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.

Anemos – Most of the meanings come of the net, from a variety of different sites. I do not even remotely claim for them to be correct, and I basically pick and choose to fit what I need. XD Its just something that I think Ino would do, especially with her 'you're like the cosmos' talk to Sakura in canon.

So this chapter took a while. We moved house, and in what shall be referred to as The Great Internet Debacle of 2013 were left without internet for two weeks. It was terrible I tell you. Add that to the audit at work and things got a bit busy.

As always, the next chapter will take exactly as long as it takes me to write it. I don't sit on them once they're done guys. You get it when it's finished.

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Chapter 65

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But for every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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"Shikako!" Naruto hollered. "The pervy sage said that they were letting Sasuke out today." He grabbed my hand and started tugging me along the street. "Come on!"

I felt a surge of relief. It had been a while, and Sasuke was sure to hate being locked up. And, well, if they were letting him leave the secure ward, they had to have some kind of plan as to how to keep him safe, right?

"That's great!" I chirped, abandoning the shopping I had been about to do in order to follow Naruto.

"Yeah! We can start doing missions again! It'll be awesome!"

Personally, I wasn't quite sure I was up for a mission just yet, but I wasn't about to rain on Naruto's parade.

We waited in the reception area of the hospital – Naruto impatiently bouncing around and babbling – until Jiraiya arrived with Sasuke.

"Hey," I said, lamely as he slouched forward, hands in his pockets looking terribly, desperately bored.

"Finally!" Naruto said. "I thought we were waiting for Sensei or something. Geeze! You sure took your time."

Sasuke scoffed. "Tell that to him," he said, jerking his thumb at where Jiraiya was hanging over the reception desk. I would have assumed he was signing them out, but there was an awful lot of giggling happening.

"Glad to be out of there?" I asked dryly.

"You have no idea," Sasuke said seriously. "I was so bored."

"I did say you could read my books," Jiraiya said, suddenly standing behind Sasuke and clapping him on the shoulders. Sasuke twitched. "Action, adventure, romance! What more could you want?"

"Stop trying to get people to read your stupid pervy books!" Naruto shouted. "It's bad enough that Kakashi-sensei does." Which lead to Jiraiya protesting that his books weren't stupid, thank you very much.

Sasuke seemed to find the floor very, very interesting.

Bored indeed, I thought, bumping his shoulder with mine.

"Don't say a word," he ground out lowly.

I smirked. Suddenly, it seemed like everything was right again, as if things had just been so slightly out of whack. If this was what a week split up was like, then Sasuke and I were going to have hell when Naruto left.

"You have no taste," Jiraiya said, turning his back on a fuming Naruto. "No appreciation for fine literature at all." He clapped his hands together. "Alright munchkins. Let's go!"

"You're coming with us, Jiraiya-sama?" I asked curiously, as the three of us fell into step behind him.

"Yeah! You said you'd teach me something!" Naruto jumped in. "Except every time I find you, you run away to perv on women or something."

"I'm a busy man," Jiraiya protested. "Things to do, people to meet, sights to, eh-he-he, see…" the grin on his face hardly countered Naruto's accusation.

It was probable that he was busy though. If he'd been decrypting Sasuke seal, applying seals to the Sound Four prisoners as Tsunade had implied, probably managing whatever information his spy network was bringing in and, well, anything else that came up… the fact that he'd taken the time to see Naruto at all said something.

"Hmph." Naruto crossed his arms and scowled. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever."

"Hop to it, then!" He clapped his hands together. "We don't want to waste time."

We ended up at our normal training field, despite a small altercation between Naruto and Jiraiya as he tried to steer us nearer to the bath houses.

"Now what?" Naruto asked eagerly. "Are you going to teach us a cool jutsu?"

Jiraiya put his chin in his hand thoughtfully. "Actually… how's your Rasengan coming along?"

Naruto's face fell. "I can already do that!"

"One handed?" Jiraiya probed. "The trick with the clones is clever, no doubt about that, but you're hampering yourself by not being able to use it instantly."

Naruto sulked and stomped off. I could see him starting to practice though – without his clones helping him.

"Well that was easy," Jiraiya said idly, turning to the rest of us. Or rather, to me. Sasuke had already moved off, and was going through a series of warm up stretches. "Alright then. How's your sealing coming along?"

"Alright," I said with a shrug. "I've been trying to work on some barrier seals."

"Got inspired, huh?" Jiraiya said. "That's a big topic, though. Covers a hell of a lot. Anything specific that you're looking at?"

I nodded. "I wanted to make a defensive barrier – something that you could activate from a tag, maybe – that would block attacks. There are a couple of trap barriers that won't let anything pass through, but they can be complicated to set up." Like the barrier that the Sound Four had used to trap the Hokage during the Exam Finals.

"Ambitious," he commented, raising an eyebrow. "Most barriers have four corner tags, for stability purposes – and for range determination. Reducing that to a single seal will be different."

