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

14. Part II: Eremurus

"Obito's dead," Rin spoke, her voice hollow with grief and disbelief. "They killed him."

For Deidara, the world stopped for a second, then started again. That's absurd, she wanted to say, because of course Obito wasn't dead and Rin was just mistaken and

A small hiccup escaped from Hikari's quivering lips, and the girl began to sob. Loudly. The noise carried a bone-deep ache to it, and Deidara's heart twisted painfully as she watched a little girl mourn her father. The air was heavy with hopelessness, and Deidara swallowed, throat parched.

She couldn't see him, but Deidara knew that Sasori was shocked as well. The distress in his chakra spoke what words or actions couldn't, even when he struggled to level it, knowing that those with adequate enough training could feel it. Like her. It snapped her out of a daze, and the reality of the situation slowly began to seep into her blood and her veins, like a disease.

Hikari continued to cry, even when Rin scooped her up and cradled her in her arms, the woman's narrow face ashen.

Daichi simply stood at his mother's side, unmoving. His eyes weren't focused on Deidara, who he hadn't seen a very long time. They weren't focused at all, actually. But when Hikari's voice reached a new high, his eyes flickered red, and Deidara recoiled, hissing through her teeth.

Behind her, Sasori exhaled harshly.

There was a muffled sob from Rin, and tears dripped down her cheeks as she buried her face into the back of Hikari's shirt, wetting the fabric as her frame shook.

"D-dead?" the girl with the twin buns echoed Deidara's thoughts. For one brief moment, Deidara turned around, just in time to see a myriad of emotions pass through her expression.

The noise of the factory had died down, the only sound being Hikari'a loud wailing and Rin trying to hold it together for her children.

The back of her eyeballs stung with a sensation that she hadn't felt in a while, and Deidara took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. Quickly, so Rin wouldn't see her own tears, Deidara closed the distance between them, embracing Rin—and Hikari—tightly.

Now that the little girl was pressed between them, Rin freed one hand and used it to grab the fabric on Deidara's back, twisting her fingers in the material frantically as if her friend would be torn away at any moment.

"L-let it out," Deidara mumbled, a twin trail of tears cutting through the slight layer of dust on her cheeks. I'm sorry, Rin.

Sasori watched them for a little longer before turning his brown gaze to Daichi, who hadn't spoken a word or made a sound since they'd arrived. "Child," he said slowly, and Daichi lifted his head, Sharingan spinning. Sasori paused, before amending, "Daichi. How did this happen?"

He tried not to look too shocked when Daichi's face contorted in anger. "They shot him," he whispered hatefully, stepping closer to Sasori. "He won and they shot him!"

From the way his voice fluctuated, Sasori couldn't even begin to imagine what the worst part was, because Daichi obviously hadn't gotten to that part yet.

"But he was still alive." Daichi's voice cracked, and he furiously rubbed at his eyes. "M-maybe he would have lived if—if—!" He bared his teeth at Sasori. "Sasuke killed him, okay?! He killed him! He killed my dad."

Sasori's blank mask cracked ever so slightly when the anger faded from Daichi's eyes, leaving behind a broken, lost boy. He's only eight. The image of Obito proudly presenting his shy, curious son to him had his entire body numb, save for a prickly sensation crawling beneath his skin. It was almost like what Itachi had said. Like he was burning, and he didn't even feel it. An eight-year-old isn't supposed to know what losing a parent feels like. That just wasn't... right. It was a feeling that many of them knew—him and Deidara included—and Daichi had just been the latest name added to the ever growing list.

"Why would he do that?" Daichi demanded, his eyes desperate and searching.

"Do what?"

Sasori had to curse Uzumaki Naruto's timing. Thankfully, the boy didn't seem as loud or overbearing as he normally did, instead having a small, confused frown on his face.

"What happened?" Naruto was asking. "I went to the bathroom and now, suddenly, everyone's crying..." He looked around uncomfortably.

