Trial of Man (人間の闘争)

[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

43. Part V: Orange Lily

Now I have only the memory of what I was, which tortures me when I consider what I've become.

— Excerpt from The Diary of Sarutobi Sasuke

----

Sasori blinked slowly as Deidara burst into a fit of giggles, her eyes closed as her giggles turned into a full-on roar of laughter that couldn't be calmed. The single bottle of sake they had shared—empty cups were clutched in their hands—trembled as her thigh accidentally pushed it forward. The bottle rolled off the roof and shattered on the concrete ground below before Sasori could even comprehend what was happening.

"When," she wheezed, "When did you get so funny, hm?!"

"I've always been hilarious," he deadpanned, checking the contents of his own cup to see if there was anything in there that could have caused her laughing fit. Their faces were both warm from alcohol—the blush across her cheeks redder than his—as they enjoyed each other's company, the moon looking down on them from its cradle of stars. He poured himself more of the sake, feeling a smile tugging at his lips despite himself. "It's your turn," he reminded her, "Tell me something about your past."

He had managed to avoid letting anything... sensitive slip so far, letting her drink most of the beverage so that his tongue would not loosen too quickly. Maybe someday, he would tell her, but that was a slim chance.

"Okay, okay!" Deidara exhaled deeply, preparing herself. "There was this boy my old best friend used to like before..." Sasori raised an eyebrow at the sudden coherent gleam in her eyes before it was replaced by the filmy glaze of intoxication. "He ended up dividing us, and it was the stupidest love triangle ever, yeah! Could it even be called that?! In the end, it wasn't like... like..." She shook her head, her amusement turning into frustration. "It would have never worked out. Honestly, now that I think about it, Kurotsuchi-teme was really gross to like him."

"And you weren't?"

"Hey! I didn't like him, hm! I just got dragged into things! Besides, he was a year younger than everyone else, and people picked on him all the time," she was rambling now, "so we only got close because I beat up the kids who wouldn't leave him alone. Hmph."

Perhaps this wasn't the best idea, Sasori suspected as Deidara took the entire bottle of sake and drained it to its last drop.

She let out a happy sigh. "It's a nice night. Let's not ruin it with the past, hm. We should play something else."

"This wasn't a game to begin with," Sasori pointed out, though he was inwardly glad that they had dropped the subject of the past. Clearly, her own past had its dark marks, though he doubted it was as blood-soaked as his. Until the time was rightif it ever cametheir secrets would stay locked away. "What's your favorite color?" Not the smoothest change of subject, but it would do.

"Green. Forest green, yeah. You?"

Forest green... the trees only grew in the south in Iwa, didn't they? He tucked that bit of information he had gleaned from her away. He didn't have to think about his answer. "Anything except red."

Deidara's eyes moved up to his crimson locks, and she cocked a brow.

It was Sasori's turn to drink, taking a long, slow sip from the precious remnants in his cup. "It's the truth, brat. Who do you believeme or my hair?"

"Red is a good color on you though," she slurred, smiling. "Don't know why you don't like it, hm."

It was fairly simple in Sasori's opinion. It was because red was the color of blood, which was what normally preceded death.

"A lot of cultures consider it a lucky color," she added when he didn't seem convinced.

But he wouldn't budge, not on this. "In my culture, it was the color of war flags."

"Oh. Ours was brown. Tan-ish. The war flags, that is." She spoke lightly of the topic, and Sasori wondered if she had ever known war. There was still so much he had yet to discover about her, and though he told himself that he didn't careshe was just a sparring partner, a casual acquaintance (but would they really be here now if they were really just that)?but he felt his desire to know more about her stir deep within him.

But for now, either she was a really good actress or it was genuine. Considering her inebriated state, he chose to believe the latter.

She was quite the sheltered brat, wasn't she?

"Do you even know what it's like?" Sasori said, a small amount of bitterness seeping into his voice.

No answer.

"Brat?"

A light snore.

Her chakra was calm.

Sasori let out a long-suffering sigh. Of course.

"Then I hope you never find out," he muttered, drinking the last drops of his sake. Then he got comfortable, tracing paths in the stars above. He would wake her soonit wouldn't do to have her sliding off the roof in the middle of the night and breaking her neckbut for now, he would enjoy what comforts the night had to offer.

He never got to see her open her eyes as soon as he turned away, her gaze solemn and sad and knowing despite the alcohol in her systemthe eyes of someone who had been forced to grow up too quickly. Then she closed them, lulled into sleep by the sound of his steady breathing and the liquid fire burning in her blood.

----

The two guards in front of the compound gates instantly stiffened as Deidara marched up the hill, her cloak floating around her figure ethereally. They squinted, almost as if they were unsure if she were real or a trick of the mind.

"Oi," one of them growled, stepping forward. He brandished an axe that glinted in the moonlight. Rain continued to pour, and Deidara continued to stand a few paces away from them, unmoving. "Get out of here. You're not welcome."

"Kai… Kaido…!"

The guard who was antagonizing her whipped his head back. "Wha—!" His exclamation turned into a choked scream as his partner writhed against the gates, some kind of thick, ropey monster had its body coiled tightly around the other man, crushing him in a slow, agonizing death. An eerie chitter from the creature struck fear into the man, and he fumbled with his axe, arm trembling. "Ichirou!"