"I know," I said. "It's been slow going. At first I started trying to base it off my earth wall jutsu, but soil types have too much variability for it to work very well. So I'd either have to switch to another element or go with pure chakra. Wind would probably work best, since it's everywhere and doesn't change much, but I have no experience with wind jutsu and while it does diverting well, I don't know how it would handle straight out blocking…" Temari had used wind currents to deflect things fairly well, but that wasn't what I was really looking for.

Jiraiya helped, and we bounced ideas off each other for a while. "You thinking about going into R&D?" he asked. "Because otherwise the Barrier Team might snap you up, if you manage this."

I shrugged, surprised at the question. "I don't know, I never really thought about it," I said honestly. There were a few Nara in R&D, pharmacology division usually, but I wasn't really aiming for it.

"Really? Bright girl like you? You don't have any plans?"

Oh god, it was the what do you want to do with your life conversation. I'd hated this the first time around. At least now most people had accepted 'be a ninja' as an answer.

I hunched my shoulders a little. "I want to be a jounin," I murmured. I'd need to be strong, and while rank didn't make you strong, you had to be strong to get it.

That was the other answer people accepted.

"Being a generalist isn't a bad thing," Jiraiya said, softly. "But there are a lot of things the different teams and divisions can teach you. It's worth knowing what they all do, anyway."

I nodded. Regardless of what I was going to do, it was good advice.

I thought, perhaps, he was going to say something else, but then Jiraiya's eyes cut left, staring off into the distance, as though he were focusing on something that wasn't present. "Well that's excellent timing," he said quietly before raising his voice. "Sorry kids, you're on your own! Duty calls." He cackled and rubbed his hands together. "The ladies just can't wait for Jiraiya to show up!"

Naruto harrumphed. "We don't need you here, anyway!"

"Excellent! Now don't go getting yourself into trouble." He waggled a finger at us and vanished.

I frowned, just a little, and cast my senses out. I couldn't feel him anymore, couldn't feel anyone around us. That didn't mean no one was there, however. I was good at sensing, and even better at identifying what I sensed, but that didn't mean I was unbeatable. All techniques had counters, in the end.

"Just like him," Naruto muttered. "Showing up, not helping then leaving."

I looked down, guiltily, realising that I had basically monopolised Jiraiya's time. He'd been helping me not Naruto.

"Good riddance," Sasuke said, tone full of dismissal. "Now are you going to keep doing that, or do you want to do some real training?" He drew a handful of kunai, the meaning clear.

Naruto brightened. "Yeah! Shikako?"

I laughed. "I'll sit this one out. Supposed to be going light on the taijutsu and all that." I settled myself on top of one of the three training posts and watched.

It was interesting to watch them fight, and not have to worry about participating. Naruto was getting good at his replacement technique, using it to drop himself or his clones in to take advantage of openings. There was the kunai duplication trick, and replacing himself with a moving kunai and then duplicating it – which I had no doubt would one day give someone a nasty surprise.

Sasuke's taijutsu had always been good, but it was a surprising mishmash of styles and moves now. There was a strong influence of Lee's Strong Fist, and the Uchiha style he'd started off with, but also a smattering of other attacks and deflections that had to have been copied along the way. I was sure I spotted a move that had to have a Jyuuken basis – a curving open palmed swipe – used in a way that a true Jyuuken user never would have.

Eventually they wound down and stopped.

"So, lunch?" I suggested brightly. It would be a late lunch by now, but still. Food.

"Yeah!" Naruto cheered, bouncing back to his feet. "It's been ages since we went to Ichiraku together."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "You never eat anything else, do you?" he asked rhetorically. But it was a friendly taunt and they bumped shoulders as we headed back to town.

We were barely out of the training fields when a shadow on the ground made me look up. A hawk was flying above us, winging across the sky with lazy loops.

The message it was carrying …

Sasuke Uchiha. Mission. Report to main gates ASAP.

I frowned.

"Aww, what? You get to go on a mission already?" Naruto groused. "That's so not fair! Why you, anyway? We should be going as a team!" He smacked his fists together.

"I don't like it," I said uneasily, exchanging glances with Sasuke. Not for the same reason that Naruto didn't, but it was suspicious. Jiraiya lets Sasuke out, vanishes, then he gets a mission request? By hawk, no less.

Sasuke nodded slowly. Ignoring a mission request was a very serious offence, but you could negotiate. You could reject missions, even, although it didn't happen very often. "To the mission desk?"

"I think we should at least verify it," I confirmed. "It doesn't seem right."

"You don't think it's a real mission?" Naruto asked, glancing upwards again. "That it's someone trying to get their hands on Sasuke again?" His eyes narrowed a fraction. "Orochimaru is really starting to piss me off."

"Join the club," Sasuke said dryly.

But we couldn't get to the Missions Desk.

