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Why you shouldn't lie about mission details

Chapter Text

Everyone knew that Deidara hated Itachi. He had made that clear often enough.
Since Deidara had joined Akatsuki, there had barely been a single day since he had not complained about Itachi to his new partner Sasori. At this point his Danna didn't even react anymore and ignored him completely. In the beginning he had at least rolled his eyes.

That bastard, who took Deidara's freedom from him. He and his stupid Sharingan. And his dumb shiny black hair. And the way he frowned in that barely noticeable way during a fight.
Deidara was sure that no one else had noticed that. After all, those stupid Uchihas always had to pretend nothing threw them off and they were the best anyway.

Deidara cursed and basically stomped through the forest that he sadly wasn't allowed to fly over because of this stupid mission.

“You do know we aren't flying because this is an undercover mission, right?”
Deidara rolled his eyes and glared at his partner. “Yeah, so?”
Sasori's face was as cold and unmoving as always. “If you stomp around like that they'll know we're coming before we're even anywhere close to Konoha.”
“You're just scared of heights, un”, Deidara hissed.
Without even showing the least bit of a reaction, Sasori just grumbled from out of his shell, “Stop complaining. You're acting like a child.”

Deidara took a few deep breaths.
Right now he wanted nothing more than to blow his partner up, but they both knew he couldn't do that. He hadn't been in Akatsuki for long, while Sasori had been a member for years. He just lacked the experience Sasori already had, thanks to his old age.
That thought cheered Deidara up a little and he grinned.

For some time the two quietly walked through the forest and kept an ear out for potential enemies, but all they could hear was the quiet rustling of leaves under their feet.
It became boring very quickly.

“Hey, Danna.”
Sasori didn't react, which Deidara took as encouragement to keep talking.
“Once we're out of here again, can I finally blow something up again? It's been days, un!”
“No.”

Deidara was about to loudly protest, but Sasori held up his hand to shut him up.
They quickly hid behind the closest large tree and became very quiet.

Just a moment later a group of ninja from Konoha showed up.
It didn't seem like they had noticed either of them, but just to be sure Deidara opened one of his clay bags. After all, that village had enough clans who could easily uncover hidden enemies, despite their nondescript appearance. The Hyuugas for example. Or the Inuzukas. Or those stupid Uchihas.

Deidara's heart pounded against his bandages as he and Sasori listened to their potential enemies' conversation.

“Is it really true? The guy who killed the Uchihas was seen again?”
Another voice sighed. “You know I'm not allowed to tell you those things.”
The first voice protested loudly while the first attempted to calm him down.

Sasori and Deidara glanced at each other.
Neither of the two were surprised that Itachi's mission in Konoha had attracted a lot of attention, even if that had happened over a year ago. But the fact, that this boy had apparently had no idea until now was a little odd. Were the leaders of Konoha really that secretive? Was there no gossip in Konoha?

“Please, Sensei, you have to tell us something at least! We're almost jonin and he might come back here again!”
The second voice, obviously the Sensei of this group, sighed and Deidara could hear the group stop. If he would just take one step to the right he could look the directly in the eye.
“Alright. But I can't tell you much more than you already know!”, she added as her students cheered loudly. Deidara rolled his eyes. Those kids wanted to be jonin and they barely knew to shut up when there might be enemies around.

“Yes, he was seen again. Not far away from the village.”
One of the other voices gasped, as if that hadn't been obvious since the beginning.
“It was about a week ago. The Hokage only told me a few days ago. A group of genin saw him but he let them get away.”
“What? Why? Now we know he's probably still somewhere around here!”

Deidara imagined that the Sensei shrugged. “Maybe he thought they wouldn't recognise him. Or that they weren't a real danger to him. Either way, now we can use this information against him and the kids are fine, so we really got lucky.”

It was silent for a moment. Then the sound of a bird's call cut through the air and Deidara jumped. Sasori hit him in the side to shut him up.

“Is that enough? Or should I quote the entire meeting with the Hokage?” The sensei laughed but she quickly got quiet again.
Her students murmured in agreement and just a second later they were gone.

Deidara loudly breathed out and leaned against they tree they had been hiding behind.
“What the hell is Uchiha doing in Konoha? Does he want to get killed??”

Sasori shrugged slightly and started walking again.
“He probably had a mission. Come on, it's still a long way and I don't want to wait for you again.”

Deidara rolled his eyes and followed Sasori silently, but the conversation they had just heard didn't leave his mind. Since when were they allowed to just show themselves to enemy ninja and not get rid of the witnesses? Why hadn't he heard of Itachi's mission even though he usually got all the gossip from Hidan? And why the hell did he and Sasori have to travel to this hellhole of a village again, if Itachi had been there barely a week before??

He shook his head to get it free for the mission. It was hard to take a simple information gathering mission seriously, especially since he and Sasori were capable of so much more, but he didn't want to mess up this mission and have to face Pain's wrath again.

Chapter Text

It had been a few hours since Deidara and Sasori had overheard the conversation between the ninjas from Konoha, and despite the fact that they had been busy not to be caught during this time, Deidara could not stop thinking about it.
Not even the mission had been able to distract him. If there was at least a fight he could get his mind off of it better than by simply hiding behind a tree every few hours and waiting for a fox or a bird to come out of a bush.
Except for the ninjas they had heard before they had not encountered a single human being and Deidara was starting to get anxious.

“I'm just saying, Danna. Why didn't anyone tell us that Uchiha was already in Konoha? I thought we're supposed to share important information, un!”
Sasori sighed, even though that didn't really do anything considering his body was made of wood. “Then I guess nothing important happened.”
“But what about the genin that saw him! We're supposed to be told that kind of stuff!”
“Maybe he didn't notice.”
Deidara laughed, but there was no humour in it. “That bastard is always boasting about what his stupid sharingan can do. And anyway-”

At this point Sasori's patience was gone completely.
“Deidara. Shut up. Or I will drag you all the way back to Pain and tell him you're causing trouble.”
Deidara swallowed hard and finally shut up.
Even though he should have finally gotten used to Pain and his creepy eyes his presence still sent an unpleasant shiver down his spine. It definitely didn't help that because of his years in exile, Deidara was not very good at respectfully handling authorities. And he hadn't exactly been respectful to the Tsuchikage before that either.

After what felt like an eternity, Sasori and Deidara finally arrived in the small village where the main part of their mission took place.
It was not very far away from Konoha and its Ninjas came over here practically every day, either for getting a full night of sleep during a mission or just to visit someone they knew here. This meant that this village was perfect for an information-gathering mission.

Deidara let his eyes wander over the small houses and watched the civilians calmly walk through the streets. They seemed completely unaware that two of the most dangerous people in the world were walking among them.
That thought made Deidara smile involuntarily.

A young boy ran past them and accidentally ran right into Sasori.
Sasori swore and glared at the boy. Thankfully Deidara had convinced him to not show up in Hiruko's shell, or the boy would have panicked and they would have had to flee.
As it was, the boy just grinned shyly, apologised and kept on running.
“Those stupid kids...”, Sasori grumbled and Deidara grinned.

Soon after that they split up so they would appear less threatening and easier to talk to for strangers with information.
Although Deidara had no idea how anyone could think Sasori outside of Hiruko was intimidating. After all, he looked like a teenager, and his unmoving glare did not change that.

Deidara was standing in front of a food stand when he was approached by a young woman.
“Excuse me, do I know you from somewhere?”
He turned to face her and smiled friendly. “I don't think so. My name is... Itachi.”

In his mind, Deidara cursed himself for not thinking of a better name, but in reality he just extended his hand for a handshake.
The woman smiled and took it. “I'm Miyu. Nice to meet you.”

As it turned out, it was anything but nice.
Miyu was nice and Deidara noticed immediately that she liked him and that he could use that to get information, but her flirting made him extremely uncomfortable.

“So, Itachi. Will you be here for a long time?”
She leaned forwards and pushed herself a little off the table in front of her with her elbows. The cafe they were now sitting in was almost empty.
Deidara shook his head and smiled. “No, just for a few days. I'll have to get back to my village soon and take care of my job.”
“So you're just here for relaxation?”
Deidara nodded.
“Well, then you really picked the perfect place. There's no place in the entire fire country that's better for relaxation.” She winked.

It took Deidara all his willpower not to roll his eyes. It wasn't as if he was completely against what she was proposing, but this was just too much.
He hesitated and was just about to answer that someone was waiting for him at home, but then he remembered Sasori's threat and forced himself to reciprocate her horrible attempts at flirting.

“Is that so, un?” He slightly leaned forward and smiled. “I heard there are bandits here all the time...”
Miyu rolled her eyes but laughed at the same time and smiled dreamily. “Oh no, Konoha protects us from them. It is perfectly safe here, even at night...”

Deidara could feel a vein in his forehead start to pound against his skull out of the effort not to get up and leave immediately.
He forced himself to take her hand.

“Are you sure..? I heard that there are dangerous ninja around that kidnap beautiful women...”
Miyu grinned and stroked over Deidaras hand with her thumb. “They can try if they want to..”
She laughed and became serious for a moment. “No, that stuff doesn't happen here. And if it did, Konoha would help us immediately. They always tell us if there's danger around but that hasn't happened in years.”

Deidara nodded and got back to flirting so she didn't suspect anything.
“That's good to know... In that case it can't do any harm to be out at night.”

If Miyu had been blushing before, now it seemed like all her blood was travelling up to her head.
She was about to respond and Deidara got ready for another flirting attempt, when he suddenly heard an explosion not very far away from them.

Inwardly cheering at the chance to get away, Deidara jumped to his feet, shot Miyu an apologetic glance and ran towards the source of the explosion.
Usually he might have been more annoyed at someone copying his art, and especially when it was done this badly, but in this moment he was just happy to get out of this uncomfortable situation.

Chapter Text

Deidara ran towards the explosion and dodged the people that stood around like they were frozen to the ground. He might have made fun of them if he wasn't in such a hurry.
Maybe next time.

There hadn't been another explosion since the first one but he could still clearly hear the sounds of a fight. His hands were already inside his clay bags, but he didn't dare to make a bird and just fly towards the fight. It could still be that two complete strangers were fighting and then he would have blown his cover for nothing.

But as soon as Deidara turned the next corner he saw that that was not the case.
One of Sasori's puppets flew towards him and crashed into a house when he jumped to the side. Its owner followed shortly afterwards.

Deidara helped Sasori get up. “Trouble, un?”
Sasori didn't answer and only stared at the man who had been able to catch him off guard. Deidara didn't know him but it seemed like that might change soon.

“Oh, looks like you have a friend with you. How nice. That just means more bounty for me.” The stranger grinned and got ready for an attack.

Deidara swore and jumped out of his way as the stranger ran towards him with two drawn swords. As fast as he could he formed some spiders and threw them directly towards him. For one second their attacker looked scared and Deidara's thoughts were alreay back at the HQ, but then he swung one of his swords and the spiders exploded across the street instead.

The stranger glanced over his shoulder and grinned.
“Interesting.”

One of Sasori's puppets tried to stab him with a poisoned sword, but he defended himself with his own. The stranger and the puppet fought a heavy fight, while Deidara was busy making two birds.
They circled the swordsman and waited for the right moment.

As the swords of the puppet ended up crossed with that of the stranger, it was finally time.
The birds bit themselves into the arms of the man and he swore loudly.

Deidara grinned.
“Katsu!”

The street they had fought in was completely empty but the dust that had been thrown up by the explosion still made it hard to see.

Deidara grinned confidently and pushed his hands into his hips. “Next time you can call for help and I'll gladly win another fight for you, un.”
Sasori rolled his wooden eyes and glared at Deidara. “All you did was destroy one of my best puppets. If Kakuzu gets angry if I have to ask for money again I'll tell him it was your fault.”

Deidara shivered and was about to respond when the dust finally settled and the stranger stepped out of it.

“Sorry, guys, but you can't get rid of me that quickly.”

Sasori summoned another one of his puppets.
“What do you even want from us? We're simple travellers and we didn't do anything wrong.”

The stranger laughed. “Simple travellers? With your abilities?”

Deidara ground his teeth. He was right, that was hard to explain.

“It doesn't matter anyway. Unfortunately ninja in long black coats with red patterns are on top of the bounty list right now. Especially since that traitor that killed his own family showed up again.”

He would kill him. That bastard Itachi had not just ruined his life but also his mission. Pain would blame Deidara for this mission's failure despite the fact that the only one to blame was that Uchiha-bastard. Deidara would kill him and it would be painful.
Despite the dangerous situation, that thought made Deidara smile.

He created a bird and made it big enough for two people.
If he wanted to kill Itachi, he couldn't die here after all.
Deidara pulled Sasori up by his coat, which he could only do because Sasori outside of Hiruko was much smaller than himself, and flew away.

The stranger watched them leave and put away his swords. He would get his bounty, he would make sure of that.

On the bird Deidara sat down and took a deep breath.
“Did you at least find out anything before that guy attacked you?”, he asked Sasori.
Sasori shrugged slightly. “No one here suspects our existence. They all think Konoha will protect them.”
Deidara nodded. “I heard the same thing.” He didn't add any more details and thankfully Sasori didn't ask.

They silently sat on the bird and flew towards the main headquarters, where the others would probably already wait for them.

Deidara sighed.
He could barely wait.

Chapter Text

Itachi was preparing for his next mission when his door suddenly opened and crashed against the wall with a loud bang.

Just a moment later Deidara stormed in and glared at Itachi.
“You damn bastard!!”

Itachi blinked, confused.
He knew Deidara didn't like him, he had made that quite clear often enough after all. If he was being honest, which didn't happen often in the situation he was in, he couldn't fault Deidara for that. It was his fault after all, that he had been forced to join Akatsuki and even though he seemed to have found some people he got along with and seemed to enjoy the challenges he got here, apparently he was still angry at Itachi.
Itachi knew that Deidara had never had a chance to win against him.

But this outburst seemed to have a specific reason, even though Itachi had no idea what the hell it could be.

His missing reaction seemed to just spur on Deidara's anger. He glared harder and angrily threw his hands in the air.
“You know exactly what I mean! Because of you Danna and I almost got killed by a bounty hunter!! You went to Konoha, let enemies see you AND let them get away, and and then you complete bastard don't even tell us, un!!”

Shit.

Itachi felt a cold shiver run down his spine, which at least didn't come from his illness this time.
He had hoped he had made it clear enough to the kids that they were not allowed to tell anyone about him.

While he was inwardly going through all his options to keep the whole thing a secret from Pain and Konan, Itachi's face stayed completely calm.
“I wouldn't have thought a simple bounty hunter could be dangerous for you. Maybe Pain overestimated your abilities.”

Deidara already looked like he was about to explode, but that was nothing compared to how angry he looked now.
He opened his bags and fed his clay to his hands while he kept shouting at Itachi.
Itachi didn't even listen to him any more.
Everyone, no matter how much of a horrible person they are, sometimes developed a bad conscience, even if the thing causing it was done for a good reason. And in moments like that it was especially hard to do what had to be done. Especially if 'what had to be done' was kill a group of children.
Why, out of all the genin in Konoha, did it have to happen with the only ones that did not get intimidated by a genjutsu?
Damn it.

“Are you even listening to me, you bastard, un??”

Itachi looked back up at Deidara and only noticed now that his complete dismissal of what Deidara had to say had shown on his face.
Damn it.

Thankfully, in that exact moment Kisame came and rescued Itachi from having to think of an excuse.
He put his hand on Deidara's shoulder which, since he hadn't heard him, made him jump.

“We had a secret mission in Konoha. Pain told us we weren't allowed to tell anyone, no matter what happened. Sorry that became a problem for you.”

Deidara put his clay back into his bags with an angry but also disappointed look on his face and crossed his arms.
“Then you could have at least made sure no one recognised you.”
He didn't seem to be convinced by Kisame's explanation, but since he had somewhat calmed down he was able to think more clearly again.

“Hm. Well if that's so, I'll go ask Pain. He'll tell me if you're lying then, un.”

He turned around and walked past Kisame, who looked at Itachi and shrugged.

Itachi jumped up and grabbed Deidara's arm.
Deidara turned around to him half-way and looked like he wanted to blow him up. Although that was more of a general look on his face when Itachi was around.
Deidara was probably about to throw something extremely angry and useless at him, when Itachi grabbed his other arm as well and pushed him towards the wall to keep him there.

“You can't do that.”

Deidara's face was bright red.

“W-well, why not?”

“Do you really think Pain will be happy if you uncover our secret mission? There's a reason why no one else is supposed to know.”
Itachi did his best to keep his voice calm and collected and to not show the panic inside him on his face, and it seemed to work.

Deidara was still glaring at him, his face still a deep red, and he pulled his arms from Itachi's grip.
“Alright. But if you are causing any more trouble for me I will kill you, Uchiha, un.”

Itachi gave in and took a step backwards. He hadn't even noticed how close he had been standing to Deidara.

As soon as he was free, Deidara angrily stormed away and Itachi went back into his room.
Kisame was already waiting for him.

“Itachi.”

Itachi ignored him and put something away he wasn't even paying attention to.

“I don't know what you did in Konoha and I don't care. You're a good partner so I trust you, but the others won't see it that way. If Pain finds out about this you'll get into real trouble.”

Itachi piled up some loose papers.

Kisame sighed.
“I know you miss Konoha sometimes. It's the same for me with Kiri, and it's the same for all of us. Just be careful. I don't want to have to deal with a new partner.”

The door closed and Itachi exhaled.
Kisame had no idea.
If only it was that simple.

-

At the wall that Itachi had pushed Deidara against, a thin, barely noticeable layer of clay removed itself from the wall and reunited with the chakra of its creator.

Inside his own room Deidara grinned.
He had known there couldn't be some secret mission. Itachi was a good liar but that excuse had simply been too weak.
Now all he had to do was to find out what Itachi had really planned and then he could finally get rid of him, his stupid eyes and his unfairly beautiful face.

Chapter Text

It had been two weeks since Deidara had confronted Itachi.
Since Itachi was on a mission close to Suna during that time, Deidara could search through his things and interrogate other members about him. Extremely inconspicuously, of course.

In times like this it was extremely helpful when your best “friend” knew practically all secret information about all members of Akatsuki. Though Hidan had neither the important knowledge that except for Pain and maybe Konan only Zetsu knew of, nor the necessary braincells to get those informations himself, but no one could beat him when it came to gossip based on practically nothing. And that was what Deidara would have to settle for right now.
Well, if Deidara was honest, he didn't even know if he would call Hidan trustworthy, let alone a friend. But despite this, he was still the person who came closest to a friend in this organisation. Neither Zetsu nor Konan nor Pain would ever tell Deidara what he wanted to know, so he would have settle for Hidan.

He couldn't risk that Hidan found out what he was really looking for, so he waited for him to come to him first.
Not long after Deidara heard his typical cursing from far away already, his door opened and Hidan threw himself on his bed, groaning with a clearly annoyed tone.
Deidara barely reacted and made some space for him.
Just like he had expected, Hidan immediately began complaining about everyone and everything.
“Fuck, man, I don't fucking want to keep being on a team with that old fuck. He doesn't even get what my rituals are good for and he's so annoying!!”

Deidara nodded absent-mindedly. “Mh hm.”

“And it was even worse than normal today! I need these fucking rituals and I do them exactly the way Jashin wants them! He's the one who takes forever getting his god damn money. Sometimes I think he wants it for certain other things.” Hidan laughed loudly and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Deidara rolled his eyes.
“You complain about him every time, I get it by now, un.”

“You don't get anything, Blondie! Some day I'll kill him and I'll make his ritual extra long just to annoy him.”

Deidara laughed. “As if you could. Kakuzu is way stronger than you and besides, you like him way too much to kill him. Doesn't matter how much you say you hate him.”

Hidan pushed himself up with his elbows and grinned at Deidara in a way he didn't like at all.
“Oh, so like you and Itachi?”

Even though Deidara had meant to somehow steer the topic to Itachi he couldn't help but grit his teeth. He did not like direction the conversation was going.
“Shut up, un! I could never like that bastard”, he hissed.

Hidan was still grinning but he dropped back down and turned his head. “Calm down. We all know you have a crush on him, who cares.”

That was the last thing Deidara had expected. Sure, Itachi looked.. alright, but that was definitely just another thing Deidara didn't like about him. That smugness, the arrogance to think he could do everything the best and that he was perfect, even when it came to looks. Every time he saw him it made Deidara so angry he had to either complain or blow something up.

His face turned a deep shade of red.
“What??! No!!!”

Hidan just shrugged, though Deidara had no idea how that was even possible in his current position.
“You have a crush on Uchiha. Come on, as if none of us noticed the way you stare at him all the time, or the way you fucking talk about him!” Hidan's voice became high-pitched. “Oh, I hate Itachi soooo much, he's so beautiful and his eyes are true art, UN.”

Deidara angrily pushed Hidan off his bed.
“Hey!” Hidan looked at him in an accusing way.

Boiling with anger Deidara jumped up and ran out of his room.
He hated it when Hidan made fun of him like that but he hated it even more to be accused of liking Itachi. And now he was apparently in love with him??? Definitely not.
No way.

He was only staring at Itachi to find a way to beat him. That was all.
Apparently that's what happened when you admitted to other forms of art exist that weren't your own. Now everyone was acting like he jumped into Itachi's arms and made out with him.
Which he would never do of course!
Fuck.
And of course now he thought about it and it was all Hidan's fault!

To finally get those thoughts out of his mind, especially Hidan's accusation, Deidara went outside to blow up a few bombs.
Via Zetsu Pain had already warned him a few times to draw less attention to the headquarters, but in that moment Deidara did not give a single shit. He had to blow something up or he'd go insane.
Even if someone would show up he could just get rid of them or they could all move. Pain was making way too much of a big deal about it, Deidara thought.

“Katsu!”

The first explosion was beautiful. The second was as well.
After the third and fourth Deidara realised he was still as distracted as before. The explosions didn't help getting his mind off Itachi, on the contrary. With every one of his masterpieces he had to think of how Itachi had beaten him with just one glance.
Deidara shuddered at the thought that Hidan might have been right and that he might have had feelings for Itachi for along time and quickly pushed it down as far as he could. The next bomb looked suspiciously like a certain black-haired man when it exploded.
Definitely not.
Nope.

Deidara huffed angrily and turned back towards the headquarters-

Suddenly he noticed an open window.
He sneaked closer and looked directly into Itachi's room, the orderly folded clothes on a chair in the corner giving it away.
“Damn, now I'm already recognising his clothes, un...” Deidara mumbled and grit his teeth, angry at his own thoughts.

He would find out what Itachi was planning, he would tell Pain all of it and then he could finally get rid of Itachi. Him and his eyes, that had been showing up in Deidara's dreams for years now.
Almost out of spite Deidara climbed through the open window into Itachi's room.

Carefully he walked up to the desk in the corner of the room and opened the drawers one by one. Nothing but some empty papers and a pencil. Boring.
Next he opened his closet and looked through is clothes, but didn't notice anything interesting there either.

With a loud sigh he fell backwards onto Itachi's bed.
He probably shouldn't be surprised that Itachi wasn't leaving anything lying around. After all, he was the oh so smart and talented Itachi Uchiha, who had killed his entire family solely out of arrogance.
Something like this seemed typical for him.

Suddenly Deidara heard someone come closer to the room.
He froze for just a moment, then he jumped to his feet and hid inside the closet.

Just a moment later the door opened and someone came in.
Deidara could neither see nor hear who it was but he knew they could never find out he was there. In the best case it would be Hidan who would tell Itachi about his alleged and definitely untrue crush and in the worst case someone would tell Pain and he'd think he was betraying Akatsuki and kill him.
Deidara shuddered. Neither of the two options were desirable in the least.

Whoever the person was, they soon left the room. Deidara exhaled and let his head fall back against the wall of the closet.

He noticed something small and shiny just above him and sat up straight to take a closer look.
It was stuck between the closet wall and one of the shelves, which meant that it was barely noticeable from the outside if you didn't know what to look for.
Deidara pushed the shelf away from the wall and grabbed the thing.

It was a small bottle, like those used for medicine.
Deidara blinked, confused.
He didn't recognise the name of the medicine but that was no surprise since he barely knew anything at all about medicine anyway.
Turning the bottle in his hand he looked for anything that might tell him why Itachi was hiding medicine in his closet.

“For bleeding in the lungs and throat. Only to be taken in an emergency. Side effects including but not limited to: nausea, headaches, loss of eyesight.”
Deidara stared at the bottle, a frown on his face.

He opened the closet door as quietly as he could, checked to see if the coast was clear and then left Itachi's room through the same window he had entered as quickly as possible.

Back in the woods outside the headquarters, Deidara could finally breathe normally again.
“What the hell, un??”

Chapter Text

Deidara spent the next few days avoiding Hidan.
He was still angry at his accusations and he wouldn't give that bastard who dared to call himself his friend the satisfaction of seeing how much it bothered him.

The idea of being in love with a man didn't bother Deidara. On the contrary, he had known he didn't care about other people's genders since he was a child. No, he just couldn't stand the thought of being in love with the guy who had beaten him so quickly and easily and whose fault it was that he was now stuck with this organisation.

During this time he still hadn't found a way to uncover Itachi's true plans. Sure, maybe he hid medicine in his closet, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. Deidara couldn't use that against him. A bleeding lung was extremely dangerous and the leader of a terrorist organisation like Akatsuki should probably know about it, but it wasn't enough to get the permission to fight Itachi himself.

Deidara grit his teeth and twisted around in his bed.

One of the few advantages of being a member of Akatsuki was that you could get a full night of sleep much more often than if you were living alone in the wilderness.
Back then, when he was a jounin but still very young, Deidara had spent most nights only half asleep, always looking out for attackers. Bandits were not nearly as dangerous as ninja from his old village looking to catch him, but even they could become a threat to a sleeping teenager, no matter how strong he could normally be.

Deidara shivered and curled up in his way too thin blanket.

It had been almost a year since he had been forced to join Akatsuki, but he still hadn't gotten used to being more or less safe at night, and as such his nights were often restless. It was an advantage in those nights when Hidan was not on any missions, since he could quickly get bored and always seemed to find it funny to scare Deidara. Not even blowing him up a few times had helped with that.

Deidara sighed and got up. He wouldn't get any more sleep tonight.

Itachi wasn't back from his mission yet, so maybe he should use this opportunity to find out something more useful than that he had some kind of secret sickness.
He put on his clothes and bandages. If he was going to be awake he didn't want to be caught in his sleeping clothes. It was always safer to be ready for battle at any time in this place.

Deidara carefully and quietly walked through the empty halls of the tunnel system, that Pain had probably built himself. Deidara had no idea what he could actually do, but the tiny glimpses he had gotten over the past year proved that he was extremely powerful. He really wouldn't be surprised if he found out that Pain just built tunnels in his free time. It seemed at least more likely than the idea that they were just random accidents of nature.

He shook his head. Why did he always think useless stuff like that in the middle of the night??

A noise at the end of the tunnel, where the entrance was, ripped Deidara from his thoughts and he followed it.
Maybe it was an enemy who he could show his art to for a while. That was extremely unlikely, but it helped improve Deidara's mood and made him smile a little.

When he reached the entrance and the source of the noise the smile immediately fell from his face.

It had been Kisame and Itachi, who must have just returned from their mission.
Kisame's weight was almost completely supported by Itachi, and judging from the deep cuts in his legs and upper body it looked like they had gotten into a fight with someone they hadn't easily beaten.
Itachi was much less hurt but his breathing was laboured as well and there were some cuts on his arms. Apparently he wasn't as invincible as he always pretended, Deidara thought, but he couldn't bring himself to gloat about it the way he probably should. Instead, there was a surprisingly large part of him that almost seemed to.. worry about Itachi.

Deidara was about to call for Zetsu or Pain, but Zetsu emerged from the ground before he could do so. Only a moment later Pain joined them.

“We were attacked. They knew we would come.”
Kisame's voice was incredibly weak. Deidara had never seen him injured like that. Somehow he had never thought that was even possible. Kisame had always seemed too strong for that.

Pain sent Zetsu barely more than a glance, which Zetsu seemed to take as a sign to bring Kisame inside.

“It was a mixed group of Suna- and Konoha-nin. Fifty of them. They waited for us and almost would have killed us if Kisame hadn't gotten us out of there.”

Pain nodded. “Any survivors?”

“Three, all of them Konoha. Easy to recognise”, he answered Pain's silent question.

“Travel to Konoha immediately. They cannot share their information on your weaknesses. Kill them and destroy any information, no matter the cost.”
He turned around to leave, but then he stopped.
“Take Deidara with you.”

Deidara stared at Pain for a moment, speechless.
“What?? Why me??”

“Kisame is hurt, Itachi needs a new partner. We don't have a lot of time and you're ready.”

Apparently that was all Pain had to say to that, because he just turned around and left.
Oh how much Deidara wished he hadn't gotten himself ready before coming here. Although Pain might have still sent him even then. He was sadistic like that.