Then blood bubbled from his lips, and he collapsed face first into his axe, which drove half-way into his skull. The hilt of a knife stuck out from his back.

Deidara sighed as her centipede crawled over the wall. "Do unto others before they do unto you," she recited aloud, resigned. These men would not hesitate to kill her—she would adopt the same mindset, the same one she had adopted when she and Sasori had fought Orochimaru. Hardening her resolve, she threw open the gates, the action sending an ominous boom throughout the compound.

She reached one hand into her clay pouch—the left, which still had its mouth intact.

An axe nearly took her head, but she moved her head to the side just in time, her gaze never wavering. Then she flicked her wrist, and a clay bomb—C2—flew toward the darkness.

"Katsu."

The explosion was deafening, and the smell of ashes and charred corpses flooded up her nostrils. She hated the smell, but walked on through. She glanced at the bodies, briefly checking. Two dead men, just as she had expected. There seemed to be some sort of organization around here—one which required for Axe Gang members to work in pairs.

The door of a side entrance into the main hall came crashing down, and Deidara didn't have to turn to know that her clay centipede was doing its job, strangling a guard to death. Its pale hide was splattered with red.

When she entered the hall—it seemed to be one once used for entertainment, if stage at the front of the room was any indication; Kiba was the main attraction tonight—she found that it was filled to the brim with gang members of all shapes and sizes, all of them wielding an axe for a weapon.

There was a dark-clothed man standing on the stage with Kiba, his back facing Deidara. Then he lifted his hand to his face and turned, a white mask obscuring his eyes.

"A girl?" one burly man blurted. "Is… is that all?! But we heard an explosion!"

"Who cares?" a reedy man sneered. "She's killed our own… I can smell the blood… And we can't forgive that." He looked up at the man on the stage. "Right, Hayate?"

Hayate dipped his chin. "No need to wait for an invitation." His voice was smooth, and he had a baritone—lower than even Sasori's—that didn't entirely suit his slender, bird-like frame, which was still visible despite the dim lighting and the black trench coat he wore.

"Kiba!" Deidara suddenly bellowed, paying no heed to the conversation between Hayate and the reedy man. The boy's head was drooped, but he stirred a little in recognition of his own name. She rested her gaze on Hayate. "I'll be taking him back now, hm. Step aside, trash." Boldly, she took a step forward. The men didn't budge. One lifted an axe. Do unto others before they do unto you, said Sarutobi Sasuke. In the end, even the peace-lover had had no choice but to resign himself to the mantra in order to survive. She lifted her hands.

Immediately, the Axe Gang took this as some kind of declaration and charged for her, waving their axes all over the place as they went for the offensive.

"Katsu."

Shrieks of pain and terror accompanied the first wave of attackers falling down, bleeding out from their legs, which had been blown into pieces.

"What?" Deidara said as she was met with horrified gazes. "Did you really think I was just standing there, waiting for you to finish talking? Hm?" she added mockingly, showing her hands. As soon as she said the words, clay shot down her sleeves and wrapped around her hands, forming dangerous tips at the fingers. In seconds flat, she had made a bigger, more armored version of Sasori's chakra neko-tes.

Then she walked.

Fodder didn't learn, did they? Cries of desperation rising up their throat, she cut a path through all of them like stalks of grass—ruthlessly, relentlessly—blood and other bodily matter splattering everywhere.

But then a man got too close, his knife thrusting for between her eyes. A split-second later, her hand—free of her clay armor—grabbed his knife-wielding hand and twisted, bending his arm at a seemingly impossible angle. He screamed in pain, collapsing on his knees and then falling to his side. She stepped over him, the heel of her boot crunching on his nose.

Nobody saw, but she grimaced. If she was ashamed or vilified at her own cruelty, no one would ever know.

Someone took the opportunity to try to gut her from behind, but her centipede saved her, throwing itself between the axe and her spine. It split the centipede in two, but the upper half hissed and tore at his face, its fearsome pincers gouging out his eyes, then piercing through the socket and into the skull. Brain matter splashed about, dousing the clay creature in a fountain of reds and pinks. The centipede writhed in the ground for a moment before connecting itself back together and scuttling off somewhere.

The sound of somebody throwing up at the sight, followed by screaming, could be heard.

"My..." Hayate looked up, his eyes gleaming behind his mask as Deidara leaped through the air, landing on the elevated stage. Gang members followed, but were stopped in their tracks when a second and third centipede emerged from her garb, crawling across the floor and hissing at them dangerously. "You're one of a kind, aren't you?"

"Are you going to stop me?" she asked coolly, stepping toward Kiba.

"No." Hayate's lips curled into a smirk. "But he will."

Deidara turned just in time to see a giant fist headed her way; she rolled across the floor and back onto her feet, warily watching the hulk who had nearly killed her. He was two heads taller than her and built like a tank—but what made her most cautious was not his size, but the fact that he stood like a trained martial artist. Realizing that their attacker had been spooked for the first time, Axe Gang members began to gather closer like flies to rotten flesh.

"I never thought..." Hayate trailed off, his gaze fixed on Deidara behind the mask. "Ookami. Kill her."

The big, burly man nodded. "Hai."

"The second-in-command," the lowly henchmen chattered, "We're going to see him fight...!"

