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.

AN: I sort of feel that anyone who has stayed for seventy chapters but still feels like this fic is about the plot is missing something…

Also, new Sidestory up to go with it.

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Chapter 74

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A shadow leaned over me, whispering, in the darkness,

Thoughts without sound;

Sorrowful thoughts that filled me with helpless wonder

And held me bound.

~ Alfred Noyes

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"I think it's time to break for lunch," Takatori said with a yawn, stretching his arms up over his head.

I looked up from the book I was reading, pen absently tapping against my lip. "Hmm?" I queried. I knew he'd said something, but the meaning had been lost by the time it had registered. My head was floating in a cloud of calculations, ideas spiraling through but conclusions just out of reach.

"Lunch," he repeated. "Food. Sustenance."

My eyes drifted from his face to the clock. The library was windowless, tucked securely away inside the building, and there was a sense of quiet timelessness to it that made it difficult to keep track of the hours.

"Crap," I said, once it sunk in. "I'm late."

I shuffled my papers into my bag and darted around, putting all the books back on the shelves where they belonged. Takatori watched me with half-lidded eyes and mild interest, as I slung my bag over my shoulder and skidded out the door with a wave.

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date…

I legged it out of the compound and towards the park, keeping to ground level out of the last remaining dregs of respect for my medical leave status. By now, my chakra was almost fully recovered and I hadn't felt injured in the first place, so it seemed terribly pointless to avoid training.

Hinata, Sakura and Ino were already there, which was unsurprising given how late I was. Tenten was out on a mission with Naruto, which meant that despite best intentions, she still hadn't been invited to a study group.

Well. That was just how things worked out sometimes.

"Guess I'm not missing much, huh?" I asked, dropping down to sprawl beside Hinata. She was sitting all proper and daintily, but I'd been hunched over a desk all morning and I wanted to stretch.

"Sakura-san wanted to work on her taijutsu," she murmured to me.

The park wasn't technically a training field, so they probably shouldn't have, but there was no one else here and Ino and Sakura weren't doing more than slow and basic taijutsu. I eyed them critically. Maybe my standards were higher now, but I was sure Sakura had been better than that. Then again it had been months since graduation, and that was more than enough time to lose your edge, especially when it wasn't something you had ever really used in action.

"Probably a good idea," I said. "If she wants to be a field medic, anyway. There are pretty strict requirements."

I wondered if she'd done any work on the strength technique I'd shown her. It… hadn't actually been that long ago, really. It just felt it, what with everything that had happened. So, probably not.

I tried to see if there was anything different about the way Ino fought – maybe she was a little twistier, maybe her moves were a little more circular and serpentine than before – but if there was anything it was negligible. She traded blows with Sakura, a quick back and forth, and said something that made them both laugh.

I smiled.

"You want to?" I asked Hinata, motioning at the field. There was plenty of space. I could use the practice too, even if Hinata would probably trounce me. "No chakra though."

I wasn't that eager to get crushed.

She looked a little surprised, but agreed.

I bounced to my feet and took a couple of paces away from our stuff on the ground before assuming a ready stance, fists closed and up. Not quite my usual style, but if we weren't going to use ninjutsu, then I didn't need to be able to quickly form handseals.

Hinata sunk into a Jyuuken stance, but there was no surge of chakra and no glow to her hands, which meant I didn't worry overly when she slid forward, hand curving towards my chest.

I dodged rather than blocked, light on my feet and twisting around the follow up moves like I would have if they really were Jyuuken.

Back, back, left! I pivoted outside, as if to come around from behind, but she was ready for me, twisting neatly on the spot and lashing out with a kick that would have taken me out at the knees if I hadn't jumped.

I grinned, tipped backwards and handspringed off the ground, flipping for distance.

Hinata smiled back, a light, serene curve of her lips, before launching an absolutely relentless assault against me.

I twisted, turned, dodged and feinted, and resorted to blocking what I couldn't avoid. It wasn't totally one sided, and I gave some back when I had an opening, sending us dancing and whirling across the grass. Wind swept around us, making my hair dance in the breeze, but it was warm and the sun was shining.

