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 Notes: One of my reviewers kindly pointed out that I've fallen into the classic 'show; don't tell' trap - in that I'm not doing so. I'm trying my best, but I'm not sure if thats going to change overly very soon.

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Chapter 4

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The indispensable first step to getting what you want out of life is this; decide what you want ~ Ben Stein

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Graduation day was approaching and it felt like my life was sliding out of control. Which was funny, I probably had more control over what I was doing and where I was going than the last time I was twelve. Then again, I hadn't been expected to make life changing decisions last time.

It probably came from knowing what was coming, and being unable to stop it. The future is an unstoppable force and having a countdown only makes it worse. War is coming. Madara is coming.

What the hell was I going to do?

I could fail the graduation test. It would be hard, but do-able. My test marks were near perfect for the entire time I had been at the Academy, but I could make mistakes, act as though the pressure got to me. I could throw the test without anyone knowing a thing.

But then I would never be a ninja. No one wanted a ninja who buckled under pressure.

It's hard to describe what it was like. Ninja were respected, of course, almost revered in some cases. Even the lowest of genin had standing beyond that of a civilian. Ninja, or clans, with skills could become quite wealthy and that was a draw too. But there was more to it than that. It was almost a sense of patriotism. Ninja contributed to Konoha. It was both a duty and a honour, concepts which had been foreign to me, but had quickly rooted themselves in my soul. I didn't know any jobs in my home-world that compared. Maybe a hundred years ago that was what it was like to be a soldier, but I had known nothing like it.

There was expectation. Children were expected to try to, to want to, become ninja. To have the skills and notwas nearly unthinkable.

That was why Shikamaru was willing to entertain the idea of work. Why Ino, who would rather run the flowershop, and Sakura, who was so self-conscious of her appearance, were training to become killers.

That, I reflected wryly, was social conditioning at its finest.

The idea of failing the test was considered and, ultimately, rejected. Regardless of why I felt like that, I did. Konoha, for all my memories, was my home and I loved it as much as any other - social conditioning or not. I couldn't deliberately fail the exam.

I could however, request transfer to the Medic Corps immediately. Ninja in Konoha were divided into three basic sections. ANBU, Medic Corp, and General Operations. ANBU recruited members from the other two sectors and answered only to the Hokage, I didn't know much about their internal structure, nobody did, but it was assumed they were run in small teams led by a Captain. The Medic Corps were divided into two 'sections', the field medics, and the hospital medics, or rather, those that went on missions, and those that didn't. The former were usually recruited from the General Operations, as they had to have some field abilities, while the later could be anyone with the ability to use healing chakra, civilians, academy students, and there were even several clans that focused solely on their healing skills and never produced a field ready shinobi. General Operations was the largest of the three sections, and contained all active duty shinobi. Of course, shinobi never really retired, but there were those that stopped requesting missions, like my mother. Entry into General Operations happened in two ways, the Jounin Squads, which we would be tested for after graduation, and the Genin Corps. If you failed the Jounin test, you went to the Genin Corps and your chances of rising above genin were very low indeed. The Jounin Squads took the budding geniuses, the politically sensitive, the important and those students with the extra something that made people think they might succeed.

Aunt Igaku had already promised to sponsor me into the Medic Corps if I wanted to. She was a Chief Surgeon at the hospital so her word held a lot of weight there. So did the name Nara, so I was highly unlikely to be rejected.

Still, training for the Medic Corps was three years, five if I wanted to be a field medic, and I would never be more than a support. Field medics didn't fight, they just followed closely and picked up the pieces. If you were really good, you might get recruited into ANBU and retrained to fight, but only if you were really good.

It wasn't that I wanted to fight exactly. But I wanted to be more than a bystander. I didn't want to be helpless to help.

The Genin Corps were out. As a Nara, more specifically, as daughter of the clan head, I would never be put there.

Which left… passing the graduation exam, passing the Jounin Test… and, likely, taking Sakura's spot on Team 7.