Deidara took a step backward, frowning. "Hey, big guy." She lifted her fingers. "Katsu."

Lightning fast, her three centipedes wrapped around Ookami's large form, exploding on impact.

Hayate glanced up at the ceiling, smiling. "That should do it."

Moments after his spoken words, water sprayed from the roof, the hall's emergency sprinklers activated due to the amount of smoke that had amassed from Deidara's explosions. There were cries of surprise from everyone as they were rained upon, the water washing the blood toward the doors; the compound was not completely level.

The smoke cleared, revealing Deidara standing over the fallen form of Ookami. Without her centipedes, she was almost completely exposed as she was drenched, the clay around her hands melting away with the water. Or perhaps she thought it was safe enough for her to do so. She moved for Kiba—

And Ookami snatched her ankle and slammed her into the floor.

Hayate smiled, reaching for Kiba and tilting his chin up to force him to look at what had just transpired. His eyes were at a casual half-mast, showing little reaction to the sight of Ookami throwing her to the ground. "I know you're awake, kid. Take a look—I was wrong. Somebody did come for you? It's too bad that she's going to die now, isn't she? Ookami is a legend in his own right when it comes to taijutsu. She won't win." Peering closer, he could see tears beneath Kiba's lashes. "You didn't cry until I broke your foot earlier. Why now, then?" Hayate tilted his head, pretending to be pensive. "Ah! Is it because she came for you when nobody else did?" The boy stiffened. "Ahaha... I'm a pretty good, guesser, aren't I?" Closing his eyes, Hayate ducked his head, bangs falling over his eyes, and whispered in Kiba's ear, "Why don't you go help her then? I'll let you go. Just for a little bit. If you try to run, I'll catch you. I'll always catch you."

"TEME!" Ookami fell backward as Deidara wrenched herself free and kicked him upside the jaw. Her chest was heaving, genuine distress visible in her blue eyes as she bled from a wound on her head, blood streaking down her face. Her cloak had been discarded, leaving her clad in only her yukata and tan pants. The sleeves of her garb were rolled up, revealing red marks on her forearms which would eventually fade into bruises. A deep, almost primal growl rose in her throat, and she shot toward Ookami, clay rapidly forming around her arms as she struck Ookami again while he was on the floor, dazed. The first punch broke his nose, and then Ookami rolled out of the way and back into a standing position.

"I am bigger than you," Ookami suddenly stated calmly, "And stronger, too. You cannot defeat me."

"Oh, please," her voice was dripping with acid, "I've faced worse odds, you pale asshole." Inwardly, though, she took Ookami quite seriously. He had been able to withstand three combined C2 explosions, which was nothing to sniff at. What is up with this freak? He's a heavy-hitter, and his durability is off the charts, but still... Is he some kind of monster?!

"You're wondering, aren't you?" Ookami hardly blinked. "How I survived." He lifted up his arm, and his bones began to protrude from skin, but he did not flinch. "Allow me to demonstrate." With a squelching sound, the bones in his forearm shot out from the skin and formed a deadly, curved and almost axe-like blade.

What?! Deidara stiffened, pupils briefly narrowing into slits. I... I didn't even see it happen! It was... almost instant. She lifted her hand to cover the exposed half of her face, her lips trembling as she struggled to reign the sudden rush of something that had enveloped her. "Ha... Haha! Hahahaha!" She couldn't see it, but even Ookami looked a little startled at her reaction before steeling his face into its usual bland mask. "And here I thought I could get away with charging head-on, hm." Her fingers parted a little, her single eye practically boring holes into Ookami. "I never even considered... that this measly piece of shit gang in this measly piece of shit town could have someone like you... The irony! Bahaha! You know, you really get my blood boiling," her countenance turned into one of undisguised hatred, "Ōtsutsuki-san."

The composure she had fought to hard to maintain as she killed and maimed those men, convincing herself that it was for the greater good... It was all falling apart now, and she was starting to relish in it, especially with the appearance of this man before her. Sometimes things like this are necessary.

"South side?" Ookami ventured.

"Forever and always, yeah." Without warning, Ookami shot toward her like a dart. She dodged, clay running down her arms and forming into her clawed gauntlets again; her lips were curled back in a snarl, and she fought with an almost renewed strength. They clashed, hardened clay meeting reinforced bone. Ookami attempted to stab her in the chest by extending the reach of his ivory blade, but she changed the texture of her clay at the last second and engulfed it.

"Tch!" Deidara spat when the blade ended up nicking her face anyway, causing a line of blood to form from the bridge of her nose to her cheekbones. She wrenched herself from their stalemate, but he closed the distance too quickly, smashed her across the platform with the blunt edge of his blade. Her flying body tore the stage curtains, the fabric twisting around her battered body.

Shit! She barely rolled out of the way in time to avoid being gutted by Ookami's blade—she had barely gotten back the wind in her lungs when he had launched himself at her, killing intent leaking from his body. She was faster than him, but that didn't matter if he was good enough to get a hit in—and that he was. Her ribs were feeling like they had cracked into a million pieces and the rest of her was no better. Narrowing her eyes, her arm lashed out, and the shredded, tangled mess of a curtain flew toward Ookami, momentarily blinding him, his mouth open in a roar.

