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

16. Part II: Cactus

"AARRGGGHHH!"

The scream of a man in agony did not even faze Sasuke anymore. Screaming was normal. Silence... was what he was really wary of.

Beside him, Mizuki's beady little eyes were gleaming in satisfaction and cruelty, while Madara was almost entirely unmoved. Personally, Sasuke thought that he looked bored.

Mizuki attempted to lull his superior into conversation, babbling eagerly about how Taro had crushed his opponent and so on.

Madara turned to Sasuke. "Why hasn't Uchiha Itachi returned?"

"I..." Sasuke hesitated, stepping a bit closer to the general. "I don't know, sir."

"Hn. Find him."

Dammit. "I don't know where he is." It wasn't a lie. He truly didn't know. "I don't know how to find him."

Madara stared straight ahead. "How big is Akatsuki? How," he whirled around, eyes flashing in irritation, "hard can it be to find him?!"

A bead of sweat dripped down Sasuke's cheek as he inwardly cursed. "Akatsuki is indeed very big..."

Smack! Sasuke's eyes widened in shock as he was hit across the face with a baton, then kicked in the stomach. As he fell on his back, he saw Madara still in his original place, a pissed of Mizuki towering over the teenager. Anger boiled in his chest, but there was nothing he could do against the adviser. By everything except strength and skill, Mizuki was more powerful than him.

Mizuki slashed upward with his leg, nailing Sasuke on the soft underside of his chin and sending him sprawling, hissing in pain.

"Useless thing!" Mizuki berated. "What do you mean you don't know where he is?! Tell us, you Ame dog!"

Sasuke defiantly stared him down, refusing to make another sound. Infuriated, Mizuki continued to kick him—and Sasuke, for all his Uchiha pride, let him.

"Enough."

Mizuki's leg stilled at Madara's command, and he straightened before returning to his place beside the general.

Sasuke gritted his teeth, his cheek pressed against the floor as the new bruises on his ribs and torso ached. "Asshole...!"

Itachi was right. Itachi was always right.

He really was the general's dog.

And he didn't like it at all.

If this is surviving, then I might as well be dead.

----

"And this, sir, is syrup for okaa-chan," a boy with missing front teeth told Itachi. "It's really sweet and tasty, but okaa-chan doesn't let me have any."

Kazuki's sister, Asagi, was pregnant—about five months along—with her second child. Her eldest son, Shogo, was currently showing him what kind of home-made supplements Asagi used.

"I'm sure it's for good reason," Itachi answered. He was waiting for Asagi to finish hanging their clothes on metal wire that stretched across the interior of the Shimizu residence.

"Since oji-san isn't coming back for a long time," Shogo said, "Can you stay with us so you can protect okaa-san and soba? You're nice, mister. Just like oji-san is."

Itachi's gaze saddened. "I'm sorry, but I can't." Hesitantly, he poked Shogo in the forehead with his fingers. "This is your family, not mine. One day, you'll grow up strong, and you won't need me to protect them."

He pouted. "Then why did you come?"

"Your mother is pregnant," Itachi explained. "I'm here to pass on some vitamins and supplements to her. All of them were created by a good friend of mine and approved by an extraordinary healer. This will help your mother."

It was at that moment that Asagi finished with the laundry and overheard. "Oh, you really didn't have to." She smiled wearily. "You've already done so much for us already. I'm sure your own wife must be missing you."

"I'm not staying long," Itachi told her as he passed on the bottled concoctions to her. "I wish your family well, Asagi-san."

Tears welled up in her eyes. "Th-thank you, Uchiha-sama."

"Wait!" Shogo ran after Itachi as he exited the door of their single-room residence. "Why don't you stay for a bit? Just for a game of hide and seek with me and my friends? Please?"

At that, a few dirty-faced little boys appeared from nearby houses and shelters, their eyes wide with innocence.

Itachi stilled as Shogo tugged on his sleeve and continued to plead, more young voices joining in. Asagi shot him an apologetic look, and he sighed.

"One game," Itachi conceded.

"Yay! You're it, okay?"

