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
Fear is the mother of foresight ~ Thomas Hardy
I didn't exactly jump for joy when I worked out where I was. Given that my twin brother was Shikamaru I could guess pretty well what kind of time zone I was in. That didn't mean, however that the world around me was 'canon' Naruto-verse. Obviously, I was here and that was a factor that hadn't been present in the show. Many, many other things could be different.
But even if it was 'canon', Konoha had been invaded, what, twice? over the course of the show. There was the up coming war. And not to mention, on a day to day basis over half the town were highly trained, slightly unstable, killers.
I wouldn't recommend this place as a vacation, that's for sure.
This was a world where only the strong and lucky survived. The weak? Well, they choked to death on their own screams when the devil came to town.
I did not, ever, want to be so helpless again.
Like I said, the Kyuubi attack has motivated me ever since.
There was never pressure on me to be a ninja, in fact, I doubt very much that my parents even thought I would be with my 'handicap'. I could have stayed to look after the deer, I could have studied medicine, and that idea had appealed to me.
The life of a ninja was rough and dangerous. But I had played it safe before to no avail. And there was no guarantee that 'playing it safe' would save me. Civilians died far easier than shinobi, after all.
Of course, as a toddler there wasn't much I could do. I soaked up the information that was offered to me, speaking, walking, games. I don't know what I would have done during those days without Shikamaru. He was my lifeline, my measuring stick. What rate of progress should I show, could I show? What things should I be learning?
I have no doubt that I came off as an odd, deliberate child. I have the feeling that had I been born to any family other than the Nara, things would have been much trickier for me. They seemed completely unperturbed when I picked things up much faster than Shikamaru - my adult mind capable of grasping concepts easier, having much more experience learning. Given that the clan is as famed for their intelligence as their shadow jutsu, maybe it wasn't so uncommon. I tried to hold myself back, I truly did, but it was incredibly frustrating and I was desperately bored.
Of course, now that I knew that the energy I felt was chakra, I remembered some things about how it was used. The idea of being able to walk up and down walls was just so cool that I had to try learn how. Almost as soon as I started to crawl, I began to try and channel chakra to help me stick to things. Of course, I learnt quickly just how much chakra it actually took. It shouldn't have surprised me, given that I was expelling chakra through both hands and knees. The surface area of one palm alone is quite large, and to maintain a constant rate of chakra emission used up my small supply quite rapidly. There was a reason the serious ninjutsu training didn't start before eight or nine. That was when chakra reserves began expanding beyond the 'essential' chakra that fueled the body.
I spent many days napping in the sunshine after exhausting myself, learning slowly where the line for chakra exhaustion was. It wasn't, by any means, a bad way of spending my days. I most certainly didn't attempt to climb vertically. Not only would that be suspicious, I would get maybe three or four steps up before falling. That wasn't something I really looked forward to.
There were other chakra exercises that didn't take so much chakra. Anything that used chakra was technically a control exercise, and anything that was taught as a control exercise usually had other applications. Less draining than wall walking was the leaf sticking exercise - which didn't necessarily need leaves. The two exercises were opposite sides of the same coin, sticking yourself to something and sticking something to yourself. I used paper, blankets, my clothes, anything in reach. There were tiny, minute differences between the different materials and different fabrics, that required slight adjustments in the amount of chakra needed and the rate it was expelled. Once you had something stuck to you and covered in chakra, you could manipulate it slightly. There were stories of medic nin with control so precise they could fold an origami crane out of rice paper without touching it. There were chakra strings to develop control over chakra outside the body. Chakra strings were tricky in concept, but there wasn't really much difference between creating one and twenty, except in moving them after. Puppet users were masters of multitasking, apparently. Given that dozens of strings could be attached to each puppet it was no wonder that Sasori's Performance of One Hundred Puppets was legendary. I couldn't even attach two strings to different objects without getting confused, let alone start moving them.
By the time I was two, and both Shikamaru and I were capable of talking in complete, if basic, sentences - though Shikamaru spoke rarely - I would toddle around the house with one of my story books, incessantly pestering anyone in the house to read it to me. The language was all written in Japanese, and I very, very much wanted to be able to read.
I had studied Japanese once, years ago, though I will admit to never being very good at it, but it did mean I knew the difference between written Japanese and written English. English has a 26 letter alphabet, each one corresponding to a specific sound. Hiragana is a simple phonetic alphabet where each character represents a combined consonant-vowel combination and are sounded out to make words. Katakana is the same, but used mostly for foreign words. Kanji, though. Kanji. There are thousands of them. The same Kanji can mean different things, be pronounced differently, depending on where and how it is used or what other Kanji it is combined with.