They had all the space to themselves now—most of the gang members had evacuated from fear or were dead. Hayate was murmuring something to Kiba that Deidara didn't have time to decipher—what she needed to do now was gain some sufficient distance from Ookami. She coiled her leg muscles and jumped up into the catwalk above the stage, her arms just long enough to grab the bottom railing and swing herself up. All the while, her left hand chewed ferociously, her right hand jerking as if practicing a throwing motion.

Just one more second! Her breathing was ragged, her ribs aching, but she kept going until, finally, her remaining hand-mouth spat out a small, kunai-shaped clay structure. It was not molded after any particular shape or animal, unlike her normal creations. She pushed her hair back with a smirk that betrayed vindictive desperation, revealing her eyescope, and, using her right hand, threw the kunai. It was a gamble where lives were at stake—

It spun through the air just as Ookami lifted the curtain from his face.

Hayate grimaced, pulling Kiba out of the way as well.

"KATSU!"

The explosion roared and billowed outward, shaking the building. The catwalk swayed, but Deidara's footing was firm, her teeth blood-stained as she grinned, adrenaline pumping through her veins.

That's one thing you'll never understand in the north side, she told him silently, innovation was never meant to be placed above true art.

Her yukata floating around her frame as she leaped off the catwalk to face Hayate, the man raised an eyebrow, not even fazed by the fact that Ookami had been reduced to a charred lump of flesh.

"You knew," he mused.

Deidara sneered, her expression the epitome of scorn. "Of course I knew. I knew the moment he took out his so-called trump card, hm. If there's one way to defeat an Ōtsutsuki clan member, you go for the face, never the arms or the legs. Just make sure your intentions are invisible." Other fighters would have tried to disable his main weapons first before going for the head, but that strategy would never work. One never won in a fair fight with an Ōtsutsuki fighter—sometimes you just needed to play dirty. Her clay formed into clawed gauntlets around her hands again as she stepped toward Hayate. "I'll be taking him and going."

"Hmm..." Hayate smiled and took off his mask—was this some kind of declaration?—and maybe Deidara was hallucinating things, but he seemed so utterly familiar in a twisted sort of way. "No," he decided, "I don't think I will. If you want him..." He lowered his chin, a smile slashing across his face he spread his bandaged hands toward her in an almost welcoming gesture. "Come and get him."

----

"What's your favorite color?"

The boat rocking beneath his feet, Sasori didn't glance backward, simply continuing to work on the little wooden sculpture—a scorpion with its tail poised to sting—he was carving with a small dagger. He's doing that thing again. Taking everything that book says to heart like the socially inept idiot he is. Sai was a strange boy who seemed to be living as two different people at times. Sometimes, he would be the emotionless boy, only capable of processing commands and cared not for other things except top performance and mission completion, and other times, he would attempt to 'bond' with Sasori without much avail. It was as if he were struggling to decide whether to be a robot or a human. Today, his more empathetic side—if one could even call it that—was rearing its ugly head.

"None of your business," Sasori responded shortly, continuing his work. While it seemed as if he were completely engaged in carving the wooden scorpion, his senses were alert as always. Not even the captain of the ship below deck could move from his wine cabinet to his hammock without alerting Sasori.

If he had a little less control, the scorpion would have cracked beneath his grip as he recalled Danzo's mission briefing those few days ago. He'd been on edge ever since, expecting shadows melting from the nooks and crannies of the valley to devour him as they took vengeance for their untimely deaths—ghosts of the lives he had taken in the past.

Sai flipped through his book, seemingly oblivious. But Sasori knew better—Sai could be a good actor; he just didn't know how to act human. Then he snapped it shut, and Sasori looked up, sensing that he was about get to business—or, in other words, go through the mission briefing again. He made sure to do it once every day. When, Sasori wondered with no small amount of irritation, would he get it in his thick skull that he need not repeat himself every time the sun came up?

By now, Sasori could recite it word for word. It wasn't a difficult task as Sai never paraphrased or omitted during his readers.

"Our mission is to travel to Sunlight Inn Town," Sai repeated, Sasori silently speaking along, "Where we will spend the remaining duration of our mission tracking down and killing the Tsukigakure spy, Yaobami-san. Description: Approximately 169 centimetres, female, slim build, and, according to information passed on from our recently deceased agent, fond of flowers."

Flowers. Of course. It seemed to be every womanly staple. Personally, Sasori wasn't the fondest of flowers. Unless they were a cactus or desert plant of some sort, most were fragile and died too quickly, their lifespan insignificant and fleeting. One trod of a foot and they would bend and snap with nary a whimper.

The information given about the spy wasn't the most useful either. She had a common height, a common body shape, and a common interest. Not much to work with here—she could be any woman in the town.

He didn't mind though.

He had worked with less before.

"Don't forget our training," Sai finished. That was new. Sasori stirred, giving him an unimpressed stare.

"Hmph. Speak for yourself," he said sharply. "I've been doing this before you were even born." And he wasn't sure if he was proud, per se, but—I've come out of this more alive than you are.

Sai's feathers weren't ruffled at the reminder just who was the senior killer between the two of them. They hardly ever were. Instead, he sat across from Sasori, taking out a blank scroll and a brush. One short, small burst of chaka and the tips blackened from the sudden influx of ink. He shook it over the railing for a few seconds before starting to draw.