Deidara was still glaring at the spot where Pain had just been when Itachi was already getting ready to start running again.
“We have to hurry. They must be in Konoha by now.”

Deidara snorted. He caught up to Itachi and stopped him with a hand around his wrist.
“I know your ego doesn't let you admit this, but you look like you're about to collapse. We're flying, un.”

And with that, Deidara pulled Itachi up on one of his birds and forced him to sit down.
On the inside he switched between cursing Pain, the surviving Konoha-nin and, as always, Itachi. Why did stuff like this always have to happen to him of all people?

Chapter Text

The flight to Konoha was, for the most part, pretty quiet.
Itachi was busy healing his wounds and catching his breath as much as he could, while Deidara was busy completely ignoring him.
It wasn't going well.

He hadn't even known that Itachi was capable of healing jutsu and of course now the bottle of medicine he had found in his closet was permanently stuck in his mind. Healing jutsu could heal almost anything, which meant that whatever Itachi's problem was, it had to be pretty serious.
Deidara did not like that idea at all, even though he probably should. After all, that would mean that Itachi was weaker than he had always assumed.
He tried to convince himself that he was only concerned about the Akatsuki's strength, ignoring the fact that he really didn't care about that, but he knew that couldn't be all there was to it.

Itachi seemed to be done healing his wounds, because he stood up and let his eyes wander over the trees below them. Deidara had to pull himself together not to jump at the sight of his red eyes. They always made him feel inferior and he hated it.

“We should land soon. There are few large white birds around Konoha and we don't want to attract attention.”

Everyone else might have taken Itachi's words as concern for the mission and wouldn't have reacted any further, but Deidara wasn't everyone else.
He grit his teeth angrily and glared at Itachi. That bastard always made him look stupid, no matter what it was about! Even with his own art!
“I know. I'm not a complete idiot, un.” It came out more as a hiss than a normal statement.

Itachi nodded slightly and turned away. “Good.”

Deidara took a few deep breaths and forcibly pushed down the impulse to just push Itachi off his bird. He would probably notice anyway and throw him off himself, Deidara thought bitterly.

They landed in a clearing in the forest, not far away from the village, and Deidara let his bird disappear in one of his clay pockets again.

“Hold this please.”

Deidara turned back to Itachi just in time to catch the bag he had thrown at him without even checking if he was looking.
He was about to complain when Itachi started to take off his coat and shoes, and Deidara's complaints got stuck in his throat. “W-what are you doing?”

Itachi looked at him as if he had suddenly grown a second head, which in Itachi's case didn't mean a lot. Sometimes Deidara wondered if Itachi just always thought he was stupid or if his face was permanently stapled to his bones so he just couldn't move it.

“If we wear the coats they'll recognise us immediately and there's no reason why foreign shinobi should come to Konoha right now.”
With that Itachi used a jutsu to turn himself into a nondescript young woman and pushed his ninja clothes inside the bag that Deidara was still holding.

Mumbling angrily Deidara turned into an equally nondescript young man and they started walking to Konoha.

After a while the giant walls of the village and its giant gate came closer.

Deidara felt more than he heard how Itachi suddenly coughed. He barely made any sound and his body didn't move outside of a slight hitch of his shoulders, but Deidara saw exactly what happened.
He glanced at Itachi rose his eyebrow.
Itachi didn't react and simply ignored Deidara, which earned him an eye-roll.

When they finally arrived at the gate, two unfamiliar ninja greeted them.

“Hello! Welcome to Konoha! Can you tell us why you're here?”, the one with the spiky hair and the bandage on his nose asked.

Deidara hesitated, so Itachi reacted quickly and intertwined Deidara's arm with his own.
“We're sightseeing! I always wanted to go to Konoha and meet real ninja!” Itachi, or rather the woman the two ninja saw him as, smiled in a friendly way and hugged Deidara's arm.

Deidara froze and his face turned a deep shade of red, while the two ninja smiled back at Itachi.
“Great, then please show me your passports and we won't keep you here any longer”, the one with the hair over his eye said.

Itachi pulled two perfectly faked passports from his pockets, presented them and went on ahead, while Deidara was still frozen in place staring into nothing. What the hell was Itachi doing??

The first ninja smirked at Deidara and slapped his back as if they had been friends for years.
“You really got lucky, man. Send us the wedding invitations sometime.”

Deidara's shock at that statement broke him out of his frozen state. “W-we're not together, un!”, he shouted almost loud enough Itachi could hear him.
The second ninja just laughed and went back to his place at the gate.

Deidara grumbled something under his breath and followed Itachi, who had immediately dropped his act once he was out of sight.
“What the hell was that, un??”, Deidara hissed angrily.

Itachi looked at him, not caring in the slightest about Deidara's anger. “It was a way to get inside without drawing attention. I thought that would be obvious.”

“You fucking-” Deidara wanted nothing more than to punch Itachi right in his smug face.
He was not an idiot and he hated it when Itachi accused him of being one. Of course it wasn't any better when anyone else did it, but Itachi's smugness got to him more than he liked to admit.

After a few minutes of deep breathing Deidara managed to calm down a little.
He knew this mission had to go well or Pain would get angry and blame him personally if Konoha started actively hunting the Akatsuki. If that meant enduring Itachi's presence for the whole mission there was unfortunately not much he could do.

Deidara sighed and followed Itachi through the streets of Konoha.
Just this once. After that he'd never have to go on a mission with Itachi again.

Chapter Text

Side by side, Itachi and Deidara walked through Konoha, searching for the survivors of the fight against Kisame and Itachi. As inconspicuously as possible, of course.

It was difficult for Itachi without using his sharingan, but he couldn't risk to activate it. After all, why should a boring young stranger that was obviously neither an Uchiha nor a kunoichi even have one?
He tried to breathe just as he always did, but his exhaustion and his sickness were starting to catch up with him. His vision was more blurry than usual and he had to focus in order to not show how horrible he was really feeling. Deidara already knew too much and if one of the Akatsuki found out what he was doing behind their backs...
Itachi didn't even want to think about it.
So he just kept taking deep breaths and ignored the threatening burning in his lungs.

“Did you see anything that might help us yet, un?”, Deidara whispered.
His voice was much too loud for Itachi's pounding head. He shook his head and cursed himself only a moment later when a sharp pain shot into his head.

Deidara looked at him, a weird look on his face.
“Are you alright, un?”
Itachi ignored him and Deidara seemed to regret asking immediately.
It didn't surprise Itachi. Deidara hated him, after all, and Itachi couldn't stand how... loud he was. Aside from that, Deidara was obsessed with that stuff he called art and Itachi couldn't imagine that anything or anyone could ever matter to him.
Even if he would tell Deidara about his problems, which he obviously couldn't do anyway, Deidara wouldn't understand it.

“We should split up. You go look for the survivors and get rid of them, I'll destroy any paper trace they left. And don't attract any attention”, Itachi reminded him again.

Deidara seemed about to explode, which Itachi took as his cue to leave.
At least when he was angry Itachi could understand his reactions. That guy was hard to understand for Itachi, which was incredibly odd for him. Most people were relatively simple and Deidara wasn't anyone who knew to hide his feelings.

Itachi shook off those thoughts and went on ahead.
In character, he told him to meet him at their hotel room, then he disappeared into the rapidly filling streets.

He followed the familiar streets to the office of the Hokage and smiled at the people he met on the way. No one suspected one of the most dangerous and hated criminals of this village to walk among them.
Itachi felt sick. He had come back here quite a few times before, both hiding his identity and not hiding it, and yet he felt the guilt on his shoulders become heavier every time.
Even though he had done what he had to and even though it had been such a long time, he could still see all of their faces in his dreams. Sure, he had perfected this emotionless facade and improved the skills he had been forced to learn in the Anbu so no one would ever be able to tell, but on the inside everything was different.
Sometimes Itachi wished he had actually gone insane from his arrogance and killed everyone for no good reason. At least then he wouldn't have to feel so guilty for it.

Itachi crossed another corner and the large building that marked the centre of the village stood directly in front of him.

Taking a deep breath, he put on a terrified face and knocked on the main doors.
A stranger opened and looked at him suspiciously. “What do you want? Civilians aren't allowed in here.”

Itachi put on his best hopeless expression and forced himself to let some tears fall from his eyes. “Oh no... I'm sorry, but I really need your help!”
The stranger still had a suspicious look on his face but he took a step towards him and put a hand on Itachis shoulder.
“What happened?”

Itachi sobbed, loudly. “I'm here with my boyfriend for sightseeing and I wanted to go shopping, but on the way there someone stole all my money!” He wiped away some tears. “He took everything we had! How are we going to get back home? Or get food for tonight??”
The stranger barely reacted. Itachi would have to put up more effort. He sobbed once again and threw his arms around the ninja's neck.
“Please help me! Everyone told me you ninja can help me! I need you!”

That seemed to have worked, since the stranger, after freezing for a moment, took a deep breath and put his arms around Itachi. He guessed it was supposed to be a comforting gesture.
“A-alright. I'll help you.”
Itachi let go of him immediately and smiled widely. “Really? Thank you!!”

He took the ninja's hand and dragged him to an abandoned alley way, not far away from the Hokage building.
“This is where he attacked me!”

The ninja stroked his chin and looked around. “That's not surprising. In alleys like these pretty women like you often get attacked. The Hokage does what she can, but we can't prevent every single attack, you know.”
He turned his back to Itachi and kneeled down to look at the floor more closely.
“Hmm. Doesn't look like there was a fight. The guy must have been really quick to-”

He didn't get any further. Itachi had knocked him unconscious with a simple hit to his neck and he fell to the ground. He was lucky he hadn't hit his head.
Itachi looked at the ninja for a moment and then turned into him.
Without another word he took his ID from his pocket and went back to the Hokage building.

Another stranger grinned at him as soon as he saw him. “Back already? That was fast.”
Itachi didn't like his grin at all. He didn't know what it was supposed to mean but he grinned back in the same way. “Yes, it was.”
The other's laughter followed him until the door fell shut behind him.

The hallways weren't as full as Itachi had expected but there were enough people that it was hard to disappear unnoticed. Itachi looked around carefully and returned some of the greetings he was given.

Just a few minutes later he finally found an empty corner of the building. He opened a small hatch in the wall and climbed into the ventilation system hidden beneath it.
Only a handful of people knew about these vents and not even all of the Anbu did. They were a perfect way to sneak into the Hokage's office unnoticed, and not everyone was trusted as much as he had been, back then.

It took a while until Itachi found the correct opening below him. He could hear the voice of the Hokage and her assistant, although it was a little muffled.

“Hokage-sama, you'll have to sign this!”
The Hokage didn't seem very impressed by that, because the only answer she gave was a short snort. “That can wait until tomorrow.”
“But Hokage-sama!”
Itachi heard footsteps, followed by a door falling shut. A moment later the frustrated mumbles of the other person became quieter as she moved away from the room.

He waited a few seconds until he couldn't hear anything at all anymore, then he pushed open the hatch and jumped down from his hiding spot.
The landing was harder than Itachi had expected. As his lungs emptied under the pressure of the landing, he couldn't hold back a cough. Itachi covered his mouth with his hand in order to suppress the treacherous sounds. His shoulders were heaving and the coughing caused an ache that tore through his entire body.
Only after a full minute it stopped and Itachi removed his hand from his mouth. It was full of blood.
Itachi cursed silently and wiped it off on the inside of his jacket so no one could see the evidence for his weakness.

There was a pile of paper on the desk, most likely reports about missions. If he was lucky, the survivors had just been stupid enough to fill out a report instead of letting the Hokage know personally. If not... well, Pain wouldn't be happy about it.

Itachi flipped through the reports and skimmed them, activating his sharingan in order to be able to see enough.
Most of them were irrelevant or described the missions of genin catching some cats or cleaning a garden from weeds. No wonder the Hokage didn't want to read all of these, Itachi thought silently.
The only report that was even close to interesting was one about a mission to expand the country's territory into the south.

Finally, Itachi found the reports he would have to destroy.
All three of them described Itachi and Kisame, their fighting style and their abilities so exactly, that the Hokage wouldn't just recognise them if she met them, but would be able to find a perfect strategy to defeat them in a fight.
Itachi sighed and suppressed another cough. He and Deidara had come here just in time to destroy this information.

He put the reports into his bag and turned to leave, when suddenly the door opened and the Hokage's assistant came in.
Itachi jumped and closed the hatch to the vents just in time.
He could hear, how the assistant took another pile of papers and sighed loudly. “I guess I'll have to bring them to her then...”, she mumbled and left.

Itachi exhaled, relieved he hadn't been caught, and ignored his burning throat.
The mission was done. Now he just had to hope that Deidara was as successful as he had been.

Chapter Text

Deidara watched Itachi disappear into the crowd and snorted, frustrated.
“And don't attract any attention”, he mimicked Itachi with a fake-deep voice. As if he was stupid. Sometimes he almost got the feeling Itachi was trying to make him angry on purpose, but he had no idea why he should do that. Just to be annoying? Because he simply didn't like him? Or because he could see through him easier?

Deidara snorted again. As if Itachi's ego would even allow him to admit he wasn't perfect at something. That guy just always thought he was so cool.

The town was full of people. Some of them were civilians with their families, on a date or simply hanging out with friends, others were ninja who looked as if they were in a hurry.
It didn't surprise Deidara that much. It had been a while, but he could still clearly remember his own life as an Iwa-nin and how exhausting it had always been to run from one mission to the next, or, on their free days, to the training grounds. He had never had time left for himself or his art.
Of course, in Akatsuki he also had to follow orders and finish missions, but he had a lot more freedom and in general there were just less things he needed to do. It wasn't always fun but Deidara definitely preferred it to his life as an Iwa-nin.

Deidara caught himself watching a small family. A young boy was walking between two young women, each holding one of his hands. The boy was laughing happily as his mothers let him swing between them. Deidara could easily tell how much they loved their son, and how he loved them in return.
Even though he looked away immediately, Deidara had to swallow hard. He hadn't had a family in a long time and the small pieces that had remained were lost the day he had left Iwa.
Usually it didn't bother him that much, he had chosen his art over his village for a reason after all, but sometimes, in moments like these, he almost felt kind of homesick.
He just wasn't completely heartless, even though enough people liked to claim he was.

“Stupid families”, Deidara mumbled and stared at the ground. He kicked a small rock and watched it roll until it stopped.

Only a moment later Deidara crashed into a human-shaped object.
His first instinct was to shout at the stranger, as he was used to do, but then he looked up.
A man with spiky black hair and ugly sunglasses looked at him apologetically. “Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't pay attention.”
Even without Itachi's description of his targets and the uniform he wore, Deidara would have recognised him as a ninja in a second. The way he moved was proof enough.

Deidara smiled, friendly. “Oh no, that was my fault. It's okay.”
He looked around and pretended to think hard about something. “But hey, since I already ran into you... could you help me with something? I'm looking for a nice place to eat at later.” He grit his teeth as inconspicuously as possible. “My... girlfriend is shopping somewhere around here and I'd like to surprise her.”

The target smiled and motioned Deidara to follow him. “I know the perfect place. I'm Aoba, by the way.”
Deidara returned the smile. “I'm Riku.”

It only took a few minutes until they arrived at a small food stand.
It smelled like ramen and even though Deidara wasn't its biggest fan, right now he wanted nothing more than to take a break and eat some here. It had been way too long since he had gotten food that smelled this good.

Deidara thanked Aoba and shook his hand.
A small clay spider crawled out of the mouth on his hand and into the sleeve of Aoba's uniform. He didn't seem to notice anything as he just scratched his elbow and left after wishing Deidara good luck on his date.

Grinning, Deidara raised a hand and formed a hand sign. He waited until he could see the spider sit crawl up Aoba's neck and watched as he entered a smaller street. “Katsu!”

Unfortunately the explosion itself was neither really visible nor audible from where Deidara was standing, especially since he had used a smaller explosive, but he could just make out the smoke. The first target was undoubtedly dead, which meant that the first part of his mission was finished.
He brushed his hand over his face to get rid of his way too obvious grin and continued strolling through the main streets of Konoha.

Now he'd only have to find the other two Itachi told him about and then-
Oh shit.
One look at the position of the sun told him how much time he already wasted since Itachi had left.

Deidara cursed and walked a little faster.
Just getting rid of this one target had taken way too long! If he really wanted to use this chance and find out why Itachi had been here, he'd have to find his other targets soon.

Again Deidara let his eyes wander across the people in the streets but he saw no one that fit Itachi's description in any way.
He sighed. How hard could it be to find a woman with long purple hair??

Disappointed in himself, he walked over to a group of ninja who apparently had a free day today. He introduced himself as his target's friend and after only a few suspicious questions one of them finally showed him the way to Uzuki Yuugao's house. Sometimes Deidara really wondered how this village was considered so strong if they were barely even suspicious of strangers asking for the whereabouts of an Anbu.

The apartment was easy to find, but it took Deidara longer than he would like to finally get on the roof without being noticed. You'd think a high-ranking and internationally wanted criminal like him would figure that out easily.

He watched the woman through the window for just a few moments. Maybe he should have watched longer, to make sure this wasn't a trap or that he wasn't the one being watched, but he just wanted to get on with his investigation. He didn't have time for lengthy obvervations right now. If Itachi came back earlier than he hoped he'd have no chance of finding out anything at all.

Thankfully, Yuugao wasn't alone. Deidara really couldn't believe his luck.
He watched as a man who perfectly fit the last description sit down on a table with her. They seemed to have a nice, friendly conversation and Deidara almost felt bad to interrupt them.
Almost.

The two targets didn't even react to the birds coming through the window at first. Only when they were practically sitting on their shoulders did they seem to even notice them at all.
Deidara grit his teeth.
They'd learn to appreciate his art, and if they had to die for that, well. Then that was their problem.

With another “Katsu!”, Deidara detonated his birds and watched his targets' bodies sag in their chairs.

He would have liked to stay a little longer to really savour the moment, but he still had to hurry up. And so he left the roof and returned to the ramen stand Aoba had showed him.
Maybe there he'd meet someone who could tell him something interesting, and maybe get some food as well. Any new information at all would do, in Deidara's opinion. He already resigned himself to not finding anything today. Maybe he'd convince Sasori he had to get some clay here once this mission was over...

“Come on, you're lying.”

Deidara looked up from the menu and noticed the small group of children sitting next to him. Judging from their clothing, Deidara suspected they were genin. One of them hid behind a coat so big nothing below his nose was visible at all and he even wore dark sunglasses to top it off. On his left there was a young girl who was quietly eating her soup, listening to the conversation without adding anything. On the first boy's right sat another boy, this one with weird red markings on his face. Probably a clan thing.
The boy with the markings was excitedly talking to a third boy with oddly pale eyes.

While Deidara ate his surprisingly good soup, he carefully listened to the children's conversation.

“And then I said 'get lost, you criminal!' and Akamaru and I totally showed him he can't mess with us!”
The girl giggled quietly. “That's not true.” She turned to the boy with the weird eyes. Only now did Deidara notice hers were the same. “Don't believe a single word he's saying. Kiba is just trying to impress you.”
The boy, Kiba, blushed darkly and protested loudly.
“She's right. You were just as scared as we were. We were lucky we got out alive”, the boy with the sunglasses added.
“Not you too, Shino!”
The third boy, who had not said anything so far, slightly shook his head. “That's nothing to be embarrassed about. You survived a fight against Uchiha Itachi, that's impressive enough.”

Inwardly, Deidara triumphantly pumped up his fist and excitedly blew up a whole city worth of bombs.
In reality, he only slightly leaned towards the kids and kept his face as neutrally surprised as he was able to in his excitement. “Excuse me, did you just say you met Uchiha Itachi?”

All four of the kids got very quiet and turned to face Deidara.
Kiba squinted at him suspiciously. “Who wants to know that?”

Deidara raised his hand innocently, as if to show he didn't have any weapons, and smiled. Ha, if they only knew. “I'm just here for a vacation. Don't worry, I'm not a threat. I'm just surprised you actually met that guy and survived! That's really impressive.”

Three of the kids seemed reassured by that. Pale-eyes-boy frowned, as if he was more suspicious than before.

Kiba seemed to either not notice his friend's suspicions or he simply didn't care, as he proudly crossed his arms behind his head and grinned.
“Of course it is! We found him in the forest, and not even our sensei was there! He was talking to someone but we couldn't see who it was.”

The boy with the sunglasses nodded in confirmation. Deidara had already forgotten his name.
“He noticed us and the other person vanished. It was very scary.” Solely based on his monotone voice, Deidara never would have guessed that.

“Yes. And then he put us under a genjutsu. It was really, really scary.” The girl shivered, as if she was suddenly feeling cold. Deidara understood the feeling. “When we finally escaped he was gone.”

So Itachi had not only allowed enemies to escape, but had also made secret plans with some stranger! Deidara really had to pull himself together to keep up his neutrally interested facade. He was so close to finding out Itachi's full secret!

He was just about to ask more questions, when the curtain behind him opened.
“Who was gone?”

Chapter Text

It took Itachi a while to find Deidara again. Konoha wasn't exactly small, after all, and without activating his Sharingan it was hard to see far enough to properly search for him.

When he finally found him it was only because of his very loud and recognisable voice.

“Excuse me, did you just say you met Uchiha Itachi?”

Itachi froze and turned towards the small ramen shop that seemed to be the source of Deidara's voice.
He could clearly hear the children he had seen that day tell him everything.

Why did he have to get sentimental in such a moment??
These children would probably become the reason why Pain would kill him, and it was only because he was too useless to just kill a few kids! Everyone else could have done it, even chuunins were already raised to kill in an emergency, and it wasn't like Itachi had never done it before.
But he hadn't been able to.
Deidara would tell Pain everything, Itachi would die and wouldn't be able to protect Sasuke anymore.

He couldn't let that happen. And if that meant killing Deidara before he could tell Pain of his betrayal then so be it.
He knew what he had to do.

Itachi entered the small shop and interrupted Deidara before he could ask even more questions.
“Who was gone?”

Just as he expected, Deidara flinched, knowing he had been caught.
“Oh, uhm.. no one? Just some guy these kids met. No one important.”
Itachi didn't allow any of this thoughts to show on his face as he glared at Deidara. The exact opposite was true for Deidara. His eyes were wide open and Itachi could tell exactly just how nervous he was. And yet he still seemed to think he could convince Itachi he didn't know anything.

One of the kids looked back and forth between them.
“Hey, are you together or something?”

The characters they were playing were the least thing on Itachi's mind right now, but he still forced himself to smile, as friendly as possible. The kids' faces told him he probably wasn't very successful at that.
“Not for very long. Is it so obvious?”

A boy Itachi didn't recognise nodded once. “It's obvious. The way he acts says enough.”

Deidara flinched again and buried his face in the bowl in front of him.
Itachi hadn't expected that response. Apparently, these children had no idea how people acted when they were in love. Although Itachi had to admit he didn't know much about that either.

He shook off those thoughts and turned back to Deidara, smiling tensely. He really didn't have time for this right now.
“Shouldn't we get going? It'll be dark soon and the hotel is pretty far away.”

Deidara clearly noticed the barely veiled threat. He swallowed hard.
“Uhm. I'm almost done eating. Then we can go.”

Frowning, Itachi watched as Deidara took tiny bites off his food.
Stalling wouldn't help him in the end. If Deidara became a threat to Sasuke Itachi would stop him, no matter how much he was trying to distract him.

Itachi was about to respond, when a sudden, sharp pain shot through his chest.
He gasped and pressed his hand against the area were the pain was the most excruciating.

The children jumped to their feet and even Deidara almost looked a little bit worried.
“Are you okay? Should we get you to the hospital? There are really good healers there!”

Deidara shook his head and pulled Itachi from his hunched over position with his arm. Just a moment later and Itachi's legs would have collapsed under him. “Your healers won't be able to do anything about this.”
Turning back to Itachi, he whispered “if they examine you they'll know who you are.”

Itachi swallowed his protests and allowed Deidara to drag him through the streets, back towards the forest.
It took longer than on the way here thanks to Itachi's legs, that didn't seem to want to follow his orders anymore. More than once they almost collapsed under the heavy coughs that forced a burning pain through his body every single time. With a hand over his mouth he tried to suppress the coughing, but that only worsened the pain and didn't help at all.
He removed his hand and ignored the blood that coloured his entire palm into a deep red.

On his side he could hear Deidara draw in a sharp breath.
Itachi glanced at him, hoping he could manage a properly menacing glare.

Unfortunately, his glare lost much of its menacing quality, as just in the next second his body shook under another cough, this one worse than all the others before it.
Itachi's legs finally gave out under him and even Deidara's arm wasn't able to hold him upright anymore as he landed on his knees.
He pressed his hands onto his chest and tried to breathe normally, but it was impossible. He could feel the blood from his lungs drop from his chin onto the dusty street.
Deidara let him go and Itachi braced himself on the ground, closing his eyes and trying to focus on literally anything but the pain he was feeling.

When he finally opened his eyes again he could see Deidara form some kind of clay thing next to him.
Seriously? Wasn't it enough that he had information that could kill him or that Itachi was currently dying anyway? Did he really have to finish him off personally in the middle of the village just so he could say it was him that killed Uchiha Itachi?

“What are you doing?”, was all Itachi could force himself to say.

Deidara had the audacity to look confused.
“You can't walk anymore and if we stay here we die. There's no other way.” He grinned, but it didn't seem like he was gloating, which Itachi would have expected in this situation. “I thought that would be obvious, un.”
With these words Deidara dropped a small bird onto the ground, and ignoring the surprised shouts of the people around them, enlarged it.

Deidara ignored them all as he dragged Itachi upwards again to somehow get him on his gigantic white bird.

In the exact same second as the bird took off, Itachi could feel his disguise collapse.

He could hear the shocked shouts of the people below him and only a moment later Deidara had to dodge all kinds of knives and weapons being shot at them.
“Couldn't you have waited just a moment longer, un? Now we're not just suspicious but also known wanted criminals!”

Itachi coughed again. “Leave me behind if it bothers you that much.”

Only a second after he said it Itachi realised what he just said. He had no idea why Deidara would help him instead of just leaving him behind to die, and making him angry in this situation, when he wouldn't be able to defend himself, was probably one of the dumbest ideas Itachi had had in a while.

But instead of just kicking Itachi off his bird, Deidara just laughed loudly, surprising Itachi once again.
“Shut up, this is great training for me. They can't hit me anyway. I'd worry more about Pain's reaction once he finds out we blew our cover on a mission to destroy information about us.”

Deidara glanced at Itachi, looking almost... worried. “Do you have any medicine with you?”

Itachi shook his head. He had used up all of it on his mission with Kisame and since Pain had made him leave immediately for this next mission with Deidara, he hadn't had any time to fill up his supplies.

As if he had expected that, Deidara sighed.
“Okay. Then don't die until we get back.”

It took several hours until they finally reached the current headquarters. The cold wind rushed past them and didn't exactly make breathing any easier for Itachi, but he couldn't help feeling grateful for Deidara's help.
Usually, this way would take much longer, but Deidara made his bird fly much faster than what he was used to, if his heavy breathing was any indication.

Itachi couldn't understand why Deidara would make such an effort to save his life. After all, he had made it clear enough how much he hated him.
Did he just want to make sure it was him that would kill Itachi by telling Pain about his secrets? That seemed like too much of an effort and a too roundabout way to kill someone.

Right now, Itachi couldn't care less though. The pain in his chest hadn't decreased at all and every breath he took still tasted like blood, even if his coughing had diminished somewhat since they left the village.
He just wanted to get back to his room and finally take his medicine.

When the headquarters finally came into view, Deidara landed and helped Itachi off his bird.
He supported him the entire way to the entrance with an arm around his waist and kept throwing nervous glances over his shoulder, as if he expected Pain to appear there at any moment.

They practically tiptoed through the halls, trying their best not to make any sounds.
Itachi did everything in his power not to start coughing while Deidara stopped at every corner to check if the coast was clear.

They almost made it and Itachi could already see the door to his room, when suddenly Hidan of all people appeared right in front of them.

Deidara pushed Itachi behind a nearby corner and nervously grinned at Hidan. “Hey, man.”
With raised eyebrows, Hidan glanced at the corner where Itachi was now hiding. “Was that Uchiha?”

“N-no! Of course not, un! How did you get that idea??” He laughed nervously.

If Itachi hadn't been so occupied with trying to stop himself from coughing, he would have slapped his hand to his forehead.
He had to admit, Deidara was pretty smart and he was a good liar, but right now it was way too obvious he was hiding something.

To Itachi's immense surprise, Hidan simply laughed.
“Yeees, sure. Don't worry, Blondie, I didn't see anyone. Have fun!”
Even though Itachi could barely see Hidan, he could tell he was winking at Deidara. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

But oh well, as long as he didn't know the truth he was safe, for now. Or kind of safe, at least. He still had no idea what Deidara was planning and he couldn't imagine he was simply helping him out of the pure kindness of his heart. Itachi doubted that anyone in this organisation was capable of that, himself included.

Deidara waved Itachi over and as soon as Itachi reached him, which took an alarmingly long time, he held out his arm for Itachi to take again.