Itachi nodded, taking each and every one of the children's curious faces as they tentatively crowded him.

"Close your eyes and count from ten!" one particularly bold child ordered, and Itachi smiled slightly.

"Aa." Turning around, Itachi lifted his hands to cover his eyes. "Ten..."

There was the sound of scurrying feet and smothered giggling.

Unbeknownst to Itachi, Shogo was desperately looking around for a spot. He glanced over to his mother, who was observing from the doorway, for help, and Asagi mouthed something and pointed to a sheltered area. Shogo beamed and ran to hide.

"Three... two... one..." Itachi turned back around and uncovered his eyes. "Ready or not, I'm coming." His face immediately hardened when he saw who was approaching him.

Sasuke.

His brother looked a bit scuffed up. "Itachi. I thought I'd find you here."

Itachi met his gaze evenly. "Why are you here, otouto?"

Sasuke used a second to compose himself before replying, "Madara wants you to go back and fight him."

"... Leave."

His little brother grimaced. "I... can't."

"Bang!"

Itachi peered around Sasuke's shoulder, narrowing his eyes. That was Shogo.

Shogo emerged from behind a building, grinning his gummy smile as he walked backwards, his fingers formed in a 'gun' sign. Gleefully, he exclaimed childishly, "Bang! Bang, bang! Bang!"

"Bang!" an older voice chorused, and Itachi's blood chilled. "Bang, bang!" As he feared, Mizuki appeared right after Shogo, looking incredibly amused as he aimed his pistol at the boy's head and made mock firing motions with it. Two other soldiers appeared behind him.

Itachi rushed at Shogo, whisking him to the side and holding him protectively. "What the hell are you doing?!"

Asagi lunged for her son in terror, only for her foot to hit a metal bucket noisily. Mizuki's eyes flitted over to her.

"Huh," Mizuki said appreciatively, moving toward her. "How pretty."

Asagi stepped backward into her house, eyes wide with fear. "St-stay back!"

When Mizuki made no move to stop, Itachi blurred in front of him, drinking in the shock in his gaze before kicking his legs out from underneath him. Mizuki collapsed on the front step after falling forward. He hadn't even stilled before Itachi grabbed him by the back of his collar and twisted him around, palming him in a vertical motion that had his head snapping upward. With a fluid grace only he could ever achieve, Itachi knocked him into his fellow soldier, causing the soldier to stumble and crash against a stone wall.

The other soldier, crying out in surprise, made to hit Itachi with the butt of his rifle, only to be quickly disarmed and kicked in the face. He landed unconscious on the ground.

Leaving the fighting to his brother, Sasuke grabbed a confused, wary Shogo and pulled the child toward him, muttering curses under his breath.

Itachi had the soldiers taken care of in no time, and the worst damage he had received was dusty clothing. He patted down his garb as Sasuke slowly approached him from behind, having ushered Shogo back to his mother.

"Bastards," Sasuke uttered, coldly gazing at the unconscious form of Mizuki. "BASTARDS!" He stepped once on the adviser's booted leg, then twice. Thrice. Another time. He kept going until the bone cracked. Exhaling, he turned to Itachi. "You should go. It's not safe here."

Itachi raised an eyebrow at him.

"What?" Sasuke growled. "Grab the kid and the mother and go."

Itachi did, leading Asagi, Shogo, and Shogo's grandmother out of the decrepit home. They never even picked up their laundry.

"What about you?" Itachi asked, turning back one last time.

Sasuke grimaced. "I'll be fine. Just take them somewhere safe and go back to wherever you live. Don't... don't come out if you want to live." When Itachi continued to stare at him, he nudged his brother gruffly. "What the hell are you waiting for? That useless woman and her son over there need you. Go to them."

"Otouto." Slowly, Itachi reached up and poked his brother in the forehead, causing him to flinch. "Be safe."

"... Hn."

----

Blood sprayed from Sasuke's mouth in an arc as he flew backward onto the ground from a harsh kick. His entire body was battered with bruises, and there was a cut on his head, half-dried blood dripping out of it.

