This ('09) summer I visited my brother and noticed his Samurai 7 DVDs and asked to watch them since I had seen only glimpses of it. He agreed. I promptly took them to the house of a friend and we watched the entire series in two days. We both loved it. It has my total recommendation (though I don't know about the old fifties movie it was based off of.) For Christmas my brother sent the whole set to me and naturally it warped itself into a Sakura-centric tale in my head when I started to watch it again. And here's that tale.
Notes: 1) Women used to wear kimono as typical clothing, and did men as well? Or did their clothing have a different name? Anybody know?
2) I use some random Japanese words here for the purpose of letting you all know that yes, this is Japan. I'm not an idiot adding "kawaii desssuuuu~" for the sake of fangirlism. Words used in this chapter include "choko", that tiny-ass cup people drink sake from, "kimono," which you should know, honestly, and "arigatou," which is "thank you", which any self-respecting anime fan should also know.
Within the Vault of Endless Tales
Her first memory was her of her vaguely-remembered mother, telling her, "Don't wander off." Her first act of wisdom, at age six, was to recognize the love that was infused in that phrase. She obliged and did not wander off. But in the next memory, her small modest home was very clearly aflame, and her parents were clearly within it. She sat on the ground unsure of anything in the world, squeezing water from her kimono despite the rain, until someone came and lifted her onto a horse and they rode away together.
The "someone" was a woman who claimed she had been a hired samurai in a country far away, and she was going to give the girl the very same training she'd had, if she wanted it. And yes, she wanted it. Her mother and father would not have wanted a weak daughter. She went to live in the woman's village and became a part of the great family there. She learned the art of holding, wielding, using a sword, and other skills her teacher had learned over the years: striking the ground hard enough to send boulders flying, leaping up and through trees, and learned sketchy knowledge of the ancient force chakra, which could warp the weakest strike into a juggernaut blow, and even heal wounds. (She also learned how not to gamble, though her teacher didn't give that lesson on purpose.)
Her teacher told her never to tell anyone about chakra, along with other things. "This is a secret very few people know, and even those that know of it cannot always use it correctly." she said sternly the night the subject was introduced. Carry it with you like a sword: never let it out of your sight and make sure only you know how to make use of it."
The girl was almost twelve at the age of her first kill, and it had been an accident, self-defense, fear; its justification often changed names in her haste to let her teacher know she had not wanted to murder the man who had tried to rip her kimono from her legs. Her sensei assured her that it was all right, and such people deserved death. Better yet, men would never expect a woman, especially pretty ones like themselves, to suddenly take out a sword and exact judgment on them for their demonic deeds.
"In fact," the teacher said one day with a dark smile, "that is our purpose."
March 30th, afternoon, Tanzaku town, Fire Province
Tanzaku town was meant for tourists, with its restaurants, gambling centers and teahouses full of geisha. It had living complexes as well, but inns outnumbered them two to one (and teahouses often doubled as inns anyhow). Those drifting through were indeed drifting—one did not need to have a destination in mind in Tanzaku; more often than not something interesting would appear right in front of them.
For Deidara, the theatre was always interesting. People were always trying to come up with the next Journey to the East and hoping the viewers would be throwing their pocket money away to see it again. The shows were always worth it in some way: the actor's flamboyant outfits and makeup and paint, or heart-wrenching singing voices or even simple dialogue—always different, always amazing, always exploding with independence—but he'd only been here a week and hadn't managed to memorize where any of the three theatres were. Too bad.
He'd fine something else tonight. Maybe he would be the entertainer, as he had been the night he came to visit this unique, sensual place. The bartender had been having some great trouble with the two thugs who were all but flashing the women at the two corner tables. It had been a pleasure to dig some clay from his bag—older, dryer clay; these two weren't worth the smoother, more expensive sort—slap his hands on their arms, and watch them discover those arms were suddenly severed, blackened limbs on the floor. Free sake for the rest of the week! And tonight was the last night of that charity. 'Why not? It's early, but sake sounds good right now, mm.'
He was in the middle of the flashier, happier district now and people were staring. It was probably his hair. He'd been told time and time again how odd it was for a man to have as long hair as he did, but then again—two women were outright gawking at him and he made sure to twist his head just so for their viewing pleasure—not many men had his looks either.
Well, if not his hair then perhaps his cloak. He'd painted a phoenix on the back because he'd always considered birds inspiring (and one that set itself on fire? Kami-sama!) but hopefully not his bag. If people knew he kept clay inside it, and what he did with it, well, he'd have the grace to leave Tanzaku before such a thing happened.
