I showcased the Samurai 7 in my school's anime/manga club, managed to get a friend hooked on it, re-watched the original, oldies movie, and thought about this fic every damn day. It's like Airborne all over again. I hope to make this worthy of my own fangirlish hype.

And beware the OOC-ness that haunts all Sakucentric fics of this nature. If you don't like men uncharacteristically and sometimes irrationally chasing after Sakura Haruno like I do, then the "back" button's ready for you.

Also, for our Japanese lesson this chapter, we have 1.) tempura, which is a popular dish made of vegetables (or seafood) battered or fried. 2.) The respectable term danna has no real English translation, but in the context of Sasori and Deidara it is something like "teacher". 3.) Also there's mention of aku, meaning "evil."


April 2nd, early evening, Tanzaku town


'KILL THEM KILL THEM KILL THEM KILL THEM NARUTO WHY WON'T YOU JUST KILL THEM!'

Naruto hadn't agreed with Kyuubi so fervently since…he couldn't remember when. But Kyuubi was always saying to kill things, and Sakura needed all three of them and still needed three more. And wouldn't it be just his luck if she cast her spell on those three too but oh hell he'd bury them alive before they could so much as smile at her—

'Stop polluting my thoughts you stupid dog,' Naruto thought, idly licking the end of one chopstick. He could feel Kyuubi seething at the old insult. 'I am a fox, you foolish pup.' He could sense Kyuubi's eyes, or his head, or whatever it was he used to look at things when Naruto's eyes were somewhere else, moving. 'As is she. The only female worthy of you I've ever seen. Tear up these other fools right now. I know you desire it.'

'Shut up.'

After a loud and attention-grabbing fight between the homosexual-looking blonde and the redhead who carried a doll on his back, Sakura kicked the former in the stomach and smacked the latter with her sword sheath and requested firmly that they shut their mouths. Since they kept up some fierce glares after that she decided to get them all something to eat, looking worried. Smart choice.

He couldn't remember the name of the place they were in, but he liked the traditional look of it. The tables were set in one very long aisle, and they were all low, perhaps a foot off the ground and guests sat on their feet around them. Each table was separated from the others by mats of sewn reeds sticking out of the wall, as tall and wide as a person. The privacy…would have been nice. Maybe.

Most of the food came on enormous plates and everyone plucked off whatever they wanted and put it on their own normal-sized plate. There was one sauce-lathered square of pork left on the meats platter. Sasori smoothly pierced his chopsticks into it, and then Deidara did. Sasori's long fingers cricked as the two glared at each other.

"Deidara." Sasori grunted.

"Danna." Deidara said. Naruto didn't know if it was actually out of respect or was meant as a sarcastic bite. Sasori glared like it was an insult and began pulling the morsel toward himself. Deidara pulled as well. The way this restaurant cooked this dish made the pork especially chewy, which meant resistant to teeth and pulling, and so it could—'I know what chewy means, okay? You think I'm that stupid?' Kyuubi grumbled and didn't answer him, instead turning his eyes-and-head to view Sakura.

'Look at her. She's afraid to interrupt them for fear of falling out of their good favor. How foolish a thought! Pup, tell her she will be followed by hordes of men whether she wants to be in their favor or not. Go on.'

Naruto told his chakra-beast to shut up and went back to nibbling his last hunk of tempura. But the influence won out in the end. After all, in this particular square table, Deidara and Sasori were next to each other, and on the other side, he sat next to Sakura. Why hadn't he taken advantage of this sooner?

"I bet it's a mating ritual," he whispered to her quite seriously, and her lips formed a giggling smile behind her chopsticks. Kyuubi, seeing this, purred.

The blonde (he was stupid, probably) took that moment to glance over across the table at her. Sasori lifted his pinky from his chopsticks and flicked it. A wooden hand darker than ink burst out of his rucksack and snapped Deidara's utensils in two.

