Drums beat in the Akatsuki town square, smoke rising the combination of burning incense and firecrackers. In the heart of Akatsuki—a perfecture-level city in the country of Amegakure, civilians gathered to watch a display of taijutsu led by different taijutsu masters—all with their own style of fighting. In the center of it all, a lion dance was happening; the lion hopping and shaking its shaggy head as it entertained the people.
"HA!" A man grinned as he thrust his palm forward, his disciples following the movement behind him. His legs were wide in a stance that was unfamiliar to civilians and rival masters. "HA!"
His pupils repeated the kiai with great bluster, "HA!"
But the rival schools were not to be outdone. The three other masters present all seemed to get the same idea at once, and began to up their game by performing more complicated katas that were exclusive to their schools.
"Ah, look at all of them," a woman in a nearby dango shop said, pointing the sharp end of her dango stick at the performance. Her nose was scrunched up at the stench of the lingering smoke, and she lifted one hand to brush her blonde hair away from her face, snorting in trivial annoyance when it fell over her left eye once more. "They don't know what true art is, un."
"Maa, maa," the brown-haired shopkeeper smiled, her eyebrows slanting upward in fond exasperation. "I'm sure that you could teach them a lesson or two, Deidara-chan, but please refrain from blowing them all up." She paused before smiling. "And if you can't, at least try to spare my husband."
"What, Obito-san?" Deidara finished the last of her dango and tossed the stick to a nearby bin. It bounced against the wall before clattering into the can. "Are you sure, Rin? Because your husband is an idiot, un."
Uchiha Rin couldn't help but sweatdrop at Deidara's deadpan. "Deidara-chan..." Before she could further chastise her friend and regular customer, a little boy came running into the store from the back door, a dirty red ball in his hands.
"Has the performance started yet?!" he demanded, eyes wide.
"If it isn't brat number one," Deidara remarked, and the brown-haired child whipped his head toward her. He grinned widely—it was the same smile that was normally seen on Uchiha Obito's face when he was helping an elderly woman cross the street.
"Deidara-nee!" he exclaimed, running forward to hug her around the waist.
The blonde woman grunted, placing one hand on the boy's head and pushing him away. "Okay, okay, enough of that. Don't you want to see your dad fall on his face?"
"Deidara, please," Rin said sternly, scooping up her son in her arms. "Save the corrupting for someone else's children."
"Will otou-san really fall on his face...?" the boy asked hesitantly, his eyes growing watery.
"Of course not, Daichi." Rin's voice was firm, but soothing. She used her slender fingers to comb knots and thistles out of his hair, souvenirs from playing outside since early morning. "Your father is an amazing taijutsu master."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Deidara muttered when embers fell upon the sleeve of Obito's gi.
"Otou-san's on fire!" Daichi suddenly cried.
"Yes, he is, isn't he?" Rin said absently, placing Daichi back on the ground to wave at another customer that had just come in. He was a regular, and simply helped himself to a table and flipped open the newspaper he'd been carrying. He had glasses perched on his nose.
"No, he's actually on fire!" Deidara and Daichi said in unison, watching Obito fall out of his disciplined movement as he tried and failed to extinguish the flame that had ignited on the sleeve of his gi. His students cried out in alarm and one tried to use a fan to put out the fire. They all squawked when it simply made the fire grow bigger.
"WHAT?!" Rin gripped skirt lifted it up to ease her running toward him. "Obito, you idiot!"
"Rin, get back!"
"SENSEI, BE CAREFUL!"
Too late. Obito had walked backward into the lion dance performers with the promise of more chaos.
Deidara found herself unable to watch the scene anymore, though she had a very large grin on her face. How a retard like Obito ever became a master in the Uchiha Style escapes me, she mused to herself. She turned to Daichi, who looked a cross between bemused and very concerned. "Ne, Daichi-kun, why don't we sneak out the back and make a few things blow up? Like that old lady's cat?"
Daichi, who absolutely despised Tora the cat, brightened up. "I'm in! You're so cool, Deidara-nee!"
"Ohoho! You know it, un!" She winked at him. "Which is why I'm everyone's favorite senpai, un."
The unlikely duo left the dango shop and made their way to a courtyard, where multiple children were running about. There were a few old men and women loitering about as well, and Deidara could see the Nara patriarch and his heir playing shogi under the shade of a tree. It was quite a funny sight to behold—Nara Shikamaru was a few years younger than Deidara herself, and looked terribly out of place surrounded by people more than twice his age.
"He's going to beat you in three moves," an old woman was relentlessly stage-whispering into Shikamaru's ear, sending his father, Shikaku, sneaky glances.