I spent many hours sitting in my dads lap, finger tracing under the words as he read, trying desperately to associate the symbols with specific sounds. It was about this time that I began to suspect that being reborn had changed me - I doubt very much I would have ever been able to succeed at this before. I had been smart before, yes, but never to this degree. I think that this was another instance of my body affecting my actions - simply, the brain I was using could compute so much faster than the one I used to have.
It was a little disconcerting. It made sense, yes - the mind wasn't a spiritual entity tenuously tied to the body, it was formed by thousands of interconnecting neurons in the brain, which somehow or other lead to the higher conciousness we call 'the mind'. Realistically, it made perfect sense. That didn't mean it wasn't unnerving.
In the end, I accepted it as something useful that would help me here.
Once I could read, it was like the whole world opened up for me.
My parents must have thought I loved history, with the fevor that I read the books. To be fair, it was fairly interesting, especially given how short it was. History in my world could be measured back tens of thousands of years, not even considering archeology which could trace back several million years. Here, records were sparse before the formation of villages and practically nonexistent before the Sage of the Six Paths.
But I was researching.
I wanted to know about this world. I wanted to know if it matched with the show, however ludicrous the idea seemed. I read, struggling through children's books, then ever increasing books of difficulty. I wrote notes. I drew up timelines that were a mess of connections between this event and that. I began to understand.
(I also took note of any techniques mentioned, either basic or advanced, to look up later. To find out what was possible and what was exaggerated. Sometimes it seemed that everything was possible.)
History, especially shinobi history, wasn't really something that there many books on. It probably had something to do with the secretive nature of shinobi. Likely there were many classified events that would fill in the holes of my timeline. What I did find out was clearly written with propaganda in mind.
It took many months, and of course it was interspersed with other activites. I couldn't devote all my time to it, even had I been able to force myself to focus for so long. In that time, I also developed an interest in codes and ciphers. The ones available in the library were so low level that a ninja would laugh at them, but the puzzle to them caught my attention immediately. Also, the thought of being able to write secret notes, but I was far too impatient for that to be a true goal as I knew it would take years to create a code safe enough to trust even the basest of secrets to it. There were fantasy books and adventure books and the series 'Ranko the Rogue Ninja' which was funny, entertaining, informative and just a little disturbing, if you looked closely.
But it did prove, to me, that this world was as similar to the show as I could manage to remember.
Which lead to the condrum, what was I going to do now?
If, as it seemed, this world was the Naruto-verse, then I knew the future, or some of it. Was there anything I could do?
The answer appeared to be a staggering 'no'.
Who would believe a warning from a child? I had no method of giving warning in secret, nor would I be confident in my ability to do so. I most definitely didn't want to see what they would do to me if I came out and said I remembered a previous life. A mental institution would be the nicest of several unpleasant outcomes.
What were the big events? The important ones. The invasion of Konoha. The Akatsuki. Pein's attack. The 4th Shinobi War. Could I stop those? Realistically?
The 4th Shinobi War was caused by Madara and Kabuto. If they were removed… Maybe, maybe they could be taken out before it got to that stage. The same with Pein.
Orochimaru's invasion? I had no clue.
I needed to be strong. It wasn't an impossible goal. After all, at fifteen, Sasuke had killed Deidara and Itachi, Gaara had been strong enough, without the Ichibi, to be General Commander of the Shinobi Army and take out several past Kage. Shikamaru had taken out Hidan. S-rank didn't mean unstoppable. It was possible. But it was going to take a hell of a lot of work to get me there.
I couldn't do it alone, I knew that without a doubt. But getting the others to trust me, when I couldn't tell them why? That would be tricky.
But apart from that daunting goal, those first years of my new life were pleasant. The only time I recall the shinobi world intruding on my quiet life was when I was, maybe a year and a half old, maybe two, and Shikaku came back from a mission with two livid scars across the side of his face. He was rather lucky, one arched above his eyebrow, the other curved below his cheekbone; both missed his eye. A missing eye wasn't an insurmountable problem for a skilled ninja, but no one would argue that it was a problem.
He hadn't been gone for that long, but the scars were mostly healed, just a livid red. Either base healing rates were faster here, or they had been chakra healed. Maybe a mixture of both.
I think he was a little worried about how we would react to them. Yoshino didn't react to them, other than to maybe hug him a little harder than normal. Maybe she thought 'close call'. We, on the other hand, were too young to really understand and they did make him look rather fierce. And maybe he could be, but I'd never known him as anything other than kind and gentle.