"The hell!" Deidara spat, shaking his nearly-hurt hand while Sasori dragged the meat lazily to his teeth. "Fuck! I call you danna and I get my hand almost chopped off? Well, I guess should know better than to respect a man with a woman's face who paints his goddamn nails, un!" Naruto's lips parted in dark wonder at the sight Sasori's face twisting in rage. With Kyuubi's help he could nearly sense Sakura's wonder as well, veined throughout with anxiety. She wanted to say something to soothe him. She'd lose a valuable samurai otherwise.

Setting his utensils down on the meat platter, Sasori stood up. His eyes remained burning hatefully down at Deidara. "Sakura, I'm afraid if I'm near this idiot any longer I'll be tempted to gut him. I'd feel more comfortable helping you find more samurai, if you please." He proceeded to take a cloth wallet from a pocket low on his maroon cloak and drop a random and generous amount of coins on the table. Sakura began to tear coins out of her own wallet but a stare from the redhead stopped her. "Four instead of the three you needed, actually," he added, walking away down the aisle as the rest of them stood up. "I'll probably gut him anyway."

But after a speech like that, no way was Naruto letting him go with his moodiness. He walked ahead and blocked Sasori's path. "Who do you think you are, commanding her like that?" he snapped. "She's taking you right into her home and putting the lives of her friends and family in your hands so what you shouldn't do in return for that is act like a pissed old woman!" Sasori was now giving him the hateful glare, but Naruto couldn't care less.

Behind him, Sakura and Deidara were scrambling away from their table and dishes. "Naruto-san, for the love of Kami-sama, you're making people stare!"

"No one insults you in front of me!" he snarled without looking at her. She'd see the red fox chakra bleeding into his eyes if he did. "Especially not him."

Some of the hate faded out of the redhead's expression. The smugness that took its place was as welcome as disease. "Oh? What's so special about me?" he said—taunted.

"What's special about you is that naaah!" Sakura was shoving him from behind through the aisle, past dozens of gaping, curious faces of other restaurant patrons. The hostess at the front door looked happy to see them go and disappear into the twilight. Once they had found a relatively peaceful street corner, Sakura stopped and he was free to turn around and continue. "Sakura-chan, you don't have to defend him! He's gonna stalk you all the way to Konoha whether you beg him to or scream at him not to!"

"He's right." Naruto saw Sakura's open surprise—'She's SCARED of him, you stupid pup! Soothe her!'—at Sasori's remark. "Your movement, your voice, your talent, all attract me to you. Don't think you can be rid of me. Your other two 'samurai' are boys swinging swords and pretending to men. Only I am worthy of you."

Fuming, Deidara spat, "I'm the same age as you, you stupid bastard!" and wrapped a hand tightly around Sasori's neck. "We're looking for samurai, not telling lies or proclaiming love or telling young women with absolutely no subtlety you want to molest them. So how about we look for recruits…un?" The stare-off between the two picked up again, till Sasori grew an unpleasant-looking smirk and nodded. He pulled out of Deidara's strangling grip and waited for a command.

Maybe because of so many eyes on her, Sakura stuttered before deciding, "The southern quarter. I haven't been there yet. And when Tsunade-sensei had her turn, she didn't either."

"Had her turn?" Deidara asked as they all walked southward together.

"Tsunade-sensei and I took turns leaving Konoha in search of help so someone could stay behind and fight the bandits. Usually for two or three days at a time. We've been doing it for over a month now."

Tilting his feminine head, Sasori remarked, "These are very persistent bandits. Is there something in your village they want? Ancient scroll or jewel or some such thing?"

The woman samurai shook her head, dodging around a caravan pulled by two horses without even looking at them. "We have nothing but this year's harvest, and it's not as though that's special. We think they keep harassing us because we're the only village for leagues and leagues that doesn't kiss their dirty feet." Her eyes grew unconsciously harder. "And it probably for that reason that no one sympathizes with us. What village doesn't roll over for a group of thieves? It's not right, they say! Like we've shunned their religion—people are this pathetic!"