"Obaa-san, please!" Shikamaru said through gritted teeth, his eyebrow twitch. "Man, this is such a drag..."
Deidara pitied the boy but focused her attention on Daichi, who was headed for a group of boys standing in a circle and talking.
"Deidara-nee's gonna play with us!" Daichi told them, and the little boys all straightened, eyes bright.
"Is she gonna blow something up?!"
"Please blow something up!"
Deidara sighed dramatically. "Oh, I don't know, boys..." She relished in their disappointed looks (hey, it meant that they cared about her art!) before rectifying, "I'm just messing with you, un. Now..." The young woman held up her hands, tongues sticking out of the mouths of her palms. "C1 or C2?"
As Deidara played the trickster with her explosions—none of them strong enough to truly harm anyone—the boys ooh'ed and ahh'ed at appropriate times, pleasing the explosions specialist greatly. She could be quite flexible with her art, able to mold her explosive clay into all sorts of creatures that impressed her young audience, but she had yet to produce an explosion strong enough to take down a highly trained martial artist. She mostly relied on her explosions as deadly distractions, going in for the kill with close range combat on her opponents.
Not that she had killed before—no one that wasn't a criminal had in the peaceful city of Akatsuki. There simply wasn't reason to. But her sparring partners always claimed that they felt like they had been run over by a horse and cart when she was finished with them.
"Hmph!" a girl with pale blonde hair that was standing aside sniffed, putting her nose up at the mini-explosions display. She had a doll clutched in the crook of her elbow, one that she held close to her. "That senpai is such a boy! Okaa-san says that she's never gonna get married!"
That got her a slap on the wrist from her big sister, Yamanaka Ino. "Hitomi," the blonde girl scolded. Ino wore her hair in a similar fashion to Deidara—they both had 'canary wing' bangs covering an eye. But Ino's pale blonde fringe was flatter against her face, while Deidara's had a bit more volume and brighter color. They also had their hair tied up in ponytails, though Ino's was a full one while Deidara had the lower half of her hair down to her shoulders. "Deidara-san is a respected taijutsu master. She's proving that girls don't need to get married to be sustained."
"She needs to take care of her looks better," Hitomi said gruffly.
Ino tilted her head. "Well, that I can agree with." Though her fringe is to die for...
"Ahh, ahh!" a boy shrieked when one of Deidara's clay spiders got too close for comfort. Squeezing his eyes shut, he smacked the clay creation away, sending it flying toward Hitomi.
"Look out!" Daichi cried, unwilling to see the pretty Hitomi harmed. No! Hitomi-chan! He ran for the girl he admired, his shoes slapping against the cobblestone.
Hitomi screamed in terror, dropping her doll, while Ino tensed, pulling her sister close to her.
Suddenly, the spider stopped in midair. Hitomi blinked, as did Ino and Daichi. Attached to the spider was a blue string—a chakra string.
Ino gaped. No way! A kekkei genkai? She looked around for the user. But who...?
Her train of thought was broken when more chakra strings grabbed on to the clay spider, pulling it apart. Deidara watched dispassionately as it fell to the ground in pieces, harmless.
"You should be more careful with those," a bland voice sounded, and Ino twisted her neck so she could see the speaker: he was standing on the stairs above the sisters.
"They won't explode until I will them to," Deidara argued, crossing her arms and defiantly staring down the red-haired man that gazed at them from the top of the stairs. He had brown eyes that were impassive, but Deidara had the feeling that those chocolate orbs were just as capable of producing warmth. "There was no danger."
He raised an eyebrow. "And you expect me to know that? How could I..." He jumped off from the staircase, landing in front of the Yamanaka sisters and striding toward Deidara until they stood a meter apart. "When you're merely a brat."
"... Excuse me? Brat?" Deidara lifted her chin, her lips twisting into a scowl. "You look like you're barely older than me, kid. You have no business calling me a brat and insulting the control I have over my art, un."
"Art?" The man scoffed, making Deidara bristle. "Don't be ludicrous. Those... tricks of yours are not art."
An irk mark appeared on Deidara's forehead, and her visible eye twitched in outrage. "Oh? And who are you to know about fine art?" This... bastard!
"What? You call those explosions fine art? Fine art is something wonderful that's left long into the future... eternal beauty, if you may. What's the point of something that disappears as soon as it's born?" As if to make a point, the man scuffed his boot against the remnants of Deidara's clay spider.
"You're mad!" Deidara blurted, taking a step toward him. "And your interpretation of art is nothing short of idiotic, un! Art is something that blossoms for an instant before withering away. Art is beauty that lasts for just a single moment. To me, the essence of art... is an explosion!"