"Daddy," I burbled, carefully running my pudgy toddler hands over them. Carefully because my motor coordination wasn't that great and I didn't want to poke him in the eye. I don't know what I would have said, but my language facilities weren't very well developed at that stage, anyway. Shikamaru pretty much just yawned and fell asleep, but that's his reaction to anything.
Shikamaru was a complete sloth, but cuddly in the way all young children are. It was lucky I had no desire to play the run-around games children play, because trying to motivate him into playing would have taken twice as long as the game itself.
Yoshino, mum, was rather esastic to have a daughter. She seemed to delight in dressing me up and braiding my hair. I didn't mind overmuch, she had good taste and chose mainly darker colours, blues and greens and reds, that complimented my dark hair and fair skin. Of course, I usually stole a pair of Shikamaru's trousers to wear under my dress, at which she would roll her eyes. The fashion of the place was strange to my tastes though I grew used to it. Wearing mesh next to your skin sounds, on the surface, like a painfully bad idea. However, it was surprisingly comfortable. It looked like it was made of thick wire, but in reality it was thin, strong wire wrapped in black fabric. This served two purposes; one to stop the wire shining, and two, so that you didn't get cheese grater skin. Some shirts also came with underlay fabric, either in black or nude.
I didn't particularly like the three quarter length pants, nor the habit of bandaging them to your ankles, but I had to admit that it was a practical way to keep them from flapping about, even if it did make your thighs look like balloons. I didn't like the open toed ninja sandles, either, but I resolved to grow used to them, because, again, they were practical. They had wide soles and deep grooves to provide plenty of grip on practically any surface, and high tops to brace ankles. The open toes were designed to stop sweating, though they did little to keep your toes warm. I was grateful that Fire Country had mild weather. The fact that they were horrendously ugly simply had to be ignored.
I missed the elegance of high heels, but seeing as how Konoha hadn't seemed to have heard of concrete paving, it was probably for the best.
Something I noticed about my parents, even in those early years, was that they were silent when they walked. I mean, they tried to make noise when coming into a room, or walking up behind us, but for them, it was a conscious thing, something they had to pay attention to do. I had no idea how they did it.
It was half technique, half simply the way they walked. I tried to mimic Yoshino as best I could. Shikaku was simply too good, whatever method he used obscured by his habitual lazy slouch.
I toddled after Yoshino, stepping as lightly and precisely as I could. Shikaku found the whole thing amusing. "My little cat foot," he would chortle, swinging me up.
Later on, I'd learn the chakra half of the Cat's Foot technique, but even without it I could move near silently on most surfaces. With it, sometimes I felt more like a ghost than a child.
We weren't trained at that age, perse, though many of the games we played seemed to have underlying meaning. There were several I was already familiar with, cats cradle and clapping games, but also many more that seemed aimed at developing limber fingers and good hand eye coordination.
Yoshino also dragged us through a warm up stretching routine in the morning, ever since we were old enough to stand on our own. I likened it to yoga, moving from pose to pose in a natural progression. It was quite astounding just how flexible and supple we were, some of those poses I could have never done in my old body. Then, I hadn't been able to touch my fingertips to the floor without bending my knees; here I could lay my entire palms flat - forwards and backwards. The routine we were taught was one that was clearly meant to be taught to children, as it came with a song to help remember the order of the poses.
Of course, trying to do all that and sing? It isn't as easy as it sounds. Actually, now that I think about it, the song is a little creepy, too. I guess that's what you get in a ninja society.
It wasn't all solitude, though. Parents here thought nothing of letting their kids run through the streets. The towering, ramshackle buildings and narrow alleyways made for the perfect setting for games of chase and hide and seek, or as they were called locally - games of 'ninja'. I can't say I particularly enjoyed those times; my 'peers' found me quite strange. It was something I could decrease overtime but the sheer deliberateness of having to relearn how to interact with others instead of simply knowing how to be sociable set me apart. You could argue that I should have been better at it, having a lifetime of experience, but I had never been particularly social and I was far out of my comfort zone. All the rules I had learnt collapsed around me like a house of cards. Kids don't talk about the weather or care about the rising price of X. There was no TV, no shows, no music. Konoha didn't have a national sport that everyone followed. We didn't yet attend school, so I didn't even have that to talk about. Most of them couldn't yet read. I was completely lost.
I watched and I listened more than I spoke, tagged along after Shikamaru like a particularly intelligent shadow, and didn't speak unless prompted or unless I was absolutely sure what I was saying would be understood and accepted.