I was of two minds about that. On one hand, it was wrong. That was Sakura's spot and I hated to deprive her of it. She deserved the chance to grow into a kick-ass kunoichi. And Team 7 was a trouble magnet. It would be a damn dangerous assignment. I'd certainly have to step up my skills to survive.

Which, in its own way, was a little thrilling. The closer I was, the more I could influence. The more I could change. Regardless of what team I was placed on, I was sure I wouldn't be with Shikamaru. It would be nice to have team mates I knew and could trust. And, selfishly, maybe I could stop Sasuke. That was a major point, after all.

Could I do it? Not just mentally, but physically. Did I have the skills?

I was well ahead of the rest of my class. So far ahead that there had been talk of graduating me early - which had then been rejected on the basis of my confidence or lack there-of. That had nearly scared me into hiding, but I wasn't good enough to not be good. It took far more skill to pretend to be bad while being good than I had.

But ultimately, measuring myself against Academy students was worthless. I needed to be much, much stronger than that. The target I had set myself was so far ahead as to feel impossible at times.

Realistically, what was my skill level?

I could do the three academy jutsu, the shadow possession jutsu and two minor earth jutsu - earth wall and earth spike.

Konoha was unique in that it had such a mix of elemental affinities. The Uchiha, the original clan of the Land of Fire, took after their namesake, but the Senju had had a mix of earth and water (which together formed the First Hokage's Wood Release), and the clans that they had invited in reflected this. Lighting was uncommon but not rare, while wind type was currently restricted to the Sarutobi family.

Frankly, earth was the best element combination that I could have had. Fire and lightning would have destroyed the shadows that I needed for the Nara clan style while wind and water would have been useful, but earth was the only one that would cast shadows.

Mum was a genjutsu type. Or rather, a mixed gen-nin type. She had an earth element affinity and knew quite a few nasty jutsu to take down an enemy while they were distracted with her genjutsu.

Genjutsu don't cast shadows. That's one of the details that can give away a poorly formed genjutsu. They don't alter the light that flows through them. Even area of effect genjutsu don't actually exist. They're disruptions of the chakra system that make you see them, hear them, feel them, when in reality, there is nothing physically there.

She had taught me a few set genjutsu, as well as the basic pattern for creating them. I had the chakra control necessary for it, but not the imagination. I could see a definite use for genjutsu in hiding or distracting, but I doubted I would ever be good enough to simply rely on it. I would probably never use it as more than a cover or a feint.

Other than that, I had decent enough chakra control to tree walk, water walk, form chakra strings, my chakra sense was extremely sensitive and I was accurate with my thrown weapons. I was aggressive with my taijutsu, but wouldn't bet on myself against anyone larger or more experienced than me. Not unless they had deeply underestimated me.

My trap making skills weren't anything to sneeze at, but that was not often a combat ability. You needed time for traps, and that wasn't something you often had.

Of course, jutsu weren't the be all and end all of ninja existence. There was a reason that only three jutsu were taught in the Academy and none of them were offensive. Some ninja went their entire careers without ever encountering a single enemy nin in combat. Even the most recently graduated Genin was good enough to take down bandits and hired thugs.

It was just unlucky that Team 7, Rookie 9, Konoha 12 were about to be caught up in battles far beyond normal.

And regardless of how much I knew, I had never had call to use any of it in combat. What would my reactions be? Could I keep up?

I had a sinking feeling that whatever my current strength, it was no where near enough.

And that thought alone brought a bubble of panic to my chest. It was one thing to think 'in future, in future', it was another to think 'in three years'. Six months till the Chunin exams, three years for the time skip, that was all we had.

I swallowed. Hard. Three years? Where had all the time gone. That wasn't enough.

That wasn't long enough.

I sat the graduation test, vibrating with nerves. I passed with flying colours, giving Iruka-sensei a tremulous smile when he presented me with a shiny new head band engraved with the Konoha leaf.

"Congratulations," he said warmly. I think that may have been the proudest moment of my life, snuffing out, for a moment, all my doubts and miss-givings.

Naruto… didn't pass. I worried before remembering… there was something, wasn't there? A second test he had sat? It had been when he had learnt the Shadow Clone jutsu. I cursed my failing memory. This was important. These little tidbits of knowledge could make all the difference in the world.

