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

17. Part II: Cyclamen

Hanabi whirled around in confusion as civilians ran past her, carrying all their valuables in their arms.

What the hell is going on? Her mind started to race, and, before she knew it, she had grabbed the shoulder of one woman and spun her around. "Madam," Hanabi said hastily. "What's happening? Why is everyone running away?"

"Don't you know?" The woman was itching to get away. "There are soldiers marching toward the Uchiha-Nohara factory with vehicles and guns! Unless you want to be caught in the crossfire, you'd better come with us!"

"What?!" Hanabi yanked her wrist from the woman's grip. "No—no, you go ahead. Don't worry about me—I can take care of myself."

From all the time she had spent talking to Ino, she knew that the blonde girl had friends there. What was going to happen to them? Hanabi swallowed a lump in her throat and sprinted down the streets, dodging men and women running the opposite direction.

She turned a corner just in time to see the street flood with Tsukigakure soldiers. It was just like the woman had described—the enemy had the factory workers cornered. Terrified workers were roughly escorted out of the building and into a space surrounded by armed soldiers.

Hanabi slunk back into the shadows, heart pounding. This was even worse than she had imagined. She had to do something… but what?

Get Itachi, a small voice in her mind advised. Itachi would know what to do. But Itachi had gone out today to deliver supplements to a family living above ground, and she had no idea where he was. The city was big—there was no way she'd be able to find him in time. Sakura, was her next thought, and the second-best choice. With no time to waste, Hanabi dashed off to the direction of the beer hall. Find Sakura and tell her what's going on.

She was nearly there when someone grabbed her arm. "Now what do we have here?"

Hanabi jerked to a stop, turning her head around to see a man—an off duty soldier?—who was obviously under the influence of alcohol. "Let me go!" she spat, lifting her leg and nailing him across the face. He groaned before falling backward with a thud.

She ran through the narrow alleyway that led to the beer hall, skirting around a corner to see a sight for sore eyes.

"Itachi!" Hanabi didn't even bother with honorifics anymore.

He turned, blinking in surprise. "Hanabi-san?" The Uchiha was with a small family made up of an old woman, her pregnant daughter, and a young boy.

"Uchiha-sama," the pregnant woman said worriedly. "What's going on? Is she part of the Underground village you spoke of?"

Oh, so they were new recruits. Hanabi shook her head. She didn't have time to be distracted. "It's Obito's factory! It's being stormed by soldiers—the entire street is flooded with the enemy!"

Itachi cursed—it was one of the rare times and she knew nothing good could come out of this situation. Urgently, he gave the pregnant woman and her mother a gentle nudge forward. "Keep going straight until you see a building with the Tsukigakure flag draped over the overhead sign. It should be on your left. Go immediately to the black-haired woman at the bar—she is called Sakura, she'll know what to do."

"Uchiha-sama—" The woman bit her lip, cutting herself off. "Okay. Okay, thank you. Please be safe!"

"Okaa-chan?" Her son glanced up at her. "What's going on? Where's he going?"

The woman didn't answer, simply leading him and her mother in the direction Itachi had provided.

Itachi swept past Hanabi, his garb fluttering behind him somewhat. "Stay behind me."

Hanabi nodded affirmatively, and the two set off toward Obito's factory at top speed.

----

"Scram! Hurry up!" a soldier barked as he smacked the sides of the civilian workers in an attempt to get them to move out of the building faster. He scowled when a red-haired man about a head shorter than him didn't even flinch, instead walking ahead with a neutral stare.

Women cried out in fear as the enemy moved their rifles in the air, doing an awkward jog-run to catch up with the rest of the now prisoners. They were herded into a space surrounded by soldiers, like cattle.

"All of you!" Mizuki, on a crutch, roared. "Shut up!"

Deidara, who was squished between a chubby woman and Sasori, stiffened, despite not knowing just what the man had blurted out.

Sasuke was pushed forward by a few officers, and, scowling, he translated, "All of you, don't say a word! Got it?"

They quietened.

Shit. Deidara couldn't really see past the men standing in front of her, but things were quickly going to shit. Why did these soldiers have the worst timing? They had just defeated Orochimaru and his henchmen and now they were in the face of another, deadlier enemy.

"You," Mizuki pointed at Rin, who was at the front of the group. "Come here."

A rifle poked into her back and Rin reluctantly stepped forward, grimacing.

Something about her demeanor must have pissed off Mizuki even more than he already was, as he kneed her in the stomach. When she curled into herself, wheezing, he slammed the baton on her shoulder and arm repeatedly. "Where is Uchiha Itachi?! Tell me!"

"RIN!" Deidara shouted, pushing her way through the barrier of workers. "DAMMIT, GET OUT OF MY WAY!"

A hand caught hers, and she looked back furiously at Sasori.

"Don't," he hissed. "They won't kill her—don't attract attention to yourself."

"You expect me to stand here and just—!"

Sasuke was suddenly leaning over Rin, saying, "He's asking you!" Then he crouched down and hefted her up by the arm. "Are Daichi and Hikari at home? Please, hang in there. I'll figure out something."

"Sas—Sasuke?" Rin, disoriented, muttered. "Y-you traitor..."

Mizuki shoved Sasuke aside and started hitting her with the baton again. "Out of the way, fool! Speak, you useless woman! Speak up, you wretch!" He lifted the baton up, preparing for a debilitating blow.

"Deidara—!"

The woman leaped forward, catching the baton with one hand. "Don't touch her, you fucker!"

Sasori was by her side immediately, pulling her back and subconsciously wrapping his body around hers to shield her from a rain of bullets. I swear, if she gets the both of us killed

Mizuki looked like he was going to explode with anger and order the soldiers to do whatever the hell they wanted when a black blur whooshed through the two guarding soldiers on the left, skidding to a stop with his arms raised up when more soldiers aimed their rifles at him.

"I'm here!" Itachi rarely raised his voice, surprising Sasori and Deidara. At once, he saw Rin's fallen form, Sasori and Deidara being held back from reaching her by rifles pressing into their sides. "Rin—"

Someone slammed the butt of their gun against his head and he stumbled, allowing more soldiers to push him forward to his knees. One pressed the muzzle of their rifle against the back of his skull, preparing to shoot at the given order.

"WAIT!" Sasuke was there again, standing protectively over Itachi. "Please wait!" Gritting his teeth, he crouched down and prepared to swap languages to speak to his brother, but Itachi spoke first.

"Otouto," Itachi said, his voice filled with an urgency that both terrified and exhilarated the younger Uchiha, "tell Madara that the workers are innocent. Ask him to release them."

"I told you not to come back!"

And I told you to be safe, but I'm not so blind as to miss the bruises on your face. "Tell him!" Itachi bit out.

"You piece of shit!" Mizuki kicked at Sasuke with his good leg, causing him to roll out of the way. He then turned his baton on Itachi, preparing to whack him senseless. He got a few blows in before pulling out his favorite Nambu pistol, the one that had killed another Uchiha before Itachi.

"Hold it." Madara, previously content to watch his adviser rip into the citizens, emerged from the vehicle he had arrived in. He pushed Mizuki's arm down and stared down at Itachi.

Mizuki was stunned. "He dare to push me out of the way to get to that bitch. Can't we put him to death? The blonde and the red-head can be next."

"I know what I'm doing. Sasuke."

Sasuke sat up, tensing. "Yes, sir."