I laughed, feeling light and free, and Hinata danced after me, happiness glimmering in her eyes.

And then she swept my feet out from under me with an absolutely vicious ankle hook, and sent me tumbling into the dirt.

"Mercy, mercy!" I gasped, still laughing. "I give."

She offered me a hand, two fingers extended, and I reached up with my own extended similarly to clasp it and complete the seal of reconciliation. More formal, maybe, than this little tussle warranted, but I wasn't going to refuse it.

Then she used it to haul me to my feet and startled a yelp out of me.

"Go Hinata!" Ino cheered.

"Weren't you fighting?" I demanded, amused. "Go on. Shoo."

She poked her tongue out at me. Looked like I wasn't the only one feeling a little silly. And what was wrong with that, really? We were home, safe and happy.

It was okay to be happy.

I hummed, twitching a bit to a remembered beat. A bubble of mischief welled within me.

Well. Why not?

"It's the eye of the tiger," I started singing, flicking a smirk towards Ino. "It's the thrill of the fight, rising up to the challenge of a rival…"

The thing was. I hoarded my memories, spending them like a miser with a handful of precious coins. Because once I shared them, I lost them. Ino and Sakura and Hinata would never know the real song, the singer or the music or the way that it was just one of those pieces that everyone knew. To them, it would only be a weird ditty that I had sung off key in a forgettable place on a forgettable day.

Even if I showed it to them, it wasn't the same.

Sakura looked a little gobsmacked, hands coming up to cover her mouth. I was definitely toeing the line of acceptable here. Ino had every right to take offence. If I'd judged it wrong, she could even be hurt.

But Ino threw her head back and laughed. "Rawr," she said, fingers curling into little claws and stalking towards me. "I'll show you tiger."

I laughed and ran backwards. "And the last known survivor stalks the prey in the night, and she's watching us all with the eye," I drew it out, "of the tiger…"

It wasn't the first time that I'd sung something from my past to them – it was rare but Ino and Sakura had probably heard more of it than anyone, even if they didn't know what they were hearing. But what would they think of that? That I liked singing and making up tunes? It was harmless.

I was aware of two chakra signatures moving towards us, but it was a public place and they were only at walking speed, so I mostly ignored them until they actually approached us.

"Can I help you, Mitarashi-san?" Hinata queried politely.

I did recognize her. Anko Mitarashi had been the proctor for the second stage of the Chunin Exam, and she wasn't exactly forgettable. The second person I didn't know, but she was slightly older than us with long brown hair swept neatly to the side, bangs braided over one shoulder but loose elsewhere. She was wearing a pink kimono over purple baggy pants and mesh undershirt, which was all well within the range of normal ninja outfit. Her chakra was strong, not impressively huge or anything, but enough to tell she was trained in using it.

"You can," Anko agreed. "Oi, Nara. Your invitation has been graciously accepted." She put her hand on the girls shoulder and edged her forward a fraction. "Yakumo Kurama."

I was a little more surprised that it was Anko escorting her, than by Yakumo's presence itself, truthfully. Then again, with consideration, it wasn't that surprising. Anko was an Intelligence Division Special Jounin, personally experienced in betrayal and traitors, and probably reasonably aware of the troubles of reintegrating into society after said events. She was probably an excellent person to look after Yakumo.

Yakumo bowed. "I am very pleased to meet you."

I bowed back after a moment of hesitation. "Likewise." There was an awkward pause, and I took over providing introductions for everyone. It was probably my responsibility, since I'd invited her. Anko hung back, not really taking part, but not venturing too far away either.

"Sasuke met her on his last mission," I explained, glossing over the details of it.

Sakura clapped her hands together. "Really? You have to tell us about it! What was it like? Was he cool?" Her starry eyed crush on Sasuke had never really gone away, and I didn't really expect it to. There was nothing really wrong with having a crush, even if it occasionally made things awkward. People were allowed to have feelings.

"Give her a minute, Sakura," Ino said with a laugh. But then she shot me a look that indicated I was going to have to do some explaining later.