I tried to seek him out after class, but he was gone, and mum and dad were waiting for us, faces proud at our induction to the ninja ranks. Reluctantly, I turned from my search to present my achievement to them. I don't think they ever considered that we could fail. Not at this.

"Well done, my little shadows," Dad said, tilting his face back into the sunshine as mum hugged us. "Well done."

That night our peaceful celebration was broken by alarms going off in the centre of Konoha. Dad stood from dinner, grim faced, and left to answer the summons as Jounin Commander. The three of us geared up, but didn't leave the house. The alarm would change if Chunin and Genin were required. So far, it was only calling for ANBU and Jounin.

Konoha had an intricate system of alarms, some loud, some quiet, some silent. There were signal hawks and personal messenger pigeons. There were always messenger nin running around the village. The alarm system was coded for everything from invasion to disease outbreak to escaped dogs, and I remember being drilled in the different codes as soon as I could talk.

Tonight, the code said something like High Priority. Jounin, ANBU respond. Hokage Tower. Politically sensitive. All ninja high alert. Prepare for evacuation and rapid deployment.

Mums hands were white knuckled on the table. She still trained. She had been a chunin, I knew that much, and likely a reasonably good one. Though I remembered from Before that she had never returned to service, it was possible that she hadn't made that decision yet, and still intended to resume her role once my brother and I were old enough. There was no reason she shouldn't. We had a wide support base, and plenty of people to look after us if she was away. It was her career after all, and I wondered if she was unhappy in the role of housewife. I never seemed that way, but she was a ninja afterall, as well as a mother, and neither of those liked to admit to unhappiness in front of their children. She hid it well but I think she was terrified we would be called out on our first night as ninja. We might not have passed the Jounin Test yet, but we had our headbands. We were ninja and if something was attacking the village, we would be honour bound to respond.

We held silent vigil for several hours before the alarms died down to Mission accomplished. All ninja return to normal status.

Mum sighed. "Well, that was too much excitement for one night," she said, ignoring the fact that we had done nothing more than wait. "Your dad probably wont be home for hours yet. You ought to go off to bed."

We didn't protest, nerves stretched thin and jangled. Village alarms had gone off before, but being expected to respond gave them a new feeling of weight. I wasn't sure I liked it.

I dreamt of Kyuubi and in his great and fearsome eye was the spinning of the Sharingan. Around him, all the world burnt.

Too much tension, I diagnosed, as I ran through my morning Kata in the backyard. Too much thinking about things I can't change and am not ready to face. I need to break it down. Small steps, that's the key.

We had a week until team placement. That was time to fill out our ninja registration and get our ID photos done, allowing, of course, additional time for the bureaucracy to process it. Other than that, we had no duties as ninja, and my clan duties wouldn't take up much time.

Therefore it was past time to make a plan.

I needed to get stronger. Experience would only come with time; there was nothing I could do to change that. But I could improve my knowledge. I could study the clan style, master the Shadow Possession and move on to more difficult techniques. There were many of them. I could find ways to increase the effectiveness of the ones I knew; typically we used flares and explosive tags rigged to give only light but there would be other ways. There were always other ways.

I could practice my earth jutsu, and get mum to teach me more. Having more options was never a bad thing, as long as I could reliably use them. Speed, being able to do a jutsu quickly, was going to be a good thing.

I wanted to learn at least a basic healing jutsu. Going on missions would be dangerous and it would make mistakes a little more forgiving. I'd already decided that I didn't want to be a medic-nin, but part of what we worked on in the clan wasn't just healing, it was stimulants, strength boosts. That was something that would come in handy.

And if we were talking about medics and strength, I certainly wanted to try and reinvent Tsunade's strength technique. It seemed a shortcut to enhancing my own relatively weak frame.

I certainly wanted to continue learning seals. So far all I could manage were exploding tags of various types and sealing scrolls. Useful but my ultimate goal was much larger. I wanted to created a chakra storage seal to bolster my own meagre capacity.

