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The One Where Itachi and Deidara are Soulmates

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Deidara doesn't really pay any attention to his soul mate until he's eight years old and a harried medic tells him:

"For the third time now Deidara-kun, there is nothing wrong with your ankle."

He has an inkling then -- an annoyed inkling, itching deep within his mind -- but he still insists on the medic-nin getting scans of the bones and the chakra network in his ankle and then, with mounting irritation, in his spine and brain.


"Congratulations," says the medic-nin, all sarcastic and cross, even though they both know he's too scared of Deidara to refuse him should he demand yet more tests, "you're a picture of health."

Another bolt of pain shoots up Deidara's ankle. He blows out an explosive breath.

He knows what this is. It would explain why it doesn't hurt when he actually puts weight on the ankle -- no, this throbs unreliably, unsteadily. It hurts to the rhythm of someone else's running in fits and starts.

He has a soul bond coming in and his stupid soulmate is injured and too dumb to find medical help. It's been like this for two days now and it's getting worse instead of better.

Deidara grinds his teeth -- all of them. He feels the muscles in his chest clench and the tendons in his forearms strain with it.

"Fine," he says flatly.

He turns on his heel and leaves the medic-nin's office, and ignores how relieved the man seems to be shot of him.

Pain is usually the first thing soulmates feel across their bond. Deidara knows this.

It doesn't make it any less irritating.

Deidara has missions to run. He is a chuunin now and he takes mostly C-ranked missions, which is fine, because C-ranks are the backbone of any village's income. They are important.

One such mission might pay less -- way, way less -- than an A-rank, but they're a lot more common and they incur a lot fewer risks.

He's not bitter.

...God, he wants to be a jounin, just, so badly. Not least because jounin get their pick of missions.

Deidara hates escort missions, which is unfortunate because a lot of C-ranks are escort missions. They are also an absolute waste of his considerable talent and they're always assigned to groups of two or more. He thought team based missions would be a thing of the past once he made chuunin.

He stares balefully at the desk ninja when his next mission is assigned to him. The kunoichi pretends not to notice in the slightest. She stamps the mission scroll without even a second's hesitation.

Medics might find an eight year old chuunin full of grinning mouths intimidating, but special jounin retired from field work absolutely do not.

"You and Touma will work together," she says, pointing with her pen to another ninja standing near the window of the mission office.

He's tall, brown-haired and dark-eyed, and at least fifteen years older than Deidara, and he doesn't look thrilled at being assigned to work with a kid -- even if that kid is the same rank as him. Maybe especially if that kid is the same rank as him.

"Pleased to meet you," he says, sounding anything but.

"Are you?" Deidara asks bluntly. His ankle gives a twinge. He scowls at everything.

He doesn't mention the ankle injury to anyone else because, firstly, he's not actually the one having it and secondly, the Torture, Interrogation & Psychiatric Services Department pitches a fit every time any ninja above genin rank develops a soulmate bond. Deidara is sure the medics will have added the ankle thing to his file, but as long as he doesn't give anyone a reason to investigate it he should be in the clear. He wants to keep it that way.

He takes painkillers. They're not strong ones, but he figures they should at least put a dent in the sensation. They don't, of course, because it's not actually his ankle, and when he takes painkillers they're pretty much useless.

He ignores it instead.

He's not damaged. He doesn't feel anything when he moves out with Touma and their sake-swilling merchant client, or when he leaps from roof to roof, or when he volunteers to scout ahead and bounds down the steep rocky slopes at a neck-breaking sprint.

He's fine until they are walking through a nearby village street and his dumbass soulmate gets up and starts sprinting again. His ankle goes white hot with pain, and for a second he's sure it's going to collapse on him.

"What's the hold up?" asks his client. Deidara decides then and there that the merchant is obnoxious.

"Nothing, yeah," Deidara says, and he clenches his teeth in his hands and his chest even while he gives the man his best blank and pleasant face. "Nothing at all."

Touma eyes him, but wisely says nothing in front of the merchant.

The pain indicates shorter jumps than Deidara is used to, he thinks. Either his soulmate is smaller -- unlikely, since Deidara is all of eight and he's not big -- or they travel in different terrain. It's too irregular for roof tops, but he can't work out what they're travelling over. He doubts they're from Rock, though. He's never run like that before in his life.

Pain makes him short tempered. He's lucky he IS on a simple C-rank escort mission, because anything harder would be impossible to complete with his attention so divided.

The mission is dead boring. They travel, of course, but only at the pace of a merchant's wagon. The whole week sees a single attack by five bandits, which Deidara could take care of with his eyes closed.

He doesn't even need to move from his spot on the wagon. He's used to the rocking of the wood and the creaking of the wheels, and he perches on it for most of the mission because there's something in his head that screams at him to rest his ankle -- even though it's still not his ankle.

By the time the bandits have demanded they surrender their goods, Deidara's clone has slid up from the earth behind them and attached tiny tags to each one.

He detonates them mid-sentence.

The explosions aren't big, but he feels a fluttery internal delight in killing them. People are his very best medium. They have so much complexity and energy and potential. It's a beautiful thing to see it all go up in smoke.

Well, not all of it. Deidara's smallest tags don't really pack enough of a punch to destroy a whole body -- but the bandits are all gone from at least the waist up with a flash, a bang and a wet, ripping, meaty noise. The world smells like acrid smoke and cooking pork.

The merchant cries. He insists that Deidara swap with Touma.

"Don't be such a baby, yeah," Deidara complains, flicking his hair out of his eyes.

Deidara doesn't mind the crying, not really -- sometimes witnessing art makes people sad or upset. Not everybody likes the same things, but true art tugs at the emotions of every person who witnesses it. That's what it's for, so of course crying happens sometimes -- but he's annoyed about being told to move. He isn't about to hurt his client. That would be stupid. He is being paid to provide an escort, and Deidara doesn't actually want to live the stereotype of the starving artist.

Their client is in charge though, so he gets off the wagon and lets Touma take his place. The walking doesn't impact the pain in his ankle anyway so it doesn't really matter.

Deidara suffers his soulmate's stupid ankle injury for four days, mostly because he has no way to yell at them.

On the fifth day they're in town. Deidara is relieved by Touma for the night guard shift. They both clearly know nothing is going to happen on this mission, but they'll have a lot of explaining to do if they take a gamble on that and end up being wrong. So they take their boring guard shifts and trade off with one another as protocol requires. Their client is never left without protection from one chuunin at least, which is what he's paying for.

That night he sleeps for four hours and then wakes up to the pain of some lunatic leaping around on an injured ankle.

He can't get back to sleep. Every time he's dozing off his soulmate finds a new way to land badly on their messed up ankle.

"This is ridiculous," he complains. Does this idiot not know how injuries work? How is this person Deidara's supposed 'perfect match'?

He gets up early and heads out of the city. Once he's away from the sounds and lights, Deidara lights a fire with a flick of his fingers -- lightning nature chakra and dry wood gets the job done just as well as fire nature -- and then shoves his left arm into it. His hand sticks out the other side, untouched. Everyone hates hand injuries -- a ninja needs his fingers.

There's no pain quite like fire. It blisters his skin and sears through his brain: hot, spreading, fierce enough to blind him to everything else. It is an effort of will alone that keeps his arm in the flame.

He is pretty sure he has his soulmate's attention. He hopes he woke the fucker up.

He smears the wound with antiseptic, wraps it up in clean bandages and when Touma gives him a long, unhappy look he calls it a training accident. The man clearly doesn't believe him, but what's he going to do?

Every time his ankle gives another bright, shooting pain, Deidara grinds his teeth and jams his fingers into the bandages until he sees stars.

His soulmate catches on remarkably quickly, which tells Deidara something as well. For being an incredible moron, his soulmate is ... quick on the uptake. They are probably very clever. That is the worst combination Deidara can even think of.

He can feel it when the idiot finally takes some kind of pain relief. The pain in his ankle washes over all dull and soft-focus, finally.

That leaves Deidara with just his arm throbbing.

Burns really hurt, actually.


That's... inconvenient.

Deidara thinks Touma is a pretty easy mission partner to get along with, but he evidently doesn't feel the same way about Deidara.

Touma's mission report lands Deidara in a Torture, Interrogation & Psychiatric Services Department seminar about self harm.