"Obito-sama passed away," Tenten said lowly.

Naruto's eyes widened. "What?! But, how?!"

Sasori was about to tell the boy to please shut the hell up because you're not helping with anything here but Daichi beat him to it, his Sharingan whirling faster than ever.

"It was Sasuke!" he cried vehemently. "He could have saved him, but he didnt!"

"Sasuke-teme?" Naruto reeled back, shocked. No way. Sasuke's a bastard but he... he'd never kill anyone! He was sorely tempted to tell Daichi that, but something about the boy stopped the words from ever coming out.

Deidara pulled back from Rin, trying to calm down. As much as she regretted it, they didn't have time to grieve. This factory was next on Orochimaru's hit list, and now that Obito was gone... Her stomach flipped. These barely trained civilians would be slaughtered like sheep if something wasn't done. Shit, Obito, she thought frustratedly. Do you have any idea what kind of mess you've made? It wasn't fair to be angry at a dead man, she knew, but an outlet was needed, and Obito provided one. Even in death, Obito had earned Deidara's ire for massively screwing up.

Hikari's sobbing and died down to a quiet sniffling, and Rin was taking deep breaths, trying to recompose herself. Deidara knew that Rin had come to the same conclusion as her: they didn't have time. Tears could be shed later—right now, they needed to pick up immediately where Obito had left off.

So Deidara dried her tears and turned determinedly to Sasori. "Danna," she said bluntly, "there's no way we're leaving them here to fend for themselves, un. She paused. "I remember you told me once that you'd never take on disciples. And maybe that was fine, yeah, when there was still peace." Her eyes hardened. "But this is a war now, and we can't just sit around anymore. We need to do something, un."

Disciples. Yes, that would be the next course of action, wouldn't it? Sasori resisted the urge to bite down. That would only cause him headaches, and this entire affair was already headache-worthy enough. It was all because of this war. It was forcing him to come out of his shell again and... he didn't like having his hand forced. But his duty as a martial artist called, and if he didn't answer, these innocent civilians—his friend's, Obito's, workers—would be at the mercy of Orochimaru. So he reined in his reluctance and met Deidara's gaze. "Aa. We can't afford to waste anymore time," he looked around, taking each and every one of their faces, "All of you, to the back. Now."

The moment relief passed through her cobalt eyes, he knew he had made the right decision, even if he would curse himself during the night, when he was alone.

They led the way, proud and strong and refusing to let this get the better of them. Maybe, when they were in solitude, they would grieve, but for now...

Rin swallowed when she realized just what they looked like.

Soldiers marching off to war.

----

Tenten felt like she was spiralling in a tizzy, if she were to be honest. Just this morning, she had scrubbed the faces of her fellow orphans clean and had gotten to work, sorting and beating cotton alongside other workers.

Everything had been fine. Naruto had been being obnoxious (as usual), Lee had been raving on about how majestic Maito Gai was (as usual), and Tenten had been the one to reel them in and get them to work (as usual).

Orochimaru had threatened them yesterday, but with Obito leading them, she had thought that they might have stood a chance. But now he was dead and... Tenten shook her head. Everything would still be fine.

Now, Tenten stood performing katas, sandwiched between two workers that she had exchanged words with on some occasions. They were different from the ones that Obito had taught them, but that was to be expected. It had never been explicitly stated by anyone—or perhaps nobody vocal enough had caught on—but Tenten knew that the plan was to completely overwrite Obito's training with their own.

Before the war, the gossip mill had been going full-force, and Tenten had worked in a place where it was busy almost every hour of the day. According to the grapevine, Deidara of the Big 4 and the grandson of the chicken rice store owner, Sasori, had found a kindred spirit, a rival, and a training partner in each other. Which meant that they were familiar, which, in turn, meant that they could find a way to mix and match aspects of their style to suit them.