He tried to scramble up, but the man beating him pressed the end of his baton into his throat, causing him to gag and be still.

"YOU PIECE OF SHIT!" the man, a higher-ranking official, bellowed. "How could you let Uchiha escape?!"

"Sorry," Sasuke ground out, spitting out a wad of mucus and blood as he resisted the urge to smirk in the face of pain. "Even Mizuki with the aid of two armed soldiers could not stop him..."

His tormentor's face contorted in a fury. "Shut up!" He whacked Sasuke with his baton, and the wounded teenager instinctively curled up in a tight ball. "Useless! Utterly useless!"

"Tell them..." The man immediately stopped beating Sasuke to pay attention to Madara, who was seated in a couch that Shisui had helped choose for Itachi when the latter had just moved in with Izumi. "To dig him out. That's an order."

"Yes, sir." He aimed one last kick at the fallen Sasuke. "Tch. Scumbag. You're lucky the general is generous to his family."

----

Sasuke's steps were wobbly as he trudged toward the Uchiha compound, carrying with him miscellaneous food items he had poached from dinner. His face was now clean of blood, though the collar of his shirt was still slightly red.

The Uchiha in the compound tensed when they saw him, all of them either giving him the evil eye or hurrying away with their children in tow. It was as if a demon or a monster from wive's tales had come to life.

"Traitor," someone whispered loudly. "Look at him."

"He was so eager to jump on the bandwagon... serves him right."

"The Uchiha will not recognize a traitor as their heir..."

No, they wouldn't, would they? Sasuke grasped his head with his free hand, his head aching from having been slammed into the ground several times today. That didn't matter anymore. Nothing did, except...

Fugaku stood up as soon as Sasuke slid the door open.

The two men stared at each other.

"I was wrong," Sasuke said simply, placing the food down on the table. "And I'm paying for it."

Fugaku gazed at him stonily. "It's time like these where I am glad your mother is dead. I wouldn't want her to suffer from seeing you in such a disgraceful state."

His son chuckled grimly. "Like I said, I'm paying for my mistakes. I helped a nameless mother and her son escape today."

"If you expect praise, I am not the right person to come to," Fugaku said tartly, his eyes flitting from the bags of food to Sasuke. "Even with a peace offering."

Sasuke shook his head. "Praise? What's the point of that?" He answered his own question. "There isn't any. I just... wanted to let you know, I suppose. Enjoy the food. It's traditional Tsukigakure cuisine," he added as an afterthought, oily vindictiveness coating his heart.

Fugaku's lip curled. "Get out of my house."

"Work's for me. I was just about to anyway."

He could feel Fugaku's gaze burning into his back and decided to stop at the door. Without turning around, he said, "If I wanted to be praised by you... I could have just showed you."

"... Who was it?"

"Obito."

"Hn. I'd heard."

Sasuke did turn back this time, Mangekyou Sharingan spinning in his eyes. Fugaku stiffened, and Sasuke smiled cruelly.

"Goodbye, otou-sama."

----

Deidara could feel the hairs at the back of her neck rise every time someone brushed past her, which was often. She and Sasori had trained Obito's workers to the best of their ability within the span of a week, but she was not as deluded as to think that Orochimaru wouldn't be able to take out all of them.

It'd already been wordlessly decided that she and Sasori would be the ones fighting the snake-man, while the rest of the civilians would defend themselves from the other bandits when they undoubtedly attacked.

"Deidara?" Tenten was beating the cotton pile next to her. "You're flattening your bundle."

Ah. So she was. A small blush appeared on her cheeks and Deidara closed her eyes, frowning. "Shut up, un. I knew that."

Tenten barked a laugh. "Yeah, right!" Her gaze softened. "Are you worried? Don't be—you and Sasori-sama trained us. We're not going to let it go to waste that easily."

Despite herself, Deidara gave her an annoyed look. "Why does he get a -sama but I don't even have an honorific attached to my name?"