She dragged one hand down her face in frustration, but when it came away, it revealed a smile. "One day soon I hope to cut them all down and Konoha's children can kick their severed heads around for play. The bandits, I mean, not our neighbors!" The sheepish face she made outshone the adorability of a kitten pawing a string. Naruto purred. Sakura switched her gaze between all her hired samurai as though expecting an attack from one of them. Crickets in household gardens chirped peacefully somewhere nearby.

"We're…entering the southern quarter." she said, poorly veiling her nervousness. Her small left hand was tight on her sword. "I'll head down the street where the famous inn, Nishimura's, is. Please meet me at the arch in a few hours." She turned on the heel of her sandal and headed down a street where a glistening red roof towered just above all others.

At the arch, a few hours, at the arch, a few hours, Naruto reminded himself firmly, heading down the leftmost street. He told himself this because he'd undoubtedly go on till dawn looking for samurai if that's what it took—'Because you're an accursedly hopeless fool'. By nature he would want to, and now because of Sakura he would need to.

A vixen's movements and tenacity on the outside to attract, innocent kindness and wisdom to ensnare. But he'd be the one to pounce, eventually.

'Gods above, is it I or you who's the demonic fox?'

'Both of us.' Naruto replied flatly, and meandered over to his first possibility.


April 2nd, an hour after nightfall, Tanzaku Town


"You're in one hell of a situation, my friend," said Aku Toshiaki, his second applicant of the night. "It'd be nice to defend nice people against bad people if you had any damn weapons to do it with. You can go ahead and get yourself impaled by those men, but leave me out of it, if you please." He lumbered away and disappeared into the crowd of merchants and beggars and tourists, the bell on his two-pronged spear jingling like a child's toy. Like an idiot, like he was, like Aku Toshiaki.

One with the uncanny combo of eyes and mind that Sasori had could deduce a dozen things about men like this with a single glance. His surname wasn't Aku, obviously, though why he would pretend he had such a dark name was a mystery, considering he looked to be a man of decent integrity despite his slightly ale-stained breath. If "Aku" Toshiaki had any scraps of dedication to anything, even speaking as though he gave a damn about the words, Sasori would have considered him for Sakura's party of defenders. But he hadn't. In fact, after that first glance he wanted to leave. But out of politeness and some gratitude for having found someone in this filthy city who wasn't repulsive in some way, Sasori had given him some time to talk and hear his own voice.

Kindness. So few deserved it. Now that the man was gone, Sasori found his eyes narrowing into a baleful glare on their own. Aku Toshiaki deserved nothing from him. There was someone else infinitely more deserving, more captivating than he, than puppetry, who deserved everything so that perhaps one day he could understand her.

'Female samurai,' he thought for the tenth or so time that hour. 'Such an odd phrase. Such an odd, endearing creature.' He thought about her more than was proper, especially now, when his mind was most definitely not supposed to be focused on her, but samurai recruits for her home. Unfortunately, he realized time had gotten away from him. Sakura had requested they be meet at the arch, a landmark in this part of town, an hour past nightfall. That time must be past. Damn.

Sasori turned swiftly around, brushing past a group of women who so stared slack-jawed at his looks—or his puppet; sometimes that was it. It was a dark rucksack slightly smaller than his own torso; people often stared and wondered what he kept in it. Those who found out died. Deservedly. Always.

A splotched horse came trotting down the road pulling a cart vegetables of some sort piled inside. The driver was hardly slowing to give him time to dodge. Sighing at his offensiveness, Sasori leapt clear over both cart and horse—'which shall we put first now?' he laughed a bit foolishly—waking the driver out of a lazy stupor and making him pay much more attention to the road now. Other folk on the street were watching by the time he landed, admiring him for his skills now instead of just his face, the shallow scum.

He turned the corner and saw the red, sweeping archway that welcomed tourists into Tanzaku Town's southern quarter. It was made up of mostly hotels and low-grade restaurants (and people of equal grade, he knew now). He spotted a long swath of gold which had to be Deidara's—ridiculous—hair, and a patch of red topped with pink next to him, the identity of which he would know forever. The boy who played samurai, Naruto, was still missing.