Was that the theatre to his left? Too bad, mm. Hatsumomo's awaited him. It was not a place which one would take children (not that they were allowed in) yet it was not far from the happy, cheerfully-lit places where minors could buy toys or books or food.
"Deidara-kuuun!" a woman cried, waving to him from across the road. She leaned out the door of a restaurant with an outdoor menu display that had literally had a bite taken out of it. Just the sort of place Mayumi would visit.
He looked at her as neutrally as he could without veering to the "disgust" part of his emotional spectrum and walked on a bit faster, hoping she would not follow. Having women trail after you was the dream of any self-respecting man, but no self-respecting man wanted Mayumi, a waitress who had torn open the front of her kimono hoping it would please him.
Hatsumomo's was a place women like Mayumi were afraid to visit. A good portion of the women there, he'd learned, had a good chance of having stabbed someone at some point in their lives. But that was the appeal of the place. Such stories!
And there is was. A low place with lighting only a few degrees up from "dim" with na occasional bloodstained table. Now, this was a place where things could explode into action. "Is that Iwa-san?"said the fat little bartender, polishing the choko. "I wondered when you'd be back."
"Back just in time to take advantage of free drink, mm."
The bartender, whose name was Yoma or Soma or something like that, set a choko in front of him and a jug of some alcoholic drink he'd never seen before. "Here's some of my best. If you'll be in town tomorrow, I'll extend my kindness till then as well. Those two men last week were regulars and damn unwanted ones if I ever had any. Sure didn't mind sweeping their blood off my floor. Are you ever gonna tell me how you blew their goddamn arms off, boy?"
Deidara took a sip, with his right eye closed and glad for the hair that covered the left. "My secret."
"I mean, that's a katana in your sash there, is it not?" Soma-Yoma pointed at it. Deidara continued sating his thirst. "I saw you go over to them n' thought you were a swordsman n' you were going to simply cut them down—wouldn't've minded that either."
"I'm not really a swordsman-type."
"But a samurai, yes?"
The answer to that was yes, but interrupting was rude, so Deidara behaved rudely as well and ignored him. "If I run out of my secret weapon, the katana can be my backup. Granted, I'm sure I could have cut off their arms that way, too, un. They obviously weren't trained in anything but getting in someone's face." Soma-Yoma had the sort of look of a cat who wanted more milk. Deidara was above giving in to the wishes of someone as lowly as a Tanzaku bartender so ignored his hunger for answers again. "Anyway, I' m done talking about that. I like this place because of the people that come in, mm. You said you know them all. Tell me about some of them. I'm bored."
Now looking thoughtful, the bartender said, "Well, well, sometime last year, early November I wanna say—ah, wait! I have a better one. It happened just four days ago. I would have told you, but you didn't come for your free sake that night, Iwa-san."
Deidara flipped a mental coin for his name. "I like stories more than apologies, Soma-san."
Soma-Yoma huffed a little and began again. "Anyhow, just last week, I was serving some weak tea or other to a couple, and a blonde woman came strolling in. Thirty or so, I'd say. And, Iwa-san, she had a sword."
His thirst was suddenly sated, and his now-curious mind prowling. "What the hell would a woman have a sword for?"
"I'm getting to it. She came up to me and asked if I knew any worthy samurai around here—regulars, tourists, residents, anything." He stuck his thumb at himself. "Well I do know some samurai around here, but I asked her why she needed them before answering, and she said she wanted to hire them to protect her village. It's being harassed, robbed or something. She didn't say anything about how she'd pay them so I wasn't so eager to answer. No true samurai would do something for nothing, particularly for a woman, or so I hear."
The blonde could have commented but was far too interested in the tale to interrupt or even touch his sake again. Soma-Yoma continued, "I asked her straight n' simple about how she'd pay them and she got all flustered and shameful-looking, and said she could feed them and perhaps give them weapons to fight with." He stopped, grinning.
Deidara wanted to frown at the insolence of mocking poor people, but kept his face carefully neutral. "And? Did you ever give her any names?"
"I did tell her about a young fellow I'd seen a few days ago who cut off some thugs' arms without a sword, if that's what you're wanting to know." he chuckled. "And a few other descriptions. Never gave no names. She probably just wanted a strong guy to spend the night with, you know? And carried the sword around so she'd look tough herself, I bet. She didn't seem happy with my descriptions so gave me a nasty glare and left, with a helluva lotta eyes starin' after her."
'At least I ignore women who deserve to be ignored.' the blonde mused, scratching his shoulder. 'Anyone honorable who carries a sword knows its burden. I think would have believed her, mm.' Suddenly Deidara noticed Soma-Yoma was leaning far to his left to see around him. "What, un?" he muttered, turning.