"Is a bang, un!"
"—is something lasts for all posterity."
Electricity zapped between their gazes (they were the same height, which made it all the better). Then Deidara lifted a closed fist.
"Whatever your art is, mine is superior."
His eyebrows lifted. "Care you put your money where your mouth is, brat?"
Deidara launched a punch, one that Sasori blocked. He retaliated, striking for her neck and nearly hitting the mark, only for her to grab his arm and fling him in an arc over her head. But he held on to her, throwing her to the ground and knocking the wind out of her. Ino gasped in awe when Deidara used her legs and grab around his waist and twist, allowing her to stand while he toppled to the ground. But the red-haired puppeteer wasn't down for long, and before long, the two were exchanging blows again, though Deidara's male counterpart seemed to be getting the upperhand.
She noticed it, too, as she kicked him in the chest and threw multiple bombs at him, five of which he caught with his chakra threads, using them to knock the others out of the air. The clay exploded around him, covering his vision with white smoke, and Deidara used the opportunity to dash at him, the smoke whipping around her.
"Everyone, everyone!" Daichi was calling, waving at the intrigued civilians. "There's taijutsu happening!"
"A taijutsu battle?" An old lady raised her eyebrow, smacking her lips. "Haven't seen one of those in a while. And those loud displays in town square don't count."
"True, very true," said a balding man, turning to the Naras. "Shikaku, weren't you once an expert taijustsu user as well? How does it look from here?"
"Well..." Shikaku observed their battle with sharp eyes, Shikamaru leaning forward a bit to get a better look. "From what I can see, it's clear that Sasori is more experienced when it comes to close combat. He's also a puppeteer, but he seems to be without his puppets today, so Deidara might be able to utilize that."
Sasori popped a pair of puppets out of a storage scroll he was hiding underneath his cloak—the black cloak and red clouds that were affiliated with Akatsuki and Amegakure itself—and sent them to attack Deidara.
Shikaku was forced to reevaluate. "Or perhaps not."
"Sasori?" Shikamaru echoed. "So that's his name..."
"Yes. He's a very skilled taijutsu user, though he isn't very well known outside of Akatsuki. He prefers to keep a low profile, unlike most."
"Deidara," Sasori said suddenly. "That's your name, is it not?"
"It is," Deidara affirmed, narrowing her eyes. "And you're Sasori, un?"
"Correct. Try to keep up, won't you, Deidara-san? We've got a show to put on. Don't disappoint our audience."
"Oh, it's not me you have to worry about—" She swept her leg underneath his legs, but he landed on his hands and flipped back onto his feet. His puppets momentarily wavered in the air as the chakra thread connection was interrupted. "—it's—"
"What is going on here?"
The crowd stopped cheering and clapping as an icy voice cut through the air. Then the civilians parted, allowing a dark-haired boy to pass, a team of police officers following behind him.
"Uchiha Sasuke!" Ino whispered loudly. "The Chief of Police's son..."
Deidara paused mid-dash, her body relaxing into a non-threatening pose as Sasuke neared, Sasori doing the same before turning his body toward the Uchiha boy.
"I heard he activated his sharingan recently," a woman whispered to her husband. "Now they have him leading teams to test his worth, apparently."
"He's pretty cute," Hitomi mumbled, much to Daichi's display. But the boy was quickly shaken out of his crestfallen state when Sasuke directly addressed him.
"Daichi. Get back to your mother."
But Deidara stopped him by pulling him closer to her. "Is there a problem, Uchiha-san?"
Sasuke let his gaze linger on her protective form before staring down both her and Sasori. "The problem is that you're creating disturbance in a public area."
"Disturbance?" Sasori said coolly. "I think you'll find that what we were doing was more akin to an instrumental player's street performance than a... disturbance."
"The civilians were clearly enjoying it, and no one was in danger, un," Deidara added.
"Regardless." Sasuke's tone was clipped. "I must insist you leave."
"Yo, Sasuke! My favorite cousin!"
Sasuke's eye twitched comically as Obito's boisterous voice filled the air, and the boy inwardly groaned.
Deidara snickered at Sasuke's expense earning an amused look from Sasori.
"Otou-san!" Daichi immediately ran up to Obito when the man emerged from the crowd, Rin close behind him. Both parents had soot on their faces.
"Hey, kiddo!" Obito crouched and ruffled his hair. "Giving Sasuke trouble? I'm proud."
And just like that, the tension defused. The civilians dispersed, falling back into friendly chatter, like the whole confrontation had never happened.
