Trial of Man

[AU - Historical Fantasy] The peaceful city of Akatsuki is taken over by hostile forces when the country of Amegakure is invaded. Suddenly, what they once had is now a luxury, but their will to survive burns strong beneath newfound oppression. fem!Deidara/Sasori. Cover image does not belong to me. Loosely based on Ip Man and the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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Author's note

Starts off relatively lighthearted, but then escalates into darker themes.
AA

9. Part II: Iris

"Shh..." Sakura hushed as she placed a damp cloth over the woman's burning forehead to try and further bring down her fever. "You'll be fine in no time. For now, please rest."

"T-thank you..." The woman's eyes closed, and her breathing evened out as she fell into sleep.

"Just doing my duty," Sakura murmured, even though she knew the civilian lady was already asleep and had no chance of hearing her. She pulled three thin blankets over her, until everything except for her nose and above were covered.

The Underground's makeshift medical center was not impressive, to say the least, but they had to make do with what they had. Sakura could hear shuffling and an irritated groaning coming from the other side of the small hut. It was where Kisame was currently recovering, and the area had been curtained off.

Sakura pushed past the curtains. "Hey, big guy. I don't think you should be moving around too much." She crossed her arms. "If you don't do what I say, you'll be in a world of further hurt."

Kisame, who was sitting up and seemingly trying to touch his toes, stiffened before shooting her a sharp grin. "What kind of medic threatens her patients? With that kind of bedside manner, I'm starting to doubt whether you're qualified or not."

"When you've trained under Tsunade of the Sannin, proper bedside manner is just one of the many things that go unaccounted for. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but if Shizune and I weren't here, you'd be dead." She shrugged. "Such is life."

"Adorable," Kisame said in a tone that indicated he clearly meant otherwise. There were dark circles under his eyes; he had not rested well for the past few weeks thanks to the combined pain of his injuries. Sakura had administered pain killers, but refused to give him doses that wouldn't allow him to become virtually numb.

She hadn't looked in a mirror for a while, but Sakura strongly suspected that she didn't look too spiffing either. After checking on Kisame's health, she stepped back from his bed with an approving nod. "You're healing up nicely," she said in a clipped tone, going back to her medic mode. "I bet that you'll be up and about in a few days."

"Then why does it hurt so much? My back."

"Because I had to cut it open multiple times to retrieve shards of glass embedded in your flesh," Sakura replied without even a blink. "Speaking of, your body has amazing healing properties—far beyond the average human's. You're in good shape for your age thanks to your taijutsu training. That's got to be a factor, but it still doesn't explain why you healed most of your superficial wounds so quickly."

Kisame shifted in his bed, gingerly lying back and clasping his hands over his stomach. "Clan thing," he said shortly, obviously not willing away to give away whatever secret that was behind his fast healing.

Sakura nodded, knowing how people could be protective of clan secrets. The Sharingan was one such example—no one but the Uchiha knew a lick about it. But the general assumption was that it copied movements and seared them into one's memory. The Hyuuga's Byakugan was also an anomaly that no one except a Hyuuga could replicate; the eye gave the user the ability to see through surfaces. To make sure that chaos would not erupt, there was a ban placed on the Hyuuga's Byakugan, stating that the dojutsu could not be used outside of combat. It went for the Sharingan as well, but considering the police force had been made up of mostly Uchihas...

But this was no time for secrets. Sooner or later, Sakura vowed, she would find out the secret behind Kisame's healing factor. She left Kisame to rest and exited the medical hut, looking around her surroundings. The place was mostly empty, with most hiding out in abandoned buildings.

The Underground's population had experienced a great decline thanks to the shortage of food. Lack of water was of no concern for now as it rained regularly, but they were slowly being drained of their rations. Right now, there were only about twenty people left that were living in the Underground City. After a successive chain of deaths—mostly civilians unused to hunger and sickness (but then again, weren't they all?)—many had chosen to up and leave. It was their decision—no one had stopped them. Sakura, Itachi, and Shikamaru had guided them through the beer hall and let them outside.