Madara didn't even spare him a glance, his eyes still fixated on Itachi's form. "Since the day you resisted the Tsukigakure army, you've already been a dead man." He chuckled lowly. "But you are talented. You can be useful to us. So I'll give you one chance to be loyal to Empress Kaguya. Teach our army Ame martial arts. That way, we might still spare your life."

Slowly, as to not have his own comrades pull the trigger on him, Sasuke crawled forward to Itachi. "He wants you to teach the Tsukigakure people taijutsu, or he will execute you."

Itachi stared up at Madara defiantly, giving no indication that he had even heard the consequences Sasuke had relayed to him. "I refuse. I will not teach the Tsukigakure army anything." His eyes flickered red for a second, causing Madara to narrow his own and return the gesture. "You want to see me fight so badly? Then I'll fight with you tomorrow, in the morning."

Sasuke froze. Aniki... you can't be serious! His eyes were faraway as he gradually got to his feet.

"Fight?" Sasori murmured. "With the general?" He could feel Deidara, pressed against him, tense even more. He smirked. "I always knew Uchiha were insane."

"He said..." Sasuke rose up to his full height. "He would think about it."

Liar, Deidara immediately pinned. But it was the good kind of lie—if he had told the whole truth, Itachi would probably already be dead. Seeing as the soldiers were distracted by what was happening, she carefully crouched down and reached her hand out toward Rin, who took it. Rifles were crossed over their heads, but she knew they wouldn't care too much.

"He wants to have a duel with Madara-taisho," Sasuke added, eyebrows furrowed. "Tomorrow morning."

Madara stepped back and turned in a dismissive gesture. "Take him away."

Sasuke's chakra was stricken, Itachi could tell, and he allowed his brother to pull him up. Almost instantly, the closest Tsukigakure men had their rifles pressed to his back, forcing him to walk to a vehicle.

He had to do one last thing.

"Sasori!" Itachi called. "Take the people of the Underground away from Akatsuki! Take them to—!" The workers, seemingly empowered by his words, started to murmur and shout, raising their hands up in open defiance.

"Uchiha-sama!" they shouted, their souls carrying across with their words. "UCHIHA-SAMA!" They pushed against the soldiers, but they didn't get any further until a warning shot was fired into the air, silencing them.

The soldiers disappeared with their vehicles and guns, leaving the street void of any Uchiha. The stunned silence was deafening.

Sasori stared into the night, watching the last vehicle vanish behind a winding street.

"Danna?" Deidara, who was supporting Rin, blinked at him tiredly. "What do we do now?"

Yes, what would they do? Even if the soldiers had left them alone for now, they weren't safe here anymore. The only safe haven was—

"We're going to the Underground," Sasori decided, raising his voice. "All of you, follow us. We'll take you somewhere safe."

"Somewhere safe?" A hysteric young man echoed. "Where's 'safe' anymore, huh?! Unless you plan to shoot us off into the sky, there's nowhere safe!"

A clamor began at his words, people starting to doubt the prospect of safety.

"Who are you, anyway?" one woman demanded. "Before all this, you were just the man at the chicken rice shop! We didn't even know you could fight! Why should we believe you?"

Oh my god, how dumb are these people? Deidara fumed. It was Sasori (and her) who had saved their hides from Orochimaru. They had trusted their own bodies and lives with them, so why—

"They're spooked," Rin muttered, as if hearing her thoughts. "Just little over an hour ago, they beat Orochimaru, a grandmaster. They thought they were unstoppable... But now, they've seen our true enemy. Orochimaru was a victim, just like the rest of us."

"I don't care, un," Deidara said lowly. "They're still idiots."

"Hey!" Naruto shouted. "Shut up, all of you! Without him, we'd be snakeskin, dattebayo!"

Even with his loud voice, Naruto's support was drowned out by doubtful noises, and Sasori was growing increasingly frustrated. They were wasting time! The longer they stood out here debating on trivial matters, the more time the soldiers had to turn around and capture or kill them all.

"What is wrong with you people?!" Tenten's voice carried across clearly, and she pushed her way to the front of the crowd and turned to face them. "Naruto's right—we'd ought to be more grateful."

"I agree with Tenten!" Rock Lee swiftly added. "Sasori-sama has not failed us yet!"

"Yet!" someone mimicked. "But he will! Nowhere's safe! I'd rather die here than in a dank sewer somewhere."

"You'd sit here and wait for death?" Deidara mocked. "You're such a coward, un! I'd rather die alone knowing that I at least tried to survive rather than rolling over and accepting my fate!"

The squabbling grew to new heights, and Sasori's patience had been worn thin.

"ENOUGH!" he bellowed. "I'm tired of waiting for all of you idiots to shut the hell up! I don't care if you're coming or not; I'm not forcing anyone to come." He turned around, the wind chilling his flushed cheeks. "Stay here and die like fodder, if you want. Like I said, I don't care. Those who want to live, hurry the fuck up. I don't want to be kept waiting any longer." He'd helped them before because he felt like he owed Obito, who had been one of his only friends, something. But now, it was do or die. He would not be dragged down.

He stalked off, not even waiting for Deidara or Rin. He would fulfill Itachi's request by having the Underground leave the city, then return to fetch his grandmother and the Yamanaka girl.

"My friends," Rin said, just loud enough for them all to hear. "I have my utmost trust in Sasori, but I can't expect you all to feel the same way. Those who want to stay, stay. I won't begrudge you for it. But..." She straightened without Deidara's help, wincing at the pain that wracked her body in waves. That damned white-haired asshole had done a number on her. "I'm going. The least I owe my children," which reminded her—she needed to go fetch them before she left for the Underground, "is a chance of survival."

"I'll come with you," Deidara immediately offered, looking back once to see Sasori becoming a small figure in the dark. "Anyone who's going with him, hurry up before you lose sight of him."

The group split. It was quite a heartbreaking thing, if one looked at it the right way. The ones who wanted to stay were mostly old and couldn't travel far, or young and foolish. Tenten, Lee, and Naruto all went after Sasori, along with a few others. Konohamaru, Udon, and Moegi followed a heartbeat later, albeit more reluctantly.

Twelve of them chose to stay behind.

Rin glanced at them one last time before she and Deidara set off in the opposite direction. She hoped that Daichi and Hikari wouldn't be too stricken when they saw the forming bruises on the right side of her face.

----

"Madara-taisho, do you really want to fight with Uchiha Itachi?" Mizuki questioned as he and the general walked down a dimly lit corridor in their headquarters.

"Of course," Madara answered shortly. "He is an expert, but he doesn't seem like he wants to teach the Imperial Army.

"He must have other motives trying to fight with you." Mizuki hobbled after his superior, his crutch clicking on the floor. "Taisho... don't fight with him. Let me simply shoot him dead."

Madara stopped in his tracks, and Mizuki nearly slammed into his back. Instead, he managed to catch himself just in time, and awkwardly maneuvered himself to stand next to the general.

"He challenged me to a fight," the general said haltingly. "Because he thinks he's better than me. If I refuse the challenge..." Madara mockingly lifted his finger to his head and made a firing motion. "... And shoot him instead... isn't that the same as admitting defeat? Hm?"

"But...!" Mizuki grimaced. "Fighting with an Ame man... is not just a matter of personal honor to you. It has to do with the national honor of our empire—"

"Are you saying that I will lose?"

Mizuki looked down. "I... only fear for the worst."

"I will win," Madara growled. "And the whole of Ame will know that I won."

"Yes. I understand."