They hold it in a giant stone building on the far edge of the village. The interior's seen better days and the seat cushions are torn. The kunoichi next to him looks like she could snap him in half. She's obviously a taijutsu specialist, to judge from her broad shoulders and rippling biceps. She has a ticking muscle in her jaw and a row of tiny, neat burn scars marching right down her left arm.

There's nothing especially telling at all about the ninja on his right. He's tall and slender and blond and he smiles vacantly at the presenter throughout the whole seminar. It makes the presenter visibly uneasy.

Deidara sits through the presentation and feels very put upon about the whole thing. Touma is nosy and dumb, and the administration is being ridiculous. He knows he's here in part because of his age, too, which grates on him even more.

When he leaves the presenter gives him a flyer with a list of "twelve things to do instead of self-harming". The top one suggests he "draw on himself in nontoxic ink".

Deidara is eight, but even he feels like he's being patronised. He can't imagine how the twitchy jounin stuck in this stupid seminar feel.

He crumples the flyer up and throws it away, and he's unsurprised to see it land right on top of the blond man's equally crumpled flyer in the bin. Who funds this shit?

Deidara contemplates tracking Touma down. He fantasises about it for a bit, walking in the cool air with his hands shoved in his pockets, dreaming of his stupid face and his shaking hands and the familiar smell of burnt meat until he feels marginally better.

But he knows you're really not meant to blow up people from the village. Killing comrades is frowned upon way more heavily than just setting yourself a bit on fire.

The next day a messenger from the demolition corps tracks him down with a mission -- a real one, a B-rank where he's merged into an infiltration squad and gets to burn an entire factory to the ground.

He forgets about Touma and instead focuses on his work.

This mission has the chemical smell of smoke in the air and sees sparks rising into the night sky. For at least forty minutes of pure bliss, Deidara loves his job.

Pain is usually the first thing soulmates feel across their bond, but it's not the only thing. Not usually, anyway -- most bonds are stronger than that.

Deidara's bond is, because as he gets older he feels other things on his soulmate's skin -- extreme heat and cold, mostly. He knows his soulmate must use those fire techniques you blow right out your mouth, because he feels the searing heat of them wash over his tongue at odd moments.

A fire jutsu user. That's... Kind of cool? Yeah, Deidara finds that cool. He wonders if maybe one day they'll be able to teach each other some cool stuff. Then he shakes the thought off.

There are almost no fire users in Earth Country, anyway. They have the explosion release, but it's not the same -- it's a bloodline limit made up of lightning and earth chakra natures, not fire, so it's not even close.

And Deidara's training to be a jounin. He doesn't have time for stupid fantasies, and he deliberately doesn't think about where fire users are most common. That's a bad thought, and he won't have anything to do with it.

He doesn't have time for stupid fantasies but that doesn't preclude thinking about his soulmate.

He wonders sometimes what his soulmate makes of him. The scars Deidara gets are often self inflicted, and usually burns -- chemical or otherwise, from training and experimenting. His bloodline limit means he finishes most fights quickly. With a few seconds of touch Deidara can blow someone up from the inside. That's kind of a showstopper.

Still, Deidara prefers his long distance work -- even though the explosion release can't be used that way. Long distance attacks all mean using tags or crude chemical mixes in glass for Deidara, but he still prefers them. When you're close up, you have to be careful -- close range explosions need to be small and contained, so they don't damage the person making them. They need to be targeted. And that's beautiful in its own small way, but...

Deidara wants to inject all his chakra into one, one day. He wants to see the sky light up with it, to feel the wind go hot and acid and the ground tremble for miles underfoot.

Doing that with his bloodline limit will kill him. He knows it.

Even at nine Deidara knows that one day that's exactly how he's going to die. Carefully, step by step, he plans for it. He is going to go out in a blaze of glory unlike anything the world has seen.

In the meantime, he is looking for new ways to blow things up from afar.

At nine he decides he loves explosive tags. It's the only kind of sealmaking Deidara knows. He has to buy his storage scrolls like a genin, but he could sell his explosive notes next to any seal master's. He is also the only person in the demolition corps who really uses them.

Learning these things -- both the skills and about himself -- leaves marks on Deidara. He has more burn scars than anyone he knows.

But they're still nothing on his soulmate, who...

Deidara is a selfish person. He rarely considers others, except in terms of what he wants and what they'll let him get away with. He has never wondered if another person is pushing themselves too hard in his life.

But he wonders this about his soulmate.

When Deidara is ten, his soulmate makes him ache all the time. Whatever kind of life his soulmate is living is a terrible and deeply stupid one.

Their head pounds, both in the back of their skull and right behind their eyes, and it hurts like chakra burns but on the inside. Their knees and ankles throb from hard landings and endless, repetitive training. And their chest is developing an on-again-off-again ache. That in particular drives Deidara up the wall, but it doesn't even seem to slow his soulmate down.

Deidara trains hard. He does. If anything holds him back from jounin rank it'll be that pesky mark on his record that says he has bad impulse control, not his combat skills or his work ethic. And yet... his soulmate makes Deidara swing wildly between wondering if what he's been doing is really training at all, and wondering how his soulmate is surviving it.

Deidara pays more attention to his sculpting -- always a hobby, and now a goddamn lifeline -- mostly because it's something he can concentrate on when his soulmate is busy ruining both their lives. Their hands are one of the few things his soulmate does take care of, and when Deidara focuses on articulating the delicate legs of a tiny, life-size clay spider he is not grinding his teeth against the screaming temper tantrum that's brewing deep in his -- aching, always aching -- lungs.

It would all be a lot easier, he thinks, if he wasn't still avoiding notifying the village administration. But they take the potential for information leaks a little too seriously in Rock -- especially in postwar Rock -- and Deidara knows he'll never make jounin if he admits that his soulmate might be able to see through his eyes one day.

(The safety of Deidara's village is very secondary to his own ambitions. But, to be fair, Deidara's own safety is also very secondary to his ambitions.)

Sometimes he still burns himself on purpose, usually when his soulmate is giving him such a furious thumping headache that he can't concentrate on work, even on sculpting. He doesn't do it where anyone might report him -- he's learnt that lesson by now -- but burns heal slowly and he gets some sideways looks anyway. He doesn't care as long as the dumb bastard on the other end of the bond feels his resentment.

This hurts Deidara, of course. But the satisfaction he gets from punishing his soulmate far outstrips the physical pain.

He thinks his soulmate must be on missions a lot. And then he starts getting tastes coming in from them, too, as well as pain and heat and cold -- and that's when he knows they're on missions a lot, because all they eat are ration bars.

Nobody voluntarily eats rations every meal for this long, or this often.

There's usually a few meals of rice, vegetables and fish (and, once, something that tastes blessedly sugary) in the middle, and then it's straight back to ration bars.

Ration bars are small, convenient, and get sold in scrolls of a hundred that can take up a finger-width of space in a pack. Deidara is frustrated to learn that he is growing to loathe the taste.

It's the worst when their missions overlap, and because his soulmate is never not working, they pretty much always do.

Then it feels like he can never get the taste out of his mouth, like it's embedded in his teeth, growing and growing until it creeps down his eosophagus while he sleeps and chokes him. There is a straight fortnight at one point, where both of them seem to eat nothing but rations and water purified by tablets that Deidara can still taste in the back of his throat.

Even when he finally cracks, kills his own dinner and cooks it over the world's tiniest and least satisfying smokeless fire, he still somehow finds the taste of stringy rabbit is blended with ration bars at the back of his mouth. He wants to scream.

At the end of that mission, Deidara stops twenty-one miles out of Rock to drink and eat before the home stretch. He snaps a bar in half and gags just at the smell.

There's no force on earth that will make him voluntarily put that in his mouth.

He judges how far out he still is, throws the bar away, and decides that he can run the distance in two hours -- it's a hard run, not advisable after a long mission, but he can -- and still get home before the big market closes.

His soulmate must be having a good run for the moment because even though all he tastes is ration bars, Deidara can't feel any pain in his joints except the dull ache of his own knees -- all ninja have that, he knows, and it won't get worse for years if he's careful. For now his chest is clear.

He races through check in, annoys Oonoki-sama into telling him to get out of his office and submit the report in writing, and then heads to the open air market without even bothering to shower and change. There's still dirt and blood on his uniform and he doesn't care at all.

