Chapter 1: Eclecticism
Eclecticism - making decisions on the basis of what seems best instead of following some single doctrine or style
All standard disclaimers apply.
It had been four days since the Fourth Shinobi War had been declared and two nights since the Tsuchikage had not only encountered Kabuto during a confrontation – but his former student.
Rays of sunlight touched the skies, scanning the horizon and enveloping the darker shadows that dared to contrast with it. A hunched figure lying insipidly at the concrete wall opposite him, unaware he was being watched by two figures.
"Has he said anything? A single word?"
"I'm afraid not, Tsuchikage-sama. He hasn't said a single word despite our efforts to revive him."
"He hasn't changed a single bit, has he?"
"No, no he hasn't."
It was winter in Iwagakure, and a rather bleak day for the Tsuchikage. A week from his sudden confrontation with Kabuto and a reanimated version of Deidara, the latter had been found wandering the terrain, seemingly dazed.
He had never really understood the concept of Deidara's view of art – he had never really understood any concept of what art even was. But to see his old student in rundown state like this was rather disheartening, once a promising student, and now some rundown, decrepit castaway. Sighing, he beckoned two shinobi nearby, motioning for them to grab a pen and paper.
The arrival of the Fourth Shinobi World War was looming and yet, there were so many unanswered questions regarding Deidara that he wanted answered.
Two figures stood in the Hokage Headquarters, the sun shining brightly off a pile of papers on a desk that separated them.
"You want me to go to the Stone despite the fact that we have a crucial issue concerning Naruto, one of our own?"
"That is...partly the essence of this mission, yes."
It was perhaps, the most absurd thing Sakura had heard all month. Yet as Tsunade paced the room and nodded, she was beginning to question the differentiation of what was to be defined as absurd.
"It may be of excellent gain to us," voiced Tsunade. "Not only is this level of information a highly valuable way of gaining information about Akatsuki that we don't have, but it may grant us a chance to restrengthen and honour our newly reformed relations with Iwagakure."
A glint gleamed from Tsunade's voice; surely Sakura wouldn't have that many troubles in this mission she had been assigned to. A sigh escaped Sakura as she turned to face a short letter Ōnoki had written, her eyebrows furrowed.
RE: Development of medical facilities
With the Fourth Shinobi World War at our doorstep, I have decided to take up your offer from the Kage summit and assign your student Haruno Sakura on a two week program to develop our medical facilities and laboratory researchers.
Here she will be working with our medical ninjas, poisons unit and teaching a number of our smaller units any crucial knowledge we may need. I understand that our relations may not have been smooth before, in the past, however, many of our people have relinquished their grudges and prejudices. With a war hovering in our midst, we need all the crucial aid we can get from one another - if we are to work as an alliance.
Due to conflicting dates I ask for your response in two days' time.
"Shishou, six days ago – a war was just declared against us."
Another sigh echoed in the room as Tsunade bit her lip at watching Sakura's fallen reaction. Her student stood in a casual position in front of her, her head bowed in shame. Good lord, she had been expecting a rejoinder like this, hadn't she?
"I understand that this alliance is fruitful, but shouldn't I be applying my skills at home, first?"
It was obvious that she was torn between her morals, her ethics, and her vows. She was worried about Naruto. As a medic it was her nature to help and heal without question, not torture and brutalize others upon decision and force. But she wasn't just a medic; she was a kunoichi of the Hidden Leaf Village. A shinobi of Kohona. True, emotionality was considered to be a great issue within missions, but it was not the most important. Sakura's challenge was to overcome her personal feelings, in fact. This was just a training obstacle in the real challenge of getting Sasuke Uchiha back. If she could not rise over a situation such as this, what hope would she have in retrieving her old teammate?
