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Glittering Opportunity (Hides Shadows Within)

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The call to attend the movie premier of Tale of the Gutsy Ninja came as a surprise during a lull in ANBU missions. I had vaguely heard that Director Makino requested Konoha shinobi for the filming, but Tsunade hadn’t assigned Sasuke and me. We were still too likely to be targeted as ourselves, and too valuable as Hawk and Bat, to risk on such a visible mission with such high potential for conflict.

I remembered feeling guilty when I gave Director Makino the idea to film in Land of Rain at the Princess Fuun movie premier, but had mostly forgotten about it since then. I felt like an errant dandelion, casting seeds on the wind with no control over what would bear fruit or when. At least it seemed to have gone well. Really, less than two years to create the script, secure funding, and actually produce the movie was ridiculously fast. They must have received a lot of support from Land of Rain.

Prince Michiru wanted to hire us as bodyguards for the movie premier, and it was an excellent opportunity to get A rank pay for what should be a relatively cushy B rank assignment. Not to mention the chance to renew ties and do some discrete snooping. Everyone was going to be on their best behavior with so many clients around, after all.

Either way, no one had interfered with us during the mission. We had dutifully socialized and were returning on time.

Sasuke’s comment drew me out of my thoughts, “We’re going to be called in by the mission desk to confirm our report.”

I came to attention, moving closer to mirror him, though I didn’t give any other outward cues.

“Oh?” Kakashi sensei responded, looking over at him.

Oh, he’s good, I thought, impressed by his subterfuge. The slight show of interest, after all, meant he wasn’t trying not to show interest. The lilting hum afterwards was clearly distinct from his usual flat hmm that conveyed he was barely interested and might, in fact, not be paying attention at all.

“It’ll be too normal,” Sasuke elaborated. “There’s no way they’ll believe nothing out of the ordinary happened on one of our missions.”

Was that a pointed comment? No, probably just paranoia. Kakashi and I had hid our extracurricular activities well. I know we hadn’t caused any suspicion at the time.

“Maa, I’m certain we would never be accused of lying to the mission desk.” Kakashi’s voice balanced humor with light disregard.

And really, were we lying? The mission had gone surprisingly as expected. That the parameters were just…more…than what our scroll said didn’t change that. Our primary mission of representing Konoha at the Tale of the Gutsy Ninja movie premier went off without a hitch, and our secondary, verbal-only mission given to Kakashi and me hadn’t ended in disaster either.

It was the work of a moment to make shadow clones slip away at the premier, leaving our real selves to continue chatting among the glammed-up crowd. Kakashi and I hadn’t been able to take Sasuke since he still hadn’t been read-in on Akatsuki. Hopefully that would change soon; it didn’t feel right leaving part of team 7 in the dark. I still had trouble re-integrating the returning chakra when a clone popped, but if it was able to use shadow state, I could just merge our shadows and absorb the chakra back that way. I tested it before we left, sort of anyway. It was easier if I was also in shadow state, but it's not like I would pass out if I wasn’t. Using a shadow clone was still less dangerous than going myself to poke around. The last thing I wanted was to run into Pein or Konan.

Kakashi had let me take lead, keeping pace as we made our way to Hidden Rain with all stealth jutsu active. Land of Rain was a relatively small country compared to Fire. This meant that all the main population centers were close together, and it was only a short run from the premier to their hidden village. We slipped through the faint moonlight without stirring a leaf.

The ninja hired as stuntmen for the movie, mostly Intel chunin for obvious reasons, had made a preliminary report of the regime change in Ame, but we were specifically going to hunt down information on Akatsuki. Director Makino had somehow managed to schedule the premier for a rare evening with clear skies, so it might be our only chance to investigate without worrying about Pein’s sensory rain. When I asked him how he managed that he said he just wrote to Ame to ask for the best time of year for sunny weather and was told not to worry and that it would be arranged.