Sakura's shoulders drooped as she dropped the front she put on in front of her patients, the life seemingly sucked out of her. I feel dead on my feet. A nap is seriously in order... She lifted her head to eye the building that she knew Ino stayed in. She visited the blonde girl every day, and Ino was slowly, slowly getting better. They'd been good friends before the war, and a stone of guilt and hopelessness had formed in the pinkette's belly with each passing day. But Ino hadn't inquired as far as she knew, and the subject of Hitomi had simply never come up.

Yamanaka Hitomi. Five years old. Blonde. Female. And had memorized the lock combination of the beer hall, gone outside to search for her sister, and had never come back.

There were the sound of voices when Sakura was about to retire to her room for the night. Shikamaru and Choji were returning from their shift at the beer hall, and carrying a few bottles of alcohol. They noticed her immediately, and went straight to her.

Shikamaru held out a bottle as some kind of offering, his brow raised.

It was tempting, Sakura had to admit. But I'll end up staying up all night and be even deader in the morning. She shook her head. "Thanks, but no thanks."

"It's no fun if only two of us are drowning our sorrows," Shikamaru remarked casually, his arm and the bottle dropping to his side. "Choji's a sad drunk."

"Hey," Choji objected. "Last time you said I was chatty. Make up your mind, why don't you?"

"Too troublesome..." There was this look in Shikamaru's eyes that made Sakura fear for his health. His will had brought him this far, but even that was slowly crumbling.

Because of Ino, Sakura realized, that guilt returning again. Shikamaru often visited Ino with her, and tried to ease the long-haired girl into opening up more. Sometimes it worked, other times the presence of a male was too off-putting.

"I'm sorry," Ino had said meekly last time. Ino had never been meek before that. She'd been outspoken and fierce, and—and—

"On second thoughts," Sakura said, "I think I'll join you in drowning those sorrows."

Shikamaru handed her the bottle. "Wise choice."

Hardly, Sakura thought as they retreated somewhere else. Then again, when have I ever made wise decisions? Sasuke's face flashed through her mind. Now's not the time. Just open the bottle already.

----

The sun was not yet up when Deidara's eyes snapped open. She lifted her head off the arm of the couch, her neck cricking uncomfortably. She looked around the room, seeing nothing but darkness, and swept her legs off the cushions.

Dammit, she hissed inwardly when she stubbed her toe on something. The woman continued to fumble her way through the dark, trying not to wake Hitomi, who was undoubtedly still asleep in Deidara's bed.

The last clothing raid they had done—when Hitomi had picked up her pink kimono—had ensured that both of them had adequate sleepwear and outdoor clothing. The tiny courtyard behind the apartment was often frequented now that Hitomi was around, leading to dirtier clothes.

Deidara tied her hair differently this time, pulling back all of her locks in a bun, including her famed canary's wing fringe. Hair curled around her ears, but that was of no concern. I think the dinner table's over here. She reached out, feeling smooth wood. Yeah, okay. That means the door... She moved to the right, one hand outstretched in front of her. Her fingers and hand-mouth found the door, and she exited the room to meet a cold outdoors. Her apartment was on the uppermost floor, meaning that she had to walk down a flight of stone steps.

It was a little less dark outside, as the very top of the sun was starting to peek over the hills, whitening the clouds that shaded it. Deidara's stomach grumbled—a grave reminder of what she was about to do with an empty stomach.

She walked through the streets without her hood, her posture slightly slouched in the perfect depiction of a worn and weary civilian man. She was glad that it was dark, as her left eye was particularly sensitive to light, hence why she kept her hair the way she normally did.

If she made it quick, she'd be back before the afternoon.

Deidara pulled out a brown piece of paper from the sleeve of her solid black Akatsuki cloak. Obito's house... that's miles away from here. But she was hungry and there was a young mouth to be fed, so she'd have to suck it up and deal with it. I'm not sure how much one bag of rice is, but... A quick assumption and some simple math calculations told her that one bag would be enough for about three weeks between her and Hitomi. The girl was already malnourished enough as she was—she needed to be fed more than she was currently eating. This is such a pain. I really wish I'd left her to those soldiers, un. She certainly meant it now, but she knew she'd not mean it in the future. The girl had rubbed off on her, and Deidara was paying the price for her soft heart.