I certainly wanted to figure out if the ambient chakra I could sense in the air was sage chakra or merely residual emitted chakra. If I could tap that, it would go a long way towards increasing the length of time I could hold a jutsu. I had no idea how to do that, though. I knew Naruto had become a Sage through the Toad contract, but were they the only ones that knew how? Would other summons know? Or perhaps monks or priests? There was nothing in the clan library at the levels I had access to, but maybe there was more at the Genin or Chunin levels, even the restricted Jounin section. In a few days I'd be able to access the former, and Chunin within a year or two. If that failed, I could always get a summon contract and ask.

I wound down my Kata and nodded firmly to myself. It was a plan, however shaky. Having a plan always made me feel a little better.

Of course, a far more short term plan would be to drag Shikamaru to the Hokage Tower, complete our ninja registration and then go and see if Naruto was involved in the commotion last night like I thought he was.

Shikamaru was eager to escape the house when mum started suggesting he could spend his free time working with the deer - or as eager as Shika could be, which meant he didn't complain when I asked him to come with me.

We brought dango on the way to the Tower, got our ID photos taken and spent the morning filling out far too many sheets of paperwork.

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered as he slumped over the last, finally, completed form. I tugged it out from under his arm, checked it over, and clipped it neatly to the pile.

"Done!" I said brightly, standing from the small desk in the registration office that was set aside for paperwork completion. All around me, new genin were busily filling out their own forms.

"Nara, Shikako," I said to the nin behind the registration desk, handing the forms over. "Zero-One-Two-Six-One-Oh and Nara, Shikamaru, Zero-One-Two-Six-One-One."

He glanced at the photos, flicked through the pages and looked up at me, then towards Shika who was slouching behind me. "It all looks to be in place. Thank you for filing it promptly."

We left, glad to leave the stuffy room. It hadn't been difficult to fill out, just tedious.

"Lunch?" Shika suggested, yawning.

I 'hmmm'ed in agreement. "Then… do you want to find Naruto?" I asked quietly. I really did want to check that he was okay, though it was usually him that sought us out.

Shikamaru just nodded, not betraying any indication that it was unusual. I loved that about him, that he never called me out on my whims or looked at me like I was acting oddly.

Naruto was more difficult to find that expected. He wasn't at his house or Ichiraku Ramen, which were the first places we checked.

I frowned.

Although the exact numbers are classified, Konoha has around thirty thousand shinobi. The average shinobi took only around ten missions a year. Even if some missions took weeks, that still left a large amount of down time. Most of that was spent training. As such, Konoha had a large amount of resources dedicated to keeping ninja skills sharp. There were training fields of all types and descriptions. There were dojo's. There were kunai ranges. There were obstacle courses. Then there was the library. There were study room. There were sections of scrolls on nearly every topic. There were librarians well versed in many technical arts all on staff to help ninja puzzle out the nitty gritty of a specific technique or skill.

Which meant, trying to find a shinobi in Konoha was almost akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack. I didn't have very much range on my chakra sense; enough to tell who was in attacking distance and little more. There were ways to narrow the search down, some places were off limits to Genin, some Naruto was frankly unlikely to go anyway, but that still left a huge amount of space to cover.

It was well past lunch time by the time we found him in one of the more out of the way training fields. It was little more than a clearing only a short distance from the Hokage Tower, but it was seldom used.

"Shikako? Shikamaru? What are you guys doing here?" Naruto blinked curiously, bouncing to his feet.

"Looking for you," I answered quietly, taking him in. He looked happy and cheerful, if a bit dirty. But yes, wrapped around his forehead, where his goggles usually rested, was a slightly battered forehead protector.

Shikamaru saw it too. "Where did you get that? I thought you failed the graduation test," he drawled.

"Hehe," Naruto chuckled nervously, scratching the back of his neck. "Well, Mizuki-sensei told me there was a second test, but there wasn't really, and then Iruka-sensei came and he was awesome and then I fought Mizuki and then Iruka-sensei gave me his headband!" His voice rose in volume and pitch as he got more and more excited telling his story.