The market is bright and crowded, full of annoying kids -- a thought he has without irony or self reflection, even though he's just over ten himself -- running around with their voices shrilly raised. There are hawkers who try to talk to him and once even a man who tries to grab his arm to get his attention before he notices Deidara's hitae-ate and freezes. All of this blends badly with Deidara's mission nerves, but the food being cooked there smells so strongly that he forgets the smell of ration bars for the first time in weeks.

He follows his nose and ends up buying boiled eggs wrapped in fish paste, which the greying and stooped shop lady then deep fries for him on the spot. They taste good -- better, by far, than his or his soulmate's horrifically bland ration bars -- and Deidara decides he loves them. He is in love. They are the food he loves most in all the world, and he loves them primarily for not being ration bars.

He looks to see what they're called so he can get them again, but there's no label up anywhere. It's just the smiling old lady in the market square, standing patiently at her stall. The only sign she has says "Fried Street Food," which... yeah, he guesses.

She's also pretending not to judge him while he just about sobs into her deep fryer, so he decides he likes her too. What a nice old lady.

"What're they called?" he asks. His voice sounds rough, which hadn't mattered with Oonoki-sama, but he's acutely aware of it with the civilian.

"Ah... we call these 'bakudan'," she says, and then blinks at the delighted smile he shoots her.

"Bakudan?" He loves it. "That's an amazing name, yeah. Can I have ten?"

"T... ten?" She repeats. She looks down at him uncertainly, presumably trying to size his ten year old body against that amount of food.

"Ten," he says firmly.

She doesn't hesitate again, and he goes home and throws out all his ration bars and gorges himself on bakudan.

Two days later, his soulmate seems like he's doing something similar. Deidara's not sure what he's actually eating, but it's starchy and sweet and covered in sugared soy sauce. He closes his eyes and wonders where in the world they sell that.

In winter Deidara finally gets tapped for a jounin promotion, although it's tied up with so many strings it's hard to say if he'll ever actually get there -- he must complete six supervised a-rank missions in addition to the twenty-something c-ranks and ten b-ranks, and then he has to find three existing jounin to sign off his competencies, and then there's a medical screening and --

Well. There's just a lot, is all.

Becoming a jounin is a long and involved process but Deidara is determined. The benefits far outweigh the downsides -- he'll get his pick of general missions, yes, but in the demolition corps, jounin are always given the biggest targets. Deidara wants the biggest targets. And he knows, just like the council knows, just like Oonoki-sama knows, that he's by far the best ninja with the explosion release remaining in the village.

When he's a jounin he's going to get tapped for every demolition and sabotage mission that goes through the missions desk. He salivates at the thought. His job is literally just going to be, like, eighty-five per cent art.

Also, once Deidara's a jounin, he won't ever have to complete another escort mission for as long as he lives.

That isn't his primary reason, but it's a huge upside.

Winter is also, regrettably, when Deidara's soulmate loses the fucking plot.

He doesn't know why -- maybe it's a mission that goes south in a spectacular way -- but Deidara's tenth winter is when his soulmate evidently stops giving a shit about staying alive. The symptoms build up slowly but steadily: aching muscles, chest cramps, joints that know no rest, weird headaches characterised by stabbing pains in the eyes.

And then they whip themselves into one huge, terrible crescendo.

Deidara wakes at four in the morning with the full body ache of critical chakra exhaustion, with a pressure in his chest that tells his brain he's not breathing.

He has the overwhelming urge to roll over and sob into his sheets. It's not his urge -- he's pretty sure -- but it is a strong, violent, whole-body grief that even threatens to drown out the whole 'chest being crushed' part of the feeling.

This is it, he thinks. This is how his soulmate finally dies and stops making Deidara's life ridiculous.

But he can feel that the dumb bastard is still moving. Moving fast, too. His head throbs with every landing. What is his soulmate doing that always involves so much chakra burning in their skull? Are they trying to give themselves brain damage?

Deidara stays in bed until eight, staring at his ceiling and wondering what the hell is going on and why his soulmate isn't dead yet. He skips training, even though he knows there's nothing wrong with him, just with his stupid brainless soulmate. Then he staggers out of bed and eats six bakudan while the cheerful old lady at the market makes clucking noises about flu season and overwork.

Deidara goes back to bed.

He's not going to work when he feels like this if he can possibly help it.

His soulmate has no such concerns for their body. They take several injuries and push on for the next twenty hours, until either death or exhaustion makes them stop.

That's when Deidara crawls out of bed and goes to get his own work done, but it's a temporary reprieve at best.

The idiot on the other end of his bond is, somehow, not dead. They have a life that's already hard and from then it just goes downhill. The joints and injuries are a facet of ninja life that everyone faces, but the headaches and the pressure in their chest never seem to go away.

Whatever is wrong with them, Deidara realises, they have stopped getting it treated -- or else treatment has failed.

The edge of their bottomless grief seeps into Deidara's psyche, and that is worst of all.

Deidara's shinobi record goes from bad to worse over the next few years. His missions are fine -- his supervisors on the demolition corps have nothing but glowing commendations for his field skills, which makes sense because demolition corps missions are mostly just a jounin with a half smile pointing him in the direction of something that needs blowing up. He's really, really good at that.

Every single mission Deidara works with another ninja in the field ends in them putting something weird in their reports about him.

Even the genin squad.

Even the genin squad.

The only member who doesn't is Kurotsuchi, a cute and tiny kunoichi with dark hair and black eyes, who somehow ends up calling him "Deidara-nii," and begging him for help with her explosive notes even after they submit their reports and go their separate ways.

He's not sure how that happens, but he makes the choice to help her. Everybody else has gone out of their way to write that he's so difficult to get along with. Since Deidara is convinced this is their fault and not his, helping her seems like a good way to prove it.

She's ...not great. She's not the worst but she's better off focusing on her lava release and forgetting about the notes. He shows her the best ways to lay them anyway -- weak spots in common armour, good places to lay the tags for collateral, how to make earth clones that raise a single hand from the dirt and slap a note on an unsuspecting sandal.

"Is this your specialty?" she asks when they're done seriously damaging a training field. He'll have to file this one for maintenance. He'd make her do it, but she's a genin and he's a chuunin. It'd look bad.

They're sprawled on the ground, propped up on their elbows and peering up at the swirling smoke from a great many wrecked targets and posts.

Deidara snorts. "No," he says. "My specialty is..." He trails off. "I'm getting bored of tags."

It's not the first thing Deidara has gotten bored of. His first kit outside the academy was one he got for poisons before he realised that explosives were, and continue to be, a way better use of his time and resources. Poisons make sense to Deidara -- they're adaptable, practical, and pretty much anything can be made into one if you treat it right.

But they're also deathly boring.

"You have to dedicate a lot of your life to learning about seals if you want to make something really big, yeah. I don't have the patience to be a seal master."

That, and most of the masters to learn from are from Whirlpool, a tiny village that got thoroughly drowned by Mist years ago. Seal masters are scary potatoes, yeah, but in the end manpower will overwhelm them. Little wonder the remaining ones all fled to Leaf...

Leaf makes him think of Fire Country, and Fire Country makes him think about dumb assholes with specialties in fire nature transformations. He scowls fiercely.

"You can buy them, though," Kurotsuchi points out. "Can't you?"

"I wouldn't," he says, flatly, feeling peculiarly offended. He understands exactly what she means but he can't imagine doing something so... soulless. Gross. No. "Real art is something you make with your own hands."

"...Art, huh," she says uncertainly, looking sideways at him. "You sculpt, right?"

"Yeah," he agrees. He does.

He's good at it, too -- and more importantly, he loves his sculptures. They're tending toward simulacrums of life now, in the form of small animals: birds and insects, each made painstakingly and carefully. He tries painting them but he never gets the colours quite right, and the shades always change after he fires them anyway.

When he's done he uses them to test new techniques, or as targets for practice. He experiments with making them hollow and packing them full of pitch and explosive notes -- a sticky, fiery little package in a cute spider shape. He uses tiny chakra strings to puppet them around.

It's not what he wants. They're not... quite what he wants.

"An explosion," he says, and her brow furrows. It's annoying, but it can't be helped. "An explosion, like the explosion release -- it's all energy, yeah?"