"Obito," Sasuke deadpanned.
"I had it under control."
Sensing Sasuke's ire, Sasori quickly interfered, "Uchiha-san. Nothing dangerous went down here today, I assure you." His lips quirked upward slightly, making Deidara stare. Who knew that the guy could smile? "I must say, you're doing a remarkable job at policing. But try not to let it get in the way of everyday life. No rule deserves to be followed to a tee."
"Well," Sasuke said uncertainly, thrown off by Sasori's diolomacy. "I suppose. But please save your battles for somewhere less crowded."
"Duly noted. Deidara-san?"
Deidara turned her head slightly toward him. "Yes, Sasori-san?" Was he going to ask for a rematch?
"You are a brat with no taste in art," Sasori stated, striding off with his cloak billowing behind him.
"But I think a rematch is in order," Sasori interrupted before Deidara could finish, his eyes just a tad warmer than they had been when he had 'saved' the Yamanaka sisters. His cheeks were flushed from the heat of battle, as were Deidara's. "Someday. I'll be waiting, brat."
When he was gone, Obito let out a low whistle. "Man, is it just me or is it getting hot in here?"
Rin smacked his arm and Sasuke pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.
"Really, cousin," the younger Uchiha muttered before spinning on his heel. "Come," he said to his officers. "We have elsewhere to be."
"Come over for dinner tonight!" Obito called after him, waving. "Rin's making tomato and prawns!"
"You're welcome, too, Deidara-chan," Rin told the blonde woman.
"I feel like something might explode if I have to sit with him at a table, un," Deidara warned, wiping dust off her hands on her dark green gi.
Obito merely shrugged. "What's dinner without a few flames and chaos?"
"Speaking of flames," Rin began.
Obito blushed. "There was a pothole, okay?"
Daichi glanced between his parents, then at Deidara, who shrugged.
"I'm unmarried," she told the child. "Don't go looking to me for answers, un."
"Baa-sama. I'm back." Sasori hung his cloak on a coat hanger as he walked to the kitchen, where Chiyo was making dinner. Wordlessly, he picked up a knife and started cutting up vegetables with enviable efficiency.
"You look ecstatic," Chiyo commented as she boiled a pot of water. She threw him a sideways glance. "As ecstatic as my grandson gets, anyway. Get into a good fight?"
"Mm." Sasori looked out the window above the sink, watching young children play outside under the grey skies of Akatsuki. "She had little appreciation for fine art, but she was a worthy opponent."
"Was she like the rest?" The rest being mainstream martial artists that promoted their schools and styles.
Sasori shook his head. "No, but she has made quite a name for herself. She's Deidara. The explosions specialist."
"The one with the... odd kekkei genkai?"
He remembered the mouths on her palms. "Yes, her."
They fell into a comfortable silence before something sly entered Chiyo's wizened gaze. "You know, I hear she has a fourth mouth."
Sasori hardly twitched. "Oh?"
"Yes. And you'd never guess where of all places."
"And I suppose this is the part where I ask where?" Sasori placed his knife down and dumped the vegetables in a bowl before running it under the tap.
"Oh, hush, you. Apparently, it's on her chest."
Sasori paused before turning off the tap. "And?"
"Aren't you curious?" Chiyo pressed. "Curious enough to investigate, perhaps?"
Sasori gave her a sharp glance. "Baa-sama, what are you insinuating? Don't be so quick to assume such things about me..."
The old witch cackled. "Oh, come off it, you." Then her face grew comically serious. "You're nearly thirty, you know. It's time to go wife-hunting."
"Baa-sama, please; can we not have this discussion? I don't have time for a spouse. My art requires full dedication." He paused, then added, "Plus, women always want useless things."
Sasori didn't flinch when Chiyo's butcher knife embedded itself into the wall beside his head.
Chiyo clicked her tongue, disappointed. "Not even a twitch? I must be losing my touch."
Sasori gave a long-suffering sigh. "Baa-sama, you've boiled your water to the point where the pot is half empty."
But Chiyo was untroubled. "So it is. You know what it represents? Your longevity without a wife by your side."
Sasori remained unimpressed. "She's barely twenty."
"And your grandfather was twice my age when I married him," Chiyo shot back.
"Regardless, I'm not interested."
Chiyo shook her head. "Ah, you... You're going to die a lonely virgin."
A blade stuck out from the wall close to Chiyo.
"I can take a hint," Chiyo said grumpily. "Now start cutting that meat—dinner isn't going to make itself."
So, to Sasori's relief, the subject was dropped for the meantime.