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Deidara wakes with a start, because there are people in his room. There’s almost always a person in Deidara’s room nowadays, but these particular people-noises aren’t the soft sounds of Sasori tinkering with his puppets or Tobi’s loud snores. 

Deidara is groggier than he should be, like he’d been drinking the night before. It takes him a moment to remember Sasori is dead and gone, and then several minutes more to remember what he’d been up to the night before. 

(Itachi– the bastard– wrapping a hand around his wrist and telling him he needed him. Flying the both of them through a storm and across an ocean to a place Itachi absolutely had to be. Mad, uncontrolled chakra and smoke and red eyes.)

Deidara cracks an eye open. The room is washed in the dim, bluish light of dawn coming in through a narrow window. There’s another bed barely a meter from Deidara’s, and a child is breathing softly in it. 

What the fuck? Deidara thinks, because he remembers this place, and he remembers blowing it to tiny pieces and watching its ashes rain down on the village surrounding it. He sits up very carefully and looks around. 

His dorm room in the Iwagakure District Four Shared Home for Orphaned Youth is exactly as he remembers it. There are two bunk beds in a room that would be small for even a single bed, a threadbare rug on the floor between them. There are drawers under the beds for personal belongings (mostly empty) and lockers toward the door for shinobi equipment (overflowing). 

The blinds are only half-closed, because the boy in the bunk above Deidara likes to watch the stars while he falls asleep. Deidara does not remember his name. He hasn’t even thought about him in years. 

The air is chilly. The heaters never worked very well in the Shared Home. Deidara has a pair of faux-fur lined slippers under the window, kicked off right as he was climbing into bed. 

The slippers are tiny. Was Deidara really ever that small?

He goes to slip out of bed to explore and figure out what the fuck is happening, but discovers he’s currently that tiny. 

Oh shit, Deidara thinks, staring down at his too-short legs. 

He steps into his slippers and runs as silently as he can down the hall to the bathroom all the boys on that floor share. In the mirror, he confirms his fears: he’s ten again. 

Shit, he thinks. Fuck. 

His first thought is that Itachi has pulled some extra bastardly cards and genjutsu’d him, even after Deidara had been so helpful as to fly the asshole across two countries to an island in the fucking Nowhere Sea because he needed to get to a… chakra nexus or some shit before it dissipated. 

“Haha,” Deidara says sarcastically to his reflection. “Very funny, asshole. Now let me out, yeah.”

Nothing happens, of course, because Itachi is the Actual Worst, and Deidara flares his chakra a few times to break the illusion. Nothing happens. 

Deidara tries reminding Itachi that the bastard won’t be able to get back home without Deidara flying him. Then he calls Itachi names and insults his family and flares his chakra some more. When none of that works, Deidara bites himself hard enough to draw blood. 

He’s still in his stupid Shared Home bathroom. 

Maybe this is… not a genjutsu. 

He bites himself again, just to be sure. Still nothing. 

Deidara is forced to conclude that something even more fucked up than Itachi’s genjutsu is going on. 

 

xXx

 

When he goes down to the ground floor, there are two genin he doesn’t remember at all in the kitchen, and one genin he does remember in the living room. 

Her name is something -tsumi. Natsumi? He thinks it’s Natsumi. Deidara remembers her because he took over her single-occupancy room when she moved out. Will move out?

Whatever. He remembers her, so she’s the one he goes to for information.

She’s on the comfiest of the three couches crammed into the big room, with a piece of toast in her mouth and a large book in her lap. She’s glaring at it furiously, and Deidara recalls that she was interested in a non-combat gig, like cryptography or internal investigations or something. 

He drops casually onto the other side of the couch and says, “Hey, Natsumi.”

“Ha- tsumi,” she corrects like she’s had to tell him ten times before, scowling intensely at her book but not looking up. 

“What’s the date again?” Deidara asks.

She grunts out an answer. It’s the November after Deidara’s graduation from the Academy. He’s ten, with no money or family, using what he’s earned from shitty D-ranks to pay rent and scrape together groceries. There’s no hope for saving up for non-subsidized housing, but by the end of the month Deidara will get promoted to Genin Paygrade II, and then he’ll put himself on the waiting list for a single occupancy room in the Shared Home. 

It will be Deidara’s first time ever having a room to himself, and he’ll be so happy he won’t even care that Hatsumi’s pet ferret stank up the whole room. 

“Did I mention my mission schedule for the week at all?” Deidara asks, trying to decide if he wants to see his genin team again or not. 

“What?” Hatsumi answers, finally lifting her glare to Deidara’s face. “No, we’re not friends. I don’t know or care what you do.”

Deidara abruptly remembers that everyone in Iwa is mean and rude to him, and that includes his genin team. 

He goes back upstairs, where his dormmates are waking up. He dresses quickly, then packs up like he’s going on a mission. He slaps on more weapons than normal and packs away more personal items than necessary, but none of his dormmates seem to notice. He then heads to the roof. 

It’s almost impossible to afford rent in Iwa on a beginning genin salary, so nearly all genin without familial support start off their careers staying in Shared Homes. They’re universally overcrowded, and most are ancient pieces of property where you’re lucky to have hot water and no cockroaches. Deidara picked this particular shithole Shared Home over some other shitholes because it’s at the top of a hill, and the rooftop terrace offers a fantastic view of Iwagakure. 

Deidara hasn’t been in Iwa since he went missing-nin at fourteen. He spends a few moments eyeing old haunts: the ice cream shop Kurotsuchi used to drag him to, the multiple training grounds he was banned from for “unnecessary destructive force,” the Demolition Corps warehouse he used to steal clay from, and his first and only apartment where he rented a room from a retired jounin who had screaming night terrors. 

Honestly, his whole time here was 95% shit. Deidara shoves a hand into the bag of clay he has at his back, because at ten years old he was an idiot and hadn’t realized it’d be easier to reach at his side. 

“Good riddance,” Deidara mutters to his village, and then tosses out a small clay bird. A moment later, it’s as big as a horse, and Deidara hops onto its back. When he’s high enough over Iwa, he drops the biggest bomb he can manage with his ten-year-old’s chakra reserves. 

It should be noted: Deidara was a monster even when he was a baby genin. The resulting explosion throws up enough heat that Deidara can ride the resulting gust of air out of the village at top speed. 

 

xXx

 

This may not be a genjutsu, but it’s still Itachi’s fault, Deidara decides. 

Once he’s blown up four separate Iwa hunter-nin teams, then screwed around in Rice Country for a couple months re-stocking his clay supplies and running boring mercenary jobs, he decides he could probably take on a baby Itachi. Itachi would be what, twelve? Thirteen? Itachi was a child prodigy, but so was Deidara, and now Deidara also has the full experience of an adult ninja. 

He’s pretty sure he can take him. 

Contrary to popular belief, Deidara can be sneaky when he wants to, and he’s also a ten year old kid. He gets into Konoha by wandering up to the gate and telling them he’s meant to sell clay figurines in the market for his mama. 

He holds up a clay cicada to demonstrate. He has a whole bag of them. 

“Oh, that’s pretty neat,” Gate Chuunin #1 says, blinking down at it.

Deidara beams at him. It is not an entirely disingenuous smile. 

“Aren’t you a little young to be travelling by yourself?” Gate Chuunin #2 asks.

“Usually my big sister comes,” Deidara says, “but she and Mama both have flu.”

“Ah,” Gate Chuunin #2 says, flipping through the paperwork Deidara handed over. It was genuine license-to-sell papers Deidara had stolen from a merchant just the day before. “Poor thing. Well, you’re clear to go.”

Deidara goes. 

His plan is this: locate Itachi, lure him into an isolated area, then blow him up and run like mad. It’s a good, simple plan no one in Konoha would see coming. They’d let him just walk in with stolen papers and a bag full of explosives, after all. 

Konoha is a lot flatter than Iwa, with more wood and more open spaces. The central district is all cramped business and apartment buildings on top of each other, but the residential areas have more room to sprawl and many of the homes there would count as mansions in Iwa. 

The Uchiha complex is its own residential area, with sturdy walls around it (presumably to keep out commoner filth), and of course Itachi grew up a rich bastard. It’s practically its own little village inside, with shops and grocers, and there’s only just enough non-Uchiha milling around for Deidara to not stand out. 

Itachi probably had his own fucking room, Deidara gripes to himself. 

Deidara buys himself a snack and asks the woman running the shop if she knows where Itachi is. 

“Eh?” the woman says, blinking down at him. “A fan of Itachi-kun, are you?”

The only thing that holds Deidara back from screaming and blowing up the shop right then and there, is the sweet, sweet promise that once this lady tells him where Itachi is, Deidara gets to kill him. 

“The biggest fan, yeah,” Deidara says through gritted teeth. “He’s so cool.”

Mentally, he cranks up his fantasy of the exact look on Itachi’s face when he realizes his chest cavity is filled with C4. 

The Uchiha woman tries to tell Deidara it’s rude to bother Itachi when he’s in his home, but Deidara hits her with his best sad face. Deidara was a very cute ten year old. The woman melts quickly. 

He easily finds where the woman says Itachi usually goes after work: a specific clearing behind the goddamn mansion the main family lives in. Deidara makes camp in one of the trees, and it’s dusk by the time Itachi shows up. He’s alone. 

Exactly how Deidara wants him. 

Deidara had planned to observe for a while to get a feel for this young Itachi, but as soon as he sees him, he can’t control himself. He stands on his branch and screams:

“ITACHI!”

The ground erupts with the clay insects Deidara had brought him, hundreds of cicadas emerging from their sleep. They claw over Itachi’s body, covering him in seconds. 

Itachi just blinks up at Deidara, his face placid. 

“You’re late,” he says. 

“What?” Deidara asks. Why isn’t he terrified? Where was that sexy, sexy look of sudden realization of his own demise?!

“You're late,” Itachi repeats, but now he’s on the branch directly besides Deidara. Deidara is so shocked he nearly falls off. “You were supposed to come for me immediately.”

“Wha–” Deidara starts, flinging himself back against the trunk of the tree. There’s no more Itachi on the ground, where Deidara’s insects are writhing and crawling over each other uselessly. 

Fucking genjutsu. 

“It’s fine,” Itachi says, eyeing Deidara with apparent apathy. His eyes are red and glowing in the twilight. “I accounted for you being delayed when I picked the date to return to.”

Deidara screams and takes a swipe at Itachi, who dodges by flipping himself over to the next tree. Deidara follows, chucking clay spiders at him. 

“Although I will admit,” Itachi continues, body-flickering away from the explosions, “I expected your delay to be from being detained by Iwa.”

“Wait,” Deidara says, pausing. He’s panting not from exertion but from the sheer, blinding rage of seeing Itachi. “You’re you.”

Itachi raises his eyebrows. “Who else would I be?”

“I mean,” Deidara growls, and flicks a hummingbird at him just for fun. Itachi dodges easily. “You’re you from the future.”

“Of course I am,” Itachi says, like Deidara is a bit slow. 

“And I’m me from the future,” Deidara continues, feeling a bit hysterical. 

Whatever the fuck Itachi did with the chakra nexus on the forbidden island, it ended with both of them traveling through time. 

“What the FUCK,” Deidara yells, and then tries to punch Itachi in the face again. 

 

xXx

 

Itachi, true to his nature, doesn’t explain shit. He says some things, sure, but nothing to explain the how or why of time travel. Instead he just sort of shuffles Deidara into his disgustingly huge house and introduces him to his mother. 

“He’s a new friend,” Itachi says blandly. 

His mother’s stupid pretty face is a mix of incredulous and delighted to have Deidara in front of her. Since Deidara knows Itachi much better than he’d like to admit, he’s confident Itachi doesn’t have friends, because no normal person would be able to stand being in his presence for more than thirty seconds. It must be a marvously novel event for her. 

Deidara considers blowing a hole in the roofing and flying away. He can always try to kill Itachi again another day. Then again, the food on the stove smells really good, and Deidara hasn’t eaten all day. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Uchiha-san,” he grits out. He’s not used to being polite to people and the words feel unnatural in his mouth. 

“Oh, call me Mikoto,” she insists. “I am so happy to have you, Deidara-kun.”

No one has ever been happy to see Deidara, except maybe his favorite clay supplier. He doesn’t know what to do. He settles on sitting, feeling stiff and awkward and stupid. 

Maybe instead of coming back another time for just Itachi, he will also take a detour to blow off Mikoto’s head too for making him feel this way. Yes. That sounds good to Deidara. 

He sits with Itachi in weird, awkward silence for a bit more, and Deidara spends his time glaring at Itachi. While Deidara still has some babyfat on his face, Itachi at twelve or thirteen or whatever doesn’t look all that different from the seventeen-year-old Itachi of Deidara’s first meeting. He’s mostly through his growth spurt already and tall for his age (and he doesn’t even have the humility to look gangly and awkward like a normal teen), with his hair in the same stupid ponytail. The bags under his eyes aren’t as severe, though, and his jaw isn’t as firm as it will be. 

All the better to break it, Deidara thinks. 

When Mikoto starts to place things on the table, Itachi gets up to help. Deidara sits alone in weird, awkward silence until a little kid runs in. 

Intellectually, Deidara knows Itachi has a younger brother. Everyone knows the infamous Uchiha Itachi killed his whole family except his little brother, and on top of that, Itachi caused some drama by getting into a fight with his brother and Jiraiya the Toad Sage back when Deidara first joined Akatsuki. 

Still. Deidara had never quite put it together in his brain that there was once a little screaming child who followed Itachi around calling him ‘big brother.’

“Nii-san!” the kid shrieks in his awful little kid voice. His voice is accusatory, which is how one should speak to Uchiha Itachi. “You said you’d help me with my homework when you got back!”

“I’m sorry, Sasuke,” Itachi says, and Deidara nearly falls out of his seat. Itachi? Apologize? What? 

Itachi continues, “I ran into my friend and got distracted.”

Ah, twisting true events with lies to make himself seem better. Yes, this is more like the Itachi Deidara knows and hates. 

Sasuke gives Deidara a critical one-over. 

“Can’t be too friendly,” Sasuke says snootily. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“Brat,” Deidara hisses, even though Sasuke is completely correct. Deidara and Itachi are not friends. But he didn’t have to say it like that!

“Sasuke, this is Deidara,” Itachi says before Deidara can tell him off. “He’s staying for dinner.”

“Nice to meet you,” Sasuke mumbles, climbing into a chair. “Is Father eating with us tonight?”

“He’s working, dear,” Mikoto says, finally taking her own seat at the table. 

“He’s been working all week,” Sasuke complains. 

“You can take his plate to him,” Mikoto says diplomatically.

Deidara tries the food. It’s delicious. Fuck Itachi for growing up in a big house with his own room and people who worship him and a parent who makes good food. 

They make it through about five minutes of silent eating before Mikoto asks Deidara how he met Itachi. 

“Eh, mission,” Deidara says vaguely, and then shoves a bunch of rice into his mouth to avoid speaking further. 

“A mission…?” Mikoto says, her eyebrows furrowing slightly. 

“I led some survival training with Academy students a few months ago,” Itachi says smoothly, and Deidara nearly chokes on his rice. It’s a better lie than ‘mission,’ since Mikoto would have probably heard of a child genius graduating at nine, but still! Deidara is far from an Academy student! 

This time Sasuke frowns. “I didn’t know you did stuff like that,” he says. “Why didn’t you come to my class?”

Itachi smiles softly at the kid which is, like, disgusting. 

“Hokage-sama wanted me to spend time with shinobi my age,” he lies smoothly, and Deidara notes Mikoto perks up at those words. “I went with some of the older students.”

The rest of Mikoto’s scrutiny of Deidara is easier to lie through, mostly because he barely has to lie at all. His favorite lessons in the Academy are any that involve explosive tags. His goals as a shinobi are to combine his art with jutsu and make everyone recognize it as true art. No, he doesn’t like painting, he likes ephemeral pieces–

Itachi interrupts Deidara’s offer to give a demonstration with, “Maybe another time,” and Deidara kicks him. Sasuke looks downright offended. 

The dinner ends with Mikoto talking about a local artist well enough that Deidara is interested in checking them out, even though they’re a photographer. He hates Mikoto so, so much for this. 

When Deidara is full and Sasuke is excitedly filling a plate to bring to their father, Itachi leads Deidara back outside and Deidara can finally ask:

“What the fuck was that?”

“I need you to trust me,” Itachi says, leaning directly into Deidara’s personal space. His eyes are black but Deidara feels like he’s studying him just as intently as if he were using his stupid sharingan. 

“Trust you?” Deidara sneers back. “After you threw me back in time against my will?”

“I–” Itachi starts. He pauses, takes a breath. “I can’t do this without you. I need you, Deidara.”

(“I need you,” Itachi stresses, his voice heady and firm and desperate, and Deidara thinks: fuck it, let’s go on this crazy mission.)

“Shit,” Deidara swears, and takes a step back. Itachi has brought him to the front of the house, and Deidara is sure nosy neighbors are spying on the clan heir and his weird new friend. 

“I need you,” Itachi repeats, but now there’s that emphasis on the necessity of Deidara, and it’s almost like Itachi is admitting that yes, Deidara is just as good, if not better–

“Fine,” Deidara spits out, and Mikoto’s delicious dinner rolls and churns in his stomach. “What are we doing?”

“I can get you accepted into Konoha,” Itachi says, and then leads Deidara out of the Uchiha compound. 

Deidara figures this can go one of two ways. The first option, which Deidara would prefer, is for Deidara to continue pretending to be an anonymous civilian kid until whatever Itachi needs help with is accomplished, and then Deidara can drop his cover, kill Itachi, and then be on his way. The second, which seems more likely as Itachi leads Deidara towards the tower in the heart of the village, is that Itachi tries to convince the Hokage to grant Deidara permission to stay legally. Deidara does not like this option, because he’ll almost definitely have to go through a probation period and, depending on the cover story Itachi gives, might have to submit to interrogations and chakra-dampeners. 

Deidara is considering making a clay bird and fleeing when Itachi abruptly turns down an alley and opens a side-door to a ratty apartment complex. The door leads not into the building, but to a flight of stairs downward. 

“Huh,” Deidara says. 

“Don’t say anything,” Itachi says. “Let me do all the talking.”

Normally Deidara would argue, but the stairs lead down four stories into an entire secret village. Itachi has to use a special knock to get in. It is so weird and creepy that Deidara defers to Itachi’s (very annoying) lead. 

Well, it’s not quite a village, so much as a bunch of dreary tunnels with somber looking shinobi shuffling around. They pass doors labelled things like WEAPON MAINTENANCE and KITCHEN and CLASSROOM E. Finally they get to a series of administrative offices, and Itachi has to use a series of passwords and special knocks to get someone to call for a “Danzo-sama.”

Danzo is an old man who greets them by complaining that Itachi came in late. Itachi takes this criticism with an entirely blank face and then apologizes, bowing deeply. 

Under usual circumstances, Deidara would like anyone who could cow Itachi. Instead, he finds this Danzo person very suspicious. He doesn’t like anything that’s going on here. 

They end up in an office with more privacy seals than Deidara has seen in his entire life. 

“This is Deidara,” Itachi starts, and Deidara gives the man a two-fingered wave. “I found him outside the village.”

“Deidara, huh,” Danzo says, eyeing Deidara up and down critically. Deidara twitches. “And why have you brought him to me?”

“I assume you’ve heard of him,” Itachi says. 

There’s a very long pause while Danzo switches his scrutiny to Itachi. His gaze is careful and measured, but Itachi is as unflappable and emotionless as a rock.

“I have,” Danzo says finally.

Deidara does not know what intel Konoha has about him, but he knows Iwa has been purposefully keeping him out of the bingo books of other nations. Missing-nin rarely take out as much of a village as Deidara did to Iwa, both in terms of structural damage and body count. He’s done enough damage that Iwa is trying to cover it up to avoid seeming weakened, and so of course this incredibly shady man all the way down in Konoha knows about him. 

The thought makes Deidara smirk. 

“What have you brought him to me for?” Danzo asks. “Why not Hokage-sama?”

“I thought you could use him more… effectively,” Itachi says slowly. 

“Ah,” says Danzo, and the smallest smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “How thoughtful of you.”

A few minutes later, four ANBU arrive and Itachi pulls Deidara’s clay pouches from his waist. Itachi whispers Trust me into Deidara’s ear as he does so, and Deidara swears and screams at him, even as the ANBU move to restrain him. Deidara definitely should have flown off while he could.