"Yeah," she says slowly. "That's what it's supposed to be. You concentrate all the energy in your chakra and explode it all at one point, right?"

"Something like that," Deidara nods. She's wrong, but it's not her bloodline limit and he's better off with as few people understanding it in detail as possible. "All explosions are like that in some way. It's like everything that makes up the thing you blow up," the person, he doesn't say, because some things can't be said aloud if you ever want to get promoted, and that's probably one of them, "comes all together at once, and in a single perfect moment, and... bang."

He trails off dreamily.

She's still watching him. She doesn't have the first clue what he's talking about, he thinks, but she's listening.

"That's an interesting perspective, Deidara-nii," she says diplomatically.

He scoffs, and then somewhere in the world his soulmate takes a breath of something that irritates his lungs. Deidara goes still because it feels like his lungs are on fire, flaring brightly every time someone else takes a breath.

He breathes carefully.

It's definitely not him.

Having assessed that much, he shifts uncomfortably and tries to ignore it. Kurotsuchi is watching him with surprisingly sharp eyes, and under that gaze he tries to relax.

"It's a pity the explosion release needs contact," he says wistfully. This is common knowledge about his bloodline limit -- that they can't inject explosion chakra into anything unless they're touching it. Even legends of the bloodline like the late Gari-sama could only shape their taijutsu around it.

And that's the issue with his sculptures, in the end: It doesn't matter what he does with ink and seals and actual chemicals, nothing is quite the same as his own beautiful bloodline limit. But if he uses his own chakra, they explode immediately -- and uselessly.

He's convinced there must be a way to fix it. He just hasn't found it yet.

"You can't ever put all your chakra into one attack without risking yourself," he says to Kurotsuchi. "But I think... if you used the maximum chakra...

"I wouldn't, of course," he adds abruptly.

He shouldn't be talking about this, either, probably, and he knows he needs to make it clear to the Tsuchikage's granddaughter that he's not talking about killing himself in the practical sense. She doesn't need to know about his plan, and she definitely doesn't need to go and tell anyone that he's thinking about it.

He feels his soulmate take another uncomfortable breath and he rubs his sternum unhappily. When he does finally kill himself in the most amazing fiery blaze anyone has ever even contemplated, at least that idiot is definitely going to feel it. Maybe it'll make up for all the bullshit they've put Deidara through.

"It's just that the maximum chakra you could put in would make a really, really big explosion. It'd be incredible."

Despite his slip up, Kurotsuchi has a reflective look rather than a suspicious one.

"You know," she says, biting her lip. "There is a technique that lets you put your chakra into anything. You can -- inject it, I guess. Store it there and release it later."

"Sounds like sealing," Deidara says, wrinkling his nose. He's rubbish at sealing. Explosive tags are all he can do even on his very best days.

Kurotsuchi shakes her head. "Mm, no. It's a kinjutsu. A... body modification technique, I think. I'm not meant to know about it, but grandfather--"

"Better not tell me any more, then, yeah," Deidara tells her, although his curiosity is definitely piqued. He feigns disinterest. Any good Rock nin would stop her there, of course, prevent her from spilling secrets above his clearance.

Deidara isn't a very good Rock nin. He's a great shinobi, but his loyalty to the village isn't what the administration hopes for in its ninja. It, like his impulse control, can be... very variable.

"You're probably right," she agrees, blinking as though she's only just realised it. Was Deidara this thick as a genin? Probably. Everybody has to learn.

He shakes his head.

It's been a day for telling people unwise things, apparently.

...Kinjutsu, huh?

He'll have to be careful how he looks into it, but he'll definitely be looking into it. A technique like that could solve so many of his problems.

It takes Deidara three months of very careful digging to find where this mysterious kinjutsu is kept and what it does.

It is, somehow, incredibly, exactly what he needs. With that technique, if he can master it, he'll be able to flood his sculptures with his own volatile chakra and control when they go off. It seems made for him...

And certainly nobody else seems to be using it. What a waste.

He's going to find some way to get his grubby little hands on it. No force in the world can stop him from getting that technique. But for now he needs to keep his head down so he can get his jounin promotion. He'll have a lot more freedom when he's a jounin.

He takes Kurotsuchi out and buys her bakudan. He has no idea what she likes to eat and he doesn't care. Deidara likes bakudan. Everyone likes bakudan. All the cool people are eating it.

"I've never had it before," Kurotsuchi admits. She is a calm person, mostly, and only gets fired up in defence of her village or her family -- a perfect Rock shinobi, in some ways -- but she's getting really good at shooting Deidara those mildly concerned glances. "Is it... safe?"

"They sell it in the market, don't they?"


Today is a bad day for his soulmate, but Deidara is ignoring that person's feelings. He sometimes still burns himself if his soulmate seems like he's being an idiot, but there's no point getting upset about what is, obviously, a chronic, painful and ridiculous illness.

One day he'll meet this person, and then he's going to strangle them. He'll technically be strangling himself too, he supposes, but that can't be helped.

"Can't I take my cute kohai out for greasy deep fried street food?" he wonders loudly when she questions his motives.

He can't tell her what they're celebrating, after all. It's her who let him know about the technique. He's definitely going to steal it and that's very, very illegal, so... if she knew she probably wouldn't want to celebrate it anyway.

She gives him a long look with her serious dark eyes. "Well, if that's really what you want... Ne, baa-san," she says sweetly to the grey-haired proprietress, "I'll have six --" she pauses, glances at Deidara "-- teen. Sixteen."

Deidara twitches. "That is ... way less cute, yeah."

But he gets them for her anyway.

He's still a chuunin -- has been a chuunin for what feels like forever -- but he has enough money for this, at least, and Kurotsuchi gave him some really good information. Even if she doesn't know that.

He doubts she can pack sixteen of them away all at once, but she manages nine and takes the rest home, completely ignoring his covetous looks.

She'll make a good kunoichi one day, he thinks idly, and then he shakes off that maudlin thought. He has better things to do than sit around and contemplate the potential of today's youth like a grandpa.

When Deidara turns thirteen he's finally knocked back for jounin promotion because there are what the administration calls "a few question marks" hanging over his psych profile.

He breaks into the TIPSD offices and steals his own file, because requesting it will take forever. The genjutsu on the doors is ludicrously simple to sidestep. The traps are child's play to get past and the two jounin supposedly working there at night clearly haven't earnt their promotions even half as well as Deidara has.

He doesn't even have to break anything getting in. Unless they bring someone with ninken in nobody's likely to know Deidara has been through.

He flips through his own file first, and his mouth thins into a grim line. It's all basically what he expects, if he's honest. (He tries not to be honest as a rule, actually, because honesty sucks and it's a terrible habit for a shinobi to get into.)


The list is ...very long.

Deidara doesn't like this list.

Someone even suspects he has some kind of breathing problem he's hiding for no good reason. Deidara scoffs. If he had an actual medical problem he would be the first person hammering down the medics' doors. What he has isn't a medical problem -- it's a soulmate problem. His soulmate is a problem.

Somebody -- one of his psych interviewers, he thinks he remembers vaguely -- has written down 'peculiar affect,' whatever that means. Next to it is written 'art = violence??' which is just evidence to Deidara that they weren't really listening.

Deidara scowls. He knows that the problems caused by his soulmate aren't enough to keep him from promotion on their own -- but they are compounding his existing... eccentricities. He wonders, mutinously, if they'd promote him anyway, if not for his soulmate.

His soulmate is holding him back, just as much as the administration in the Hidden Rock Village is.

It's a bitter thought.

Questions orders. Impulse control. Doesn't work well with others.

Deidara comes to the abrupt realisation that despite being one of the best ninja in  the entire village, he is never going to be promoted past chuunin.

They want him to be softer, more malleable, less wild. They want him to love his village, not his art.

He bares his teeth.

Fuck them.

He steals the village's prized kinjutsu and leaves before dawn.

Now his sculptures are even more beautiful. And deadly.

Deidara likes that.

And when he's a missing nin, he picks and chooses his own jobs.

In the first month he blows up six temples for the cost of clay and pocket change and knows he'll never have to take another escort mission.

He likes that, too.

If only his soulmate would stop dying -- or at least hurry up about it -- Deidara would consider his life as a terrorist for hire pretty much perfect.