"Sorry," the Chunin standing in front of the door said, slightly harried. "The Missions Desk is closed for the rest of the day. Please come back later."

Naruto started to argue that it was really important but I drew back, with Sasuke.

"What kind of thing makes the Mission Desk close?" he asked in an undertone.

It was a good point. Missions were the whole point. Come hell or high water, missions were assigned and carried out. And for that, someone needed to do the assigning.

"I don't know," I said, eyes narrowed. No missions meant … what? All the missions were done? Unlikely. Everyone was on a mission? That suggested some kind of wide scale assemblage and we couldn't have missed a signal for that. Could we?

"Whaddaya mean Baachan isn't here? Where is she then?" Naruto hollered, breaking my concentration. He huffed, turning away from the poor beleaguered door guard. "This sucks."

I nodded. "Let's go home," I suggested quietly. The Nara Clan compound was one of the safest places I knew. "Unless you want…"

Wanted to what? Go on the mission? Go and see who exactly was waiting for him by the gates? That could just be walking straight into an ambush. Try an investigate some more?

Sasuke ran a hand through his hair. "If this is a mission, I'm going to be in so much trouble," he muttered. "Sure. Let's go."

Naruto looked unusually serious. "Don't worry, Shikako-chan! If anyone shows up to try and take Sasuke again, we'll kick their asses just like we did before! Everything will be okay!"

"Of course it will be," I said. "As if we'd allow it to be any other way."

Home, it turned out, wasn't the bastion of serenity I'd imagined it was going to be. Mum was directing half a dozen clan members around, looking like a professional ninja, despite the pink dress and apron. "-the stock take done immediately so we can work out what was stolen," she was saying as we came into hearing range.

"What happened?" I asked, alarmed.

She hesitated a fraction on seeing me, but then her face hardened as she made a decision. "The outer research labs were attacked. I've sent word to the Hokage, but it seems like we weren't the only place hit. Your brother has already gone on ahead to scout and gather information."

I nearly gaped. "Was anyone hurt?"

"Emono and Kyoogi were knocked out, but they seem like they'll be okay," she replied, easing some of my tension. "I hate to ask, but could you go after your brother…"

"Of course," I said even before she'd finished. I would have suggested going myself, but I felt off balance. I didn't know what was going on, and someone had attacked my home.

"Yeah, you can count on us!" Naruto said, a tad loudly. "We'll make sure that lazy slacker doesn't get in any trouble." He laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head.

Sasuke looked about as tense as I felt.

Funny how an hour ago, today had been a good day.

I led the way, bouncing through the tree tops as we headed across the clan grounds towards the outer walls of Konoha. The outer labs were generally for experimentation, and were fairly isolated in case they needed to be evacuated and contained. They were only moderately hidden or defended, but it still implied someone had known where to look for them – and what to take.

Worrying.

Could this be related to Jiraiya vanishing – to Sasuke's mission? But how? Mum had implied we weren't the only ones attacked, so was there so kind of invasion force? I wish I'd asked, but if she'd known she would have said. An invasion didn't make sense, anyway, not for smash and grab thievery. Sure there were some dangerous or expensive chemicals and ingredients, but not in such quantities to make it worth the effort.

I shook my head. Gotta focus. It's pointless wondering when you have no information.

"What's that?" Sasuke asked, distracting me.

"The research lab," I answered, jumping down to the ground. "Be careful what you touch." I could sense people down there, but one of them was Shikamaru, so I guessed that they'd come ahead with him.

"Hey Shikamaru! You there?" Naruto hollered. At least we weren't trying to go the stealthy route.

After a brief pause, Shikamaru emerged from out of the building, hands in his pockets and glaring lazily at Naruto. "Geeze, I think everyone in this half of Konoha heard you," he muttered. "You nearly gave the researchers a heart attack." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, back at the building.

"What have you found?" I asked.

"Well," he drawled. "We have a list of what was taken, but hell if I know what they wanted it for. It's the most bizarre combination of ingredients; makes no sense."

I'd once told Ino that Shikamaru probably knew more about medicine than he'd care to admit and it was comments like these that made me suspect it. He wasn't interested in it at all, but Shikamaru wasn't interested in many things.

"Other than that," he continued. "They didn't exactly go overboard on the subtlety. You can probably tell which direction they went by yourself."

"They?" I asked. "You think there were multiple people."

Shikamaru scratched his chin and yawned. "Not inside. There'd have been more stuff moved if there had been several people looking for things. But there could have been accomplices waiting outside."

The building wasn't a big one either, and it was going to get crowded quickly if you started adding more people.

"Shoe prints indicate an adult male; definitely someone with shinobi training," Shikamaru added. "It's hard to tell more than that, unless you want to call for a full investigation."

"We'd probably have better luck following the trail," Sasuke said, eyeing the tree tops.

"Well if you insist," Shikamaru drawled, and I realised he'd been counting on the suggestion. "Wait for me to send these two back, and we can go after them."