----

The prison door opened with a metallic squeal, and Itachi turned his head ever so slightly. A gradual footfall reached his ears, and Itachi saw the toe of Madara's boots appear before the man himself.

Madara stood at the doorway for a few heartbeats before walking into the room, the prison door closing behind him.

Itachi's eyes followed the slow-moving figure, lingering on the tray of food he held in his hands. The general stood with his back straight, his wild mane falling partway across his face. He narrowed his eyes when Madara lowered himself into a seiza, placing the tray on the ground before Itachi and pushing it forward.

Their gazes met, and the general spoke. "Instead of killing you, I want you to teach us." Itachi lowered his gaze, staring at the concrete floor in front of him. "This is because I appreciate your talent. However, I do not think that Ame martial arts are better than Tsuki's. We will fight in front of everybody. We need a fair tournament."

Itachi's eyes darkened as he deliberated his response, his brain working to comprehend the sounds he had heard before. "You invaded our country and killed our people." He still answered in his own tongue. Still sitting in his cross-legged position, the muscles in his shoulder rippled as he leaned forward and pushed the tray away from him, as if the food was disease-ridden. "Don't be a hypocrite."

Another staring contest ensued before Madara stood and left the room, leaving Itachi with only himself for company.

----

She hadn't always supported her husband in his taijutsu pursuits. For both of them, taijutsu was supposed to have been just a hobby and a means to defend themselves and their future children. But she knew... Izumi knew that Itachi had a love for martial arts that could not be quelled or contained by anyone, not even her. Mostly, she'd ignored it. They were both still young—Itachi would have had plenty of time to grow out of it. So she had dealt with it with a genial smile, despite spiting the art for monopolizing her husband's time.

She could not believe that she had ever been so naive.

Especially when Hanabi, on the verge of hysterics, her normally stoic mask completely shattered, burst into the clearing that announced that Itachi had been captured by the enemy, and that he would duel General Madara tomorrow morning. Her heart had jumped, and then completely dropped to her stomach when Sasori returned with new, worn faces, supporting Hanabi's story. Deidara, Rin, and the latter's two children came next.

"They came after us because they knew that Itachi had connections to Obito," Rin said frustratedly as Sakura treated her wounds with chakra, ointment and gauze. The brown-haired woman was clearly in pain, but other things took precedence.

"His last wish was for all of us to escape the city," Sasori told them. "Shikaku, how is the seal looking?"

"We've nearly cracked it," Shikaku, who, along with this son, had been summoned from his accommodations by the noise, reported. "Give us until the morn, and we'll have it unsealed."

Sasori nodded approvingly. "Good. Then we leave as soon as that happens."

Everything seemed to be in order to Sasori, but—

"What about Itachi?" Hanabi voiced the question everybody was wondering. "He'll be fighting tomorrow morning. We... can't just leave."

"Exactly," Izumi added, her voice hard. She swallowed a lump in my throat. "I don't think any of you have any idea about what kind of disservice I've done my husband. Sasori, this," her voice cracked, "this could be his last battle. You can't whisk me away without letting me see it." Her beautiful, kind husband who had been captured in order to grant innocent people freedom. "I won't stop anyone else from leaving, but I'm staying here until..." She shook her head, the low, loose bun she wore her hair in loosening even further.

"Pardon me," a pregnant woman said softly. Her name was Asagi, and she'd been brought here by Itachi before he was captured. "I know all of you are probably more acquainted with Uchiha-sama than I, but my family owe him our lives. We should not abandon him."

"I say that we leave!" a man cried. "If we can get away with our lives, why shouldn't we?"

There were cries of outrage at that, especially from Izumi.

Oh, gods. Sasori nearly groaned. If this kept going any longer, it would just be a repeat of what had happened before. "Look," Sasori said flatly. "I can't force anyone to leave. Anyone who wants to watch tomorrow's battle will be free to do so." It was almost exactly the same thing he had offered Obito's people. "I'm not going anywhere until the seal is finished. After that... just try not to keep me waiting."

They dispersed after that, most of them turning in for the night. Sasori, Kisame, Shikaku, and Shikamaru, dubbed the 'Sealing Team' by a few uncreative people, left camp for the sealed iron wall.

Deidara, Rin (and her children), and Izumi settled into the small building that Izumi and Itachi normally stayed in, and were joined by Sakura and Ino not long after.

"I suppose none of you are going to be leaving?" Sakura asked, taking in their stoic faces.

Deidara lazily raised her right hand. "Itachi saved my ass but got his own captured. If I can help it, he'll be leaving the ring alive tomorrow."

"Actually," Rin, who was absently stroking her daughter's hair (the little girl was asleep on her lap and using her shoulder as a pillow—Daichi was sitting between Deidara and his mother, his head propped on Deidara's left shoulder as he slept) corrected Sakura, "I'll be staying; my children... they need me, miss..."

"Oh!" Sakura straightened. "Sorry about that. I'm Haruno Sakura, and this is Yamanaka Ino. We're... not really acquainted, are we? This must seem really rude—sorry."

"Stop rambling, forehead," Ino joked in an attempt to act as a foil to Sakura's flustered disposition. "Maybe Sennin Tsunade does it differently, but this isn't how you're supposed to make friends." She bowed her head slightly. "Hi, I'm Yamanaka Ino. Please excuse my socially stunted best friend."

Sakura was scandalized. "Socially stunted! I'll have you know, I was very popular at Konoha's hospital when I was still an intern—"

"You're only proving my point, forehead."

Sakura made a frustrated noise, causing Deidara to bark out a laugh and Izumi to stretch her lips in a grin. Even Rin, after all she had gone through today, managed a tired, amused smile.

"Don't sweat it, yeah," Deidara assured them. "We're all sitting in the same boat here. Might as well get friendly. Besides, we've all met each other at least once, even if it's just passing each other in the streets, un."

"Once we leave Akatsuki," added Rin, playing with a lock of her daughter's hair, "we're probably going to need to support each other."

They made small talk before Sakura finally addressed Izumi with a solemn look. "Izumi, as your medic, I strongly advise you not to attend tomorrow's battle, even as a spectator. You're going to give birth any day now. Normally, I'd forbid you, but that'd get me nowhere with you."

"Damn right." Izumi scowled.

"You know," Rin suddenly spoke up. "She's right. I know you want to be there for him, but the baby... Honestly, I think that's really selfish of you, Izumi."

There was a pregnant pause.

"Sorry," Izumi apologized. "I guess I'm just that kind of person."

"You stupid hard-head," Deidara muttered, elbowing her. "Stay by me at all times, okay? And Sakura, if you can be there—"

"Oh, trust me," Sakura growled. "If this one thinks she can get rid of me that easily," a snort from Izumi, "she's got another thing coming for her. I swear, if you weren't pregnant and therefore a perpetual patient, you'd have received my fist to your face a long time ago."

"Wow, um." Ino sweatdropped. "I guess this is what happens when you study under Tsunade-sama, huh...?"

"I still can't believe that this is happening," Rin said after a few moments. "It... went by so quickly."

She got a few nods from the others.

"I'm going to steal a line from Shikamaru here," Ino quipped. "This is such a drag."

"Hah." Deidara snorted. "'Drag doesn't even begin to cover it, un." She sat up straighter, leaning against the wall. "You're Hitomi's sister, aren't you?"

Ino startled. "Y-yeah. Why?"