But his soulmate, apparently against the odds, keeps staggering through their hellish and painful life. Sometimes Deidara tries to imagine the weakness that must come with these other feelings,  how the pain in their chest must mean shortness of breath and dizziness, how the headaches must mean nausea and long periods of photophobia.

It's hard to dredge up sympathy for that person, whoever they are. Mostly he resents them. Why is it Deidara's soulmate who has to be such a mess, huh? There are millions of people he could be matched with, but whatever wonky force decides these things links him with this sickly idiot instead.

Mostly Deidara's just waiting for the day they finally cough up the rest of their lungs.

But they keep holding on. For years and years, they keep holding on.

Just goes to show, you can't ever have everything you want, no matter how many people you kill to get it.

"I'm not interested," Deidara says, without even looking back at the figures in the doorway.

His attention is focused on the clay under his hands, mostly because his soulmate is moving again and it hurts. It feels like the idiot has been walking for hours again, even though their chest aches and their eyes throb.

Kneading the clay helps him put more and more of his chakra into it, to be released later -- and it's easier through the mouths in his hands, as moulding chakra always is. He can't be sure what releasing the stored chakra might look like for someone with a water or earth nature specifically, but Deidara has the explosion release. His art is... spectacular. Every time.

Pensively, he begins moulding a bird. The teeth in his palm chew thoughtfully on a mouthful of clay. A crow, maybe. He kind of likes them, even though they're not flashy, and he's seen a few around today.

The strange missing-nin wear uniforms: big black cloaks with red clouds. That there are uniforms at all tells Deidara enough that he knows to decline.

Deidara didn't escape his village just to go running right to another stupid organisation that wants pieces of him it can't have.

The temple is quiet around them. After blowing so many up, this is where he's staying for now, although his work keeps him travelling. There's a fire in the pit at the far end of the huge wooden room, and lined along the walls are red lanterns and towering statues of warlike oni glowering down upon them.

"I'm busy working on my art," he tells them, in a flat voice that is a hair's breadth from sounding openly hostile.

"Art..?" murmurs one of them in a scratchy, distorted voice.

Deidara sighs and turns to look at them. The biggest one is also the one talking most politely, and even if he wasn't wearing his old and scratched hitae-ate, Deidara would know him for a Mist ninja. It's the only place on the continent where ninja file their teeth into jagged points. It's ugly, but he guesses nothing would save this guy's face. It's... sort of aquatic-looking? Weird.

Deidara turns, rubbing his chest. His soulmate is still trying to do something that requires breathing and moving at the same time, although Deidara doesn't think he's actually fighting. Yet.

"Art," he says firmly, letting his eyes fall on the hunched, mishapen form of the ninja. He's not... quite right, to Deidara's eyes. If that's his real body, it's a strange shape -- it could be anything under that voluminous cloak, and that makes Deidara curious.

Feeling curious in turn makes him annoyed, because Deidara does not want to feel curiosity a about this lot. He wants them to leave him be. Or... At least, he definitely wants to want that.

He scowls at the hunched ninja. "I create it with my own hands, from this clay." He smiles down at the wet mess of clay beneath his fingers, just waiting to be made into something beautiful. "And then I blow it up," he says, "and that's when it becomes true art. When it all burns up. All in one... single... moment."

And, you know, Deidara is a missing-nin now. He can smile as wide as he wants about his art. Who's going to stop him?

He unfurls his fingers and shows off a fat bug with its own spindly legs.

The ninja -- the one with the cloth mask, all hunched and suspect -- doesn't seem to be making any expression at all. Deidara feels his own smile twitch slightly. Rude.

The third one -- shorter than the Mist-nin, taller than the weirdo, with glossy dark hair almost as long as Deidara's -- takes a step forward, almost politely. "Enough, Sasori. I'll do this."



This is Sasori of the Red Sand? That hunched, rasping thing? That is... so unexpected. Deidara pauses.

But that does mean these are probably pretty dangerous visitors.

"You want to... fight me?" Deidara asks, both wary and helplessly curious. He's not averse to fighting strong missing-nin, as it happens. It's better than joining their stupid organisation. Hell, maybe he can kill them all and save everyone the trouble. If the explosion is big enough...

Not many people go out of their way to challenge Deidara one-on-one. His art is too destructive.

"If you win, we'll leave." The ninja has a Leaf hitae-ate and eyes that glow a red that reminds Deidara of one of his best works. Pretty. "And if you lose, you'll join with us."

He says 'if' like a concession, like he's already won. Deidara was a chuunin at eight. He knows when he's being underestimated.

Deidara's lip curls.

"Oh?" he says slowly. He rocks to his feet, ignoring the various aches and pains of his soulmate's body -- nothing he does will make them any better or worse.

"You don't want to underestimate me," he warns, gently hefting the cute clay bug in his palm. His chakra strings make its little legs wiggle. It's adorable, and Deidara loves it. "Or my art, yeah."

"Hm," says the ninja, and Deidara can see the smug superiority in the lines of his face.

He snarls. His chakra surges, and without further chatter Deidara hurls the clay bug at the ninja's smug face.

Before the first explosion -- a tiny thing for a little bug -- clears, Deidara already has a creeping clay centipede sneaking up under the floor beneath his opponent.

For a victorious second he thinks he's got him, but then --

-- everything is wrong. The walls are bleeding red and black and Deidara is trapped by his own technique.

Genjutsu, he realises, and lets the centipede fall away.

Reality is not quite what he thought. Deidara is confused.

"How long--?"

"Itachi has the sharingan," explains the huge Mist-nin. "As soon as you met his eyes you were caught. It's been a genjutsu from the beginning."

Deidara scowls fiercely. Shit. He flexes his chakra -- and then does it again when it's ineffective, growing wilder and less contained by the second. The genjutsu is sturdy, and when it finally breaks he's not sure if it's because of his efforts or because its caster allows it to drop. He has a sudden, wicked headache.

There is light on the side of his face then, the golden glow of the sunset outside. He flinches from a space in the wall he never noticed before -- genjutsu, of course, genjutsu -- and within it there is a silhouette.

It is exactly the man he's been fighting, standing there in the golden sun, surrounded by the debris of the broken temple wall. On either side of him are stone statues of towering, glowering oni.

The understanding of what's happened descends upon Deidara all at once, like the fall of rubble after a blast. Uchiha Itachi has beaten him in a single, shining moment. On the outside it is bloodless, it is quiet, but inside, it is an inferno.

Deidara thinks: Wow.

Deidara thinks: Yes, this. This is what he wants. His chest feels like it's full of helium, light and floating and dragging him up with it. His nerves sing. This is the art of a single moment, when all reality coalesces, shining, perfect, into a single instant -- already it is passing, imperfect in memory.

"You've lost," says Uchiha Itachi, placid and serene from where his red, red eyes stare down upon Deidara.

He sounds... he doesn't even sound smug. He sounds bored.

And then Deidara thinks: oh, FUCK this guy.

Deidara is bad tempered and hot headed and sometimes he very spontaneously makes huge, terrible life choices, but he is not stupid.

The only reason it takes him a day to figure it out is because, firstly, Itachi's genjutsu is still kind of confusing him and, secondly, Itachi has all the expression of a very bored puddle.

They take that day at a walk, although Deidara could be flying and he's sure any one of them could at least move faster than this.

But they walk.


That's fine.

Why not?

This is only the most bleak, boring part of Wind Country, after all -- it's all barren and hard packed earth, cracked in long jagged wounds that seem to go on forever.

He doesn't know why they're walking -- or, really, ambling, is more what they're doing here. They're ambling. Or, possibly, they are sort of wandering. Deidara has plenty of time to contemplate the correct vocabulary for it because they are moving at a glacial pace, one foot in front of -- plodding, maybe. Are they plodding? Is this hazing for a new member? Are they testing him to see if he'll try to leave?

He's not stupid. He won't be able to get away from all of them. So Deidara follows them grudgingly but with what he feels is reasonably good grace, considering the circumstances.

He has to listen to Sasori of the Red Sand tell him what he thinks is real art in the mean time. He lectures Deidara like he's a child and not seventeen years old and a missing-nin with his own S-class bounty. Sasori's opinion is stupid, by the way, and absolutely bullshit. It bothers Deidara on some level to know that Sasori is older than him and still naive enough to honestly believe anything can be eternal. What a whackjob.