As she journeyed to Obito's mansion—now a Tsukigakure stronghold if the flyer was any indication—she recited the story that she'd busied herself with over the past week. She was nearly halfway done with the book that had come from the bin; despite trying to limit herself to one page per day, that cursed curiosity had taken over her.

The sun had almost fully risen when she saw Obito's house in the distance. Deidara quickened her pace, and a growling vehicle containing about ten Tsukigakure soldiers drove past her without even a glance. Deidara grimaced. Those machines... those were going to be ours if they'd never come. Obito was boasting about getting one. Good thing they didn't notice me...

She was just another hungry civilian, after all.

Ten minutes later, however, another patrol approached her. And this time, they were foot soldiers. Deidara halted this time, feeling cold water splash onto her back when one of them called out to her.

"Where're you going so early in the morning? Curfew ended not long ago."

Deidara turned to see two dark-haired men—one of them was wearing a mask—staring back at her.

"Maa, leave him alone," said the one with the mask, turning to the other one. His voice was slightly distorted. "He's probably just trying to earn food for his family, just like the rest of them."

"Hn." The man—the Uchiha—without the mask harrumphed and turned away. "Fine. Let's keep going, Kagami. Sasuke-taichou is expecting us soon."

Sasuke. Taichou. Deidara gave them a stiff nod as they passed. I can't believe this. That brat would really turn on his own? And for what? Survival? Well, if that were the case, he couldn't certainly be blamed, especially when there were clearly other Uchiha that were on the other side of the coin as well. Regardless, if the people knew, morale would stoop even lower than it already is. Do they? Sasuke had been an emblem of justice for the majority of the community, despite being a teenager still trying to find his place in the world.

Her chakra rolled off her in waves of anger and disbelief, and a few clay spiders dropped out of her sleeve and crawled into an abandoned building. Screw this. I'll be out of here before they know it. Katsu!

Deidara's cloak whipped behind her as the building exploded with a loud boom! and flames burst into the air. She'd obviously exploded something flammable. Her piercing blue eyes, large against her gaunt visage, practically glowed with a new vengeance as the fire reached its peak height. That pitiful excuse of a police officer was supposed to be Daichi's mentor—his role model. She'd never had any illusions about him like the boy, but she'd never taken him for such a coward. What had happened to that famed Uchiha pride?

The answer came to her a heartbeat later, and her rage died down almost as fast as it came. Pride, Deidara thought numbly as she neared the former Uchiha premises. What a worthless thing it is now. She wasn't the only one there—there were perhaps two other prospective challengers that lived in the nearby vicinity that had come for a battle. Something like pride...

They were escorted to the indoor arena by Tsukigakure soldiers.

... Will only get you killed. Deidara's heart wrenched with an indescribable feeling as she thought of the building she'd blown up just minutes ago. It had crumbled under her might, weak from lack of care and maintenance. Just like everything else; we're all crumbling to dust here.

The Tsukigakure martial artist that another was fighting before her bowed to him in a show of respect. The man was too tired to replicate such a display.

It was over too quickly, really. He left bloodied and bruised and without supper. From the way his clothes hung on his thin frame, Deidara had the suspicion that he would not be making it through the night, especially with injuries of that caliber.

"Next," the proctor on the upper floor droned out, and Deidara tilted her head backward to see the bored face of a white-haired officer with a bandanna wrapped around his head. Their eyes met, and the officer scowled. "That means you, pal. Go on; don't be shy. You're getting a free meal out of this."

Fucker, Deidara absently thought as she stepped onto the ring, her opponent bowing to her. It was the same taijutsu user that had fought against the civilian man from before.

She slid into a stance. "Please." Her voice rang out, rich and deep.

"Please," her opponent uttered in return. His own stance was one that was utterly unfamiliar to Deidara, but if she was anything, it was versatile. She was both predator and prey, and that meant learning how to adapt.

Their arms met, and the larger man attempted to jab her through her defense. Deidara's bones shuddered but the blood in her veins was roaring, and she smacked the his cheek with the palm of her hand.