And although Naruto looked impatient to be going, now that we'd decided, we waited for Shikamaru to finish giving orders to the two researchers that had come with him to assess the building. "Oh," he added, once he was done. "And tell my mother that I'm heading after the intruder with Team 7, would you?"

"She's not really going to be happy about this," I said, as we leapt into the trees.

Shikamaru shrugged. "You can head back."

I scoffed. "Yeah, right." After that, we were more focused on where we were going, because although we'd had training in pursuit, tracking by physical trails wasn't exactly a skill any of us excelled in. We were all sharp eyed and intelligent though, so spotting foot prints and bent branches wasn't impossible, given that there seemed to be no attempt at hiding them.

"Is he arrogant, or is it a trap?" I asked.

"Assume it's a trap," Shikamaru said. "That way we only get a pleasant surprise."

The trail wound through several training fields where we almost lost it, to the far, far outskirts of the village, before coming to a small unnoticeable cave wedged in the side of a hill. There were two very large men sitting just outside the entrance, eating.

"There's definitely someone in there," I breathed quietly, frowning. "It's- It's almost familiar…" I just couldn't quite put my finger on why. The two we could see weren't familiar at all.

Sasuke gave the handsign for retreat and we backed up into the forest.

"Why are we backing up?" Naruto hissed. "We've got them now."

"We should try and get some information first," I said, biting my lip. "We don't know anything about who they are or why they attacked the lab." Or if they were involved with Orochimaru or if it was just a coincidence…

"And we don't know who's in the cave or what he's doing," Sasuke said. "If there's another exit, he might get away."

"Alright," Shikamaru said, unfolding his hands from where they'd been clasped. "Here's what we're going to do."

I was a little surprised that neither of the boys protested at taking orders from Shikamaru – but then, we had just done a mission with him, and once he started laying out the plan they seemed happy enough with it.

Actually, it was also a little surprising that Shikamaru was just… taking charge like this.

"Remember, we want to incapacitate them, so be careful," he cautioned. "Also, we don't know where the cave leads, or what's inside it, so the entering team will need to be wary of traps."

"We got it," Naruto said confidently. "These guys are going to regret messing with us."

Shikamaru sighed, looking like he was having second thoughts. "Alright then," he said. "Let's go."

Naruto sprung off several clones, one standing next to Shikamaru and Sasuke, the others circling through the trees to surround the clearing. The real Naruto and I nodded at each other and moved off, getting as close to the entrance as we could without losing cover.

The others waited for us to all get in position, then launched themselves into the clearing at speed, as if they had been racing through the tree tops.

The two large shinobi blinked placidly at them, still eating.

"Hah, we found you!" Naruto crowed.

"Look, brother," one of the shinobi said, voice drawn out. "There are people here."

"I see them, Fujin," said the other one. "Maybe they want to play a game with us?"

Naruto looked pretty dumbfounded at that lack of reaction. "Hey! I'm talking to you! What were you doing attacking the Nara Clan? And who are you, anyway?"

"We're Fujin and Raijin," the second shinobi – Raijin – said. "But we didn't attack anybody. There was no one to fight. It wasn't very fun. Hey, do you have any food? All of ours is gone, and I'm hungry." He sounded plaintive, almost whining.

"You're seriously asking us for food?" Sasuke asked in disbelief.

"I don't think they have any food, brother," Fujin said, leaning over to talk to Raijin, but not actually whispering.

Raijin sighed and heaved himself to his feet. "Okay then, I guess we'll play. He did say we had to make sure no one disturbed him."

Fujin stood too. "Oh, boy. I hope it's fun."

"Hah! You think you can take us?" Naruto taunted. "You don't stand a chance!"

Raijin disappeared with a blur of speed, and Naruto's clone vanished into a puff of chakra smoke. Beside me, the real Naruto jerked, and nearly gave jumped into the fight. I put a hand on his arm and jerked my head towards the cave entrance, which was no longer blocked.

There were more clones ready to help, and Sasuke and Shikamaru were excellent fighters. That didn't stop the surge of worry, but they'd be okay. I hoped.

"That wasn't very fun," Raijin said, sadly. Sasuke drew a handful of shuriken, and Shikamaru had his hands clasped in a rat seal, shadow forming around his feet.

We waited a second, to ensure their attention was focused on the fight that was breaking out, then edged our way carefully to the cave. We had to move quickly, but carefully, which was difficult as one usually traded off for the other. The inside was dim, light reaching only the first part of the tunnel, which sloped down sharply. The floor was rocky and uneven, and I summoned chakra to my hands to illuminate our path, once I was sure we wouldn't be seen from the outside.

I couldn't sense any chakra in the tunnel, and we didn't see any traps as we edged forwards.

Eventually, we saw flickering light up coming from further in and I doused my own chakra light with a look at Naruto. This was it then.