"Sakura, I understand how you are feeling at the moment. It's true that as a medic our natural instincts are to aid the fallen, assist the weak and support the ones who need a strong pillar to lean on. But as a kunoichi, you must know where your overall place is. You must push aside your personal feelings for this, Sakura. Remember that as a strong woman, especially as I taught you to be, we jump up to every occasion that requires our assistance. I can't stress enough that you maintain your honour and dignity – especially in a delicate state of affairs such as this one. But as a kunoichi, you must know where you stand. As a strong shinobi walks off to start a mission regardless of the different outcomes, you must push aside your feelings and know where your loyalties lie. We ninja deal with deaths and the lives it puts at stake so this surely wouldn't be too much to ask of you. To become strong, we must all experience and toy with what pains us the most, didn't Kakashi teach this? If you cannot leave out your personal feelings all for the sake of this mission how can you expect to abet in Naruto's wishes of retrieving Sasuke back?"
Sakura stood still for a few moments, too confounded to reply back.
How could she retrieve Sasuke back?
Was she just going to stand there like last time as she prepared to kill her past teammate? Kunai in her hand and attack stance ready only for the tables to be turned quickly. Too quickly that she hadn't even seen it coming or anticipated his rigid and cold nature. She shook her pink hair to banish any unwanted thoughts and focus on the next concept – information.
"I understand where you're getting at, but all this for a slab of information? To repeatedly attack, heal and then attack again for a few sources of data?"
"Information: it can be the most valuable weapon. How well you gather can determine whether a mission is a failure or a success." Tsunade lowered her gaze to hold Sakura's own. "You may be able to help us with that, Sakura."
A few silent seconds passed as none of them spoke before Sakura spoke again.
"It is my duty to act as a medic, for my homeland first. Besides, some people are too difficult to handle because of they have too much information."
A surprising chuckle came from the woman standing before her, his eyes twinkling drawn in curiously.
"Ah, but this is where the real mission starts." Tsunade twirled a bottle of sake in one hand as if it were made out of plastic, laughing lightly. "The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. After all, everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense, do they not?"
Sakura released a sigh and smiled. When there was information and sake involved, she would have no further say in the matter.
She turned once more to face the Hokage, all seriousness coming to light. "Not a word to anyone else, for the time being. Go make some new friends and enjoy yourself."
"Of course, Tsunade-sama."
She had ended up following the Hokage's command and arrived in three days. Whilst her first week living in the Stone and teaching medical classes had only just started to pass, Sakura was beginning to wonder if she had dramatized her initial fears and concerns a little too much.
"So tell me, is your hair naturally pink? Or is that just the latest fashion statement with Kohona kunoichi?"
"Akatsuchi! Keep your personal questions to yourself! God, why must you must always be so immature?"
"Aw, it's not that bad. Besides, her bright hair must help her get attention with the guys! I mean, come on. The colour of hair can totally attract a man's attention to a woman's sexual passion."
"Akatsuchi! Totally inappropriate!"
Sakura's impression of the two bickering Stone Nin standing before her was a rather thought-provoking one.
She was starting to limber up with what was supposed to be the Tsuchikage's most serious henchmen. Upon her arrival, she was greeted with a stream of beatitude from the surrounding Stone Nin and a loud voice that could only be recognized as Akatsuchi.
At first glance, his appearance was a surprising amicable one. Tall, stout and with an undeniably cheeky grin on his face that matched his jovial nature, Sakura was sure that he would've lightened up anyone's day. Conversations with him were exciting and attention-grabbing as Sakura watched as he yabbered on and on about many odd and fascinating subjects that involved rocks and minerals. If it weren't for his swift velocity and alacrity to talk again, she was sure that Kurotsuchi would've knocked him out by now.
The name meant black earth, harmonizing with the young woman's appearance and disposition impeccably. Despite having a brief meeting, Sakura had taken this opportunity to become more acquainted with the young, darkhaired kunoichi, as well as finding out they both had a few things in common. Generally calm and easy going, it was hard not to like her for her audacious personality that had been inherited from her eminent grandfather. But rather easy to overlook her lagging nostalgic look that was hidden behind those bright black orbs. She walked with a feministic grace tipped with an inch of masculinity, her held high with the sunlight bouncing off her dark hair.