I gave her a harried nod. Yes, okay, springing this on them wasn't exactly great either. But I hadn't exactly expected my invitation to be taken up? No, that was a shitty excuse.

"Yakumo specializes in genjutsu," I volunteered. "I know that that's not quite what we're working on, but I thought it would be interesting to have a different perspective on it." I turned more towards Yakumo to continue the explanation. "None of us have had much of a chance to study genjutsu since graduation. Well, apart from Hinata, since Kurenai-sensei specializes in genjutsu… I think you know her?"

Yakumo nodded, but something dark flickered across her face at the mention of Kurenai. "Yes," she said. "Kurenai-sensei tutored me several years ago."

Hinata smiled at her, clearly pleased with the connection. It probably said something about the strength of the student-teacher bond that Konoha promoted, that students that had never met before were more accepting over that recommendation alone. Then again, if Kakashi-sensei had other students… yeah, I probably would have been really interested in them.

I eyed Yakumo thoughtfully as the conversation took off. Dangerous and disturbed, Tsunade had called her. Was that the truth or a layer of misdirection? Would I ever know the difference?

What was I even doing?

I rubbed a hand across my eyes wearily.

I looked up and watched Anko watching us. She seemed intense – alert – but not unhappy. She caught my eye and smirked, like she'd felt me staring at her. She probably had. I was hardly being stealthy.

I dropped my attention back to Yakumo. She was getting on just fine with the others, and I withdrew a little from the group, watching and waiting. I'd take an opportunity if any presented themselves, but for now, I'd watch and wait.

It did, in the end. The topic swung away from genjutsu, touched on the medical knowledge that was ostentatiously our reason for meeting, and around to art. Or, more specifically, Yakumo's art.

"I'd like to see that in action," Sakura said, a little wistfully. "It sounds amazing. The combination of beautiful paintings and deadly genjutsu… a perfect kunoichi art!"

"Me too," I agreed, propping my chin up on my hand. "It sounds really interesting. Did you want to spar sometime?"

The words slipped out before I'd really considered them. It was a casual offer, one that got made reasonably regularly but not always followed through on. Once it was out, I wasn't sure if I wanted her to accept it or reject it – on one hand, I actually did want to see them in action. On the other. Well. I had just told myself I was going to watch and wait, hadn't I?

Yakumo blinked. "Um. Well, I don't know if I can," she said, and threw a look towards Anko.

Anko shrugged as all our attention focused on her. "Suit yourself," she said.

"I would like that very much, then," Yakumo said. "I haven't… I haven't had much of an opportunity to practice with other people."

I swallowed, and pasted on a smile. "Great. I've got a lot of free time at the moment, so whenever it suits you is fine."

We hashed out a time for the three of us to meet. I wasn't entirely sure that having Sakura be there was a good thing but… well, I wasn't going to say she couldn't be there. Not when I'd sort of jumped on her comment to initiate it.

This is why planning matters.

And then the group broke up, Hinata apologetically taking her leave to make it home on time for dinner, Anko whisking Yakumo away with an offhand wave in our direction and Sakura cheerfully tottering off with a stack of books.

That just left me and Ino in an empty park, sitting at a picnic table.

Ino braced her elbows on the table and looked at me over laced fingers.

"Sorry," I blurted out.

She raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"For…" I waved a vague hand. "Inviting Yakumo. Not warning you. Whatever." I shrugged. "I wasn't sure she would come."

"You don't have to apologize," Ino said, still sounding a little surprised. "The more the merrier, right? And it's not like we've ever stuck to just medical jutsu, even if that's what we started studying. I just wondered when you had time to meet her; Shikamaru made it sound like you were flat out with clan stuff."

"A bit?" I said. "I mean, none of it is urgent or anything, I just haven't had anything else to do. But, um, I didn't. I mean, I haven't met her before."

"Okay, now I'm lost," Ino said.