The Uchiha focused more on offense, Tenten thought absently as she threw a clawed hand in front of her, a few inches away from the back of the man in front of her. I can see a bit of the Uchiha Style in their movements, mainly from Deidara, but other than that, their styles are almost completely based on defense. It probably came with being largely reliant on long-range attacks, Tenten deduced.

About two rows from her row, Tenten could see Lee struggling to grasp the taijutsu styles of the two artists. He was a rough, unpolished fighter, even if he tried so hard to develop his own personal taijutsu style. Being who they were, they'd never had opportunity to seek out guidance, not when they spent nearly every waking moment of their lives working. She'd had a feeling that once Lee saved up enough money to survive by himself, he would have left the factory to pursue Maito Gai's teachings. But that'd been a long time ago, and the war was draining his spirit away.

It was early evening when Sasori and Deidara finally stopped. But before they could go, Sasori spoke up.

"Keep training," he told them, and if Tenten hadn't known any better—if she hadn't seen the low flame in his brown eyes and the firm determination in his jaw—she would have thought that he had reached complete ataraxy. "Even when you're working—surprise yourselves; practice with your friends and comrades and never stop. Your hard work will not betray you, and neither will we."

"Danna's right." Tenten found her to be a little more relaxed than Sasori, but still tense. "Don't get complacent, un." Her lips quirked upward in a small, tired smile. "We'll see you all tomorrow."

And they were dismissed, all of them chattering amicably, if a little nervously, among themselves. Most of them planned to eat dinner and go home straight away. Tenten saw Daichi and a sleeping Hikari be taken home by Rin after the latter female exchanged words with Sasori and Deidara, voices low.

"Tenten?"

It was Iruka.

Tenten nodded. "Yes? Did you need something, Iruka-san?"

He gave her a sheepish, apologetic grin and held up a broom with a bamboo handle and grass like strands. "Just that it's your turn to be sweeping up the precinct. I'll save you some dinner."

Tenten chuckled. "Pass it here, Iruka-san. Also, could you hold the beans? They don't react that well to my stomach."

"Will just congee do?"

"Sure. I'm not that hungry anyway."

She thanked Iruka before taking the broom from him and moving methodically around the courtyard, humming a tune that only she could hear as she swept. At one point, a huge cloud of dust came up and made her cough and cover her mouth, momentarily lifting the broom up vertically. It was then she paused, gauging the weight of the cleaning instrument.

"Tenten! Look what your father and I got you!"

"What is it, okaa-san? Is it more shuriken?! Is it, is it?!"

"Haha, not this time. We thought that you might like to try something different, princess."

"Huh? What? Oh my gosh, is this a bo staff?! Thank you so much! I love you! Wow, this is so cool; my very own bo staff!"

Tenten blinked, memories falling out of her eyes. Letting out a small breath, she used her free hand to wipe her eyes, muttering about how the dust lying around was a hazard.

She started humming again, absently whirling the broom in her hands. Eventually, she gave in to the temptation.

"Screw it," she muttered, spreading her feet wide and going through a series of movements with the broom. Sometimes, the bristly end would whack her in the face—that was what she got for practicing with a broom of all things—but she made it work. The clouds turned blue and indigo as the sun set behind the clouds, going to bed behind a horizon that Tenten would never be able to see.

Tenten whirled through her katas comfortably, despite having not trained in a while. Her parents had both been martial artists in their prime, and had, upon retiring, had made weapons for a living, up until their death. Sometimes, Tenten found herself joining Lee and giving him a few pointers (though she stopped once she found out that he was not suited for the motions of the style she used). She always felt awkward and unbalanced when she practiced without some sort of weapon in her hand, which was pretty much all the time. It'd been hard to find someone that would sell a sixteen-year-old girl a nice weapon for a low price. It was even harder now, considering everything that had happened.

She had just finished and was going to continue with her yard work when a voice sounded from behind her, startling her.

"That was pretty good. I didn't know that you had martial arts training, un."