There is nothing worse than having everyone around you laughing at you. I can still feel the humiliation burning. Maybe I should have had thicker skin, but even as an adult, a group of children laughing at me would have still set me near to tears.
It was one of these games, where we met Chouji. Everyone thinks that because our parents are friends, that's how we met. But it isn't true. Our parents are smarter than that.
They know that it's the friends you chose yourself that last through your whole life.
"You can't play ninja with us anymore!" Youbirin Suzu protested, when Chouji asked to join the game. There were only about a dozen of us, but he had established himself as the 'leader' of the game. The blocky purple tattoos on his cheeks identified him as a member of the Suzu clan. As a clan, they very rarely became combat ninja, but focused more on medical ninjutsu.
They were also known as being good musicians, particuarly with their namesake singing bowls.
The tattoos looked familiar, and I wondered if I should know of someone with those markings. Then it hit me. Rin. Kakashi's teammate Rin. The medic who had transplanted his eye. She had had those markings too. Uneasily, I wondered if she had chosen a combat role, or if the war had demanded it from her of necessity.
"But why can't I?" Chouij asked plaintively.
"Because whenever you play with us, we lose!" Youbirin retorted.
"Yeah, you're way too slow," chimed his best friend/hanger-on, Jiro Watanabe.
Chouji looked heartbroken.
"You know guys," Shikamaru said. "Without him, the teams aren't going to be even. It'd be lame, like if you played a game of shogi with one piece missing." That was my brother, I thought with fondness. He looked out for people. Chouji looked so happy at his intervention, but the next line sent his expression crashing again.
"But if you have one piece that's totally useless, it's the same thing."
"Yeah, what he said," Jiro echoed.
"It's our team, and we don't mind having one less person."
I swallowed. "We could swap," I offered. "He could be on this team." Shika looked at me in surprise, whether at offer itself or the mere fact that I'd spoken up in public. He knew how awkward I felt trying to talk to people.
Youbirin scoffed. "You're a girl. We don't want a girl on our team. So lets just play!"
"Well, if its okay with you, then I guess its fine," one of the others muttered, casting an impatient look around. They didn't care who played, as long as we started.
"Okay, then its settled!" Youbirin beamed, pleased at having won the argument. "We're so going to win this time."
Chouji lowered his head and walked off, dragging his feet. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him stop to free a butterfly from a spiders web.
"Why don't you keep playing," Shikamaru suggested, watching the path of the butterfly as it fluttered away. "I'll be right back."
I hesitated, caught between the desire to follow him and follow his suggestion. If Shika wasn't here, then I had no real reason, nor desire, to keep playing. On the other hand, if he was going to go and follow Chouji, it'd probably go better if I wasn't there. After all, they had been the best of friends. I'd never forgive myself if I disrupted that.
I bit my lip, and turned back to the game.
Shika wasn't 'right back'. The game ended and the children dispersed, so in the end I decided to go looking for him. It wasn't hard to find his chakra, but even without it, I would have been able to find him. He was at his favourite cloud watching spot, after all.
I cautiously made my way up the stairs, to see Shika and Chouji lying down on the large bench. There was a man there that had to be Chouji's father, watching the two of them with amused fondness.
I hovered, unsure whether to intrude or retreat back down stairs, when Shikamaru looked up and beckoned me over.
"This is my sister," he said to Chouji, before adding. "She's troublesome, but I've gotta look out for her."
I flushed, embarrassed, and looked down at the ground. Way to make a first impression. I didn't take offense though, because Shikamaru found just about everything 'troublesome'. "Hi."
"Hi," Chouji parroted back, equally shyly, before holding out his snacks. "Would you like a chip?"
And thus, friendship was born.
I can't say I was as close to him as Shika was; the two of them just seemed to click. But I hung around with them almost constantly, and neither of them ever made me feel unwanted or excluded. For that, I think, I will always count him as one of my closest of friends.
It was shortly after that that we were due to start school. The Academy at age five, normally, but they weren't very strict on entrance requirements. Genius children started and graduated a lot earlier, as young as deemed necessary, though they were beginning to tighten those regulations. The war with Cloud had reacted a sort of stalemate, or cold war. There was definite tension, but we were no longer actively fighting. People were beginning to cautiously hope for peace. And that meant that they could spend a lot longer training their children.
I had taken it for granted that Shikamaru and I would be attending together. It wasn't that I particularly wanted to be a ninja (though I have to admit, I wasn't immune to the lure of it, because my family was a ninja family) but Shika and I were a unit, we went everywhere together. It simply didn't occur to me that this would be any different.