He does end up with chakra suppressing seals painted all over his body, although Danzo assures him it’s only until he’s been “re-educated” to Konoha’s standards. When they’re satisfied Deidara is no longer capable of blowing them all to tiny pieces, the ANBU march him to a dark, damp dorm that’s even worse than the one in the orphanage he grew up in. 

Itachi, you fucking traitor, Deidara thinks as he’s shoved into a cot and told to stay there until morning. 

“Hello,” the boy in the next cot whispers when the ANBU are gone. “My name is Shin. Welcome to ROOT.”

 

xXx

 

Deidara didn’t think he could hate anywhere more than the Iwagakure orphanage. Even the Share House and his apartment he shared with a jumpy, screaming jounin were better. Even the Akatsuki was better, even when Sasori was at his absolute bitchiest and Tobi was at his most annoying. 

He hates ROOT more than all of those places, with a passion that burns so strong it makes his vision blurry if he focuses on it too much. 

ROOT trainees are taught to squash all emotion, and Deidara is denied both breakfast and lunch on his first day for swearing at a commanding officer and then laughing at a kid losing a fight in a particularly embarrassing way. 

Every morning they– that is, Deidara and a bunch of creepy, blank-faced children– sit through a few hours of “lectures,” which are mostly about how they are destined to give their bodies entirely to Konoha and feelings are the enemy of progress or whatever. Deidara mostly sleeps through them. The afternoons and evenings are all training: too grueling for most kids, but Deidara almost manages to have fun. 

Almost, because down here fun is illegal. Deidara would rather be able to go outside and blow things up, thank you very much. 

“Are you even allowed to have hobbies?” Deidara wonders out loud at some point. 

“Not really,” says Shin, who is the poor idiot Deidara steals most of his food from. “My little brother likes drawing, though.”

“Drawing is a stupid hobby, yeah,” Deidara mutters, snagging the apple from Shin’s lunch tray. Deidara’s punishment is to watch other people eat, and there are older, fully “educated” ROOT agents to police them, but they’re not used to policing kids with mouths in their hands.

“Maybe if you stopped trying to escape,” Shin says in the level, emotionless tone they’re all required to use, “you’d be allowed more meals.”

“Whatever,” Deidara mumbles, and takes a bite out of the apple with his hand-mouth under the table. His hand-mouths don’t connect to anything, but he can hide food in there for later.

(Like a hamster! Tobi had exclaimed the one time he’d witnessed Deidara use this trick.)

They try physical punishments on Deidara too, when starving doesn’t seem to work. More than one senior ROOT operative manages to look confused when Deidara just laughs at them, because he’s a goddamn nineteen-year-old missing-nin with an S-class bounty in multiple nations and not some stupid kid, and he’s going to make all the assholes in this murky hellhole pay, chakra or no chakra .  

All in all, it takes roughly two weeks for Deidara to figure a way out. Predictably, it involves fire and explosions. 

When Deidara crawls out of the fiery hole he’s blown in the ground, Itachi is there. 

“What–” Itachi starts. 

“YOU FUCKING TRAITOR,” Deidara screams, and then tackles him. They roll through across the ground, wrestling as embers and flames lick at them. 

“You’re not even getting burnt!” Deidara shrieks in outrage when he finally manages to pin Itachi by his shoulders directly into some smoldering pavement. 

“Uchiha are largely fire-resistant,” Itachi says, and then reaches up and pats out a flame burning on Deidara’s shirt. “What happened?”

“I escaped after you fucking left me there–” Deidara hisses, leaning forward into Itachi’s stupid blank face. The pavement below him is red-hot and halos his stupid head.

“I meant for you to spy,” Itachi says mildly. His sharingan is active, a smoldering orange in the heat of the fire raging behind them. “I would have gotten you out in a few months. Your involvement in ROOT would have expedited you being naturalized in Konoha.”

“Great fucking plan, yeah,” Deidara answers sarcastically. His face is close enough to Itachi’s that he can feel the heat from the pavement and see his own reflection in Itachi’s eyes. He looks furious and crazy, with chunks of his hair burnt off. 

Fuck, he thinks, I hate when that happens. 

“Is Danzo–” Itachi starts. 

“He’s dead, asshole,” Deidara cuts him off, bearing his teeth. “I made sure it went off right in his office, yeah. They’ll be lucky if they can find any solid piece of him–”

“Did you confirm?” Itachi asks, balling his fists in what’s left of Deidara’s shirt. “Did you confirm he’s dead?”

“I watched his head leave his body, yeah,” Deidara snarls. “I watched the look on his face right when he realized he’d trapped his whole little stupid army in an underground deathtrap just waiting for someone to set it off–”

“Oh,” says Itachi, looking relieved, and then he relaxes, letting his hands fall to Deidara’s sides. 

Deidara rants some more about how he’d used the shoddy electrical system and the gas lines to blow the whole place to smithereens, and it takes him a while to realize Itachi is smiling back up at him. 

“What?” Deidara asks, suddenly feeling awkward. He realizes she’s just been… straddling Itachi in the middle of some fire and not even beating the snot out of him. 

“It’s nothing,” Itachi says as Deidara scrambles off of him. Itachi stands, brushing soot off himself. “This isn’t what I planned, but… it’s fine. Better, maybe.”

Deidara stands himself and assesses the damage he’s done to himself. A lot of minor burns, as to be expected, and one pretty nasty one across his back. He’s got some cuts in various degrees of nastiness from shrapnel. His shirt and pant legs are in tatters, and he’s going to have to cut his hair short. 

Itachi is still standing there, watching him with an odd look of indulgence in his red eyes. The heat from the fire causes his bangs to float around his face, and he is backlit by the burning building behind him. Vaguely, Deidara is aware of people running around and screaming. 

“I’m quitting your stupid plan,” Deidara says, eyes narrowed. “Since you betrayed me immediately.”

“I didn’t,” Itachi answers, taking a step towards him. “I just didn’t explain it very well.”

“You haven’t explained anything, yeah.”

“I do need you,” Itachi says, taking another step forward. Deidara stiffens. The hot air is hard to breath. “I can sweeten the deal,” Itachi says. “Help me, and I’ll help you. Whatever you want.”

His sharingan spins slowly. Deidara feels dizzy. 

Deidara doesn’t want anything from Itachi, except maybe for him to gravel in front of him and beg for mercy. 

“Genjutsu is a very useful tool,” Itachi reminds him. 

That’s a good point, though. What Deidara really wants is to set up an art studio where no one will bother him, and then fund himself through his art. As a missing-nin, setting up a peaceful life would be so much easier if a genjutsu master occasionally came through and wiped everyone's memories of him being a missing-nin. 

“Fine,” Deidara finally agrees, crossing his arms. “But you have to actually tell me things, yeah!”

“Of course,” Itachi agrees. The tiniest smile is on his face. 

Deidara spends some time watching the huge pit of fire with immense satisfaction. It covers multiple city blocks, and surrounding buildings have also gone up in flames. Itachi stands with him, not trying to convince him it would be more pragmatic to move to safety and seek medical attention, like he usually would. Deidara rips his gaze away from the fire for exactly one second to discover Itachi, somehow, looks just as satisfied with the destruction as Deidara feels. 

Chapter Text

Deidara eventually loses enough blood he gets wobbly, and Itachi leads him to the Konoha hospital. Deidara complains the whole way, but he’d rather walk into the hospital on his own power than wait until he collapses and Itachi has to carry him in. That would just be humiliating. 

They’re not likely to get the massive fire out very soon, anyway. Deidara will get another look. 

The hospital is in chaos. Apart from incinerating what Deidara hopes is every last ROOT agent, there is severe damage to blocks and blocks of buildings, including apartment complexes. People with varying wounds are sitting in hallways, with very stressed staff running around like chickens with their heads blown off. 

Itachi pauses in the main lobby, surveying the chaos while Deidara sways at his side. A group of ninja supporting what looks like an entire, bleeding civilian family bursts in behind them and rushes off.

“Come on,” Itachi says, and then takes Deidara’s hand and walks very purposefully up to a medic-nin. He doesn’t even flinch when Deidara licks his palm. 

The medic-nin peels away from the shinobi whose legs he’s being forced to reassemble in the waiting room in order to get Deidara into a room, kicking out the bruised pregnant patient inside. Itachi follows along, sharingan red and spinning, and Deidara wonders if Itachi was this willing to casually and callously genjutsu his own people when he was actually twelve, or if this kind of problem-solving is the result of nearly a decade as a missing-nin. 

Either way, Deidara gets all of his worst burns and scrapes healed up right away, so he’s not complaining. Konoha is supposed to have the best medics in the world; he doesn’t think anyone but the top medics in Iwa could close up the gaping burn on his back as quickly or completely. 

“He’ll need lots of rest and liquids,” the medic tells Itachi. He sounds exhausted, and his eyes are going in and out of focus. “Is he in the Academy? Make sure he doesn’t do any training for at least two weeks.”

Deidara is annoyed the medic is talking to Itachi instead of him, but the man has also been genjutsu-compelled so bad he’s worked himself into a state of exhaustion without noticing. He probably wouldn’t disobey Itachi’s illusion if Deidara slapped him across the face. 

The medic hooks Deidara up to a saline drip and then wanders off to fetch them some sort of ointment for Deidara’s homecare. 

When he’s gone, Deidara turns to Itachi and snaps, “You still owe me, yeah.”

“Hmm,” says Itachi, and he relaxes into a seat in the corner of the room. “We’ll say it was an accident.”

“What?” Deidara asks. 

“The explosion,” Itachi says, tilting his head back and letting his eyes close, like he’s the one who’s been through a hard time. “Danzo was blocking infrastructure updates to that neighborhood, to hide his base of operations. I can make investigators think it was a gas line explosion from lack of maintenance.” 

“But I did it, yeah,” Deidara gripes. What Itachi is saying makes sense, if Deidara wants to stay undercover. Right at this very moment, Deidara wants credit.  

“And you did a very good job,” Itachi says, his lips quirking back up into a smile. Deidara doesn’t think anyone has seen Itachi smile as much as he has tonight. 

“You better put me up in a cushy hotel, yeah,” Deidara decides, scratching the skin of his inner arm, right around where the needle is inserted. He hates needles, but he does like Itachi admitting Deidara is awesome. “Four stars, at least.”

“Hmm,” says Itachi. 

When Deidara is discharged from the hospital a couple hours later, Itachi takes him back to the Uchiha compound. He tells Mikoto that Deidara’s apartment building was one of the ones destroyed in the explosion. 

“Oh, you poor dear,” Mikoto fusses, and then goes to throw together a pot of soup for him. While she’s chopping vegetables, Itachi has a quiet conversation with her. Deidara can’t hear all of it, but the gist is that Itachi wants Deidara to have their spare room until he’s recovered and Itachi is going to go talk to someone named Shisui. Mikoto nods along, making sympathetic hums at all the right places. 

“Any friend of yours is welcome,” she says finally, shooting Deidara a smile. 

Of course he wants me in his house, Deidara thinks bitterly. Easier to keep an eye on me that way. 

Itachi leaves, and Deidara sits at the kitchen table and watches Mikoto as she cooks. The way she holds her knife screams ninja at Deidara, and he wonders if she’s still active duty. 

“Oh, no,” Mikoto says with a laugh when he asks. “Not since I married Fugaku. I still do administrative work on and off, though.”

“What rank were you?” Deidara asks when she sets a bowl down in front of him. It’s filled with potatoes and vegetables and smells just a little bit spicy. 

Kids ask lots of questions, right?

“I was a jounin,” Mikoto says vaguely. Then she adds, “I’m going to go get your room ready. You’ll be okay alone for a while, won’t you?”

Deidara is a little offended that she thinks he’d somehow not be okay alone, but he manages to fight back rude words. The soup is really good, after all, and he’s dead tired. He can decide whether or not he wants to blow up this entire stupid fancy house in the morning. 

The house is quiet as Mikoto leads him to a small backroom. Itachi is still out, and Sasuke must be asleep by now. There’s one light on, coming from under a closed door. 

“That’s Fugaku’s office,” Mikoto says quietly when she notices Deidara looking. “He’s very busy, so it’s best not to disturb him.”

The spare room is bare and very traditionally Fire Country, with tatami mats and sliding paper doors. Mikoto has set out a futon and a thick blanket for Deidara, and she hums as she sets the timer on the room’s space heater for him. 

There’s a set of dark gray pajamas folded up at the base of the futon, which can only be Itachi’s. Deidara pokes them with a toe. 

“You can use whatever’s in the bathroom down the hall,” Mikoto tells him. With a final, disgustingly maternal smile, she leaves him. 

Deidara turns off the space heater. February in Fire Country has nothing on winters in Iwa, and between the heater and the comforter, he’ll get too hot. 

He showers, using a piece of bar soap that’s obviously been sitting there, unused, for a long time. The family must not use this bathroom much. Still, Mikoto had a towel and washcloth folded on the counter for him, and the shampoo smells nice and gets the soot out of his hair. Deidara winces as he scrubs, not from the tug of his mostly-healed injuries, but from the way huge chunks of his hair are too short from being burnt off. He’ll have to get it cut as soon as possible. 

When he’s clean, he fills the tub and spends a while letting his muscles relax in hot water. He examines the seals painted onto his skin, up one arm and then over his back and down the other. They had to be redone every three to four days to keep working, and the ink is already heavily faded. He should have full access to his chakra again in a day or so. 

(Blowing off a good chunk of the skin on his back did, in fact, loosen up some of his chakra, which is an experiment he wishes he’d tried earlier.)

When he’s done, he pats himself dry and does his best to smear burn ointment over the wound on his back and another good-sized one on the back of his calf. The skin is pink and sensitive, but the medic said if he was diligent about care, there wouldn't be any scarring. 

Itachi’s pajamas smell good, and the thought makes Deidara want to gag. 

It’s just the detergent, he tells himself as he dresses. It’s not his smell. 

The pajamas are only a little too big, and he concludes they must be old, from when Itachi was his size. Mikoto must have kept them for Sasuke, and Deidara finds it surprising a rich kid would get their siblings’ hand-me-downs. Unless Mikoto’s been saving them for a less fortunate cousin? Did clan heads do stuff like that?

When Deidara finally goes back to his room, the light is still on in Fugaku’s office down the hall. 

In the room, his clay pouches have appeared at the foot of his futon. Deidara crouches over them, sticking a hand inside. The top layer of clay has dried out, so Itachi wasn’t taking very good care of Deidara’s things, but at least he gave them back. 

Maybe Deidara won’t burn down the Uchiha house when he leaves. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara sleeps in and misses both Itachi and Sasuke leaving for work and the Academy, respectively. While he’s cracking an egg into reheated rice from their breakfast, he spares a thought that it’s a little weird Itachi is just leaving Deidara, a known missing-nin many consider to be “highly unstable,” alone with his family. 

Deidara figures that either Itachi just doesn’t care if his family lives or dies, or he has made the (potentially very poor) decision to trust him. It doesn’t matter to Deidara; if the Uchiha family wants to finance all his meals and give him a comfy futon to crash on, he’ll take advantage until he decides to move on.

Deidara never once considers the obvious third option, which is that Itachi is confident his mother can handle Deidara. 

Mikoto takes Deidara to an “auntie” to get his hair cut. The stint in ROOT means he’s lost all the money and supplies he came into Konoha with, save his clay, and so he accepts both women’s generosity to do it for free. 

(He’s also not saying no to a pile of Itachi’s old clothes, even though he very much wants to. At least Mikoto had time to cut off the Uchiha crest off a couple of the shirts, even if the collars are still stupid looking and uncomfortable.)

“I don’t want to ugly side-bangs you all have, yeah,” he mumbles as the auntie runs a comb through his hair. She runs a tiny beauty parlor in the Uchiha Compound, with a single barber’s chair and a mani-pedi station. 

The auntie snorts at his sass. “I’m glad the accident didn’t dampen your spirits, kid,” she says. 

After Deidara has picked a style out of a fashion magazine and the auntie starts cutting, she addresses Mikoto and says, “Heard any rumors about them trying to blame the Hellpit on us yet?”

Mikoto doesn’t look up from the wall of nail lacquers she’s examining. “Hm? What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” the auntie says darkly. 

“All I’ve heard was that it was an accident,” Mikoto says breezily. “Something about old pipes.”

“I haven’t seen Fugaku-sama in a while,” the auntie presses, and Deidara does his best not to look like he’s eavesdropping as hard as he is. He doesn’t really get what’s going on, but this is some very juicy gossip he’s absolutely going to lord over Itachi’s head, once he figures out what it means. 

“He’s been very busy,” Mikoto says in a cold tone that leaves no room for further conversation. 

Jounin, Deidara thinks when the auntie dutifully shuts up after that. 

The auntie finishes cutting Deidara’s hair into a cute bob in silence. As they leave, Mikoto assures him he looks very handsome. Deidara pretends that this does not please him. 

Sasuke is still at school and Itachi is off being in fucking ANBU, apparently, and Deidara has yet to see any evidence Fugaku actually exists beyond a light on in an office. Mikoto sets Deidara up on their living room couch with a blanket and two pillows. She tells him she has back-to-back clan meetings for the rest of the day, but he’s welcome to watch TV and nap and heat up the leftover soup for lunch. 

“Rest up,” she tells him with a bright smile, then leaves. 

Deidara is not used to being taken care of. He can’t decide if he likes it or not, and he certainly doesn’t know how he should be talking to Mikoto. Was he supposed to say thank you? Should he do the dishes or something in return?

He’s not going to do those things, he decides as he snuggles into the couch, grabbing for the TV remote. He’s a little kid whose home just got destroyed. He’s allowed to be rude and take advantage. 

 

xXx

 

By the time Sasuke comes home, Deidara is restless and twitchy. Sasuke, too, seems to be in a bad mood. 

“Is my mom here?” he asks, a definite whine in his voice. 

“Nope,” Deidara says. He’s currently going through the entire Uchiha movie collection, looking for something that won’t bore him to tears. 

(They have a few movies about their Sannin, but they all make Tsunade out to be a gentle-handed goddess of healing. The Iwa films about her are all anti-Konoha propaganda that have her ripping people and half and toppling buildings on wailing civilians. It’s much better entertainment.) 

“My brother?”

“Sorry, kid,” Deidara says, letting the cabinet swing shut. “Do you happen to have a secret stash of good movies somewhere?”

Sasuke just huffs and stomps off. It’s actually very cute, and Deidara doesn’t like kids. 

Itachi comes home next, to find Deidara molding clay at his kitchen table. 

“Do that outside,” Itachi says by way of greeting. Deidara makes a big show of rolling his eyes. 

Itachi gets halfway through a glass of ice water before Sasuke comes charging into the kitchen, throwing his arms around Itachi’s waist. “Nii-san!”

“Hello, Sasuke,” Itachi says, and pats his head. Deidara stares openly, because Itachi showing affection is sort of like watching a dog walk on its hindlegs.

“I saw the Hellpit,” Sasuke says, gazing up at Itachi with wide eyes. “I walked by it on the way home.”

Itachi frowns ever so slightly. “Sasuke, we told you not to go near it. It’s dangerous.”

Hell yes it is, Deidara thinks. Outloud he asks, “Is it still burning?”

He sounds more excited than he meant. Sasuke gives him an odd look. 

“Naoki-chan is in the hospital,” Sasuke tells Itachi. His voice is very small. “Her building collapsed.”

“Naoki…?” Itachi repeats, brows furrowed. 

“She’s in my class,” Sasuke says. He sounds… upset. Deidara cannot ever remember being upset because a classmate got hurt. He bets Itachi also never considered this possibility. 

What happens next is that Deidara gets to watch Itachi try and comfort a child. It’s very awkward, and weird, and Deidara almost looks away a few times, except that he loves watching people crash and burn. Disappointingly, Sasuke seems to accept Itachi’s clumsy platitudes as comfort. 

Sasuke then starts asking questions about what caused the explosion, and if it could happen again, and Itachi finally says, “Sasuke, I would never, ever let something like that happen to you.”

He says it with such conviction that even Deidara– who knows with absolute certainty Itachi once choked out another version of Sasuke– believes him. 

 

xXx

 

Mikoto comes home late, and so dinner is late. Fugaku still does not make an appearance. 