When they finally entered Itachi's room, Deidara helped him sit down on his bed.

Itachi watched as Deidara rummaged around in his closet and almost had to laugh.
Of course he had found his medicine. This was just getting better and better! Deidara would probably know everything about him soon!

Still, he gratefully took the medicine Deidara held out to him and downed almost all of it in one go.

It didn't take long until the pressure on his lungs eased up and he could finally breathe again.
Itachi took a few deep breaths, just because he could, and turned towards Deidara, who was now sitting cross-legged on his chair by the desk. He looked unsure, as if he was expecting Itachi to kick him out immediately, or even just to kill him.

This situation was completely unfamiliar to Itachi. First, out of all the members of Akatsuki, the one that claimed to hate him the most helped him escape from Konoha, then he flew him back to the headquarters to the point of exhaustion, hid him from Hidan, gave him the only medicine that could save his life and only *now* he was looking nervous??
What the hell was Deidara thinking?

Itachi couldn't understand it, but he was starting to get the feeling that the image of the ruthless, violent murderer without a conscience that he had unconsciously formed of Deidara in his mind was not completely true.
Maybe he wouldn't have to immediately kill Deidara after all.

-

Deidara sat down in Itachi's chair, starting to get nervous.

Why the hell had he done that?? That would have been the perfect moment to get rid of Itachi! He could have just called for Pain and told him everything, or even better, he could have just let Itachi die! He hated Itachi, right? So why should he help him this much??

The weird look on Itachi's face didn't help him sort out his thoughts at all. It felt as if Itachi could look into the deepest depth of his soul. His dark eyes glistened in the dim light of the room and Deidara had to swallow hard to get rid of the tight feeling in his throat.
What the hell was wrong with him?

Itachi seemed to wonder the same thing. “Why did you help me?”

As if it wasn't anything special, as if he knew the answer, Deidara shrugged after just one moment of hesitation. “If anyone gets to kill you, it'll be me, not some stupid sickness.” He hesitated again. “Besides, when I kill you it'll be faster than this. Not even you deserves to suffer like this, un.”

Deidara could feel his cheeks redden under Itachi's odd look. Itachi was looking at him like he was seeing him for the first time. By his standards, his eyes were wide open and even his mouth wasn't that annoying, inexpressive line it usually was.

Clearing his throat to finally get rid of the tight feeling in his throat, Deidara sat up a little straighter.
“So. What's up with that sickness.”

“What makes you think I'll tell you?”, Itachi asked warily. His voice barely changed but Deidara could tell he was just as nervous as Deidara was. He was frowning just a little bit and the look in his eyes was definitely colder and more threatening than before.

Deidara shot him a disbelieving look. “I just saved your damn life! I think you could at least tell me what I saved you from, un.”
When he didn't get an answer, Deidara rolled his eyes. He really had to pull every single tiny information from Itachi himself, didn't he?
“I'm not going to tell anyone. That should be pretty obvious by now.” He skilfully kept silent about the fact that he actually had no idea why.

A few seconds later, Itachi finally began to talk.
“I was born with it. I've had it since I was a child but it's getting worse the older I get.”

That surprised Deidara a little. Sure, he had known that it wasn't some simple sickness that could be healed with a medical jutsu, but this new information still caused another splinter in his picture of the oh so perfect Uchiha Itachi.

He couldn't help but ask. “Are you actually going blind?”

Itachi nodded reluctantly. “The medicine is making it worse but the actual cause is my Mangekyo.”

Another splinter in his picture of Itachi.
So the Sharingan wasn't perfect either, even if Itachi had never let it show before.
Deidara didn't know why but finding out Itachi wasn't as perfect as he had always thought him to be was just as alarming as it was relieving.

He glanced at Itachi, trying to show support without looking like he pitied Itachi. “Oof, that sucks.”

The corners of Itachi's mouth twitched upwards and for him, that was practically a wide grin. Deidara had never seen him this cheerful before.
A warm feeling built inside his chest and his throat felt too tight again.

“Yes, it does.”
Itachi smiled lightly and pushed a strand of hair out of his eyes and behind his ear.

The feeling in Deidara's chest became stronger and he could feel his cheeks heating up. His stomach was tingling and his mouth felt incredibly dry all of a sudden.

Oh *shit*.

Inside his mind, Deidara cursed himself and everyone he knew and tried to suppress the feeling as hard as possible. Maybe it would just go away if he just concentrated enough on the hate he was supposed to be feeling for Itachi instead.

But he knew it was no use.
Deidara was in love and even though he hated it he knew there would be no turning back.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks were, and Deidara really didn't know a better word for it, weird.

He and Itachi hadn't talked a lot since they had returned from their mission in Konoha, and Deidara was starting to get anxious.
He had kind of expected Itachi to get rid of him as soon as he'd be able to walk properly again, but he hadn't. Even though Deidara now knew Itachi's secret nothing had happened so far and at this point Deidara would get nervous the second he saw Itachi enter the room.

Even worse, now Deidara knew of his feelings for Itachi, which did not help getting rid of his restlessness and the tension he felt every time Itachi was close at all.
In that regard, too, nothing had changed. It wasn't as if Deidara would ever tell Itachi about it! He'd rather die than humiliate himself like that.
Still, it was weird to just keep living like normal and pretend like your whole world view hadn't just been turned over.

The only thing that had changed was that Itachi now seemed almost... friendly.
Deidara would really prefer having to dodge attempts on his life every day. At least then he could complain about it to Pain and wouldn't have to keep thinking about it every day (and night).

The first time that Deidara had noticed the change in how Itachi acted towards him was half a week after they had returned from their mission.

Deidara sat outside the entrance to the headquarters and tinkered with a new kind of bomb he couldn't get to work yet.
In theory, these bombs should be small enough to enter an enemy's body through their lungs and get into their bloodstream, where they would detonate, but for some reason Deidara couldn't get his chakra into these tiny pieces of clay.

He had already spent several hours on this and by now he was really getting frustrated.

With a loud, frustrated cry Deidara threw a big piece of clay against a tree next to him.
“Why isn't this working??”

“Do you need help?”

Deidara flinched and jumped to his feet.

Itachi stood directly behind him and looked at him in that indifferent way that always made Deidara so angry. His expression didn't expose any of his intentions and Deidara frowned at him warily.
“Not from you, un.”

Frowning, as if he hadn't expected to be rejected, Itachi sighed lightly.
He activated his Sharingan and Deidara flinched again. That red glow was just too damn creepy.

Now Itachi would finally kill him to make sure he wouldn't ever tell anyone about his secret, Deidara was sure of it.

But instead, Itachi just sat down next to him and waited for Deidara to calm down and sit. “I might be able to help you with these.” He gestured to his eyes.
Typical. Of course Itachi's eyes could do literally anything at all and of course it would be Itachi that would create Deidara's strongest bombs yet. Fucking child prodigies.

Still, Deidara couldn't resist and gave in in the end.
While he was working, Itachi leaned slightly closer to him to be able to better see what he was doing.
Even though there was still quite some space in between them, to Deidara it felt as if Itachi was pressed directly against him. He could feel the heat of his body and he could smell how good he smelled, and he hated it.
Why did it have to be him, Deidara thought, frustrated, and tried to focus on the bombs in his hands instead.

When Deidara finally managed to let them explode, he almost would have hugged Itachi in his excitement, but caught himself just in time. His excitement over his success was almost a little stronger than his frustration that it had only worked because of Itachi's help.

Instead, he just murmured a short “thanks”.

“Why did you help me, anyway?”
Instead of answering, Itachi simply shrugged and left, while Deidara was still sitting on the ground, completely perplexed.

A few days later he and Sasori were sent on a mission to Kiri, where Akatsuki had been hired to kill a feudal lord and his family.
The mission was as successful as it always was, but in those moments where he and Sasori were alone and either argued about the true meaning of art or were completely silent, Deidara almost wished for Itachi's company. Sure, he barely talked and despite Deidara's stupid feelings he was still really annoying, but at least the tiny movements in his face sometimes told Deidara what was going on with him even when he was silent. With Sasori's wooden body and face that was impossible.

When they returned, Kisame and Itachi were standing outside, as if they were waiting for them.

Deidara would have just ignored them and went inside, but he could feel Itachi's eyes on him and couldn't help but meet his eyes.

“How was your mission?”

“Good. Good luck with yours.”

“Thank you.”

Neither of them said anything else, but that alone was more than they had ever talked before their mission. At least if you didn't count death threats and sarcastic comments.
Kisame and Sasori glanced at each other, clearly confused, but neither of them said anything about the new, more positive relationship between Deidara and Itachi.

It was weird to not tell Itachi he'd kill him the second he saw him and it was just as weird that Itachi didn't just give him a cold look when they saw each other, if he even acknowledged his existence in the first place.
The stupid feelings that Deidara had (unsuccessfully) been trying to suppress since he had noticed them for the first time seemed to become stronger every day, as if the positive interactions with Itachi were like fertile soil for them, but Deidara couldn't allow them to make him weak. There were still things Itachi kept secret and these feelings would only be a nuisance if Deidara wanted to keep investigating. The fact that he hadn't told Pain anything didn't matter. He'd find out who Itachi had secretly met that day, and then he'd definitely tell him.

And if he caught his heart beating faster at the thought of Itachi practically every day now, then no one had to know about that.

-

Itachi didn't know how to handle this situation.

Logically speaking, he should have killed Deidara the second he had been able to. Deidara knew too much and even if he hadn't even a hunch of his real crimes Itachi couldn't allow him to become a threat.

But for some reason, he couldn't.

There had been so many opportunities already. One time, he had seen Deidara sit outside the headquarters alone, and he had already had a hand on the kunai in his bag, when he suddenly, without even meaning to, had asked Deidara if he needed help and ruined his opportunity to get rid of him.
Instead, he had ended up helping him create even more dangerous bombs than he'd had before.

Itachi really was an idiot sometimes.

He couldn't explain for the life of him what was going on. It wasn't as if he'd forgotten how dangerous Deidara could be, or that he shouldn't get too close with any of the Akatsuki anyway, but for some reason it was difficult to follow his own ideals right now.

He had never been able to understand Deidara and it had always been hard to even follow his line of thinking, but until now it had never really bothered him. Deidara had just been an annoyance, a necessary member of Akatsuki that he'd usually simply ignore. Now, he wanted to find out the truth and get to the bottom of what the hell Deidara was thinking.

The fact that Deidara had saved his life while risking his own, and that by indirectly defying Pain, didn't leave Itachi's mind.
Even though he hated him, he had helped him like no one had since the day he had murdered his family.
Even though he was a literal serial killer and an international criminal, he had been the only one to listen to him without judging, and that despite the fact that he had seen him more vulnerable and weak than any other living person had.
It was confusing. Itachi couldn't trust Deidara and he was sure he was planning something, and yet it was kind of... nice, to think that maybe someone could actually like and support him.
Although, obviously, that was completely impossible.
Itachi just had to know what Deidara was thinking and prevent him from becoming a threat, that was all.

Around two weeks after the mission with Deidara, Itachi and Kisame returned from another mission. They had been hired to help a small riot in a smaller village gain more power against their frankly oppressive ruler and had led them into a full revolution.

As he and Kisame silently walked through the halls of the headquarters, Deidara came from the other direction.
Itachi nodded in his direction as a greeting and Deidara blushed lightly, returned the nod and hurried past them.

“Where the fuck did you go, Blondie??”
Shortly afterwards, Hidan appeared from the same direction Deidara had come from.

When he noticed Itachi, he grinned alarmingly wide and Itachi wished he could turn invisible. Hidan was one of the members of Akatsuki that Itachi could stand the least. He was loud, brutal and loved to kill. He was practically everything Itachi had thought Deidara to be until he had been taught otherwise.
Well. Maybe he had known Hidan was much worse than Deidara before as well, but that didn't matter now.

“Itachiiiiii~”, Hidan almost sang as he walked towards Itachi and threw his arm over his shoulders.
“I haven't seen you since your mission with Deidei! Soooooooo how did it go?”

Itachi pushed down the desire to roll his eyes and just kept walking in the hopes Hidan would just let him be.
Unfortunately, he wasn't that lucky.

“Come ooooon! I promise I won't tell anything I saw you together”, he added, whispering into Itachi's ear so Kisame wouldn't hear him.
The feeling of Hidan's breath on his ear made Itachi shudder in disgust and he shook him off.

“Deidara did a good job. He was very helpful.”

With that, he simply left Hidan, who started laughing loudly, behind. “Oh yea, I bet he was!”

This time, Itachi did roll his eyes.

Kisame glanced at him, an odd look on his face.
“You'd... tell me if something was wrong, right?”

Itachi nodded and knew it was a lie.
He was grateful that Kisame hadn't told anyone of his secret trips, but he also knew that that didn't mean he could trust him completely. When push came to shove, Kisame would tell Pain everything he knew, Itachi was sure of that.

For now, no one could know what he was really thinking. He'd find out what Deidara was planning and he'd once and for all make sure he would not become a threat to him or Sasuke. He would not allow anything to get in his way.

But still, something about Deidara was oddly interesting and it went beyond a simply assessment of a threat.

Chapter Text

It took a while until the Akatsuki finally had something to do again.

According to Pain, after Itachi and Kisame's failure to capture the Ninetails, they were not ready to hunt other jinchuuriki yet and for some reason, they weren't getting any other missions either.
Everyone was starting to get bored, which made them restless and prone to fighting each other instead of potential targets.

The first sign that they really needed a mission happened around two weeks after Hidan and Kakuzu returned from their, and since then Akatsuki's, last mission.
In the middle of the night, part of the headquarters blew up without a warning, waking up everyone that had managed to fall asleep despite the odds. While Deidara had tried frantically to convince the others that it had not been him this time, they had finally noticed the angry shouts coming from the source of the explosion.
While most of the members of Akatsuki had still been in a state of shock, Pain had sent Sasori and Kakuzu into the exact opposite corners of the part of the building that was not yet destroyed.

Only a few days later, one of the main halls broke down in a fight between Hidan and Zetsu, after which each of them, even Zetsu's black half, started screaming at each other.

At that point, Pain had had enough and ordered the others to pack up their things and prepare to move. The new headquarters was located on the border between the wind country and the earth country, which was not nearly as pleasant as the last one. Compared to the clearing deep in a forest in fire country where they had lived before, the harsh winds and the barren landscape were not exactly well received with the Akatsuki. Some of them were even convinced that the location of the new headquarters itself was part of the punishment for their recent misbehaviour.

Many of them had hoped that the new location would immediately bring new clients, but unfortunately that was not the case.

Only after two weeks that went barely any better than in the old building, Pain finally assembled all members of the Akatsuki and let them know that he had some new missions for them.
Even though not all members showed their emotions as openly as certain others, the relieved and exited atmosphere in the room was hard to miss.

Pain allowed them a few moments to celebrate, then he continued.
“However, it's only one mission. And that does not mean your behaviour in the past weeks was acceptable in any way.”

“What's that supposed to mean, un??”, Deidara shouted loudly. Hidan agreed, increasing both the volume and the amount of curses in the room.

Pain suppressed a deep sigh. You'd think that criminals like them, that had survived on their own for several years, and in some cases even decades, before joining his organisation, would have learned to not act like toddlers. It wasn't even just the youngest or the loudest of them that were clearly unhappy with the situation. Even Itachi and Sasori, who usually stayed relatively calm compared to the others, practically glared at him and Pain could clearly see a vein in Kakuzu's temple puslating underneath his mask.

“That means that those of you who misbehaved the worst will be excluded from this mission.”

A wave of pure outrage filled the room.
Some loudly claimed that they hadn't even done anything, others simply glared at him, but it was obvious that all of them were angry. Pain even noticed Itachi glancing at Deidara, which Deidara did not seem to notice.

Pain raised his hand and despite their childish behaviour, everyone quickly quieted down. Despite everything, they still recognised him as their leader and knew just how easy it would be for him to replace them. Not that he'd want to do that, but he could, and they knew it.

“Itachi and Kisame. You will travel to a small country close to the earth country. The feudal lord there will explain your mission. That is all.”
He turned to leave.

The other members were murmuring angrily and glared at the two lucky ones, which Kisame answered with a bright grin and Itachi by completely ignoring it.

“Wait, please.”

Surprised, Pain stopped and turned towards Itachi. This was the first time that Itachi had not followed one of his orders exactly without asking any questions. Itachi almost seemed nervous for questioning him though, so Pain didn't say anyrhing about it.

“We should take Deidara with us.”

No one said a word. Everyone was too shocked that Itachi actually wanted to spend time with Deidara of all people.

Itachi seemed to realise how out of character his question was as well. “He knows his way around the earth country the best and neither Kisame nor I have ever been there. And he did not misbehave that much either”, he added quickly. The way he looked at Deidara before quickly looking away surprised Pain almost a little bit more than his words did.

But still, Pain had to admit Itachi was right.
“...Alright.”

He expected Deidara to start complaining like he did last time, but he didn't. Instead, he just rolled his eyes. “Fine. If you can't do it on your own.”

Pain shot Konan a glance which no one except for her would know how to decipher and nodded once, while the other members of his organisation still seemed too shocked to do anything. Only Hidan apparently found this extremely funny. They really had to be bored if Itachi and Deidara getting along for once was exciting enough to get them to shut up.

Without any more complaints, Deidara and Itachi left the room side by side, presumably to prepare for the mission. Kisame shrugged and followed them, apparently just as confused by their sudden change of mind as the others.

-

On the way to the country where their mission would take place not much happened out of the ordinary, if one ignored the fact that it was way too quiet and calm.
Since there weren't enough trees or literally anything else except desert and barren earth, and since Deidara's birds would be recognised by any Iwa-nin that happened to cross their path, they had to walk, but even that didn't lead to any complaints.

Once they had been on the road for a few hours, Kisame carefully glanced at Itachi, hoping to get at least some kind of explanation, but Itachi ignored him completely. Kisame was used to that at least, but still. They were both acting weird and way too quiet. Kisame didn't like it.

Sometimes, he would catch Itachi look at Deidara with a weird look on his face, and without fail, Deidara always reacted by pretending he hadn't noticed, failing spectacularly. One time he even brushed his hair further into his face and immediately tripped. The only reason he hadn't fallen down had been that Itachi had grabbed him just in time.
Something had happened, but Kisame couldn't imagine what it was. Could a single mission really change that much?

It was strange, but since neither of them were saying anything Kisame gave up, hoping that one of them would say something eventually.
He'd make sure that whatever happened would not get in the way of the mission. All of them really needed some action and he didn't want Pain to take him off missions too.

A few days later, they finally reached the capital of the small country.
All of them were exhausted after travelling for days with barely any breaks, but Kisame knew they wouldn't let it show. After all, they had to defend Akatsuki's good (or bad, depending on who you asked) reputation into a new area and for that they had to be seen as better and stronger than ordinary ninja were.

From the corner of his eye, Kisame could see Itachi take a small bottle from his pocket, but that didn't surprise him anymore. Whatever it was that Itachi was always drinking on these missions, it made him stronger and he was able to fight for a longer time before getting visibly sick. Kisame didn't need to know anything else, and he also just kind of didn't care.
Deidara seemed to care, though, because he hissed something in Itachi's direction that Kisame couldn't hear.

Instead of bothering with his teammates, he smiled at the people in the capital. Some of them were staring at him with fascination, others with fear in their eyes.
Kisame gave his best, brightest, toothiest grin especially to the ones that looked the most scared and laughed when some of them actually fled.
It really didn't surprise him that these people reacted like that. They all looked painfully defenceless and any ordinary ninja probably would have scared them half to death. And Kisame really didn't look like any ordinary ninja. Still, sometimes reactions like these were frustrating.

A handful of samurai blocked their path.

“Who are you and what do you want from us?”, one of them shouted with a shaky voice. He pointed the tip of his spear directly at Kisame's throat but his hands were shaking so hard that it looked like he was about to drop it any second.
Frowning, Kisame raised his hands in a hopefully calming gesture. That was just excessive.

“Your boss hired us, un. We're Akatsuki.”

Hearing Deidara's words, the samurai in front of Kisame jumped, but another, much older samurai calmed him down with a hand on his shoulder.
“You're late. We expected you to arrive yesterday.”

He gestured them to follow him.
From the corner of his eye, Kisame could see Deidara roll his eyes. “He's almost as bad as Sasori, un”, he murmured, clearly annoyed. To Kisame's immense surprise, Itachi smiled in return. Sure, it might have just been a tiny upwards twitch of his mouth, but in Itachi's case that was practically a wide grin.
Kisame had only seen Itachi smile a few, rare times and it was shocking to see Deidara of all people being the cause and on the receiving end of it.
Deidara seemed to know exactly just how special Itachi's reaction was, because he turned his face away, stuffed his hands in his pockets and caught up to Kisame, an embarrassed look on his face.

The castle of the feudal lord was large, but still very small compared to most others Kisame had seen in his life.
The samurai led them through the halls towards the throne room and Kisame realised quickly that this lord really had some dire problems. There were barely any ornaments on the walls and in some places it looked like someone had removed the gold from the carpets and the curtains. Even the samurai's swords looked old and barely sharp enough to really be a threat.

Even the lord himself did not look like the head of a country he was. He was wearing barely any jewellery and the fabrics of his clothing did not seem like he had spent a lot of money on them. Kisame wasn't even sure he was wearing any silk at all.

“Welcome, Akatsuki. I hope my men treated you well.”

All three bowed slightly. “They did”, Itachi answered calmly.

The lord sighed. “I'm sorry that I am unable to receive you properly. As you will have noticed, at the time my country is running out of money. There is barely enough to keep my people alive and well, much less to receive guests such as yourselves.”

“How did you even get enough money to hire us, un?”
Itachi shot Deidara a warning look, but Deidara just shrugged in response.

The lord seemed to have expected that question. “I had to raise the taxes. My people are not happy, but they know that you are our only chance. The other ninja villages cannot get involved if they don't want to risk another war.”
He waved one of the samurai over and opened the scroll he gave him.
“A few months ago, ninja from Iwa invaded our city. They captured my son and left this message.”

Itachi took the scroll and read it to the others.
“Your son is in good hands. You will get him back soon. We only demand you give us control over the northern fields. You have three weeks.”

“What the hell, un? Don't you have negotiations for that??” Deidara looked back and forth between Itachi, Kisame and the lord, as if he was waiting for them to agree.
Sometimes Kisame forgot that Deidara was really only eighteen years old.

The lord nodded calmly, but he was starting to look a little desperate. “There were negotiations. The lord of the earth country has wanted our land for years and now that he has taken over our neighbour, he wants it even more. That's why he sent his ninja to do his work for him.”
He sighed and sank down further into his chair. It barely qualified for a throne, in Kisame's opinion. “I refused. The northern fields are our most important source of income and you can see for yourselves how we are struggling despite them. If we lose these fields as well our country will collapse and the lord of the earth country will be able to absorb us completely.”

An awkward silence filled the room.
Even though Kisame really didn't care much for politics or people it was obvious that the situation was serious. He could tell that Itachi and Deidara were thinking the same thing.

“We'll bring your son back, but that's all we can do. Anything else would be too expensive.”

The lord nodded and smiled sadly. “Alright. You can go on your way tomorrow. Tonight you will of course be able to sleep in our inn, free of charge.”

Chapter Text

“You're kidding me, un!!”

Itachi did his best not to roll his eyes and stepped aside to let Kisame push Deidara through the door.

“We don't have a choice, deal with it.” Kisame was just as annoyed as Itachi was.
It was exactly because of things like these that had made Itachi doubt if it was really a good idea to bring Deidara on this mission. Alone, he and Kisame never had these kinds of problems.

They had gratefully accepted the generous offer of the feudal lord to sleep at the inn for free, hoping that they wouldn't encounter any more problems until the next day.
Unfortunately, the poverty of this country had ruined that plan.

Thanks to the attacks from Iwa-nin, the population lived in fear and many had taken refuge in the capital, hoping to be safer there than in their villages.
Since the country was too poor to build more and bigger inns, or any kind of protective defence really, there were barely any rooms left for the lord to gift to his guests of honour.

To be precise, there was exactly one room left. And that room only had two beds.

The moment Deidara had seen the room it had been obvious that the other two would have to give up on their hopes for peace and quiet that night.
Maybe Itachi could even understand Deidara's protests a little bit, but that didn't change anything about the situation. Sometimes you just had to deal with a bad situation, he knew that better than anyone.

Kisame immediately occupied one of the beds and spread out far enough that no one else would be able to fit on it.
It wasn't like that bothered Itachi. Kisame was the tallest one of them by far anyway and sharing a bed with him would be much more uncomfortable than sharing with someone as small as Deidara.

“I am NOT sharing a bed with you, you bastard, un!”

Itachi shrugged and ignored Deidara and his deeply red face. “Then sleep on the floor.”

For a while it really looked like Deidara would to exactly that. He had taken off his coat and spread it out on the floor, rolling around as if he was trying to find a comfortable position. This went on for almost half an hour until Itachi finally had enough.

“The bed is big enough for both of us. You can easily stay away from me.”

Deidara stared at him incredulously.
Itachi met his eyes, hopefully not showing how much more awkward the situation became thanks to this staring contest.

He almost expected Deidara to reject him and keep rolling around on the floor until the next morning, when Deidara wordlessly stood up and sat down on the bed, his entire body tense.

With a quiet sigh, Itachi turned around and stared at the wall. Deidara would calm down and finally go to sleep eventually.

But even when he finally did lie down, his back facing Itachi's, his breath was still flat and fast, completely different from Kisame's, whose calm and deep breaths Itachi could hear across the entire room.

This way he'd never fall asleep and the same would be true for Itachi.

“Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you, don't worry.”

Deidara snorted, but it didn't sound as defiant as it usually did. “As if I'd let you, un.”
He pulled his legs closer to his chest and murmured something to himself. Itachi could barely understand it, but it sounded like “stupid Uchiha, doesn't understand anything”. It could have been anything, really.

It didn't take long after that for Deidara to finally fall asleep. His breath slowly became calm and eventually turned into soft and quiet snores.

Itachi slightly turned towards him to be able to see him better.
His blond hair almost seemed to shine in the moonlight that drowned the entire room in soft, blue light, and his tan skin looked unbelievably soft.
Sometimes, Itachi could barely believe Deidara was really the murderer he knew him to be. The way he looked right now, fast asleep, made him seem almost too innocent for that.

Apparently, both of them had that in common. Both of them had become ninja and soldiers at a young age and had to follow the system they had grown up in. Itachi didn't know much about Deidara's life before he had joined Akatsuki but it couldn't have been easy. Both of them had made a choice that had forever changed their lives.
Itachi caught himself wondering if Deidara sometimes regretted leaving his village.

It was strange.

Itachi had had a good reason to ask Pain to bring Deidara with him. It was true that Deidara was the one who knew his way around the earth country the best out of all of them, but besides that, Itachi had to figure out why Deidara was helping him. It had been weeks since he had found out about his.. condition, and there had been multiple opportunities for him to tell Pain about it. Itachi had expected him to spill the second they arrived.
But once again, Deidara had surprised Itachi. It was strange and this mission was the perfect opportunity to find out why he was doing it.

Deidara simply fascinated him and Itachi couldn't explain why, but he knew that his worry to be betrayed was only part of the puzzle.

As the minutes ticked by, Itachi's eyes became heavy and he drifted off into a light sleep.

Sadly, it didn't take long until he woke up again.
He sat up and looked around the room, almost expecting a group of enemies to attack them all in their sleep.

But there was no one there.

Kisame was still sleeping soundly in his bed, Samehada underneath his pillow, and Deidara, too-

No, scratch that.

Deidara was shaking all over, his eyes were pressed tightly shut and it looked like he was trying to escape from something. Since he was sleeping, there was no way to run, and whatever it was he was dreaming off, he had to deal with it alone, without a way out.
Itachi knew the feeling.

He softly laid his hand on Deidara's surprisingly hot arm. “Wake up. You're safe.”
He had meant it as a calming gesture, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.
Deidara opened his eyes and sat up, but he flinched and sharply pulled his arm away from Itachi's hand. “Don't touch me, un.”

His voice was quiet and almost sounded a little insecure. Itachi had never heard Deidara sound like this before. He was always so confident, it always seemed like nothing would ever bother him.

“Is everything alright?”

Deidara snorted but the sound was lacking the necessary anger to make Itachi back off. “Does it look like everything's alright?”
He was still so tense and it didn't look like he'd go to sleep anytime soon.

For one second, Itachi hesitated, then he pulled Deidara towards him and put his arms around his shaking body.

Deidara let out a startled sound and froze, but he didn't try to free himself from the embrace.

“Whatever it was, it's over. Nothing bad will happen to you.”

When Itachi had been younger and still at home in Konoha, this strategy had often worked with Sasuke. Itachi could only hope it would calm Deidara too.

It took a few minutes, in which Itachi's hands drew circles on Deidara's back, but then Deidara gave in and let his head sink down on Itachi's shoulder.
His arms hung limply by his sides and he didn't reciprocate the hug, but that was alright. As long as Deidara would feel better, it didn't matter.