Deidara tries to be polite about it. At first. He's going to have to work with these people, at least for a little while until he can get out, or until their organisation goes belly up, or he guesses until he blows himself up. Either way, he doesn't say what he's thinking. At least at first. Instead he listens politely and digs his nails into his lips until his fists shake.

Itachi gives him a sharp, strange look when he notices this. Deidara does not  understand it, not just yet, but he expands his glower to encompass Itachi anyway just on principle. Because fuck that guy.

Eventually, no amount of clenched fists and set jaw will hold his temper back.

Then, the Mist-nin gets immediately involved, stepping between Deidara and Sasori and facing Deidara like he's the unstable one.

"That's not good," he says, showing Deidara his filed teeth, like that's meant to intimidate anyone. It hasn't worked on Deidara since he was a genin and it still doesn't now. "Leader said you two would be partners."

"We what," says Deidara, so flatly that it doesn't come out sounding like a question at all.

So now Deidara is a missing-nin and, apparently, he still has to run team missions. Sometimes his life is just one ongoing, colossal disappointment.

Deidara scowls fiercely. The Mist ninja has an unpleasant chuckle. Too confident.

On paper the pair-up probably makes sense to whoever is running this bullshit organisation -- for one, Sasori, too, is a ranged fighter and will be able to keep out of the way of Deidara's art. In practice...

In practice, he thinks that will go about as well as any of Deidara's partnerships. That is to say, they'll annoy each other, they'll want to kill each other... and by now Deidara's got a taste for defying authority, like all missing-nin must. He licks the teeth in his hands. The mouth in his chest sighs.

He could take Hoshigaki, he thinks. He's a close range fighter, and they're always at a disadvantage with Deidara...

It still doesn't matter. He can't kill all of them. With all of them here, he's unlikely to even kill one of them. He grinds his teeth and tries to stop thinking about it.

Itachi's movements at the time didn't match the pain Deidara felt during their brief fight -- because they were not, technically speaking, Itachi's movements at the time. The genjutsu gets confused with the reality in Deidara's mind, because knowing it's false doesn't change how real the memories seem. It is a good genjutsu. Obviously. A bad one wouldn't have caught Deidara in the first place.

All of that disorients him, but by midday, Deidara is sure. He knows it's Itachi because his everything hurts with the exact timing of Itachi's steps, right down to the burning thump in his skull -- which hurts like there's chakra burning in it, he realises abruptly, because there is in fact chakra burning in it. It's Uchiha Itachi's stupid bloodline limit that's hurting Deidara, and it hurts because he used it on Deidara.

The realisation twists his mouth. Years of suffering and pain and the disgusting taste of endless ration bars and that gnawing bottomless grief that creeps through his dreams at night, and all for this asshole?

He's going to light Itachi up like a bonfire. No, no, that's too small. He's going to light Itachi up like a volcano. The ash and smoke are going to blot out the sun. They'll be finding pieces of him in goddamn Lightning country.

"That's a scary face," murmurs Hoshigaki, like he thinks he's being funny.

Deidara ignores him. He is busy thinking soothing thoughts.

The Akatsuki turns out to be an organisation made by scary missing-nin, for scary missing-nin. Deidara isn't completely sure why he's been recruited, honestly. The primary requirement seems to be raging mental instability.

The leader and his partner are both as cold and smooth as polished rock, and as far as Deidara can tell, have about as many feelings. They talk like real people, more or less, and their chakra is big and sharp and very dangerous like any S-class ninja's would be, but it's like watching a puppet show. They're right up there with Sasori for blank faces and empty voices, and Itachi isn't far behind because smug condescension seems to be the only emotion he projects.

But Deidara is quietly certain that, whatever the hell is going on beneath Konan's dead-eyed stare, it has a big, big body count. She's too steady to be here, with these people, otherwise.

Meeting the members of the Akatsuki who do actually have feelings is, somehow, not even an improvement.

Even accounting for the separate identities and violent mood swings, there's something fundamentally not right about Zetsu. He's quiet and he keeps to himself, which... seems fine, Deidara guesses. But he also makes all of Deidara's instincts want to curl up and die in a shivering foetal ball. He's almost too damn weird to make a proper assessment of, which is... not usually a good thing.

Kakuzu, on the other hand, is not remotely difficult to assess.

Deidara's assesment is that Kakuzu is terrifying.

No amount of reassuring himself that plenty of people also find Deidara scary makes him feel less viscerally terrified whenever Kakuzu is in the room. And his partner...

Hidan is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag. Deidara can't even pretend to be surprised to learn that he's immortal. He'd pretty much have to be to have survived this long.

All of this means that Hoshigaki is the most tolerable -- and by far the most sociable -- member of this whole incredible circus, and Deidara still can't stand him.

In theory, Itachi should be the most tolerable of them. That's how it's supposed to work, right? The whole reason ninja villages don't like it when people develop soulmate bonds is specifically because soulmates are... like, really into each other, yeah? It's natural. They represent a huge security risk.

Deidara thinks Itachi is a smug prick, and he's still sore about being tricked by him. Not that there's any way to cheat in a fight between ninja, obviously, but...

Deidara isn't stupid, but he knows that he doesn't think clearly when he loses his temper. And so Itachi makes him feel stupid, makes him twitch with humiliation, and that turns all his stomach acid to lava and makes his teeth grind until he can feel the ache in his arms and his chest and his head.

Maybe Deidara also isn't, you know, the most graceful loser in the world. It's been said before. Once or twice.

Anyway. In the end he does not light Itachi up like a volcano, or even like a bonfire. He tells himself that the sad bastard's life is painful enough. Also, if he wants to blow Itachi up, it seems clear to Deidara that he is going to have to figure out a foolproof way to avoid his genjutsu, which...

He's working on it, okay?

He is pretty sure that all of these guys are looking down on him, anyway -- that they all think they're better than he is.

Some days, bad days -- the ones where he feels like he's incompetent at everything and everyone stuck here in the great grey drizzling downpour of Rain hates him (which is true, of course, but their hate is also nothing personal, because he's pretty sure everyone here hates everyone, and everything, at least the ones who have any feelings at all ) -- there's a weird sinking feeling that they might all be right. Deidara may actually have been recruited to the one place in the elemental nations where he's the least threatening person in any given room.

It doesn't help that a lot of Akatsuki business involves laying terribly, boringly low in Rain while he waits for Kakuzu to point him and Sasori in the direction of a new job. Half their jobs aren't even challenging and at least a quarter involve no opportunity to blow anything up, which is just  --

Deidara didn't betray his village and flee with their kinjutsu because he secretly wants to work in a team and run escort missions, okay? This is exactly the opposite of what he wants. Some days he cannot believe that this is his life.

There is no justice in the world. None at all.

"Do you ever shut up?" Sasori asks, low and growling, from inside his hunched puppet body.

They're walking again, even though it would be far, far faster to fly. Sasori doesn't seem like he trusts Deidara's big winged sculptures to fly them. It's like he thinks Deidara will detonate one while it's carrying them in mid air or something.

The tail of Sasori's puppet drags a long, snaking trail in the dirt as they trudge. Deidara has no idea what his true body actually looks like, but by this point he's at least certain it's not like that.

"What's the point of recruiting--" pressganging, really, but that leads him right back to the place where Itachi beat him with a glance, literally a glance, and then sneered at him, all 'you've lost' in that deep portentious voice with the sunset burning in his gleaming red eyes and -- and --

Deidara yanks his train of thought back on the rails with savage discipline. "What's the point of recruiting an explosives expert if you never send him to blow anything up?"

"You blew someone up last week."

That was, Deidara wants to tell him, last week. And it was one person. Deidara's good but there's only so much he can do with one body. "Nobody stops you from working on your puppets for weeks at a time," he says bitterly.

"Hm. No. But my art is actually art," says Sasori, and then they're right back to square one, the same exhausted argument. Deidara is already sick of it.

Even the 'agree to disagree' approach has no meaning for Sasori, and Deidara's efforts to respect his elder's narrow and hackneyed view of what's allowed to constitute 'art' are... wearing out his patience.

His temper frays faster still because, among all these other many and varied indignities, Itachi is having a bad week.