And Deidara smiled. Widely. Finally, she'd been waiting for this moment. How mad was Hitomi going to be when she found out that Deidara found Ino before she did, despite her daring escape attempt? "Good, because I just want to let you know that Hitomi's alive and doing pretty well, un."

"Really?!" Ino gasped, not even fazed when Rin shushed her (Hikari had stirred). "T-that..." She looked down at her hands, shocked. Her eyes were still wide even when tears collected at the corner of her eyes. "Where is she?"

"She's been staying with me," Deidara answered. Then she winced guiltily. "I left her at Chiyo-baa-sama's place, but they should both be fine. They aren't under any scrutiny from the army, even if Danna—Sasori—is." Everything had happened so fast that she had almost entirely forgotten about Chiyo and Hitomi. No matter—they would be fetched and brought down here tomorrow.

Ino's face puckered. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. I don't really want to kick the crap out of the person who saved my sister, after all." Inwardly, she was jumping with joy. Hitomi was alive!

"Maa," Rin placated. "We should all get some sleep. Big day tomorrow and all," she added awkwardly, not looking at Izumi, whose face had gone blank.

They agreed. The candle in the middle of the girl's circle was blown out, and darkness enveloped them all.

----

The truck hummed.

"Just a routine run!"

The soldier was unfazed. "Yeah, go ahead. I got you."

They drove off before parking the truck behind shrubbery.

"What now?"

"We wait."

"... I can't believe those idiots didn't even realize that there was another group in the sewers until recently. Dense assholes."

"You can't blame them too much. There's only two of them working down there, and they've got two little girls to look after."

"Hmph. I'll blame whoever I want. They were too late—now shit's gone down. At least now, they're ready, right?"

"Honestly? We can only hope."

----

The Tsukigakure flags waved lazily in the wind. Underneath the great, gray morning sky, men and women gathered, speaking excitedly—all of them were heading toward what was once the heart of the city: Akatsuki Square.

"I heard the Tsuki people are fighting the Ame people!" one man said to another. Even in its reduced state, the grapevine was still functioning as well as it possibly could.

"Who's fighting?" his friend asked.

"Uchiha Itachi!"

"Uchiha Itachi?! The master of Amaterasu?!"

"Yes! Look—the entire square is sealed up. But look at the soldiers—I think they're preparing to let us all in soon."

Akatsuki Square was indeed sealed, and on the top level of Chiyo's Chicken Rice, the shop's namesake and a young Yamanaka girl were watching proceedings from below, the former's eyes narrowed.

What are these dogs up to now? Chiyo thought angrily. Defiling Akatsuki's heart...! She had woken up this morning to find an absent grandson and future daughter-in-law. Needless to say, she was not pleased.

They seemed to be setting up and arena of some sort. A fight was going to take place here. Of that, Chiyo had no doubt. But who would be fighting? She supposed that she would just have to wait and see.

"What's happening, baa-sama?" Hitomi whispered, as if she feared the Tsukigakure soldiers down below would hear them.

"I don't know," Chiyo admitted. "We'll just have to see..."

----

"Dammit!" Kisame roared. "There's only eight symbols left and it's not cooperating!"

It was already morning, and the Sealing Team hadn't slept at all. People who had decided to stay—which included all of the orphans, Rin and her children, and Asagi's family (Sakura had persuaded at least one pregnant woman last night)—were already gathered in front of the sealed iron wall.

"What's taking so long?" a woman asked worriedly, clutching her shawl tighter around her shoulders.

"Calm down," Rin soothed. "They're working as quickly as possible. Sealing is very delicate—we can't rush them."

"Okaa-san, where's Deidara-nee?" Daichi asked, a sullen look on his face. "Why isn't she here?"

"She'll be back soon," Rin told him. "She just has something to do outside."

"I bet she's going to save Itach-oji!" Shogo piped up, breaking free of his mother's grasp and sidling next to Daichi. The boy was just five years old; Daichi had three years on him. "Right, okaa-chan?"

Asagi smiled wearily down at her son, taking his hand again. "Sure, Sho-kun."

Daichi turned away. "Yeah, whatever…" He's such a little kid… He doesn't know anything about losing people. Of course he's not worried about Deidara-nee. His onyx gaze flickered over to Shogo's young, unmarred face, and his scorn only grew.

"Where's Ino?" Shikamaru, looking worse for wear, turned around to ask Choji.

Choji quickly explained the situation with Hitomi and Ino, and the Nara sighed.

"Typical Ino, rushing in like that. Might as well hurry up before she gets back and starts nagging us…"

----

Chiyo was right—Akatsuki Square was eventually unsealed once appropriate wooden barricades were put up around the raised makeshift stage. People poured in from every direction, stopping in front of the barricades and the soldiers guarding them.

In the crowd, Sakura was glued by a worried Izumi's side, the latter's belly bulging against the fabric of her loose clothes. Deidara came in after them, talking in low voices with Ino.

"She's in that apartment up there. Above the sign that says 'Chiyo's Chicken Rice'," Deidara told her. From the apartment window, Hitomi brightened and waved down at the two girls. "Ah. She's probably coming down."

"I'll go get her," Ino said excitedly, her eyes gleaming in anticipation. "Stay here and do whatever you need to do."

"Un."

As Ino manoeuvred around the constantly shuffling crowd, careful to avoid the guards on standby, their rifles in hand, Madara got up on stage and moved himself into a seiza position. It was clear that he was waiting for Itachi's arrival, and Deidara's sleeve fell over her hands as she readied herself.

Izumi and Sakura were both craning their necks to search for any sign of Itachi. It was only when Sasuke appeared on a raised wooden construct on the north end of the stage that they stopped to pay attention.

Even Ino halted in her tracks, and Deidara cast a flinty glance in his direction.

The people quietened when the soldiers ordered silence, and Sasuke began to speak, "General Madara says, that in order to strengthen the Ame-Tsuki cultural exchange…" Sasuke looked as if speaking the very words were hurting him. "He and Itachi-sama will be fighting here today in a fair tournament. It will be an exchange of ideas in a friendly manner, and to realize peace between the two countries."

"Fair tournament?" one man scoffed to another. "That sounds too good to be true…"

His friend sneered at Sasuke. "Look at that traitor's face! There's bruises everywhere. Sooner or later, the Tsuki army will kill him like the dog he is."

His words inspired uproar, and Sakura stood in front of Izumi to protect the woman and the unborn child from all the jostling. Ino was not as lucky as to have a meat shield – she was swept away from Chiyo's apartment, much to her annoyance.

In response, the Tsukigakure soldiers pointed their guns and began to shout back, forcing the people of Akatsuki to step backward submissively, quietening their hollers into displeased mutters.

----

Itachi had four soldiers surrounding him in a seemingly foolproof formation. Two flanked his sides while the other two separated themselves to guarding his front and back. They escorted him into Akatsuki Square, and his presence immediately stirred the people.

"It's him! He's here!"

"Itachi-sama!"

"Itachi-sama has come!"

Next to Sasuke, Mizuki smirked, as if the very notion of the people shouting the master's name was amusing to him. And, to him, it probably was.

Itachi exhaled deeply.

----

Itachi didn't flinch when Mizuki stormed into his prison cell and tipped the tray Madara had brought him with his good leg, spilling the contents all over the floor.

How bold, Itachi thought. The General left not even five minutes ago.

When Itachi simply kept staring at the wall opposite him, Mizuki saw red.