For several hours after dinner, Deidara hides in his room and continues his project of cutting off all the stupid collars from Itachi’s hand-me-downs and then hemming new, regular collars. The neckline inevitably has to be a scoop neck or a wide V-neck, but Deidara grew up a penniless orphan and he’s alright at sewing. The shirts so far look at least better than they did with the dumb Uchiha collars. 

Once Deidara has settled into bed and is starting to doze off, Itachi slinks into the room, sitting at his side. 

His eyes flutter red, and Deidara assumes he’s set up genjutsu for privacy because Itachi then says, “We have to be more careful next time. More coordinated.”

Deidara snorts. “Then maybe don’t just toss me aside next time, yeah.”

Itachi’s nostrils flare. “I didn’t–” he starts, irritated, and then takes a moment to calm himself. Deidara is a bit disappointed; Itachi’s angry face is a fun novelty. “It was an oversight. It won’t happen again.”

A long silence passes between them, and Itachi shifts, leaning his back against the wall. Moonlight from the window above catches in his dark hair, turning it silver-grey.

“What did you even bring me back for?” Deidara asks. “Surely you’d work better with Kisame, yeah.”

“A few reasons,” Itachi says. He, of course, can’t ever fully elaborate on anything properly, and so he gives just one. “You have information I need.”

“Oh yeah?” Deidara asks. 

“Yes,” Itachi says, turning his face to meet Deidara’s eyes. “I need you to help me kill Tobi.”

Deidara stares and waits for Itachi to deliver the punchline, but his face is dead serious. 

“You need my help,” Deidara repeats, “to kill Tobi, the stupidest, clumsiest idiot that I've ever met?”

“Yes,” Itachi confirms, “because he’s actually Uchiha Madara.”

A very, very long silence passes, and Deidara wracks his brain for where he’d heard that name before. He’d done a lot of research on the sharingan to strategize against Itachi, and that involved reading more about Uchiha history than he’d prefer. Uchiha Madara was… he was…

“What the fuck!” Deidara yells, sitting up straight in bed. 

“Shh,” Itachi chides him, leaning over to push him back down. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

“You’re insane,” Deidara says. “There’s no way that’s true, yeah.”

“It’s okay if you don’t believe me tonight,” Itachi says, resituating himself against the wall. “He’ll make a move soon enough.”

Insane, Deidara confirms in his own mind. 

“I need to know everything about his behavior,” Itachi presses on, “and you’ve spent the most time with him.” 

“He’s stupid and loud,” Deidara informs him. “Very un-Madara like, yeah.”

Itachi keeps going like he hasn’t heard Deidara. “Anything you can think of. Habits, fighting style, likes and dislikes, allergies–”

“You want to kill Uchiha Madara with allergies?” Deidara asks dubiously. 

“If it works,” Itachi answers. He continues to sound dead serious, but then again, that’s just how he is. 

“Fine,” Deidara says, and then yawns exaggeratedly. “I’ll think about it, yeah.”

This must be a satisfactory answer for Itachi, because he leaves without further badgering, and Deidara falls asleep. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara sneaks out to look at what Konoha has dubbed the ‘Hellpit’ the next day. It’s actually unclear to him if he’s allowed to leave– no one has explained to him if Mikoto trying to get him to “rest” is actually her keeping him captive or, like, genuine concern– but all three of the Uchiha have things to do for most of the day, and no one on the streets of the compound questions him.

Seeing so many Konoha hitai-ate sets Deidara on guard, but he’s always been good at ignoring the voice in the back of head that screams Danger! Do not! 

The Hellpit is blocked off from access from blocks away. Deidara can see toppled buildings and cracked foundations from the caution tape. He can also watch ninja and civilian workers wandering around and consulting clipboards and moving rubble. They’ve put out all the fire, as far as Deidara can see, which is disappointing. 

He manages to get a view of the actual pit itself by taking to the roof tops. There are almost no bored chunin patrolling up here– although there are signs warning ninja of unstable structures and to go around– and so Deidara manages to get into the exclusion zone without hassle. 

The Hellpit covers more than two city blocks, and its innards are still smoldering. Almost all the buildings at its borders have been destroyed, with exposed iron rods and wiring and pipes and concrete. It’s beautiful, and Deidara sits there watching it for almost an entire hour before a passing shinobi stops. 

“An academy student?” the woman says. She’s got dark, wavy hair and red eyes that almost make Deidara wince. On further inspection, her eyes are too dark to be sharingan. 

“Didn’t your sensei tell you not to come here?” the woman chides. “It’s unsafe. You could get hurt.”

She shoos him away, and Deidara goes with minimal complaining. He got what he came to see. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara perseveres in holding back his artistic expression for two more days by making fabric patterns to sew over the Uchiha crests that were too firmly attached to his new shirts to just cut off. Then he manages to light the Uchiha koi pond on fire. 

“But how?” Sasuke asks, staring at it in astonishment. He cuts off Itachi’s annoying lecture on how the Uchiha have entire fire-proofed training grounds if Deidara needed an outlet. “It’s water!”

(Itachi does not understand that the collateral damage is part of the art.)

“Fire-proofed training dolls are an awful medium, yeah,” Deidara informs Itachi. 

Itachi is distracted from whatever bad counterargument he has for Deidara, because Sasuke has helpfully turned on the garden hose and Itachi runs to intervene. 

“Do not add water, Sasuke,” Itachi commands, stepping between his enthusiastic brother and the pond. Sasuke pouts. 

“Yes, throw water on the grease fire!” Deidara cheers. “It’ll be a learning experience, yeah!”

Despite his pond being on fire behind him, Itachi takes the time to calmly explain that what is actually burning is oil Deidara added to the water’s surface, and if Sasuke tried to put the fire out with the hose, he would just spread the fire around. 

“So you can set water on fire with oil?” Sasuke asks, wide-eyed. 

This kid asks the right questions, Deidara thinks as Itachi gives a very long answer that amounts to: he does not quite have Deidara’s genius to figure out how that particular concoction was made from household items, but essentially, yes. 

(The exact wording used the phrase “ill-advised science experiment aided by fool’s luck,” but the reading between the lines, any smart kid will realize Deidara is brilliant and Itachi isn’t nearly as clever as everyone thinks.)

“Are the fish okay?” Sasuke asks next, and Itachi pinches the bridge of his nose. 

Itachi eventually puts the fire out by burying the pond with an earth jutsu, which basically guarantees a zero survival rate for the fish. Deidara can make out at least two fishy bodies floating in the newly created mud-pond. 

“We weren’t taking care of them, anyway,” Itachi justifies when Sasuke looks upset. Deidara wonders if Itachi justified the murder of his entire family this way too. 

Sasuke gets over the fish easily enough, blabbering about how he’s gotten really good at the fireball jutsu, and does Itachi want to see, and he’s mad their father is never around anymore because he wants to show him, but if Itachi wants to see–

Deidara wants to tell him to shut up. But also…

“I want to see,” Deidara says. 

He’s seen Itachi spit fire. It’s a pretty good trick. It’s probably an even better trick if someone who’s not objectively the worst person on earth does it. 

Konoha is far enough south that the winter days are just a touch longer than in Iwa. They have an hour or two left before sunset, and Sasuke is visibly holding himself back from skipping as he leads Deidara and Itachi to a lake at the edge of the Uchiha compound. 

The fireball Sasuke demonstrates is quite good, considering Deidara is pretty sure seven-year-olds don’t typically know any elemental jutsu at all. It’s a decent size, with a good orange color that reflects on the surface of the lake. It’s controlled enough Sasuke doesn’t burn off his own face. Deidara would grade it a solid B+, as far as fires go.

It’s also, of course, not nearly as good as anything Itachi can do, which seems to frustrate poor, stupid little Sasuke. 

“I practiced all Sunday,” he whines, scowling at the lake like it will explain to him why he sucks. “It was bigger then…” 

“It was very impressive,” Itachi says. It’s very obvious he is only saying it to keep Sasuke from feeling bad, and even Sasuke can tell. He kicks at the pier. 

“Usually Uchiha don’t learn this technique until they’re at least ten,” Itachi tries. 

“Yeah?” Sasuke asks, glaring at Itachi. “And when did you learn it?”

Itachi, of course, learned it when he was an even tinier baby. Deidara’s eyes dart between the brothers, hoping a fight will break out. He would pay to watch Itachi punt a child into the lake. 

Instead, Itachi mollifies Sasuke by offering to help him practice. Deidara has never seen anyone as desperate for attention as Sasuke is for Itachi’s, and it’s sickenly sweet. No wonder Itachi didn’t kill him in the old timeline; the hero worship alone would be great for anyone’s ego. 

Deidara ends up sitting in the grass and watching as Itachi demonstrates that he has no idea how to fucking explain anything. Sasuke, in the meantime, seems too enraptured that his brother is teaching at all to realize he sucks at it. Itachi does set off a few fireball jutsu of his own, which are pleasant enough to watch, but Deidara quickly finds his boredom downright excruciating. 

“It’s because he’s using the wrong element, dipshit,” Deidara hears himself yelling. 

Itachi turns to him, face blank, and Sasuke asks, “What does that mean? It’s a fire jutsu…” 

“Elemental jutsu rely on matching the correct type of chakra,” Itachi says, which is a topic he was trying to explain earlier but couldn’t. Apparently Itachi thinks everyone should just intuitively know how to mold chakra to be the right element, because he’s a genius and a jackass. 

Deidara pushes himself up and slouches down the pier. “He’s a lightning type, yeah?”

Deidara is not a sensor who can analyze other people’s chakra from afar. But he is an expert on all things fire and explosions, and he’d noticed some of Sasuke’s attempts involved sparks of lightning chakra that probably shouldn’t have been there. 

(All those attempts also triggered a confusing mini-lesson from Itachi on chakra-molding, so likely Itachi knew this was the problem and was just being dumb about it.)

“He is,” Itachi confirms after a few beats. “Sasuke has two affinities.”

“What does that mean?” Sasuke asks. He looks frustrated and pouty. It’s adorable, and Itachi gives him a gross, whimsical smile. 

Blegh. 

“You learned about the five elements in class, right?” Itachi asks. Sasuke shakes his head, and Itachi looks flummoxed about where to go from that. 

“God, you’re useless, yeah,” Deidara says, shoving Itachi lightly. Sasuke looks offended. “Kid, everyone’s got one element they’re the most suited for. Yours is lightning, yeah.”

“But,” Sasuke says, scrunching up his face, “the Uchiha all have fire jutsu.”

“You have a dual affinity,” Itachi says. “You’re not properly separating–”

What happens next is that Itachi and Deidara both attempt to talk over each other to explain chakra affinities until the sun sets. Sasuke glares at each of them in turn, brows furrowed, and most of his questions only go partially answered. 

It ends with Deidara finally successfully hip-checking Itachi into the lake. The bastard of course just lands on his feet on the water’s surface. 

“I’ll show you a fucking lightning jutsu,” Deidara promises Sasuke, then hops onto the lake to try and electrocute his brother. 

Fifteen minutes later, Deidara has electrocuted a lot of fish and barely done any damage to Itachi at all, and Itachi manages to dunk him into the lake. Deidara staggers out of the water, spluttering insults against the Uchiha family name and that Itachi is lucky Deidara doesn’t have his clay on him. 

Sasuke is sitting on the lake’s bank, knees tucked up under his chin. 

“That was pretty cool,” he says. “But you’re not supposed to swear.”

“What?” Deidara asks. 

Behind him, Itachi says, “I didn’t realize you had a lightning affinity.”

“What?” Deidara asks, rounding on the older Uchiha. His feet squelch in his wet shoes as he moves. “You have magic fucking eyes–”

“You only ever use your bloodline limit,” Itachi says. Deidara opens his mouth to swear at Itachi some more, but Itachi makes a hand sign and slams him with a ball of hot air. 

He dries him off quite a bit, but it’s still annoying. 

Sasuke takes over the conversation as Itachi herds them back home. 

“So most people only have one element,” Sasuke confirms, “but I have two?”

“Yes,” Itachi answers, hitting Sasuke with one of his indulgent smiles that Deidara wants to smack right off his face. “Fire and lightning.”

Itachi, Deidara thinks, is lucky Sasuke is too young and dumb to ask how Itachi knows this. Sasuke just assumes Itachi knows everything. 

“How many do you have?” Sasuke asks, narrowing his eyes at Itachi suspiciously, like he might just shrug casually and say he has affinities for all the elements. 

(In fairness to Sasuke, it does seem like some infuriating move Itachi would pull.)

“Just the one,” Itachi replies. 

Sasuke looks very smug at this, and it makes Deidara feel very smug. Explosion Release– his bloodline limit– comes with a dual affinity for Lightning and Earth. He ignores that he’s pretty sure Itachi is good enough to use jutsu from all his non-affinity elements. 

Sasuke grabs Itachi’s hand to hang on like the annoying little brat he is, and then turns to Deidara and asks, “And your affinity is lightning, like me?”

Sasuke has yet to take much interest in Deidara. Deidara missed whatever explanation Mikoto and Itachi gave him for Deidara’s presence, but Sasuke has mostly been ignoring him, mostly viewing him as a boring new fixture in his life, like a new lamp. This is the first time Sasuke has asked Deidara a question with more depth than “can you please pass the salt?”

“Lightning and earth,” Deidara says, smirking down at the kid. 

“Wouldn’t those just cancel out?” Itachi muses, and Deidara twitches. 

The sad answer is that yes, it’s very easy to accidentally cancel out your own jutsu when you have two opposing affinities. But also if you combine them just right, you can make explosions, and that’s the important part. 

Deidara starts up a rant about this very important second point, but Itachi just ignores him and says to Sasuke, “See? Even Deidara could figure out using just one affinity at a time. You just need more practice.”

Deidara screams. 

 

xXx

 

Saturday means Sasuke is off from the Academy, but not that Itachi is off from endless ANBU duties or that Mikoto is free from clan mumbo-jumbo. 

(Fugaku cannot attend to the clan mumbo-jumbo because he’s “under the weather.” Deidara still has not seen him, except for a silhouette one night moving from the office to the master bedroom.)

(Seriously, who let Itachi into ANBU at twelve? They wouldn’t even let Deidara be a jounin until he was nearly fourteen because of “psychological stress to a child” or whatever. No wonder the bastard snapped and murdered everyone.)

“You two can entertain each other,” Mikoto says cheerfully over breakfast. Itachi nods.

Deidara and Sasuke exchange resigned looks. Even if Sasuke is cute, Deidara does not like children. Even if Deidara himself is a child. Maybe especially if he’s a child.

“At least make sure he doesn’t hurt himself training,” Itachi tells Deidara as he heads out. 

Deidara resolves to guarantee Sasuke hurts himself training, and offers to teach him a lightning jutsu. 

Deidara doesn’t actually know very many high level lightning jutsu– why would he bother, when he has explosion release, the best bloodline limit of all time?– but lightning affinities are common enough in Iwa that he picked up some things. He picks an easy jutsu for Sasuke, one that a little kid has some chance of getting. 

“This one is meant to be for catching fish, yeah,” Deidara tells him, squatting on top of the Nakano River. “You can also use it for scaring enemies out of hiding.”

“Hiding?” Sasuke repeats, staring at Deidara’s feet dubiously. “In the water?”

“Kiri-nin do it a lot, yeah,” Deidara says vaguely. “And Ame-nin. And those bastards from Waterfall--”

The point is, Deidara demonstrates the jutsu, electrifying a hand and sticking it in the water until a stunned fish body floats up. He then not only has to explain the hand signs and the chakra molding, but that it works because water conducts electricity. 

Children… are dumb. 

“Don’t you get shocked standing on the water, though?” Sasuke asks.

“Not if you do it right,” Deidara says. Sasuke is untrained and tiny, and will definitely do it wrong. “It’s not going to kill you, yeah.”

Sasuke hesitates for just a moment before he tries the jutsu himself. “My brother couldn’t do this at my age, right?” he asks. 

Deidara has no idea what Itachi could or couldn’t do when he was seven. Deidara has mostly been operating under the impression that Itachi walked out of the womb a horrible, fire-spitting genjutsu monster. 

“Nope,” Deidara says, grinning fiercely at Sasuke. “This is all yours.”

Sasuke is very enthusiastic about the jutsu, even as he fries his arm. He kills a lot of fish. 

It’s… sort of fun, watching Sasuke gleefully murder things. This is a deeply upsetting thought to Deidara, who mostly just wants to see Itachi’s angry face when he sees the electrical burns up and down Sasuke’s arms. 

They lug a bunch of the fish back home, and Sasuke very proudly presents them to Itachi when he finally returns. 

“Deidara taught me a jutsu!” Sasuke cries, waving his burnt up arms in Itachi's face. “Look!”

“I see,” Itachi says, and he does not look upset by the state of his brother at all. “How did it go?”

“We caught lots of fish! Look, look!”

Mikoto is still in endless meetings, and so Itachi takes over dinner. He shows Sasuke how to clean the fish, and Sasuke stands on top of a stool and then on his tip-toes to help. The academy has not done much survival training at all yet, but someone has at least shown Sasuke how to hold a knife properly. 

Then Itachi actually goes to cook the fish, and Deidara has to intervene. As much as he would like to see Itachi start a grease fire, that’s also his dinner. 

While Deidara is cooking, Itachi procures some sort of ointment and a roll of gauze to bandage Sasuke’s arms. 

When they sit down to eat, Sasuke asks Deidara, “If you’re in the Academy, why have I never seen you?”

Ah, yes, that was the cover up story, wasn’t it? They probably told him Deidara was skipping classes on doctor’s orders. 

“How many upperclassmen do you hang out with?” Deidara snaps. Sasuke just sort of shrugs, because the answer is none. “That’s what I thought. Eat your vegetables, yeah.”

Itachi just smiles quietly. He does not seem upset that Sasuke got hurt in the slightest, and Deidara vows to right this wrong. 

 

xXx

 

The Academy has not yet covered explosive seals. Deidara corrects this oversight. 

Sasuke does not blow some fingers off, but he does blast a branch off a tree, which damages the roof. 

“You’re getting restless,” Itachi says to Deidara. 

“No shit,” Deidara snears back. 

The next morning, Itachi introduces Deidara to someone named Shisui. Shisui is a few years older than Itachi, with hair that curls against his scalp. His face is stereotypically Uchiha, except for the dumbass grin. 

“So this is the infamous Deidara,” Shisui coos. “Itachi, he’s adorable.”

Shisui actually attempts to pinch Deidara’s cheeks. Deidara bites him. 

“Yikes,” Shisui says emphatically. He rubs his fingers and makes a big show of being hurt, although he pulled away too quickly for Deidara to get a good chomp in. 

Itachi takes the both of them to Hokage Tower, without any explanation to Deidara except “we’re going to find something for you to do.” Does he want Deidara to blow up the tower? Deidara would gladly acquiesce. 

Itachi does not request the mass destruction of Konoha’s main administrative building. Instead, he takes them into an office on the fifth floor filled with desk-nin rifling through papers and yelling on phones. 

“He’s a former ROOT agent,” Itachi tells the first desk-nin he sees. “I want to enroll him in the Academy.”

The desk-nin just looks very tired. 

“Unless he’s literally homeless and starving, we’re not doing anything with the ROOT kids yet,” the desk-nin says. 

“I need to enroll him in the Academy,” Itachi repeats, and next to him, Shisui shifts on his feet ever so slightly, and this is the only cue Deidara has that Itachi has cast an illusion. 

The desk-nin pauses. “Well,” she says, pulling out forms. “I might be able to…”

She gets road-blocked by Deidara not having any sort of actual identity, including a birth certificate. Apparently this is normal for ROOT agents, and probably why Itachi wanted Deidara to go through ROOT to eventually be integrated into Konoha. 

Deidara has no idea what Itachi is planning that requires him in Konoha, but he seems very determined to make it happen. The genjutsu he’s pulled on the desk-nin pulls in more desk-nin to help, until he’s got the entire office working on getting Deidara an ID and registered at the Academy. 

The entire time, Shisui gets more and more restless. 

“How old is he?” a desk-nin asks Itachi. 

“Ten,” Itachi says. 

“Twelve,” Deidara immediately cuts in, because he doesn’t actually want to be registered at the Academy. He was a jounin when he went missing-nin!

