was a flash of movement in the arena as the Sand Siblings took off. I caught sight of other familiar Jounin in other parts of the stands - Asuma, Kurenai, someone I thought was Ebisu.

There was too much input and not enough time to analyse it.

I planted another handstand, like I was going to flip away again, then reversed my momentum, slamming a heel drop onto the top of his head. He went crashing into the ground, and I followed through, crouching and slamming a kunai into the back of his neck.

A blur of black went past, and I automatically tracked it with my eyes. Black ANBU cloak, but the mask was missing. Kabuto.

He slid to a stop, both feet and a hand braced on the ground. "I see your legend isn't exaggerated, Kakashi," he said, easily.

Reflexively, I glanced in the direction he was looking. Kakashi-sensei, fighting six - five now - Sound shinobi. That plus Kabuto? Huh. His Sharingan was open but he didn't look injured. Then again, Kabuto wasn't the type to leave visible marks.

"But I don't intend to be stopped here," Kabuto continued.

My attention was dragged back to him. I watched him reach for me, almost as if in slow motion.

Another bonus I had found in using seals vs. weights, was that there was nothing physical you had to remove. It was a seal. You just cancelled it.

"Kai!" I said, panicked, cancelling the seal and simultaneously enhancing all my muscles. I dropped low, under his grabbing hand, planted my hands on the ground and powered out with a backwards double mule kick that slammed squarely into his chest. He went flying backwards, too stunned by the sudden speed of it.

I had time to think, Shadow Possession probably would have been better, before there was a blur of green, Gai-sensei chasing after him and following up with a punishing rain of blows.

"Shikako," Kakashi-sensei said cheerily, landing in a crouch beside me. "No time to be wool gathering."

"Yes, sensei," I said automatically, feeling more stable already. Jounin weren't just the Elite of the shinobi world, they were the leaders. They were the people who could pull a group together, who could inspire you to fight when everything was hopeless, who could convince you that everything was going to be okay.

Like now.

"Listen carefully, I have a mission for you," he said, and my heart thumped. "This is an A-rank mission. Sasuke is chasing Gaara and the other Sand ninja. There is no time. I suspect many Sound and Sand shinobi have already infiltrated this village. Sasuke will need backup, but he's also going to be a target. Take who you need and go after Sasuke. You'll be limited to the Genin; we can't spare any fighters."

I froze.

Me? In charge?

"Shikako!" His voice was sharp and serious. "There is no time to waste."

I squashed the surge of 'I can't do this' and my fingers unconsciously formed a circle. My mind raced. Plans, plans, I needed plans.

Sensei slammed his hand down onto the ground and there was a puff of chakra smoke.

"Pakkun here will track down Sasuke by scent."

I took a moment to consider how adorably cute Pakkun was, scrubbing his face with his paw like that.

"You wanna shake? My paws are so soft and supple," Pakkun said, waving a paw at me. His voice was surprisingly deep.

Bemused, I caught his tiny, tiny paw and shook it. In my head there was a voice going SQUEEEE!

"You, I like," Pakkun announced. I couldn't help but smile.

"Got it?" Sensei asked.

"Track Sasuke. Protect him. Stop Gaara," I reiterated. "Gaara has Temari and Kankurou with him…" I was talking more to myself at this point than him.

I'd need… Naruto, certainly. Which was terrifying because he wasn't here.

Plans started falling into place. "Got it," I said.

"There's an opening in the back wall. Get ready. I'll cover you," he said.

I glanced at the back wall. I vaguely remembered seeing Gai-sensei shove someone through it, but it hadn't been important at the time.

I nodded and darted across the isle, back to where we had been sitting before. I pulled Ino down into the foot space, slapping a spike of chakra into her system before doing the same to Chouji. Lee was too injured.

My gaze dragged across Hinata and I hesitated. There was no time. Split second decision: yes or no.

She had been injured. It was unknown what Kabuto had done to her. She wasn't greatly skilled. Stressing her now might cause a relapse.

But my choices for this mission were limited. After listening to Neji's rant I was reminded of what lengths people would go to for the Byakugan. Leaving her here, alone and unaware, might put her in danger.

Split second decision; yes or no?

I slapped a hand down and sent a chakra spike into her system.

"Kiba!" I hissed, popping my head up for a second. He caught sight of me and made his way back.