Sakura was combing her hair idly with her fingers. Sasori slowed his walk so as to more easily focus on watching this motion. She did it with equal parts fingertip and wrist. The wrist gave a slight, smooth pull at the end to finally release itself from the smooth cherry strands. By doing this without looking, the action appeared mysterious and vague. Deidara would have called him a crass name, an especially crass one if they were still in the organization together. Sasori would have reminded Deidara his sandal was loose when it probably wasn't, and said blonde would fall on his womanly ass bending down to look. It would have been a fond memory.

He was at her side now. A glance in his direction, a brief sigh, and he wished he had stayed out searching a bit longer. "No luck?" Deidara said pointlessly from where he leaned on the arch.

"A thousand people per street, and I found two men who were at all worthy of fighting for you," Sasori addressed Sakura. "One turned out to be a very good actor who thought he'd make some money off of this. The other was a good man, but undisciplined. Foolish. Don't get me started on the rest of this town."

"I don't like it here, either." she replied. He watched her finger the white under-robe beneath her short, red kimono. "It's not even the crowds, you're right, it's the people. Every dirty, desperate soul under the sun is right here in the streets. I don't know what walk of life you're from, Sasori-san, but village life much cleaner and happier than this."

"I could swear I told you to address me properly. My name is Sasori, not Sasorisan, and you will address me as such. Does this suit you, Sakura?" Still leaning against the arch, Deidara stood openly frowning. Perhaps sticking his middle finger up as well. It seemed a bit harder to see out of the corner of one's eye when it wasn't life-threatening. Deidara's idiotic expressions aside, his recruiter did not answer him. It was beginning to worry him when he saw she was staring wide-eyed directly down the road. He followed her gaze, and parted his mouth in surprise.

Naruto was walking triumphantly towards them, hands laced carelessly behind his head, the night breeze lifting his long, red coat. He made a somewhat intimidating figure, but this was dwarfed by the samurai—the two samurai—following him. Immediately the redhead knew who they were. Though night had thinned the crowds, those remaining knew who they were as well.

One was taller than the other, and had longer hair.

The smaller one drew a hilt-less, plain sword from a violet belt and charged. Sasori pulled chakra into his fingertips before the charger had taken two strides; he had maneuvered both the Kazekage's hands out of his casing and was ready to wrap them around this intruder. His puppet's hands were less than a foot away from the young man's face.

And then they weren't.

He saw where the attacker was going, tried to stop him, but the Kazekage was not fast enough. He heard, all too slowly, the sleek shriek of metal on a sheath, and then metal on metal. Sakura had unsheathed her sword and blocked the attacker's. Their blades and faces were inches apart. Sakura's brows came together in confusion; the attacker blinked and stepped back.

Naruto came running up and clapped the new man on the shoulders. "What the fuck was that?" he screamed. "Raising your sword on a woman! Teme! You don't deserve to serve Sakura's village!"

All too aware of his own lack of speed and foresight, Sasori withdrew the Kazekage's wooden hands back into his cloth pack. He was thankful for once of Deidara stating the obvious then. "…Uchiha?" And yes, they were.

Uchiha Sasuke sheathed his sword, bangs falling into his eyes. "You're alert and quick." he said. "Unfortunately that makes you superior to many samurai in this godforsaken city." He met her eyes. "Your friend Naruto has told me your story. I am a samurai of unparalleled strength with no requirements for payment. I would much rather assist you than return to my family's home as my father wishes. You will add me as your fourth recruit."

Naruto growled at his insolence; Sasori studied him; it was not often one would come within such distance of an Uchiha clan member. Sakura's eyes continued in what seemed to be a staring contest with the young Uchiha, and smiled with both mouth and eyes. "Hai, Sasuke-san. You are my fourth samurai."