"What did Madara-taisho talk to you about?" Mizuki demanded. "Was it about the fight?!" Mizuki bared his teeth at the silent Uchiha. "Whatever it is, I really don't care. Listen carefully to me, Uchiha Itachi." He lifted his crutch to wag it at Itachi's face. "If you win the fight, I will kill you immediately with my gun."

Itachi saw Sasuke enter the room before Mizuki did. His younger brother grasped the cane with both hands and pushed it down.

"Remember!" Mizuki bellowed.

Sasuke held up a hand. "He knows!" He took a deep breath, then muttered to Itachi, "Please, don't win the fight with Madara. If you win, he will kill you. Are you listening? Be careful for your life."

Itachi nodded shortly, a small smile adorning his features as he stared down at his hands.

"Otouto… martial arts may be a form of brute strength…"

----

Itachi let himself be led to the stage, where Madara, watching the younger Uchiha carefully, was waiting.

"… But in our Ame taijutsu system, it embodies our ideals and philosophies. The virtue of our martial arts is benevolence."

Itachi walked up the stage.

"This is what Tsuki will never understand, because they abuse military power and turn it into violence to oppress others."

He turned to face the general. Madara rose from his seiza, the bones in his feet making a satisfying cracking noise.

"This is why they do not deserve to learn Ame martial arts."

----

"Hanabi?! Why are you here?!" Ino stared at her friend, who was dodging people left and right. "I... I don't think you're going to find her here!"

Hanabi scowled at the blonde. "You think I don't know that?! Ino... I've been searching for Hinata-nee for months now. And everyone's going to be leaving, and maybe it's selfish of me, but I can't stay here! My father has all but entirely given up on everything, and so has my clan! This will be the last place I'll ever look. And if I don't find her..." She let out a sharp puff of breath. "Then it was a lost cause to begin with. Don't try to stop me—I know that here isn't the safest place to be, and I'll get out of here if it gets to dangerous. That being said, what about you, huh?"

"Hitomi's up there," Ino pointed at the designated spot, "I'm going to find her and the old lady inside and get the hell out of here. The seal should nearly be cracked by then."

Hanabi nodded. "Okay. Good luck with that."

"You too."

On the stage, Itachi intertwined his fingers and held both of his hands up in acknowledgement to Madara. He was completely silent, the tear troughs on his face more pronounced than usual. Deidara guessed it was because he probably hadn't gotten any sleep last night. Staying with the enemy tended to have that kind of effect on a person.

To her left, Deidara could see Izumi with Sakura hovering her protectively in a position that would allow the medic to shield the pregnant woman's stomach if need be.

"Anata!" Izumi's voice was nearly drowned out by the noise the people were producing. "Kick his ass!"

"Is that Izumi-chan?" Deidara whipped her head around at the deep baritone that had been produced by the speaker. She blinked in surprise. The Uchiha Clan. Indeed, Uchiha Fugaku and his brethren had come to see what could be Itachi's final duel, despite Deidara's silent promise to get him out of this situation alive. She had her bombs at the ready, and was prepared to let loose if things went badly. Only the men had came, Deidara noticed, which wasn't surprising as the Uchiha were a patriarchal clan, though they did have a few female warriors here and there.

Fugaku emerged from the crowd of Uchiha, coal gaze fixated on his son. His face seemed to be etched into a permanent scowl, but even so, Deidara found him hard to read. What was he feeling? she wondered. Angry? He certainly looks it. Sad? Disappointed? The list was endless, and she didn't have the time to consider all the options.

Sasuke seemed to have seen his father's entrance as well, and stiffened like a deer in headlights before pointedly focusing his entire attention on the fight that was about to unfold before him. Mizuki noticed his discomfort and immediately sneered. It was likely a reflex reaction.

"How rare," an Uchiha commented, "to see the two would-be heirs willingly sharing the same breathing space."

"Some heirs they turned out to be," another muttered.

"Quiet," barked Fugaku, making them both jump and promptly shut up. "Times have changed, and the Uchiha along with it." He caught Izumi's eye just then, and nodded, leaving the woman dumbfounded. She could only return the gesture, numbly.

Madara returned Itachi's acknowledgement, and they both slid into stances that they had practiced for a good portion of their lives. Madara, more heavily built than Itachi, had his shoulders squared, one leg positioned in front of the other. One fisted hand was held out; the other arm tucked slightly near his armpit.

It was almost a completely foreign stance, even for those who had fought against the Tsukigakure warriors at Obito's mansion, including Deidara. She suspected that his form wasn't even of Tsuki origin. Considering that many of the clans had originated from Konohagakure, in the north, it would make sense that Madara was one of the few Uchiha that had stayed there during the Great Migration, a point in history that almost everyone studied at some stage of their lives.

The two warriors in the ring stared each other down. Everybody held their breath and shuffled along to get the best view. Deidara could see Ino reach Chiyo's apartment and be let in by the old woman. Hitomi wasn't with her – she was likely trying to pack everything she owned into one of Sasori's storage scrolls.

Madara blurred forward, and the audience burst into shocked gasps, the general having disappeared to the untrained eye.

Itachi's eyes widened marginally, his Sharingan activating as he narrowly avoided Madara's kick by bending to the side like a willow branch. He flipped once and landed on his hands before pushing himself back to his feet just in time to dodge another attack from the Tsuki general.

One of Madara's punches came too fast for him to dodge, and Itachi caught his fist, feeling the bones in his arm creak. Incredible... He jumped backward, landing on his toes. Not even Hoshigaki Kisame could hit that hard. He ignored the throbbing in his hand and focused on attacking Madara, the image of the general alternating between Mizuki's sneering figure and the outline of Itachi's favorite training post—one that Obito had gifted to him long ago.

The general was no pushover, and met him blow for blow. To the enraptured audience, it seemed like neither of them were able to hurt one another. In reality, however, it was an entirely different story.

Itachi's had not developed his Amaterasu to be a heavy-hitting form, and the disadvantage of fighting with such an art was now seeping through the cracks in his stoic facade. Madara was not taking as much damage as Itachi would have liked, and they both knew that.

A gutteral growl rose in his throat, and Madara broke through Itachi's defences. Lips pulling back into a grimace, Itachi flipped his weight to one side, and Madara's fist clipped his cheek, sending him spinning into the air.

"ITACHI!" he heard someone scream, terrified. His Mangekyou Sharingan was able to capture Izumi's horrified expression as the people's faces whirled around and around in a swirl of dull colors and distorted limbs. He saw the tension in his father's jaw, and the anticipation boiling in Deidara's disposition.

It chilled his blood and froze the marrow in his bones. Adjusting himself in midair, Itachi landed softly far away from Madara, chest rising and falling more quickly than usual.

"It's impressive," Madara said. His voice was softer than Itachi had ever heard it, yet it still retained its grating quality. "You're impressive."

Itachi did not respond, simply gazing at the man with hard, crimson eyes. At some point during the fight, Madara had activated his own Sharingan. Itachi didn't know what trauma the older Uchiha had gone through to receive such a curse, but, somehow, he was not surprised.

He blinked slowly, knowing Madara was still gauging him and would not attack. Behind his eyelids, Madara's face was no longer Mizuki's. Instead, the general had grown extra limbs, and resembled Itachi's training post.

Punch. Deflect. Up. Lift. Backhand. Eyes. Nose. Mouth. Throat.

----

"Aniki!"

Itachi, ten and the heir to the Uchiha Clan, grabbed one of the arms of his wooden training post to stop it from bashing into the side of his head. Then he turned, an amused smile on his face. "Sasuke. Are you done with your homework already?"