"Sasuke met her on his last mission," I repeated what I'd said before. "And her technique sounded interesting-" Saying it like that made me sound awful. I had no problems with Tsunade thinking I only wanted to learn her techniques, but it was different with Ino. "-And she sounded lonely and stuff…"

I cringed. That was terrible. Why was I so awful with words?

"That was nice of you," Ino said quietly. "I'm glad."

It was my turn to blink at her in surprise.

"You get quiet," Ino explained. "When you're uncomfortable or upset… like you don't want to been seen or talk to anyone. And you haven't been around lately, and then you were late today… I was worried that something was wrong."

"Oh," I said.

"But, you know," she looked away for a second. "That sounds like something I would have done. Inviting someone along because they sounded lonely."

"Would do," I corrected. It hung heavily in the air, because neither of us were talking about the grammar of the sentence.

Then Ino rolled her eyes. "Like something I would do," she corrected and huffed. "Take the compliment, Shikako. Sheesh. Don't be all weird."

"I'm not weird," I denied. "You're weird."

I grabbed my bag, darted off the table and stuck my tongue out at her.

Her mouth dropped open in shock. Then she scrambled after me. "You're weird, weirdo!"

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Our team training ground was always free. Either Kakashi-sensei had reserved it for the whole year in preparation for his Genin team – which probably would have taken a fair amount of pull – or people just… didn't go there. Given that it also housed the memorial stone, the latter explanation wasn't as unusual as it initially seemed.

No one really wanted to interrupt someone else's grief.

Either way, it meant that I could show up at our Training Ground 3 the next day without worrying that someone else would be there, or having to go to the hassle of reserving it for us.

"Is this…" Sakura asked worriedly, hands clutched together. "A good idea?"

I smiled reassuringly at her. "Sure," I said easily. "I want to see her genjutsu in action, don't you? Besides," I added with a tease. "If something goes wrong, we have a medic-nin on hand."

I had given a bit of thought to how Yakumo might fight, and strategies to deal with that, but the spar itself worried me least out of all the issues here. It was genjutsu. I was pretty damn good at countering that.

Sakura huffed, but smiled, so I took that as exasperated-but-pleased, and ran through a slow warm up kata while we waited.

Yakumo arrived right on time, clutching a large artists bag with a combination of nerves and eagerness. Anko strolled casually beside her, hands in her coat pockets, looking for all the world calm and at ease and not like she was actually on a mission.

"Good morning!" I greeted. "Are you ready?"

"I really am looking forward to this," Yakumo said. There was something slightly off about her smile that rang warning bells very, very loudly. "Are you both going to be fighting?"

"Just me to start with," I said easily. "If we get to a round two, then Sakura might join in. Is that okay?"

Yakumo nodded, still smiling. "I should set up then."

"Be my guest." Normally, I wouldn't let someone prepare like that. But the whole point was to see her genjutsu in action, which meant letting her use her genjutsu. In a real fight, that would be akin to someone letting me start writing seals all over the floor and I'm pretty sure there was a saying somewhere about giving fuiinjutsu masters time to prepare. It kinda went "don't".

She set up an easel and small folding chair, put a blank canvas on it and started mixing paint on a palette. I watched with mild interest as she started painting with impressive speed – green for the ground, blue for the sky, then darker shades that started bringing in details and depth. The training ground took shape on the page, and she started to detail in a single, small figure-

There was a thrum, a deep, soundless vibration that rattled through the entire world. I dropped to my knees, hand coming up to instinctually press against my chest, even though I knew it wasn't my heart.

I disrupted my chakra.

"Kai." I clapped my hands into a seal, trying again, the complete process of genjutsu release that we were taught in the Academy.

The world looked… exactly the same. Me and her. The training field. But Sakura was gone. Anko was gone. I wondered, if I travelled away from here, how far it would extend. If Konoha was still there, but empty. If Land of Fire was. Further than that? Would it only be things that Yakumo knew and could project? Or things that I knew?

I swallowed. "This is your genjutsu?"

Yakumo paused, hand hovering over the canvas. "Yes," she said. "This is the true power of the Kurama clan. This is why I was the one they put their faith in, why I was supposed to restore the greatness of our clan…" She trailed off, completing the stroke of grey. On the canvas the sky being overwritten with dark and ominous clouds.