The three I'd awoken were confused, but clever enough to not stand up.

"What's going on?" Ino asked, glancing up and flinching as two kunai impacted almost right above our heads.

"We're getting attacked. Sound and Sand ninja. Everyone in the stadium fell under a sleep genjutsu," I summarised quickly. "Kakashi-sensei has given us a mission. Gaara has fled the stadium and Sasuke went after him. We're to go after them and back Sasuke up… and protect him from being captured."

They stiffened.

"Hinata, you were healed, but I'm no medic-nin. Can you keep up?" I asked levelly. By all rights, taking her was a stupid idea.

She looked bewildered. "I- yes! I can!"

I breathed in deeply. "Alright. Kiba. Take these three out through the exit in the rear of the stands. I'm going to swing by the competitors box and pick up some more allies." Hopefully. "Circle around and we'll meet back up in the forest. They went over the North-West edge, so that's where we'll start searching."

He stared at me for a second, then nodded. "Right. Got it."

"Alright, then. Go!"

There were two ways to the competitors box. The tunnels, and the arena. The thought of being trapped in the tunnels while getting attacked did not appeal to me. That left the arena, which was equally, if not more, dangerous but had more room to move.

We all darted into action. The four of them went for the exit, I picked up Pakkun and went the other way to the front of the stands and then up and over the railing. My feet stuck loosely to the side of the arena wall, and I half slid half ran diagonally towards the competitors box.

"You sure about this, kid?" Pakkun asked, thankfully not wiggling. I was running full speed, and a few projectiles were clunking down around us.

"Ask me again when this is over," I said. "If we win, then I was sure."

That sounded better than 'No, no nononoooo" anyway.

The competitors box had four chakra signals in it. Shikamaru, Shino, Naruto and an unknown. Naruto's was flat and undisturbed. He was sleeping. The other three were spiking like they were fighting.

"Hold tight," I said grimly, as we zeroed in on the box. We came in from above, and I grabbed the top lip of the entrance and swung myself inwards, one foot leading in a straight kick. It slammed straight into the Sound ninja's face, knocking him cold.

"Thanks," Shikamaru panted.

I stooped and slammed a chakra spike into Naruto. "Don't thank me yet," I said to them. "Everyone still combat capable?"

Shikamaru nodded. Shino hesitated but did the same.

Naruto blinked fuzzily at me. "Shikako? What's up with the puppy?"

"Hey," Pakkun grouched. "Don't you be thinking I'm just a cute puppy now."

"I didn't say anything about cute," Naruto protested, rubbing his eyes.

"We're under attack," I said shortly. "And we have a mission. We have to go and find Sasuke and Gaara. We're meeting up with the others in the forest; I'll give you more details then."

"A mission?" Naruto said, bouncing to his feet. "Why didn't you say so?"

I resisted the urge to smack him. Okay, I was a little wound up here. I think that was forgivable. "We'll go out front and up over the wall. Be careful. Most of the fighting is contained to the stands, but I got a few projectiles my way when I came down here."

"Troublesome," Shikamaru said, flexing backwards so his spine cracked. "Lead the way."

I did. No one took pot shots at us, which was good, because we weren't moving half as fast as I had been. I wasn't entirely confident they wouldn't have hit us.

We went up and over the wall, sliding down the outside until we reached the trees.

"This way," Pakkun said gruffly, leaping out of my arms. We followed him, and I spread my chakra senses wide. After the crowding of the stands, it was almost a relief to be able to pinpoint individual people.

We ran on, and I trusted that the others would be able to find us. With Hinata's Byakugan and Kiba and Akamaru it was practically a sure thing.

"Yo," Kiba said, as they joined us. It was a big group, now that we were all together. Kiba, Hinata, Ino, and Chouji with Shikamaru, Shino, Naruto and I. Plus Pakkun and Akamaru.

"No trouble?" I asked.

Kiba shook his head. "Nah. We're good."

"Right," I said, and pulled my sealing scroll out of my jacket pocket. I unsealed a box of spare kunai and refilled my pouch. It was a little awkward while running, but we didn't have time to stop. "Everyone, stock up. Ino, Shino, Shikamaru, what's your status?"

Hinata didn't have her pouch with her, and I hadn't brought extra's of that, so she just stuck a few kunai through her belt.

"Minor injuries," Ino said. "A little chakra depleted."