Naruto laced his hands behind his head again. "I told you I'd find you one!" he chuckled. As he did, the second Uchiha at last came to stand beneath the arch with them. Tall and bearing midnight hair not quite as long as Deidara's, he was bearing his demon eyes down on Sakura.

'No.'

Naruto moved between them before he could. "Sakura-chan, this is Uchiha-teme-Sasuke, and his uncle, Uchiha Madara."

Madara, dressed in casual, deep-blue clothing except for seemingly misplaced crimson gauntlets on his forearms, had several inches height difference from which to gaze down at her. It was not the eerie, tender and hungering sort of gaze Sasori feared he would have to defend her from—something he sensed, but never saw, about Naruto—but more along the lines of sweet surprise. But this man was an Uchiha. What he allowed to be seen on the outside was obviously not what he hid within, or behind his red, demon eyes. It was the nature of their clan to lie and then dominate with unparalleled power, so the shogun himself could tell you.

Wise as she was to such threats, Sakura kept her voice only mildly interested, and baited him. "You look a bit young to be someone's uncle."

"His father is my very elder brother." Madara replied in a deep, charming voice innate to all their clan. "And you're the first person to call me young in a long while. Sasuke here is always trying to tell me what an old, crotchety man I am at twenty-three." To the side, Naruto cocked his head, wary and unsure of this innocent-sounding man. Madara lifted the corners of his mouth slightly. "Am I too old to join you in your mission, Sakura-chan? I'd love it if you were to have me."

Oddly, neither of the blondes reacted to such a thinly veiled desire.

Looking quite ecstatic, Sakura bowed respectfully to both Uchiha, thanking them deeply for their dedication. When she rose again, Sasuke glared suddenly at his uncle. "Some hunter you are, uncle. Following me for weeks to bring me back to Father, and this girl changes your mind?"

"Your father is power-hungry scum." Madara chirped with his eyes and charming smile still on Sakura. "Sakura here is sweet-natured and very loyal, and works for the benefit of her people." He glanced over at his nephew. "Hell, my brother could learn a few things from 'this girl,' Sasuke. Come, let's all help her find that last samurai. I haven't been to a little village in a long time. Bet it'll be fun."

"Uh-uh-um, it is!" Sakura stammered, clapping her hands together. "Once the bandits are gone, I can show you, if you like. If we're rid of them by summer, the villagers will insist on you staying for the Firefly Dancing. It's everyone's favorite time of year in Konoha."

"It sounds fabulous," he said, now looking over her head and the seething Deidara's. "I would love to hear more, my dear, but I believe I see a candidate down the street that could be a very serious possibility."

As a unit, they all looked. There was a brawl going on far down the street, at a curve where part of the scene was blocked by a building, that is, until three wooden beams from that corner were suddenly torn out of the wall. One was impaled on the huge red spear of a man in garb that looked vaguely like Shinto robes. Also impaled there was the foot of a man now lying in the street, surrounded by scrolls he had dropped. From the opposite end of the road, the six samurai heard a screech.

"It's in His hands now! And He declares that all heathens will fucking die!"


Well. That could be just about anyone right thar.

I rushed the second half of this chapter in an effort to finish it up before I go to my local anime convention, Naka-kon, with my friends tomorrow. I feel because of the rushing I made Madara a more serious and predatory than I originally meant. He's been hanging with Sasuke too long. He'll revert to his lax, playful self pretty soon.

Well, all seven samurai have been introduced (some of the others in the poll will still be used in different ways; I have special roles planned for Kakashi and Itachi, for example). I wanted to spend another chapter gathering them, since it's pretty damn unlikely Sakura would find all six of her recruits in…what, two days? Yeah. But the story's gotta move on.

I hope you learn a little something from each POV change, by the way. We've seen that Naruto's affection for Sakura is darker than it first seemed, and he does not like people insulting her; Sasori and Deidara both think the other is overly feminine, for pretty face and girly hair respectively; and by implication, Sakura doesn't knew whether to be herself around the samurai like they seem to want her to, or just be nice and keep in their good favor. Chill, she'll loosen up. Gotta sleep now.