Fair enough, this was a large revenue source. Even aside from the filming permits, the tourism boost would be worth cultivating. I still shuddered at the thought of that much strength though. That’s what I would be up against, if we weren’t able to convince them otherwise. The actor playing Naruto looked a bit like Yahiko (hey, I just gave the Director a suggestion – he was the one with the artistic vision), but it might not be enough. The real Naruto, our Naruto, would hopefully be able to turn him around though. I mentally shook it off and pulled my thoughts back to the weird mission desk shinobi.

“Their reactions are bound to be funny, at least.”

“Hnn,” Sasuke said.

The conversation petered out, but I hardly noticed, already thinking ahead to how I was going to explain this to Tsunade with Sasuke there.

I guess Kakashi wanted to reward us for a mission that didn’t cause him a heart attack, because he actually picked up yakitori for us on the way to our briefing without being wheedled into it. He usually hid his mother-hen tendencies much better than that. Maybe Sasuke had won a bet.

Tsunade was her usual unimpressed magnificent self. “Report. How did the mission go?”

Sasuke somehow gave the impression of shrugging while staying at attention. “It was fine, perfectly ordinary.”

Tsunade raised an eyebrow. Kakashi slouched and pulled out a book. I quickly came to our defense. “Ah yeah, yes, perfectly ordinary. But you know me and social situations, so stressful even though there’s no real danger.” Tsunade probably got the message that our secondary mission was fine too.

“Luckily we met so many interesting people at the party...you wouldn’t believe what happened with one of the extras. So this guy, Nagato, was a real jerk at the beginning of the film to everyone but Director Makino, but I think by the end he really got into the story and loosened up, even introducing his girlfriend Konan. Her hair was a really lovely shade of dusky blue - contrasted well with her outfit, and she made the most amazing origami…”

Sasuke was definitely zoning out.

“...Anyway, Naruto would love him. Considering Nagato’s hair is his favorite color and his eyes look like narutomaki he’d probably declare them cousins on sight!” I giggled. “Well, if Naruto did do that that he’d probably have to adopt the other six with him - they’re always looking out for each other, chatting by radio if they’re separated. They all have such different specialties too - one is a veterinarian, one a geologist, one an armorer...I heard the vet even helped wrangle a huge tiger for the movie.” I was careful to keep my tone light, and I could feel Sasuke’s bemusement next to me. I let a hint of empathy into my tone, “I think his seventh brother is crippled. He didn’t make an appearance, but the others were always careful to keep his needs in mind and do as he wanted.”

Kakashi and I hadn’t seen the real Nagato, though we’d caught glimpses of Konan and followed two of the Paths back to a creepy underground room. They looked eerily alike, even accounting for the different builds. I transformed us into shadows to lurk in the corner, which was easier but even more disconcerting than usual considering we were already chakra constructs and so didn’t have all the same edges as our real selves. The two had gone to sleep in cylindrical pods that retracted into the wall and a different two opened, disgorging their bodies to smoothly stand up and leave by the same door. The pods each had the name of a Buddhist Path on them and reminded me of nothing so much as morgue drawers. As if the whole venture hadn’t been creepy enough, I could tell that they were missing…something, that spark I now associated with life. Kakashi later said that they didn’t smell dead - no rot or decay - but they didn’t smell alive either. The trail of chakra leading away from them into the heart of the tower was useful though, a way to track the real Nagato if it came to a fight.

Tsunade didn’t indicate that any of this was news or ask any questions. She knew we’d write up a report and I’d slip it to her somehow during one of my all too frequent meetings for some project or another. She dismissed us, and we left to head home.

“Dinner, same time,” I reminded them. I hardly needed to, but it was habit by now. They nodded, or rather, Sasuke nodded and Kakashi didn’t give any indication he wasn’t coming, which meant he’d probably show up. I was ready for a nap, even with the surprising lack of complications. This was probably the most stressful “ordinary” mission I had ever had the dubious pleasure of going on.