Sasori would be lying if he said that he didn't look at Sai curiously for the rest of the trip. Here was a fellow artist sitting mere feet away from him and the possessed little to no understanding of one another at all. Even with Deidara—someone whose art completely contradicted his—he shared some sort of camaraderie or fellow feeling with. The feeling soon passed, however, and the pair fell into silence.

----

The old witch-woman was polite, but not to the point of bending over backwards for him, which was something Sasori could appreciate. She seemed like the person to be clear, concise, and even cutting when need behis kind of person.

"Sit," she said. Ryu was already seated, but he shifted aside to let his grandmother sit on the couch as well, directly opposite Sasori. The woman had two couches, funnily enough, and both of them had a faded flower pattern and smelled like mildew. Sasori sat on the edge of the seat cushion, well aware of this.

Two steaming cups of tea were placed on the table between them, untouched.

"What kind of information are you after?" she inquired after a mini staring contest, reaching for her tea. She was wary of himthat was good. She'd ought to be. He just hoped that it would encourage her to give up information freely and easily, rather than have the opposite effect.

He told her of his intentionsor some of it, anywayand she took it in with a contemplative pause.

Her brow was creased as she said, "It all circles back to one man: Shimura Danzo. He legally bought this town, so some call him Mayor, if you will. But ever since his arrival, there's been nothing but trouble. Our animals and the few crops we have started to die, and we had to work twice as hard to meet the government quota. Taxes and all, as I'm sure you understand." Her countenance darkened. "In the end, our effort was for nothing, anyway. The only thing keeping this town afloat is the man who brought it to his knees. We have nepotism or whatever to thank for that.

"I don't know too much about Danzo. Nobody who's still alive does," she added with a morbid chuckle, making Ryu cringe away. When Sasori remained stoic, she continued, "What I do know is that the ANBU weren't always stationed here. They only started appearing when Pein declared war on Kaguya."

"You mean the other way round," Sasori interrupted for the first time.

The witch-woman blinked slowly. "No. I may be old, but I'm quite certain. Emperor Pein is the instigator of this war."

What? How can that be? Surely, she's mistaken. He tried not to seem too shocked. Everyone in Akatsuki had been told that it was Empress Kaguya who had declared this war.

The old lady sipped her tea. "It's quite odd, actually," she reflected, "Almost out of the blue. I'm assuming you are aware of Amegakure's bloody history?"

Sasori forced himself to answer neutrally, "To an extent, yes." Under the care of his grandmother, he had grown up studying the history of Suna and its closest neighbors, Konoha and Kusa, and his knowledge of the wetlands and mountainsKiri, Iwa, Ame and morewere limited.

"Mm, yes." She put her cup down. "Before Pein came into power, the country was ruled by a vicious tyrantHanzo. Even the Sannin could not take him down. But one day, he fell to the hands of three: Pein, Yakiho, and the Angel. Pein became Emperor, but Yahiko and the Angel had near equal standing with him. Interestingly, Kaguya and Hanzo had a tentative alliance during his reign. When Yahiko died just weeks before the war started, Kaguya made it no secret that it was she who had murdered him... in revenge for Hanzo, I'm guessing."

"That makes zero sense," deadpanned Sasori, crossing his arms. His tea had cooled by now. "Pein had already assumed power by the time I migrated there from Suna. I've lived in Ame for thirteen years. Why would Kaguya take so long to take revenge for an alliance she didn't care for?"

"I wouldn't know," the woman replied curtly, "Seeing as I'm not a power-hungry megalomaniac. But you raise a good point. It's something that I also wonder at times."

"Wars make no sense in general," complained Ryu, flopping back into the couch. "Why bother trying to understand it?"

No, Sasori inwardly disagreed, They do make sense. I've been living and breathing it since childhood. But this… Eyes cold, he steepled his fingers. Is the strangest war I've ever had the displeasure of knowing.

He couldn't shake the feeling that there was something bigger going on that he was in the dark about.

Then he abruptly stood up. "I've overstayed my welcome. Good day."

He could feel Ryu and the woman's eyes following his figure as he left, closing the rickety wooden door behind him.

Sasori still had four hours before the briefing, judging by the sun.

Without warning, he took to the roofs again, heading toward the base of White Fang Mountain.

----

The sprinklers continued to rain down on them, drenching them as droplets dripped down their noses and brushed past their chins. Then, without warning, Deidara shot forward, the wind whistling behind her, slashing at Hayate.

Her claws crashed through an ice barrier, the man on the other disappearing. As she tore her arms out of the freshly formed wall, the sprinklers abruptly stopped raining, and she let out a shout of surprise when an icicle nearly pierced her foot. Her head snapping upward, her eyes widened at the sight of more deadly icicles falling toward her.

What? Her heart was speared by a sudden familiarity, but she had no time to dwell on it as Hayate came shooting out of nowhere, slashing at her face with twin ice blades.

"You're slow, Deidara! Ookami really did a number on you, didn't he?"

Before she knew it, he had cut her arm open, blood splattering across the ice floor. Warily, Deidara spared a second to glance at her newest wound, Hayate landing a few steps away from her, holding out his twin blades.

"Before we keep fighting," Hayate began, "Why don't we see if we have any common interest?" He took a small, mocking bow, and Deidara's lip curled at the fact that he was able to do that in the mist of a battle. She was battered and bruised, but still very capable of blowing him up into bits.