His head hurts and his guts cramp and whenever Itachi talks Deidara can feel the breathless pressure scratching in his throat and chest. Deidara has, in fact, started coughing a couple times when Itachi speaks. In their last meeting Sasori threatened to poison him if he didn't stop his childish interruptions and let them get on with it.

Deidara really, really doesn't like Itachi. That man doesn't have the good sense the gods gave a chicken. That man doesn't even have the good sense the gods gave Hidan.

And now, trudging one slow step after another on their way back to the endless grey drizzle of Rain, Deidara's irritated and in unrelenting, stupid pain. He knows Itachi hasn't bothered to take anything for it, because he almost never does. Deidara's half tempted to set himself on fire again out of spite, but he can't help but worry that somehow one or more of his new colleagues -- ha -- will know if he does.

They don't seem to have noticed the constant grinding pain Itachi's in, but if Deidara's doing the maths right, Itachi was like this well before he met the Akatsuki. What kind of moron do you even have to be to --

"Enough," grinds Sasori.

Deidara sniffs. He's not even saying anything. "What," he snaps.

"You're sulking," Sasori says. It really doesn't sound like a natural voice, all thick and gravelly. Deidara doesn't think he would have sounded like that when he was, you know, flesh. The allegation of sulking rolls off Deidara in exactly the way the water of Rain country absolutely does not, but Sasori isn't finished: "And you're favouring your left. Kakuzu will have painkillers for that," he adds, derisively.

Sasori is derisive about a lot of basic human experiences... but then, Deidara isn't sure he still has the capacity for pain. Or... Like... Pleasure, either. He's not even sure Sasori is capable of a moderate level of enthusiasm for anything anymore. He just... behaves. Like clockwork. It's kind of creepy. In his futile effort to preserve himself forever as a piece of "art", Sasori sure has stripped away pretty much all of the things that could possibly make his existence meaningful, which begs the question: what is he actually preserving?

It's not a question Deidara is going to ask. Sasori wouldn't even understand it, probably.

Deidara can admire Sasori's skills as a ninja, but his skills as an artist are basically nonexistent.

"Fine," says Deidara. He has a vague idea that he does, actually, want to get his hands on some painkillers. ...although self preservation says he should probably do it without talking to Kakuzu.

Kakuzu is pants-wettingly terrifying. Deidara wants nothing to do with him.

Unfortunately, Sasori seems to preempt his reluctance and 'escorts' him to see Kakuzu as soon as they've debriefed.

After standing in a room facing Konan for an hour, Kakuzu really doesn't seem so scary -- right up until Sasori marches them to his door and he's actually right there in front of Deidara. It's not that he's huge -- although he is, because he fills the door without trying -- and it's not that he's mean-looking -- although he is, like some kind of ancient mythological grotesquerie. It's that Kakuzu looks at Deidara, and everyone else, with a poorly-contained violence behind his narrow bloodshot eyes.

Kakuzu isn't the kind of person who has triggers for murderous rage, whatever the unreliable intel in his bingo book pages may say. It is clear to anyone who has seen him face to face and felt his chakra that Kakuzu is already right there, that he lives in the throes of a constant, ongoing murderous rage and all he needs is one teeny, tiny... push.

"Hurry up," says Sasori flatly.

"I am... not in that much pain," says Deidara, looking at a delicate twitch in Kakuzu's fingers. He suspects that both he and Kakuzu are imagining them around Deidara's throat right now. They probably have very different feelings about the idea.

He's really not in that much pain, relatively speaking. This isn't even the close to the worst week Itachi has had. Flare ups are common. This is fine. This is--

"My time," Kakuzu grinds out through his teeth, "is valuable."

Right, Deidara thinks, and turns on his heel.

Sasori snatches him by the cloak with an unfair strength, because he can be just as strong as his chakra strings make him. Deidara contemplates this, and then rapidly begins undoing his cloak. He doesn't even like it that much.

"Painkillers," Sasori says.

"Injury?" Kakuzu sounds somehow more annoyed, which -- maybe Deidara can throw Sasori at him. He deserves it. This is really very much Sasori's fault.

"An old one," Sasori says. "He's sulking," he adds, almost plaintively, like he is even capable of having real feelings about Deidara's moods.

Kakuzu grunts. Even that short sound is aggressive enough to make Deidara's instincts all twitch with the sudden urge to dodge.

Weirdly Kakuzu doesn't seem to be annoyed that Deidara has -- apparently -- shown sufficient humanity to actually suffer from old injuries. It doesn't provoke any outpouring of the raging mental instability Deidara knows is lurking just beneath the surface of every member of this stupid, awful organisation.

He just closes the door in their faces and, right as Deidara's sympathetic nervous system is starting to chill out, like maybe he won't come back, maybe he's sick of them and not going to rip their hearts out, yanks it open again. Deidara's heart leaps between his lungs.

Kakuzu shoves a box at Sasori. "It will come out of his pay."

Sasori seems to realise, finally, that he's holding Deidara's cloak but not, in actual fact, Deidara. He drops it and takes the box instead, and then retreats without comment or thanks.

"Uh," says Deidara, looking uncertainly at Kakuzu.

Kakuzu closes the door in his face.


He scoops up his cloak -- ugly, sure, but warm -- and trails after Sasori.

The Akatsuki, as an organisation, is ...weird.

The painkillers, Deidara knows from long, long, exhausting experience, are going to do shit all for him.

Which why he mixes them into Itachi's food instead. Obviously.

It's nowhere near as simple as that, of course, because nothing in Deidara's life is ever nice and simple. Everything in Deidara's life? Complicated and bad.

Kakuzu, unsusprisingly, does not pay for fancy painkillers already formulated nicely into capsules or whatever -- when he finally cracks open the box, Deidara's got a jar of powder made out of dehydrated flower oozings. If he actually needed this for his own use, he'd probably take one look and go to bed already.

He doesn't. And instead he scowls thunderously.

Deidara has the advantage of knowing what Itachi eats and when. Whether or not he sees him, he can taste the food. And he knows that Itachi eats food with a truly improbable amount of sugar in it. He guesses if you're as sick as Itachi is, you might as well eat what you like. Thirty times the recommended amount of pure sugar a day isn't going to make any difference to whatever other bullshit diseases Itachi has, probably.

So it's immediately obvious to Deidara that, any food in the base that seems too sweet for a normal human being to consume without curling up and dying? Definitely Itachi's.

He borrows a few little components left behind by Sasori's last, and presumably late, partner, whoever that was -- it's compounding equipment, mostly, since Deidara has... some of that kind of stuff, yeah, but he mostly uses it to make bombs. He doesn't want to feed Itachi the wrong chemical residues by accident. That might be funny, but Deidara's trying to decrease the overall experience of pain here. Mostly for himself.

Deidara steals a suspending vehicle from Sasori's stock. By a stroke of luck it is actually medical grade: aqueous-based, slightly acidic, anti-foaming, packed full of helpful preservatives, all that stuff. Sasori is a guy who prides himself on making poisons, Deidara guesses, and he sure is determined that only the active ingredient is going to be the thing that kills someone.

It says something about the kind of company Deidara's keeping that simple syrup is harder to get ahold of than literally anything else on his shopping list.

He buys it himself in Rain, at a brewers' supply factory. Sasori is annoyed at the detour. Unfortunately, since nobody is stupid enough yet to forget that Deidara isn't here just because he has a deep-seated personal need to hang around with psychopaths, he isn't allowed to leave base alone. Sasori is his partner, so of course he draws the short straw on that.

"It has no nutritional value," Sasori tells him when he picks it up. He clearly does not care about Deidara's nutritional wellbeing, so he must just be impatient.

"Can you even eat?" Deidara wonders loudly, right back at him. "You don't have a stomach, right?"

Sasori scoffs, which could mean anything. Maybe he does have a stomach and he's just not telling Deidara about his secret need for food. Or maybe he removed his innards to make room for more poison. With Sasori, the possibilities are endless.  

"It's to mix with my painkillers," says Deidara, like a peace offering. He waves one hand at the pale and silent proprietress as he turns away. "That stuff Kakuzu buys is terrible, yeah."

The door clatters behind them and they step out again into the rain.

Sasori makes another derisive noise from inside his hunched carapace, but of course he has no way of disproving Deidara's statement.  He tastes nothing and feels no pain. What would he know?