Like Sakura, her optimism and cheerfulness held a silent secret. A soft yearning for a long lost teammate to come home. Or if not, family. Like Sakura, she had lost someone. Not entirely on her own accord but due to the decisions the person had been conflicted with. Both had sought to bring their loved ones back, only to be classified as a failed attempt. Sasuke and Deidara. Both had left of their own consent, branded as a Missing Nin and S – class criminal at once. To find a new place to train in order to gain stronger, to find a new place in which he could amplify his 'Art.' Sakura had lost Sasuke as a teammate, Kurotsuchi had lost Deidara as a brother. Like Sakura she had sought to find the courage and strength inside her. Like Sakura she had her own past that wanted to be forgotten. Like Sakura she had her own high hopes and goals she wished to achieve.
Letting out a laugh, she placed a warm hand between the squabbling pair before things started to escalate. "Actually, it's natural. Believe it or not. Care to give me one last tour around the village before I head off?"
The three continued their playful conversation until they reached the entrance of the Tsuchikage's office. Just as Akatsuchi was about to open the door, it swung forward and the Tsuchikage himself hovered mid-air and zoomed past them. Nearly knocking Kurotsuchi over, Sakura stared at the Kage and questioned why he was 'flying' around his office so carelessly. An anxious glint in his eyes that set his mouth in a firm line was all she needed to know that something was not right.
"Watch where you're going, old man!" Kurotsuchi growled.
The Tsuchikage stopped from entering another doorway, finally noticing the confused presence of Sakura and Akatsuchi. He turned to face Sakura, his wrinkled brow furrowing. "Ah, Haruno. I was just about to find you. My normal greeting for you will have to wait, follow me." He pointed to all three of them and gestured to the bottom stairway in front him. "As for the two of you bickering brats, keep your mouths shut." His tone brooked no room for argument as the three followed his lead.
The Tsuchikage set off at a brisk pace, as Kurotsuchi and Sakura exchanged a glance. The usually calm Tsuchikage seemed nervous. Looking up towards the ceiling, they found that they were making their way to the hospital. Jogging, they caught up to the flying man and Kurotsuchi tried to preen her grandfather to reveal more.
"I cannot say anything here, Kurotsuchi." he hissed, a cryptic yet harsh explanation. "This is a highly classified secret and I cannot risk anyone - whether it be Kabuto or the Akatsuki - eavesdropping. You'll see for yourself shortly."
She frowned at once at the reaction, clearly unsettled that her own grandfather was acting rather cagey. The trio finally arrived at the hospital and Onoki wasted no time in heading down a large hallway to his left. Sakura immediately recognised that they were heading to the injured unit where enemy shinobi were held until they were in suitable condition to stand trial, be thrown in prison or executed. Now she was really curious. Who had they captured that was so important?
Still remaining silent, the Tsuchikage continued to lead them down the hall before taking a right to race down another. It finally led to another small, narrower corridor with a single door at the end. Upon its identification, it appeared to be reserved for enemy shinobi that were injured yet too dangerous to be kept with other patients. Sakura's eyes widened as she gulped as the Tsuchikage placed a hand on the door, but did not make a move to open it. Instead, he turned to face her, Akatsuchi and Kurotsuchi.
"Akatsuchi, Kurotsuchi and Haruno. What you are about to see and hear is to remain within these walls at all times. There have been no decisions about how to proceed, nor go about this highly alarming issue. Until a verdict has been reached - this subject must be entirely kept under wraps." The man spoke with such seriousness that reminded Sakura that though he was significantly shorter than her and at a weaker age of life - he was not be trifled with.
Neither of the younger shinobi spoke, choosing to merely respond with a brief nod, signifying their acquiescence regarding the utter solemnity of the urgently addressed situation. Onoki then turned his attention to the door, knocking once. Promptly, an ANBU guard opened the door and took moment to scrutinize the younger newcomers. Stepping aside swiftly to allow them through, the door slammed loudly.