We edged forwards in the half light, trying to see what was ahead of us before we revealed ourselves, but the tunnels were – by either fate or design – laid in such a way that the advantage was to those inside. We could see what looked like a workroom, with some metal table in the centre and various things bolted to the walls. There was a person, male, tall, with long hair of pale colour. It was difficult to tell in the low light, but I thought it might be silver.

"So Fujin and Raijin failed, I see," he said, calling out to us. He sounded mostly annoyed, rather than worried. "Did they get distracted by their stomachs?"

"Maybe I'm just that awesome," Naruto boasted with a sharp grin as he stepped into the room.

I hung back, blending against the wall. He hadn't sounded like he knew who was there, so I wasn't going to reveal myself if I could retain the advantage of secrecy. I wasn't exactly hiding - there wasn't room for it – more just being unobtrusive and not drawing attention.

"You!" The person snarled, turning away from the workbench in the middle of the room. "Of all the people."

"Mizuki," Naruto said, surprised, before narrowing his eyes. "Didn't you learn your lesson about stealing things the first time?"

Mizuki-sensei? Well that explained the vague familiarity. You'd think I'd remember a man who taught us for years a bit more. Then again, I already knew that rapid changes in personality could influence what your chakra was like and betraying your village was a pretty big change, even if you'd been thinking about it for a while.

But what was Mizuki doing here anyway? He'd tried to steal the Forbidden Scroll; they wouldn't have just let him walk away after that. I was, well, frankly a little stunned that he had survived at all. Surely he would at least be imprisoned somewhere.

Mizuki glared. "The only reason I was defeated in our last meeting was because I underestimated that conniving demon fox."

Naruto scoffed. "That had nothing to do with the fox. That was all me. I don't need Kyuubi to deal with someone like you."

Mizuki looked, well, furious. "Don't lie! It's pathetic you made Genin; they should have stomped you out when you were born. I see you're wearing a Chunin vest, too. Who did you steal that from? Or did dear Iruka give that to you too?"

"I earned this all by myself," Naruto shot back. "So you can just stuff it."

"This pathetic village. How many times did I try? And you they just hand it to." His lips curled in disgust. "This place, it's always the same. No matter how many missions I took, how many high class enemies I defeated, they never looked at me with respect. Always looking down on me, always judging."

Naruto was an empathetic person. But there was no way he was going to sympathise with that. Not when his own resolve was to make people acknowledge him. "So what?" Naruto asked aggressively. "You turned on them? Betrayed your own friends, tried to hurt Iruka-sensei? That's not the kind of person that deserves respect!"

"Iruka was the worst," Mizuki said dismissively. "He was no one. Nothing. Always goofing off in class and failing his tests. He wouldn't have even passed if it wasn't for me. And yet, he was the one the Third Hokage took an interest in. He was the one that gained all the attention, all the praise."

"Don't talk about Iruka-sensei like that!" Naruto clenched his fists.

He was goading Naruto, that was clear. He had to have some kind of plan, because he knew that Naruto was strong. I couldn't see any traps. And I was looking.

"They'll see. When I have the power Orochimaru gave me, then they'll see." He grabbed a flask of red liquid off the workbench behind him and pulled the top off.

"Orochimaru! So you are working with him. Well, we beat the last guys he sent, and we'll beat you too!" Naruto shouted. "That old snake face can just get lost."

Whatever Mizuki was doing, I didn't like it. I hesitated for a second, then decided that we probably had all the information we were going to get. He drank the liquid and threw the flask away, even as my shadow snared his feet.

"See my strength!" He boasted, laughing. "This is what Orochimaru gave me. I'll bring him what he desires, and I will be rewarded."

The ground shook, suddenly, as though something had impacted heavily on the ground above us. I felt a flash of worry for Shikamaru and Sasuke. Then again, things might not be going so well for us, either. Mizuki's chakra was growing, and livid red marks reminiscent of the curse seal activating were spreading across his skin. His muscles – already larger and more defined than I remembered – were bulging. I could feel him pushing against the possession jutsu, the movements echoing in my own limbs.

"Naruto-!" I shouted, warning cut off. Because if the curse seal had boosted the strength of the Sound Four enough that they could break the Shadow Possession Jutsu, then I wasn't going to count on it holding now. Why did we always seem to run into people who could break it?

Naruto had lunged at Mizuki as soon almost the same time I had started attacking, knowing the same way I did that nothing good could come of this. People taking supplements in the middle of a fight never lead to anything good.

Naruto formed three clones while in motion, leading in with an agile taijutsu combination attack. I dropped my jutsu the second before they hit, not wanting to get the reflected effects, and judging that as a tactic, Shadow Possession wasn't really working anyway.

With a shout, the red marks settled into black stripes and Mizuki broke free, lashing out with impossible speed to destroy the clones and slam Naruto into the wall. Rocks and dust exploded out from where he'd hit, clouding the air, and I shut my eyes tight against it.