“...Thanks.”

Deidara's words broke Itachi from his thoughts and he nodded lightly, his hands still on Deidara's surprisingly pleasantly warm back.
“No problem.”

Eventually, Deidara removed himself from Itachi's arms and laid down, his back towards Itachi again.

Itachi did the same and had almost managed to fall asleep when Deidara raised his voice again.
“If you tell anyone about this, I'll kill you, un.”

Itachi couldn't help but smile and he made a sound that was definitely not a laugh.
“Alright.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Deidara did everything in his power to pretend nothing had happened.
This whole situation and his sudden almost-friendship with Itachi was already weird enough, he really didn't want to make it worse by spending all his time thinking about Itachi calming him down, his hands on his back and his face so close to his own... Nope. Deidara was definitely pretending nothing had happened.

He had gotten up extra early so he could redo his bandages and prepare to leave before the others would wake up.
He skilfully ignored how Itachi glanced into his direction while getting ready and cursed himself for even noticing it in the first place.
As if he could somehow sense the tension between them, Kisame sighed and left the room, leaving Itachi and Deidara to catch up with him.

The streets of the capital were just as dirty as they had been the day before, and there were people at nearly every corner who clearly had nowhere else to go.
Many of them were children. Some of them ran up to those passing by and begged for a piece of bread or a few coins, but in most cases the passer-bys were just as poor as them and had no way to help. Other children looked like they had given up all hope and again others seemed to be too weak to even stand up.

Usually, this wouldn't have bothered Deidara, but when his eyes met those of a little boy that looked especially starved and hopeless, he felt sick.
The boy looked up to him with tired eyes but he didn't say a word. He didn't even raise his hands or ask for help.

Deidara frowned angrily and dug his hands into the pockets of his coat to dig out some left-over coins.

These villages always claimed they protected people and then they allowed this to happen. Even worse, some of them were directly responsible for the suffering of kids like this one.
When he realised what he was thinking, Deidara almost had to laugh. He almost sounded like Pain, with his exaggerated hatred for all shinobi villages.
But still, even though its corruption hadn't even made the top 10 of his reasons to leave Iwa and even though usually, he didn't really care about other people's suffering, in this moment he wished he could do something about it. Maybe blow up the person responsible.

“You know Kakuzu will take that from your part of the payment, right?”

Deidara glared at Itachi. “Shut up, un.”

Itachi didn't pay any further attention to him or say anything else, but Deidara could tell he was very satisfied for some reason.

Suddenly, Deidara came to the horrible realisation that there was no one he was closer to than Itachi.
Maybe it shouldn't have surprised him that much, since he had been keeping Itachi's sickness secret and since their interactions had switched from almost daily threats of murder and hateful looks to normal conversations and even the thing that happened last night which Deidara was totally not thinking about, within just a few weeks. He could tell from the small movements in Itachi's face what he was thinking, Itachi was able to calm him down and almost laughed at his jokes and he was pretty sure he had never seen Itachi as open as he had recently been with him. Still, it was a shock to him that *Uchiha Itachi* of all people was currently the person he was closest to.

Deidara was even pretty sure Itachi felt the same, at least when it came to their growing friendship. Sure, Kisame was Itachi's teammate and had most likely known of his trips to Konoha, but it seemed like that was all. Kisame didn't seem to care that much about Itachi and he probably only protected him so he wouldn't get a worse partner once Pain would replace Itachi.
The annoyed look on Kisame's face only confirmed that.

-

Several hours later, the palace of the lord of the earth country and the city surrounding it came into view. Now, it was getting serious.

Deidara summoned a clay bird and climbed on.

“Wait for the sign and fly high enough they won't notice you.”

Deidara nodded and left without another word.

Now, Itachi and Kisame were alone for the first time since this mission had started. Itachi could tell that Kisame wanted to talk about something, but that would have to wait. The mission always had to come first.

They entered the town without hiding who they were. Most of them wouldn't immediately recognise them and those that did would know not to get in their way. It was all part of the plan.

Itachi could feel the civilians' eyes on him, but they didn't matter.
From the corner of his eye, he could see a man whose hand was twitching suspiciously close to his leg, as if he was about to draw a weapon. With a glance in Kisame's reaction, he let him know and Kisame reciprocated the glance. He too had noticed the ninja staring at them not exactly subtly.

None of them had dared to attack up until now.
They just watched them silently, waiting for them to do something first.

Itachi let his eyes wander over the faces of the people surrounding them, then, without warning and clear for everyone to see, he activated his Sharingan.

As if on cue, the whole town broke out into chaos.

Three ninja immediately attacked with their swords and knives drawn, but Itachi and Kisame easily dodged their sloppy attacks.
Kisame grinned as he conjured up a fountain of water from a nearby well, washing away several enemies and a few civilians. He didn't mean to drown them but he also didn't pay any extra attention to keeping them alive either. Itachi looked away.
Next to Kisame, he deflected a few shuriken and caught two ninja in a genjutsu they wouldn't get out of any time soon.

From the palace, more ninja came rushing in, replacing the ones Itachi and Kisame had already gotten rid of.

Kisame skilfully blocked a kunai aiming for the back of Itachi's head with Samehada and then attacked the one who had thrown it.

Finally, it was time.
Itachi jumped on the shoulders of an enemy and pushed himself further into the air before throwing a specially marked kunai into the mass of enemies below him. As it exploded, it wrapped the fight into a cloud of thick, red smoke while Itachi went back to distracting the earth lord's guards.

-

High up in the air on his bird and thanks to the scope on his eye, Deidara could clearly see the signal.
The red smoke was hard to miss and yet the enemies would only see it as a regular tactic in a fight. Sometimes he really couldn't help but be proud of his own ideas.

He carefully and as silently as possibly led his bird towards the palace and jumped off to land on the main roof of the palace.

While he was sneaking through the corridors, searching for his target, sometimes he had to duck into the shadows to avoid being seen by his enemies, but none of them had noticed him so far. They were way too distracted by the obvious attack in the middle of the city to pay attention to the real threat here.
Deidara couldn't keep himself from grinning.

From the corridor on his right side, he could hear unfamiliar voices and slid back into the shadows.

“We're being attacked, send all available forces down there!”
“What about the boy?”
“He's being watched, the special forces are taking care of him.”

Deidara frowned. Of course they would have assigned guards to watch the boy, but special forces seemed kind of excessive. That old lord apparently really wanted to control those northern fields.

As soon as the strangers disappeared, Deidara quickly continued his search.
He could clearly hear the sounds of the fight going on outside. Kisame and Itachi would distract the backup from Iwa long enough, he was sure of it. Maybe they'd even defeat them all and then the old lord would have to find completely new soldiers to order around, Deidara thought, laughing to himself.

Only a few minutes later, Deidara heard another group of unfamiliar voices and quickly hid himself.

“Let me go! I just want to see my dad!”

That was definitely the voice of a child.

A second, deeper voice just laughed, while a third one sighed.
“Sorry, kid, but we can't do that.”
“I'm really sorry, but this is the mission.”

“You should let him go if you know what's good for you.”

From the shadows he was hiding in, Deidara could clearly see the two men furiously searching for whoever had spoken. “Who's there! Come out!”

Deidara stepped into the light and grinned as he saw the shocked faces of the Iwa-nin.
He didn't know their names but he was pretty sure he had seen their faces a few times. There was no doubt they had recognised him too. If not because of his coat and headband, then because of the reward posters put up everywhere in and around Iwa.
It had been quite a while since he had last visited Iwa, but he knew perfectly well that there was not a single person in the village that wouldn't recognise him after all he had done.

“Give me the boy, un.”

One of the men protectively stepped in front of the boy, while the other one raised his fists to his face, ready to attack.

Deidara just shrugged and moved before they could.
Their shock was clearly visible in their faces when he suddenly stood behind them. Back then, in Iwa, he had been absolutely horrible at taijutsu, but on the run and as a member of Akatsuki, such a weakness could decide over life or death. By now, he was faster than most.

With a kick to the back of his head, the first enemy went down. The other one angrily grit his teeth and punched the ground, throwing a heavy boulder into Deidara's direction.

Deidara easily dodged it and laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”
He grabbed the arm of the boy and pulled him in front of him, using him as a shield. Even though this man really, *really* wasn't a threat for him, he wasn't in the mood for a bolder to the face either.

The boy was clearly terrified. Deidara couldn't exactly blame him for that but he still rolled his eyes when he cried out in fear.
“Calm down, I'm here to save you. Your father sent me.”

The boy stared at him with wide eyes and finally shut up.
Strange. For some reason, it almost felt like Deidara knew him, but he had no idea how that could even be possible.

“Let the boy go and leave!”
Another boulder almost hit Deidara and he pulled the boy with him towards the window.

“Your poor lord will have to rebuild the whole palace if you keep going like this”, he laughed. “Your aim is horrible, un.”

With these words, he threw the boy out of the window.
He immediately began screaming and his guard, too, stared after him, clearly shocked.

Deidara just grinned and a second later, a white bird shot up into the air, the boy safe on his back. Deidara waved at the guard and tried not to laugh at the stupid look on his face as he could do nothing but watch them fly away, back towards the city.

Itachi saw him coming. Deidara could see him give Kisame the signal and flew low enough to the ground that his temporary team partners would be able to jump up.

“Mission complete?”
Itachi's voice was completely empty of emotion but Deidara was still happy to hear it.

Deidara rolled his eyes but he couldn't stop grinning. “If you can't even see the child next to you then you're even more blind than I thought.”

This time, Deidara was sure that Itachi was trying his best not to smile. “Maybe you messed up and confused him with someone else.”

Whatever Deidara wanted to answer, it got stuck in his throat as he saw the stone wall suddenly erupting from the ground directly in front of them.

“HOLD ON!”

He braked sharply and pulled the bird upwards, just in time not to crash directly into the wall and turn all of them into a large splat of blood.
Cursing, Deidara dodged a salve of bricks and knives coming from the enemies on the ground.

A sudden scream directly behind him startled him and a stone brushed the left wing of his clay bird.

Deidara turned around to shout at the kid for distracting him, but he wasn't there.

One glance downwards immediately let Deidara know where the boy had gone. He was hurtling to his death and screamed like his life depended on it. Which it kind of did.

“Shit.”

He immediately rushed after the boy.

From the corner of his eye, Deidara could see Itachi and Kisame defend him from more projectiles but that didn't matter right now.
All that mattered was to catch the boy before he crashed onto the ground.

Deidara reached for him but the distance seemed way too large to make it in time. In his mind, Deidara could already see the boy slam into the ground, dying a horrible death.

Their fingertips touched for just a fraction of a second and Deidara suddenly felt like he was being transported back into his old life while the boy, only seconds away from his death, furiously tried to grab his hand.

Chapter Text

The common room of Iwagakure's orphanage was pure chaos.
Children of every age were running around, painted themselves and each other with paint they weren't supposed to have access to and loudly complained to the staff about it. And this was how it was like practically every day.

Today, however, the director of the orphanage had an announcement to make.

“Children, be quiet.”

No one listened. If anything, the children's screaming just became louder.
Sighing, she reached for the metal shovel that one of the children had left there after being told to clean up and loudly hit it against the wall.

The children yelled angrily and covered their ears, and then, finally, they listened, more or less quietly.

The director smiled. “Now that I have your attention.”
She pushed the child hiding behind her leg semi-softly in front of herself and presented it to the other kids.

“I'd like you to meet your new friend. Come on, introduce yourself. What's your name?”

The small blond girl looked up at her with a terrified look on her face and hesitated. Then, she nervously faced the other children and waved at them with a nervous smile.

“I'm.” She hesitated again, as if she had to think about her name first. “Deidara, un.”

-

Deidara quickly learned that she had to be strong in order to make herself heard.
There were many children here that had been alone since birth and it had made many of them much stronger than her.

One time, a few weeks after she had first arrived at the orphanage, Deidara had sat outside in the garden, playing with the mud. It didn't rain that often in Iwa, so there wasn't a lot of it, but it was enough to form tiny animals from it. Deidara was interrupted by a small group of girls approaching her, just a few years older than herself.
These girls were signed up at the ninja academy and because of that, they thought they were stronger than anyone else at the orphanage. Even some of the adults, especially the ones that had never gotten any kind of ninja training, were a little scared of them. Deidara hadn't talked to them until now, but she already couldn't stand the smug looks on their faces.

The oldest one stomped right up to Deidara, who hadn't even noticed her, and pulled on her hair.

Deidara cried out in pain and the older girl pushed her backwards, right into her mud sculptures. The girls laughed at her and kicked the few ones that had survived, pushing Deidara away when she tried to defend them somehow.

“Why are you doing that??”, Deidara shouted angrily. She could feel her eyes filling up with tears and angrily tried to push them down.

The girls just laughed and pushed Deidara into the dirt once again.
“We're the ones in charge here, alright? And you're an idiot if you think you can do whatever you want just because you're new.”
“What kind of name is that anyway, 'Deidara'”, another one of the girls added, a mean grin on her face. “What are you, a boy?”

Deidara ignored the odd feeling in her chest and stood up, glaring at the older girls.
“Leave me alone!”
This time, it was her that attacked, but only a moment later she laid face down in the dirt, her cheek rapidly swelling up.

After this day, Deidara knew she had to go to the academy, no matter what.

-

Life in the orphanage wasn't perfect, but usually it wasn't horrible either. Every once in a while, a small group formed that tried to control the others, but they never kept their position for long and once Deidara started to avoid all the other kids, these little gangs started to leave her alone in return too. Even the girls that had tormented her during the first year of her stay at the orphanage had stopped after they began fighting each other instead. Deidara didn't care to find out why.

She just stayed away from it all and played with her sculptures.
She had soon figured out that clay was a much better material than mud, and so she spent large parts of her tiny allowance on extra special and expensive clay.

So no, life at the orphanage wasn't completely terrible. Worse, it was insanely boring.

Deidara was still too young to join the academy and until she was old enough, there was practically nothing for her to do. She spent most days making new sculptures and getting yelled at for getting clay everywhere, or joined the classes the other kids took to learn reading and writing. Unfortunately, Deidara had picked it up quite fast and now, she was just bored.

If only there was something she could do. Her life could be so much more... explosive.

-

Deidara graduated from the academy when she was eleven years old, one year before the usual time.
That didn't make her some kind of genius, but she couldn't help but be proud of herself for it anyway.

And she didn't seem to be the only one.
The granddaughter of the Tsuchikage, Kurotsuchi, had for some reason begun to follow Deidara wherever she went. She was only a year younger than Deidara but apparently, that didn't stop her from idolising her.
It was always “nee-san” this and “nee-san” that, as if Deidara was some kind of celebrity.

Aside from that, Deidara had found out something new about herself just a few weeks after being assigned to her Genin-team: She had a Kekkei Genkai!
It wasn't any of the prestigious clan ones that were passed down from one generation to the next and it wasn't super rare either, but it was still really cool.

The first time Deidara had caused an explosion by punching a tree during her training she had been so shocked the shock-wave swept her off her feet. She had been so exited, she had tried it again until she was too exhausted to even stand up. She had never been that happy before in her entire life.

Her sensei, who had heard the explosion and had expected to defend her from some kind of enemy attack, had been very surprised. Afterwards, he had brought her to the Tsuchikage for more personal training.
Deidara had never seen Kurotsuchi happier.

-

“Deidara nee-san! Wait for me!”

Deidara ignored Kurotsuchi and just kept walking.
Since the chuunin exams last year, Kurotsuchi had become even more enthusiastic. It was always nice to be admired, but at this point it was kind of annoying. Kurotsuchi was a genin by now and Deidara would have thought she was sick of running after him like he somehow knew all the secrets of the universe.

“You promised to help me with my ninjutsu!”

Sighing, Deidara turned towards her. “And you promised not to call me that anymore, un.”

Kurotsuchi scratched the back of her neck, embarrassed. “Sorry, Deidara nii-san, it won't happen again!”
Only a moment later she was back to grinning up at him excitedly and followed him again. “Does that mean you'll help me now?”

Deidara rolled his eyes and motioned her to follow him, which Kurotsuchi answered with an excited squeal.
Even though Kurotsuchi could be a little annoying sometimes, her friendly nature made it very easy to like her. Plus, she was practically the only one in the entire village that at least tried to accept Deidara's decision to come out. The only other person who put in at least a little bit of effort was her grandfather, and he only did it seriously when Kurotsuchi was around to shame him if he didn't.

Sometimes, Deidara was really sick of all this.

-

“What are you doing, Deidara nii-san?”

Deidara startled and turned around but calmed down quickly when he saw Kurotsuchi.

“It's none of your business, un.”

Kurotsuchi just rolled her eyes. “You say that every time.”
She dropped down next to him and tried to get a peak of the little clay sculpture in front of him. “Did you figure out how to use these in a fight yet?”

With a frustrated sigh, Deidara shook his head and put the little spider down before falling back on his back.

It was so frustrating!
He was almost sixteen years now, just got promoted to jonin, was admired all over the village for his abilities and still, it felt like something was missing.
It was just so boring and no matter what he did, it all felt so meaningless.

The only time he really felt happy was when he was here, making new sculptures, and when he used his Kekkei Genkai, and he was sure that if he could combine the two somehow everything would just be.. better.
But for some reason he just couldn't do it!

“If only I could somehow get my chakra into the clay...”

That seemed to give Kurotsuchi an idea. She opened her mouth to say something but hesitated.

“...What is it?”

Kurotsuchi still hesitated. “I'm not supposed to tell you about it... Grandpa says it's a secret.”

Now, Deidara wanted to know what she was talking about even more.

-

The mouths that had opened up in Deidara's palms and on his chest hurt. It felt like something had ripped him apart and then drilled tunnels deep into his chakra-system.

Deidara dodged the kunai the jonin following him aimed at him and squeezed his eyes shut in pain when his right hand accidentally brushed against a branch he hadn't seen coming. He really hoped the pain would stop soon and that the kinjutsu he had stolen would work as promised. Otherwise, this would have all been for nothing.

Kurotsuchi had ended up telling him about the kinjutsu that enabled its user to filter chakra into objects to control them after all. She had told him to talk to her grandfather about it and that he'd understand and help him with it.
Just thinking about it almost made Deidara laugh. That old man could barely accept him as the person he was, he'd never let him learn a forbidden jutsu.

And Deidara had been right. Just a few minutes after he had used the jutsu and the extra mouths had formed, several jonin caught up to him and attacked.

Despite the pain, Deidara fed the mouth in his left hand some of the clay he had brought in order to practice.
He could feel his chakra enter the small mass and when he detonated the little bug he had made of it he felt a rush of happiness unlike anything he had ever felt before.
This was true art and no matter what happened, it would be worth it.
The screams of the jonin, whose arm was now tumbling to the ground, weren't important. Deidara had finally found what he had been missing.

-

At this point, Deidara had been alone for quite some time and earned his money through small commissions that were barely interesting to him. With these new abilities, opponents he would have had no chance against before couldn't do anything to stop him anymore. It wasn't exactly a life full of action and adventure, but it was nice and gave Deidara enough free time to perfect his art.

Most of the time, he stayed as far away as possible from the earth country.
He kept telling himself that it was a precaution so no one would recognise him and drag him back to Iwa to be executed, but he knew that wasn't the entire truth.

In his hurry to escape, he had ended up destroying large parts of the village.
It hadn't been on purpose, but he hadn't had a lot of practice yet and he may have overdone it in his efforts to dodge the jonin trying to catch him.
From the moment where Deidara had used the kinjutsu there had been no way back, but after he had destroyed the village it was no longer his decision to make. No matter what he did to make up for it, they would never allow him back into the village. At least not alive.
It really wasn't like it bothered Deidara that much, he had never really felt at home there anyway, but sometimes he couldn't help but wonder what happened to Kurotsuchi. She had survived, he was sure of it, but many others had died that day. What she must be thinking of him now...

With a shake of his head, Deidara broke himself out of these useless thoughts and kept playing with the little white spider in his lap.

A few moments later, three strangers entered and forced him to join their organisation.

From that day onwards, the only thing Deidara had felt for Uchiha Itachi and the Sharingan had been pure, unbridled hatred. Or at least that's what he had always thought until very recently.

-

Suddenly, Deidara was back in the present.

The lord's son son was crying for help, only a few seconds away from his death, and Deidara tried to reach him as best as he could but it seemed impossible to make it on time.
It felt like the world was going in slow-motion.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Itachi jumped forwards, holding on to Deidara's arm while reaching for the prince.
For a single moment, the only thing that kept Itachi from falling to his death was Deidara's hand in his own.

Then, the moment was over. Itachi grabbed the boy, Deidara pulled them both back onto his bird and pulled it upwards, just in time. One second later and they wouldn't have made it.

Relieved, Deidara took a deep breath and allowed himself to relax just a tiny bit.
But even though this last-minute rescue had been a success, that didn't mean they were safe just yet.

Chapter Text

The earth lord's guards and the Iwa-nin that had arrived as back-up tried to bring the clay bird down with everything they had. Even if the little prince was no longer falling to his death, he wasn't safe yet, and neither were the other three.

“We have to get out of here!”, Kisame shouted, his voice barely reaching Deidara's ears through the wind in his ears.

Instead of answering, Deidara just nodded tensely and did a barrel roll to dodge the boulders, fireballs and kunai being shot at them.
He was very glad he remembered to tighten the hold of the clay on the boy this time. At least this time it would be near impossible for him to fall again.
Well, it wasn't like that would help him much as long as there were still this many enemies after them, Deidara thought dryly.

Swerving to the right, Deidara just barely dodged a kunai aimed directly at his head. He could already see the border of the town, from which point on it would at least be harder for the Iwa-nin to ambush them, and inside his head, he was already pumping his fist in the air in triumph.
That was a mistake.
Suddenly, the kunai he had just dodged exploded directly next to the bird. He'd been too distracted to notice the tag on it and now he really had a problem.

Deidara cursed loudly and tried to find the balance somehow, but his bird's left wing was already falling downwards, only a bit of distance between it and the rest of the bird, which was still carrying three frustrated, and one very scared, people.

Again, Deidara cursed loudly and with a creativity that could put Hidan to shame, trying to concentrate only on the chakra he'd left in his bird's wing, completely blocking out that in the bird under him.
This was their only chance to survive this fall, and if he failed... Well, Deidara preferred not to think about that.

“Katsu!!”

The wing hit the ground and exploded, after which two things happened.
First, the enemies gathered on the ground that had been shooting at them were now either dead or too hurt to continue fighting, while those that had managed to get as far away as possible took care of the survivors.
Secondly, the explosion caused a shock wave just barely large enough to propel the rest of the bird back into the air.

This flight wouldn't last long and so Deidara furiously searched for a relatively safe landing spot.

“Down there! There's a cave!”

Thanks to the boy's previous terrified screaming his voice was hoarse and barely audible through the wind in their ears, but Deidara just so managed to hear him just in time to notice the cave not very far away from the city walls.
It would have to do.

Deidara sent Itachi a look, which Itachi answered with a nod before catching those of their enemies that would be stupid enough to look where they were going in a genjutsu.
In their mind, it would look like Deidara had replaced the missing wing and escaped, even if they were in reality only a few hundred meters outside the town.

They managed to reach the cave just in time before they crashed right into the ground.
With a pained groan, Deidara loosened the clay around the boy's legs and helped him off his bird, which he barely managed to keep in shape at this point.

By now, it had become difficult to breathe. During the fight and especially on the way here, he'd used up way too much chakra, and even if he'd usually just ignore it and move on with the plan, it was starting to get a little too much.
With a glance to the other two, who had been fighting non-stop ever since they arrived here an hour ago, he sighed and used to the last of his chakra to cover up the entrance of the cave and protect them from the eyes of their pursuers.

Trying not to show his weakness, Deidara dropped to the floor and leaned against the wall of the cave. He wouldn't let Kisame, or the boy, and especially not Itachi see how exhausted he really was.

The boy was still shaking and scooted as far away from the three Akatsuki members as possible in the small space available to them.
Deidara tried his best not to roll his eyes. The little prince was finally safe (for now), he should really stop acting like they were about to kill him. They were the ones that saved him, after all!

Kisame seemed to think roughly the same thing. “Hey kid, calm down. We're not going to hurt you.”

Even if that barely seemed to convince the boy, he calmed down a little bit. Either that, or the exhaustion previously kept at bay by the adrenalin was finally taking its toll on him.
Either way, he relaxed a little bit and rested his head on his arms.

“Why did you save me, anyway?”

This time, Deidara really couldn't help but roll his eyes. “Your dad paid us, what do you think, un.”

The boy didn't seem convinced. He rose an eyebrow. “But why didn't you just let me die if you already got your money?”
That actually made Kisame laugh. “I like you, kid.”

Deidara didn't find that funny at all.
He was sick of it that everyone always thought he didn't care about anything or that he was killing people just for fun or just because he was a nukenin and part of Akatsuki. He wasn't a complete psychopath like Hidan and he hadn't killed a whole family out of pure arrogance either, and he really hated being compared to that. Even if he usually got along pretty well with Hidan and even if, even outside of his stupid feelings, he was actually starting to like Itachi as a person (even just thinking that made him shiver in disgust), accusations like these just made him angry. Okay, sure, sometimes he killed people and didn't feel that bad about it, but that was just what it was like in the ninja world! This was what they were trained for from a young age on! He was so sick of it that everyone just pretended that only those who weren't blindly loyal to their village thought like that.

He almost threw all of that into the kid's face but decided against it.

“You have no idea who we are or what we do, so shut up. We don't just kill people for fun, un.”
That was all he said. The boy already looked confused enough and he wasn't in the mood for further explanations of his moral code.

Itachi put his hand on Deidara's shoulder in what he must have intended as a calming gesture, and despite what Deidara would have expected, the warm feeling that spread from Itachi's hand on his body actually helped him calm down a little.

Kisame didn't seem to care and only grinned his best and widest grin. “Maybe you don't.” He winked at the boy, who immediately began shaking again and scooted further away from Kisame.

-

This wait took much longer than Itachi would have preferred. Despite his genjutsu it couldn't take the Iwa-nin long to notice their mistake and follow them. As soon as they would realise that they hadn't escaped, this cave, as the most obvious hiding spot, would be the first they'd check, and if by then Deidara wasn't ready to make a new bird yet to get them out of here they'd have a problem. There were only so many people they could fight in this tiny space.
Itachi tried his best not to blame the boy for this, since he was barely ten years old, but as the seconds ticked by, it was becoming more and more difficult.

Still, even if waiting this long made Itachi all kinds of nervous, he couldn't help but be a little bit impressed by Deidara's plan. The plan had worked, they had found the boy and despite the odds, he was now with them. Especially the timing of the explosion and its shock wave that had carried them to this cave had been really impressive.
Maybe Itachi had been wrong to think that Deidara would never stand a chance against him in a fight after all.

Deidara let his head rest against the wall behind him, an annoyed look on his face. “Why is it taking so damn long.”

“We should be the ones asking you that. We're the ones waiting for you."

Deidara froze and stared at Itachi, and for just a short moment, Itachi felt like he'd ruined something important and cursed himself. Why was it so hard for him to just be quiet when Deidara was around? It happened more and more often, as if his thoughts didn't want to stay in his head anymore, and Itachi hated being this vulnerable. Since his earliest childhood he had been told over and over again that a ninja could never show his feelings, and he knew better than anyone that in his situation, he couldn't allow himself to show any weakness. So why was it suddenly so hard to just shut up??

But then, Deidara laughed loudly and lightly punched Itachi's arm, and slowly, his worries disappeared.

Itachi really liked Deidara's laugh. It was very melodic and had a nice ring to it, despite or maybe even because of the rough undertone he'd already noticed back in their first meeting. The fact that Deidara could find something to laugh about in almost every situation.. fascinated him, a little bit.

He knew he had to be careful and that he shouldn't trust anyone for his own and for Sasuke's sake, but maybe he could allow himself some happiness, just this once.

Suddenly, muffled through the walls of the cave, there was an odd sound coming from the outside that Itachi couldn't immediately recognise.
It sounded like...

“Earth jutsu!”, Deidara shouted and rose to his feet. Kisame and Itachi followed, but for some reason, the boy stayed where he was.

Itachi glanced at Deidara, who may have looked much better than when they got here, but who definitely wasn't ready to fly again yet. Kisame and Itachi himself also weren't nearly at the height of their power, even if Itachi hated to admit it. If their enemies found them, they'd have a problem.
“They haven't found us yet.”

The boy stood up.

“Sorry, boys.”

He stretched and smiled at them.

Suddenly, he was engulfed in white smoke. Itachi shared an alarmed glance with Deidara when the clouds parted. Right at the spot where there had been a little prince just a moment ago stood now a young woman with short black hair, proudly wearing the symbol of Iwagakure on her headband.

“You!”

Deidara angrily balled his hands into fists. He knew this woman, apparently.