Itachi rolls his eyes and tells the desk-nin, “Eleven.”

“Um,” says Shisui. 

Deidara leaves the office with a newly printed birth certificate that says he was born in the Konoha hospital, plus some paperwork verifying him as a ninja-in-training and an affidavit that explains he was “under special tutoring,” and then finally Academy registration papers signed off by whoever had the most authority in the office. 

As soon as the door shuts behind them, Shisui turns to Itachi and says, “What the hell was that?”

Maybe Itachi didn’t just cover up all his problems with genjutsu when he was twelve. Fascinating. 

“It was the most efficient way to get what we need,” Itachi says blandly. “It’s not technically  illegal.”

Shisui, at least, has the grace to look taken aback. 

“What did you even need me for as ‘back up,’ then?” Shisui asks. He sounds completely gobsmacked by Itachi’s behavior, although given what Deidara knows of him, it seems par for the course. 

“Some of these papers,” Itachi says, eyes bleeding red, “require the Hokage’s seal.”

Chapter Text

It takes two more genjutsu on tower workers to get into the Hokage’s office. Deidara doesn’t know who Shisui is to Itachi besides a cousin, but he follows with the sort of grim determination that shinobi go into high-risk missions with. 

For Deidara’s part, he has his clay on him. If this goes south, he can just blow up the office and fly off. He’s ready and willing to watch whatever wild shit Itachi pulls. 

“This is Deidara,” Itachi introduces to the Hokage. “I’ve been sponsoring him.”

Konoha changes Hokage like some people change hats, and so Deidara goes into the office with no idea who will be behind the desk. The current Hokage is not Tsunade the Slug Princess, which Deidara finds deeply disappointing because her movies are his favorite and he’s always wanted to meet the real thing. It’s also not the Yellow Flash, Deidara’s biggest rival for completely trashing Iwa in one go. It’s an old, shrivelled guy whose name escapes Deidara’s memory, although he’s sure the man has some badass title. All the Kage do. 

Deidara isn’t sure if it’s arrogant of Itachi to just expect the Hokage to want to talk to him. Deidara certainly got told off a few times for similar stunts with the Tsuchikage, but Itachi is heir to a major clan and an ANBU and just a general control freak, so maybe the village has just accepted he’s like this. 

The old man eyes Itachi, then eyes Deidara, and says, “Isn’t he an Iwa missing-nin?”

The look on Shisui’s face would probably be hilarious, except that the asshole has enough training to keep it completely blank. He still twitches, though. 

Deidara is inordinately pleased the Hokage recognizes him on sight. That means that even if Iwa is blocking him from bingo books, he’s definitely considered important and dangerous.

“No, he’s not,” Itachi says flatly, and the genjutsu is so strong even Deidara can feel the zing of chakra in the air. Usually, being able to sense a genjutsu like that would help you shrug it off, except that Itachi’s genjutsu work their way into your brain so perfectly that he makes it impossible to notice them. Deidara knows from personal, humiliating, infuriating experience. 

The Hokage nods and asks Itachi to continue. Shisui twitches some more. 

Itachi tells the same lie he told the office workers: Deidara is a ROOT-nin that Itachi has made friends with. He embellishes it by saying Deidara’s conditioning failed, and that Itachi thinks he would benefit from attending the Academy and being able to socialize. 

The genjutsu stays in place. Shisui stays twitchy the whole time, probably because Itachi has neglected to tell him “oh, by the way, I’ve been living as one of the scariest missing-nin in history for the last eight years, and I’m definitely up to snuff genjutsu-ing an unsuspecting Kage along with his entire fucking army.” To Deidara’s disappointment, this means that the Hokage never gets suspicious and calls in a bunch of ANBU for Deidara to blow up. 

They leave the tower with all the necessary forms stamped with the Hokage’s seal. Shisui is quiet the entire walk back to Itachi’s stupid mansion. He doesn’t say anything when Itachi randomly comments that Deidara’s shirt used to be his favorite and reaches forward to rub the fabric of a sleeve between his fingers. He barely blinks when Deidara shrieks that all of Itachi’s shirts look the same, so how can he have a favorite? and then attempts to deck him in the middle of the street. He’s silent while Itachi makes tea and Deidara complains about everything under the sun. He lifts the teacup to his lips with shaking hands. 

“What the fuck, Itachi?” Shisui finally asks. “Since when could you– were even able to– you did that to the Hokage and his Hidden Guard! I couldn’t do that, not without– you know.”

Shisui cuts himself off, chewing his lip. Anxiety is written all over his face. “You didn’t even need me as back-up,” he finishes. 

Itachi sets a plate of store-bought dorayaki on the table and says, “I’ve been brushing up on my genjutsu.”

Like that explains anything. 

“What if the illusion fails?” Shisui asks. 

“I made him think Deidara is a very unassuming young boy,” Itachi says as he settles into a chair with his own cup of tea. “He’ll probably never think of it again.”

“What if it fails?” Shisui repeats. “Itachi, that was treason.”

(“You made him think I’m ugly?” Deidara asks, offended. Both Uchiha ignore him.)

“We’re going to have to use more genjutsu on the Hokage anyway,” Itachi says dismissively, blowing on his tea. 

Deidara laughs at the alarmed look on Shisui’s face. It’s good to know Itachi doesn’t explain anything to anyone else either. 

Shisui opens and closes his mouth a few times and then waves at Deidara and asks, “Who even is this kid? Why are we risking so much for him? Why did Hokage-sama think he’s an Iwa missing-nin?”

“You just have to trust me,” Itachi says. 

“Why did you make me an Academy student?” Deidara snaps, cutting off the last few syllables of Itachi’s sentence. “If you were just going to genjutsu the Hokage anyway, give me a higher rank, yeah!”

“I thought you might enjoy playing with your peers in maturity,” Itachi says, his lips twitching like he’s fighting back a smirk. 

“Fuck you, Uchiha,” Deidara spits back. “I was a jounin when I defected, yeah!”

Shisui looks like he’s swallowed a live frog. 

“Hold on–” he starts. 

“Ah,” Itachi says, standing suddenly. “I wanted to pick Sasuke up from the Academy today.”

He grabs no less than four dorayaki from the plate and leaves. Deidara turns to Shisui, eyeing him up and down as the other ninja rubs his temples. 

“So he’s always like that, huh,” Deidara says. 

Shisui groans and lets his head drop to the table. 

(When Sasuke gets back, trailing behind Itachi like a lost puppy, he’s holding a partially eaten dorayaki and complaining he doesn’t like sweets. Deidara can only assume the other three went into Itachi’s stomach.)

 

xXx

 

Deidara finally catches a glimpse of Fugaku one afternoon while he’s home alone. 

He’s eating a late lunch after an invigorating morning blowing up as many of the Uchiha fire-proof training dolls as he can. It’s all left over vegetables and meat and rice he’s cobbled together into what someone might generously call fried rice, the rest of which he’s carefully stored away for dinner because Mikoto runs around batting her eyes at important clan families all day and no longer makes time for housework. 

He hears a door open and instantly has a kunai in hand, tense and waiting and silent before he remembers he hasn’t technically been alone in the house even once. 

He creeps silently into the living room, where he can peer down the hallway into the rest of the house. A tall man that must be Fugaku moves slowly down the hall, wearing a sleeping yukata even though it’s past two o’clock in the afternoon. Deidara can pick out several of Itachi’s features on his face, although Fugaku’s face naturally settles into a frown that’s left worry lines around his mouth. Fugaku goes into the master bedroom, and a few minutes later, Deidara hears the shower running in what must be an attached bathroom.

What the fuck? Deidara thinks, and then goes to get his half-eaten plate of rice.

Seven or eight minutes later, Deidara hears a blow dryer and then the rustling of fabric. Fugaku finally emerges, this time in a gray summer yukata. Deidara supposes that if you spend all day inside with a space heater, it doesn’t matter if you wear summer clothes in winter. 

Fugaku goes back into the office, walking at a slow, measured pace. He makes no indication he’s noticed Deidara at all, even though Deidara is standing at the end of the hall, shoveling rice into his mouth and gawking. 

Deidara goes back into the kitchen and makes a second plate of rice. His plan is to go into the office and offer it to Fugaku as a cover up for investigating what the hell is going on. 

Deidara knocks on the office door and then opens it without waiting for a reply. Fugaku is at his desk, eyes focused intently on a piece of paper as he writes. 

“I brought you lunch, yeah,” Deidara announces, holding the plate out. Fugaku does not move to recognize him. 

Deidara takes two steps into the room. It’s spacious, with a large writing desk and several bookshelves filled with scrolls and binders and books. There’s a futon tucked into the corner, obviously recently used. 

The paper in front of Fugaku is almost entirely black from pen ink. Fugaku continues to write on it, gaze intense, like he’s penning an important message but can’t see that he’s already filled the page a hundred times over. 

Deidara watches his hand get to the end of the paper, then move back to the top and start all over again. 

Holy shit, Deidara thinks. 

Deidara places the plate of rice in front of Fugaku, along with a pair of chopsticks. After a few moments of writing, Fugaku pauses. He mechanically sets down his pen and moves his paper aside, pulling the plate of rice forward. 

“Thank you for the meal,” Fugaku says, not even looking up at Deidara. 

Fugaku eats slowly and methodically, not acknowledging Deidara’s presence. Deidara pulls the nearly black sheet of paper from the top of the pile of blank papers on the desk. The sheet is practically wet from ink. 

When Fugaku is finished eating, he says, “Thanks for the meal. That’s my son.”

“Holy shit,” Deidara repeats out loud. 

Fugaku does not react. He moves the plate aside and goes back to writing, now on a blank sheet of paper. The characters he pens are complete nonsense, a random assortment of kanji and hiragana that don’t even make real words. 

Deidara takes the empty plate and backs out of the room, closing the door behind him. 

He has been kind of wondering if Itachi is still planning to murder his family. It seems Itachi found an even creepier way around whatever familiar issues he had. 

Holy fucking shit, Deidara thinks, and then goes to do the dishes. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara does not ask about whatever the fuck that was, because he knew Itachi was a creepy weirdo going in. He should have expected this, honestly. Besides, Deidara has made the mistake of asking an unhinged shinobi about their weird hobbies before, and he’ll never get back the six hours of his life Hidan dedicated to Jashin and screaming. 

At least Itachi isn’t turning people into literal puppets. 

(There’s no way Mikoto hasn’t noticed, though, Deidara thinks as he watches her hurriedly unpack groceries in a rare afternoon free. He wonders if Sasuke has interacted with Fugaku– the “that’s my son” line certainly wasn’t for Mikoto.)

A few days later, Itachi announces over breakfast that Deidara could probably start going to the Academy “again” if he wanted. 

“Can he?” Sasuke asks, and he sounds happy. 

Why does he sound happy?

“We can walk in together,” Sasuke tells him cheerfully. “Kiba gets to come in with his sister, and--”

Deidara does not care who Kiba is or how much fun it seems like he has with his sister at the Academy. He ignores Sasuke’s rambling story and tries to fix Itachi with the meanest glare he can muster. Itachi just nods along intently with Sasuke’s dumb story. 

When Sasuke is ready to leave, he gives Deidara a very meaningful look. Deidara rolls his eyes and follows him from the door, through the Uchiha compound and to the Academy, and he doesn’t even know why. 

At the gate to the schoolyard, Deidara looks around at all the screaming children and reflects on how he’s about to make a huge mistake. He hated the Iwa Academy and all their rules and expectations and criticisms of his art. He hated the other children, who were bloodsucking little monsters all set on destroying each other. 

Deidara also reflects on how there’s an entire five weeks of this hell until he’s allowed to take the graduation exam. That’s longer than he was stuck in ROOT. 

“Welp,” Deidara says to Sasuke. “See ya, kid.”

He hops onto the nearest roof and hightails it out of there before Sasuke can protest. 

He ends up in the photography studio Mikoto had told him about at that first dinner with the Uchiha. The store offers standard photoshoots and special printing, but the front room is a gallery.

The artist is a retired kunoichi who’s missing one hand. She pretends to read a newspaper while she keeps an eye on Deidara as he browses. 

The photos are series using high-speed shutters, which allow the artist to capture quick events in crystal clear detail as they happen. Deidara watches a balloon filled with water burst one frame at a time, then a match burn, then a glass of milk hit the ground and shatter. 

“Do you have an artist’s statement?” Deidara asks. 

They talk for a bit, about the beauty in events that happen in a blink of an eye but change everything. Deidara personally believes such art shouldn’t be recorded, because preserving them like that drains them of their uniqueness. He does his best to hold his tongue while he listens to the kunoichi explain how she loves to dissect every millisecond of those moments. He appreciates hearing other artists’ thoughts, even if he has to work to keep himself from yelling instead of speaking civilly. 

The kunoichi’s ideas are not quite the same as Sasori’s views on art, but it’s close enough that Deidara feels a pang of nostalgia. 

Ninety-nine percent of the time, Deidara feels vindicated that Sasori died and proved Deidara was right about life being an ephemeral event. One percent of the time, though, Deidara almost, sort of misses him. Sasori was awful, grouchy company, but he was also the only partner Deidara ever had who really got art, who understood Deidara’s need to keep creating. 

Deidara goes back to the Uchiha compound with the idea that if he makes enough food for lunch, they’ll have enough leftovers for dinner for all five them, including Fugaku in his weird waking coma that Deidara’s not going to ask about. 

He gets as far as washing the rice before he realizes he has somehow, inexplicably, become domesticated. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara’s gut instinct is to blow up the entire Uchiha compound immediately. 

His next thought is: No, wait until Itachi is back so you can see his face when you do it. 

Then the rational part of him– which does exist, contrary to what Deidara’s old Kumo bingo book entry said, thank you very much– kicks in. It would be a bad idea to piss Itachi off too much– Itachi is relentless when determined, and Deidara is not confident he could win that fight. It would be better to address the problem calmly and strategically, and then wait until the ideal moment to finally defeat Itachi and show the whole world the beauty of Deidara’s art. 

So, he takes several deep breaths, and calms himself down. 

Despite growing up saturated in Iwa’s anti-Konoha propaganda, the idea of becoming one of them doesn’t bother Deidara. He’s been working as a missing-nin for years; he’ll work for anyone who pays him and lets him practice his art. No, what pisses him off is that he’s not getting a choice in the matter. 

He quits in the middle of preparing lunch for everyone, leaving the wet rice right in the strainer, and grabs a ration bar instead. Itachi is the only active-duty ninja in the house, and he exclusively buys syrupy sweet fruit flavored ones. 

Stupid Itachi, Deidara thinks, shoving the entire bar into his mouth and clipping his clay pouches around his waist. He’s going to give me cavities. 

Deidara finds an empty training ground and spends the rest of the day sculpting. He makes one of the giant bears that supposedly roam the Fire Country forests, experimenting with different textures for the fur. In battle he never has time for such details, but creating them is soothing. 

When the sun has set and it finally gets too dark to see properly, Deidara completes his art. The blast rings extra loud through the quiet night, all angry orange and yellow in the darkness, and it’s deeply satisfying. 

Two police ninja show up pretty quickly to investigate, but eighty percent of the police force is Uchiha. They recognize Deidara and let him go with a stern and very annoying warning.

When he gets back to the Uchiha Mansion, everyone has gone to bed except for Fugaku, who is writing away at his desk. Fugaku’s internal clock seems to be a little off, leaving him to perform his genjutsu-controlled tasks at odd hours. His wife and son seem to have just left him, like the kitchen clock everyone knows is just ten minutes ahead. 

Deidara kicks open Itachi’s bedroom door to find him reclining against the backboard of his bed with a notebook he’s carefully marking up. 

“What the fuck are you doing?” Deidara yells. He doesn’t give a shit about waking up the rest of the house. If Itachi wants them to rest, he can figure out the silencing genjutsu himself. 

Itachi blinks at him twice. His hair is down, and it makes him look younger. Or, more specifically, it makes him look like he’s actually twelve, and not an adult monster stalking around in a child’s body.

“I told Sasuke I would go over his report for him,” Itachi says, fingers clutching the notebook slightly more tightly. “It’s his first one.”

Deidara stares at Itachi’s hands. He can see from across the room that Itachi has left red marks all over the page, presumably because Itachi holds literally everyone to the same standards, even little children who probably can’t even spell. 

“That’s not what I mean, yeah,” Deidara snaps, then violently slams the door behind him. He stalks over to Itachi, putting his hands on his hips and looming over him in bed. “Why am I here, in Konoha? Why the hell do I have to be in the Academy? What is your oh-so-genius plan?”

Itachi pauses, his lips pursing ever so slightly. 

“I thought you’d like it,” he says finally. 

“Ugh!” Deidara yells and throws his hands up. “You’re so fucking stupid, yeah.”

“You like–” Itachi starts. 

“Shut up,” Deidara cuts him off. “I have a bunch of supplies in my old camp in Rice Country. I’m going to head out and get them tomorrow morning. Don’t try and stop me, yeah.”

“Okay,” Itachi says like he doesn’t really care either way. “Graduation is–”

“Shut up,” Deidara repeated, then storms out of the room. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara was, of course, lying. 

Or rather: he never specified what he was going to do after. 

He goes to Rice Country and grabs his supplies from the meager hide-out he’d carved out of the side of a mountain. He’s got some extra clay in there, and some money and nonperishable food, and the handful of personal items he saved from Iwa. 

Deidara is not one to get attached to worldly possessions. He does, however, miss his hairbrush, which is infinitely better than any of the combs Mikoto loaned him. He also has a few photos, which he’s not sure he wants to keep or not. They’re mostly of his genin team, a few from the Academy and orphanage, and he low-key hates everyone in them. 

Still, it’s nice to have things that remind him that he’s his own person, and not some tool of Iwa or Akatsuki or fucking Itachi. He slaps the photos into a storage scroll to worry about later. 

He does not head back to Konoha. If and when Itachi actually needs him for his stupid grand master plan, he can come find Deidara himself. 

Instead, Deidara goes to find Akasuna no Sasori. 

It takes a few weeks. Sasori is thorough and meticulous and near impossible to track, but Deidara knows him well. He finds him on the edge of the Land of Wind, in a border region that’s less desert and more thorny shrubs and squat little trees. Sasori has set up a canvas canopy, stretched between two trees, and a makeshift puppet workshop underneath. 

“Yo,” Deidara greets, ambling up to it with as open posture as he can. It wouldn’t do for Sasori to mistake him for an attack. 

Without looking up, Sasori very casually shoots seven senbon out of Hiruko’s hand. Deidara knocks three out of the air with a kunai and dodges the rest. The grin does not slip from his face. 

“I heard there was an artist working out here, yeah,” Deidara says.

Sasori raises Hiruko’s head to meet Deidara’s eyes. 

“What do you know about art, brat?” Sasori asks. 

Deidara talks. He tells Sasori about true art, about watching something be born and burst and die all in one instant, and Sasori sneers and calls him a moron. They argue, and it feels so, so good to have this back. They talk for hours. 

Then, they fight. Deidara is annoyed that Hiruko has never been good at expressing emotions, because he wants to know what Sasori truly thinks of his art demonstration, beyond a few snorts and insults. He takes down the canopy and Sasori summons three puppets. 

Deidara retreats when Sasori finally manages to get a senbon in his arm.

He flies a few kilometers and then makes a burrow in the ground with earth jutsu before the symptoms of poison really start to kick in, blurring his vision and making his body sweaty and weak. 

Sasori would easily be able to track him down this close, but Deidara isn’t worried about that. If Sasori wanted him dead, he would have hit him with a lethal poison. Deidara is confident he has only been lightly poisoned, by Sasori’s standards. 

Still, it’s something like thirty-six hours before he feels like enough of a person to drink his full canteen of water. He does it slowly, and his stomach stays strong, so he braves eating half a ration bar on top. 

At around the forty hour mark, he crawls out of his burrow in search of more water. There’s a trickling stream nearby, and he refills his canteen. It’s twilight, and after he drops an iodine tablet into the canteen, he lays back in patchy grass and watches the stars. 

The stars are the only thing Sasori ever mentioned missing about his home. Deidara can see why– infinite and beautiful and eternal is exactly what Sasori always wanted. 

Deidara is only mildly surprised when Itachi leans over him, blocking out all the stars. 

“You came looking quick, yeah,” Deidara says. With Itachi busy trying to be a real member of society, Deidara figured he’d get at least a few months. 