I blinked at Shikamaru. That cleared… nothing up.

"Mizuki-sensei told you there was a second test?" I repeated, trying to get Naruto to clarify. He was always willing to talk, sometime too willing, but getting a story in a logical sequence sometimes involved asking a lot of pointed questions.

Naruto scowled. "He tricked me!" he claimed. "He said that if I got a scroll from the old mans office, and learnt a jutsu off it, he'd pass me. I did it and everything." He brightened. "Hey! Do you want to see my new awesome jutsu? It's called the Shadow Clone and it's way, waaaay better than that lame clone that we learnt at the Academy."

He didn't wait for a reply, and with a single cross hand seal (which wasn't even a real hand seal) there was a puff of smoke and three Naruto standing where before there had been only one.

"And they're real and everything," he claimed. "I used them to beat Mizuki up after he said -" he cut himself off. "Stuff. He said stuff. But then Iruka-sensei was like 'he's my student' and got hurt so I had to fight back and I made like, a thousand clones and Mizuki didn't stand a chance."

I poked one of the clones, confirming that yes, they were solid. So that was where Naruto had learnt that jutsu. I accepted that I could barely remember any real hard facts from before, but this had been his signature jutsu and was kinda important, plot wise.

"Cool," Shikamaru said, leaning back to look at the clouds. He looked very disinterested now that he'd solved the problem we came here for, but I could tell his brain was still buzzing.

Admitedly, an all Jounin and ANBU high priority alert seemed to be a reaction incredibly out of proportion to the situation.

"And you didn't get into trouble?" I asked tentatively.

"Nah," Naruto shook his head. "The old man said… I should be able to trust my sensei." He looked down and scuffed his feet. "But that I should try and think about the orders I get given, otherwise I might end up doing something I don't like."

"Good advice," Shikamaru agreed.

Naruto snorted. "Hmph, you're just saying that because it means you wouldn't have to do what people told you, you lazy ass."

I giggled even though it wasn't true. Shikamaru, at this age, was no more suspicious of his teachers than Naruto. Even learning second hand of what had happened, he was a little shaken up. You should be able to trust your teachers, but that didn't mean you could. Of course, we were trained to follow orders without complaint. It was a very thin line to walk.

"So are you ready for team assignments then?" I asked.

Naruto grinned. "Oh yeah! I hope I'm on a team with Sakura-chan. That would be awesome!" Honourifics were strange things. We all used them, but I barely even registered them anymore, unless they were emphasised for some reason or another. Naruto's obnoxious crush on Sakura counted. Then again, it wasn't like Sakura's crush on Sasuke was any better. She and Ino had nearly broken their friendship up over it. I had been unamused and refused to split myself between them.

I hummed. It was too late now to try and influence the team arrangements, even if I had been able to decide what to do. I simply had to wait, just like everyone else. It was an edge of nervousness that carried me through the week until we were seated in the classroom for the last time.

"Congratulations, graduates," Iruka said formally. He looked a little battered but it clearly wasn't serious any longer. "Starting today, you are all Shinobi of Konoha. But the journey that lies ahead for you has only just begun. As genin, you will all be assigned to a three-man squad, led by a Jounin instructor. In order to successfully complete your missions, you will need to follow your sensei's instructions." He sent a particularly hard look into several areas of the room.

"Team one will be Yobirin Suzu, Sakura Haruno and Jiro Wantanabe," he began.

I cast a guilty look at Sakura. Unless they got a medic nin for a sensei (unlikely) that team was doomed to fail unless they got a miracle. It could happen.

"… seven is Sasuke Uchiha, Naruto Uzumaki and Shikako Nara," Iruka continued, and my attention snapped back to him. Naruto booed at Sasuke, then cheered, looking like he wanted to jump over the test and tackle-hug me. I gave him a weak smile. "Team eight is Hinata Hyuuga…"

Team eight was what I expected, and Team ten was the reformation of the famous Ino-Shika-Cho.

"Alright. Your Jounin instructors will meet you here after lunch." He smiled. "Good luck."