She grinned and before any of the three Akatsuki members could have stopped her, she made some lighting-fast handsigns and punched the wall Deidara had created when they had arrived in the cave.
Sunlight flooded the previously dark cave but Itachi only had to press his eyes close for a second before the silhouettes of their pursuers blocked out the light.

The first ninja stormed into the cave and immediately died at Itachi's hands, while Kisame yelled at Deidara to get them out of there somehow.

Deidara cursed and while he tried to somehow gather enough chakra for at least one bird, Itachi and Kisame fought off the enemies to the best of their ability. Despite all their abilities they didn't have much time and energy left. There were just too many of them.

The young woman tried to kick Deidara to distract him, but Kisame swung Samehada hard enough against her middle that she crashed against the wall. Itachi just barely made out the little trail of blood on her chin as she stood up when the next enemy already attacked him.

“GET DOWN!”

Without asking any questions, Itachi fell flat to the floor, hoping Kisame would do the same.

Only a second later, a shock wave emerged from behind him and threw everyone that was still standing to the floor. As far as Itachi could tell, none of them had died, but at least they were all dazed for now. Itachi used the ensuing confusion to hide his team.

When most of their enemies were back up on their feet again and couldn't see any of the people they were supposed to follow, they began searching the cave and its immediate surroundings, many of them clearly furious.
The young woman who had managed to trick them stayed in the cave and carefully checked everywhere for her enemies. Itachi had to step aside in order to stay out of her way so the illusion wouldn't be disturbed.

The woman shook her head and turned back to her comrades. She was their boss, apparently. “They're gone. Check the mountains and the town's surroundings.”
While the others left to follow her orders, she turned back towards the cave, a suspicious look on her face, as if she expected them all to suddenly appear in front of her.
When she finally left, she mumbled something under her breath that Itachi could just barely make out.

As soon as she was gone, Itachi dropped the illusion and leaned against the wall, catching his breath. He glanced back towards Deidara, who was just as out of breath as he was.
Without even meaning to, Itachi frowned when he saw the blood on Deidara's knuckles.
Deidara noticed the look on Itachi's face and smiled just a little as he shrugged. “Explosions are my Kekkei Genkai. They're just.. not real art when I don't use my clay.”

Then he became serious again, although the look on his face definitely bordered on outright furious. “Fucking shit, what do we do now? Do we have to start looking for that little prince all over again, un??”
He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously close to “that stupid Kurotsuchi, always getting in the way”.

Itachi lightly shook his head. He was glad at least his sense of hearing was still as strong as it had always been. “She's on her way to him, we just have to follow her”.

Chapter Text

It didn't take very long for Deidara, Kisame and Itachi to find Kurotsuchi. In order for her to not immediately notice them, they'd had to wait a few minutes before following her but thanks to Deidara's scope, it was pretty easy to follow her.

With a wave of his hand, he let Itachi and Kisame know the direction they would need to go.
Thankfully, both Kisame and Itachi had experience in the secret police of their respective villages, which meant that they didn't have to waste any time going over the plan.
He himself might not have that experience since he had been “only” a jonin when he had left Iwa, but he'd learned many tricks during his time as an internationally wanted criminal without any protection that didn't come from himself. With a bounty as high as the one on Deidara's name, he couldn't slack off.

Kurotsuchi was an exceptional kunoichi and probably would have noticed ordinary ninjas in a heartbeat, but even she had no chance to track down three experts like them. At least not if they did it right and didn't underestimate her.

Darting from shadow to shadow, since jumping across the roofs would have been noticed immediately, they followed Kurotsuchi to one of the poorer areas of the town, far away from the palace.
They really should have expected the Iwa-nin to take more precautions than two (not very surprisingly) weak guards, Deidara thought, annoyed at himself.

Not far away from the house where they expected their target to be, they stopped and watched from the shadows as Kurotsuchi talked to a young woman. At first glance, she looked like an ordinary fish merchant, but the way she carried herself and the tension all over her body made it obvious that she was a kunoichi as well.

Deidara closed his right eye. Through his scope, he could see the two kunoichi talking in the barely noticeable sign language that only high-profile Iwa-nin knew while they were having a loud conversation about the weather.

A moment later, Kurotsuchi opened the door and entered the house, while the other woman stayed outside. She searched the streets around her for enemies before sitting back down next to the door, pretending to count her profits from the market.

“Can you see how many there are inside?”

Deidara shook his head and slightly leaned to the side, risking being discovered for a glance into the window of the house Kurotsuchi had entered.
“I can see the boy, Kurotsuchi and...” He waited a moment until he was sure, “two others, but there could be more around. If we go inside, we have to be fast, un.”

“I hope this time it's the real one”, Kisame complained, while Itachi simply prepared for a quick attack.

It took a few seconds, in which Deidara tried to find the right moment by staring into the small part of the room he could see through the window. Then, he gave Itachi the sign. The young women in front of the hideout fell asleep almost immediately.

The second they entered the house, chaos broke out.

Kurotsuchi protectively stepped in front of the clearly terrified prince while her two teammates raised their weapons.

“So you found him.”

Deidara grinned. “Maybe you should have hidden him better, Kuro-chan, un.”
His smile dropped from his face. “Give us the boy and we'll let you live.”

Kurotsuchi didn't take him seriously and only snorted before raising her own weapons, her left arm still in front of the boy. “You know I can't do that, Deidara nii-san. Our mission is to keep him here until the negotiations are done, and I would never just give him to you anyway.”
She glared at Deidara, which really didn't make him feel better about any of this. So she was still angry at him for destroying her village and leaving. Who would have thought.
In all honesty though, he couldn't even be mad at her for that. Even though he had never felt the same, for Kurotsuchi, Iwa was her home. And he, her best friend, had destroyed it.

Deidara sighed. He really wasn't in the mood to fight his former best friend and if he somehow got the boy killed, he'd be done for. If Kisame didn't get him for ruining his chances at another mission, then Kakuzu would kill him for not securing the whole reward.
“You know your lord is blackmailing that boy's dad.” It wasn't a question. Of course she knew, she was the Tsuchikage's granddaughter. “Do you really want to kidnap a scared little baby just so that old lord can get even more land? As if earth country wasn't already gigantic, un.”

“And you know I can't hand over a child to the Akatsuki.”

Deidara snorted. “Oh shut up, we both know his dad couldn't have asked anyone else.” He rolled his eyes. “Just give us the boy and we can both finally go our separate ways again.”

Kurotsuchi's glare turned icy and Deidara knew there was no peaceful way out of this situation.
Oh well. It'd been worth a try.

Deidara shrugged. “Alright.”

With a quick jump backwards, he dropped the spider he had secretly formed within the gigantic sleeves of his coat in front of Kurotsuchi's feet. She immediately fell back and pushed the boy further away until he crashed into the wall behind him. He coughed heavily and collapsed to the ground, conscious but definitely hurt.

“Wow, you're really not handling your babysitting job well.” Kisame grinned.

Kurotsuchi glared at him. The other two finally started moving at last, but it was too late. Itachi was already behind them, one arm tightly around the boy's wrist, his other hand holding a kunai dangerously close to his neck.
The fight stopped immediately.

The boy was trying his best not to cry, shaking so hard Itachi had to move the kunai a bit away from the boy's neck to not kill him on accident.

“Well, Kuro-chan, it was nice to see you again but we have to leave now, un. See you!”

Deidara finally created another bird. After a beat, he added “leave them alone or we're coming back.”
Kisame and Itachi, pulling the now bawling boy along, followed him onto the bird and they finally, finally left.

This time, Deidara was even more careful to avoid any rocks or knives in his way and flew extra high so it would be more difficult for their pursuers to hit them, but this time, after the first few, there were no more further attacks.

When they were finally outside the city borders and too far away for the Iwa-nin to follow, Deidara sighed and dropped down onto the bird, removing his scope. Sure, that thing was really useful, but it also wasn't exactly comfortable to wear.

Kisame pinched the boy's arm, who flinched and recoiled as much as he was able to with the clay securing him to the bird. Deidara had not wanted to take any more chances today.
The boy glared at Kisame and rubbed the dark red spot on his arm.

When the boy's glare was joined by Itachi's, much more menacing one, Kisame innocently raised his hands and grinned. “I just wanted to make sure he was the real one this time.”

Deidara rolled his eyes and couldn't help but grin when he saw Itachi's way too concerned face.

For a while, there was nothing to hear except the wind and Itachi's mumbled apology to the boy, who seemed a bit overwhelmed but accepted his apology. Apparently it didn't happen every day that your kidnapper apologises to you for holding a knife to your throat, Deidara thought with a soft smile.

Itachi turned towards Deidara. “You knew that woman.” It wasn't a question.

Deidara sighed and rubbed the red skin around his eye where the scope had been. He might as well just tell him.
“We used to be something like friends, but that's definitely over now, un.” He smiled sadly but quickly pulled himself back together. What was that he'd thought earlier? Don't show your weaknesses? Not wanting to fight your former friends if you could help it definitely counted as a weakness.

He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Why are you asking? Are you jealous or something?”

He had meant it as a joke, but he secretly took note of every one of Itachi's little reactions while his heart was beating twice as fast as it normally did.
The thing with suppressing his feelings hadn't worked at all. On the contrary, during the last weeks and especially this mission, his building friendship with Itachi had made them even worse. Deidara still couldn't stop thinking about that night where Itachi had calmed him down after his nightmare.

Itachi blinked a few times without saying anything. Then, he turned to Kisame and asked him something about... swords or something. Deidara wasn't listening anymore.
He had no idea how to interpret that reaction. Did Itachi just not know what to say? Or did he think Deidara was stupid for even asking that question, of course he didn't like Deidara even as a friend, what kind of question was that? Or, and Deidara could barely even ask himself that question without feeling his heartbeat speed up, was he actually.. interested? At least in being his friend?
Either way, Deidara really wasn't in the mood for embarrassing himself further. He didn't ask anything else and spent the rest of the flight checking his clay for impurities he knew it didn't have.

The distance between Deidara's leg and Itachi's propped up knee suddenly felt way too small. Deidara could almost feel the warmth radiating from Itachi.

Both of them completely ignored the confused but wary look on Kisame's face.

-

Kurotsuchi watched Deidara's bird disappear on the horizon.
So Deidara was back, and he'd found friends. If she had interpreted the tension in that cave correctly, and she was pretty sure she had, then maybe it was even more than that. She really didn't know what to think about that.

Behind her, one of her teammates cursed loudly.
“These damn bastards! How the hell did they even know the little brat was here??”

The other one nodded, just as angry as his partner. “Someone must have told them! They would never have found him here otherwise, the plan was perfect!”

Kurotsuchi rolled her eyes and snorted. “Shut up. They were just better prepared than we were. Don't blame some imaginary traitor just because you were too weak to stop them.”

Her teammate angrily responded, but Kurotsuchi wasn't even listening anymore.

Seeing Deidara again had surprised her. She hadn't expected to ever see him again, even as an enemy. Even though he had destroyed the village and had been pronounced a nukenin, somehow a part of Kurotsuchi hadn't wanted to accept that.
Sure, Deidara had always been reckless and had only little interest in other people's feelings if he didn't care about them, but he wasn't the sort of person to just.. start murdering people for no reason.
At least that's what she'd thought until he had disappeared.

Sometimes she still had nightmares about it. Sometimes she was accused of helping a criminal by providing him with the village's secret weapons, sometimes she watched Deidara kill everyone she loved and couldn't even move, and sometimes she just heard his unmistakeable laugh, an explosion and then screams.

That was why the way Deidara had acted in that cave had surprised her so much. He was not indifferent to the boy's fate, nor his country's. He laughed with his teammates and obviously resented her accusation he just killed people for fun. She hadn't even planned to fall from his bird and had panicked too much, to really do something about it, but he had saved her anyway.
He was still that boy she had befriended at the academy. The only real difference was that he'd found what he had been missing all this time and that he had a new team. He would bring that boy back home safely, Kurotsuchi was weirdly sure of that.

It was for exactly that reason why she had mumbled something about having to see the boy in the cave, knowing one of them would probably hear her and follow her to him.

Deidara had been right, the earth country's feudal lord was.. maybe not right this time. He was already one of the richest people on earth and still kidnapped a little kid to get more land.
Kurotsuchi also knew that the boy's father didn't have anyone else to ask for help. Ninja politics were extremely complicated and the relations between the different countries were often very unstable. If he had asked Suna or Konoha for help and if their mission had gone wrong even a little bit, Iwa would have rightly felt threatened and might have led to another war. And Kurotsuchi had wanted to prevent that at all costs. Iwa had to stay strong and a war that could have been easily prevented was not worth it, at least not in this way.

Still, on the way back to the hideout, Kurotsuchi had started doubting herself.
Wasn't she betraying her village? Didn't she just help a traitor finish his mission and sabotage her own? Did that make her a traitor too?
It had been a stupid, way too spontaneous decision that could ruin Iwa if the earth lord blamed the whole village for the failure of a small group of ninjas. But it was too late. She couldn't take back her words and the boy's guards were already waiting for her.
All she could do was protect him as much as she could and prepare the others for a fight. And even at that, she had failed.

Kurotsuchi just hoped she didn't just make the (second) worst mistake of her life.

Chapter Text

The rest of the mission went by without any further problems.

The boy had insisted on holding Itachi's hand while he climbed off Deidara's bird. He really was still a child and the kidnapping trip to the earth country hadn't changed that, but Itachi still had to glare at Kisame warningly when he looked dangerously close to laughing at the request.

As they were walking through the streets of the capital, the boy still tightly holding on to Itachi's hand, there were already guards and civilians coming to greet the prince. Their lord wasn't far behind.
Itachi watched as the lord and his son ran towards each other and fell into each other's arms, both of them crying, and something in Itachi's chest that he had done his best to suppress for seven years now suddenly and unexpectedly hurt.

While Kisame took care of the money, Deidara looked at him with a weirdly concerned look on his face, as if he could tell what Itachi was thinking about.
Even though that was absolutely impossible, it made Itachi feel kind of warm inside. It was nice to tell himself someone might actually care about him, even though he knew Deidara would leave the second he told him the truth.

Itachi suppressed a cough and, carefully not to be too obvious, slipped a hand into his pockets to reach for his medicine. As his body got used to the medicine, he had to take more and with less time in between for the same effect. He'd have to refill it soon.
With that thought, the warm feeling in his chest instantly disappeared. Every time he met with the lackeys of that man terrified him, even though he knew he would probably be able to win in a fight against them. He hated how much power he had over him, but he knew there was nothing he could do.

The lord and his son thanked them, once again crying, but this time in gratitude.
Itachi began to feel overwhelmed, and he could tell the same was true for the other two.

“Just make sure he doesn't get kidnapped again, un”, Deidara reminded the lord a last time, and they finally left the town. They weren't celebrated or anything for what they did, but on the way through the dusty streets, they received some admiring looks from the people crossing their way.
Itachi really wasn't used to so much gratitude. Usually, the missions Akatsuki took on were assassinations, collecting information, starting a war or something similar, not a rescue mission for a child and his whole country. Their usual missions were only thanked in money and maybe some begrudging respect, not the kind of gratitude they were given now.

Itachi almost felt like he was thrown back in time, but he ignored the feeling like he tried to do with all others.

-

The new headquarters was pure chaos.

You'd really think that fully grown, professional ninjas would know how to behave for one damn week, but apparently that wasn't the case.
Konan watched as Hidan and Kakuzu were arguing for what was probably the hundredth time this week. She had stopped listening after the first five times. They always argued because of something stupid that would never lead to a fight between normal people and it made them sound like five year old kids. Especially when it came to their temper, the two really weren't normal in any sense of the word.

“No you insulted me, you bastard!! Stop acting like nothing happened!!”

You probably would have been able to hear Hidan's voice from afar as well, but unfortunately Konan was unlucky enough to be stuck in the same room as him. She had only wanted to check with Kakuzu if he could borrow her some money for supplies, but then Hidan had showed up and now her ears were starting to hurt. Typical.
Maybe she should talk to Nagato about replacing some of their members with more capable ones after all.

“You're imagining things. Considering how small your brain is there's enough space for that kind of nonsense in your head.”

With that, Hidan lost the tiny bit of self-restraint he had even on a good day. He kept shouting at Kakuzu, but at this point Konan could barely identify any of the words he was saying. Not that she put any effort into trying, but still.

When Hidan took his scythe and began to furiously gesticulate with it, Konan had enough. She created a rope from the paper that coated her left arm and stopped the scythe before Hidan could destroy anything with it.

“We just moved here. Pull yourself together.”

Hidan glared at her but even he didn't want to draw her wrath any further. She may not be as loud or aggressive as certain other members of the organisation, but she was still one of the strongest ones. Hidan knew this just well as the others.

After taking one of the bags of money on Kakuzu's desk without paying any attention to the scandalised look on his face, Konan left the room and went into the direction of the cave's main entrance.
She looked up into the clear blue sky and sighed lightly. Maybe she should have been used to this by now. It had been years since she and Nagato had changed the way their organisation was run but even though she knew that what they were doing was the only way, sometimes she couldn't help but to wish none of this had happened. Sure, some of the new members weren't all that bad and it wasn't like her previous life had been easy but still. Back then, everything was so much simpler, and she was so much more hopeful for the future. Now, everything was just... dark.

The sound of wings, which Konan could already hear from far away thanks to the silent surroundings of the cave, broke Konan from her thoughts.

It didn't take long for Deidara's bird to land in front of her and she watched as the only three members that had been allowed to go on a mission climbed down.
The mission seemed to have gone well, none of them were injured and they even seemed a little less frustrated than they usually did. Anything else probably would have led to even more trouble. Konan couldn't bear the thought of having to be stuck here with the others for another week. Enduring Hidan had been hard enough, and if Deidara and Kisame joined him...

A disgusted shiver ran down Konan's back, but her face didn't show anything else but her regular calm indifference as she waited for them to talk.

Only a moment later, one by one the other members appeared as well.

“Mission successful?”, Sasori asked, arms crossed. When Itachi nodded, he relaxed slightly. “Took you long enough.”

“Who did you fight? How many did you kill?”, Hidan wanted to know and Deidara and Konan simultaneously rolled their eyes.
“We freed a hostage, that's all, un.”

Finally, Pain arrived and the others went silent.
He didn't even have to ask before Itachi delivered his mission report. Like a good little soldier, Konan thought, amused.

“The prince is back with his father, which means the lord of the earth country doesn't have leverage against him any more. We were held up but there were no further problems. The lord gave us half of our payment before, and the other half after the mission was completed.” He hesitated and Konan frowned lightly. “The Iwa-nin are either dead or have no real information about us.”

Konan didn't say anything, but Itachi's words and especially his hesitation confused her. After a successful mission, Pain always asked if there were any witnesses. Akatsuki needed clients, which meant that they had to be seen in their coats when they successfully finished a mission, but at the same time, the ninja villages were dangerous and could ruin their plans if they moved to recklessly. That was why sometimes, they had to get rid of witnesses like Itachi and Deidara had in their mission to Konoha, and why other times, it wasn't necessary.
But why had Itachi hesitated? Was he hiding something? Konan had had suspicions about him for a while now but until now, that had been based on little more than a feeling. He had never given him a real reason to doubt him and had never shown even the slightest hint of hesitation, no matter what they ordered him to do. This sudden change was.. odd.

Deidara nodded almost too quickly in response to Itachi's report and Konan's frown deepened. Now she was sure. They were hiding something, and Deidara knew about it too.

While the others went back to discussing the mission, and in some cases immediately began to argue about it, Konan carefully watched Itachi and Deidara. It wasn't just her imagination, something had definitely changed between them.
The first time she had noticed something had been when she saw Deidara hide in Itachi's room before fleeing through his window, not very long before their mission together. She had entered Itachi's room to look for proof for her suspicions, but then she had heard a weird noise coming from his closet.
Konan had pretended to leave but had left some of her paper on Itachi's desk to see who it was. Even today, she had no idea what Deidara had wanted in Itachi's closet.

Back then, she hadn't told Nagato anything because she had thought Deidara just wanted to prank Itachi, but then she had noticed how their interactions changed. They had been almost friendly before this mission and as Konan watched them now, she could tell that friendship had only deepened. Normally she wouldn't care, and she didn't, but for those two to act this way, something big must have happened between them. She didn't know what it was but if it became a problem for Akatsuki, she had to know what it was. These two would not get in the way of her and Nagato's plans, she would make sure of that.

-

When the excitement about the successful mission finally died down and the other members left to take care of their own work or hope for a mission, Itachi held Deidara back before he could leave too.
“I need to talk to you.”

Deidara looked at him with that odd look on his face he couldn't decipher, but he didn't protest so Itachi just dragged him with him.
Only when they were far enough away from the headquarters and even hidden by several large boulders did Itachi stop.

Deidara crossed his arms and glared at Itachi. “What do you want, un?”

Itachi hesitated, not sure how to begin. Did he really want to know the answer? But on the other hand, he had to know the truth. “Why haven't you told Pain or Konan about my sickness yet?”

Deidara seemed a bit surprised by that question. He blinked and shrugged. “I didn't have the opportunity yet.”

The look on Itachi's face clearly said “that's bullshit”, even though he'd never say that, of course. It had been weeks, there had been enough opportunities to tell them. Deidara was lying.

Deidara rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air, frustrated. “Well, why didn't you tell them that Kurotsuchi saw us? And how much she knows about me?”

Itachi glared at Deidara but he couldn't bring himself to be really angry at him. He had lied at Pain and Konan, hadn't he? For no other reason than that they would have that woman killed. Just because.. Deidara cared about her? Really?

Apparently, Deidara could tell Itachi wouldn't answer. He huffed and let his hands fall to his sides.
“Don't let this go to your head, but maybe I don't want to get you killed immediately. I-..” He began fiddling with the ends of his sleeves. “We're.. friends, right? Kind of. You're still annoying but you're also kind of nice to hang out with so..” He stopped and stuffed his hands in his pockets, as if his own words were embarrassing him. “I haven't had friends since I left my village. I don't want it to be over so soon.”

With every word, Itachi felt warmer inside. He had to put all his efforts into keeping his face as neutral as it always was, but it was becoming hard to keep up. He couldn't explain it, but he really wanted nothing more than to tell Deidara he felt the same.

But he couldn't. There was so much he could never find out, so much that he couldn't tell him. There was so much he had done that he could never forgive himself for, so how could someone else? He wasn't the kind of person that others cared for, no matter how much he may wish he was. He lived to protect his brother, everything else he had lost the moment he had accepted the mission that would change his life forever. Itachi wished he deserved Deidara's friendship, but he didn't.

Still, for some reason he couldn't bring himself to tell Deidara all that. Despite everything, he didn't want to disappoint him.

Itachi forced his face to stay neutral. “Thank.. you.”

He couldn't bring himself to say anything else. He didn't know what to say, anyway. He had dragged Deidara here to make sure he wouldn't tell on him, but his throat felt too tight to get anything out, let alone a threat he didn't mean.

They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment. Then, Itachi slowly nodded once and turned around to walk back towards the headquarters, feeling Deidara's eyes on the back of his neck.

-

Neither of the two had noticed the two shadows watching them.

The bigger one turned towards the other and laughed quietly. “So he found friends. How sweet.”

The smaller shadow didn't answer. He frowned and his red eyes focussed on the blond man below him.

“Maybe it's time to test your new abilities, don't you agree? And what better target is there than your brother's new best friend?”

Chapter Text

Itachi was almost half way back at the entrance of the headquarters when he suddenly heard an explosion coming from the direction he had come from.

He froze and turned around just in time to see smoke, just before it was blown away by a second explosion.
Any other time, this wouldn't have bothered Itachi. Everyone knew that sometimes, Deidara just blew up things just for fun. Maybe this was one of those times. Maybe it was nothing. It was probably nothing.
But still, Itachi had a feeling that something wasn't right, even though there was really no reason for it.

The first thing he saw when he reached the place where he and Deidara had talked just a moment ago, was Deidara, who looked absolutely furious and was clearly prepared for an attack.
He wasn't hurt or even looked particularly out of breath, but it was clear someone had surprised him.

Itachi turned to look at whoever had made Deidara so angry and it felt like his heart suddenly stopped.

On the other side of the valley they were standing in, just a few meters away, stood Sasuke. He was ready to attack and the lightning bolts in his hand lit up his face, clearly showing all the hatred he felt.

It had been almost two years after Itachi saw him the last time. He had grown up a bit and judging from the much stronger lighning bolts in his hand, he had gotten stronger since then, but he still had the face of a child.
Itachi knew that none of this would have happened if he hadn't done what he had done and that all of this was his own fault, of course, but still. Seeing Sasuke like this hurt. Sure, last time he had made sure that Sasuke would hate him even more and search for someone to teach him properly, but that didn't change the fact that seeing Sasuke here, with Orochimaru of all people, broke his heart. He had wanted nothing more but ensure Sasuke's safety and for that, he needed to be strong enough, but still.
Why did he have to find him now, of all times?

-

Deidara glared at the stranger, furious. He had appeared almost out of nowhere and attacked Deidara for no good reason! So what if defending himself had been pretty easy, it was still annoying.

He glanced at Itachi and frowned angrily at the look of recognition on his face. “Who the hell is this, un?”

Itachi was silent for a moment and in any other situation Deidara would have wondered why he would hesitate about something like that, but right now he was just too angry to think clearly enough for that.
Then, he finally answered. “My brother. Sasuke.”

Deidara paused in surprise and almost forgot to keep filling his clay with chakra.
He had known that Itachi had a brother he had let alive of course. Kisame and Itachi had apparently met him on some mission to Konoha, and according to Kisame, who proudly told everyone the story even if they clearly didn't care, meeting Itachi again had landed that brother in the hospital. Back then, Deidara had been with Akatsuki for barely more than a month, so that story perfectly fit into the picture of Itachi he had formed in his head: A heartless, cold, bastard who thinks he's better than anyone.
So the existence of some younger brother wasn't what surprised Deidara so much.

It was the fact that Itachi's voice just barely wavered when he said his brother's name out loud.

Neither that Sasuke guy nor Orochimaru, who sat on a big rock like he was simply enjoying the show, grinning that disgusting grin of his, seemed to notice, but despite his anger, Deidara did. He had spent way too much time with Itachi recently, analysing his voice and his face for those tiny movements that said so much about how he was feeling to not notice something like that. Maybe sometimes those stupid feelings were good for something, Deidara thought absent-mindedly.

“Itachi, what a surprise! Just think how none of this would have been necessary if you would have just given your body to me when I asked”, Orochimaru laughed. He still hadn't moved from his apparently so relaxing spot.

His words and that slimy grin made Deidara feel physically sick. He had thankfully never have to spend any real time with Orochimaru since he had left Akatsuki before they had “recruited” Deidara, but that didn't mean he hadn't heard certain stories about him.
And he really didn't like the way he talked about Itachi like he belonged to him.

He grit his teeth and glared at the slimy bastard above him, ignoring the little boy still glaring daggers at Itachi.
“Don't talk to him like that.”
He could feel Itachi's eyes on the back of his head but didn't let that distract him, concentrating only on the anger rising in him at Orochimaru's dismissive laugh.

“Don't forget who you're fighting!”

Deidara easily dodged the kid's attack and kicked back at him, which almost let Sasuke crash into a boulder if he hadn't caught himself in time.
Whatever that lightning jutsu was, it was impressive, but that boy was still a child and had no chance against someone like Deidara yet.

Sasuke didn't seem to understand that yet, because he stood up and attacked Deidara again.
It was obvious who he really wanted to fight, though. His red eyes, which despite everything still made Deidara feel incredibly uncomfortable, kept glancing over to his brother, who stood there like he was frozen to the ground.

Another kick into his side landed Sasuke on the ground and only a moment later, Deidara punched him hard enough to break a bone.
Despite the pain he was probably in, Sasuke stood up again and brought distance between him and his opponent, but Orochimaru still seemed disappointed in him. “This way you'll never be able to kill Itachi, my boy.”

Deidara could see the anger in Sasuke's eyes at those words but apparently, he had learned to hold back because he didn't say anything in response. In that way, he and his brother were pretty similar, Deidara thought suddenly. He wondered if Sasuke knew that and how much he hated to know how much he really had in common with the man who killed his family.

Itachi now stood next to Deidara and looked at Sasuke, who was breathing heavily now, with an odd look on his face.
Seeing his brother here, like this, had to make him feel something, right? Sure, Deidara had never heard him talk about him before but that didn't say anything. He hadn't really talked about Kurotsuchi either until he was forced to meet her again, so why would Itachi?
The way Sasuke glared at Itachi was full of pure hatred, but Deidara could tell how much that boy suffered underneath.
Well. He wasn't the first suffering orphan Deidara met, and he wouldn't be the last.

Sasuke stood up again and formed more lightning bolts around his hand. Trying his best not to roll his eyes, Deidara dodged and kicked him hard enough this time. Sasuke heavily crashed into one of the boulders surrounding them and didn't move for a moment.
When the dust finally settled, he was still there, half lying, half sitting on the ground, trying to catch his breath somehow and holding his right arm, which apparently broke during the impact.