Sasuke nodded vigorously, his side bangs swishing along with the movement. "Hai! Okaa-san made me work on my character writing." His face scrunched up, and Itachi had to chuckle and ruffle his hair.

"Maa, I know how much you hate calligraphy, but you'll thank our mother in the future. She just wants the best for us." His brother was an odd duck, and Itachi wasn't just thinking that because of his unfortunately shaped hair (it would grow out to be tamer in the future, he knew). Sasuke had a love for language, but only the speaking aspect of it. He could imitate accents, and Itachi would recount all the times he had to stop Sasuke from speaking in front of foreign officials, for he knew that Sasuke would try to mimic their brogue.

"I know," Sasuke's voice raised in a whine. "But since I'm done, can you and Shisui-nii come play with me?"

Itachi's face heated slightly as he thought of the plans he had made this afternoon. "Ah... sorry, Sasuke, but I'm meeting with someone today. We just played yesterday. Maybe next time..."

"Huh?! Who?! Your girlfriend?!"

This time, Itachi full-on blushed, turning away from his little brother. "No," he said firmly, hoping there was conviction in his voice. "And you already know her. Izumi-chan from the next street down."

"Ohh. She's nice; she gives me tomatoes from her garden patch. I really like her."

"I'm glad you do." Itachi poked his little brother in the forehead, making him pout. "Because I like her a lot, too."

He walked away then, needing to shower, and Sasuke called after him, "What's that supposed to mean? Aniki, don't be so vague! At least come and show me some cool moves!"

At that, Itachi halted. Well, he did have a bit of time. "Okay, five minutes," Itachi agreed, returning to his training post. "See this, Sasuke? Our clan uses it to practice our family stylethe Uchiha Style. Every Uchiha knows this. Once you turn five, otou-sama will begin teaching you the basics." In actuality, Itachi had started at three, but that was only because he was the eldest, and therefore the heir. Itachi gestured to various points on the post. "This is where the opponents eyes are. These are his arms, and these are his legs..."

Five minutes later, Sasuke looked up at him as solemnly as a four-year-old could. "That sounds very painful, Aniki."

"The Uchiha Style is... brutal," Itachi said carefully.

"I don't really like it then..."

Itachi couldn't help it. A smile tugged at his lips, and he ruffled his beloved brother's hair for the second time that day. "That's okay. I don't really like it either. It's unspoken in Ame that the principle of our taijutsu is benevolence, but the Uchiha Clan have been practicing this style since their days in Konoha." He paused. "Our clan doesn't really like change. But I think that our clan will never survive if we do not have change, which is why..."

Sasuke blinked up at him. "Why what?"

"This style doesn't really suit me," the older Uchiha said in the end. "I've actually started working on a new one, but it's still very much a work in progress."

"Wow! Aniki is so cool!" Sasuke frowned. "But what if your style doesn't work?"

"I'll always have our clan's arts to fall back upon, if the Amaterasu should fail."

Sasuke was content with that answer. "Hehe, Aniki is really kind."

----

Sasuke's mouth grew dry as he observed Itachi gather his bearings and swap his stance for one that was an amalgamation of the traditional Uchiha Style and Itachi's very own Amaterasu. It threw him back to the day that he had defeated the ten Tsuki warriors in Obito's name—the brutal animal he'd become was slowly surfacing once more.

"Geez, look at you," Mizuki muttered into his ear, his fingers tapping on the holster of his pistol. "So scared for him."

Madara and Itachi begun to fight again, moving faster than ever. At one point, Madara nearly had Itachi falling off the stage, but the man saved himself by twisting his leg around Madara's and flipping back to the center of the stage.

A barrage of blows were exchanged, and they seemed to be evenly matched until something happened.

Sasuke nearly bit his tongue when Itachi struck Madara across the face suddenly, sending him flying backward.

"He did it!" Sakura shouted, jade green eyes wide. "Come on, Itachi!"

Itachi didn't allow his opponent any respite, launching right after him and slamming his knee into his gut.

"Khhh...!" Spittle flew from Madara's mouth, and Itachi used this moment to push his back into one of the four wooden posts on each corner of the stage. And then, he began to beat him.

Itachi was a machine, never wavering. Head. This part represents the head, Sasuke. The back of Madara's skull bashed against the wooden post, causing it to shake intensely. Chest. Arms. Disable his arms; then he can't hit back. Do you see, Sasuke? This is what I really hate most because this is what I will inevitably become.

Itachi's arms twisted around the wooden arms of the pole, striking at an impossibly fast pace.

Blood dribbled from the general's nose and mouth. Mizuki's hand hovered over his gun contemplatively.

His palm almost destroyed the top of the pole.

Itachi struck Madara in the center of his forehead, snapping his head back before hanging forward. Itachi held out his hand in a knife position near the general's throat, as if waiting to strike him down should he fall over.

He didn't.

Itachi stepped back, his hand closing into a fist. His knuckles were red.

Huffing weakly, Madara slid down the pole. He lifted his chin, Mangekyou Sharingan flashing and reflecting Itachi's own Mangekyou.

"Who was it?" Itachi inquired suddenly, back facing Sasuke and Mizuki.

"... He was my brother." Madara's eyes closed. "His name was Izuna."

"Hn."

Chiyo, Ino, and Hitomi emerged from Chiyo's Chicken Rice, the latter two with tears in their eyes.

Hanabi's face fell when she circled the square for the umpteenth time without sighting pale lilac eyes among brown, black, and blue.

"Yours?"

"I didn't lose him. But it was enough."

"Lucky bastard."

Itachi turned away from the fallen general, searching for Izumi's face in the crowd.

It was so quiet, one could hear a pin drop.

Then the crowd erupted in cheers, roaring as loud as they could and thrusting their fists up in the air. Among them were Sakura, Izumi, and Deidara, shouting at the top of their lungs. The Uchiha Clan were silent at first, but when Fugaku shockingly followed the public's example, they did the same. They didn't even stop when the Tsuki soldiers pointed their guns at them and barked for silence.

"ITACHI-SAMA!" someone shouted.

His name was repeated by almost every man and woman.

"ITACHI-SAMA!"

"ITACHI-SAMA!"

Deidara breathed out a small sigh, feeling pride well up in her chest. After all the death, all the destruction... the feeling of hopelessness, this almost feels... She craned her neck upward to see Itachi, his face turned away from hers. Like a small victory... Watching the people cheer for Akatsuki's pride—a dead man, a bruised, beaten girl, a crying woman—This is the kind of thing that makes me happy to be alive to witness, un.

To him, it was just a buzz of noise. Itachi finally found Izumi's face in the crowd. Her expression was one of pure relief, joy, and exhaustion. There were lines on her face that hadn't been there before, but she was beautiful. He took a step toward her—

"NO!"

BANG!

White, hot, blinding pain—

Sasuke wrestled Mizuki to the ground, screaming.

Izumi's face changed from relief to unadulterated horror. The effect was instantaneous and pervasive. Arms which had been lifted into the air in celebration slowly fell back down. Eyes were wide, unable to be torn away from Itachi for entirely different reasons.

The Tsukigakure soldiers stilled considerably, though they still held the Ame people at gunpoint.

Itachi gazed at the hole between his shoulder and his collarbone.

Then he slumped sideways, the distance between him and the ground decreasing dangerously quickly.