A team of six armed, masked ANBU officers not including the one who had answered the door manned the now brightly lit, white room. They stood stiffly against each of the four walls of the room, facing the centre. In the middle, lay a treatment examination table where a body lay covered. Neither breathing, but not completely still, either. The Tsuchikage wasted no time to reach the centre of the room and peer over what appeared to a sleeping individual, beckoning to one of the ANBU guards for a few minutes. Sakura felt herself begin to sweat as Onoki motioned the three of them over.
"Haruno, Kurotsuchi and Akatsuchi, would you please identify this man."
Kurotsuchi directly swerved to the left and Akatsuchi on the right, as Sakura was left to stand in the middle at the edge of the body. Puzzled, she watched as Kurotsuchi lifted the cloth off the man's face and dropped it, falling to the ground and shrieking. An ANBU guard suddenly grasped the fallen kunoichi and escorted her out of the room. Puzzled, Sakura scooted to the empty side of the man and lurched as she gently pulled off the entire sheet from the motionless individual.
""He's mean to be dead, or in Kabuto's grasp," Akatsuchi murmured.
Without warning, Sakura reached out a hand to touch the man's face. He was cold to touch, making her recoil. Stray blonde hairs on his chin softly rose and fell, with Sakura detecting a minor heartrate. To her horror, she drew back at her hand at the dawning realisation - he was real. She heard the Tsuchikage speak, but her eyes refused to waver from their locked trance on the figure that seemed to sleep soundly.
"Obviously, he's neither in any of those states." Onoki deadpanned.
Akatsuchi, though now pale, had regained some of his composure and was now looking worriedly at the two of them. He swallowed a lump in his throat.
"Deidara," he confirmed. "But how?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Onoki answered, adjusting his garments and turning to Sakura. "And I'd like you to discern his current condition and more importantly, why he's even alive."
Sakura tore her eyes from the sleeping form to meet the Tsuchikage's gaze. Apprehension filled her eyes.
"Yes. A week after my confrontation with Kabuto, who was searching for the location of the jinkurir, my ANBU stumbled upon the reanimated Deidara, unconscious in an enemy hideout." Onoki raise and hand to indicate the surrounding ANBU, "Whether he's still under Kabuto's will or not, that is unknown. Yet I was always under the impression that he hated repeatedly using his body like a detonation, preferring such a process to only occur once in his lifetime."
Sakura inhaled a steady breath, drying her fears as she attempted to convert to her professional medic mode. "I'll see what I can do."
All of a suddenly, she felt a large hand grip her shoulder. She turned to find Akatsuchi standing behind her, giving her shoulder a light squeeze as he smiled gently. "We're right here if anything happens."
Immediately another rush of gratitude for the older shinobi surged. Stealing another look at the Tsuchikage, she noticed he didn't replicate the same gesture but nodded firmly, a rare smile in his eyes. Feeling somewhat calmer, she formed her resolve and moved her hands to rest on Deidara's chest. Forcing herself to think of the man as just another nameless human body, she thrust her chakra inside a small wound on his chest and explored.
Her findings were indeed, perplexing. After what seemed to be like a few minutes, she pulled back and looked up to face the others. The Tsuchikage now sat in a chair, massaging his back as Akatsuchi leaned against the wall.
"You're finally finished?"
"Sorry," Sakura scratched her head in embarrassment, "how long was I?"
"You were examining him for over a good half hour," Onoki informed her.
Admittedly, Sakura had a tendency to throw herself into work and lose all concepts of time and space. Conscious not to waste time again, she hurriedly began to explain her discoveries.
Deidara was indeed human. From looking at him, he had seemed nearly the same age the last time she had encountered him before her fight with Sasori. Judging from his slow breathing, she ruled that his organs were functioning, yet only just. What Sakura admitted to not comprehending, was whether or not Deidara's body was truly under the control of Edo Tensei, or not.
Further inspection had revealed to her that were significant traces of foreign chakra in Deidara's body. She explained that in an Edo Tensei body, the reincarnated individual's chakra would completely override the chakra of the person being sacrificed. The most disturbing she had discovered, was that instead, Deidara's body contained both the chakra of Deidara and the unknown sacrifice, seemingly wrestling over control of the body and causing havoc towards the vital body system. So far, the sacrifice's chakra seemed to be multiplying at a faster rate, circulating and crushing Deidara's own. Furthermore, this had begun to severely damage his key organs. His heart rate was extremely, extremely low.