"Forget it," she cut him off, "I'm not interested in your villain monologue, hm." But she said it with little conviction, and he took the bait, while she scanned the ceiling briefly to take a look at the state of the sprinklers. Iced. Just like everywhere else. The room temperature was gradually approaching zero, and she was feeling it, too.

His kekkei genkai come from the cold, her mind spat out, He grew even paler than he already was when he iced the roomhis powers have a limit. Of course. But he doesn't seem any stronger... just... faster. That's it!

She fought to keep her facial muscles relaxed. "Make it quick, then," she invited.

Hayate beamed. "Of course. Best keep on your toes."

A bead of sweat dripped down her temple as he darted toward her, disappearing halfway across a patch of ice. "Tch!" Too bad he's not a total dumbass! Deidara dodged his attack just in time, a few strands of her hair falling to the ground and she regained her footing after nearly slipping during her landing. When he launched himself at her a second time, then a third, she was ready.

"My reasons," Hayate explained as they fought, "Are quite simple. To use the boy's authority into the town that it was meant to be."

"And what the hell do you mean by that?" she asked through gritted teeth.

"You should know, Deidara. You know how beautiful Iwa is."

They were marching down the hills, white demons from the north

Ice blades and clay claws clashed, and Deidara swore she could feel the coldness seeping through her armor. But she kept a hold on him, pushing him toward the edges of the room, where there wasn't as much ice. Hayate narrowed his eyes.

"You catch on quick," he remarked frostily, his composure starting to slip.

"Doesn't take a genius," she growled back, and his eyes widened when she cut his shoulder, her leg swinging up and whipping him against the side. He banged against the wall, scowling, and then pushed himself back again to greet her in another round of ice and earth.

As they fought fiercely, Kiba's eyes opened, completely coherent and aching, and no longer bothering to pretend. "Ow... fuck..." A deep, almost unearthly growl emerged from his throat, his sharp nails scratching against the thick rope that bound his hands behind the chair. Come on...! Come on, fucking damn it! It was an effort not to scream in frustration as he tried to failed to saw through his bindings. He scanned his surroundings, nervously kissing his teeth. His legs were bound to the chair legs as well, and he really needed to piss.

Come on, Akamaru... I know you escaped... Where are you, pal? Hurry up!

When Hayate screamed, Deidara's clay suddenly melting off her arms and onto his body, Kiba's attention fully turned to them.

Deidara... Why did she come? There was an uncomfortable feeling at the back of his brain which made everything sound like a white buzz. Did Kazebaba send her? That must be it, but... Why did she come? His first instinct was to assume that Deidara's reasons for this mess of a rescue was to interview him about his mother, but what kind of journalist fought gang leaders for a godforsaken interview?

There was a bark in the distance, and Kiba's ears pricked, pupils narrowing into slits. Yes! Come on!

As Kiba silently cheered her and Akamaru on, Deidara's arms were covered with welts. They stung and throbbed but there was a bigger issue in front of her. Hayate—he was too fast for her to hit most of the time, and he was the type to slowly injure his opponent and wear them out before going in for the kill.

And unfortunately for her, it seemed to be working.

But he was injured, too—she was definitely no slowpoke in battle, and if she stopped him from using ice as a medium to travel at speeds approaching light, then she could get the better of him. She had to.

"Oi!" she suddenly shouted, her voice piercing the air. "Hayate!" Her throat bobbed. "Who... who exactly are you, hm?" It can't be him, she thought almost hysterically, But this is too much of a coincidence. Is he really Hayate? His face, the ice, the goddamn smile. He looks exactly like

His smiling facade broke, contorting into a snarl of pure hatred. "Do you really have to ask?!" He dodged her swipe, sliding under her and zipping through the ice until he was hanging onto the upper tier seating of the hall.

Dread was creeping into her heart now and squeezing it until she felt as if it would detonate and send her scattered ashes through the wind.

"I never thought I'd see you again," he told her as he pulled the bandages off his hands with his teeth. "Especially here. Why couldn't you just stay hidden?"

Maybe it was the blood loss—they were both adorned with cuts and bruises and even broken bones—but—

Deidara swallowed painfully. K... Ko

"Do you remember?!" Hayate suddenly barked as he held onto the upper balcony, and his emotions were running wild enough for her to feel it; it made her world stop and start again abruptly. "Do you remember the day that the Ōtsutsuki came to kill us all?! Yes?! No?!"

He became ice once more—

"Kkhhh!" Blood sprayed from her mouth.

Pinned to the ground, Deidara spat out a wad of blood and phlegm to the side, her hands trembling as she clutched the ice spear protruding through her gut, her teeth stained red. Howling, Hayate slammed his forehead against hers, causing her world to spin as stars exploded behind her eyelids. Her hair was fanned around her head like a halo, having come completely undone during the battle.

"You left me to die!"

"SHUT UP!" she screamed hoarsely, biting down on his nose, bone crunching beneath her jaws and blood spurting everywhere. She was a mess, her face bloodied, bruised, and streaked with sweat and tears.

He pushed the ice spear further into her belly, using his free arm to tear his collar aside, revealing a deep, ugly scar on his neck.