“I was worried,” Itachi answers. “You make rash decisions.”

Deidara flips him off, but the movement is too fast and makes his vision blur. 

“Fuck,” Deidara swears and rolls over. Itachi takes a step back, watching ambivalently as Deidara chugs his now sanitized canteen of water. 

“Did you go looking for Sasori?” Itachi asks after a few minutes of silence, and Deidara hates how perceptive he is. 

“Found him, yeah,” Deidara replies. 

“Ah, that’s why you’re…” Itachi trails off, then sits next to Deidara and offers his own canteen. 

Deidara only hesitates a second before taking it. In his old life, he’d never accept help from Itachi, but given all the ways he’s already been mooching off of him, it seems like a moot point. 

Deidara sips slowly while Itachi refills Deidara’s own canteen. Itachi has some fancy filter he runs the water through, the kind of device that leaves your water tasting better than iodine but is much more expensive.

“Has he joined Akatsuki yet?” Itachi asks conversationally. “Sasori, I mean.”

“Dunno,” Deidara answers. “But he wasn’t wearing a cloak, yeah.”

Itachi hums and leans back on his hands, looking up at the night sky. “No sign of Orochimaru around, then?”

Deidara blinks. He knows Sasori despised Orochimaru and his betrayal of Akatsuki. He also knows Orochimaru made his betrayal by attacking Itachi and then fleeing when it was unsuccessful. Deidara doesn’t know how Itachi felt about it.

“He on your hitlist too?” Deidara asks. 

“Yes,” Itachi says mildly. “I can’t risk him becoming interested in Sasuke again.”

Again…? Deidara thinks, and wracks his brain for memories of reports on Orochimaru. Akatsuki was pretty interested in finding and murdering him, and Deidara met Sasori’s spy Kabuto two or three times as part of the effort. Mostly, Orochimaru just started his own village of weirdos and moved it around a lot, like an Akatsuki Junior Club. 

And oh, that was right. Itachi’s little brother had joined Orochimaru for some reason. Deidara remembers watching Itachi’s holo-projection intently for a reaction to the news, and then losing all interest when he had none. 

Now Deidara wonders. Itachi clearly adores this little version of Sasuke. What happened in the other timeline?

Deidara is trying to piece together if he cares enough to ask, and if he does, how to ask, when Itachi speaks up. 

“If we start heading back in the morning, you can make it to your graduation exam.”

“Holy shit,” Deidara groans. “You really want me to be a genin.”

Itachi blinks at him, his eyes dark and bottomless in the night. 

“Even I’m not good enough to enstate a foreign child as a jounin,” he says. “I didn’t think you’d care about rank. I thought you’d just like having an outlet for your art.”

Deidara opens his mouth to argue, but then he processes what Itachi just said. Yes, he does care more about opportunities for art than rank. He wasn’t previously aware Itachi cared at all if he got to practice his art or not. 

“Besides,” Itachi says, running his fingers through the grass, “you like being praised for accomplishing very little.”

Deidara throws a wad of clay at him. It is not formed into anything and barely explodes at all, because Deidara is still poisoned and feels terrible. 

“I can take watch for the night,” Itachi says diplomatically, like Deidara hadn’t done anything violent at all. 

 

xXx

 

Instead of leaving in the morning, they check into the first hotel they find and Deidara lies around ignoring Itachi for two days. Then, because Itachi is so insistent that Deidara be with him in Konoha, Deidara makes a clay bird to fly back on. 

Itachi gives it a very doubtful look. 

“I don’t understand the physics of this,” he says slowly. His eyes are red with sharingan. 

Deidara rolls his eyes. “And yet it still flies, yeah,” he says. “I’ve never crashed, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Itachi steps hesitantly onto the wing. 

“Well,” Deidara continues, watching Itachi walk up the wing to the back of the creature. Sticking your feet to chakra-infused clay with your own chakra is tricky, but Itachi seems to get the hang of it in the span of two steps. “I’ve never crashed on purpose.”

Itachi’s eyes shoot to Deidara then, wide and not quite panicked, but as close as Deidara has ever seen on him. The bird is already taking off, though, and Deidara cackles in Itachi’s face. 

Deidara could crash the bird, or leap off and let it explode with Itachi trapped. Both of those things seem like good fun, but Deidara is still weak from poison, and it’s not his ideal end for Itachi anyway. 

And so Deidara does not crash the bird, but he lands it rougher than strictly necessary. Itachi grabs his arms as they descend. 

“Did you have a good trip?” Mikoto asks when Deidara staggers into the house. They ran the last several kilometers to avoid the bird being seen by Konoha’s various patrols, and it exhausted Deidara. Itachi better understand it’s because he went toe-to-toe with Sasori, who is a badass in his own right, and not because Deidara himself is pathetic or anything. 

“It went about as well as expected,” Itachi says. 

Deidara has absolutely no idea what the cover story for his weeks-long absence is, or how much genjutsu Itachi had to use to make it work, because he leaves immediately to go soak in the tub. 

 

xXx

 

In the morning he walks to the Academy with Sasuke, who seems betrayed by Deidara’s absence. 

“You think you’re too good for the Academy,” Sasuke accuses. 

Deidara tears his eyes away from wooden barriers that are still up around the Hellpit. 

I am too good for the Academy, Deidara thinks. Outloud he says, “Have you been working on that lightning jutsu?”

Sasuke grunts. 

“Do you want to learn another one?” Deidara asks. 

Sasuke doesn’t smile, but the pout melts off his face. Kids are so dumb and easy to please. 

Itachi had Deidara’s Academy registration information, so he knows which class he’s in and the classroom number. It’s not hard to find, and he just sort of wanders in and plops down in the seat closest to the door. Children give him curious looks as they wander in. 

The exam is literally just making a basic clone, doing a transformation, and then the substitution jutsu. Several children fail one or more jutsu, and Deidara doesn’t understand how, because they are easy. 

It’s sort of funny the first time someone makes a shitty, half-dead clone. Then it just gets boring. 

“Deidara?” the sensei calls when she gets to the end of her list. She looks surprised when Deidara is actually there.

Deidara is still not fully recovered from his poisoning, so he doesn’t flash step down to the front of the room like he might have, just to show off. 

Maybe Itachi is right, his mind thinks traitorously. I would like showing off to a bunch of brats… 

“You should know,” Sensei tells him, “that your other aptitude scores are derived from classwork. Since you have not been to class, you will have a score of zero for all non-ninjutsu aptitudes.”

“But the ninjutsu one is the most important, right?” Deidara asks. 

The woman sighs. “Yes, you can pass today, if you get a perfect score.”

Deidara, of course, gets a perfect score. 

“Oh,” says the sensei. The classroom of children also seem equally confused. 

Deidara passes though, and gets instructions for the graduation ceremony the next day. He limps home and collapses on the Uchiha’s couch. 

 

xXx

 

At dinner, Mikoto congratulates him. Between Sasuke pestering him for details of what he had to do, and was it hard, and can he teach Sasuke that too, Mikoto adds:

“Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to your ceremony tomorrow.”

“What?” Deidara says, nearly dropping the piece of beef he’d just picked up with his chopsticks. “Why would you even want to go?”

“Shisui is on medical leave,” Itachi says. “He can go.”

“Why would Shisui want–” Deidara starts, whipping around to glare at Itachi. 

“Can I go?” Sasuke asks very loudly. 

“I’m sure Shisui can pull you out of class,” Itachi says. 

Deidara regrets coming back to Konoha. The Uchiha family seems to be obsessed with controlling other people’s lives, and he’s stuck in the middle. 

The graduation ceremony is much like his Iwa Academy graduation: it’s short and sweet. The head teacher gives a short speech on the gravity of their new responsibility, and then the new genin are called up one by one to receive their hitai-ate. The small gathering of friends and family clap politely for each name called. 

Deidara is last again, and he doesn’t immediately tie his hitai-ate in place like some other graduates. Instead he steps aside, running a finger over the metal. 

This actually means something to a lot of people. Deidara had been looking at his stint in Konoha as an especially annoying undercover mission, and he hadn’t thought he’d care about fake-enrolling as a Konoha-nin. But having a symbol of your village to wear on your body like this… 

Well, there’s a reason he’d kept his Iwa hitai-ate both times he’d gone missing-nin, and a reason he still has it hidden in a storage scroll somewhere. He’s an artist; symbols are important.

“Congratulations,” a voice says, and Deidara looks up to find Shisui did show up. He’s smiling, although it looks very forced. Sasuke is at his side. 

“Can I see?” Sasuke asks, and Deidara obligingly holds the headband out. “It’s so cool!”

“Why are you so excited?” Shisui teases, tapping his own hitai-ate. “You see mine all the time.”

Sasuke traces the leaf symbol with his fingers and says, “But yours is old and all scuffy.”

“It’s battle damage,” Shisui whines. 

Deidara stands there, feeling awkward. There were lots of families in attendance, and they’re all hugging their graduates and slapping each other on the back. The only person who has ever showed up to congratulate Deidara was Kurotsuchi after his jounin promotion; she’d punched him in the arm and bought him an incredibly cheap food cart meal. 

Deidara just doesn’t know what to do with Shisui and Sasuke standing there. 

Luckily, Sasuke is perfectly comfortable with both of them, and he demands they go out to eat to celebrate. 

“Don’t you have class?” Shisui asks. 

“Nii-san says jounin can make my sensei do whatever,” Sasuke says, crossing his arms. “Cuz they outrank him. That’s why Shikamaru and Choji and Ino get to go out with their dads for lunch all the time.”

Shisui makes a big show of looking to the heavens for patience. 

“It’s not very nice,” Shisui says finally, “but it’s technically true.”

This is a good summation of most of the things Itachi says. 

“We can bill Itachi,” Deidara decides. 

“Yes, we’re definitely billing Itachi,” Shisui agrees. 

 

xXx

 

Itachi visits Deidara in his bedroom that night, sitting against the wall like he did the night he announced Tobi was Uchiha Madara. 

“You did well,” Itachi says, and Deidara grunts. 

“Trying to get on my good side by praising me for ‘accomplishing very little’?” Deidara sneers. 

“Maybe,” Itachi replies. “I wanted to make sure you were still thinking about our… Tobi problem.”

Deidara rolls his eyes and sits up. 

“I don’t actually know very much about how that guy fights, yeah,” he admits. 

“You ran tens of missions together,” Itachi says, eyeing him. “You captured the sanbi with him. He must have done something.”

Deidara runs a hand through his hair, thinking over his answer. While he thinks, he says, “Maybe I did all that by myself, yeah.”

“Maybe,” Itachi repeats, inclining his head. 

It’s good for Itachi’s sake that he doesn’t outright deny Deidara’s claim, because then Deidara would just yell and refuse to talk to him. 

“I could have,” Deidara emphasizes, “but it would have been difficult, yeah. With Tobi it was… it always felt like he wasn’t doing anything, but all our missions were easy.”

“Elaborate,” Itachi says. 

“He’d yell and scream and flail, yeah,” Deidara says. “And then somehow, between all that, he’d get shit done.”

“And you don’t know how?”

“I have theories,” Deidara says, annoyance tugging at the back of his mind. He doesn’t like being interrogated. “Maybe we can talk about them when I’m not trying to sleep, yeah.”

“Alright,” Itachi says, and then instead of going away and leaving Deidara alone, he scoots down so he’s laying on his back next to Deidara. “Just tell me the easy stuff then. Likes, dislikes…” 

“You are so annoying,” Deidara says, flopping back down on his futon. He ends up listing observations of Tobi’s habits for the next two hours. Most of them are stupid, because most of what Tobi did was stupid. Itachi hums along like Deidara is telling him an especially intriguing story and not just a summary of an idiot’s general behaviors. 

Deidara could probably spend days ranting about the stupid shit Tobi would do, but Itachi cuts him off when he starts yawning. 

“You’re still healing from poison damage,” Itachi says as he stands. “Rest well.”

Deidara rests very well, oversleeps, and shows up late for his new team assignment. His new teammates, a boy and a girl sitting alone in the classroom, don’t seem very impressed with him. 

“Is this going to be a thing with you?” the girl teammate complains. 

“Who’s our jounin sensei?” Deidara asks, ignoring her comment. 

They don’t know. All the other sensei already took their teams away, and their sensei seems to be running late. 

“Maybe he got a cool mission,” the boy teammate says. “He is a jounin after all.”

Deidara rolls his eyes. Unless Konoha did things in a very backwards way, a jounin with a brand new genin team wouldn’t be on the mission roster and would only be deployed in extreme emergencies. It’s not impossible, but given they’re in peacetime, it’s pretty unlikely. 

Their sensei finally shows up at noon, almost exactly four hours late. Deidara takes one look at his face and nearly screams.

Chapter Text

Here’s what Deidara knows about Hatake Kakashi: 1) He was a big enough deal that Deidara had heard of him even before he defected from Iwa. 2) He worked with dogs or something, and had a reputation as a hunter-nin. 3) Deidara had specifically been warned about him in Akatsuki due to his affiliation with the Nine Tails’ vessel, in the incredibly vague way Akatsuki doled out details, like “oh yeah… this guy will probably show up at some point… maybe research him? We don’t care; just deal with it.” 

Most importantly, 4) Hatake Kakashi had warped Deidara’s entire fucking elbow into another dimension. 

(Deidara considered the One Tail retrieval mission one of his better artistic endeavors, even if it somehow ended with him losing both arms.)

Deidara does not scream, because even if he’s impulsive, he does know how to use restraint in the moment in order to maximize his art later. Instead he does a sort of close-mouthed scream that’s masked by the gasps of surprise and annoyance from his teammates. 

Kakashi slouches into the classroom, all lazy and casual, and Deidara can tell immediately it’s an act. Maybe he can fool the little genin, but Deidara can see all the parts of Kakashi that are still tense, that he has to make relax on purpose. 

“Yo,” Kakashi greets, then sits on the sensei’s desk. He’s much younger than the Kakashi that blew off Deidara’s arm– twenty, at the oldest. 

Deidara wonders what the skill gap is now that Kakashi is a less experienced twenty year old and Deidara is stuck in his child body. His hands twitch over his clay pouches. 

“Sensei!” the boy teammate says, leaping up from his desk. “You’re late!”

Kakashi very slowly twists his body to look at the clock over the door. “Huh,” he says. 

Next to Deidara, the girl teammate smacks her hand to her forehead. 

“Well, that can’t be helped,” Kakashi says vaguely. He has three quarters of his face covered, and even so, Deidara feels like he’s making fun of them as he surveys them with a single eye. “So… I guess you’re my team…?”

He swings his legs lazily in the air, the backs of his sandals thudding against the desk. Deidara shoves a hand into his clay pouch and takes a bite. How much trouble would he get into for blowing up the school? Surely no one who’s ever had to work with this man would blame him. 

“Sensei,” the girl teammate says, “maybe you could introduce yourself?”

Kakashi hums and says, “That’s a good idea.”

Then he scratches his face under his covered eye and says nothing. 

He’s like a lazier Tobi, Deidara thinks. 

They eventually drag Kakashi’s name out of him and nothing else, and Deidara’s teammates introduce themselves. There’s nothing that remarkable about their appearance, except that the girl is wearing sunglasses indoors for some reason. Her name is Aburame Shiori, and she lists keeping terrariums as her hobby and making jounin as her career goal. The boy is Watanabe Daisuke, his hobby is practicing with his twin short swords, and his dream is to be the first ninja in his family. 

Boring, Deidara thinks of both of them. 

“My name is Deidara, yeah,” Deidara says when all eyes turn to him. “My hobby is art, and my goal is to make people understand true art.”

“Art?” Kakashi prompts. 

Since Deidara’s hand has already been chewing clay as a self-soothing exercise, he holds out his hand and spits out a grasshopper. 

“Wow!” Daisuke yelps in surprise. 

“Ah,” Shiori says and leans in to look at it closely. “It’s very detailed. I like it.”

Deidara does not even try to hide the smirk on his face. Yes, his art is awesome, and everyone here should worship and compliment him!

“How’s that gonna help you fight, though?” Daisuke asks, wrinkling his nose. 

Lucky for Daisuke, Kakashi interrupts Deidara’s mental calculations of how much of Daisuke’s face he can blow off and claim it was an accident. 

“Maa, we can save showing off our jutsu for tomorrow, kids,” Kakashi says, sliding lazily off the desk. “Meet at 7AM, training ground 7, for your final test. Easy to remember, right?”

“Final test?” Shiori repeats sharply. “Hitomi-sensei didn’t mention--”

“And don’t eat breakfast,” Kakashi says, wagging his finger. In a decidedly more intimidating voice he adds, “You’ll just throw it up.”

With that, he disappears into a cloud of smoke. 

“What an odd man,” Shiori comments. 

“What a troll,” Deidara spits. This was the man he lost an arm to? 

“What do you think he meant,” Daisuke asks, biting a thumbnail nervously, “about a final test?”

“I can ask my parents,” Shiori says seriously. “Why? They are both high-ranking shinobi, and--”

“Whatever,” Deidara says, standing and stretching. He still feels all lethargic and sore from being poisoned. “See you tomorrow.”

He leaves, and Shiori calls after him, “You’ll be on time this time, won’t you?”

 

xXx

 

The Akimichi clan gifted Mikoto a large quantity of marinated meat and various sides the other day, and even the leftovers microwaved are some of the best food Deidara has ever had. It’s good enough that even Itachi is skipping work to eat at home. 

“I’m going to kill Hatake Kakashi,” Deidara informs him as he plates his own lunch. 

“Hmm,” Itachi says. “Because he destroyed your arm?”

“No,” Deidara says as he flops into the chair across from Itachi. “Because he and his loudmouth jinchuriki pet disrespected my art, yeah.”

“Ah,” Itachi says, chewing thoughtfully. Then he says, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why?” Deidara whines. “You’ve tried to kill him, haven’t you?”

“Genjutsu doesn’t count,” Itachi says, like the delusional, violent maniac he is. 

“How do Konoha genin teams even work?” Deidara changes the subject. He has the rest of the day to decide if he’s actually going to turn Kakashi into art or not. “He told us there would be another test.”

Deidara has not actually connected the dots between “I’m going to kill Kakashi” and “genin teams” for Itachi, but Itachi never once looks confused about his train of thought. He’s always been annoyingly good at filling in the blanks like that. 

“How did they work in Iwa?” Itachi asks, sounding genuinely curious. 

Deidara shoves some meat into his mouth and chews thoroughly before deigning to answer. He sort of wants to lord it over Itachi that Deidara knows something he doesn’t, but he also wants Itachi to actually tell him things. 

“We get rotated through probationary teams for a few months,” Deidara answers, “and then you get sorted onto a final team or pulled for remedial training, yeah.”

“Interesting,” Itachi murmurs. 

“Well?” Deidara presses. “Is that not what you do here?”

“No,” Itachi says, and then starts stacking up his now empty dishes. “Kakashi will accept you as a genin student, or you’ll have to return to the Academy for additional training.”

“What kind of a system is that?” Deidara demands, and instead of answering him, Itachi hovers at his shoulder, demanding to know if he’s done eating so Itachi can wash his plate. 

Deidara spends the rest of the day in the Konoha library, running reconnaissance on whatever he’s gotten himself into. Kakashi’s public file doesn’t really tell him anything he doesn’t already know, except that Kakashi made jounin even younger than Deidara. The explanation of the genin promotion process makes it sound like jounin can test students however they want, which is basically meaningless information. He does find out that his maybe-new-teammate Shiori’s family fills themselves with chakra-eating insects.

It’s not even a bloodline limit thing. They just let bugs colonize their babies. No wonder no one has given Deidara’s hand-mouths a second thought; Konoha is filled to the brim with freaks. 

He also looks up the shinobi pay scheme here. It’s similar to Iwa’s, with graduated payscales within ranks and then additional pay raises based on participation in specialized departments, like the hospital or R&D. Deidara writes notes on the inside of his arm; one of the few benefits of being fucking Kakashi’s genin will be making money to potentially move out of the damn Uchiha compound. 

That night, Itachi shows back up in his room and hands him a list of Konoha denizens he’s not allowed to kill. 

“Is this Sasuke’s entire Academy class?” Deidara asks. 

“He might be upset if one dies,” Itachi explains. 

The list, of course, has Sasuke at the very top, followed by Shisui and Mikoto. They are notably the only Uchiha to make the list. 