"That can't be possible. How can someone be alive and have his own will, in the grasp of Edo Tensei, not to mention, breathe with barely any of his organs working?" asked Akatsuchi, incredulous.
"I truly have no idea." conceded Sakura, pausing to add, "By all accounts, the fact that his chakra's is fighting the sacrifice's chakra could theorise that perhaps he may have been given free will from the Edo Tensei, yet at the risk of having a body that's not his own. It's as if he's struggling in a state of oblivion."
The Tsuchikage flashed a growl. "He should be very much dead or following the command of Kabuto, but it seems that the fact could really be that he may have inherited his own free will."
Sakura met the Tsuchikage's gaze as he continued to speak. "I have made a decision: Deidara is a criminal. He stole a forbidden Iwagakure kinjutsu, bombing the village to the point of ruination and shambles upon his defect. That alone is more than enough sufficient ground for immediate execution."
However, in all teachers who long memories of their students, there was a hesitation in Onoki's wrathful declaration. "I will have to discuss this with the Jounin council. Nevertheless, my decision shall be the last."
"Wait," interrupted Akatsuchi, who had squinted at the old man in confusion. "What are you trying to say?"
Onoki bowed his head and sighed, as if about to suffer a migraine with the following events about to unfold. "It may or may not be, a significant advantage for us to interrogate Deidara for information about Kabuto or even the masked man who calls himself Madara. Though we our not completely blind upon entering this war, our vision isn't crystal clear, either."
Akatsuchi gaped at Onoki as if he had grown horns. "Not trying to be rude, Tsuchikage-sama, but I really don't think Deidara is physically in the right state to answer any questions. Or even be fully alive and well, for that matter."
"That's why I requested for Haruno's presence to be here."
It was then Sakura's turn to have her jaw dropping to the floor. "With all due respect, Lord Tsuchikage - if you're suggesting I revive a reanimated individual - let alone an Akatsuki member, then I'm afraid I'll have to decline that offer."
"I have never seen nor experienced anything like his current condition. I don't even know if it's curable. Judging by the fusion of chakra that seems to continuously repel each other, it seems too risky to intervene."
"Unfortunately, my word is the central command here, Haruno. As long as you are dispatched to Iwagakure, you answer to me."
Sakura felt her eye twitch in annoyance of the sudden patronising tone, but thought of it better not answer back.
"I understand you young ones tend to look at the world with a wider scope we old ones find it hard to see with." Onoki regarded delicately, "but I decided not to disclose this matter in my earlier letter to the Godaime as I would be taking a mighty risk if any information was leaked out. Of course, I will inform Lady Tsunade myself of this new circumstance."
As Sakura crossed her arms defiantly, he released a rare laugh and said, "But I think you and I know that the chances of her deferring to me in this are highly unlikely, considering the established new ties between our respected nations."
Akatsuchi sighed. "Tsuchikage-sama, you really fail to understand that you're ageing and so will your power here, one day. You just can't keep up with the younger generations."
The old man turned to his subordinate and grumbled. "What's that's supposed to mean?"
Akatsuchi and Sakura shot each other devious looks and just chuckled, replying in unison. "Nothing."
Onoki knew that this particular matter of affairs wouldn't be all black and white, deciding to take another approach. "Haruno, allow me to rephrase myself differently. I have heard, as others have, far and wide of our skills and capabilities as a medical ninja. Not just Lady Tsuande herself, but from the mouths of other shinobi. I have faith in the next generation, as I struggled to place my faith in Uzumaki Naruto. You are more than qualified for the job, and all I ask is that you see if Deidara can be…" he paused to find the correct word, "awoken...In the aftermath, I will deal with him."
Sakura peered at the elderly man. She had heard a great deal about from others, that he was arrogant yet veracious, sceptical yet a man of his word. Though she had initally been wary of him, Naruto's opinion had convinced her otherwise. That though he truly was 'a stubborn old geezer', he held a kind heart and was a truly charismatic leader. She sighed dejectedly, knowing she could not refuse.