“Are you done or do I really have to kill you, un?”

The boy's legs shook as Sasuke tried to stand up, but he actually did it somehow. “You can try. I'm not dying until that man is dead!”
He had lost his carefully collected composure at this point and desperately shouted his last words.

Deidara shrugged slightly. “If you say so.”

With those words, he let the spiders he had formed while speaking into his hands and threw them directly into Sasuke's direction.
He had no chance to dodge them. At this point, his legs were barely holding him upright and they definitely wouldn't be strong enough to let him dodge five very well placed bombs. The moment he had dared Deidara to try and kill him, he had signed his death sentence.

But then, at the last moment, when the bombs were only touching Deidara's fingertips, he felt a hand on his elbow.
His arm just barely moved upwards and the bombs that would have definitely killed Sasuke otherwise exploded around him, leaving him injured and bruised but still very much alive.

Sasuke flinched and raised his arms to protect himself from the rocks crashing down on him, but Deidara barely noticed. The warmth that any touch of Itachi's hand would normally cause was completely drowned out by his rage, and he would have confronted Itachi about it right there if Itachi hadn't opened his mouth before he could say something.

“You're still too weak. I don't have time for this.”

He grabbed Deidara's arm and pulled him with him towards the headquarters' entrance, which was hopefully far enough away from the fight that no one had noticed anything.
Over his shoulder, Deidara glared at Sasuke and watched as Orochimaru helped him up and dragged him away almost brutally.

When he was sure they wouldn't be able to hear him, he pulled his arm free from Itachi's grip.
“What the hell was that?? That bastard attacked me for no good reason and when I want to defend myself you get in the way?? What the hell is wrong with you??” He angrily threw his hands in the air. “I thought you hated him, un!!”

He almost froze when he saw the look on Itachi's face but pulled himself together just in time. He had never seen Itachi this furious before.
“That's none of your business.”

Deidara definitely didn't stomp his foot into the ground. “Of course it's my business! If I get attacked because of you and you don't let me defend myself, it does, un!”

Itachi just kept glaring into the air and didn't reply.

After taking a few deep breaths, Deidara calmed down enough that he at least didn't have to shout anymore. He took another deep breath, just in case.
“Keep your secrets to yourself for all I care, but I really don't want to die because of it.”

Deidara had enough. He liked Itachi and he wanted to be friends with him if nothing else was possible, but that didn't mean he was just prepared to die without even knowing what the hell was going on. He was sick of being lied to all the time. If only Itachi could just tell him the damn truth.
He was fully prepared to leave, walk back to the headquarters and leave Itachi and probably their friendship behind, but again, Itachi's hand on his arm stopped him. Deidara cursed his heart for skipping a beat at the touch and stopped.

Itachi stared into his eyes, an oddly desperate look on his face. The lines on his face suddenly looked much deeper than they usually did. He seemed so tired.
But he didn't say a word. He just stared at Deidara as if he hoped he could read his mind.

Deidara sighed and removed Itachi's hand from his arm. “I'm worried about you, okay? And I wish I didn't care, but sadly I do. If you don't want to tell me, don't, I don't care, but you have to decide.”

-

Itachi didn't know what to do.

When Deidara had almost killed Sasuke, it had felt like time stood still. As if in slow motion, he watched as Sasuke gasped in surprise and fear, he saw the bombs in Deidara's hand and the indifferent look on his face, and he saw Orochimaru's disappointment, which told him he wouldn't come to Sasuke's rescue either.
He had stopped Deidara and saved Sasuke's life without even thinking clearly. And of course now Deidara wanted an explanation for that.

In his mind, Itachi tried to find the best possible option.
He could lie and say he wanted to be the one to kill Sasuke or something similarly unrealistic, but Deidara would never believe him.
He could just not answer at all and pretend nothing had happened, but then Deidara would probably think of a worse explanation for his behavior.
Or he could do what he should have done weeks ago and get rid of him now. He would never expect him to attack right now and that way, the biggest threat to his own and Sasuke's safety would be gone, but just imagining himself killing Deidara made Itachi feel physically sick. He knew he could never make himself do it, no matter how logical it might be and how often he had planned to do it.
He couldn't bring himself to do any of these things. He would lose Deidara and his friendship no matter what he did and after all that happened, Itachi couldn't lose anyone else.

He didn't know what to say but he had to say something or Deidara would leave him.
All that was left, no matter how crazy it seemed to Itachi even then, was to tell him the truth. Whatever his reaction was, Itachi would deal with it somehow. At least, that's what he hoped.
He didn't dare to hope that Deidara's reaction would be anything but disgust and/or shock, but even just his presence helped Itachi say out loud for the first time what had weighed so heavily on him for seven years.

Itachi blurted out the words, scared hesitating a moment longer would stop him from ever saying it.
“I was ordered to kill my clan, and I did it to save Sasuke's life.”

A moment passed. Then another one.
“....What”, Deidara finally said.

Itachi didn't dare to look at Deidara's face, scared of his reaction, so he stared at a pile of dirt next to him instead. He probably had to explain a bit more, didn't he. Shit.
“My clan wanted to get revenge for the way the village had treated them. I told the village elders of their plan to bring down the Hokage because I was scared of a civil war. They ordered me to spy on my parents and D-... Danzo told me they all would have to die, even the children if I didn't do anything. So I-..”
The words got stuck in Itachi's throat. He swallowed hard and avoided Deidara's probably disgusted eyes.
“He would have killed Sasuke. He will still do it if I don't bring him information on the Akatsuki. I get the medicine as a payment.”

Sometimes he could still hear their screams. The faces of his neighbours, that smiled at him before screaming in panic. The face of his mother, looking up at him with tears in her eyes but refusing to cry. The eyes of his father, angry but resigned, knowing he couldn't stop him.
The blood on his hands, on his face, in his hair. The blood that after all these years he still sometimes saw in the mirror and couldn't wash away, no matter what he did.
He saw Sasuke's panic as he ran through the streets, searching for his parents. The hatred on his face when he realised what Itachi had taken from him. He had forced Sasuke to live through the massacre over and over again. No matter what else he did that night, that was what he hated himself for the most.

The warm hand that suddenly appeared on his arm brought him back into reality.
Itachi looked up and stared directly into Deidara's eyes for the first time since he had opened his mouth. “I'll do anything to protect Sasuke. Even if that means I have to kill you.”

It was silent for another few seconds. Itachi forced himself to keep looking directly into Deidara's eyes to make it very clear just how serious he was. If Deidara didn't leave him another choice, he would act, no matter how sick it made him feel.

But once again, Deidara's reaction surprised Itachi.

“Okay.”

Itachi blinked. Twice. A third time. “What?”

Deidara shrugged. “I mean, that's all pretty sick, and not in a good way, but we'll handle that somehow.”

“We? What?” Itachi was pretty sure he was looking pretty stupid at this point, but he couldn't help it. What the hell was going on?

Deidara rolled his eyes and grinned. “That Danzo guy will pay for that and I'll help you, un.”

Itachi wanted nothing more than to believe in what Deidara was saying, but the thought of that man getting what he deserved was too good to ever be true. “Danzo is too powerful. He has spies everywhere and controls a lot of powerful people. We wouldn't stand a chance against him.”
His voice almost broke at the tiny word “we”.

Deidara shrugged again. “How do you know that if we don't even try?” He became a bit more serious. “You want to protect your brother, right? I'm pretty sure that's the only way to really protect him. I can't stand that guy and if I meet him again I'll probably fight him, but if he's that important to you, maybe I can hold back a little. Maybe.” He grinned.

“Why? Why would you help me?” Itachi couldn't help but ask.

Deidara's grin wavered a bit. “I told you, we're friends. And I want to make sure my friends don't get hurt. It's a little to late for that but I can at least make sure the dipshit who hurt you pays for it.”

Itachi could practically feel his resistance break with every word out of Deidara's mouth. Could it really be that someone would want to help him after all he did? The part of him that learned to mistrust everyone he met doubted it, but it really seemed like Deidara was telling the truth.
Something in the way he smiled lit up that tiny spark of hope he had drowned out so long ago that Danzo could be stopped. A small part of him actually began to hope again.

Then he remembered the look on Sasuke's face when he had tortured him the second time and he felt his hopelessness take back over.
“Even if it was possible to stop him, that didn't change what I did. I failed as a brother and ruined Sasuke's life.”
Itachi had to sit down. He usually pushed all these feelings down as far as he could, so admitting they existed this openly was overwhelming.

Only a moment later, Deidara sat next to him. “I mean... maybe a little bit.”

At Itachi's light glare he raised his hands defensively. “I'm just saying, killing his whole family was probably not the best idea.”
He let his hands fall to his sides. “It'll be okay, somehow. I have no idea how but we'll figure something out.” Deidara put one of his arms around Itachi's shoulders and pulled him towards himself, mimicking the way Itachi had done it for him that night in the crowded inn.

For a moment, Itachi just sat there, completely frozen, then he slowly began to relax and let his head fall onto Deidara's shoulder.

He really had no idea how to deal with this much support and positive feelings.
Suppressing your feelings was the first thing a candidate for the ANBU had to learn, especially when they started their training as early as Itachi did. Unlike others, Itachi had never learned how to balance his training as a spy with his actual personality and personal life, and this became only worse when he left his village at such a young age and spent the next seven years lying to everyone he met and pretending to be someone he wasn't. Because of that, it was always difficult for Itachi to tell what people were really thinking. He could manipulate them but it always felt like there was a wall between himself and everyone else. It was always “follow the rules, do what you're told to do, and everything will be fine”, and even though Itachi had always done his best to follow those rules, he had gotten nothing but pain for his efforts.
Ever since he was thirteen, he had never gotten warmth from another person, let alone support and help with problems like these.

And now Deidara was there. Itachi never would have expected that loud, exhausting blond boy that had always hated him so much to be the one to promise him his support.
The distrustful voice in the back of his head warned Itachi not to trust Deidara, but for the first time in his life, Itachi ignored it. He had no idea how he deserved any of this, but he couldn't help but be grateful for all Deidara had done.

He moved away slightly and Deidara let go of him, letting Itachi look into his eyes once more. He just had to make sure Deidara knew how much his help meant to him, no matter how much this all may overwhelm him.
“Thank you.”

He didn't know what else to say, but apparently, that was enough. Deidara's face turned a little red and he smiled lightly. And as he was sitting there, looking into Deidara's eyes, knowing he was there if he needed him, Itachi felt like he could finally breathe again.

Chapter Text

The desert stretched all the way to the horizon. There was nothing but sand, as far as the eye could see. The hot wind whipped into Deidara's face and several times he had to hold his hair out of his face to still be able to see where he was going.
He really wasn't a fan of this place.

“Can you finally tell me why we're going to Suna, un?”

Sasori had woken him up in the middle of the night without telling him what was going on. He really had to improve the traps in and around his room at this point, Deidara thought, annoyed.
They were almost halfway on the way to Suna now and he was still as tired as he was the night before. The sand that had begun to stick to his face and worst of all, his eyes, didn't really improve his mood either.

For once, Sasori didn't let his annoyance show.
“I have to collect some plans and poisons. When I left my village I had to leave them behind but if they're discovered, they could be used against me.”

Deidara blinked for a moment, then he frowned angrily. “Are you serious?? Can't you do that alone? Why do I have to come with you?”
The look on Sasori's face quickly shut Deidara up. Even though it might not have looked like it to outsiders, he did respect his team partner a lot and knew it would be difficult to win a fight against him if it became necessary. Usually, he wouldn't have said anything, but he was just so tired, and the stress of the last few weeks didn't help either.

“I wanted to go alone, but Pain didn't let me.”
“What? Why?”

Sasori shrugged. It always looked funny when he did it inside his shell but Deidara knew better than to laugh at him right now. “I guess he takes the teams seriously again. I don't know.”
It had really been a while since Sasori and Deidara had been on a mission together, now that Deidara thought about it. Even if this little errand barely counted as a mission, they really hadn't been alone in a while.

Neither of them said a word for the rest of the way and simply walked through the desert, side by side.
The silence gave Deidara enough time to recount the events of the last few days and weeks for the first time. It was always too loud inside the headquarters and he always had to make sure no one would notice what he was thinking about, or that he was technically helping a traitor. In a situation like that, it was difficult to find the time to really process what happened.
Thankfully, Sasori didn't care what Deidara did or thought as long as he didn't get on his nerves, so Deidara could finally think clearly.

He could still barely believe all that had really happened. He had expected a lot of things and there was a lot that Itachi could have told him that day that wouldn't have surprised him in the slightest, but that? It seemed so different from everything Deidara knew about him. And yet, the desperate tone in Itachi's voice and the look on his face had let him know he was telling the truth, and that actually kind of made it worse. Itachi was a traitor, and if Deidara really helped him, which he knew he would, that made Deidara a traitor too. Sure, he didn't particularly care about Akatsuki, but the thought of betraying the only people he had in his life still felt weird.

After his promise to help Itachi, he had tried to hide all those thoughts and tried his best not to avoid Itachi. That would have only made him mistrust Deidara again and that was the last thing he wanted. Despite how weird it made him feel, he really wanted to help Itachi, and he would also be able to spend more time with him that way. It should really be a win-win for him.
But still, it was difficult for Deidara to really focus right now, and he had absolutely no idea what the hell he could do, if anything at all.

That Danzo guy was apparently a very powerful man, with at least some influence on nearly all important decisions inside Konoha and he even had some power in countries much further away. According to Itachi, the eldest of Konoha knew about at least some of the stuff he had done, but not nearly all of it.
Somehow, they would have to get close enough to Danzo to either kill him themselves or convince the Hokage and the others in charge that he was the one responsible for the Uchiha massacre, hoping they didn't already know and didn't care, and all that without drawing the attention of the rest of the Akatsuki to Itachi's betrayal. Deidara didn't know which option was more likely to work, but both of them seemed completely impossible.

Every time Itachi had seen him in the headquarters and had smiled at him in that way that most wouldn't even notice but that always caused a firework of emotions inside Deidara's chest, he had felt incredibly guilty. He had promised him to help him somehow and had pretended it wasn't a big thing, but it was. He'd try anything he could, he knew he would even if he probably shouldn't, but he didn't want to give Itachi any false hope either.
This whole situation was just so frustrating.

When Suna's city walls finally appeared on the horizon, Deidara was broken from his thoughts. Once again, he pulled his hair out of the side of his face it didn't belong and tried to focus on the mission instead.

-

Sasori could tell Deidara wasn't entirely focussed. As they were walking through the streets of Suna, hiding their cloaks but unable to hide their appearances due to the currently stricter jutsu controls at the city borders since the last Kazekage had been murdered and replaced by an imposter, he had to stop and wait several times for Deidara to catch up with him.
It was incredibly annoying.

Sasori had no idea why his team partner was so distracted and he didn't particularly care either, but if he had to walk that slow he could at least do his job and watch out for enemies, and he wasn't even doing that.

“Hurry up!”, Sasori hissed, annoyed. Deidara had apparently been completely lost in thought, because he jumped and quickly followed him to the small house he was walking towards, its entrance carefully hidden inside a small pathway.

After knocking on the door in a specific order, the door flew open and a dark haired man stood before them. He stared at them both with wide eyes for a moment before falling to his knees. “Master Sasori! You're back!”

Deidara threw Sasori a questioning look, which Sasori masterfully ignored. Over time, he had become very efficient at ignoring the kid and he used that ability as often as he could get away with.
“One of my spies”, he finally answered, just so Deidara wouldn't annoy him too much.

Then, he turned back towards his spy. “Is there something we should know about before we get to work?”
The spy finally stood up and led Sasori and Deidara into his house. “Nothing important, master Sasori. Your workshop has not been discovered and tonight, there will be a festival celebrating the future Kazekage so everyone will be at the city centre. The streets around your workshop will be empty.”

That seemed to interest Deidara. “You're getting a new Kazekage, un?”

The spy hesitated for a moment, probably because he wasn't sure if he was allowed to give out information to people that weren't his master, then he nodded slowly. “The previous one was murdered two years ago and since then, the succession has been very complicated. Last week the eldest finally decided on a candidate and in a few days, he'll be officially sworn in. Until then, there are festivals planned nearly every day.”

“And who did they choose, un?”

Annoyed at where the conversation was going, Sasori turned away. Deidara didn't even know anyone inside Suna, why did it matter to him who the next Kazekage would be. Not even Sasori cared, and unlike Deidara, he was actually from Suna.
He didn't listen to the rest of the conversation and instead prepared for the night. Even if the streets outside the main stage of the celebrations would be empty, Sasori didn't want to leave a mission as important as this to chance. The materials inside his old workshops were outdated, but there were also recipes for poisons and plans for some of his most deadly puppets, and he could not risk those falling into the hands of anyone that wasn't him.

-

In the evening, Deidara and Sasori could finally leave the house again. Deidara couldn't help but take a relieved breath when the door closed behind him and the spy disappeared inside. That guy and the way he practically worshipped the ground Sasori walked on was kind of creepy.

Apparently, Sasori's old workshop was all the way across the town, which meant they would have to get through the festival and all the people there if they didn't want to waste time walking around it. Knowing Sasori, it was clear which route they would take, no matter how much he knew that festival would annoy him.
Deidara couldn't relate to that. On the contrary, after all the recent stress and worries he couldn't tell anyone about, this festival really was a nice change of pace. Despite Sasori's constant reminders to hurry up, Deidara couldn't help but stop at several food stands. Once, he even managed to play a very quick game of darts before Sasori found him and dragged him away.

A few times, Deidara listened in to the conversations of the strangers around him.
“I can't believe they're really making that guy of all people the Kazekage. Did I tell you he broke my daughters leg when he was a child?!” “I heard he kills people for fun, what the hell are the eldest thinking??” “They're saying he changed, but I won't believe that until I see it. As far as I'm concerned, that little bastard is still the same monster he's always been.”

Those words were some of the kinder things the people of Suna had to say about their future Kazekage. Some of them seemed excited to have someone strong lead their village, but those people were a very small minority compared to those that feared him.
After what Deidara had heard about the guy from Sasori's spy, that didn't exactly suprise him. He almost felt a bit bad for the kid. It would take a long time for these people to accept him, Deidara was sure of it.

He followed Sasori through the streets when he suddenly noticed someone that made him stop in his tracks. It was a young man, maybe a few years younger than him, wearing the clothes of a regular Suna-nin.
But something about him was off. He didn't belong here.

Sasori hissed at him again, but Deidara just couldn't ignore this. “You can go ahead, Danna, I'll catch up with you, un.” He didn't even wait to see his reaction.

The young man didn't seem to notice him as he kept staring up at the platform where the future Kazekage was talking to some old people.
The way he acted was weird. He was just standing there, completely still, without even the slightest sign that he was even paying attention to anything but what was going on on that platform. His face didn't say anything either. Despite the headband with the sign of Sunagakure it was very clear he was not part of this village.

Someone accidentally bumped into him and Deidara angrily turned around to shout at whoever had distracted him. When he turned back towards the stranger, he was gone.

Deidara let his eyes wander over the masses of people, frustrated, when he suddenly noticed him disappear into a small alleyway. He was getting away from the witnesses, Deidara thought distractedly before following him, his hands already busy preparing for the inevitable fight.

Just a way streets further but far enough away from the festival the loud masses of people were barely audible anymore, Deidara had to stop. He had followed the stranger all the way here but now, he couldn't find him anymore.

“Who are you?”

Deidara flinched and turned towards the roof of the house to his right. The stranger just stood there, just as still as before, without even reaching for any weapons or other preparations. Deidara hated being underestimated like that.

“I could ask you the same thing. Neither of us belong here, un.”

The stranger nodded slowly. Then, an incredibly fake smile formed on his way too pale face, sending a shiver down Deidara's back.
“I'm here because my master ordered me to be here. I assume you're here for the same reason?”

Deidara nodded. He was almost ready to attack but he hoped it wouldn't be necessary. Even if the people at the festival couldn't hear them right now, they'd definitely notice a bunch of explosions going off.
“May I ask who your master is?”

The stranger's smile didn't even falter. “I'm afraid I can't tell you.”

Deidara had expected that, but that didn't mean that was enough. That guy could be literally anyone. Maybe he was a spy from another village, or a nukenin like Deidara, or something else. Maybe Deidara could have just walked away without getting an answer, it wasn't like this guy had anything to do with the actual mission he was supposed to finish, but he had a bad feeling about this guy. Something told him he couldn't give in yet.

The stranger's face didn't let Deidara know anything about what he was thinking, but he seemed to know just as well that Deidara would not simply let him go without an answer.

Chapter Text

Deidara glared at the stranger and tried to think of a way to get him to talk.
The easiest plan would be to just force him, beat him in a fight and make him tell him anything he wanted to know, but that would only get him the attention of the rest of the city and he'd end up having to flee from hordes of enemy ninja. Far worse, he'd have to find a plausible way to explain all this to Sasori somehow. Even just the thought of an angry Sasori forced Deidara to suppress an uneasy shiver as he continued to stare the stranger down.
He'd have to try to find a more peaceful solution, even if he'd like nothing more than to just blow this guy and his creepy grin up.

The stranger seemed to have a similar problem as Deidara did, since he too simply stared at Deidara without giving even the slightest hint of a possible attack. His face was still twisted into that unnatural smile. It was really starting to go on Deidara's nerves.

“If you don't want to tell me who you work for, then at least tell me what village you're from, un.”

When the stranger still didn't answer, Deidara rolled his eyes.
“Neither of us is getting away from this without at least some information and we can't fight here, so we could at least help each other out.”

For a tiny moment, the stranger's face betrayed his feelings, clearly showing his surprise. With the way that guy was smiling, Deidara had almost expected him to not have any emotions at all.

Then, the mask was back in its place. “Alright.” His eyes darted towards the festival, knowing he had no choice. “I'm from Konoha.”

Deidara frowned, surprised. “I thought Konoha and Suna are super close these days. So why are you spying around here, un?”
The stranger didn't answer, like he was waiting for Deidara's information first. Well, he may be annoying as hell but at least he wasn't stupid.

“I'm from Iwa,” Deidara sighed.
Technically that wasn't a lie. He did come from Iwa, after all, and he had never promised to share anything about his real loyalties, whatever the hell those even were. And Pain would probably kill him if he found out he had told some spy from Konoha about Akatsuki.

“Your turn, why are you here, un?”

The stranger hesitated. That wasn't something he was supposed to share, apparently.
“... Jinchuuriki are dangerous. Especially when someone gives them power.”

That was all he said, but that was all Deidara needed to hear. Konoha, or at least someone in Konoha that had enough power to send spies to other villages, was apparently after the future Kazekage. Whoever that was mistrusted Jinchuuriki and if Deidara had cared just a little bit more about his own organisation's plan, maybe he would have let Pain know about this potential ally.

Suddenly, he had an idea. He just hoped he was right this time.
“You're not Anbu, are you?”
No reaction. Deidara hadn't counted on getting one, but sometimes the lack of a reaction could say just as much as the reaction itself.
Deidara wasn't an expert on Konoha's political make-up, but he was pretty sure that there couldn't be that many spies outside the regular spy system, and even less that got involved in other villages' leadership. That plus the fact that the spy had called his handler “master” gave Deidara no other choice but to ask.

“Do you work for Danzo?”

The stranger's face remained suspiciously empty. He didn't answer, neither with words nor with the tiniest movement of his face, but Deidara could clearly see how his hand twitched into the direction of his bag, which was most definitely full of weapons.
Got him.

“Why are you here?”
The spy's voice had barely changed, but there was a hint of a threat to it that it didn't have before, and that only well-trained ninja knew how to really pull off.

“We're just getting some weapons, un.” That, too, wasn't technically a lie, even if it wasn't the whole truth either, but at this point, Deidara had a hard time caring about that. He had to put all his energy towards trying his best not to let his excitement show on his face or his voice.

Only when he saw his opponent's eyes light up in recognition did he realise his mistake.
“We?”

He cursed inwardly but tried his best not to let the other know he got him. Keeping his cool wasn't exactly one of his best skills, though, and he could feel himself frowning despite his best attempts to stop it.
Sasori would kill him and Deidara couldn't even blame him for it.

In that moment, as if some kind of higher being had heard Deidara's hopes for some kind of way out of this situation, fireworks lit up the sky above Suna. The festival was nearing its end and apparently, the citizens liked to celebrate loudly.

Deidara grinned.

The spy seemed to have the same idea he did, as he pulled open the gigantic scroll at his feet. Too slow.
Before the first firework had even faded away, the roof underneath the spy gave in, and a clay centipede surged upwards, winding itself tightly around the spy, whose emotionless mask had given way to mild surprise.
Annoyed, but still grinning, Deidara raised his hands.

“Katsu!”

The explosion was strong enough that someone definitely had to notice it, but Deidara hoped the firework would distract from it.
That guy simply knew too much, both about the fact that Deidara wasn't alone, and about Deidara's plan to spy on Danzo. He couldn't allow him to tell anyone about this.

The dust finally settled, and Deidara was about to leave to search for Sasori when he noticed that instead of the spy's pale corpse, there was only a large piece of wood in its place.
This time, Deidara cursed loudly and looked around frantically, trying to find his enemy before it was too late.

He didn't have to search long.
Only a moment later, Deidara was hit by something solid and crashed backwards into a house. He could feel something break inside his arm and coughed heavily before he was able to stand up.

Angrily, Deidara turned towards his attacker and looked directly into the eyes of a.... lion made of ink? What the fuck?
He wasn't given a lot of time to think about this weird fighting style, as the lion was already charging towards him again. He could only barely save himself by jumping towards the nearest roof. A moment too late and he'd be in actual trouble.
Thankful he had thought far enough ahead to prepare his clay before the fight this time, he pulled a string of bombs from his hands and threw them at the lion, which dissolved at the impact.

He was just about to attack again and he could clearly see the stranger bring his brush to the scroll again when suddenly, the sound of many, many feet running towards them distracted him.
Deidara hadn't even noticed that the firework had stopped.

The spy didn't hesitate for even a moment and disappeared.
Deidara grit his teeth. Now he really had a problem.

With a glance at the destroyed street and the shadows of the people closing in on him, he remembered Sasori and the wrath that he would have to deal with.

Deidara sighed and disappeared before even one of the sunanin could spot him.

-

Sasori gently let his hands run over one of the puppets he had created as a child.
It definitely wasn't one of his better works, the wood wasn't nearly smooth enough and the poison hidden inside could barely kill a child, but somehow Sasori still felt strangely nostalgic at the sight. He really hadn't been in Suna a long time, if even such a mediocre work could make him feel something like this.

The workshop wasn't exactly easy to find if you didn't know what to look for. Even back then, Sasori had already made sure no one except for him would be able to find it.
In that sense, maybe it was a blessing rather than a curse that Deidara had disappeared so suddenly.

Sadly, Sasori still had to follow Pain's orders, even if it annoyed him.
He raised his hands for a complicated series of hand sings and slightly pierced the only part of him that was able to bleed in order to establish the connection with his ring.

A projection in the shape of Pain appeared in front of him, and even though Sasori could make out nothing but his silhouette and his eyes, he could tell Pain was waiting for him to report.

“Deidara ran off.”

Pain's image nodded slightly, as if he had expected something like that.
Sasori still didn't understand why he had ordered him to do this, but he doubted that Pain would give him a clear answer if he asked.

“Did he do anything else suspicious?”

Sasori shrugged. “He's acting like a toddler but that's nothing new.”

If Pain found that funny, he didn't let it show. Somehow, Sasori doubted he was able to find anything funny at all.

“Contact me if anything changes.”

Sasori nodded and cut the connection.
He couldn't imagine that Deidara had done anything bad or treacherous enough to deserve this treatment, but he couldn't think of any other reason why Pain would send spies after him. Of course he had noticed that Deidara had acted strangely recently, just as everyone else had, but he had simply blamed puberty until now. How old was Deidara again? Sasori wasn't sure, but he sure sounded like a child, not to mention the way he acted.

Even though Sasori knew that if Deidara had actually done something he shouldn't have, he wouldn't help him, he still wasn't exactly happy with this. Sure, he and Deidara didn't always get along, but ratting him out to Pain like this didn't feel right. That pseudo-artist was extremely annoying sometimes and being around him was exhausting, but somehow, after all this time, it was hard for him not to like him at all, even just a little bit.

You would think the body of a puppet would turn off all feelings completely, but sometimes, there were still annoying moments like these that managed to invade Sasori's conscience. Maybe he needed to find a way to replace his core too.

Sasori shook his head, hoping his feelings would leave him and turned back towards his old puppets.

-

Itachi sat in one of the rooms of the headquarters where sometimes, the members of Akatsuki met to gossip, eat or threaten each other with mutilation or death, and absent-mindedly listened to one of Kisame's rants about some sword he had owned and destroyed years ago.

“Of course it wasn't nearly as strong as Samehada, but I had it for a long time and...”
Itachi nodded as if he was listening, but his thoughts were elsewhere.