He stumbled backward, obviously surprised at the amount of strength she was hiding beneath that cloak. The Tsukigakure man rolled his shoulders, and charged again, this time more careful with his movements. Unfortunately for him, his mass was not directly proportional with his speed, and to Deidara, he might as well have been a turtle. She jumped and skipped backward to dodge his punches and kicks before leaping up into the air and striking him in the neck with her foot.

The man was out like a light, and Deidara landed gently on the tatami mats, her cloak billowing out for a moment before settling around her thin form. She glanced upward at the proctor, eyes narrowed. "My reward," she wanted to say, but the man had a gun and she had a brain that she did not want blown out. So Deidara kept her silence, and, eventually, someone tossed a bag of rice at her feet. She picked it up, and a pang of disappointment hit her when she realized just how light the bag was. Forget three weeks, she mourned, this won't even last two.

The soldiers escorted her outside before leaving her somewhere with nary a nod or blink. Grunting, Deidara straightened and began the long walk home, the sack of rice slapping against her thigh as she moved.

She was nearly home when a shouting caught her attention. Wearily, she lifted her head, her hair falling around her face, having come undone from the high knot she had made in the morning. After a moment's deliberation, she untied her blonde locks, allowing her fringe to fall back over her eye.

Let me guess, she thought dryly, tossing the sack over her shoulder, resigned. Another damsel in distress. A look won't hurt, but I won't be having anymore brats near my house. She wasn't sure if she could trust her heart, and walking towards the suspicious noise was always an inherently foolish move, but—

Deidara's eyes widened ever so slightly when she saw a girl a few years younger than herself break a man's nose with an open palm strike. There was already another man lying on the ground, his limbs splayed out awkwardly. The girl looked to be ten or eleven years old, and her dark hair whipped around her face as she steadied herself, panting slightly. She pushed her hair back and turned to look at Deidara, Byakugan activated and pulsing. Everything about the young preteen radiated command that was not easily broken, and Deidara shifted her weight in preparation for a confrontation.

"What do you think you're doing?" the girl—a Hyuuga, it would seem, if the dojutsu was any indication of her heritage—demanded. Behind that commanding exterior, there was also weariness that came from weeks of running, hiding, and altogether hoping for the best. "You..." She narrowed her eyes. "Who are you? I've seen you before."

"Who am I?" Deidara's voice was hoarse from disuse, and she cleared her throat. "No one too special, un. What about you, Hyuuga? Which one are you?"

"Answer my question," the Hyuuga said sharply. "I'm not in the mood for games. I'm on an important mission."

Oh, she was just adorable, wasn't she? Deidara chuckled darkly. "What do you know, so am I. But those dead soldiers are going to be a problem for both you and I if you just leave them here." Because, yes, they were obviously dead. She hadn't seen it, but Deidara was almost certain that shards of bone had pierced his brain when the girl had struck him upside the nose. And from the way the other man looked—with his limbs splayed awkwardly; lying face-down—he was dead, too. "You must not be from around here, un." Deidara pretended to be preoccupied with looking around their surroundings. "Patrols come around every five minutes along that main road. About one out of three of them take a looksie in dark, dangerous alleyways like this, un. Idiot," she added as an afterthought, because it'd been too long that she had wound someone up.

"I—" The Hyuuga sucked in a breath between her teeth. Hadn't thought of that, hung unspoken in the misty morning. "What do you suggest we do?"

"Well, I do have a few... devices, but they're too loud. There'll be more soldiers coming in... approximately three minutes, so I suggest stuffing them into that bin over there."

There was a beat, and the two girls stared each other down.

Then;

"Wait, that's it?" The Hyuuga did a slight double take before recovering. "Just... stuff them in there?"

Deidara cocked an eyebrow shrewdly. "If you have any better ideas, I'm listening."

Moments later, the two bodies had been shoved into empty trash cans.

"Now," Deidara said, dusting her hands. "What's a kid like you doing out here?" She kept on ear out for the approach of soldiers, but there were none.

"... Hanabi," the girl reluctantly said. "My name is Hyuuga Hanabi. And as for why I'm here... that's none of your concern."