"Ehh? Is that what you're worried about?" Tenten nudged her with her shoulder playfully. "Just focus on getting this bundle done." She turned to Udon, Moegi, and Konohamaru, who just seemed to be loitering around. "Hey, you three, why don't you go outside and dry those bundles over there?"

"Sure thing!" Moegi answered. "Come on, guys, let's go!"

The three younger kids scurried to grab the small baskets of cotton and went out through the hole in the wall, which everyone had accepted as a new entry way.

There buzz of the workers lulled Deidara to a state of serenity for a moment before it was broken by shouting and running.

"Everyone!" Konohamaru yelled as he and his friends returned. "They're back again! They've come back!" Just as he said the words, Orochimaru followed them in with his group behind him, looking smug. This time, he had collected even more people than before—there were at least twelve more men. Tayuya still remained the only female in the group.

Just like they had practiced, everybody moved into a defensive position in the building so that they would surround the attackers. They all stood silently as Orochimaru stopped in his tracks, looking around the room.

Deidara knew what he saw, even if she wasn't at the front of the crowd. Sheep for slaughter. That's all he sees us as. And that was good.

"Is the money ready?" Orochimaru inquired, still glancing around before stopping at the sight of a familiar blond. Naruto.

"We won't give you any dough!" Naruto shot him down immediately, pointing threateningly at the man. Behind him, the workers started to roll up their sleeves in preparation. The workers standing unnoticed by Orochimaru on his right started doing the same. But Orochimaru's focus was entirely on Naruto, and so was his group's attention.

Orochimaru tilted his head, his eyes curving in a combination of irritation and amusement. "What did you just say?"

"I'm not afraid of you," Naruto declared, sliding into the most basic stance that Sasori and Deidara had taught all of them. "You can't bully us anymore, dattebayo!"

"Seriously?" one of the twins—Ukon—drawled, pushing past Tayuya and Kidomaru to approach the blond in a menacing manner. "You want me to beat you up, kid?" When Naruto didn't respond to the jibe, blue eyes burning with determination, Ukon grew annoyed and struck at him lazily.

Swiftly, Naruto pushed his hand away and punched him straight in the face, causing him to stumble backwards, clutching his nose. "You...!" A flicker of fear passed through Ukon's eyes as every single worker standing behind Naruto adopted the same stance with practiced ease, their faces stony.

Orochimaru narrowed his eyes, perceiving the threat for the first time. "Well, then. I suppose I don't have to play nice anymore. Destroy all of them!"

Shouting followed as his followers dived into the fray, exchanging blows with Obito's workers left and right.

Naruto growled when one man leaped at him, his instincts and training kicking in as he jabbed his attacker in the gut. Yeowch! Grimacing, he shook out his hand, not use to inflicting serious blows on his opponents. This was much more different from the sparring he had done with his fellow workers and friends.

A man with a rat's nest for hair went for a chubby woman, exchanging blows with her. She surprised him with her tenacity, but he quickly got the upper hand, slapping her across the face. The woman squeezed her eyes shut and frantically started to attack back, pushing him toward a bucket of cotton.

An old man was cowering behind one of the cotton buckets, and flinched when the gangster went crashing past him. "Good job, Son!"

Son, the chubby woman, nodded, smiling. But the smile on her face quickly fell when another gangster jumped at her, swinging his arms around. He fought more viciously than the previous man, and was quickly pushing her back.

Another woman got punched in the nose and winced, holding one hand above the injury as she retreated from her opponent.

"THIS IS FOR THREATENING MY HUSBAND!" Rin snapped a man's arm and threw him against hard machinery, stomping after him to finish the fight.

Tenten was knocking a teenager on his ass with a broom. She spun the broom around in the air before jabbing the blunt end of the handle into his shoulder. The teenager screamed and rolled on his side, clutching the wound.

Rock Lee, Konohamaru, Moegi, and Udon worked together to bring down a single, beefy opponent. He was incredibly large, and it was incredibly satisfying when Lee managed to kick him across the temple and knock him out.

Within the writhing mass of fighters, Sasori took down men left and right with a cold efficiency, his chakra threads whipping left and right as he fought. There was no time or space to release his puppets here, but he didn't need them to win against cannon fodder.