“Am I just not killing them, or do I have to actively make sure they don’t die?” Deidara asks, wrinkling his nose at the list. He does not have time to babysit a bunch of brats. 

“Ah, that’s a good distinction,” Itachi says. “You only need to actively look out for the starred ones.”

Asterisks appear next to a few names on the list. 

“Did you give me a fucking genjutsu list?” Deidara asks, dropping the paper in disgust. 

“It’s more secure than making a physical list,” Itachi says mildly. The list, disobeying physics because it’s a filthy illusion, floats back up into Deidara’s hand. 

Sasuke and Shisui both have stars next to their names, although Mikoto doesn’t. Deidara doesn’t have the time or psych training to unpack that, and he skims the list for more stars. 

“Who the hell is Haruno Sakura?” Deidara asks. 

“She’ll be important later,” Itachi says. “Don’t worry about her for now.”

Uzumaki Naruto, who Deidara is pretty sure is the Nine Tails jinchuriki and apparently one of Sasuke’s classmates, is also starred. Then, at the bottom, so is Senju Tsunade. 

“I’ve always wanted to meet the Slug Princess, yeah,” Deidara mutters. When he meets Itachi’s eyes again, he says, “You still haven’t told me what you’re doing.”

“Ah, right,” Itachi says. “Soon I’m going to try and lure Madara out to talk to him under the pretext of murdering my clan.”

“You– what–”

“I’d appreciate it if you watched over Sasuke while I’m gone,” Itachi finishes, and then leaves. 

“Why do I even bother, yeah!” Deidara yells at his doorway. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara hates Hatake Kakashi more with every passing moment. Kakashi shows up late, makes an excuse even Tobi would laugh at, and dangles two bells and several weird, vague threats in front of them. 

“Come at me with the intent to kill,” Kakashi finishes. 

Well, Deidara thinks, you asked for it. 

He’s sure Kakashi knows his clay explodes; he hasn’t exactly been keeping a secret what’s causing all the explosions in the Uchiha compound. It’s unlikely Kakashi knows exactly how explosive, though. 

When he calls for them to begin, all three of the genin scatter. Kakashi only having two bells is a pretty transparent attempt to separate them, and Deidara briefly considers rounding up his new teammates out of spite. He decides against it pretty quickly-- they’ll only get in the way of his art. 

(He wouldn’t mind incorporating his teammates into his art, per se, but Shiori said she’d show him the praying mantises she’s raising for artistic inspiration, and that seems like a pretty fun opportunity.) 

Kakashi sits down in the shade of a tree and opens an orange book. He hasn’t even gotten his sharingan out. 

Moron, Deidara thinks. Kakashi’s one regular eye is not going to be able to tell the ants Deidara is currently scattering all over the field are actually clay. 

Deidara hops out of the tree he’s been hiding in, hurling a kunai directly at the stupid book in Kakashi’s hands. Kakashi catches it right out of the air. 

“Maa, Deidara-kun, that was rude,” he chides, even as Deidara rushes at him. 

Kakashi barely gets his arms up in time to counter a kick from Deidara. Deidara tries to make his taijutsu look like an actual Academy student’s– it wouldn’t do for Kakashi to actually start paying attention and notice the trap. Kakashi even keeps the book out as he fights, although Deidara doesn’t think he’s actually reading at this point. 

This is really the sort of the shit Tobi would pull, and it’s driving Deidara nuts. 

Deidara backs off, yells some insults at Kakashi he absolutely means, and then starts a barrage of kunai and shuriken. Kakashi blocks all of them easily, and Deidara puts more and more distance between them, heading for the treeline, and then–

BOOM!

The entire training field goes up in flames. 

Someone screams from the trees at the other side of the field. Daisuke, probably. 

“That was a bit too dramatic,” Kakashi says from behind Deidara, sounding bored. He’s put the book away, at least. 

“How’d you notice the clay ants?” Deidara asks. 

“Actual ants have a strong smell,” Kakashi says, tapping the side of his nose. He then reaches up to pull his hitai-ate back, revealing the sharingan. 

Fucking hate sharingan, Deidara thinks, focusing his eyes on Kakashi’s chin. 

“So then did you notice the bird?” Deidara asks. 

There is no bird. Kakashi’s eyes still dart away from Deidara for just a second, because people always assume the real threat is Deidara’s art and not Deidara himself. It’s enough that Deidara almost stabs a kunai into Kakashi’s throat. Kakashi blocks at the last second, grabbing Deidara’s wrist.

People also always assume Deidara won’t blow himself up. Kakashi’s eyes widen as the explosive tag attached to the kunai flutters by his face, and Deidara grins wickedly.

They both substitute out at the last second. That’s fine; the distance Kakashi puts between them gives Deidara time to make more clay figurines. 

Deidara is used to fitting his own artistic aspirations in around boring mission objectives. Itachi banned him from killing Kakashi, so Deidara’s personal goal is to blow off at least one limb. It will, technically, fulfill Kakashi’s instructions of attempting to murder him for some dumb bells. 

Kakashi at no point ever tells Deidara to calm down or watch out for his teammates hiding in the trees. This is likely because Kakashi in no way anticipates Deidara deciding he is going to beat Kakashi by making art of the entirety of training ground 7.

The resulting explosion– or series of explosions from birds Deidara scatters– completely destroys the forest around training ground seven, breaks Shiori’s sunglasses and burns holes into her coat, and reduces Daisuke to a crying mess. Kakashi is a slithery bastard who manages to mostly salvage his body with a last-minute and only half-complete earth jutsu, but Deidara still gets him.

(He would have gotten him before, in the other timeline, if he hadn’t been running on empty from taking out the Kazekage and then spending three days on a ritual to rip the bijuu out of him, Deidara is positive.)

“Still in one piece,” Deidara observes of Kakashi’s tattered body when he kicks in the partially-formed earth dome. It covers Kakashi’s right side, where the closest explosion had gone off, likely saving Kakashi’s life but leaving him open to more distant explosions at his left. 

Kakashi is unconscious and singed, but still alive and mostly in tact. How disappointing. 

“Sensei!” Shiori cries, darting around Deidara to take Kakashi’s pulse. She’s discarded her broken sunglasses, and her eyes are grey underneath. Tiny black bugs cake her eyelashes and congregate at the corners of her eyes. 

Staring at his teammate’s weird eyes, it takes Deidara a moment to remember the point of the test. He pulls the bells off Kakashi’s body. 

“That wasn’t necessary,” Shiori tells Deidara firmly. “Why not? Because--”

“He did say to come at him with the intent to kill, yeah,” Deidara snaps back at her. “He’ll be fine. Here.”

He tosses a bell at her and she catches it automatically. He hopes she’s still interested in showing him whatever a flower mantis is, because that sounded cool. 

Daisuke has located the least on-fire part of the training ground and is curled up in a ball and weeping. Deidara tries to give him the other bell to make him shut up. It doesn’t work. 

“I was aiming away from you,” Deidara promises. “If I’d actually been careless ,you’d be dead, yeah.”

This does not seem to comfort Daisuke. 

Shiori, it turns out, is just as bad at comforting, because she tries to comfort Daisuke by explaining that tears are irrational when they should be getting their sensei to the hospital. She ends up having to recruit Deidara to help her carry Kakashi, with Daisuke following behind in a miserable sobbing mess.

 

xXx

 

The whole thing turns into a horrible little debacle, with a squad of Uchiha policemen showing up at the hospital to escort them to the Hokage. 

“It’s a very serious thing, to attack a fellow Konoha shinobi,” the Hokage says gravely. He pauses, then, eyes focused on Deidara. 

He doesn’t say anything for a while, blinking slowly at Deidara like he’s struggling mentally with something, and so Shiori speaks up. 

“In Deidara’s defense, Hokage-sama, he was instructed to fight with the intent to kill.”

“Hmm,” the Hokage says, his eyes still focused on Deidara. 

“Hokage-sama?” Shiori asks. 

Deidara wonders, vaguely, if he should have made himself look like whatever “plain” genin Itachi made the Hokage think he was. 

The door to the office opens then, and Mikoto steps in. She exchanges a few very polite and sweet words with the Hokage, and then Deidara is being shepherded back home. Her eyes are red the whole time. 

So that’s where Itachi gets it from, Deidara thinks. 

Mikoto gets as far as the living room before she breaks into laughter. It starts off beautiful and bell-like, and then she collapses onto the couch and it turns into hideous snorting. 

“Oh,” Mikoto says when she finally calms down, wiping tears from her eyes. “No wonder Itachi likes you. Poor Hatake… ‘intent to kill’…”

She bursts into laughter again. Deidara rolls his eyes and goes to see if there’s any of the Akimichi food left. 

 

xXx

 

In the coming days, Kakashi regains consciousness and the genin are gathered to his bedside. 

“Well,” Kakashi says, looking each of them in the eyes gravely. He has a medical mask over the bottom half of his face. “You all fail.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Itachi, who mysteriously appeared behind Deidara in full ANBU garb in the hallway and made Daisuke scream, objects. “They completed the mission objective.” 

“Why are you here?” Kakashi asks. He sounds tired and irritated, and his left arm and hand are completely covered in bandages. Deidara regards it as a personal failing that Kakashi still has ten fingers. 

“I’m on hospital guard duty,” Itachi says. 

“But why are you in my room?”

“Sensei,” Shiori says, hand shooting into the air like she’s at the Academy. “I formally request an explanation.”

Kakashi sighs and tells them the bell test was actually a secret test of teamwork and blah blah blah. Usual Konoha bullshit about not leaving comrades behind. 

“But they fulfilled all mission parameters with minimal damage to themselves,” Itachi points out. “No mission is ever going to have an ulterior agenda that the shinobi in question are meant to divine.”

“You,” Kakashi says, glaring half-heartedly at Itachi, “are not on my visitors list.”

“But,” Daisuke says quietly. It’s the first time he’s spoken up since the bell test started. “Deidara didn’t leave us behind. He gave us his bells.”

“Yeah,” Deidara says, much louder and brasher, crossing his arms. “I was selfless and stuff. Real Konoha-like, yeah.”

Kakashi rubs his temples. 

He still fails them. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara does not actually understand how the next series of events came to be, but he ends up at Shiori’s house with Mikoto and Sasuke by his side. 

“I hope we’re not intruding,” Mikoto says, a bright smile painted across her face. “I brought dessert.”

She plays her cards awfully fast: she suggests that Shiori’s parents should petition the Hokage to overrule Kakashi failing their team. 

“I-- and the Uchiha-- will of course also support you,” she says, graciously accepting a cup of tea and not swatting at the bug that lands on her face. “It just seems so unfair. I know you raised Shiori-chan with a strong sense of teamwork. Everyone knows Aburame value unity.”

It’s difficult to read Shiori’s father's face behind his dark glasses, but he takes a long moment to think it over and finally suggests Shiori show Deidara and Sasuke her room while “the adults talk.” Sasuke has so far seemed deeply bored by the whole excursion, although he’s too well raised to complain. His eyes light up as soon as they step into Shiori’s room. 

“Cool!” he exclaims, immediately bounding up to one of the many glass cases lining two walls of Shiori’s room. They’re all made into pretty mini-scenes of forest floors, with dark soil and interesting rocks and a museum of green plants. 

Some of them have bugs in them. Shiori clarifies that these are technically insectarium. 

“I would like to keep venomous specimens, but I cannot,” Shiori says darkly to Deidara. “Why? Because my parents have forbidden me until I make chunin.”

“So this isn’t poisonous?” Sasuke asks, tearing his eyes away from a fat orb weaver spider. He sounds disappointed. 

“Venomous and poisonous are two different terms,” Shiori lectures while Deidara moves around the room. 

This… is definitely art. Not his art, not true art, but it’s definitely a type of art. The terrariums are beautifully and lovingly crafted to show off their contents, and Deidara feels like he understands something more about Shiori by looking at them. 

The flower mantises, when Deidara notices them, are exactly what they sound like. The mantises mimic orchids, with delicate pink bodies and legs that look like petals. Deidara rarely works in color, but he’s always liked the way mantises’ arms curl… 

“Do you mind if I sketch one?” Deidara asks, pulling out a sketchpad. Shirori breaks off from a lecture to Sasuke about the difference between an arachnid and an insect to give consent. 

An hour later, Mikoto sticks her head into the room. 

“Oh, my!” she exclaims. “Shiori, these are magnificent.”

“Thank you, Uchiha-sama,” Shiori says, bowing formerly. 

“No need to be so formal, dear,” Mikoto tells her with a soft laugh. “Your father and I are going to go to Shibi-san’s for a while. Are you three alright by yourselves?”

“Yes, Mom,” Sasuke says, turning back to a terrarium. “Shiori was just telling me about parasite wasps.”

“Parasitoid,” Shiori corrects. 

They move outside eventually, to look at the apiaries set up behind Shiori’s house. The Aburame consider all their outdoor space communal, and so there are no fences between gardens, and a random neighbor is tending to the bees.

When Mikoto finally reappears, the sun is setting, and she suggests they pick up take out for dinner on the way home. 

“That was nice,” she says conversationally. She’s carrying a jar of honey tied with a ribbon. “I was looking for an excuse to reach out to the Aburame.”

Deidara can’t help but feel like there’s more going on than just Mikoto being friendly. 

 

xXx

 

Deidara spends the next few weeks in genin limbo while Mikoto and the Aburame argue with the Hokage and Kakashi, and Itachi takes time off from ANBU to listen to Deidara rant about Tobi. 

Deidara rather likes it when Itachi is paying attention to him. When Itachi isn’t being an apathetic bastard, he has a good, attentive face that makes Deidara feel like he’s the most important thing in the world.

A lot of Deidara’s rants are filtered through spars. They start with taijutsu-only, since Itachi is a baby about property damage. Deidara’s child body makes his taijutsu not nearly as good as it should be, and it pisses him off that Itachi wins basically every fight. Itachi doesn’t lecture him about how he’s garbage like he used to, though, and he does nod along to whatever the fuck Deidara wants to say about Tobi. 

So, on the whole, Deidara doesn’t hate this arrangement, and he’s getting closer to his old standard of badassery. 

They burn down a sizable chunk of forest when they add ninjutsu into the mix.

“We… shouldn’t do that again,” Itachi says, eyeing the flames. 

“Why not?” Deidara asks. “That was awesome!”

“Well...” Itachi says. 

They have their next spar on the lake. 

“My best theory about Tobi,” Deidara starts, lazily throwing bombs at a wall of water Itachi has pulled up, “is that he learned Zetsu’s technique to travel through the ground.”

Itachi drops the water wall and fires a bunch of small fireballs at Deidara. They’re easy enough to dodge; at this point, they’re more showing off jutsu than fighting. 

“Why do you think that?” Itachi asks. 

Deidara tosses out a handful of clay water striders. They zip around the surface of the lake, and Itachi avoids them with the grace of a dancer. 

“Remember how I said it was like he could teleport?” Deidara asks. That was another theory he had pitched. “I caught him sticking his arm into things a few times. The walls, a tree, stuff like that. He played it off like he was a dumbass who walked into the wall, but I know he went through it, yeah.”

Itachi heats senbon red-hot in his fingers and starts picking off the water striders one by one; the heat makes them detonate on impact, blasting water into the air. 

“Zetsu’s technique isn’t good for combat,” Itachi says, with the assured air of someone whose magic eyes have already thoroughly analyzed something. “It takes too long, and he has to physically merge his body. You said it was more like Tobi passes through or teleports.”

“I figured he modified it, yeah,” Deidara says. Since Itachi seems to be having fun with target practice, Deidara decides to try making clay fish. He’s only gotten this to work really well a few times. “Or maybe he has a completely unrelated technique that looks the same.”

“The mangekyou sharingan is known to produce unique talents,” Itachi says. 

“The what?” Deidara asks. 

He doesn’t hear the answer, because at that moment his fish explode, disrupting the entire surface of the lake, and both of them have to duck for cover. 

 

xXx

 

“Here,” Itachi says, and hands Sasuke to Deidara. 

“Uh,” says Deidara, awkwardly taking Sasuke under his armpits. 

“Nii-san,” Sasuke complains, mortified. He wriggles free of Deidara’s grip. 

“Here’s been having nightmares,” Itachi says. “Take care of him.”

Itachi hops off the porch and then into the trees. He’s wearing his ANBU uniform; he’ll put on his mask and become “classified” once he’s out of range of prying eyes. 

“I don’t know why he’s like that,” Sasuke whines. “He told me to stay with you all weekend, like a babysitter.”

Sasuke, at seven years old, clearly considers himself too old and mature for such things. 

Deidara belatedly realizes Itachi must be off to talk to his friend Tobi-slash-Madara. Itachi could have given him, like, a heads up or something. Deidara barely understands what Itachi is even planning to talk to Madara about-- something about killing his whole clan again? Maybe?

“Hey,” Sasuke says, drawing Deidara out of his thoughts by tugging at his hand. “You said you’d teach me a new jutsu, remember?”

Itachi has been working with Sasuke on shurikenjustu, so Deidara spends the rest of the day teaching Sasuke to electrify his kunai. It’s a fairly difficult technique, and Sasuke probably won’t be able to get his lightning chakra to stay in a kunai once it leaves his hand for a long while. Still, he makes good progress, sending little sparks down his weapons. 

“Man, you are so much better at explaining than Nii-san,” Sasuke remarks, then immediately slaps his hand over his mouth like he’s committed treason. 

“Yeah?” Deidara asks slyly. Telling him he’s better at something than Itachi is basically the fastest way to become Deidara’s favorite person. 

Sasuke looks incredibly guilty and continues, “I really like that Nii-san has been spending more time with me, I swear! But when he tries to explain ninjutsu…” Sasuke stares down at his kunai, frowning. “But I like practicing weapons with him! I just have to watch and copy.”

“Uh-huh,” Deidara says smirking. “And how is he at correcting your homework?”

Sasuke makes a face. “He made me rewrite my essay three times and Sakura-chan still got a higher score.”

Deidara interprets this as a little girl writing a better essay than Itachi. He cackles. 

Mikoto is not around for dinner again, but she’s left all sorts of sweets made with the Aburame honey. They’re really, unfairly good. 

“I hope Itachi got some of these before he left, yeah,” Deidara comments unthinkingly, then nearly chokes. 

Did he just say that? Did he really just say that, outloud, about Itachi?

“Yeah, Nii-san really likes sweets, doesn’t he?” Sasuke says innocently. Sasuke is a weird kid who doesn’t care for sweets, so he’s currently snacking on shrimp crackers. 

“Yeah,” Deidara says, feeling unnerved by his own traitorous brain. “Let’s eat them all before he comes back, yeah.”

“Are you going to be teammates with that girl?” Sasuke asks as Deidara stuffs his face with sweets. “Shiori?”

“Maybe,” Deidara answers, voice muffled by food. He can eat all but one, he tells himself, so that Itachi can have just enough to be sad there’s not more. Yes. This is how he should be thinking about Itachi.

“You’re turning red,” Sasuke observes. “Do you like her?”

“It’s bedtime!” Deidara announces, waving his arms. “Time to get ready for bed!”

 

xXx

 

Sasuke shows up in Deidara’s bedroom at around 10PM, looking embarrassed. 

“Can I sleep with you?” he asks. “I… um…” 

Deidara had been sitting on the floor, leafing through sketches of animals he’d done for inspiration. 

“Nightmares?” Deidara asks. 

Sasuke nods, blushing with embarrassment.

Deidara narrows his eyes at him. “You can’t go to your mom?”

“I could, but…” Sasuke trails off, and he tugs nervously at the hem of his pajama shirt. “Last time I did, Father came in. He’s been… well, he’s been a little weird lately...”

Ah, fuck, Deidara thinks. This lunatic family would just let little Sasuke think his father was some creepy half-ghost figure. 

“Why not,” Deidara decides after a few moments of deliberation. “I like my room colder than yours, though.”

“I can get an extra blanket,” Sasuke says, then runs off. His footsteps are loud enough in the hallway that there’s no way Mikoto hasn’t heard, if she’s home yet. 

Sasuke comes back with blankets and a pillow and a camping roll, all piled up comically high in his arms. He sets it all up right next to Deidara’s futon. 

“You can keep working with the lights on and everything,” Sasuke says, tucking himself in. “I do this with Nii-san while he works all the time.”