Lightning strike, I remembered. That's how she attacked the tower.

That was… not good.

I curled a tiny shard of chakra around my canine tooth, and bit my lip. It sank easily into the flesh, pain shooting out and making my eyes water.

Nothing changed.

Up above me, grey clouds started rolling in.

"It's very impressive," I said. "Genjutsu isn't an art that we see a lot. It's hard to take it to this level."

The only other greatly impressive genjutsu I had seen was-

-was-

My hands shook. I pressed them flat against my thighs. Was Tsukiyomi, I completed the thought, deliberately.

The parallels hovered around in my brain. Stupid. Stupid. Letting myself be caught in it like this. Inviting it even. I was stupid.

I had to- had to keep it together.

Had to focus.

"Yes," Yakumo agreed. "And it makes people… it makes people so jealous." She sounded distraught.

I was a little too preoccupied to share her much sympathy.

"Kurenai-sensei … I thought she would teach me how to be a ninja. That was all I wanted! To live up to the expectations of my clan, to use my genjutsu to serve the village! But she hated me! Was so jealous of what I could do that she never would… She sealed it away, took my potential from me and left me nothing!"

I blinked, breathing with forced and exaggerated rhythm. "She… sealed you?" My head was aching, like I was being forced in two different directions, like I was splitting straight down the middle.

"It's breaking now," Yakumo confessed. "I'm getting it back. For so long… I could do nothing. Do you know what that's like? To have it all take away? I hate her. I want to kill her! I want to destroy this whole place!"

Dangerous and disturbed, Tsunade had said. I was seeing it. Why had I doubted her?

Thunder rattled. Even as she spoke, she hadn't stopped painting. I was learning, but… I really also needed to keep fighting. I didn't want to find out what happened if that attack actually hit me.

"I-" I said. "I don't know what it's like, to be sealed. But I do know what it's like to be helpless. And … I do know what it's like to lose everything. But, killing Kurenai… destroying the village… that's not actually going to make anything better. You know that, right?"

The thing was… I couldn't actually feel her genjutsu. There was no probe intruding in my system. Disrupting my chakra hadn't worked, because it wasn't in my chakra. But… that left the very, very puzzling question of how the hell it was working.

"I do know that," Yakumo agreed. "But it's not just that she sealed me. It's not just that she took away my dreams." She turned to look at me, and there were actually tears in her eyes. "Just before I was sealed, my parents died when our house caught fire. The flames spread quickly, too quickly for my parents to react. But they were Jounin, they would never have been taken off guard like that. By a fire! A fire that mysteriously broke out in board daylight. The investigation ruled it was an accident but the report was sealed and kept secret. I was never allowed to see it."

I stared at her, stomach twisting nervously. I could make the same connection. Had already made the same connection.

"My parents were put to death, by order of the Third Hokage!"

"That's…" I tried to find words. "That's awful." I'd thought about what I would say to Sasuke, when he discovered what had happened, thought about it over and over, but I'd never come up with a set of magic words that would make it better. I couldn't find any now. "But… why?"

"Because they were jealous!" Yakumo shouted. "I heard them talking about it! Kurenai-sensei and the Hokage! They were afraid of the secret power of the Kurama clan – my power!"

That wasn't – that wasn't right. The Uchiha had been planning a coup, that was one thing. But…. And how would Yakumo have heard it? The Hokage was the Hokage, it would be too hard to eavesdrop on a conversation like that.

My head throbbed. The world seemed to be growing darker, like a cloud had moved across the sun. I snuck a glimpse at the painting, but it hadn't changed. Yakumo was still staring at me, chest heaving and eyes running.

"But," I said slowly, frowning. Something was niggling at me. "If they were going to seal your power anyway…"

The genjutsu wasn't on me. It was on everything around me. An illusion on reality itself. Her painting was an anchor, recasting the jutsu continuously, so that each time I breathed, each time I blinked or listened or touched, I was taking it in, submitting myself to it.