Deidara.

Tenten turned around, trying to seem nonchalant. "It's not really something I like to advertise. Besides, I'm not that good." Certainly not good enough to fend off that snake-man at any rate.

"I'll be the judge of that." Grinning, Deidara crossed her arms. "Why don't we have a spar, right here and now?"

Tenten did a double-take. "With m-me?"

"Well, obviously." Deidara took a look around before spotting an abandoned broom sprawled precariously between two buckets. It was one that Naruto had left without ever picking up, distracted by the notion of lunch. She picked it up and examined it briefly before spinning it around in her fingers. "Just a warning, when you have Shisui as a friend, you tend to branch out a lot in weaponry, if only for a little bit. So no holding back, yeah. If you're really as bad as you say, then you shouldn't need to be going easy anyway." She lazily twirled the broom a few more times before pointing the non-bristly end at Tenten. "Do you accept my challenge?"

Tenten swallowed a lump in her throat. Before she knew what she was saying, she agreed, "Fine. But just a quick spar, like you said. Winner has to land three debilitating mock blows on the other before they do."

The two teenagers—it was a strange notion; Deidara was only a few years older than her, but she was so much stronger and respected—faced off against each other, blue eyes meeting chocolate brown.

The evening winter breeze blew, sweeping up some more dust, and Deidara launched toward her. Eyes widening, Tenten blocked Deidara's blow with her own broom, the bamboo handle shaking under the immense strain that Deidara was putting on it. Teeth gritting, Tenten pushed back and moved the broom in such a way that it forced Deidara to shift her weight and skid back.

With a guttural cry, Tenten took the opportunity to attack, lashing out at Deidara with a whip-like strike. Deidara barely had time to block it, but she did, and their foreheads nearly bashed together. They continued like this, with one of them attacking and defending then vice versa. Their brooms knocked together constantly until Deidara huffed lightly—Tenten had pressed the handle end of her broom above Deidara's sternum.

"One," Tenten counted.

"Tsk, don't get cocky, yeah."

Tenten spluttered when Deidara struck at her ankle with her foot, causing her to buckle. When she finally gathered her bearings, Deidara had her broom hanging just above the younger girl's skull.

"One," Deidara mocked, and Tenten pushed herself up with a grunt, glaring. "What? You never specified the battle to be weapons only, un. An oversight like that is going to get your ass knocked." She smirked. "Kinda like what just happened."

"Are you done?" Tenten bit out, annoyed at having been had. "Enough talk—let's fight!" Her blood was boiling in her veins now, and she was eager to land another 'hit' on the older girl.

"If you like," Deidara mock-demurred, coming her way again.

As they engaged in battle once again, Tenten noticed that Deidara's prowess with a staff—broom, whatever—was not as good as she had thought. Now that she had gotten a good, proper look, she could spy many holes in the blonde's attacks. Inwardly smirking, she immediately took advantage of the gaps.

Deidara blinked in surprise when she felt the cold bamboo of Tenten's broom pressed against the side of her neck. Had this been a real fight, Tenten could have snapped her neck right then and there with the right amount of force. Not bad, she thought, a little in awe at the girl's ability.

"Two." Tenten's tone was decidedly smug.

"Yeah, yeah," Deidara grunted, no longer looking so haughty. "Again."

In the end, Tenten took the third point when she 'split the skin' on Deidara's shin. They were both panting slightly, Tenten looking more worn than Deidara. Why had they fought again? She'd completely forgotten.

"Tenten—right?"

Tenten straightened. "Yeah."

"I take it back," Deidara said solemnly. "You're not good, un."

Well, Tenten thought indignantly. I just beat you three to one, so you don't have any room to talk! She was going to say just that, when Deidara smirked.

"You're damn good. I almost feel sorry for Orochimaru and his cronies."