There was fire, and ashes, and everything was burningit was so hot, she was going to die, her brother had stopped screaming, a plank of wood sticking out from his neckwhere was her mother? Where was she? Where was she? Digshe had to dig, dig, and dig, and run away and never return. Iwa betrayed thembetrayed her—and

Her bottom lip trembling, she began to cry, breathing heavily through her mouth as she let go of his now disfigured nose. "I thought you were dead! I thought you were dead, you stupid son of a bitch!"

"YOU DIDN'T EVEN TRY TO SAVE ME!" he roared, punching her across the face. "I SAW YOU LEAVE! YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT ANYONE EXCEPT YOURSELF, YOU ARROGANT—!"

With the last ounce of strength she had, she slammed her head against his bleeding nose, making him shriek. As his hands moved up to his nose, she wrapped her hands around the ice spear, unable to resist screaming at the sensation of it ripping out of her body as she yanked it out. It was cold to the touch, but she persevered, dragging it behind her as she limped toward Hayate's fallen form. He was still clutching his face, the wounds he had sustained bleeding out slowly on the floor. Scrambling, he tried to attack her, but she felled him with one kick.

"What are you gonna do?" His mouth trembled, unable to decide between smiling or frowning at it all. "Kill me? Kill your last remaining family? Haha... hah... hahahaha!" His hair fell over his face as he laughed and laughed and laughed, tears spilling out of his eyes.

The world felt numb.

I... I can't kill you... Kou...

"Kou," she spoke his name, but her own voice sounded so far away, even to her. "Kou, stop it, yeah." It was the same tone she had used when they were children, when she wanted him to stop stringing girls along for the sake of his own gigantic ego. He had stopped then. But he didn't stop now, continuing to laugh manically like there was no tomorrow. "KOU!" His name sounded like an explosion sucking all the air out of the room.

The laughter abruptly cut off, and Deidara felt the the rock in her stomach turn into a ball of ice.

"I'll only stop," he said lowly, "When I'm dead. Are you going to kill me now? You were ready to do it when we were trapped in that godforsaken building."

Her arm shook, the other wrapped around the hole in her body to prevent herself from bleeding out too soon. She hoped he didn't notice her hesitance. But knowing him, he probably did. "Kou, listen to me," she pleaded. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't save you back then."

The theatreit was burning and burning and going up in flames, Deidara screaming as the infrastructure fell around them and she was being crushed, being suffocated

"You're sorry? Don't make me laugh, Dei-da-ra." Kou pushed himself to his feet, swaying. The rain had been extinguished, but Deidara kept her eye out on the remaining patches of ice on the floor, her wounded body nearly folding over itself as she tensed up. She was too aware of the room's cold temperature—he was still at an advantage. "It's too late now. You can't turn back the time, no matter how much you want to."

Before she could react, he had turned into a blip in the ice, reappearing in her blind spot and sending a kick flying into her side.

"What happened to all your bravado?" he goaded, chuckling. He pushed his hair out of his eyes with one bloody hand, then spread both hands out in a twisted taunt, the tongues he had gotten from their father wagging in morbid amusement. "Taking out my strongest member was no small feat, you know—you should have more confidence in yourself!"

Then he was moving once again, going in for the kill as she struggled to get up, her wounds wearing her down quicker than ever.

"FANG OVER FANG!"

Kiba tore into him just as he reappeared, and ice sword clutched in his hand to behead Deidara. He was launched into the air, grunting in surprise. His injured knee collapsed beneath his weight, and he hissed in pain as Kiba and Akamaru stood over him, their fangs bared.

The man smiled. "I'm impressed."

Kiba growled. "Akamaru knows all the secret escapes. You're in our territory, punk." Before Kou could even summon his chakra to ice-travel, the Inuzuka heir launched a punch into his gut, saliva flying out of his mouth.

"Kkkhhh! You brat—"

Another punch, this time across the face. Akamaru joined in, too, tearing at the already injured leg of the man and ripping flesh apart with his canines. Kou screamed, kicking the dog off and hurling a hastily formed ice dagger at Kiba's face. It nicked his cheek, the boy wincing.

"I may be down," Kou rasped, "But I am still leagues beyond you! HAH!" With the flick of both hands, ice was sent flying their way, and only luck and some attempt at dodging saved them from being struck fatally, their fragile skin opening up, blood blooming from their fresh injuries. "Now—"

"KOU!" He looked up just in time to see Deidara swing at him with the blunt end of the ice spear, his and her own blood streaming through the air. The butt end of the weapon struck his temple, stunning him, and Deidara followed up her attack by gathering up his fallen daggers and using them to pin him against the wall by his joints.

Kiba gulped. "Oi, Deidara—"

"Shut up. Your town won't be safe with him here."

His eyes widened, and he took a step forward. "You're... going to kill him?"

"I've killed everyone else, haven't I? Hm?" The ice spear dragged across the floor as she advanced towards Kou's slumped form, her eyes dull and glazed over.

"I heard everything. Isn't he your brother? You don't just kill your family!" Akamaru barked in agreement at Kiba's declaration, and Deidara paused.

Then she continued on like she hadn't even heard him.

The spear struck—

Kiba closed his eyes.

And Kou barely flinched as the blunt end of it slammed into the wall beside his head, his gaze clouded with agony in his quasi-crucifixion. He was starting to gain more coherency again, but he couldn't budge. Ice chipped away from the spear.