Deidara just grunts in acknowledgement. It had not occurred to him to turn off the lights for Sasuke at all. 

Sasuke, he realizes after some time, is either lying about being good at sleeping with the lights on, or truly freaked out by his nightmares, because he stays awake. He tries to be subtle about it, staying still and not making any noise, but he hasn’t been taught how to feign sleep properly yet. Deidara can tell. 

At first, Deidara ignores it, because he does not want to be in charge of comforting a kid about his dumb bad dreams. That is, until Sasuke's bad fake-sleep starts to get on his nerves. 

“Alright,” Deidara sighs, snapping his sketchbook closed. “What’s up, kid?”

Deidara regrets asking immediately, because it turns out that Sasuke is terrified of a bug.

 “They lay their eggs inside of the caterpillar and then the babies eat it alive,” Sasuke tells him, eyes wide. “And then–”

Deidara was really hoping Sasuke was afraid of something normal, like a monster under his bed or child-eating missing-nin, and then Deidara could just promise him he’d fight it off. 

“--and Shiori said that’s how her bugs work,” Sasuke finishes. “What if her kikaichu eat out all of her insides, and then they’re still hungry and--”

“Hold on,” Deidara interrupts, raising a hand. “That’s not how that works, yeah.”

Deidara does not actually know how the chakra-eating insects work at all, but he’s pretty sure that’s wrong and Sasuke must have misunderstood something Shiori said. The Aburame stay perfectly healthy, even with bugs inside of them. There were old people wandering around the Aburame compound and everything. 

“Nii-san said there’re good bugs,” Sasuke continues. “Like ants that make little farms and grow mushrooms. But, Deidara, what if the ants decide they want to farm us?”

He looks at him expectantly, brow furrowed. 

You’re lucky you’re cute, Deidara thinks, running a hand down his face in exasperation. Because what the FUCK.

Deidara ends up making three clay spiders to “guard” Sasuke from evil parasitoid wasps. The kid is dumb enough to fall for it, and sleeps like a log for the rest of the night. 

 

xXx

 

When Itachi comes back several days later, Sasuke is playing in the garden with a clay flower mantis that comes all the way up to his stomach. 

“Is that… safe?” Itachi asks Deidara. 

“It’s better than him staying up all night to tell me about bot flies, yeah,” Deidara answers, rubbing his temple. 

Itachi smiles at him. For some reason, it pisses Deidara off, and he chucks a kunai at him.

Itachi waves Deidara into his room and gives him a run-down of his meeting with Tobi-slash-Madara. 

“I told him that with the threat of Danzo gone, the Uchiha are becoming more bold in their protests,” Itachi says, pacing his room. Deidara sinks into the chair at his desk. He's never seen Itachi anxious before, and it’s sort of fascinating. “I want him to think the massacre is still on the table so we can lure him into a trap, but I’d prefer to keep him away from Konoha.”

“Itachi,” Deidara says slowly, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, yeah.”

Itachi pauses in his pacing. 

“Ah,” he says, “right.” Then instead of elaborating, he says, “I think it would be best to eliminate Orochimaru before he’s recruited to Akatsuki.”

Deidara blinks, debates if he cares about digging into Itachi’s rambling about massacres and traps, and decides he doesn’t. 

“That makes sense, yeah,” Deidara agrees. Fighting Orochimaru alone is easier than fighting Orochimaru and Sasori together. “Do you know when he’ll be recruited?”

Akatsuki was very secretive, even among members, and neither of them know when or how exactly Orochimaru joined. Itachi has some intel from being an ANBU captain about what Orochimaru is up to currently, and Deidara has some tidbits he got from Sasori about what Orochimaru did while in Akatsuki. 

“Well surely,” Itachi says when Deidara mentions Sasori being impressed with Orochimaru’s regenerative abilities, “he can’t regenerate if we completely incinerate his body.”

Sometimes, Deidara really likes the way Itachi thinks. 

 

xXx

 

Mikoto and the Aburame prevail, and Kakashi agrees to retest the team. 

“To be clear,” Kakashi says when he shows up two hours late for their meeting on a bridge over the Naka River, “I hate all of you.”

“Yes, Sensei,” Deidara answers, mocking. Shiori elbows him. 

Kakashi shifts his weight to his undamaged leg and brandishes his crutch at Deidara. “And I hate you most of all.”

Deidara preens. 

“Here’s the deal,” Kakashi continues, ignoring him. He produces a cardboard box from his jounin vest. “I’ve got a thousand-piece puzzle here. All you have to do is solve it by the end of the day.”

Daisuke, who is standing as far away from Deidara as possible, asks, “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Kakashi confirms. He then opens the box and flips it over his head, scattering the pieces into the river below. “Have fun!”

Chapter Text

Kakashi’s new test is stupid and uninspired, but it is an impossible task without teamwork, even for Deidara. 

Accomplish a vague and unimportant task while working with at least one moron is basically just the Akatsuki job description. Deidara can do this.  

Shiori’s kikaichu don’t do well in water, but they’re excellent at pattern recognition, so she squats on the bank directing a cloud of bugs in putting the puzzle together while Deidara and Daisuke fish the pieces out of the river. Daisuke is completely comfortable with Shiori’s bugs, but he’s suspicious of the clay shrimp Deidara sends into the water. 

“They won’t explode?” Daisuke asks for the third time. 

“No,” Deidara snaps at him, crouching down on top of the water in order to direct his shrimp. “Like I said, I didn’t put any explosive chakra in them, yeah.”

Daisuke huffs and then cautiously wades into the water. Deidara is the only one who can water-walk, and so Daisuke is stuck wading in the shallows. 

The truth is, Deidara’s art breaks down easily in water. When he molds them with explosive chakra, they frequently go off before he wants them to. He’ll have to be constantly replacing his shrimp as their little limbs dissolve and break away in the water. 

The task is boring and stupid, occasionally Kakashi comes along to make fun of them, and all three of them end up diving to find the last thirty or so pieces, but they finish the puzzle just before sunset. 

“I guess that’s good enough,” Kakashi says, yawning exaggeratedly behind his mask. “Pass.”

“Yippee,” Daisuke grumbles. 

By the time Deidara gets home, his hair has dried into a weird shape and he’s starving. Itachi is on attempt number three of some noodle dish, looking between his noodles and the recipe book like he can’t quite figure out what went wrong. 

“Is there sesame in this?” Deidara asks, peering into an abandoned bowl of rejected noodles Itachi will likely throw out. They’re tossed with vegetables and a dark sauce and look acceptably edible, if not a little burnt. “You Fire Country people are obsessed with sesame, yeah.”

“I left it out,” Itachi says, slowly starting to chop a radish with his eyes glued to the cook book. “I know you don’t like it.”

Deidara grabs a set of chopsticks and takes a bite of Itachi’s reject noodles. They’re unbearably sweet. 

“When’s the next Chunin Exam?” Deidara asks. “I’m already sick of being a genin.”

Itachi doesn’t even ask if he passed or not. Deidara would have come home screaming and part of Konoha would be on fire if he had failed. 

“Late August, I think,” Itachi answers as Deidara winces through a few more bites of reject-noodle. “It’s in Kiri, though.”

Deidara frowns, pushing his woefully smelly hair out of his face. “Aren’t they having a civil war right now?”

“The Mizukage has assured the other villages it won’t interfere,” Itachi says, restarting the gas stove. Deidara’s gaze drops to the flickering ring of blue flames. “Although you’ll have to be pretty convincing to get permission to go.”

“So you can just–” Deidara waggles his fingers at Itachi– “the Hokage for me, yeah?”

Itachi rolls his eyes. “I’d rather avoid genjutsuing the Hokage for petty reasons.”

“You already did, you lunatic,” Deidara counters, wrinkling his nose at Itachi’s back. “Even your mom did it.”

Itachi pauses in the middle of tossing shredded cabbage into his pan. “Did she?”

“Do you not talk to each other either?” Deidara asks before summarizing Mikoto saving him from the Hokage recognizing him. 

“I see,” Itachi says, returning to his stir fry. “She was re-enforcing what I’d already set up. Clever.”

Itachi’s final product is still barely edible, but Deidara is hungry enough he only gets in a handful of insults as he demolishes it. Sasuke, on the other hand, eats with the sort of dejection of a child realizing his hero isn’t perfect. 

Itachi makes up for it by offering to watch a movie with Sasuke, which Sasuke reacts to with such excitement that Deidara knows the original Itachi never bothered.

 

xXx

 

Deidara’s first months as a genin are almost entirely D-ranks involving repairs to the Hellpit. They remove rubble, shuffle supplies around for builders and displaced families, run errands for civilians and shinobi severely injured by the blast, and join in on the manual labor of reconstruction. They even manage to negotiate two C-ranks out of it, for handling potentially explosive materials. Kakashi reasons that Shiori and Daisuke should learn to safely handle them, if they’re going to work with Deidara. 

(He does not let Deidara take any of the higher paying C ranks to actually use the explosive materials, even though Deidara could totally handle blowing up the collapsed remains of buildings. If he couldn’t make controlled explosions, he’d have blown himself up long ago.)

“Oh, I don’t like this,” Daisuke mutters the whole time. “I don’t like this at all.”

“I think we should be grateful,” Shiori says. “Why? Because Deidara’s expertise has already allowed us two C-ranks as early-career genin.”

“Yeah!” Deidara says, waving a stick of dynamite with such abandon that even Shiori winces. 

Daisuke is a snivelling coward, but he’s also got his ear to the ground for any and all gossip, and he reports on what happened to what their genin cohort is calling “the Hellpit ninja.” A lot of the ROOT shinobi were killed along with Danzo, but the ones that survived are quietly causing a nightmare for several departments. Most of them need psychological support, due to their “programming” as ROOT agents, and almost none of them have homes to go to. A lot are in prison cells for lack of a better place to put them. The Hokage is steadily appropriating clan-owned rental units for both ROOT agents and people whose homes were destroyed.

(No one seems upset by the sudden uncovering of a secret elite group of ninja living underground that have special emotion-suppressing training. To be fair, this is probably what most people think ANBU is.)

“The Yamanaka are having a fit,” Daisuke tells them conspiratorially as they map-out one of the few in-tact ROOT tunnels. “Because a lot of them are working overtime to recondition the Hellpit ninja, and on top of that they’re losing an outside source of income–” 

“Hold on,” Deidara says, stopping in his tracks. “Exactly how many apartments are they renting out?”

As it turns out, most properties in Konoha are clan-owned. A lot are owned and managed by civilian clans, but ninja clans also make a fair amount of money from renting out businesses and homes. If your family wasn’t around under the first Hokage, you were basically shit out of luck buying any property that wasn’t the new houses on the edge of town. 

“Even my parents own a few units,” Shiori says, adjusting her glasses. “They inherited them. And one was a wedding gift, I think.”

“It’s really annoying,” Daisuke complains. “I’ve been trying to move out of my granny’s now that I’m an adult, but it’s basically impossible unless you’re buddy-buddy with a clan.”

“What’s your budget?” Shiori asks. “My cousin…”

Deidara scowls down at the grid paper he’s drawing their map onto. Prices in Konoha are generally cheaper than Iwa, so he was hoping rent would be lower too. Based on his teammate’s conversation, the rent could vary drastically depending on who you networked with to find a unit, and Konoha was rife with slumlords because no one had updated rental laws since the Second Hokage. 

“If you want to run a scam,” Kakashi tells them when he drops in to make sure the tunnel hasn’t collapsed on them or something. He’s reading his book again. “You can apply for residency as a civilian with a high-demand skill or trade. Then Konoha will work with clans to find a home for you.”

“Speaking from experience, Sensei?” Deidara asks testily. 

Kakashi turns a page. “Maa, I simply accidentally filled out the wrong housing form.”

Kakashi does not spend especially much time with them. He coordinates spars most mornings, and when it becomes clear they will be climbing in and out of the Hellpit constantly, he teaches them wall-walking. Or, more accurately: he demonstrates once, gives such a vague explanation even Itachi would be impressed, and leaves them alone to practice. 

Deidara of course already knows how to walk up and down walls, and so he gets stuck with all of his teammates’ stupid baby ninja questions. 

“It will be a trade,” Shiori says as she blocks Deidara’s attempt at a quick and casual exit with a cloud of bugs. “A trade for what? For all the information you missed at the Academy.”

Daisuke snickers. He thinks it’s just hilarious Deidara doesn’t know Konoha standard hand signs. Whatever. Daisuke found a crushed arm under some rubble and nearly threw up, so it’s not like he’s actually better than Deidara or anything. 

“I would love to find out,” Deidara sneers at Shiori, “what happens when your bugs eat explosive chakra, yeah.”

It’s an empty threat. He does need to learn Konoha Standard, plus all the dumb mission policies and rules Konoha has, if not just so he can break them. He tried tricking Sasuke into telling him by pretending to just be really interested in what he’s been learning in class, but Sasuke is still very young and his understanding is incomplete. 

And so, being part of Team Kakashi is not a total loss. Deidara makes less money than he would as a missing-nin, but it’s certainly more reliable money. He gains essentially nothing from sparring his genin teammates, but on the rare occasions that Kakashi gets off his ass and spars, Deidara at least gets in good practice. 

“Are you sure I can’t kill him?” Deidara asks Itachi of Kakashi at least once a week. “No one would mind, yeah.”

“You won’t make chunin this year if you kill your sensei,” Itachi points out. 

Deidara knows that he’s right, of course. Still, he likes relishing in various fantasies of turning Kakashi into vapors. Itachi nods along as he describes them. 

 

xXx

 

Summer is a series of birthday celebrations in the Uchiha household. 

Deidara’s birthday comes in early May. On paper, he’s twelve. Biologically, he’s eleven. Mentally, he’s twenty… he thinks. Somewhere around there. 

(Deidara’s life has gotten deeply stupid.)

He doesn’t mention his birthday to anyone, but his hosts know anyway, because of course they do. 

Shisui comes over for dinner, because Itachi insists Deidara and Shisui are friends. Deidara exchanges a commiserating look with Shisui behind Itachi’s back as he sets the table for Mikoto. When Itachi turns around, Deidara signs Screw you at him with his newly learned Konoha Standard. 

“You didn’t invite your team?” Sasuke asks, eyes darting around the kitchen suspiciously like they might be hiding under the sink. 

“No,” Deidara mutters, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. By early May he’s only been with them a few weeks and Sasuke is still terrified of Shiori’s insects, so the adult Uchiha must have purposefully neglected to invite them. Deidara is sure this is a calculated move and not an oversight, because neither Itachi nor Mikoto would blink an eye at going behind his back to invite Shiori and Daisuke “for” him.

Mikoto makes various types of bakudon-yaki, which are Deidara’s favorite food. In Iwa they usually take the form of crispy fried dough balls with an egg at the center, but tonight Mikoto has made hers with a variety of fillings and toppings, including a horrifying fruit-based experiment that’s obviously for Itachi’s sweet tooth. Deidara does not recall ever mentioning liking bakudon-yaki, or requesting it, or even eating it in front of anyone in the Uchiha family. Bakudon means “bomb,” though, so it probably wasn’t a very hard thing to guess. 

The night is warm and the fireflies are out, so they move outside for dessert. Mikoto has made a strawberry cheesecake. It’s not Deidara’s favorite cake, but given he’s shown more interest in eating cheese than the typical Fire Country citizen, it’s not a bad conclusion. 

“No candles?” Shisui asks as Mikoto passes him a slice. “Are we doing this the Uchiha way, then?”

“I thought it would suit Deidara’s style more,” Mikoto says, shooting Deidara one of her gentle little smiles that definitely means someone’s life is going to be in peril by the end of the evening. 

Deidara nearly chokes on a strawberry when he’s presented with gifts. 

They’re not particularly thoughtful gifts, thank god, because then Deidara might have feelings. Mikoto gives him several bricks of clay– always useful– and Itachi gives him a sketchbook with water-proof pages. Shisui hands him a generic birthday card filled with a couple thousand ryo. The note on the inside thanks Deidara for winning Shisui several bets in regards to Kakashi testing his first genin team. 

Mikoto scolds Shisui gently while Sasuke jumps up to run and grab his present for Deidara. 

“The girls in my class have been making them!” Sasuke announces proudly, and presents Deidara with several very lopsided origami frogs. They’re made of sealing paper, but the seal has been folded to the inside of the sad little animals to hide that it’s there at all. 

“Oh, that’s an old kunoichi trick,” Mikoto says, leaning in to examine them closely. “Your sensei isn’t letting you play with actual exploding tags, is he, Sasuke?”

“They’re the practice ones,” Sasuke admits. The Academy gives its younger students toned-down exploding tags that mostly just release sparks and smoke in order to practice making traps without blowing their hands off. Sasuke knows Deidara’s feelings on nerfed exploding seals, because he adds, “But, Deidara, if you like them, you can give me real seals and I can–”

“Isn’t the point of exploding tag origami,” Itachi asks casually, “to kill the recipient of the gift?”

Sasuke looks horrified. 

Deidara can’t help it. He bursts into laughter. 

Deidara and Sasuke set off all the exploding frogs while Mikoto and Shisui clear the plates and put away the rest of the cake. Itachi sits on the edge of the veranda, watching Deidara and Sasuke play with a disgustingly relaxed look on his face. It makes Deidara want to punch him, but Sasuke’s gift is just compelling enough to distract him. 

Sasuke’s attempt to copy Deidara’s art is pathetic in every aspect of the execution, and Deidara would be insulted, except… it’s sort of adorable. 

Mikoto and Shisui come back out with a large box of firecrackers. Sasuke immediately drops the last of his paper frogs to run over to them. 

“This is an old Uchiha celebratory tradition,” Mikoto tells Deidara. “Usually first we’d have prayers to Amaterasu, but I think you can skip that part.”

“Can I try first?” Sasuke asks. “Please? I haven’t been to any parties since I learned the great fireball jutsu.”

“Alright, alright,” Mikoto says, gesturing for Sasuke to move to the center of the garden, where there’s no overhanging roof or tree branches to get in the way. “Only one or two to start.”

Sasuke grabs three firecrackers from the box, and Mikoto rolls her eyes but doesn’t chastise him. The smile on her face is indulgent. 

Sasuke hurls all three of the firecrackers as high in the air as he can, then sends a ball of fire after them. The fireball only gets two of the firecrackers, and they explode into a cacophony of blasts that makes Deidara grin with all his teeth, even the ones in his hands. 

Shisui snatches the firecracker Sasuke missed out of the air, tosses it back up, and sends up a tiny fireball to explode it. 

Mikoto offers the box to Deidara and he shoves his hands into it greedily. Deidara does not know any fire jutsu, but he has something even better. He grabs has many as will fit into his stupid child hands and shifts them around with his fingers, coating them in saliva and explosive chakra from his mouth-hands. 

When he tosses them into the air, he scatters them as much as possible. His technique means there’s no wall of fire to block the individual explosions that rain orange sparks down on them. The sparks aren’t that impressive, but the noise– the deafening, asynchronous pops of each firecracker as it goes off– is fantastic. 

The noise doesn’t stop even as Deidara’s firecrackers all finish, because the rest of the Uchiha are now all setting off their own. Itachi lights an entire cloud while Shisui walks Sasuke through how to get four at once. Mikoto sets off five with a series of tiny, precise fireballs. 

It only takes them ten or so minutes to go through the whole box, but it’s a fantastically loud ten minutes that leaves Deidara grinning ear to ear for the rest of the night. 

He’s still grinning when Itachi slinks into his room late at night, holding a pen and paper. 

“This is my real gift,” Itachi says, setting the paper in front of Deidara. It’s his stupid no-kill list. “You can add whoever you want to it.”

He offers Deidara the pen. 

“Is that even a real pen?” Deidara asks. His grin is slipping slightly. 

“No,” Itachi says flatly. 

Deidara takes it anyway and then stares down at the list.

Is there anyone he wants to save, to protect…?

He can’t think of anyone. Deidara’s life has just been a long series of people trying to get in the way of his art. 

“What about your team?” Itachi asks when Deidara doesn’t make any move to write. 

“Why would I care what happens to them?” Deidara snaps. 

“Okay,” Itachi says calmly. “What about Sasori?”

“He deserves what he gets,” Deidara sneers. 