Itachi blinked numbly, his entire world tipping to the side. Izumi's disbelieving visage tilted as well. As he fell, the clouds in the sky parted enough for the rising sun to be seen. The light blurred Izumi's face as Itachi, having fallen, allowed for it to shine upon her.

Her lips moved. Itachi couldn't hear anything, but he didn't need to.

'Anata'.

His head hit the ground, and the sky shook.

Everything after that happened at once.

----

"ITACHI!" Izumi screamed as the crowd surged forward against the barricades, pushing the wooden barriers out of the way. Men wrestled the rifles out of soldiers as everybody fought their way to the front, shouting and screaming from all sides.

"OUT OF THE WAY!" shouted Sakura, shouldering her way through the crowd, her fingers intertwined with Izumi's. "MOVE!"

Hitomi looked up at Ino, scared. "W-what's happening?! Did he die?!"

"This way!" rasped Chiyo, Ino's hand and leading her away from the mayhem. We must find Deidara.

"Nee-san!" Hitomi wailed.

"I'm here, imouto!" Ino hollered. She tightened her grip on the little girl's hand. In her other hand, she could feel callouses and knots on Chiyo's palms.

"I'm slipping!" cried Hitomi, slowly losing sight of Ino and Chiyo as people moved everywhere. Their hands were still connected, but—

"HITOMI!" Her sister's touch disappeared and Ino whipped around frantically before settling her gaze on Chiyo. "Baa-sama, please find Deidara and get to safety! I'm going to find my imouto!"

Chiyo was torn. "Yamanaka—"

But Ino had already vanished into another onslaught of people leaving Chiyo to curse like a drunken sailor and shove her way through the crowd to find salvation. I'm getting too old for this! Is that Deidara over there? A flash of golden blonde caught her eye before dissipating.

Standing higher than everyone else, Sasuke was quickly overpowering Mizuki. Nothing matters anymore! A fury burned in his eyes and Mizuki trembled as he stared into the Mangekyou Sharingan. Sasuke tore the Nambu pistol he loved from his hand and all but stabbed the muzzle into the soft underside of the adviser's chin. Mizuki flailed, helpless.

"Die, you piece of shit," Sasuke spat hatefully, firing. The chakra-enhanced bullet liquefied Mizuki's brain, and his body fell off the wooden construct to be trampled by the rioting citizens of Akatsuki. He dropped the gun and stepped on it with the heel of his boot, destroying the small machinery. By now, the Tsuki soldiers had begun to open fire. Sasuke no longer had a reason to restrain himself; he removed the twin Mauser C96 pistols he had in his holsters and fired at the enemy—Tsuki—with deadly precision honed from years of training. If he hit any civilians, no one but him would ever know.

The barrier in front of Izumi was sent flying into the air and onto a nearby roof, courtesy of a kick executed by Deidara. Their gazes met for a second before the blonde and the raven-haired woman reached Itachi. There was already a pool of blood forming beneath the wound and soaking into his clothes.

"Anata!" Izumi looked desperately to Sakura. "Can you help him? Please!"

"Not here," Sakura stressed, whipping her head around. "If he stays here, it'll be a death sentence!"

"More soldiers are coming!" a woman near the back of the crowd screeched.

They came in swarms. Unarmed civilians would not stand a chance against them, even with outrage running through their veins.

Deidara leaped on stage. "Stand back, un!" Her sleeve whipped upward momentarily, revealing her mouth-palms frantically chewing something. Before anyone knew it, a gigantic explosion detonated at the nearest soldier swarm, vaporizing all of them instantly. It was her biggest explosion—C3—and if anyone innocent got caught in the crossfire, only she would ever know.

In one moment, her's and Sasuke's eyes met. Then they were back to having their own agendas, Sasuke taking his vengeance against Tsukigakure soldiers left and right and Deidara trying to clear a path for Itachi to be carried somewhere safe. The civilians had enough brains behind their ears to move out of the way for Sakura and Izumi. The black-haired (formerly pink-haired) medic lifted Itachi in her arms like he was nothing, testimony to her time spent with Sennin Tsunade. She was careful not to increase the amount of blood flowing from his wound. Itachi blearily opened his eyes almost every time she took a step, the pain keeping him awake.

Which was good, Sakura thought, because she suspected he might have a concussion.

"Katsu!" Deidara exploded another C3 that she had unleashed upon a group of more unsuspecting soldiers. She couldn't see anymore coming. Her cloak flapping around her petite figure from the wind, she sprinted after Sakura and Izumi.

Hanabi suddenly appeared beside her, hardly acknowledging her as they ran side by side to the beer hall.

Danna should have finished the seal by now, Deidara thought frantically. After Itachi is healed, we can

BANG! BANG!

Something fast whizzed past her cheek, and Deidara felt her own blood dripping down her face.

Shit! she inwardly screamed. They're shooting at us! She threw a C2 at them, hoping that it would be enough to ward them off. "KATSU!"

Suddenly, Izumi keeled over, heaving.

"Izumi!" Deidara helped her up, letting out a small "oof" before continuing to run as fast as she could, bullets whizzing by her.

"Con..." Izumi choked on her words, squeezing her eyes shut in pain.

"CONTRACTIONS?!" Sakura all but screamed. "DAMMIT, WE HAVE TO HURRY! Hanabi, where the hell is Ino?!"

Hanabi closed her eyes momentarily before shouting, "Byakugan!" Veins appeared in her eyes, and a look of deep concentration befell her. She became stricken. "She's still in the crowd!"

"NO!" Sakura let out a frustrated noise.

"We'll go back," Deidara decided immediately, "Come on, Hanabi."

The soldiers chasing them startled when the Hyuuga and the blonde suddenly turned back, screaming when Deidara hurled another one of her clay bombs at them, shouting, "Katsu!"

"Your left!" Hanabi shouted.

"Got it, un!"

It was gross, but Deidara jabbed her fingers into a nearby man's eyes, curling them and essentially pulling the soft organs out. Through her hand-mouth, she felt blood on the tongue, but now wasn't the time to be squeamish.

The two girls dove back into the crowd. There were more bodies than there had been before, and the ground was blood-stained. Akatsuki Square had been completely defiled. Sasuke was shooting in a terrifyingly accurate frenzy, felling soldiers left and right. He was shot at as well, but with his Mangekyou Sharingan, he was able to just dodge the bullets.

It occurred to Deidara that Sasuke would not be safe in Akatsuki once this entire fiasco was over. There were over a hundred people that could testify as witnesses to his outright betrayal (if anyone was left alive).

So she called out to him, "Hey, asshat!"

He turned, funnily enough.

And Deidara gave him a mocking wave. "If you don't want your head on a pike, follow us, un!"

Sasuke scowled but Deidara turned away before he could answer.

"Chiyo-baa-sama!" Deidara grabbed the old woman's arm. "Come with us."

"Have you seen the Yamanakas?!" Chiyo yelled, people surging all around them in panic.

Hanabi answered her inquiry. "She's over there!"

The world of Byakugan would only ever be experienced by the Hyuuga. It was one of the things that made being a Hyuuga so special, but right now...

Ino ran to a shaking Hitomi, who had a gun pointed at her chest, the man holding the rifle prepared to shoot out the heart that beat fearfully beneath her breast.

Hanabi started toward them, eyes wide. "Wait—"

A strangled scream echoed through the square.

... Hanabi wished that she hadn't been born a Hyuuga.