Tenten relaxed at that, then tensed up again. Was she seriously implying that Tenten could take on Orochimaru and survive? Yeah, right; she'd seen what that thing had done to Obito—she didn't stand a chance.

"It was a nice fight," Deidara said, propping her broom up against the stone walls. "I wish I could help you improve, but I don't have anything to teach you." Her voice took on a dry tone. "Which I'm sure you've noticed, yeah, considering how thoroughly you crushed me. The only hit I got on you was because of a cheap shot." She paused, her the light in her eyes dying a bit. For the first time, Tenten saw her as what she truly was: a tired nearly-adult who, along with her red-haired partner, held the lives of others in her hands. "I hope you live, un. I really... hope you do."

"Yeah, well," Tenten sucked in a breath, "I've made it this far." It was the best she could offer, especially how she had been made aware of her own mortality just yesterday by Orochimaru. It was one of the few times where she had thought that she was actually going to die.

"Un." Stretching her arms, Deidara yawned. "Well, I've got somewhere to be, and Danna doesn't like to be kept waiting." She mock-saluted her. "We should do this again sometime."

"If you're that keen about losing, then bring it on." Tenten couldn't help but grin, forgetting all about the grimness of today and the world for one brief moment.

Deidara's eyes flashed. "Hmph. We'll see, Tenten."

Sakura looked decidedly unimpressed when Deidara flopped across the bar counter while Shikamaru locked up, grumbling about how troublesome it was to have such a complicated series of locks on the door, especially since those idiot soldiers never seemed to notice who came in and out, even past curfew.

"Okay," Sakura lifted her gaze to meet Sasori's mildly exasperated one, "what's up with this one?" She jerked her thumb at a groaning Deidara, who seemed to be hungover despite not having touched any alcohol at all.

"'This one'!" Deidara sneered at her.

"This one," Sasori answered, ignoring Deidara's protests, "just got her ass handed to her by a girl three years her junior. And now she's moping."

"Dan-na!" The blonde flashed an accusing gaze at the puppeteer, who was completely unconcerned. "I shouldn't have ever told you, un!"

"This is a happy reunion and all, even though we saw you guys last night," Shikamaru said as he slid over to them. "But mind taking it downstairs?"

They didn't mind, and allowed Shikamaru and Sakura to lead them to the cellar and even further below, where the Underground lay. They must have remembered their reason for visiting, because their faces slowly fell and they set their mouths into hard lines.

A shiver ran down Shikamaru's spine. Bad news. This was extremely troublesome. Like that seal on the wall and pretty much everything else wasn't already bad enough news—these two just had to bring more? But Shikamaru had never been a fan of shooting the messenger, so he kept his mouth shut.

The first face they saw in camp was Kisame's, slowly eating out of a can of something that he had scrounged up from somewhere. His bandaged sword, Samehada, was by his side, as usual.

"Yo," Shikamaru greeted, lifting his hand lazily. "Look who's here."

"Sasori!" Kisame smirked at the sight of the red-haired man and his blonde companion. "And, hey, I've seen you around, too. Last night and before all the shit happened. Deidara, right?"

"Mm. And you're Hoshigaki Kisame." Deidara returned the smirk. "Geez, you're a lot less uptight than before, master."

The shark-man shrugged. "The club I opened is long gone now, so what's the point? And I'm not a master of anyone anymore, so don't call me that."

"Don't be a sad old man," Deidara scoffed. "That doesn't suit you."

"We bring news," Sasori interrupted before Kisame could retort. "Do you know where Itachi is, Kisame?"

"With his wife," Kisame said, "Seriously, what else is new? She's looking like she's going to pop any day now, so he almost never leaves her side."

They left Kisame to dine, and Shikamaru went off somewhere else—probably to check on the information they had on the seal one more time before hitting the hay—Sakura accompanying Sasori and Deidara to Itachi's quarters.