A man lashed out at the red-haired puppeteer with a knife, only to be punched into the wall by Deidara. They exchanged a brief glance, nodding before parting ways to help their one-week disciples.

Sasori came face-to-face with the red-haired girl with the foul mouth. His lip curled in displeasure as they engaged, furiously exchanging blows. Tayuya was better than most of the others he had fought, but she was still nothing compared to him. "Think fast, brat."

"Wha—" Tayuya swore when Sasori threw a spider puppet he had been keeping hidden in his sleeve on her face. Little spikes in its legs drilled into her soft eyeballs, and the girl screamed shrilly, blinded for life. "YOU BASTARD!" she sobbed, half-delirious in pain. "YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" She punched at him, but he evaded her with ease. "FUCK YOU! I'LL KILL YOU!"

"Stop yapping," Sasori snapped, kneeing her in the sternum. Spittle flew from her mouth, nearly landing on his shoes. "Hmph." He grabbed her by the hair and brought his other knee into her face with a great force, shattering her nose and cheeks. What a miserable waste of space she was.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Deidara launch a man half-way across the room. He landed in a bucket of cotton, the lucky bastard, but then an old man that'd been hiding nailed him in the head with a piece of metal. The gangster was out like a light.

Forming chakra neko-tes, Sasori whisked through them, cutting them in places that they probably thought he wouldn't be able to reach. Men fell as their tendons and ligaments were severed, bashing their heads on the concrete ground. When the others saw him, they ran back to Orochimaru, who'd mostly been standing around as his followers fought.

"Enough fighting!" Sasori shouted over the nose, making his way to the front to face Orochimaru. The workers behind him had stilled, allowing the remaining gangsters to flee back to Orochimaru. Ukon jabbed at Sasori, only for the puppeteer to kick him away, sending him sprawling at his leader's feet.

"The chicken rice man?" Orochimaru said, incredulous at what had just transpired.

Sasori deadpanned. After all that had happened, this was what Orochimaru remembered about him? Though, it wasn't surprising. Orochimaru was quite a tasteless, artless, uncultured swine, in Sasori's opinion.

"Chicken rice man?" Deidara pushed through the crowd and sauntered up to them, stopping beside Deidara with her arms crossed. "If you think chopping chicken is all he can do, you're in for a surprise, un."

"Weren't you pregnant?" someone asked. It was a member of Orochimaru's old group, part of the people that had been there the day Orochimaru arrived in Akatsuki.

It was Deidara's turn to be wholly unimpressed. "Do I look pregnant?" I can't believe that bastard mixed me up with Izumi. For goodness sake; Deidara had light hair, while Izumi's hair was dark.

He wisely did not reply. Rin, who was standing at the front, some ways behind Deidara and Sasori, narrowed her eyes hatefully at Orochimaru.

"No wonder they dare to resist," Orochimaru hissed at Sasori, gaze flickering between him and the blonde woman by his side. "They've found a bodyguard, it seems. You indirectly spurned me the day I arrived in Akatsuki, and now you want to mess with me again? Trying to chase me away?"

"That's exactly what I'm trying to do, yes," Sasori said dryly. "Do you want a medal?"

Orochimaru twitched. If Tayuya hadn't passed out from pain, she would have shrieked something at Sasori, no doubt. "Have you ever been hungry every day?"

"Everybody is hungry nowadays, un," Deidara answered evenly. "Don't try to present yourself as some sort of victim, you bastard."

"The first day I came to Akatsuki, I told myself that I would never be hungry again," said Orochimaru, staring at the woman. "I will never be hungry again! All of you," he whipped around, "kill them."

There was a wordless flurry of activity from both sides. The workers hastily got into defensive positions, while Orochimaru's lackeys got into wobbly stances. Most of them hadn't had any formal training.

"I told you to kill them!" Orochimaru snapped when none of his followers made a move.

Hurriedly, the remaining men pushed their coats back, revealing axes hanging precariously on their belts. They removed their axes and waved them around threateningly, causing the workers to gasp and huddle back.