I released my weight seal, zigzagged left out of the tunnel and into the room, as something impacted where I had just been, Naruto and Mizuki shining chakra bright in my head and burning away anything else. Mizuki's chakra was drawn in lines, moving too fast to sense it proper – no way, how could he, how fast is that - to where I had been, then back to Naruto, circling around the room. I ducked, rolled under the huge heavy worktable, and slung two kunai to opposite walls, a trip line of ninja wire strung between them.

It didn't matter if he was fast. He was still running.

Naruto hauled himself out of the wall, more clones popping into existence around him. They puffed out almost as soon as they were created, victims of Mizuki's sudden speed, and the chakra smoke was almost as obscuring as the dust had been.

But the fact that all Mizuki was popping was clones…

"Your movements are so slow," Mizuki boasted, "it doesn't matter how many of you there are now – not one of you will be able to touch me."

"Guess again, asshole," Naruto growled from where he was crouched on the ceiling. He had a handful of kunai splayed between his fingers and he hurled them downwards. "Now!"

One became many, and I was glad that I was currently underneath something.

Mizuki had been prepared to block a handful, but not the dozens of kunai he faced, and he jumped backwards changing tactics to avoid them at the last moment. Something heavy hit my trip line, snapping the taunt wire and yanking the kunai full out of the walls. He tumbled backwards, arms crossing over his face to protect it and taking the brunt of Naruto's kunai duplication attack.

I doubted it had seriously injured him, not with the amount of chakra he was using to reinforce his body. But it was an attack that had succeeded which said to me, that no matter what that potion did, it didn't put him in the league of the Sound Four. Whether it wasn't as strong, or whether it was simply because he had never used it before, didn't matter.

"Lightning Release; Striking Bolt!" I commanded, arm thrown out in his direction.

The sudden light in the dimness of the bunker seared my retinas, and through the afterimages I saw a horde of Naruto's leaping down to dogpile our ex-teacher.

I rolled out from under the table, panting at the sudden exertion. There had been no gentle entrance into the fight here; it had been sudden.

"Earth Release: Earth-Style Prison!" I continued, slapping my hands down on the ground. Four slabs of stone rose out of the ground, slamming together over top of him. I grimaced at the result – a little lopsided, and I was certain that the left wall was weaker than the other three. Earth-Style Prison was a basic adaption of the Earth-Style Wall, only with more parts to it, which meant it took much more concentration. It was doubly hard, right now, because I was trying to manipulate actual stone not just dirt and took a larger chunk of chakra than I wanted to lose.

But what else could I do? Explosions were right out; I'd bring that cave down on our heads. There wasn't room in here for anything that required manoeuvring. I might be able to slow him down if I managed to catch him with Shadow Possession again – if, if, if – but then we'd still need to do something to take him down. I briefly wished I had my lightsaber. Not because I thought I could use it or it would help or anything. I just kind of wanted it.

Naruto was still perched on the roof, eyes fastened on the stone prison. A clone beside him was helping him form a Rasengan in one hand.

Well. That would do it.

I was a little surprised that Naruto was willing to escalate to Rasengan so quickly, but he had fought Mizuki before, and we didn't really want to be messing around with some curse seal type ability. The last ones had been dangerous enough.

The stone prison shuddered and fractured, an arm bursting out of the side. The left, of course. The black stripes winding around the limb had gone red again, writing furiously over all the exposed skin.

"You insignificant fools!" Mizuki bellowed, bursting free. "I will destroy you!" He sounded more than slightly unhinged. He was starting to look animalistic where the Sound Four had been demonic, though the difference was slight.

I was ready for him, my shadow latching onto his. It was a struggle, and I was distracting him more than anything. Overpowering him wasn't going to work, but if I could make him focus his attention on me…

"Rasengan!" Naruto called, hurtling downwards, arm outstretched to thrust the jutsu forward. It ploughed into Mizuki, and I dropped the Shadow Possession, letting it drive him backwards.

"Impossible-!" Mizuki gasped out.

Then he fell silent.

I wasted no time in jumping through the debris and slapping a knockout seal on him, though it was doubtful it was needed at this time. He was still alive, which said something for his strength, but getting hit with Rasengan tended to mess things up. Big time.

"Well," I said. "That… led to more questions than it answered, really."

Orochimaru was involved. How did Mizuki fit in with him? How was Mizuki here? Where had he come from? The missing ingredients had probably formed that proto-curse seal concoction, but how had he known to make it? Was this lab one of Orochimaru's?

I shook my head. There were no answers to be found here. "Let's get back to the others."

Naruto shook his head, as though chasing away heavy thoughts. "They're doing okay," he said, a reminder that he had clones in that fight too. But he summoned up a medium sized toad – about the height of our knees – and jerked his thumb at Mizuki. "Hey, Gamanidai. Got a prisoner to take back to the village. Can you help me out?"