Traditionally, taverns such as Hatsumomo's didn't have many windows. Hatsumomo's had but one, next to the door, and through it Deidara could see the outside of a ring of people gathered on the street outside. They shuffled fearfully on their feet and a few brash ones pointed. Someone out there was speaking, loudly. It sounded like a man's voice, an arrogant on (the sort that Deidara would have gladly blown the arms off of). He left his seat and headed straight for the door; the bartender and several customers in the tavern made a lot of noise trying to follow him. Outside he had to push through several people to see what was on the inside of this ring, and had to take off his cloak just to make himself smaller, leaving only his black undershirt with net hems beneath it.
He pushed past a trio of men, hand near his clay bag just in case, and saw a girl with a sword in hand, facing a man very near twice her size.
For a moment he didn't quite believe his eyes. Were swords now a women's fashion accessory? But then his eyes found her hair—'What in the world happened to her?'—It was pink as a sakura tree, hanging down and hardly touching her shoulder. Her outfit appeared to be a pinkish-red kimono of some sort with slightly shorter sleeves than normal and the hem of which did not even reach her knees, though there was something black underneath that, probably for decency. One quick once-over, easily tuning out the large man yelling at her, and Deidara found himself smiling enormously. She was stunning; the men in the crowd had begun recognizing (and vocalizing) that.
The man yelling was insulting the petite girl standing in front of him with a sword, but Deidara was giving quiet admiration to her for it. She had a good form—he grinned at the double meaning—obviously knew what she was doing with her sword, was poised and ready to be attacked, and looked lean enough to dodge around this man twice before he could take a step. Then again, the blonde realized he was a bit biased in this strange matter. He would have to see what she did.
"—and daring to ask the great Shidei Masako to accompany a child to a worthless, penniless village, with new swords as payment? Have you neither shame nor pride as a woman, you wench?"
The girl's lip twitched. Either this had been going on longer than he knew, or her patience was wearing thin quickly. "Shidei-san, if you are refusing my offer, we can both peacefully be on our separate ways—"
"Don't you dare think I'll be letting you leave this street with your life," growled Shidei, and then, with a yellow-toothed grin, "or your virginity, if you're still lucky enough to have that, my lovely."
Deidara's hand clenched on its own.
The girl was angry now and didn't bother hiding it. "I'm not your lovely anything," she spat, moving one foot backward into a more defensive stance. "And you'll be lucky if I let you leave this street with your life. Attack me."
The crowd hummed with urgent whispers and gaping jaws. Murmurs of "Save her!", "Run away!" and "What will she do?" circulated. Someone shook his shoulder and he looked down into the eyes of a middle-aged woman with a shawl on her head. "You're a samurai, aren't you, sir?" she grasped his katana and nudged it upwards. "No one else has even a knife! She's helpless! Save her!" He loosened her hand from his katana and assured her that she could save herself, and almost started pointing out the excellent of her stance—but she wasn't there anymore. He didn't risk using only his right eye to catch it.
He lifted his hair and could almost feel the touch of the sun on his mechanism; using it and his natural eye, he was able to see her jumping up as Shidei looked about for his suddenly missing opponent, kicking off the man's shoulder and smacking him with the flat of the blade and she fell back. She landed neat as a falling cat on the ground. Her opponent fell to the ground before her a moment later like a dead ox.
The pink-haired girl glared at the face-down form. "I'm not looking for samurai impostors anyway," she growled, and walked away with sword still in hand as the crowd made way for her.
"Clever, clever," Deidara murmured with a soft smile. "Sword still wisely at the ready…he'll probably get up in—"
The man shot his bear-sized bulk forward with wildcat speed. The crowd jumped back with screeches of surprise. The female swordsman whisked around and their swords met. Her eyes were narrowed, eyebrows close together, glaring up at the bear of a man before her. Her eyes met the bear-man.
'Meet MY eyes.' Deidara thought. 'Mine.'
Naturally, she did not meet his eyes. A swing of her sword-holding arm, her left surprisingly, and the man staggered back with his arms in the air, vulnerable as could be. She would kill him now. He was probably deserving of it with such a personality, the blonde decided. Instead she fell onto her side and kicked the side of his knee. He fell again with a high and strangled cry. The girl flipped her sword up, caught it and thrust it down into the dirt parallel to the man's cheek. A strand of cut hair dropped to the ground and he visibly cowered.