"Same to the chakra," Shikamaru said.

"My Kikai are depleted," Shino said. "I am in the process of replenishing my hive but… it will take a while."

"Anything that will help you with that?" I asked. "Soldier pills…"

He shook his head.

"Right." I unsealed a small medicine bottle and unscrewed the cap. I tipped about five into my palm and then tucked them into the special folds at the back of my weapons pouch. "Soldier pills. Shikamaru, Ino. Take one to recover. Chouji, take some spares. Kiba… do you and Akamaru need them?" They'd had to use them in the prelims for their more serious moves. Which was the same reason Chouji needed them.

"Yeah," he grimaced. "I didn't think we'd be fighting, so I don't have any with me."

I threw him the bottle once the others were done with it.

"Pay you back later," he offered. Soldier pills, like explosive tags, were kinda expensive.

"Heh," I said, shrugging. "Just try not to get hurt."

Speaking of explosive tags, I was glad I had decided to bring some. I'd thought, after designing that seal… but obviously it wasn't as combat ready as I'd thought. I pulled out my stack of notes and shuffled some to those who hadn't expected to fight.

I breathed in, breathed out. "Right. I'll brief you while we're moving. Our mission is to track down Sasuke and prevent him from falling into enemy hands. Our secondary mission objective is to assist him in defeating Gaara. Additionally, the seal that was put on Sasuke was unable to be removed. Kakashi-sensei was able to put a permanent containment seal on it, but if Sasuke becomes too low on chakra there may be repercussions." I was glad that they all knew about the seal already. It meant they understood my worry.

"Not good," Ino muttered.

"Right. So. Information you may not know. Gaara is the host of the One Tailed Beast, which means he has incredible destructive capabilities. Therefore, it is crucial that he cannot participate in the invasion. It also means he's very dangerous and we need to take utmost caution in dealing with him. Also, Ino, under no circumstances are you to Mind-Body Switch with him. He is currently accompanied by Temari and Kankurou. I suspect that they're attempting to buy him time to recover so it's likely that one or both will drop back to stall us. It is also possible that there are other enemy shinobi in the forest."

I glanced at everyone to see if they were following. They nodded. Good.

"We saw her fight before, but just to recap. Temari is a wind type who uses her Tessen as a focus for her jutsu. She's strong in long range combat but no slouch in close range, either. If she tries to stall us…" I paused. "Ino, you know how she fights. Kiba, do you think you could get around her attacks?" He was fairly fast and agile. Added to that, with him and Akamaru they could attack from two directions at once.

Kiba grinned. "Yeah. You can count on it."

"Right. You two are going to deal with Temari. Kankurou is a member of the Suna Puppet Corps. Given Temari's comments earlier and his reluctance to fight in the Exam Arena, it's likely that his puppet is loaded with poisons. Priority will be avoiding contact with his weaponry and poison gases. If he drops back to stall us… Shino, Hinata, Shikamaru… can you handle him?"

It was a risky group. Two of them had just fought and Hinata had been injured. But Hinata's Byakugan would be able to locate the real Kankurou easily, and she could disrupt the chakra strings he used to control the puppet. Shino's Kikai could do the same. And well, Shikamaru was just plain clever. If they'd been at full strength, three against one would be overkill.

"We can." Surprisingly, it wasn't Shino that answered. It was Hinata. And she sounded just as firm as I'd ever heard her.

"Right," I sighed. "I definitely want Naruto to make it to Gaara. Your clones and your summoning jutsu are the biggest advantages we have against him." And Kyuubi, I didn't add. "If we run into other enemies, Chouji and I will be the ones to drop back. Remember the mission objectives and regroup as necessary. Questions?"

With the teams split up like that, there would be someone in each group that could track the others down, if it came to it.

Shikamaru cast me a sidelong glance. "If the mission objectives are Sasuke and Gaara, leaving so many of us to fight is counterintuitive."

Because it was Shikamaru I seriously considered my answer. "If a team can defeat a single enemy and then rejoin us after, it's more efficient than simply leaving one person behind. Given that we're in the middle of an invasion, and there are an unknown number of enemies about, I don't really want anyone undefended. Do you have any better suggestions?" I asked softly.

Shikamaru hesitated, then shook his head. I glanced at the others. No one said anything.

"Better put the plan into action sooner or later," Pakkun said. "We're being followed."