"You're not touching them," Deidara said coldly. "Not until we're dead, un."

It suited Orochimaru just find, and he stood back and allowed his axe-wielding henchmen to charge at Sasori and Deidara.

"I have your back," she whispered to him as they got closer.

"And I have yours," he returned, his brown eyes fixed on the men in front of him.

The men yelled and slashed their weapons at them, but they never hit their mark. Deidara and Sasori avoided all of their attempts at hurting them, working in tandem to take down each and every one of the men. They sufficiently covered each others' blind spots as well—Deidara caught the wrist of a man trying to bring down his axe on Sasori's shoulder; Sasori returned the favor by slicing the neck of a man trying to kill her open.

Sasori kicked the knee of a man, causing him to buckle. A white clay spider flew out of seemingly nowhere, landing on the man's face and promptly exploding. It wasn't a large one—it didn't even have a radius of five inches—but the stench of charred flesh and brain matter filled their noses.

Was that her first kill? he absently wondered. He doubted it.

They had taken down the last of the axe-men when Orochimaru picked up a bamboo fork hoe, glaring furiously at them.

Sasori rolled up his sleeves to match Deidara's, holding up his hands in a traditional Suna stance.

Orochimaru slashed at them with rake end of the hoe, which they dodged, jumping to opposite sides. Deidara grabbed her own makeshift weapon—a bamboo pole—while Sasori was content to simply elongate and coagulate his chakra neko-tes.

She struck at Orochimaru with the pole, only for him to deflect it and jab the blunt end of his hoe at Deidara's stomach. Deidara jumped backward, using the pole to vault herself onto the side. It was then Sasori entered the battle again with his neko-tes, slashing and parrying Orochimaru's hoe with the chakra constructs.

The metal screeched when it clashed with his neko-tes, causing everyone observing to wince and cover their ears. Sasori's gaze was fixed on Orochimaru's enraged face, not a hint of warmth in his brown eyes.

whoosh! sounded, and Deidara's pole came down on Orochimaru's shoulder with whip-like force. He grunted and turned one eye to her while trying to avoid being cut by Sasori's scalpels.

Cornered, Orochimaru looked around, only to see all of his followers down for the count, Deidara with her staff pointed at him, and Sasori with his chakra claws at the ready.

Deidara struck, becoming a blur—

She scowled when Orochimaru lifted his hoe up to deflect her blow, carefully dodging Sasori's scalpels at the same time. Twisting in the air, Deidara landed back on the ground, bringing the pole down to land on his foot. He jumped out of the way just in time for the pole to land on the ground with a slap and for Sasori's claws to miss his eyes by a hair.

"Deidara!" Sasori barked out.

"Right!"

Sasori landed on the end of Deidara's pole and she used momentum to vault him upward and forward, his arms stretched out to slice Orochimaru into ribbons. The two men were now falling in midair. Orochimaru veered to the side and Sasori's claws cut his right side from shoulder to hip, blood flying through the air.

He could not match the two of them. He was weaker than before, having not fed or slept well in a long while.

Deidara slammed the butt of her pole into the concrete. "Let's finish this, un."

"I was thinking the same," Sasori said, his neko-tas twitching in anticipation.

They charged at him one more time, working like clockwork. Orochimaru's block was easily penetrated, and Deidara slammed the side of the pole against his head.

Orochimaru howled in rage and agony, clutching his ear, which had begun to bleed.

He never saw Sasori coming.

The man slashed his throat open with vengeance in his eyes.

"Don't feel too bad," Sasori said woodenly, watching Orochimaru flop to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. "Be glad that it was not Obito who killed you. You threatened his family, and it's something he would have never forgiven you for."

He died a moment later without any fanfare or dramatic last words. A cut throat generally took away the ability to do either of those things.

"Well," Rin's voice echoed after a few more seconds of shocked silence, "let's start the clean up."

----

The bodies had been cleaned away nicely when their entire street was suddenly stormed by Tsukigakure soldiers.

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