Was it still an illusion, when the world itself believed it was true? Until it ended, was it the true reality? What if it didn't end? Could she just leave it here, leave me trapped alone, alone forever?

Some part of my mind giggled hysterically.

But if seals, ink and paper and words, could reshape the world, then why not this. I had been right, about that at least. Her art and my seals were not so different.

The world was growing darker and dimmer. This, I thought with what I considered to be admirable calmness, would be a really, really bad time to pass out.

"What are you saying?" Yakumo scoffed. "That there was a reason for it? How can there be a reason that justifies what they did?"

"That's not…" I swallowed again, head splitting. "What I said."

I blinked, my eyes fuzzing like they were coming uncrossed. I thought… I could see an outline of Sakura. Anko. They were just in black and white, transparent and ghostly. But they were there.

And Yakumo. Yakumo was there twice. Once in colour, crying and yelling. Once in black and white, frozen in front of her canvas.

I was seeing double, images sliding apart and re-joining before sliding apart again. They aligned, overlapped, real and illusion at once.

The pain stopped.

I was in a genjutsu. (But I was not in a genjutsu.)

I stood up, breathing calmly, panic faded away to nothing. (My body collapsed to the ground, face pressing against the grass. I could smell the grass, the dirt, could feel the wetness of it against my face. It was real and true, even if everything was greyscale. My fingers twitched, but I was too weak to move it.)

This wasn't, I knew objectively, a good thing. When I'd trained in the clan jutsu, sometimes I had felt an echo of myself – all the things I pushed away, the things I hid and didn't acknowledge. Right now, it was strong. The mission that I had just had, this conspiracy, the reminder of Tsukiyomi… all those things made it strong.

If I had shown up to training in this state, dad would have forbidden me from using any jutsu until I dealt with it. To have your shadow become strong enough to separate

No, it wasn't good.

But.

I was in a genjutsu. (I was not in a genjutsu.)

And that meant that I could fight her. I could multitask – fight her both in here and out there. I couldn't evade the genjutsu, or break it, but I could shield that other part of myself, my shadow, from it. I could be in two places – two worlds – at once.

"What did they seal, Yakumo?" I asked.

"I'll show you!" she declared, swiveling to face the painting. Her hand lashed out, white paint striping down the page. (She moved, hand lashing out, white paint striping down the page.)

I moved, as she did, running even before the brush had touched the page. Lightning was impossibly fast, but she wasn't. (I twitched, couldn't move, but nothing changed. Sakura hovered worriedly, exchanging words I couldn't hear with Anko, but neither interfered.)

The ground exploded into pieces where I had just been standing. A chunk of stone clipped my shoulder. (The pain was a dull thump, bruising but not breaking. I made a choking sound of pain, unable to stifle it. Tears gathered in my eyes.)

She looked startled, like she couldn't believe I had dodged it.

Dodging and running wouldn't get me anywhere. I had to be able to retaliate.

I reached. Not outwards, but inwards. Found that echo, that duplicate, that line that separated me from myself and-

-switched.

I gasped into the ground, planting my hands and heaving myself up. Sakura yelled something encouraging, but I was already in motion, racing towards Yakumo and her painting. She was still drawing, readying another attack.

(I drifted along, a shadow on the ground, barely real enough to hold a form even if I wanted to. I moved closer, inching my way towards her shadow, ready to see if I could still pin her down even inside this illusion.)

From my kunai pouch I withdrew a knockout tag, hoping that if she was unconscious then her genjutsu would fade. Otherwise I could destroy the painting.

(Shadow paralysis complete, I thought, and her hand jarred to a halt.)

She scrambled away, almost falling from her chair, brush and palette landing in the grass and then froze. I darted closer, slapping the tag on her forehead and activated it. There was a long, long second as she fought it, then it took hold and she crumpled.

I barely caught her, stunned as the genjutsu snapped, the recoil of the technique slamming into my brain.

I was-

I was not-

We both sank to the ground, Yakumo's limp body pressing heavily into my stomach. It wasn't comfortable, but I just … wanted a second before I moved.