"Shikako, honey," Mum said one morning after I'd finished helping her with the breakfast dishes. To be honest, I rather liked helping her out in the kitchen. I'd never been a good cook before, and that was with meals and appliances designed for speed and convienience. Learning my way around a kitchen was something I wanted to do before it became absolutely necessary. "Why don't you stay here for a moment, so we can go down to Shogakko to fill in your enrollement."
"Shogakko…?" I repeated blindsided. Shogakko. The civilian elementary school. It was…very, very rare for a Nara to go there. Even those of the clan that didn't go on to be ninja usually went through the Academy. "I'm… not going to the Academy?"
"Oh, sweetheart," she said, face softening, and sat me down at the table. Then she explained, very clearly, about how, when I had been a child they had taken me to the hospital, and I had been diagnosed as chakra hypersensitive. It meant, she went on, that I would never be able to use chakra and never be able to be a ninja.
This was the first I had heard of it, and it confused the hell out of me. I had been using chakra. I knew I had been using chakra. Nothing as obvious as a jutsu, I didn't have enough chakra for that, but I could stick myself to surfaces, and could form chakra strings and light, as well as a dozen other chakra control exercises I had run across in my reading or invented.
"But… Shika is going," I said, bewildered at this information, grasping the first point of argument that I came across. It took me a little while to order my thoughts, as it occurred to me that what I knew and what others 'knew' weren't the same. There was an inconsistency between my internal world and the external world. It shook me, probably more than it should have.
"I know," Mum sympathised. "But you're a big girl now. Wont it be nice to make friends without your brother hanging around?"
It occurred to me that I was being offered a perfect 'out' from the danger of being a ninja. It was tempting. Even if I had decided before that I was going to do something about the disasters I knew were coming… it was tempting.
But, Shika was my brother. Chouji was my friend. I knew the Konoha Twelve as characters in a story, but I still liked them. I couldn't just abandon them. I couldn't just do nothing.
"I want to go to the Academy," I said firmly, possibly the first time in my life (this time, anyway) I'd made a declarative statement. Mum looked horribly surprised.
"Shikako." She sighed. "You wont be able to learn what they're teaching. You wont be able to graduate."
"I want to go. Please," I swallowed. "I'll work really hard and learn everything else, even if I can't use chakra." I was pretty sure I could, but she had started a niggling doubt. Maybe what I had been doing was different. Maybe…
"Alright," she said, finally. "I'll talk to your father when he gets home and see what he thinks."
It wasn't a 'yes, you can go', but close to it. Dad very much went with the flow, unless he had a very good reason not to. The ninja Academy covered every topic that the civilian one did, and more besides, so there was no real argument that it would be better for me, except that I would never be able to graduate. Possibly, they were also concerned that being unable to use chakra wouldn't do a heck of a lot for my self-esteem, but ninja didn't really believe in coddling their children. Most of them were of the belief that 'a few hard knocks and they'll work out what they're doing wrong.'
I wandered outside to find Shika and Chouji, confused and surprisingly upset. Shika was watching clouds, as usual, and I lay down beside him and curled up into his side.
"Something wrong?" he asked after a moment.
I sniffed, and considered not telling him, but couldn't see why not to. He'd probably find out tonight anyway, and he might be able to come up with more arguments to convince our parents.
"I might not be going to the Academy with you," I said.
"What?" Chouji exclaimed, dropping his bag of chips. "Why not?"
"They don't think I can use chakra," I said, wrinkling my nose. "One of the medics at the hospital apparently diagnosed me as hypersensitive when I was a baby."
Shikamaru rolled the new information around in his head. "But you can," he pointed out, frowning. "I've seen you do that light thing."
I nodded. After a nightmare I would sometimes creep out of my room and into his. After a few nights of walking into things, I'd managed to learn how to call up chakra to my hands for illumination. I hadn't realised he knew that, though.
"Did you tell them that?"
I blinked, then sighed. "No?" I offered. Stupid. Now there was a simple solution. I was so stupid. I had been avoiding showing off my skills for fear of being labelled a 'prodigy', something I most definitely did not want or need, but I could have told them that.
"Alright," I said, resolved. If it came up, I'd show them. I'd rather be a prodigy than excluded.
But it didn't come to that. As I predicted, Dad had no argument against me going to the Academy with Shikamaru. That was how we came to be signed up to start the Academy at the end of summer.
formatting has become even worse since I last uploaded. Seriously? Very irritating.