Once Deidara turns the drugs into a concentrated little paste entirely concealed behind the taste of sugar, he just waits for a day when the chakra burn behind his eyes is at its worst. There is no way in hell that something feels that bad without having side effects. He is willing to take the gamble that the side effects of huge chakra surges right in a guy's eyes is something that affects that guy's vision.

And he knows he's right when the relentless pain of Itachi's moronic existence fades, slowly, into the background. Suddenly he can feel the aches and twinges of his own damn body again.

So, two things: one, Itachi is blind as a fucking bat when his eyes hurt like this because he didn't even notice the syringe marks in his food packaging, and two, Deidara absolutely could have poisoned him. Or blown him up. From the inside. And, although drugging Itachi is obviously the idea, Deidara is annoyed -- both that he didn't take advantage of the situation and that Itachi should be so absurdly reckless.

He grinds his teeth. He can feel it when the pressure starts to make his skull and his hands and his chest hurt.

Feeling his own organic aches and pains is such a weird novelty. In light of that, Deidara spends the day training because he can actually focus on what feels right or wrong about his own body for a change.

Sasori takes this in stride, with a blank face, as he takes more or less everything. He is a cipher on a good day, but he seems to acknowledge the importance of training from a pragmatic perspective rather than getting impatient and cranky about it. As far as Deidara can tell, anyway.

"Your body needs conditioning," he allows. Deidara thinks he probably can't help the tone that implies that Deidara's sad little human body is a tragedy.

He's in too good a mood to be upset about that today. His joints all feel normal, with only the usual twinge in his knees and ankles. Breathing doesn't hurt. There isn't even a tickle at the base of his throat.

It occurs to Deidara that he may have overdone the dosage a little, because in order to be this pain-free, Itachi is probably higher than god right now.

Well. Good.


He pays for it the following day. It seems like Itachi catches on faster than Deidara would prefer, because he spends all morning going through his things with a fine-toothed comb and his sharingan fully active. Deidara's mood deteriorates in direct proportion to how long Itachi spends using his eyes.

There are consequences to overusing Itachi's stupid eyes. He has to have some kind of gross genetic defect, because there is no way anybody would ever breed more of these stupid fuckers when their bloodline limit feels like this.

Unless they have some really specific tolerance to pain. One which Deidara isn't sharing somehow.

He wakes up in the mid-afternoon to Sasori looming over him.

The light splinters inside his skull in tiny white-hot needles of pain. His head is on fire and he's dying.

"No," he tells him, preemptively. His head hurts so badly he feels like his guts are trying to escape through his nose.

Sasori is unmoved. "Did Uchiha get back at you for trying to assassinate him?"

"What," says Deidara, and then he realises that he is on his bed in the room he grudgingly shares with his partner, and that the light outside is too golden for morning, and --

His head hurts. Except it's not even his head. It's Itachi's head. Guts. Nose. He makes a pathetic noise in his throat.

"You should have picked something better than opium," Sasori says flatly.

If Deidara had wanted to kill Itachi, Itachi would be dead. He has too many advantages as his soul mate -- too many habits and weaknesses are known to him. But all Sasori can possibly know is that Deidara compounded something, Itachi was sick for a day, and now Itachi is all better -- except, no, no, he is not, he is going to die -- and Deidara is unwell instead.

"Go away," Deidara says, and rolls over to bury his face in the relative darkness of his blankets.

As soon as he's not exposed to any of the light, his head feels better, but the motion unsettles his stomach and, with Itachi's usual shitty timing, his chest freezes up, all crushed like someone's building a house on top of it. He flops back over and vomits on the floor.

Sasori is too fast for any to get on him.


He seems adequately convinced that Deidara is too sick to do anything today at least. He leaves him alone as requested shortly after.

It transpires that this entire batshit organisation, with the possible exception of Itachi himself, now believes that Deidara made a reasonably competent effort to kill Itachi -- one let down not by his execution, but either by his compounding skills or Itachi's tolerance for poison.

"Kind of a pussy way to go about it, isn't it?" Hidan asks, rocking back on his chair with his feet on the table. He has his hair slicked back and there's sunlight gleaming in it.

Deidara is passing through the kitchen because he needs more water, and now he's peering into the fridge and contemplating how much stuff Itachi has thrown out in one paranoid fit of stupidity.

He is still in pain. He continues to be in pain, because Itachi is still in pain. His overuse of the sharingan the other day has coincided with, or maybe catalysed, a flare up of epic proportions and now they are both suffering because Itachi threw out all his drugged candy instead of, oh, you know, keeping some painkillers for the treatment of pain.

"Is this about god again," Deidara says, in a tone he hopes comes across as sounding absent-minded. "I'm not really that religious, yeah."

He has found that this is a surefire way to distract Hidan from whatever he's saying. Hidan is a whackjob, and, being a whackjob, he has some fairly predictable triggers. People are easily upset by insanity, but once you adapt to it, it's not that hard to manipulate. From the sudden thump of chair legs he knows he's right this time, too.

He gets out of there before Hidan can get more than halfway across the room.

"I understand your interest in settling whatever is between you," Konan tells him. Her eyes are just as distant as ever, and when they land on him he feels like she's seeing right through him. "But you cannot allow your interpersonal conflict to jeopardise the day to day running of Akatsuki. Do you understand, Deidara?"

Her voice is soft and serene in the way some interrogators have, when they don't need to raise their voices to make you listen because everyone knows you're hanging on their every word. Konan talks to people like she can afford to sound soft, because they are already at her mercy.

"Um," he says. "Sure."

"Good," she tells him, and then glides away.

Pein doesn't bring it up at all. Konan has already delivered his message, and she is scary enough for two.

"I can mix you something better, if you think you can do it again," Sasori offers. Softly, speculatively, hungrily, he adds: "He'd make a beautiful puppet."

He would. Even Deidara reflects on it for a second, thoughtfully. If you could preserve Itachi -- but no. Deidara wouldn't get as much out of blowing him up as a puppet. If it's not his whole person, with all its experiences and thoughts and feelings -- the entire ineffable sum of 'Uchiha Itachi' -- going up in smoke, what's even the point?

And Itachi's already dying, degrading fast, painfully, coming apart at the seams. Deidara licks his lips.

"No thanks," he says, because if he tries to explain this he knows they're going to have an argument. Again.

And then, later, when Deidara is innocently walking the corridors:

"That was clever," says Kakuzu shortly and very, very unexpectedly.

He is there with his hand huge and heavy on Deidara's shoulder, right next to his throat where Deidara's pulse is beating, thunderous and frantic, and Deidara never even notices him coming, he's just right there, in this narrow corridor in the flickering halogen light, all smoky chakra and murderous intent. Deidara feels lucky he hasn't pissed himself. "Do not let this interfere with my mission roster."

"I," says Deidara, outwardly still, while something feral and mean buried deep in the sewers of his mind howls that Kakuzu is a dead man and he's going to blow the whole base sky high, "will not do that, yeah."

Kakuzu stares down at him with his hooded, bloodshot eyes for a second, until Deidara thinks maybe he can see this crazy wild resentment rising up out of him. Deidara can't keep it off his face so he looks away instead.

"Good," says Kakuzu, like he thinks that's a show of submission instead of just Deidara hiding his feelings, and he squeezes Deidara's shoulder.

There's a hand-shaped bruise that lasts for days.

So everyone decides he's trying to kill Itachi and that he's just, you know, weirdly bad at it. This, he figures, is irritating but still probably better than the alternative.

He elects to ignore that Kisame doesn't even try to bring it up.

Of course, when he next actually sees Itachi, which is two days after the conversation with Kakuzu in the corridor, he has the gall to rub his shoulder like this is the thing that actually fucking hurts. It doesn't. It doesn't. Itachi is an ongoing experience of pain, and Deidara would know. 

Deidara smiles and goes back to his room and scratches up the burn scars on his arms until they're raised and weeping. He isn't surprised at all when they become red and tender with infection, and whenever he sees Itachi he rubs them against his side or jams his nails right into them.

It hurts him, yeah. Of course it does. But it has to hurt Itachi exactly the same.

Itachi never seems to react.

And that's really annoying.

And then, horribly but inevitably, they have to work with one another.