Funnily enough, Pakkun probably had more mission experience than the rest of us put together.

"Numbers and location?" I asked after a beat.

"Two squads. No, wait." Pakkun cocked his head, focusing. I didn't know if he was tracking by sound or scent and I suppose it didn't matter. "There's one more. That's nine ninja."

"Aww, man, give us a break here," Shikamaru moaned.

I cast my chakra sense as far out as I could. I didn't have huge range, but if I focused… There. I couldn't tell individuals, but there was chakra that way.

"I got them. Shit, they're moving fast. Alright, people, keep moving. I'm going to set some explosives. Hopefully that will slow them down and thin their numbers. Chouji, stay with the group."

I backtracked a bit, retracing our steps and hooked onto the branch with chakra, spinning around so I was crouched upside down. They'd be wary of traps, but you couldn't check everywhere.

My touch explosive seal might not be combat ready just yet, but it was good for this.

I did some quick, on the fly calculations. How fast they were moving, how long it would take them to get here, how spread out the group was, the intensity it would take to take out nine Chunin/Jounin level ninja, if I could make it a column up rather than a simple ball …

I amped the radius and intensity up as much as I dared so that we would be well out of range and slammed my hand down onto the underside of the branch. Then I sprinted back after the group.

It was a tense moment before we cleared the explosion zone and kept running. I counted down the seconds till it went off and tried to track where our pursuers were.

The explosion was magnificent, if I may say so myself. A flume of fire reached right above the trees, and we both heard and felt the shockwave. Regular explosive tags gave a fireball about the size of a person's body; you had to be really standing on them for them to do much damage. But if they were pocket change explosives, then this was a bomb.

"Hoooly shit," Naruto breathed. "Just how many explosive tags did you use?"

I grinned and wiggled my fingers at him, since Naruto was one of the very few people who knew.

"Pakkun? Are they still pursuing? I'm still getting chakra signals…"

His ears twitched. "If they survived it, they aren't moving yet."

I hissed a breath through my teeth. Couldn't assume they were out because they were down. "Hinata?"

I watched her carefully. If there was going to be problems, it would show with chakra usage.

"Byakugan!" Chakra surged in her eyes and the veins bulged. She didn't miss a step as it activated. Yeah, Neji might have more detailed sight better for combat, but Hinata had at least a kilometre in range, not that she needed that much right now.

She swallowed. "I can count… four distinct bodies at the edges of the blast radius. Anything closer to the centre is… incinerated. Two of them are definitely dead, the other two have large amounts of third degree burns… I can't read their status b-but I don't think they'll be following us."

I swallowed as well and wanted to close my eyes. But … tree hopping. Not a good idea. "Right," I said, a little hoarsely.

They weren't expecting that…

Truthfully, I hadn't expected it to get them all. I mean that was the point of it, but I hadn't actually expected…

We pushed on, chasing after Sasuke. We were covering a lot of ground, but it was a silent and tense trip. Maybe I should have said something to decrease tension and uplift moral, but I couldn't think of anything.

"What was that?" Kiba asked, when we heard a disturbance up ahead. It was a long way away, but explosions carried.

"Tripwire traps," Pakkun answered gruffly. I was a little impressed at how easily he could identify the cause, and how specifically. "They're sure not making Sasuke's job easy for him."

I bit my lip.

"Don't worry," Naruto said, somehow catching it. "It'd take a lot more than that to get rid of him. He'll be fine."

"Of course he will be" I said. "But we're supposed to be catching up with him, y'know."

It was as joking as I could get in this situation.

"Sasuke has stopped moving," Pakkun said. "But he's still well ahead of us."

"Fighting?" Shikamaru guessed.

"Smells like it," Pakkun agreed. "Only one of them, though. The other two are still running away."

"Che," Kiba scoffed. "Just like Sasuke to hog all the fun."

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Okay, so canonically, Kiba took Hinata to the hospital/infirmary/somewhere, and came back to thank ANBU!Kabuto. Akamaru then sensed that something was wrong, and Kabuto knocked them out. This was contradicted a bit in the flashback Shippuden episode, where Kiba and Hinata are both unconscious in the stands. However, I think Kiba could potentially break the genjutsu, so that's what happens.

Also, interestingly, the mission Kakashi gives Sakura in canon is 'stop Sasuke'. Baffling, but hey.