"Another one?" the toad grumbled. "I just got the taste of the last one out of my mouth." But it hopped forward, and then its mouth stretched, larger than should have been possible, a quick yank of its tongue pulling Mizuki's body in.

"Thanks," Naruto said, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I owe you."

We picked our way through the rubble and back down the tunnel, homing in on Shikamaru and Sasuke's fight. Like Naruto had said, by now they had things mostly handled, though there were signs that it hadn't been quite so easy earlier. There was snapped ninja wire dangling in the breeze, and the top of one tree top was smouldering gently.

Shikamaru had both of them in Shadow Possession, and they were wrapped firmly in ninja wire besides, with solid shadow hands clasped over their noses and mouths. They were both teetering on the edge of unconsciousness, and their remaining struggles were weak.

It doesn't matter how strong they are, they still need to breathe.

Sasuke was staring at them both, Sharingan spinning slowly, though I couldn't tell if there was genjutsu involved, or if he was just wary of an attack.

I joined my shadow to Shikamaru's to help hold the Possession while he focused on the Shadow Neck-Binding Jutsu. I was deeply impressed that he was managing to do both jutsu at once, on multiple opponents. Multitasking like that was closer to a Jounin level skill than a Chunin one.

Then they dropped. And that was that.

"So, did you find him?" Shikamaru asked, straightening from his crouch and popping his back.

"Yeah," I said. "Mizuki-sensei. Apparently he's working for Orochimaru now."

Shikamaru's eyebrow shot up, but Sasuke looked at me incredulously. Right. Obviously he hadn't actually heard the story of how Naruto graduated. I shrugged.

"So… Orochimaru sent our ex-teacher to rob our clan because…" Shikamaru drawled.

"He made some kind of super chakra potion," Naruto said. "It made him heaps faster and stronger."

"So the ingredients weren't the end goal," Shikamaru sighed. "Troublesome."

Because that lead to the question of what was the end goal, which we had zero chance of answering right now.

Naruto's transport toad swallowed the two brothers and we started heading back towards the Hokage's Tower. Carefully. There was no way of telling if they had had other accomplices.

We were about halfway back when we ran into Iruka-sensei and a female Jounin that I didn't recognise. "Are you kids okay? You really shouldn't be out here alone. There's been a break out from the Konoha Secure Correctional Facility; we're still rounding up the prisoners."

"A breakout?" I said. "Huh. That makes more sense now."

A bit. Anyway. Mizuki was supposed to be in prison – and working for Orochimaru might have explained why they were keeping him around. If there had been other attacks, that would be the other prisoners. It didn't explain how he got free or what he was intending to do, but it answered some questions.

"We ran into some people," Sasuke said, bored. "Two brothers named Fujin and Raijin, and Mizuki."

The lady Jounin gasped. "That's them," she said softly. "The Legendary Stupid Brothers."

The title tumbled over in my head, clicking with the names. They had a bingo book page, but I hadn't connected it with them because they were listed as inactive. They were supposed to be really strong, but, well, stupid. They'd frequently attacked teammates over things like food and had simply gotten uncontrollable.

"Are you all okay?" Iruka asked, sounding a little horrified.

It made me wonder, just a little, how up to date Iruka-sensei was on our adventures. Because in hindsight, this had been pretty easy so far, even if we hadn't known what we were getting ourselves into.

"Of course we're okay!" Naruto protested. "It'll take more than stupid Mizuki-sensei to take me out! I showed that last time, didn't I?"

"Please, where was he? I need to find him," the woman said, eyes creasing with worry. "He's about to do something terrible."

"It's a bit late for that," Shikamaru drawled.

"Yeah, he already attacked the Nara clan and stuff," Naruto added. "But don't worry! We caught them." He paused. "Who are you anyway, lady?"

"I'm Tsubaki," she said softly. "Mizuki was my…" she faltered, trailing off.

Naruto huffed and crossed his arms. "Then he's even more of an idiot for trying to leave."

I know that Naruto meant it as 'if he had so many precious people that cared so much for him' but it did make my lips twitch in amusement. Really, Naruto.

"Wait, you caught them?" Iruka-sensei asked, a little baffled.

"Yeah, yeah, Gamanidai has them," Naruto said impatiently. "We gotta go hand them in. And we still gotta go talk to Baa-chan about Sasuke's… thing." He caught himself at the last moment. "Do you know where everyone is? We went to the Mission Desk before but it was shut."

"Yes, we were coordinating the recapture of the criminals," Iruka explained. "It was a big mess, so we had to get it done quickly. I'm surprised you didn't hear about it."

It was a little surprising. I would have thought there would have been alarms or something. The training fields weren't that out of the way.

We made it back to the village proper with no other interruptions. Tsunade, back from wherever she had been, was standing in outside of the tower.

"Iruka. Status report?" she asked.

"Mizuki, Fujin and Raijin have been apprehended, Hokage-sama," Iruka-sensei reported. "Team Tenchi is currently in pursuit of Hankou and Zenka; that's the last of them."