"Then you can call me Deidara. I'd love to stay and chat a little longer, but I'm hungry and the brat that lives with me is probably hungry."

"Oh. You have a daughter? A younger sister, perhaps?"

Deidara immediately scowled. "Hell, no. I'm nineteen. And hell will freeze over the day I'm related to that thing." She looked around warily. "It's not safe out here. Don't stay here for too long, Hyuuga-chan."

Before Hanabi could protest, Deidara disappeared around the corner and made a mad, but silent, dash back to her home, not stopping until she reached her front door on the uppermost level.

The kid could take care of herself a little too well, Deidara had decided. She didn't need to be further burdened, and Hanabi had been there for a purpose—one that she would not disclose—which gave her less reason to bring her into her home.

Though, she silently mused. I have a feeling that this won't be the last I see of her. The Hyuuga are not allied with the Tsukigakure military in any way, last time I checked.

Deidara hadn't even stepped inside when a small figure tackle-hugged her, sending her stumbling backward a few steps. "Wha—Hitomi?"

"You were gone!" Hitomi yelled, glaring up at her with tears in her big blue eyes as she pulled away.

"I had to get us food, yeah," Deidara explained, uncomfortably. Why is she so...?

"You were gone," Hitomi repeated, more quietly this time. She looked down at the cold stone floor. "I... thought you left me for good."

"I..." Deidara let out a frustrated sigh. "Look, kid, even after all the trouble you caused me, you're still here. Why the hell would I leave you now, hm?" She moved inside, closing the door behind her. The older blonde tossed the bag of rice onto the dinner table, and then turned to stare down at Hitomi, arms crossed. "Well?"

Hitomi bit her lip. "I thought I was gonna die!"

"Don't be so over dramatic. Like I'd let you. Besides, you could survive a few days without me if you really tried, un."

"So what?" Hitomi looked like a hen left out in the rain.

Sighing again, Deidara tentatively reached out and ruffled Hitomi's hair. "So, nothing. I'm here now, okay? And trust me when I say I won't be going out there for a while. The food will last us approximately two weeks if we ration it." She hesitated, then went on, "After that, I can't make any promises. I'm going to have to go out for supplies, whether you like it or not."

"Then let me come with you! Maybe then I can find Ino-nee—"

"No way," Deidara interrupted. "You'll only get in the way."

"But—"

"Shut up, I'm going to make breakfast."

"Argh!" Hitomi glared after Deidara's retreating back. "I wouldn't be a li-ah-bi-li-ty if you trained me! So there."

Deidara halted, and Hitomi shrunk back. Had she said something wrong? Perhaps she had used the word 'liability' in the wrong context.

Hitomi's tiny heart beat faster as Deidara turned around with something pensive in her eyes. Perhaps... she would say yes?

"No," Deidara flatly refused.

Ah.

"Ehh?! Why not?" The seriousness of her request had officially gone over her head, and Hitomi stepped forward. "Is it because I'm a girl?"

"Little idiot!" Deidara snapped, temper flaring. "In case you've forgotten, I'm a girl, too! I don't want to train you because you have absolutely no idea what you're asking of me, un."

"Then I'll train myself!"

"Fine."

"Fine!"

Deidara kept one eye on her when Hitomi stormed over to Deidara's training dummy and began to move it around experimentally. That little brat better not fucking break anything, un.

Barely five minutes later, the wooden dummy's arm had whacked Hitomi across the head and caused a red mark to appear. She cried out in pain and whimpered, clutching the mild wound.

Deidara, who was over by the fire warming herself up as well as waiting for water to boil, sighed and got up. "And this," she gestured mockingly to Hitomi, "is why I said no. Hurts, doesn't it?" It didn't appear that the skin had broken, and Deidara had seen the little force the arm had hit Hitomi with, so she would be fine in a few minutes.

"I won't give up," Hitomi hissed, hating the haughty look on Deidara's face. "You'll see... I'll be strong enough to find Ino-nee."

That made Deidara pause, staring into nothing as Hitomi attempted to 'train' some more. Right, the Yamanaka heir. She'd suspected for some time now that Hitomi had left whatever safety she had once had to search for her big sister. It was something that she could grudgingly respect and perhaps admire despite the foolishness behind it.