In his mind, he kept going over the promise Deidara had made him. He really hoped Deidara knew how much it meant to him, but recently it almost seemed like he was avoiding him, and Itachi couldn't imagine why.
Did he regret his promise? Had he lied? Even just thinking about it made Itachi feel horrible. No, he was just... exhausted, that was it.

Thankfully, before Itachi got the chance to overthink the situation even more, he was broken from his thoughts by the sounds of two people arguing very, very passionately about something he couldn't care less about. He instantly recognised Deidara's voice. How he and Sasori were able to argue about one thing for such a long time was one of the things he would probably never understand.

He sat up a tiny bit more straight, which gave him enough time to completely ignore the odd look on Kisame's face before Deidara and Sasori entered the room.

For a fraction of a second, Deidara froze and the horrible feeling in Itachi's chest returned, then the widest grin he had ever seen appeared on Deidara's face. He immediately tried to hide it but he was almost vibrating in his excitement.
Somehow, it was suddenly very hard for Itachi not to smile.

“Itachi! I need to talk to you, un!” With a glance towards Kisame and Sasori, who he seemed to have completely forgotten about, he quickly added a “you bastard”.
Itachi was sure that neither of them would fall for this weak attempt at hiding his true feelings, but in this moment it didn't bother him as much as it might have any other day. He let Deidara drag out of his seat and out of the room by his wrist without saying a word about it.

When they arrived in Deidara's room, Deidara slammed the door shut and stuck some seals to the wall to make sure no one could spy on them.
Then, he turned to Itachi and grinned excitedly, still practically vibrating.

“I met one of Danzo's spies!”

At those words, Itachi froze. “..What?”

Deidara nodded quickly and took hold of Itachi's arms with a slight wince. The feeling of his skin on his own, even through his coat, made Itachi feel things he really didn't have time for right now.
“I watched him spy on the Kazekage and made him tell me that he works for Danzo. He escaped, but still! If I can find one of them without even trying to and force him to tell me these things, then together we can definitely do even more, un!”

He finally calmed down a little. “I know it isn't much, but we can work with this, un!”
When Itachi didn't answer, he hesitated for a moment and let go of him. “Right?”

Deidara was right. It really wasn't much, it barely even proved the existance of Danzo's organisation, and it wouldn't really help them bring him down either, but still. Seeing the excited spark in Deidara's eyes, for the first time in years Itachi couldn't help but be an optimist for once.

Finally allowing himself to show the smile he had been fighting ever since Deidara had arrived, he took Deidara's hands. Huh. He could actually feel the closed mouths in his palms.

“You're right, Deidara. This is a really good start.”

For just a moment, they just stood there, hand in hand, staring into each others' eyes. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds but it felt much longer somehow.

Then, Itachi blinked and let go.

Deidara nodded abruptly and grinned once again, much more nervously this time, before turning on his heel and fleeing from his own room.

-

At the other end of the hideout, half hidden by the mountains around it, the two leading members of Akatsuki were having an important discussion.

“You're right, Konan. He is acting strangely. According to Sasori, he disappeared during a mission and came back with a broken arm. Whatever he's planning, he already started it.”

Konan nodded slightly.
Pain let his head rest on his hands. “Do you think it has something to do with Itachi? If you say his behaviour changed too..”

“Maybe we should send them on another mission together and see what they do. Zetsu is busy, but there are other ways to find out what happens when they're alone.”

Pain nodded. “I think it's time to mix up the teams a little.”

Chapter Text

Deidara dropped down onto his bed and sighed deeply. He was so exhausted he didn't even take of his completely filthy coat before burying his face into his way too thin pillows.

This new plan to mix the teams and test how well they could work together was one of the worst ideas Pain had had in a long while.
It wasn't like he really cared, but why did he have to be sent on a bounty-hunt with Kakuzu of all people??

Deidara liked to think that he was at least a little bit more bearable than Hidan, and yet Kakuzu had tried to kill him three times in the few days they had to spend together.
Three times!
And he hadn't even done anything wrong! Okay, sure, maybe he was a little loud sometimes and one of his bombs might have gotten in the way of the mission at some point but honestly, that wasn't a reason to choke him! In the end, the mission had been a success, so what did it matter if not everything went perfectly?

He almost had to laugh when he remembered how often Hidan had complained to him and how often Deidara had just ignored him, thinking Hidan was exaggerating or trying to be annoying on purpose again.

Sadly, he didn't get much more than an hour of peace for himself before someone knocked on his door.

With a frustrated groan, Deidara climbed out of bed and opened the door much more aggressively than what was strictly necessary. “What do you want?”

He shut up immediately when he was greeted with Itachi's very perplexed face. It almost made him regret he had reacted like that, but unfortunately, Itachi's presence couldn't do anything about his exhaustion or frustration.

Itachi, still a bit confused, cleared his throat.
“Pain sent me. He has a mission for us.”

“Are you serious?? I just got back, un!”

Itachi shrugged lightly. “He says we make a good team.”

Deidara paused, surprised, and could just barely stop himself from rubbing his eyes. Either something was wrong with his eyes, or Itachi's face was just the tiniest bit more pink than normal.

The excited feeling in his stomach was the only thing that made him keep going while his common sense was screaming at him to not risk it. Oh well, when was the last time Deidara had listened to common sense anyway?
He grinned at Itachi, nudged his side with his elbow and slightly raised his eyebrows. “So, we make a good team, huh?”

He was right! Itachi's face was definitely turning red!

Deidara pushed down a nervous smile as he took a random, hopefully clean coat from his closet.
He hadn't expected that reaction and he definitely didn't want to risk anything now that he and Itachi were getting close and actually had a common goal, but he couldn't help his excitement at this new development. He'd just have to investigate a little more, he thought, silently grinning to himself.

“What kind of mission is it, anyway?” He really hoped Itachi couldn't hear the tension in his voice.

Whether he did notice or not, Itachi didn't let it show either way. A glance over his shoulder let Deidara know his face had turned into its normal, way too pale colour again. What a shame, red was a really good colour on him.
“We're following a murderer and thief. He was last seen at the border of the fire country.”

With that, Deidara's frustration was back. He hated bounty-hunts, and especially after the last one he really wasn't in the mood for that right now. His throat still stung. Hidan really had been right about Kakuzu.

Sighing, he walked past Itachi and made his way towards the hideout's exit.
“Then let's get it over with, un.”

-

The journey towards the fire country was spent mostly silent.
For some reason, Itachi kept feeling strange whenever Deidara was near him, and it got in the way of his ability to talk to him like a normal person, which already wasn't one of Itachi's best strengths. It was frustrating and Itachi had absolutely no idea why it was happening.

He wasn't even sure when it started, either. At first he had thought it was just his excitement and the hope that Deidara's promise had given him, but at this point, he was starting to think this strange feeling had been developing even before that.

The way Deidara had grinned at him before hadn't helped at all.

It also wasn't helping that Deidara was currently sitting next to him, completely relaxed. He was leaning backwards, supporting his weight with his arms while his right leg was hanging over the side of his bird, as if he was sitting on a counter and not on an explosive flying bird, miles above the earth.
His other leg was close enough to almost touch Itachi's and his eyes were closed, as if he was enjoying the feeling of the wind in his face. His hair was flowing in the wind. It was almost long enough to cover his entire back, which Itachi hadn't really noticed until now. He blamed the coat and the way Deidara wore it.

Suddenly, Itachi caught himself wondering what Deidara's hair felt like. It definitely looked very soft.

A sudden gust of wind blew the strand of hair that usually covered Deidara's eye out of his face and he slowly opened his eyes.
He grinned in the same way he had at the headquarters and Itachi's face suddenly felt incredibly hot. He turned away and concentrated on the landscape below, looking for villages to check as if he didn't know Deidara had already planned the entire journey.

Fortunately, he had to avoid Deidara's eyes for just a few minutes until the first village finally showed up in between the trees.

They landed just outside and covered their real appearances. They would have to pretend to be the same people they had been weeks ago, back on their first mission to Konoha.
When he had gotten the mission, Itachi had asked Kakuzu for new passports, but Kakuzu had made it very clear that making new ones was too complicated and expensive to do it for every single mission they got, and that he should kindly reuse these old roles and get the hell out of his room. Kakuzu wasn't exactly one of Itachi's favourite people.
But since Itachi couldn't exactly tell Kakuzu that his and Deidara's covers had been blown because of his secret sickness, he couldn't do anything about it.
Deidara was just as annoyed by it as Itachi was, but they would just have to hope that no one would recognise them. They were halfway across the fire country anyway.

As soon as the village gate came into sight, Itachi took Deidara's arm and linked their hands together.

He didn't miss the hesitation in Deidara's face or the way he flinched just the tiniest bit when their hands touched, but they both knew that this was a necessary part of the disguise. Couples just simply attracted less attention and weren't seen as as much of a threat. It was the same argument he had used as during their first trip to Konoha, and yet somehow it felt weird this time.
He ignored the feeling and held on to Deidara's hand as they strolled through the village looking for their target.

-

Deidara sighed and leaned against the back of the bench next to the food stand he had convinced Itachi to stop at.
They had been at it for hours now, flying from village to village and asking everyone they met for clues, and yet they hadn't even found proof their target was even still in the area.
By now they had travelled pretty far into the fire country, which meant they had to be more careful that none of the visiting ninja would recognise them, which meant that they had to take their role as a couple more and more seriously. The better they could pretend, the less attention they would attract, Deidara knew that of course, but at the same time this constant attention from Itachi was making him nervous.

Every time Itachi leant against his side or gave him some of his food to try just to keep up their disguise, Deidara's heart felt like it was about to jump out of his chest. Even though he knew that it was all an act, he couldn't help but wonder if this was how it would feel like to really be in a relationship with him. Would he be as happy and carefree as he was pretending to be right now? Or would he be as silent as he usually was? Or-

“Are you okay?”

Itachi's voice broke Deidara from his thoughts and he could feel his face turn a deep shade of red.
“Yeah, I'm alright, un”, he answered with a probably way too tense smile.
He couldn't exactly tell him he had been too deep into their imagined relationship to pay attention. This friendship meant too much to Deidara to risk it with feelings that Itachi wouldn't be able to return anyway.

Itachi raised an eyebrow and Deidara sighed. “We've been searching for forever and we still haven't found anything, un. It's getting annoying”, he murmured.

For just a moment, Itachi had an odd look on his face, but before Deidara could try to figure out what it meant, his face was already blank once again. “It shouldn't take much longer. Then we can stop playing these roles.”
He stood up abruptly. “Let's keep searching.”

Deidara blinked a few times, perplexed, before following him.
No matter how much time they spent together and how much effort Deidara was putting into understanding Itachi, sometimes his tendency to go completely expressionless and block out everyone else really got on his nerves.

Thankfully, it actually didn't take that much longer until they finally found a clue towards their target. They had agreed to split up to cover more ground and be able to question more people in a shorter time.

The person who would finally end up helping them was an old, white-haired man sitting in the corner of the street and leering after every women that passed by. Judging from the half-empty bottle in his hand, he had to be pretty drunk. He wasn't wearing a headband but his clothing was enough proof that he was a ninja.
Deidara already regretted approaching him.

“Excuse me, could you help me? I'm looking for my uncle. He's about this tall,” Deidara held up his hand a little above his head, “he's bald and he has a tattoo on his neck. It looks a little like a duck.”

The old man didn't react at first, apparently too busy staring at a random woman passing them at this moment. Deidara rolled his eyes. He couldn't stand people like this guy. Maybe he could convince Itachi to bring him to the bounty station as well. Kakuzu would definitely be happy about some extra money.

The man finally seemed to notice Deidara. “Sorry, kid, what did you say?”

Deidara had to collect all his willpower not to roll his eyes again while he repeated his description. The man was deep in thought for a second, then he grinned. “Yes, I think I saw him! He came through here a few hours ago. He said he wants to meet someone outside the village tonight.”

Within the safety of his own mind, Deidara triumphantly threw his fists into the air. He bowed slightly and thanked the old man.

“Riku, I think we should go.”

Deidara jumped but quickly relaxed when he felt Itachi's hand in his, still in his disguise, of course.

“Ohhhh who are you, beautiful?”

The old man looked at Itachi in a way that Deidara really didn't like. As if he was about to jump him, or something. How these people were allowed out on the street, let alone in a position like the ninja was completely incomprehensible to Deidara.

He put his hand on top of Itachi's and glared at the old man. “She's my girlfriend. Thank you for your help.”

He turned on his heel and was about to disappear together with Itachi when the old man's words stopped him dead in his tracks.
“Wait a second, don't I know you from somewhere?”

“Uhm. No, un?”

The old man frowned.
Then he suddenly pulled a kunai from his sleeve and threw it directly towards Deidara's face. He was about to dodge when Itachi suddenly stood before him and deflected it. So much for their perfect disguise.

As the old man was preparing to attack, Deidara joined Itachi to support him. One glance at his clearly angry face told him he had activated his Sharingan without even letting go of his disguise. Aand so much for gathering information without drawing attention.

Deidara grit his teeth and was just about to throw some of his best work at the stranger's dumb face when Itachi's hand on his wrist stopped him.
“That won't do anything.”

He ignored Deidara's indignation at being dismissed so easily and didn't give him any time to react otherwise.
Easily defending the old man's first few attacks, he brought some distance between him and his attacker, pushing Deidara away with him.

“Amaterasu!”

Deidara's mouth fell open in shock as he watched black flames flare up all around the old man. If he hadn't jumped aside quickly enough they probably would have killed him just as quickly as they were destroying the houses across the street right now.
Itachi watched the old man try to evade the flames and more of them seemed to disappear out of thin air.
Deidara was incredibly glad Itachi hadn't used that technique back when he and the others had forced him to join them. He would have never survived something like this! Maybe it would be different now, after all he learned, but damn. That was definitely a very, very strong attack.

While their opponent was busy evading the flames around him, Itachi took Deidara's arm and pulled him along, as far away from the old man and the black flames as possible.

Chapter Text

Itachi and Deidara ran through the dusty village streets, dodging all the people giving them strange looks and standing in their way.

"Get out of the way, un!!", Deidara shouted at a random couple standing in the middle of the street, apparently so caught up in whatever they were arguing about that they were completely oblivious to the world around them. They jumped apart, clearly startled, and let the two fleeing criminals in disguise through.

Only when they reached the other end of the not exactly tiny village did Itachi and Deidara finally stop, and only now Itachi let go of Deidara's arm.

"What the hell was that, un?", Deidara wheezed and leaned against a house wall. "We didn't even do anything this time."

Itachi leaned forward, his hands on his knees and breathed heavily. It didn't sound healthy at all.
"We should leave. This place will be full of enemies soon."

Deidara was about to agree, knowing full well neither of them was in a fit enough state to fight off whoever would be coming for them, when Itachi raised his head to look at him. His words got stuck in his throat.

"Your eye!"

Absentmindedly, Itachi raised his hand to wipe away the blood running down his cheek like a tear with the back of his hand. "It's nothing. A normal side-effect of this technique."

Oh no, he had to be joking!

"Your eye is bleeding, dammit! That's not nothing, un!" Deidara angrily gesticulated around him, throwing his hands in the air.

Itachi simply shrugged and stood up as if it was nothing.
Only a moment later he convulsed in pain, his entire body heaving under the pressure of the cough he was trying to hold in.
This had been happening more and more often, Deidara noted with some concern. Especially when Itachi was doing something exhausting like fighting, or running, or both in this case. Still, as far as Deidara could tell, it hadn't been nearly this bad ever since they had returned from Konoha that first time. Had Itachi tried to hide his sickness again? Or could it really have gotten so much worse this suddenly?
"Fuck, Itachi.." Deidara had no idea what else to say. At this point, he knew trying to argue with Itachi wouldn't get him very far.

After digging into his bag for another bottle of medicine and immediately emptying it, Itachi tried to get up again. This time, he managed, although he still looked even more pale than he normally did.
His eyes were still clearly affected by whatever he had done earlier, but at least it had stopped bleeding. His breathing returned to normal too, which, if nothing else, at least reassured Deidara Itachi wouldn't die in the next five minutes.
"We have to finish this mission first. The mission comes first."

Frustrated but knowing Itachi had made up his mind, Deidara shook his head and sighed.
"Alright, but only if you promise you'll take better care of yourself. I really don't want you to die just like that, okay?"

For a few seconds, Itachi looked at him with an odd look on his face, before turning away and nodding slightly.
Deidara let out a relieved breath. He really worried about Itachi, even if he could be extremely annoying sometimes. The way Itachi seemed to simply not care about his own well-being, despite the fact that he seemed a punch away from death, just didn't sit right with him. Even the thought of Itachi dying, just like that, just because he couldn't be bothered to care about his own life, made him feel sick.

Still, it was obvious Itachi wouldn't talk about it any further, so Deidara didn't press on.

“How did that guy recognise us anyway, un? I'm pretty sure I didn't see him that one time in Konoha, did you?”

Itachi shook his head, but his gaze got stuck on a wanted poster across the street.

As they got close enough to make out the faces on it, Deidara wrinkled his nose in disgust.
It showed him and Itachi. Or rather, it showed old photos of them from the time when they had just left their villages, together with portrait drawings of their disguises.
Underneath was a list of their abilities, mannerisms and other recognizable characteristics, although Deidara thought the last one was a bit unnecessary.

One glance at his own photo and description had Deidara flinch internally. Of course Iwa couldn't even let him be even now, and once Itachi noticed he would never want to speak to him again. He definitely did not want to deal with *that* right now, so he turned towards Itachi's poster instead.
“Uchiha Itachi, twenty years old. Silent, off-putting and a cold expression.” He laughed, but he was fully aware it sounded forced. “Wow, they really managed to describe you perfectly! Come on, we should leave.”

Itachi raised an eyebrow. “Yours isn't better.” He frowned slightly, and Deidara wasn't sure if it was because he was trying to read his description or because he noticed what Deidara was trying to keep from him. “Deidara, eighteen years old. Loud, convinced of her own superiority, ends her sentences with 'un'.”
He was silent for a moment.

Deidara's stomach dropped, but he tried to hide it with another nervous laugh. “Yep, I know! I don't even say 'un' that often, un.”
In his own mind, Deidara cursed his old village, over and over again. How did they still manage to ruin his life, even after all these years??

Maybe it shouldn't surprise him that much. Even when he had still lived in Iwa and had been loyal to it, barely anyone had made the effort to treat him like the man he truly was. Except for Kurotsuchi and her grandfather, Deidara could count the ones that had tried on one hand, and even the Tsuchikage hat called him “my girl” when Kurotsuchi wasn't around to glare at him for it.
And now that he was officially a wanted criminal and the best he could hope for in the case Iwa would ever catch him was an easy execution, it was only logical the village wouldn't do much about their old beliefs and prejudices about him. Maybe it would have been different if he had done more for the village, if he had been more loyal or even died in its service. But would that have been worth it? Deidara didn't want to die for a village that couldn't even respect him in the simplest possible way. He had made his choice and he had never truly regretted it.
And yet it still hurt.

Apparently, Deidara's thoughts were clearly visible on his face, because Itachi looked at him in a way that Deidara could only describe as worry.

Without a word, Itachi pulled the poster from the wall and ripped them in half before burning them with a quick movement of his hands, until all that was left was a small pile of ashes.
He turned to leave. “We should hurry.”

Deidara couldn't do anything but stare at him, his mouth slightly open.
There was no way Itachi hadn't made the connection, even without the description itself. Deidara's photo was old, from the time when he had just gotten his qualifications as a chuunin. He hadn't yet figured out who he was and one look at that picture made it obvious. There was simply no way Itachi hadn't noticed. Sure, he might be slowly going blind, but he wasn't *that* blind yet.

“What is it?”

Deidara flinched slightly, being broken from his thoughts so suddenly. “The poster...” He didn't know what to say.

Itachi shrugged slightly. “It's harder for them to recognise us without the posters. Besides...” He trailed off, as if he was struggling to find the right words. “Besides, that's all over now. Iwa has no idea who you are.”

Deidara just stared at him, wide-eyed. He could tell Itachi was starting to get a bit nervous.
He had to pull himself together in order not to cry. Until this point, he hadn't even realised how much he really worried about Itachi's reaction. He had spent the last months so fixated on figuring out Itachi's secrets and helping him that his own secret had somehow completely faded into the back of his mind.
Besides, he had lived as a man for such a long time that outside of Iwa, there was barely anyone that wouldn't immediately recognise him as one. Even within Akatsuki, only Pain, Konan and likely Zetsu knew. Deidara had spent so long living happily and comfortably in his own body that he had thought about it less and less, until it completely slipped his mind sometimes.
Now, that Itachi knew as well, it felt like a weight he hadn't even noticed had been lifted from his shoulders.

He grinned at Itachi brightly and wiped away the single tear that had managed to escape. “You're right!”
Then, he thought of something. “They really have no idea about my 'un', un!”

Itachi laughed. He laughed!
It was a small laugh and neither especially loud nor long but it was a laugh. A very nice laugh.

Deidara grinned happily and followed Itachi through the streets of the village towards the edge of the village, where they would be able to disappear into the forest.
For a short moment, he let himself become more serious. “Thank you.”

Itachi simply nodded once, but there was still that small smile on his lips that Deidara loved so much.

-

A few hours later, Itachi and Deidara were sneaking through the forest, searching for their promised target. It was starting to get dark.

They had given up on their disguises shortly after leaving the village since the posters that were now unfortunately all over the village would get them recognised immediately anyway. Besides, Pain kept reminding them often enough to finish their actual missions, outside of information-gathering or covert missions, as their true selves and wearing their coats. Itachi didn't really think much about it but apparently it had something to do with building up a reputation, to let potential clients know of their skills and reliability.

Deidara had told him about the information he had gotten from the old man in the village.
He sincerely doubted their target would still be around here after all this time, if the old man had spoken the truth in the first place, but it was still their one and only clue. They couldn't just ignore it.

With his Sharingan activated in order to be able to see literally anything, he looked around, while Deidara climbed down from the tree he had searched the area from.

“He either has really advanced hiding skills or he's not around here anymore. I couldn't see him from up there, in any case, un. You?”

Itachi shook his head. The only things he had seen were trees and some wild rabbits he really didn't need to get into close contact with. The sun was at this point close enough to the horizon that it was practically impossible for him to see anything, even if there had been anything else after all.

Deidara sighed, disappointed, but before he could say anything Itachi heard something. He raised his hand to shut Deidara up. If the look on his face was anything to go by, Deidara was about to angrily ask what the fuck he thought he was doing, but only a second later he seemed to hear the sound as well and pulled Itachi with him behind one of the thicker trees around them.

“What did he want?”

“Shh, be quiet! Someone might hear us!”, a second voice whispered.

Itachi took a small step to the left to listen to the conversation more easily. Deidara did the same.
He couldn't do much more than hope the two strangers wouldn't turn around. They hadn't exactly picked the best possible point to watch these two strangers from, and even if only one of them knew just the tiniest bit about how to spot an enemy ninja they would immediately be found out. The darkness barely did anything to change that.

Fortunately the two men weren't just loud but also completely inept at basic observation skills, because they simply continued speaking in that only slightly more quiet whisper.
“He said he's innocent. As if I'd believe that! That bastard murdered Himiko in cold blood and now he's suddenly saying someone framed him?? Yeah sure.”

Itachi glanced at Deidara, who nodded lightly. Both of them recognised that name from the mission assignment they had been given.
It was silent for a moment. Deidara leaned just the tiniest bit further to the side, pushing Itachi with him.

The first man laughed. “Let me guess, he asked you to hide him somewhere!”
“Yep, exactly! He's really an idiot!” The second man laughed as well. “I promised to help him, of course! That way I'll get the reward for finding him and I'll never have to work a single day of my life ever again.” he laughed again.

At this point, it was pretty clear they were talking about Itachi's and Deidara's target. There weren't many criminals on the run that were worth that much money, especially considering the one they were looking for had been here just a few hours ago. If that wasn't enough, the name Himiko was.
Now, they would only have to follow these people to wherever their target was hiding.

Once again, Itachi leaned the tiniest bit further to the side until he could finally see the two men, standing just a few trees away from them.
He memorized their faces and clothes as quickly as possible and was about the hide back behind the tree when one of the two men finally looked over and jumped in shock.

“Hey! You there! Were you spying on us?!”

It seemed like time slowed down to a halt.

There was no doubt in Itachi's mind that these two idiots were no match for him and Deidara, but a fight would draw the attention of the enemy ninja still searching for them. Also, without their help it would be impossible to find their target without further pointless searching and Itachi wasn't yet recovered enough to use any of his interrogation techniques on them without seriously endangering himself. Maybe he or Deidara could simply threaten them, but was it worth it? If the two men screamed before they could get to them they would lose the only lead they had to the hordes of enemies coming for them.

But what else could he do?

In their hideout, Deidara was standing close enough to Itachi that he could feel exactly just how tense Deidara had gotten. Somehow, he had to stop him from attacking and drawing unwanted attention, while also somehow convincing the two men they weren't a threat.

His mind was frantically searching for a good solution, but his body moved before finding one. He simply did the first thing that came to mind. Maybe he would kick himself for his stupidity later or wonder how the hell that of all things had been his first idea, but for now, he couldn't stop moving even if he tried.

He took hold of Deidara's arms and lightly pushed him against the tree they had both been hiding behind.
Deidara stared up at him with a confused and tense look on his face, his hand already on one of his clay bags. Was Itachi imagining things or did his eyes really reflect the moonlight?

Itachi took a step forwards, fixing him in place. He just hoped he wasn't about to make a horrible mistake.

“I'm sorry.”

Then, he softly covered Deidara's lips with his own.

Chapter Text

It all happened so fast.

One moment, Deidara watched as the two men they had been spying on glared over to them suspiciously and prepared for their inevitable attack.
In the next, he suddenly and without warning felt Itachi's hands on his shoulders and the tree's bark digging into his back.

And suddenly, Itachi's lips covered his.

For just a few seconds, Deidara just stood there, speechless, eyes wide open, staring at Itachi. His eyes were screwed shut and he held Deidara fixed in place.

If he had been able to think clearly in that moment, he might have asked himself a million questions, but his head felt like it was completely wiped clean. His heart was pounding so hard he could barely hear anything else.
Itachi's lips were just so incredibly soft.

Slowly, Deidara let his eyes fall shut and leaned closer towards the kiss.
He could feel Itachi take a sharp breath against his lips and couldn't help but grin giddily.

Deidara wrapped his arms around Itachi's shoulders and pulled him a little closer while Itachi still hadn't moved his hands, almost as if he didn't dare to move.
He lightly touched Itachi's lower lip with his tongue and Itachi opened his mouth, as if he had just been waiting for that. Deidara's hand held on to Itachi's hair and pulled him closer, which Itachi allowed without any sort of protest.

Finally, Itachi dared to move his hands. They landed on Deidara's waist, and as he pulled him closer, the tree no longer dug into his back.

Deidara had no idea how long they had been kissing. His heart was beating up to his throat and his face felt so warm it might as well be on fire.
It wasn't like this was his first kiss, but it was the first one he shared with someone he cared so much about.

But as quickly as the kiss began, it ended.

Itachi let go first and took a step backwards. His face was a very, very nice shade of red and when Deidara noticed how hard Itachi was breathing, knowing he was the cause of it, Deidara's heart skipped a few beats.
In that moment, it felt like nothing could ever go wrong again.

And then, the moment was over.

Itachi turned away and looked past Deidara, where the two men they had spied on had stood before.
“They're gone. If we follow them, we can find our target quickly and get back as soon as possible.”

When Itachi's words finally registered in Deidara's still a little fuzzy brain, his stomach dropped.
It had been a distraction. Itachi had planned this, he had known those guys wouldn't see them as a threat this way, just like he had said in the village earlier. Of course Itachi hadn't just kissed him because he wanted to, they were in the middle of a mission and why would he want to anyway?
Maybe Deidara should have realised earlier, maybe he should have used his brain instead of blindly going with whatever Itachi was doing, but whenever Itachi came near him it became harder and harder to not get distracted. And he'd never been as close as now.
He just hadn't put two and two together and kissed him back, like an idiot. What would Itachi think of him now?

Deidara swallowed hard, trying very hard not to let his disappointment and grief show on his face.
He nodded quickly and blinked a few times to pull himself back together.

Thankfully, he quickly noticed the very obvious trail the two men had left behind in the dirt. They were the only new ones he could see so he followed them, knowing Itachi was close behind.

This was the most hurt he had been for years.
Deidara hoped more than anything that he hadn't just destroyed the best thing that had happened to him since joining Akatsuki. This friendship was just too important to him to let it be destroyed just like that.

-

It didn't take long for Itachi and Deidara to find the information they needed this time.
Thanks to the unpaved streets of the village the trail was clearly visible all the way to the house the two men were staying at, and it wasn't particularly hard to get them to talk either.
Itachi had only activated his Sharingan, without even using any kind of jutsu on them, and they were intimidated enough to spill their guts, begging to keep their lives.