"Alright then, I'll do whatever I can." She waved a hand to the motionless form of Deidara and added a warning. "But I can't make any large promises. His condition is a first for me."
Onoki nodded affirmatively. "I understand. I'll assign a team of ANBU to oversee your work."
In case he actually wakes up. Sakura inwardly shuddered at the thought. The prospect of Deidara alive and breathing was rather terrifying.
"As soon we'll get back, we'll let Kurotsuchi know of all this, too." Akatsuchi piped up. "She's just in current shock mode, a little a worse than I am, at seeing an old comrade."
Sakura looked at him sadly. It had been a known fact that Deidara had been a pupil of Tsuchikage. Yet she wondered how close his bonds had been Kurotsuchi and Akatsuchi. It seemed too much of a personal reminder between her bonds with Team Seven.
"So uh," she clapped her hands to lighten the gravity of the room, "shall I start the preliminary diagnosis?"
Onoki clicked his tongue. "Immediately."
Akatsuchi shook his head at the notion. "Seriously though, I still can't believe this. How are going to -"
"Let me figure that out, Akatsuchi." interjected Onoki. "For now, Haruno, just concentrate on waking him up. Akatsuchi, seems as if will need you and Kurotsuchi to help me when I proceed to delineate these happenings to the Jounin council."
A moment of silence stretched between the three. Sakura returned her gaze to the sleeping Deidara. She pondered his existence, his achievements and failures, for he was still angelic and in his youth. Not much older than her, she remembered, approximately nineteen from the Bingo Book. And then she remembered his jeering laugh, his taunting eyes, during their first encounter when he decided that he would attempt to capture Naruto. She remembered that though he was young, he was a villain in every fathomable sense of the word.
However for Akatsuchi, Onoki's words meant something else. The council would undisputedly throw a fit about Deidara being alive, about Deidara living in a very building in Iwa. As the Stone's most wanted criminal, it was not just the older generation that knew of his felonies and iniquitous character but also his own. Word that Deidara was alive, would surely result in a demonstration for his head to be placed on a pike for his stealing of a forbidden jutsu and the obliteration of the village that left it in shambles. With the old man really deciding to inform the Jounin council, it would be a long night comprised of arguments and incongruities if they did not reach a settled verdict on the keeping of Deidara alive for questioning. Akatsuchi hoped that Kurotsuchi would take the lead with the proposal, though young and brash, she was far better than Onoki at diplomacy and negotiation than Akatsuchi himself considered to be.
"Rightieo, Tsuchikage-sama. Let's hope Kurotsuchi is mentally in a better state when we see her."
"I've already summoned her. The ANBU have confirmed that she's alright."
He turned to Sakura. "Let's get you something to eat before you start Operation Jack the Ripper."
Sakura cringed at the gruesome metaphor that was inclined. "I guess this is what I get for choosing an occupation that prefers life over death. Lord Tsuchikage will you join us?"
Her inner was chortling with laughter as Onoki stopped a centimetre from stepping out of the room, attempting to hide his annoyance at being caught trying to sneak out early.
"I have to start preparing for the emergency meeting I'll have to for the emergency meeting I'll have to oversee. You two go, but make it fast. The soon we wake Deidara, the better. It might help me convince the council."
Sakura narrowed her eyes. "Lord Tsuchikage, I demand that you sit down and eat something as you're nearing an age that limits many physical functions." To her right, Akatsuchi widened his eye and then nearly bowled to the ground with laughter at her sudden audacity that continued. "In fact, as your personal physician, I command that you sit down before your sudden back pain gets worse."
Onoki glared at Sakura and she glared back. As a whole, he was always stubborn with people, even with his wife. Yet as Akatsuchi began to scoot them out the room to find a nearby chair, he realised that if he was going to use his position to order her around, then she had no qualms about doing the same to him.
Seems like this kid is fluent enough with a brief notion of quid pro quo.
"Fine, you youngsters win. But let's make it fast."