Frustrated with her lack of progress, Hitomi whacked the row of spinning arms closest to her, causing them to gyrate violently. She yelped and flinched, but then Deidara was there, stopping the movement by grabbing one of the arms and holding it in place.

Hitomi tilted her head backward, eyes wide. "Huh...?"

"Sunrise, back courtyard, tomorrow morning," Deidara said brusquely, letting go of the now still arm. "Don't be late."

The water had finished boiling, and Hitomi could only stare after Deidara as the older girl went to tend to it.

Then Hitomi burst into a fit of quiet giggles and she smiled. Yes!

----

"Explain," Sasori said forcefully, eyeing the giant bruise on the side of Obito's face. His eye was swollen and half-closed. "Explain to me why the hell you thought it was a good idea for you to face two at once."

"Ah, well," Obito chuckled, the sound coming out strangely. Both men were currently seated in the kitchen of the Uchiha's home above the closed dango shop. "You see, there was this old lady that I helped cross the road... and she told me a sad story about how her son died fighting the big bald one. So I asked to fight him as well to avenge the old lady's son."

"Meaning," Rin said icily as she walked into the room, carrying a medical kit with her. She placed it on the table between the men and opened it up. "That this absolute idiot decided to put his life on the line for an extra bag of rice." She looked conflicted—torn between grateful, mad, and worried.

Obito winced when his wife started to dab at a laceration on his cheek with a cotton bud.

"Oh, suck it up," Rin whispered. "And don't go out to fight again. Not now, anyway. And don't ever do something so foolish again!"

"Maa, Rin..." Obito gave her a tired smile. "I'll try not to."

Sasori grumbled. "Your idiocy astounds me, sometimes. At least Rin-san is sensible."

"Hey, no hitting on my wife," Obito joked lamely. "Ouch, hey!" he complained when Rin dabbed particularly hard.

"My hand slipped," Rin demurred, a hint of mischief in her eyes. The small sparkle quickly disappeared. "I know how much you always pester Sasori-san when he comes over, and I'm sure he's tired of hearing about having to find a wife."

"Sorry," Obito apologized to both of them. "In these bleak times, I guess I'd just like something new to look forward to."

"Yes, well," Sasori looked out the window, "This is not up for debate. And I'd rather not hear about it; I get enough of it from the old dungeon bat."

Obito cackled. "Dungeon bat!"

Sasori cracked a small smile. "Aa. Speaking of, I should get going before curfew starts. I'll see you next time." Itachi will be pleased to hear that Obito is doing fine. Still being an idiot, despite everything. As for Sasuke...

That bridge could be crossed later.

Sasori was long gone and Obito had returned to the factory when Daichi and Hikari tumbled out of their hiding spot in the bathroom.

"Did you see otou-san's face?" whispered Hikari. "What happened...?"

"He got beat up," Daichi uttered, his face flattening into a frown. Otou-san...

"Daichi-nii?"

"Huh?"

Hikari held his hand. "I'm scared."

"... Don't be. Nothing's gonna happen."

"Swear on it?" Hikari held out her pinky.

Daichi hesitated. When he looped his pinky around hers. "Yeah, swear on it."

----

"A competition for rice?" Itachi echoed.

"Exactly what it sounds like," Sasori replied. "You should participate."

Itachi looked around at their campsite. "No. We have enough food as it is, right now. We are running scarce, but we will be able to scavenge more. But if things become worse..." Itachi closed his eyes. "I will do it."

"... It's because of Izumi, isn't it?"

"She's due any day, now," Itachi confessed.

"I understand. I should go."

"Sasori; always in a rush."

"I have to be, if it means dodging soldiers past curfew." Sasori turned his back on the Uchiha. "Goodbye, Itachi."

Sasori had just left when Hyuuga Hanabi returned from her daily explorations above ground. "Itachi-san," she said. "I found Deidara."

----

A brown-haired girl with her hair tied in a low ponytail was sweeping the Nohara-Uchiha teahouse front when a colorful kite caught her attention.

Chihiro tilted her head to one side.

A hand clamped over her mouth before she could scream.

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