Deidara uttered a single word into his ear: "Leave."

"Only if you kill me."

Silence.

Kiba's throat bobbed in anticipation.

"Or can't you?" Kou kept speaking like his potential killer was mere inches away from him.

Her gaze lowered, she stepped back, her hair hanging haggardly over her face.

"I said leave, Kou. Leave and never come back."

"I knew it," he whispered. "I fucking knew it!"

"KOU!" she bellowed, her lips peeling back into a snarl.

"YOU CAN'T EVEN KILL ME!" Kou roared like it was the funniest thing in the world, the shine in his eyes telling whoever looked carefully enough otherwise. "YOU CAN'T EVEN KILL ME AND I'M A FUCKING TERRORIST! For someone so selfish, so arrogant, you're so weak! Always running away from the past because you're too goddamn weak to fucking face it! Spare me the dramatics, Deidara, and just kill me! Oh, wait! You can't, can you?!" His eyes curved until they were closed as he continued to howl, sliding down the wall—the ice blades had melted as the room grew warmer again—and leaving a trailing patch of blood behind. His joints were dislocated, and he slumped like a puppet with its strings cut.

He didn't see Deidara moving until she was already in front of him, blowing a white cloud in his face as she panted heavily, her shoulders trembling. Kiba was looking away.

Kou's gaze moved down at the spear embedded in his chest. His heart.

Then he looked up at her with dull eyes, trailing the tears that dripped down her face, some of them half-frozen and thawing. He could feel his own tears pooling at his chin, mixing with the blood at his feet as he continued to bleed out, his lungs filling with his own blood, slowly drowning him. Kou gave her one last smile for their halcyon days.

"I chose the wrong sister to love, didn't I? I should have been kinder to Kurotsuchi."

He enjoyed hearing her breath shudder, her entire body wracking with anguish.

"I gave you a choice," she whispered harshly.

"Don't worry, Deidara." Weakly, he reached up and pushed her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear, still smiling in the face of death. "I'll tell okaa-san you said hello."

Two bodies fell, thudding against the floor, and Kiba's frantic yelling was the last thing they both heard.

One never woke again.

----

"HELP!" Deidara screamed as she climbed onto the burning rooftop of what was once her town's proud theatre. Flames licked at her heels, and coughed and choked on smoke. She could see the town square from here, only a few buildings between the theatre and the square. "HELP! OKAA-SAAAAN!"

Her brother was dead, and her mother... She'd been taken by those pale-faced, monstrous men and women. The ones who had marched down from the north on the opposing side of the war.

There was a blonde woman stepping up onto the stage. Deidara's breath quickened. Her mother! Her mother was still alive, and surrounded by those hunters! The ones who were burning her village to the ground! "OKAA-SAN!" she called, the roar of fire making her squeal and fall back. It wasn't safe herebut wait, what were they doing? What was she doing?

There was a rope dangling in front of her mother's face. A noose.

And... their leader was there, too. Onoki-san. The Tsuchikage. Why was he there, lifting his arm up and shouting orders? And why were they listening to him? She started to hyperventilate, occasionally bursting into coughing fits from the smoke.

They slipped the noose around her slender neck, her blonde hair falling around her shoulders. She lifted her head, and Deidara's keen eyesight burned the memory of her defiant expression into her mind forever.

The rope tightened around her, but tears never fell from her eyes.

Her mother was so brave.

But...

Deidara's hands lifted over her mouth, tears welling up in her eyes as she realized what was happening.

"OKAA-SAN!" she screamed, but she couldn't be heard. "OKAA-SAAAAAAAN!"

Onoki gave the signal.

And Iwa betrayed the last of the Bakuhatsu Tribe.

The rope snapped her neck and Deidara shrieked, turning away and stumbling over the burning shingle. The roof collapsed then, and she was nearly sucked into the raging inferno below. But she grabbed onto the tiles, heaving herself upward with a desperate gasp and rolling off the building. Her shoulder dislocated under the force of the landing, and her tailbone ached, but she had to run, run, run—

The building exploded behind her and she finally cried freely, her mother's prophecy of a fleeting life fulfilled in that instant.

----

(bonus)

"What's this, hm?" Deidara sat cross-legged, leaning across her lap to stare at the little snowflake sitting on Kou's bandaged palm, a look of childish wonder on her face. "But it's the middle of spring!"

"It's my talent," he whispered conspiratorially to her, as if it were some sort of secret. "My kekkei genkai."

"Is that why you always feel cold, even during summer?"

"I mean, probably. Don't tell anyone, not even Kurotsuchi, okay?"

"Eh? But she's your sister!"

He shook his head stubbornly. "No, you are."

She gave him a funny look. Then she shrugged. "Un. Okay." Yawning, Deidara lay back in the tall-grass meadow, eyes blinking sleepily. Under the afternoon sun, it was the perfect temperature to nap. Iwa's springs were always wonderful. "Let's stay like this for a while, yeah?"

Kou smiled, beaming at her as the snowflake melted in his palm. "Sure."

They fell asleep side by side, lulled to dreamland by the afternoon breeze, comforted by the thought that they had all the time in the world.

----

A/N: Quote an alteration of a quote from Shakespeare's Richard III.

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