She got onto one knee, holding the sword. "People like you are why this province is so dirty. I pity your mother for bringing someone like you into this world." She tore the sword from the ground and sheathed it as she walked off. Whispers of admiration, silent, pointed fingers followed and Deidara Iwa's sharp eyes stalked after her.
His body tensed up before he knew what was happening, and he allowed it to move on its own, running towards the girl the minute the Shidei tore a dagger from his coat and threw it at her. There was no time for clay now. Deidara reached for his katana, squinted to make sure of his aim, and struck the man's dagger straight out of the air.
He faced the bear-man, his weapon at the ready, but could feel the female swordsman staring at his back. "Some men just can't let a woman go," he said just loud enough for her to hear. Would she understand, he wondered?
"You insolent, fucking—" While Shidei the bear-man began another tirade, Deidara sank his hand into his clay bag and felt his secret weapon forming within him. Shidei was adding something about his mother to the rain of insults. Deidara made a point of interrupting him.
"Shut your mouth."
He tossed the tiny clay bird like a dart and it zipped into Shidei's mouth. His head thrashed once, and he spat out a pink mass onto the ground. Screaming, tongueless, Shidei Masako shot up and shoved the crowd out of his way to run in the opposite direction. They pointed and stared once again. A child and a dog sprung out of the crowd and began poking the severed tongue. Leaving the strangers to their daily affairs, Deidara walked in a straight, purposeful line to the pink-haired young woman, and she did the same. He could see in her eyes, though, she did not have the same feelings in her eyes as he did.
He allowed the new admiration to show through all the other emotions, and bowed when he reached her, a very humble action from any man to any woman. He saw her outright surprise when he rose again. "You're an excellent swordsman. And the first female samurai I've ever seen, mm."
"Arigatou," she gasped. "And you—"
"Iwa Deidara," he gladly supplied.
"Ah, Deidara-san—" Well, that was somewhat better. "Deidara-san, I have no idea what you did but I've never seen anything like it before. I know this is strange, but I have to ask you something very important to my village." He nodded, and honestly did understand, but couldn't help but gaze at her a little more than listen to her. "I'm here looking for samurai, you see, as bodyguards of sorts."
He cocked his head a bit. "Do you have an older blonde woman with you, too?" She nodded, looking at him oddly. "A bartender just told me a story about a blonde woman who came in looking for samurai to hire, and that she could only pay them in weapons, un. Or something like that."
"That was Tsunade, my sensei. My request is exactly that, Deidara-san." She clasped her hands together, and the fierce young woman looked suddenly vulnerable, innocent. Deidara studied this new persona with great interest. "My village needs strong samurai. We can't pay you much. We can feed you and arm you, and that is all. I've been turned down by more men than this town has buildings, you're the first person to even hear me out this long in three days. Will you consider?"
"Consider?" he chuckled. "I accept." The joy lighting up her eyes had similar effect on his heart.
"Are you sure? You won't have the grand living quarters a place like Tanzaku offers. My village, Konoha, has the same simple cottages any village has, our food is of course not as extravagant, and Konoha has a lot of flowers. In case you happen to be allergic."
"My offer to accept will stand on two conditions," he told her, holding up two fingers. She looked as determined to fulfill them as she had to defeat Shidei Masako. "One, tell me exactly why Konoha is in need of samurai. And two, tell me your name."
"I'm Haruno Sakura." she said with a smooth bow. "Konoha has only Tsunade and I as protectors. There are thieves taking advantage of our weakness. Tsunade and I are taking turns staying back home to fight them back and go to various towns trying to hire help."
Deidara nodded his understanding. A simple reason as any to hire bodyguards. "All right then, mm. When to we leave?"
She turned and started walking off. "As soon as we find five other samurai." she replied.
I told myself I'd get this done before 2010! It's December 31st, 11:55 PM! YEAAAAH! Though when I post this it may have slipped into 2010...
Strangely for my stories, we haven't gone into Sakura's mind, just one of the multiple love interest's, so we have a little bit of evidence as to how the guy just happens to fall in love with her. The writing style will change depending on whose POV it is, as you will come to notice. You already know Deidara hates slutty/manipulative women, likes sake and places in which (surprise, surprise) "explosive" things can happen, like dark taverns such as Hatsumomo's.
By the way, like Samurai 7, the main samurai featured in this story do NOT all have typical clothing for their time, like, say, the anime character Kenshin Himura did. Google that character for an example of what these guys are NOT wearing (though Sakura does basically wear a kimono, but much shorter than average, and also, um...like, the equivalent of ancient Japanese bike shorts so as to not flash people). I try to describe their outfits well but leave a little room for imagination.
Happy New Year!