Something sharp dug into my sternum.

I froze.

"You are," Yakumo rasped, voice very, very low and distorted. "An obstacle in my path."

I contorted, heaving Yakumo up and bunching my legs under her body to launch her away. The paper knockout tag floated to the ground, useless. I rolled to my feet, crouching low for balance and stared at her.

"Secret power of the Kurama clan," I murmured. Sealed away. That was starting to make sense, at the very least.

It looked like a curse seal transformation. It was almost unnervingly like one. Darkened skin, elongated fangs, protruding horns and black sclera.

Fuck, but we ran into way too many people that were able to do this.

It didn't feel like natural energy, as far as I could tell, and it wasn't Gelel. It probably was part of her bloodlimit, but that didn't exactly tell me how to go about defeating it.

"Yakumo-"

"I," she rasped. "Am not Yakumo. I am… all the pain that gathered in her mind, all the suffering that could not be alleviated. I am… what protects her."

I very, very deliberately did not think about the parallels of that or what it could mean for me.

"You don't need to protect her here. She isn't in danger," I said, putting as much sincere authority in my voice as possible. "No one is going to hurt her."

"Liar," it rasped. "I felt it. The pain of disappointment is unmistakable to me. The pain of failing to meet the expectations heaped upon her, crushing her with their weight. My purpose is to protect her from it, to obliterate those that are responsible for it. And that means you."

I tensed, ready to jump into action. This was not good, but I wasn't out yet. If we were about to get serious, then I could get serious.

"Annnnd, play time is over," Anko said, cutting in. Her hands flashed through seals even before she started talking, and Yakumo's body froze. She slapped a paper tag on Yakumo's forehead, the same way I had done only minutes ago. I squinted at it, barely catching sight of the writing scribbled across it before it began to glow and sunk through the paper. The transformation undid itself, leaving Yakumo blinking wide-eyed at us.

She swallowed heavily. "I- I remember now," she said, voice shaking. "The one… the one that killed my parents… was me."

Oh.

"You were never supposed to find out," Anko said, though it was gentle. "Kurenai sealed the memory away, along with that transformation when it became clear you couldn't control it. Personally, not a decision I agree on." She shrugged, one shoulder rolling more than the other, and my eyes darted to the mark on it. "The question is, though, now that you know what are you going to do?"

Yakumo's eyes dropped to the ground. "I… I don't know," she whispered. "I… I…" Her eyes began to water and she started to cry.

Anko sighed, dropping a hand onto her shoulder.

I straightened from my crouch, now that it seemed everything was over. The adrenaline burst of it all was fading.

Sakura edged closer to me. "Oh, it'll be fine," she hissed, reaching out with greenly glowing hands. "This does not look fine."

I hesitated. "Looks pretty good to me," I murmured back to her. No one was dead and the truth was out, and it was much less terrifying than it could have been.

"Says the Shikabane-hime," she said, sounding torn being fright and annoyance.

I blinked at her, startled. . It wasn't an entirely positive response, but it wasn't as bad as it could be. And I'd made that joke in the first place… so, it kinda was supportive in a backwards way.

Although I wasn't entirely sure where she'd got 'princess' from.

"Yes?" I said uncertainly. "Everyone came out of it okay."

Her hands moved over my shoulder, chakra sinking in and easing the bruise there. I almost told her not to bother, but thought that that might lead to another fight. Better to just sit silently and let her heal. Once she was done, she even went as far as to touch a thumb to my lip and heal the tiny bite mark there.

"There. All done." She cast a critical look over me, like she might have missed something with her scan.

I thanked her, because it wasn't like I liked being in pain. I just didn't like the fuss that people made over the injuries.

"We're off, then," Anko said, wrapping an arm around Yakumo's shoulders and giving us a lazy two fingered salute.

"See you next time!" I said hastily, since we hadn't really discussed any future plans.

The two of them vanished in a cloud of chakra smoke and body flicker.

"I don't really understand what just happened there," Sakura admitted.

I sighed.