Hearing that, Itachi had glanced at Deidara, expecting him to make fun of them, but to his surprise Deidara avoided his eyes and kept questioning their unwilling informants.

Ever since they had followed these men into the forest, Deidara had been acting strange, and Itachi had no idea why. Did he do something wrong?

On the way to their target's hideout, their informants securely tied up in their own basement, Itachi lightly touched his lips, careful not to let Deidara notice.
His heart was still pounding alarmingly fast and even if he had brought his face back under control, it still felt much warmer than normal.
Itachi glanced over to Deidara who was walking a bit ahead of him, his hands buried deep into his pockets. Itachi didn't like that look on his face at all and he wished he could tell him that whatever he did wrong, he was sorry.

He'd just wanted to create a distraction and prevent a fight, but then suddenly the kiss had deepened and Itachi had lost control, completely forgetting he was supposed to look out for where the two men were going. Starting with the moment where Deidara had returned the kiss, his entire mind had fixed on him and he hadn't been able to concentrate on anything else.
He was lucky Deidara had noticed the trail, otherwise they'd have a real problem now.

Was that it? Was Deidara angry he had almost ruined the mission? Or was he angry Itachi had kissed him? Itachi liked to think they were friends at this point, even if he could still barely believe it, but maybe Deidara still hated him and that was the reason why he was angry. But if that was the case, would Deidara have returned the kiss?
Somehow, Itachi doubted that.

But either way, it was obvious to Itachi that Deidara wanted to forget the kiss as quickly as possible, and even if that thought made Itachi feel strangely uneasy he didn't want to pressure Deidara into anything either. Whatever that might be.

Itachi sighed quietly and caught up to Deidara.

Shortly afterwards, they reached the small house at the edge of the village they had been sent to. The lights were off and it was completely silent, but they were definitely in the right place.

Deidara stepped forwards and knocked on the door.

For a moment, no one made a sound. Then Itachi could hear someone curse quietly.

Deidara grinned and knocked again. “We know you're in there, un. Open the door.”

The door opened slowly, revealing a short man hiding behind it. Even if Itachi hadn't known exactly what their target looked like, the gigantic tattoo on his neck was enough proof for anyone. Itachi had no idea how the hell that was supposed to look like a duck though.

The man smiled, clearly terrified. “H-hello? I-I'm afraid you have the wrong house.”

That was one of the worst lies Itachi had ever heard.

Deidara seemed to agree, because he barked out a single laugh.
“Sorry, but we know exactly who you are.” He pushed open the door and followed his target into 'his' house.
It was obvious no one was living here, Itachi thought with a single glance towards the empty shelves, the unused kitchen and the dust that covered most of the surfaces. He had seen worse hideouts, of course, but not many.

“Please, I didn't do anything wrong, I'm innocent!”
The target backed away in fear and accidentally hit a small vase. It shattered loudly on the wooden floor.
“I was framed for the murder and I only stole to survive! I swear!”

Deidara sighed. “Listen, we're only here to collect the bounty. We really don't care.”

“No, please!” Apparently, the man didn't see any other way out. He fell to his knees and raised his hands in desperation.
Itachi and Deidara exchanged a look. The relief Itachi felt that Deidara would finally meet his eyes again was completely overshadowed by the uneasy feeling in his stomach at the sight of this begging man.

“I loved Himiko! I could never hurt her!” His eyes welled up with tears.
“And she loved me, my past didn't matter to her. And then that bastard..” An angry expression formed on his face. “He was the one that killed her, not me!”

On his knees, he leant forward to take hold of Deidara's coat, but Deidara took a step backwards before he could reach him.
“Please, you have to believe me!”

Itachi took a step forward and for one second, his target seemed almost hopeful before Itachi hit him in the back of his head.
He immediately fell unconscious and dropped to the floor.

“Shit.”

Itachi nodded in agreement. Shit indeed.

“Why are we always the ones that get missions where something goes wrong, un? What do we do now?”

There wasn't exactly much they could do.
If they really let this man go, someone else would catch him and take the money in their stead. Itachi had to suppress an uneasy shiver at the thought of Pain's reaction when he found out they had let some guy go just because he might have been innocent. If Kakuzu didn't kill them first, of course. Akatsuki's reputation was too important to fail such a simple mission.
That didn't change the fact that Itachi hated the thought of turning in this possibly innocent man to the person that had probably framed him.

It was strange. He really spent such a long time being a cold-blooded killer, first in service of his village and then on the run from it, and yet there were sometimes these moments where his conscience caught up with him.
That, too, seemed to happen more and more often. Itachi really had to get himself under control.

“We don't have a choice, do we?”

Itachi didn't answer and simply picked up their unconscious target by the back of his shirt. Deidara knew the answer just as well as he did.

-

They ended up delivering their target just as planned.

Deidara couldn't help but be a bit disappointed. Thanks to the description they had gotten of this man and the obvious prison tattoo, Deidara had hoped for at least a little fight but he'd been sorely disappointed. At some point their captive had even stopped struggling at all, simply letting Deidara drag him all the way to their client.
It wasn't like Deidara couldn't understand how hopeless the guy must feel but still. Was it too much to ask for just a little bit of action?

At least that would help him distract himself a little bit.

Even though Deidara was still angry Itachi had kissed him just like that without considering Deidara might have feelings for him, he couldn't help but sneak worried glances in his direction on their way towards the client.

Itachi had started coughing again. He was good at hiding it, probably since he had a lot of practice, but he couldn't keep his shoulders down when the coughs wrecked through his body every few minutes. Not to mention the flinch of pain that crossed his face every single time.
Deidara was pretty sure he hadn't taken any medicine since they had left the village the day before and it slowly began to dawn on him that Itachi had probably ran out.

Still, he knew Itachi wouldn't let him mention it while their captive was listening and there was no way he'd get him to end the mission before it was finished.

As they took on their new disguises, Deidara tried to at least cheer him up a little bit by joking around. He had disguised himself as a frail old man and couldn't help but exaggerate his role just a little bit, even as Itachi raised an eyebrow at the sight.
Deidara grinned. “What? No one could suspect a poor, defenceless old man like me of being a threat.”
Itachi sighed, but Deidara could easily see the little smile Itachi tried to hide. Things like these didn't exactly make it any easier for him to not kiss Itachi again, even if he now knew what a stupid idea that would be.

Delivering their captive to their dickhead of a client and taking the money was the easiest part of the mission. Their client was clearly the richest man in this part of the fire country so finding his gigantic mansion was simple. He readily handed the money over and Deidara could tell both how little this amount meant to a man like him and how little he cared about the crimes their former captive had supposedly committed.
Things like these were just exhausting. In the business of bounty hunting, it didn't matter who was innocent and who was guilty, and if Deidara was honest, neither did it in the general ninja world. Still, the whole thing was a mess and he was glad it was over.

He and Itachi left the town smiling and side by side as the client's mansion went up in flames behind them.

Chapter Text

“We should get something to eat before we head back. I'm so hungry, un.”
Deidara, walking a few steps ahead of Itachi, glanced back at him and grinned brightly while loudly thinking about what they should get.

Itachi couldn't stop a small smile from forming on his face.
He was just glad to see Deidara acting like he normally did. He had started to worry Deidara might be seriously angry at him and that he'd never want to talk to him again.
Finally seeing that grin back on his face was just a huge relief and Itachi was pretty sure he didn't want to consider why right now. It was just a friendship that was all. The closest one Itachi had had in almost a decade.

“I vote dango.”

Deidara rolled his eyes but before he could reply, no doubt something along the lines of “you always want dango”, Itachi suddenly had to cough.
It hadn't been this painful in a while and when he took his hand away from where it had covered his mouth, it was full of blood.

Deidara immediately jumped to his side and held him upright. He got there just in time. As the next cough wrecked through Itachi's body his knees buckled underneath him and if it wasn't for Deidara, he would have fallen.

“I told you to be careful dammit!”

Itachi couldn't answer through the coughs. His lungs felt like they were on fire and every single breath he managed to take seemed to pour more gasoline into the flames.

“Do you still have medicine, un?”
Almost frantically, Deidara searched through Itachi's pockets but Itachi already knew he wouldn't find anything. He shook his head and forced himself to stand back up. His shoulders were still shaking every few seconds and the pain hadn't stopped, but he'd survive. Hopefully.

“It's all gone.”
Itachi frowned. He had hoped it wouldn't come to this.
If only he'd made it through this one mission he could have just snuck away from the headquarters and take care of it himself without endangering someone as important to him as Deidara was.
He had no idea at what point Deidara had become this important to him but under no circumstances did he want him to risk his life for him. Deidara's promise to help him solve his problems was one thing, watching Itachi betray Akatsuki and being noticed by a Root spy another.

“Where do you usually get it?”, Deidara asked. He seemed so concerned. It made something twist strangely in Itachi's chest.

Shaking his head, Itachi wiped away a stray drop of blood on his chin. “I can't tell you. If they find out you're helping me we're both dead.” Not to mention his brother.

Deidara rolled his eyes. “You don't seriously think I'll leave you alone with those bastards, right? Besides,” he grinned, “this is the perfect time to spy on them.”

Itachi sighed. Looked like he had no other choice. Whatever he might say, Deidara wouldn't give in no matter what. Or worse, he'd pretend to give in and hide somewhere without telling him. If Deidara had gotten something into his head, next to no one could stop him from doing it.
Besides that, Itachi couldn't help but be grateful for Deidara's support. Even after the last few months he still wasn't used to someone caring about him this much but that didn't mean he wasn't grateful.

“Alright. But you can't let anyone see you, no matter what.”

-

About an hour later, Deidara sat well hidden on a tree in the middle of some random forest.

Since Itachi had to let his contact person know about the medicine, they had travelled to a bigger town, deeper into the fire country.
They had pretended Deidara had something else to do for the mission and had even pretended to argue about it. Hopefully this way whoever was probably spying on them wouldn't wonder about his absence and give Itachi what he needed. They couldn't allow them to realise Deidara knew about this meeting.
He had even had to promise Itachi he wouldn't interfere, no matter what happened. Even if the spy would attack, Deidara had to promise to stay away and wait for him. Of course that didn't necessarily mean Deidara wouldn't find some way around that promise if it got serious.

Just before they had split up, Deidara had secretly snuck a little recording device into Itachi's pocket. This way, he'd be able to hear anything they were talking about, just in case. Deidara knew Itachi would have never agreed to this and sure he felt a surprising amount if guilt for lying to him about it but he couldn't help but worry. Even though he'd be able to see what was happening even from his spot on the tree, far away from the actual meeting, just watching from afar felt like he was leaving Itachi alone.
He'd promised to help him and how could he do that if he left Itachi alone with the people blackmailing him? The same people that had forced him to kill his family? No, there was no way he could do that.

As Deidara was still busy trying to get the matching device to stay in his ear without falling out every few seconds, he suddenly noticed someone appear directly in front of Itachi, as if he'd appeared out of thin air.

Through his camera Deidara couldn't see everything perfectly, but he was pretty sure Itachi didn't react much.

“Your medicine is gone?”
The sound wasn't perfect either but it was enough to make out the stranger's voice.

Itachi nodded.
“I'm prepared to give you information in exchange for another dose.”

The unpleasant grin of the enemy spy sent an uncomfortable shiver over Deidara's back. It was uncomfortably similar to the one he'd met in Suna, even though they clearly weren't the same person. Did they just all smile like that for some reason? Fuck, that was creepy.

“Very good.” The grin fell from his face entirely. “And no one followed you?”

Itachi shook his head and the false grin of the spy returned.

“Then you remember what will happen to your little brother if you betray us?” He raised his hand and drew a line across his throat. “This time there is no more family left that you can sacrifice for him.”

The rage bubbling up in Deidara's throat at those words almost made him abandon his hidden spot. He had to focus on Itachi's warning that other spies might be around, watching for the smallest movement that could betray him.
He took a few deep breaths to calm himself down but he could still feel that hot rage bubbling under his skin that he normally could only get fully rid of with an extra large explosion.

He had to pull himself together. This had to work.

Neither of them knew what would happen if they'd really manage to prove what Danzo had done and convince those in charge they were telling the truth, but even though Itachi seemed to have not thought about it all yet, Deidara knew there was at least a small chance that Itachi might be able to return home if they succeeded. It wasn't like they had a bulletproof plan, if they barely had one at all, but already now Deidara sometimes felt sick at the thought of losing Itachi to his home village.
Itachi would return to Konoha, might even work for them again or find someone there he wanted to spend his life with. And Deidara? He'd stay behind. He knew for a fact that no matter what, Iwa would never allow one of their most powerful and notorious criminals to join a village they were barely allied with and besides that, Deidara couldn't even imagine ever living in one of the villages ever again. He knew he'd follow Itachi if he'd ask but he also knew he would never become happy there.
And sure, all this wouldn't become an issue likely until far into the future based on how badly their investigations were going right now, but Deidara couldn't help but think about it. Especially now that he knew what it felt like to kiss Itachi, the thought of losing him felt almost unbearable. Once or twice he had even caught himself doubting if helping Itachi possibly return home was a good idea.

And yet, despite everything, the thought of making this guy and that Danzo bastard pay was worth it. They would pay for what they had done and if that meant Deidara would lose the best thing that ever happened to him it would be worth it.
Hearing that spy's words, Deidara could almost convince himself he meant it.

-

Itachi nodded slightly and tried not to let his anger show at those words.
Of course he knew the danger Sasuke was in. There was barely a day where he didn't think about it. There was no doubt the spy knew that, or he wouldn't have mentioned it.
Danzo's spy's were good at many things and they were especially gifted at manipulating others.

“What do you want to know?”

The spy pretended to think about it for a moment.
“The information you gave us about Akatsuki's plans was helpful so far, but we need more details about the members.”

That was no problem. Itachi only had few (one) connections to members of Akatsuki that really mattered to him and as long as Pain didn't find out it was him that was revealing the organisation's secrets, this wasn't a big deal. Simply spywork.
“Alright. Right now, there are nine members. First-”

The spy interrupted him by clicking his tongue impatiently.
“We need more than that.” An uncomfortably serious expression formed on his face. “One of our members recently had an altercation with someone from Akatsuki. He knew about us and who we work for.”

Oh shit. There weren't many that fit that description. Unless someone else had fought Root and kept it a secret, there was exactly one person the spy could possibly mean.

“We want to know more about him. He didn't tell us he was part of Akatsuki but his appereance and fighting technique are more or less unique. There are only very, very few ninja from Iwa with long blond hair that use explosions like that.”

Fuck.

And here Itachi had tried so hard to ensure Deidara wouldn't become another one of Danzo's targets. Once Danzo considered someone a threat it usually didn't take long for that person to die a sudden and painful death. Itachi knew that for a fact.
Would this man really murder everyone on earth that ever meant something to Itachi?? First he tricked him into killing his family, then he blackmailed him to keep Sasuke at least relatively safe and now even Deidara was in danger.
They would all die and it was all Itachi's fault. Just because he hadn't done enough to protect him they would all die. Danzo was too powerful, he knew everything and could do anything he wanted with the kind of power he had, they had no chance!

Itachi could barely concentrate on keeping his face blank and simply hoped muscle memory was enough to keep his body under control. He tried to answer the spy's demands, tried to get out any word at all but he was barely able to breathe past the tight lump in his throat. It felt like his lungs were slowly filling with water and he would drown before he could do anything to at least try to keep everyone safe.
In his mind's eye he saw the blood on his hands, the faces of his parents, his brother's screams, Deidara-

“Hey. Calm down.”

Itachi flinched.
He could feel something itch on his skull and instinctively tried to swat at it. It dodged and crawled behind his ear.
“Stop hitting my art!”
That was definitely Deidara's voice, but how-
“I sent a communication device to you with one of my spiders. Now calm down, take a deep breath.”

Deidara's voice in his ear showed him how and Itachi copied. He doubted he would have been able to without him. There was still that itch in the back of his mind that told him it was all his fault, but somehow, for now Deidara's voice was enough to keep him in the moment and calm him down.

“See! Everything is fine! Now stay calm, I'm right here, un.”

Itachi couldn't keep a tiny smile off his face.

When he finally looked up, the completely blank face of the spy instantly reminded him of the danger he was in if he didn't answer correctly.
It didn't look like he suspected anything, even despite the long pause, but it was impossible for him to tell for sure.

“There's not much to say about him. He uses explosions in his fights, that's all I know.”

The spy shook his head, feigning disappointment. “Come on, Itachi. You know you and Sasuke are only still alive because you have the information we need. If that is no longer the case, well.” He stared at Itachi with an ice-cold expression on his face and pure indifference in his eyes. “Then maybe it was a mistake to leave two Uchiha alive.”

Itachi hesitated, but Deidara's voice in his ear reassured him.
“We'll kill that bastard later sometime, un! Just tell him what he wants to know.”

Deidara really had a talent for calming others down. Considering his own sometimes quite severe problems with keeping his cool that was quite surprising, but it certainly came in handy in times like this.
And Itachi couldn't deny that he was relieved Deidara gave him permission to basically tell Root his secrets. At least he wouldn't have to worry about Deidara being angry at him for it.

“He left Iwa about three years ago.”

And so, Itachi told the spy about Deidara's abilities, personality and parts of his past. He tried to keep secret as much as he could, knowing this information would only give Root more leverage over him, but he couldn't exactly lie and risk Danzo finding out about their... whatever they had and using that against them.
But Itachi told him nothing about Deidara's smile, or the little dimple on his cheek that only showed when he was laughing out of pure joy. He didn't tell him about Deidara's sense of humour or his sense of justice that he always tried to hide, as if people would take him less serious if they knew. And he definitely said nothing about the way Deidara's lips felt on his or about the fact that even now, he couldn't get that feeling out of his mind.

Chapter Text

Sitting high up on his tree, Deidara silently watched what was happening far below. Of course he wasn't exactly happy that Itachi had to tell this spy practically everything he knew about him, but he knew just as well as Itachi that he didn't exactly have a choice. It was bad enough that they suspected he knew something, they couldn't exactly allow them to find out Itachi was betraying them too.

Deidara leaned back against a thick branch and absent-mindedly played with his clay as he watched the spy nod slowly as if he was pretending to consider something.
“If you find out anything else about the plans of that Deidara, you will contact us immediately.” The tone of his voice did not allow any objections.

Itachi nodded and the spy smiled coldly. He handed him a small wooden box. “It's always nice to do business with you.”
He disappeared without another word.

For a few seconds, Itachi simply stood there silently, as if he was expecting for the spy to return, then he turned on his heel and walked towards the place he and Deidara had agreed to meet earlier.
Itachi had demanded that Deidara wouldn't tell him where he was hiding, just in case something happened and Itachi was forced to talk. Deidara still thought that was a bit overkill but at least it gave him the chance for some fun.

Smiling excitedly, Deidara jumped from tree to tree as silently as possible. Just to be safe he watched out for enemies but he could neither see nor hear any.
Itachi was just a few minutes away from the meeting point when Deidara dropped from the branches above and landed directly next to him, throwing an arm around his shoulder without warning. “Hey!”

“You're too early.”
Itachi frowned, acting like he had known exactly where Deidara had been the entire time. Even a few months ago it would have pissed Deidara off to no end, but now he barely rolled his eyes.
He had easily noticed the way Itachi's hand moved slightly towards his weapons like it always did when he felt threatened, not to mention the slight flinch of his eyebrows. He was simply too easy to read, Deidara thought with a satisfied grin.

“You know, you can just admit I surprised you, un.” Deidara grinned and wiggled his eyebrows, laughing at the way Itachi ignored him completely. He couldn't help but feel a bit smug about the fact that he was able to sneak up on The Uchiha Itachi like this and of course he'd now rub that into his face for as long as it was still fun.
Smiling fondly, Deidara removed his arm from Itachi's shoulders, silently noting the fact that Itachi hadn't brushed him off earlier.

Itachi could pretend nothing could touch him as long as he liked but Deidara knew the truth. He hadn't just seen how he acted at his low points, and there were surprisingly many of those, but he could also read the small signs in his body language that told him everything he needed to know about how Itachi was feeling, even if he tried to pretend nothing was wrong.
And part of that was the tiny smile that formed on Itachi's face at Deidara's words or the way he barely noticeably stood closer to him than before.
Deidara really liked the idea that he was the only one who knew Itachi this well.

-

He watched from the shadows as his target threw his arm around Uchiha Itachi.
Very interesting.

-

For a while, the two walked silently side by side through the forest.
Neither of them had wanted to risk someone noticing them leaving together on Deidara's bird so soon after the secret meeting with Root, so unfortunately walking was the only option. Even though complete silence tended to make Deidara nervous sometimes, it was also kind of nice. It almost felt like they went on a walk just for the fun of it.
At that thought, Deidara had to suppress a laugh, waving away Itachi's concerned glance.

Still, he couldn't stop thinking about that spy and his threats.
That boy couldn't have been much older than Deidara was, maybe even younger than that, but he was so... cold. Not like a regular ninja simply had to be, ready to kill if the mission demanded it and always prepared for a teammate's death, but somehow even more extreme. As if instead of hiding or suppressing his emotions, they had been beaten completely out of him. But was something like that even possible?

“Do you know what that guy's name was? That would make it easier to find him once we're done with Danzo”, he finally asked.
Deidara was already looking forward to seeing that bastard again and showing him that he shouldn't threaten anyone he cared about. Especially not like that. As if Itachi's life hadn't been hard enough already.
Deidara grit his teeth in frustration. There weren't many things that really, truly mattered to him. Until recently, the list had had only consisted of his art after he had kicked Kurotsuchi off it when he left Iwa. But at this point, there was someone else that mattered, and of course it had to be the guy he had sworn to kill almost two years ago. Sure, maybe he should have expected that when he first realised that he had fallen in love with Itachi, but somehow still every new realisation of how deep his feelings really were came as a shock to him. When the hell had this become his life??

Itachi shook his head and Deidara sighed. Of course he didn't.

“They're keeping a lot of secrets from me but it looks like most Root agents only work with code names. They change and rotate them every once in a while.” Itachi absent-mindedly removed a stray leaf that had landed in his hair. “I'm pretty sure I met at least five different people that were all called Shin. I'm not even sure they have personal names at all.”

Weird.

“But how can they just not have names, un?”

With a shrug, Itachi stopped, carefully checking the surroundings. “Either they're raised directly by Root or they're beaten out of them.” He threw Deidara a meaningful glance and started moving again. “Or they could just be regular code names. It's hard to find out specifics without becoming an immediate target.”

Deidara swallowed hard, trying not to let his unease show.
Neither of these options made him feel any better. Root was just becoming more and more creepy the more he found out about them.

-

So Itachi hadn't just found someone new they could use against him but he had also entrusted him with his secrets. That made him a threat they should get rid of as soon as possible.
He silently thanked his master for giving him this important mission.

-

A rustling in the bushes a few meters away made both of them stop dead in their tracks.
It could have been caused by anything from a rabbit to a deadly enemy, but after the last few months Deidara had definitely become more wary of suspicious sounds.

As if nothing had happened, Deidara turned towards Itachi, who returned the same act of indifference Deidara put on.
“Can we finally fly now, un?” His voice was much more tense than he would have liked.

Slowly, Deidara buried his hand in one of his clay bags. “Let's leave.” He hoped that whoever was watching them, they wouldn't realise what he was trying to do.
His hand spat out two little clay balls. One of them disappeared into Deidara's sleeve while he formed the other one into the shape he needed.

Another rustle.

Deidara spun around as fast as he phsyically could and one of his extra fast birds bolted towards the bushes.
He knew exactly where the bird would land and when it would explode, but before he had the chance to do anything else, Itachi suddenly threw a single kunai in the middle of the bushes before Deidara's bird could get there.

Annoyed, Deidara turned towards him as he called the bird back.
“Hey, show-off! Stop stealing my thunder, un!”

Itachi threw another kunai and the bushes rustled loudly in response. Deidara was about to say something when one of them finally seemed to hit something. The sound of metal hitting metal ripped through the silence of the forest like a gunshot.

A shadow leaped from the bushes as fast as lightning and landed on a branch above.
In one hand, he held a short sword which he must have used at the last second to block Itachi's attack. He didn't have a single injury. The fact that he had dodged everything else and managed to stay hidden at the same time for so long was pretty impressive, but Deidara would rather die than admit that.

His eyes finally landed on the stranger's face and he gasped in surprise.
“You!!”

-

Itachi glanced in Deidara's direction, confused. Did he know this guy?
How many more enemies would he run into that all knew Deidara somehow?

Apparently, Deidara didn't even notice Itachi's surprise as he accusingly pointed at the stranger. “You don't just run away from a fight, un! I would have easily beaten you, you coward!”

The stranger smiled, and the complete absence of emotion forced an uneasy shiver over Itachi's back. It was immediately clear who they were dealing with.
“I'm sorry, my mission then was to stay unnoticed.” His gaze turned serious and ice cold. “But maybe I should thank you. Our fight gave us a lot of useful information.”

Itachi grit his teeth. So it was him that had told Root about Deidara. Thanks to him, Deidara was in danger.

He forced himself to stay calm and concentrated on forming a plan instead.
On one hand there was no way they could let this spy run back to Danzo and tell him Itachi had betrayed him. With that, there was nothing he could do to save the last two people on this earth he truly cared about.
But on the other hand, he highly doubted killing one of their spies would be a better option.

Finally, Deidara made his decision for him by suddenly calling the bird he had not detonated yet to attack the spy.

With a loud bang, the bird exploded. The spy just barely managed to jump aside while gearing up for a counter attack.

Itachi activated his Sharingan and drew him into a spy, sword against kunai. At the same time, Deidara launched one bomb after another, which Itachi dodged much more easily than the spy did.
It was obvious that this boy wouldn't be able to fight for much longer. His face stayed completely expressionless during the entire fight, but with every new attack he had to block, every new bomb aimed at his face, his movements became just the tiniest bit slower.

It didn't take very long for the fight to end. Two members of Akatsuki were simply too strong for a single Root agent, no matter how skilled he may be on his own.

The spy dodged another of Itachi's attacks, but he was too slow. Itachi kicked him in the side and he went flying sideways, crashing directly into the blast of one of Deidara's bombs. One explosion later and he lay on the ground, completely motionless.

Hesitating, Deidara walked towards him and lightly kicked his shoulder. He didn't move a single muscle.

“Do you think he's dead?”

He kicked him a little bit harder.
The spy made a tiny, pained sound and flinched a little, but he stayed down, his eyes closed.

“What are we going to do with him now? We can't exactly leave him here.”

“But we can't take him back to the headquarters either.”

That made Deidara laugh for some reason. Itachi frowned in confusion and Deidara clearly struggled to keep himself together for long enough to explain.
“Imagine him and Hidan in the same room.”

Itachi let out a small laugh at that thought. That guy in a room with the Akatsuki was... interesting. He wouldn't survive a single day and somehow make everyone try to kill each other even more than they usually did.

In the end, it was Deidara who found a solution.

“This guy probably has a lot of information about Root, right? If we get those we have all the proof we need that Danzo is a manipulative bastard!” He grinned at Itachi excitedly. “There are so many caves in the mountains around the headquarters, we can probably hide him there! As long as we make sure no one notices him...” His smile fell slightly. “Then you can finally go home.”

Itachi blinked, confused. He hadn't even thought of that.
He shook his head. “Even if the elders believe us they wouldn't let me go back.”
If there was one thing Itachi was sure about, it was this. But still, the thought of being able to go home after all these years... could he really hope for that much?
The information this spy could provide was a once in a lifetime opportunity. A month ago Itachi hadn't even thought stopping Danzo was possible at all and now, with this, it suddenly became a real possibility. Itachi had no idea how to handle this much hope.

Jumping onto Deidara's transportation bird, Itachi shook off those thoughts. It wouldn't help to think about these things when they were still so far away from their goal.
With the spy safely tucked inside the bird's beak, they finally took off.

-

The spy kneeled in front of his master.

“You were right. Uchiha Itachi is acting strange. That Deidara seems to have an influence over him.”

His master nodded slowly. He carefully laid a hand onto the bandages covering his arms. “Is Sai in position?”

“I saw them take him away myself.”

“Very good. As soon as he is back with us he will report back to you.”

The spy nodded and stood up. He hesitated for a moment.
“Will he come back, then?”

His master glared at him coldly and despite the years of training and conditioning, the spy shuddered.
“No one can handle torture as well as he does. There is no one better suited for this mission.”

The spy nodded once again and after his master gave him permission, he left the room.

When he was finally away from his master's prying eyes, he took a deep breath.
None of them were allowed to ask these sort of questions. Whatever their master demanded, it was to be followed without doubt or objection. Free will and every sign of emotion was punished as soon as the master got his hands on them, preferably in the first few years of their lives. All this made Root the most efficient, loyal and blindly obedient soldiers in the world.
But still, it was impossible to prevent everything and sometimes, even small friendships formed, just as long as the master didn't punish them. Too many good soldiers had died already.

Once again with an expressionless look on his face, the spy made his way over to the training court, where he could already hear the new arrivals fight over who deserved to become like him. He hoped at least half of them would survive this time.