The two artists had grown somber again, Sakura noticed with no small amount of unease. Gods, Deidara almost looked like she was going to start screaming and tearing her hair out at any moment, and Sasori, frankly, seemed to be extremely constipated. His entire frame was tense and stiff, as opposed to Deidara, who tapped her fingers against the outside of her thigh a lot.

"Could you go first?" Deidara muttered to her companion. "I don't think..."

And so, Sasori was the first face that Itachi saw when they entered. Izumi immediately peered over his soldier to search for Deidara's face, and perked up immensely when she saw her.

"Deidara! Come to see me again, have you?" Izumi joked, putting a hand on her extremely round belly. Kisame hadn't been joking—she really did appear to be on the verge of popping. Personally, Deidara thought that she looked absolutely miserable in her condition.

Weakly, Deidara raised a hand in greeting. "Hey, Izumi..."

"Itachi." Sasori's voice was firm. "Something happened today and that you'd ought to know about."

The Uchiha shifted in his seat, stroking lazy circles on his wife's pale knuckles. He was listening, Sasori knew, and the puppet master took a deep breath.

"Obito's dead." It was sharp, concise, and straight to the point. The way that Sasori felt like it should be delivered.

The sight of the blood draining from Itachi's face and going straight to his Sharingan eyes was a sight that Sasori wished to never see again. Itachi... so pale, so bewildered.

His voice was strained. "Who was it, Sasori?"

Sasori did not answer, and a muscle in Itachi's jaw twitched in agitation.

"I asked you, who was it?"

Sasuke, was the first reply, one that was on the verge of leaving his tongue. But Daichi's account was obviously biased and muddled. It didn't make any sense to him—why would Sasuke murder Obito, who'd been shot—perhaps grievously so? No, he would not murder his cousin, but he would...

It all clicked together.

Of course. Sasori almost sighed in relief. There was only one thing it could have been, and Daichi just happened to see the world from only one perspective. It was a mercy kill. There was likely more to it, but Sasori couldn't connect the dots to form a more comprehensive picture if there weren't enough dots to connect in the first place.

Sasori closed his eyes before opening them again, his gaze hard. "Tsukigakure."

"Itachi—" Izumi was cut off when Itachi suddenly stood.

"Madara?" His voice was a soft, deadly whisper. His fury was suffocating—they could all feel it rolling off of him in gigantic, tsunami-worthy waves.

Sasori hesitated. "I'm not sure, but I'm certain that he knows about it at the very least."

Itachi's lip curled.

"You're not going to do anything rash, are you?" Sakura suddenly spoke up, reminding everyone of her presence.

Rash? Deidara stared at Itachi, gauging his reaction. Uchiha don't do rash. Not normally, anyway, but given the right incentive... Her fists clenched.

"Tomorrow," Itachi intoned firmly, gazing at all of them. "We will not go hungry."

Izumi's breath hitched, and Deidara felt a surge of pity of her dear friend.

I hope, she said silently, watching as Izumi stared down at her hands in mild shock, as Sakura tightened her lips and gave a firm nod, as Sasori resigned himself to Itachi's next course of action, That Obito is the last one.

She closed her eyes, and, behind her eyelids, Obito smiled one last time and waved before turning his back to her and walking into the darkness, disappearing forever.

----

"Ne, Danna?"

"What is it, brat?"

"What do we do now?"

A pause.

"Now?

"Now, we wait."

-----

"Thanks to Sasori's help, we've nearly figured out the seal. Tsk, it would have saved us a lot of trouble if we knew that he was proficient in seals..."

"Maa, what's done is done. We have one quadrant left. Then... we can finally leave this place."

"Otou-san..."

"Hm?"

"What do we do then?"

A pause.

"Then?

"We'll go to our allies."

----

"Okaa-chan."

"Yes, my little light?"

"What are we gonna do... without otou-san? What?"

"What? We... we'll survive.

"Just like he would want us to."

----

"I want her back, Hanabi."

"I know.

"I want her back, too."

 

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