Numb with shock, the young Hyuuga lifted her hands to her mouth. This was not the first time she had encountered death, despite her young age. Her mother had died shortly after her birth, and she had killed a few men after the war started, but they had deserved it and they had been strangers.

Hitomi blinked, uncomprehending as Ino slumped to the side, dead. Her heart had been destroyed, having been shot from point-blank range. The bullet had ripped through her chest and...

Oh.

"What is it?!" Deidara demanded, grabbing the Hyuuga by the shoulders and shaking her.

Oh.

Oh.

Hanabi could see bits of shrapnel embedded in Hitomi's heart. The bullet itself had lodged somewhere in her spine.

Hitomi fell backward, mouth wide open in a surprised 'o'. Her eyes stared blankly at the sky, not quite dead yet.

"See..." Hanabi swallowed. "... For yourself."

Moments later, Sasuke shot Ino's killer in the head. It was his last bullet, and he threw his guns away and drew out his katana.

As if some deity in the sky was mocking them, the crowd parted just enough for Deidara to glimpse Ino and Hitomi. She shouted something incomprehensible, dashing toward them. Chiyo went after her, taking a paler-than-usual Hanabi by the hand. Which was good, because Hanabi was certain that she couldn't even walk straight.

"Calm down," Chiyo soothed, squeezing her hand. "Breathe."

Hanabi took a deep breath, feeling her entire frame trembling at the small feat.

Deidara skidded to a stop right next to Hitomi, kneeling beside her. "No..." This can't be happening. Oh, but the cruel fact was that it was happening, and there was nothing she could do but watch her charge bleed to death in Akatsuki's war-torn heart. Hadn't she thought that Hitomi would never last? That she would one day be killed by her own foolishness? How ironic, that the reason for her death would be on the count of Deidara's own carelessness.

I should have never left her there.

Hitomi's mouth began to move. "Am I... going to die? I can't... move anything. My... hands..."

She was six. Deidara wanted to scream at the sky as tears gathered in the corner of her eyes, ready to fall at any moment. She was six, dammit! Six-year-olds weren't supposed to be shot in the heart, or watch their sisters die in front of them!

Hitomi began to weep, tears flowing out of her eyes and dripping down the side of her head. "P-please, I don't wanna die... I don't wanna..." She sobbed. "P-please, I don't wanna die, Ino-nee."

Ino. She thought she was Ino. Somehow, it hit her harder than she thought it would. Her heart twisted in agony, and she let out a low moan, covering her hand with her mouth as tears trailed down her face.

"Get up." Chiyo's voice brought Deidara out of her stupor. "You have to get up, Deidara, it's not safe here. There will be time to grieve later, but we must go!"

The sound of gunshots filled her ears again, and Deidara got off her knees.

"Yeah." Deidara's voice was hoarse. "Yeah, okay."

Sasuke landed beside them, katana bloody. "Deidara-san, where are we going?"

Hanabi and Chiyo would have scowled at his presence, but both were distracted by other matters. Frankly, getting out of the Square alive took priority.

"Just follow us, un." Deidara wiped the last of her tears away with her dusty sleeve, setting her face into a stoic mask.

The group of four merged into the crowd.

Hitomi blinked up at the sky one last time before closing her eyes forever.

The last of the Yamanaka Clan was no more, and she took with her the legacy of the clan.

----

A pained groan filled the chambers, urging Sasori to work even faster. Izumi had arrived being helped along by Sakura, who was also carrying Itachi. Asagi and Rin, both having experience in the matter, immediately tended to her, telling her to keep count of her contractions and breathe.

"Wait, I have it!" Bless Nara Shikamaru, Sasori thought, his mind already past the point of working on overdrive. He'd probably sleep for the next twenty-four hours if it could be helped.

They were finally done. They had deciphered the seal to be an extremely complicated, rarely seen, and ancient amalgamation. Now just came the part of unlocking it so they could finally leave the city. All their rations and supplies had been packed. It wouldn't be enough to last them a long time in the wilderness, but there would be game to hunt along the way, as well as edible berries and herbs that bloomed during winter.

Sasori was vaguely aware of Deidara arriving along with Hanabi, Chiyo, and Sasuke of all people. Whatever, he would question it later.

The Sealing Team stood back, exchanging nods.

Then—

"Kaifu no jutsu!" they shouted simultaneously.

There was a puff of smoke as the iron wall was unsealed. Then it slid to the side, and everyone who had been waiting for the past forty minutes cheered.

Sasori's shoulders slumped. Finally. Finally, finally. Now they could relax, and—

He stiffened when two figures emerged from the other side of the cavern.

Just like that, the tension returned to their shoulders and many of them took battle stances. Sasori could name some of them, like Mitarashi Anko, and a pair of best friends simply known as Izumo and Kotetsu.

There was a dim light on the other end of the tunnel-like cavern, and one of the figures stepped forward.

Sasori never relaxed, even when he saw his face.

Hatake Kakashi lifted one hand, his eye curving upward as he smiled behind his mask. "Yo!"

Gai came next, and two small girls followed behind him.

"Maito Gai?!"

"Chihiro!"

"Hinata-nee!"

"... You have a lot of explaining to do," Naruto, staring at Kakashi, deadpanned from the back.

----

They exited the city swiftly and silently, or as silently as a group of sixty or so people—the majority of them being civilians—could. They left the walled city behind them, not even looking back once. Or, well, Deidara didn't, anyway, and neither did Sasori. She knew this because they stayed by each other's side the whole time.

"Did something happen?" Sasori eventually asked, turning his head to look her in the eye.

"Hitomi and Ino are dead." She lowered her gaze. "I'll fill you in later, un." Ahead of them, Shikamaru and Choji walked side by side, oblivious to her words. That bridge would be crossed later.

A particularly painful contraction struck Izumi, and she cried out in pain. Itachi, who Sakura forced to be conscious, was talking her through it. His wound was not completely healed as Sakura hadn't had the time, but Kakashi and Gai (the other figure) had told them that there would be a place safe enough for her to give birth.

"When is it going to come out?!" Izumi's voice rose in panic.

Sakura kept her lips zipped about just how long it could take for the child to be born, focusing instead on soothing her patient's shot nerves.

"Stay strong," Rin told her, rubbing circles on her hand. "It'll all be worth it in the end."

Eventually, they reached the 'safe haven'.

"Shisui?!" Deidara and Sasuke blurted at the same time, Rin not far behind.

Smiling apologetically, Shisui waved to them.

"And Kagami?" Sasuke added, muttering this under his breath.

Naruto glared at Kakashi. "Now you really have a lot of explaining to do!"

Kakashi eye-smiled again. "I suppose I do, don't I?"

Another keening cry from Izumi had all sixty of them scrambling into the large truck that Shisui and Kagami had hidden behind shrubbery.

Shisui entered the driver's seat with Kagami in the passenger seat. The rest all sat in the back of the vehicle, where goods being transported were usually kept.

The skies had been grey when the Tsuki-Ame war had caught up to them. Now, they were still grey when they left the fighting behind.

Someone started to sob with relief.

Many others found themselves joining them.

Deidara's head slumped against Sasori's shoulder. "I'm so tired..."

He closed his eyes, using the position of her head to rest his own. "... I am, too."

They fell asleep right there and then, and only woke when Izumi's baby was born.

The child was a boy, and the very spitting image of his father.

"Where are we going?" Sasuke suddenly asked during the night, speaking to Kakashi.

"Where?" Kakashi echoed before answering, "Maa, where else but Konoha?"

They had a long journey ahead of them.

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