Tsunade relaxed half a fraction. "Good. We need to get this mess cleaned up." Her eyes flickered to us. "Now what do you brats want?"

"We were looking for you!" Naruto complained.

Tsunade groaned, hand coming up to pinch the bridge of her nose. "You three are like Lucky Sevens," she said. "When you turn up, I just know things are about to go to hell." She sighed. "Alright, hit me with it."

That was mixing metaphors a little, but the point was clear. I couldn't even say she was exactly wrong.

"It's about the mission I was assigned," Sasuke said quietly, stepping forward a little.

The look on Tsunade's face very clearly said 'what mission'. "My office," she directed. "Tsubaki, take the prisoners back to the Correctional Facility. Iruka, keep coordinating the response. And get Izumo and Kotetsu to report back on the causes of the breakout."

The two saluted and went on their way, a hand gesture from Naruto making Gamanidai follow.

Tsunade's office wasn't empty when we got there, though. Jiraiya was there, unconscious and bound form of Tayuya slung over one shoulder. There was something in his hand, but it vanished out of our sight rapidly.

Why Tayuya? Did she get out as well? The others? Was she the goal- The thoughts tumbled through my head rapidly. They were after Sasuke – he got out this morning – coincidence - prison break -

"- a messenger hawk bearing instructions for a priority mission," Sasuke was explaining to Tsunade as I tuned back in. "It seemed… suspicious, so we came to the Tower to confirm it, but there wasn't an opportunity."

Tsunade leant on her desk. "Well at least you have some sense," she mused, tapping her long painted fingernails on the wood. The narrowed look in her eyes suggested she was going through a list of how many people had access to the hawks or could disguise one as an official Konoha hawk. "That was not assigned by me. In fact, from this point on, you will take no missions unless they are given to you by me personally. No mission scrolls, no messengers, nothing. If it doesn't come from my mouth, you don't take it."

Sasuke nodded silently.

"The same goes for Naruto," Tsunade decided. "We don't want to have to repeat this."

"Yeah, sure," Naruto shrugged. It didn't make much difference to him, since our missions usually were assigned by Tsunade anyway. "But what's this all about, anyway? How come the pervy sage has that Sound chick?"

"While everyone else was busy running around catching the Correctional Facility prisoners, there was a bit of a break in where these guys were being kept as well," Jiraiya said lightly.

Someone tried to get Sasuke out of the village; the Konoha Secure Correctional Facility had all the prisoners escape; wherever Tayuya was being held (T&I?) had a break in...

They were all connected by Orochimaru. That much was obvious. But how? Why now?

Something flickered across my mind. Naruto, running through the streets, "The pervy sage said that they were letting Sasuke out today."

No.

"I'll bring Orochimaru what he desires-"

No.

I could feel my face settle into hard lines.

I had thought if they were letting Sasuke out, then the problem had been dealt with. But letting Sasuke out was an attempt to deal with the problem. He was bait.

And they hadn't even told us.

I would have said something, but I couldn't force the words out. I felt… I felt angry.

"Don't get upset, kid," Jiraiya said, looking directly at me. "You were all perfectly safe." He made a motion with his hand and a tiny frog – the size of a normal frog – hopped in through the window as if it had been just outside. Unnervingly, I hadn't been able to sense it. I still couldn't sense it, even though I could see it with my eyes. "If you were in any danger, Gamatate would have swallowed you and unsummoned back to Mount Myoboku. Nothing would be able to reach you there."

"Wait, what?" Naruto asked, confused.

Jiraiya and Tsunade communicated with a look.

"There are a lot of things going on in Konoha that you don't need to be concerned about," Tsunade said. "But despite our best efforts, it does appear that Orochimaru still has supporters in the village. Interrogation of the prisoners has been … enlightening, but is taking time. They have strong wills and aren't going to give up classified information easily. It simply wasn't feasible to keep Sasuke in a secure location until the situation was dealt with, so, we let him out."

"And the breakouts are because of that?" Sasuke asked, putting things together.

"We knew they would make a move," Tsunade acknowledged. "Several of the more… ambitious prisoners appear to have been offered a place with Orochimaru if they brought you to him. The messenger hawk was probably another move to get to you."

"There were three of the Sound Four captured," Shikamaru murmured. "If you have only one, did the others get away? Or were they just taken out before they could be interrogated?"

"It looks like it was intended that way," Jiraiya confirmed. "Tayuya managed to slip away for a bit – it looks like she wanted revenge for being defeated – but we were expecting this. Everything was contained."

Shikamaru paled and mouthed 'Chouji'.

"Did we learn anything?" Tsunade asked, wearily.

"I think this is all they need to know," Jiraiya said. "Get one of your ANBU to take her back and I'll fill you in on the rest."

Tsunade nodded. "You four, dismissed."

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Sidestories has 2 new chapters up, as well. XD