To shut Itachi up, Deidara finally writes down Kurotsuchi. She was an obnoxious brat he had no qualms about leaving behind when he went missing-nin the first time, but she was also the closest Deidara ever had to a real friend in Iwa, another young shinobi too talented for her own good. As it stands now, with Deidara going missing-nin early and Kurotsuchi in line to inherit the title of Tsuchikage, there’s no way that friendship will respark in this timeline.

Maybe that’s not the point, though. Maybe Deidara’s bond with that other version of Kurotsuchi is enough to want to protect. 

What a load of bullshit, Deidara thinks as he passes the list back to Itachi. That other timeline, with all of Deidara’s and Itachi’s old bonds, went up in flames the moment they traveled through time. Itachi killed the version of his brother that hated him, and he killed the version of Kurotsuchi that affectionately called Deidara Deidara-nii. 

For Deidara, there’s no point dwelling on it. 

“Do you have anything you’d like to change?” Itachi asks. 

“What do you mean?” Deidara answers. 

Itachi shrugs, and the list and pen both dissolve into nothing. “Do you have any particular goals? Since you’re helping me, I’m willing to reciprocate.”

“You mean you’re strong arming me to help, yeah,” Deidara says, leaning back on his hands. He puts all the weight onto the fleshy parts of his palms and carefully relaxes the jaws of his hand-mouths so he doesn’t bite himself. 

Deidara, essentially, has one goal: to make art. Ideally, he’d live completely independently of any shinobi village, working and perfecting his art without anyone else’s restrictions or rules. 

“You know how in old books, sometimes there’s an artist that an old rich lady pays to live in the middle of the woods and make art? Like that, yeah.”

“Hmm,” Itachi says, drumming his fingers against the tatami. “Is that what you were doing when we first met?”

Deidara feels his face screw up, a gut reaction of disgust to the memory of Itachi crashing into his life and ruining it forever. It was almost artistic, in a perverted sort of way. 

“Closest I ever got, yeah,” he says finally. “I still had to take mercenary jobs, though. Living is expensive.”

Itachi stands fluidly, his eyes still on Deidara as he straightens up. 

“I can make that happen,” he promises. “After we deal with Madara.”

 

xXx

 

The next day, Kakashi gives Deidara a birthday card. It’s got cartoon dogs on it and in glittering bubble letters reads, You’re 10! Kakashi has written a 2 over the 0 in marker. 

The message printed on the inside says: Wow, you’re a big kid now! It’s signed with a henohenomoheji. 

“Sensei,” Deidara says with jaw clenched, “can I use clay in my spar today?”

“Ab~so~lute~ly not,” Kakashi replies in a sing-song voice, not looking up from his stupid book. Deidara is again violently reminded of Tobi, and he has to fight against the urge to whip out his clay anyway. 

“Man, you should have said something,” Daisuke complains. “I could have gotten my granny to make us cupcakes.”

“I’m also disappointed,” Shiori says. “Why? Because I would have organized a gift.”

Deidara does not actually need clay to make explosions. He licks Kakashi’s horrible card and sets it off. Daisuke lets out a yelp of surprise, but neither Shiori nor Kakashi even blink. 

“Sensei,” Deidara tries a few hours later, after he’s wiped the floor with both teammates in one-on-one spars and they’re now squaring off against each other. “For my birthday present, you should nominate me for the next Chunin Exams, yeah.”

Kakashi is leaning against a tree, watching Shiori and Daisuke duke it out. He’s doing them the courtesy of not reading while they spar, after multiple lectures from Shiori about how it’s rude. 

(Deidara helped make her point by sending exploding birds after Kakashi’s book whenever it was out.)

“Maa,” Kakashi says, keeping his eyes on the fight, “I don’t think you’re ready. Wait for the next one.”

Deidara bristles. The exam after the upcoming one in Kiri is in Iwa. Even if Konoha would let any of their genin enter– which they won’t, because Konoha and Iwa have the most bad blood between them of any of shinobi village– it’s not like Deidara could just waltz in after blowing the place up and defecting. 

Besides–

“Not ready?” Deidara snaps. “You know I’m good enough to be a chunin, yeah.”

He’s good enough to be at the very top of the jounin, even, but chunin is step one. 

Kakashi tilts his head to look down at Deidara critically. Deidara cannot wait to finally have his growth spurt and be– well, not taller than Kakashi, but tall enough no one is physically looking down at him so much.

“Yes, a place like Kiri would probably pass you,” Kakashi agrees. “Your combat skills are excellent. But you still have no idea how to work as a team.”

Deidara balks. Why did he have to get the most stereotypically Konoha ninja of all Konoha ninja for a sensei?

“Well,” Kakashi continues, his gaze shifting towards the spar, “I suppose you have a few months. Show me you’re united as a team, and I’ll approve all three of you.”

Deidara snorts. “Fine.”

He can totally make that happen. And if he can’t, he can take the hit to his pride to ask Itachi to genjutsu-whammy Kakashi for him. 

 

xXx

 

Itachi takes a mission on June 5th, and like every time he leaves the village, he demands Deidara watch out for Sasuke. The mission is meant to be at least a week, but eight years with the Akatsuki has made Itachi so devastatingly efficient that he gets back four days later, on his thirteenth birthday. 

Deidara’s gift to him is to ambush him as soon as he gets back to the Uchiha compound, exploding the trees around him as he takes a shortcut through the forest. It’s absolutely meant to be a lethal attack, and Deidara is a little disappointed when Itachi gets out of it with only a few minor cuts and scrapes. 

They tussle on the ground for a while, and Itachi’s first move is to make a shadow clone that rips Deidara’s clay pouches off of him and toss them aside. Deidara experiments with exploding random rocks he picks up, which takes out the shadow clone and decorates Itachi’s hair with little orange flames. 

“Fuck,” Deidara says when Itachi finally manages to kick him off, “you really are fireproof, yeah.”

“Just a little bit,” Itachi says, extinguishing the various tiny fires on his person with his bare hands. “Look.”

There’s definitely a minor burn on the back of his arm, where he was set on fire the most. 

“You’re back early! Happy birthday!” Sasuke cries when they get home, and he flings himself into Itachi’s arms hard enough to make Itachi wince. 

So Deidara did manage to crack a rib. Excellent. 

“Did Deidara teach you anything while I was gone?” Itachi asks. 

“Not really,” Sasuke says. “But he sparred with me! Nii-san, he says I’m as good as his teammate, and his teammate is a genin–”

Sasuke is not actually as good as Daisuke, who is at least competent in taijutsu and kenjutsu even if he’s terrified of everything, but the gap between Sasuke and Daisuke is much smaller than the gap between Daisuke and Deidara. Honestly, boring practice spars with Daisuke and Shiori are probably the only reason Deidara didn’t accidentally blow off Sasuke’s legs or break his face or something. 

Itachi nods along with Sasuke babbling about how Deidara is cool (duh) because he lets him use ninjutsu in fights, whereas at the Academy they’re not yet allowed to. Deidara makes dinner, doing his best to hide his smug little smirk every time Sasuke calls him cool or awesome.

Mikoto, not expecting her eldest son home on his birthday, is having dinner with some village elders or something. Shisui shows up after dinner, though, with a store-bought cake. 

“You know, since you always seem to finish missions days early,” Shisui comments casually to Itachi, “you could take on more. There’s a waitlist of people wanting to go on missions with you.”

“Hmm,” Itachi says, and his gaze drifts over to where Sasuke is turning scrap paper into non-exploding origami stars for him. “I like having free time.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Shisui says, and there’s an odd dark edge to his statement. He adds, “Good luck at your party, with all the elders.”

Itachi’s birthday party happens mid-June, and it’s largely a very serious affair. A landscaper comes in and fixes us the koi pond and all the scorch marks various people have left in the grass. A charred bush is removed and replaced. 

Itachi’s guests are all Uchiha, and most of them are old. They bring gifts wrapped in dull colored paper and Itachi and Mikoto thank them formally. Sasuke has been forced into a formal kimono, which makes him twitchy and grumpy. 

“Ah, Mikoto’s charity case,” an old woman says to Deidara.

“You–” Deidara starts, ready to tell her off, and then Shisui’s hands are on his shoulders. 

“Haha, I’m glad you’re getting along with Auntie Aiko,” Shisui babbles, then starts to redirect him. “Why don’t we go see what Sasuke’s up to?”

Shisui sticks to Deidara’s side for the rest of the event, deferring attention away from Deidara when it comes. Boring platitudes are exchanged. Yes, Auntie Mikoto keeps a beautiful garden; yes, it’s such a shame about Fugaku-sama’s illness. There are a couple of tense moments, where the speaker is implying something about the Uchiha and the village that Deidara can’t quite piece together, but that make Shisui go all stiff. 

After several hours of suffering and boredom, Mikoto finally busts out the firecrackers. They have to pray first, to the sun goddess Amaterasu that supposedly gave the Uchiha their fire. 

(Deidara remembers reading various legends from other clans about the Uchiha, where the first Uchiha was a demon that crawled out of the crust of the newly formed earth, with blood red eyes and fire from the earth’s core clasped in his hands. His goal was to burn all of the new life on the earth’s surface to the ground, and all his descendants carried that same goal and those same demonic eyes.)

The prayer is done in silence around a fire Itachi sets. Deidara is not permitted to the front of the loose circle around the fire, so instead of staring at it, he fills the boredom of silent prayer with a fantasy about what Itachi might look like crawling his way out of a fissure in the ground like the horrible little demon he is. 

He gets distracted when the summer air goes electric with chakra. It’s a lot, for a lot of very intense genjutsu, and Shisui moves away from the fire to stand next to Deidara at the back. Deidara raises his eyebrows at him, and Shisui just shakes his head. His sharingan is active. 

When the prayer time is over, Itachi calls Sasuke forward and offers him the box of firecrackers. The Uchiha elders move slowly, muttering gratitude to their hosts and excusing themselves. As Sasuke sets off firecrackers, they leave one by one, in the same dream-like walk Fugaku moves around the house in. 

“What the fuck,” Deidara whispers to Shisui. 

“I know,” Shisui whines, huffing like Itachi has told an off-colored joke instead of brainwashing all the family elders. “Now I gotta go mess with their family’s brains a little bit so everyone accepts it. Set off some fireworks for me, will you?”

This leaves Deidara, Sasuke, Itachi and Mikoto to set off three whole boxes of firecrackers by themselves. Deidara can’t say he has any complaints. 

 

xXx

 

Here’s the problem with Deidara’s teammates: they suck. 

It’s a problem a lot of ninja have. They aren’t born brilliant like Deidara or Itachi, or they don’t have years and years of experience to make them scary fucks like Kakuzu or Kisame, or they don’t have crazy single-minded determination to make things happen like Sasori or Konan or Pein, or they weren’t blessed with some fuck-you-no-jutsu special move like Hidan. 

And then they just sort of end up… mediocre. Boring. Sucking. 

Deidara spends a lot of time reflecting on what he’s seen typical genin do, and he comes to the conclusion that his team is just sort of middle-of-the-road. Shiori’s chakra eating bugs are a terrifying concept, but she doesn’t have any supporting ninjutsu and her taijutsu is only so-so. Daisuke likes the physicality of hand-to-hand combat and practices his kenjutsu constantly, but he’s grown up with a civilian mindset and is scared of getting hurt and hurting others, and it makes him hesitate and panic. It’s the sort of thing the Academy is meant to squish out of all the children, but it seems to not have completely worked with Daisuke. 

Once or twice a week, Kakashi has them all come at him at once, and Deidara always ends up having to fight Kakashi one-on-one, because what are Shiori and Daisuke supposed to do but watch? 

It’s not like Deidara is fundamentally bad at teamwork. He’s led whole squads before, back when he was a jounin in Iwa. He worked fine with Sasori and Tobi, who were both infuriating in their own ways. He’s working fine with Itachi now, and he still wants to murder him. 

So obviously the problem is not Deidara. It’s that his teammates suck so much the only viable strategy in a fight is that Deidara does all the work. 

One morning while they’re waiting for Kakashi to arrive anywhere between thirty minutes to three hours late, Deidara calls a meeting and explains that they should enter the Chunin Exams.

“Aren’t we a bit young?” Shiori asks, adjusting her sunglasses. “My parents suggested letting my kikaichu colony get up to fifty-thousand individuals before trying out for promotion.”

“Yeah,” Daisuke agrees, shifting nervously. “People die in those, don’t they?”

Deidara argues for a few more minutes, and the thing that makes both his teammates change their tune is– and he cannot believe this is the attracting factor for them– that they’d get to go to Kiri. 

“The biodiversity of invertebrates in Water Country is amazing,” Shiori says, and her cheeks are pink with excitement from the thought. “I would love to have a collecting trip there. The sheer number of venomous spiders–”

Shiori starts listing spider venoms and their horrifying effects on the human body with an enthusiasm that makes Deidara weirdly nostalgic for Sasori. 

Instead of looking terrified like he usually would, Daisuke just looks thoughtful. 

“Kiri is supposed to be the birthplace of swordsmanship,” he says slowly, fingering the hilt of one of his short swords. “I’d love to meet a Kiri swordsman during peacetime…” 

Deidara does not bring up the civil war and genocide currently happening in Kiri and lets his teammates stew in their weird fantasies. 

“Yeah, okay,” Daisuke finally decides. “How do we convince Kakashi-sensei?”

“He told me we had to prove we’re good enough at teamwork, yeah,” Deidara explains. “So I think we should come up with some combo-attacks for our group spars.”

He’ll have to, like, train with them to help them suck less, but it’s a small price to pay. 

And if they put Kakashi back in the hospital, all the better.

 

xXx

 

Sasuke’s birthday is in late July, and it’s the loudest celebration of all. 

Mikoto invites his entire Academy class, although only half of them show up. Importantly, the half that shows up includes the children of several clan heads, who all stick around to gossip and drink iced tea in the Fire Country summer heat. 

The entire concept of inter-clan politics is alien to Deidara; Iwa hasn’t been segregated by clans for generations. The Tsuchikage, like the Kazekage, is an inherited position kept within a noble shinobi family, and that’s about it. 

(Iwa does have programs that “encourage” certain marriages to maintain and combine Iwa’s few bloodline limits, of which Deidara was almost certainly a product. He tries not to dwell on that.)

The point is, the whole show of fixing up the garden and house for Itachi’s birthday is obviously more for these people than the Uchiha elders that Itachi just genjutsu’d anyway. The Yamanaka head gushes over some gardenias while his little spawn stands by his side looking bored beyond measure. 

“Deidara-kun,” an Aburame man Deidara has never met greets. Deidara has sat himself in the shade of a tree to mold clay while kids run around and scream, and he doesn’t bother to stand when the man starts talking to him. “Shiori-chan sends her regards. She has been very enthusiastic about milking spiders of late. Her parents are proud.”

“Um,” says Deidara. As part of their cool we-can-totally-do-teamwork plan, he’s encouraged Shiori to look into bug venoms. Milking spiders is definitely the grossest thing to call harvesting venom. 

“I am Aburame Shibi,” the man continues. “My late wife was clan head. My son, Shino,” he finishes, and points to a young boy with sunglasses showing a very suspicious Sasuke some type of beetle. 

The man then, very awkwardly, just walks away.  

“Don’t worry about him,” Shisui says, dropping out of the canopy of the tree. “Aburame are always like that. Where’s the present table?”

A few minutes later, Itachi sits under the tree next to him. He doesn’t say anything, just watching Sasuke greet his classmates one by one with a tiny smile on his face. 

One of them, Deidara realizes with a jolt, he totally recognizes. 

“Hey,” he says, starting to get to his feet, “isn’t she–”

He doesn’t really remember her face, but he definitely remembers that the girl who extremely artistically punched a giant rock to pieces and then very artistically smashed all of Sasori’s puppets had pink hair. There can only be so many girls from Konoha with pink hair. 

Itachi pulls him back down by the back of his shirt. 

“Haruno Sakura,” Itachi says. “She’s a starred name, remember?”

“I’m not going to fight an eight year old,” Deidara snaps back. He’d just sort of wanted a closer look at the second coming of Tsunade! 

“Would you fight me, if I were eight?” Itachi asks. 

“It wouldn’t be a fight, yeah,” Deidara counters. For some reason, this makes Itachi’s smile widen. 

Sakura proceeds to do nothing interesting, shyly following around the bossy Yamanaka heir and not making eye-contact with anyone. It’s massively disappointing, and Deidara wonders what happens that changes her so drastically. 

The mood shifts abruptly when a Hyuuga shows up, followed by two little Hyuuga brats, all in pristine white. 

“Hiashi!” Mikoto greets, sweeping over to him. 

Everyone else relaxes once it’s clear the Hyuuga man isn’t going to rip Mikoto’s head off or whatever. One of the Hyuuga brats– the boy one– almost immediately tries to pick a fight with Sasuke, and Itachi leaps up to intervene, followed by Shisui, who rips himself away from an in depth conversation with a ninja dog. 

When it’s clear he isn’t going to get to see Sasuke electrocute another child, Deidara gets up and goes inside for the bathroom. 

There’s a kid just sort of standing in the living room, looking very distressed. 

It’s the Nine Tails vessel. 

“Fuck,” Deidara swears. 

The kid turns to him, face scrunching up in the obvious glare of a young boy trying to cover up that he’s embarrassed. 

“What?” he asks.

“Rude, kid,” Deidara tells him, then points toward the door. “Party’s outside, yeah.”

The kid– Naruto? Yeah, Naruto– doesn’t move. He continues to glare at Deidara. 

“Do you need something?” Deidara asks slowly. Why does he keep getting left alone with children?!

Naruto’s eyes dart over to the two collapsable tables by the door and then back to Deidara. Half of one of the tables holds all the presents, and the rest is food and drinks. They’re inside so nothing goes off or melts in the heat of the day. 

“You’re allowed to eat, yeah,” Deidara tells him. What’s with this kid?

“It’s not that,” Naruto says, kicking at the area rug beneath his feet. “I’ve never been to a birthday party before, you know.”

“Gods,” Deidara groans, then stomps toward the table and grabs a paper plate. “Just make a plate of food and then go outside and play with your little friends, yeah?”

He hands the paper plate over. 

“And is it okay if I don’t have a present?” Naruto asks. 

“No one is going to give a shit, yeah,” Deidara promises. 

Naruto chews his lip, staring at the pile of gifts, and Deidara elects to abandon the kid to rot in his own self-esteem issues. When Deidara goes back outside, Naruto is wrestling with the kid from the dog clan while the other boys cheer them on. 

Itachi and Shisui are sitting on the edge of the veranda, and since they’re the only ones in Deidara’s age group, he flops down next to them. 

“Are you growing your hair out?” Itachi asks randomly, reaching for Deidara’s face. 

Deidara swats Itachi’s hand away. “What’s it to you?”

“It’s not a very good length,” Itachi says, frowning deeply at the ends of Deidara’s hair. It’s grown out to his collarbones, and it is a pretty awkward length. “If you’re not going to grow it out, you should cut it.”

“I can’t believe you even want to micromanage my hair,” Deidara retorts, stealing Itachi’s plastic cup of iced tea to drink. It’s tooth-achingly sweet. 

“Don’t worry,” Shisui says with a grin, “Trying to make all your decisions for you is just how Itachi shows affection.”

Itachi doesn’t have the grace to look embarrassed. “Sometimes you make bad decisions,” he tells Shisui matter-of-factly. 

The parents are good enough at managing their own children that none of the play fights get out of hand. The kids organize themselves into normal shinobi child games, and Deidara is surprised to find most of them are the same as the ones he played in Iwa: games to test aim and balance, hide-and-seek games, and games to test pain tolerance. 

When cake is finally passed out, Itachi polishes his off in about two minutes and goes back for seconds. 

“You have to open mine before his, yeah,” Deidara cuts in when it’s time for presents and Sasuke picks up Shino’s first. “It won’t make sense without it.”

Sasuke then roots through the packages for Deidara’s gift, which is the largest box of all. When he rips it open, it’s a box filled with cleaned out jars Deidara rescued from the glass recycling. Every jar has holes poked in the lid and has a random assortment of twigs and leaves at the bottom. 

“I don’t get it,” Sasuke says, turning a jar over in his hands. 

“Ah, they’re galls,” Shino says. He sounds excited. Why were all the Aburame like this?

Galls are excess tissue that plants grow around parasites, such as insect larvae, encasing them in a ball to protect the rest of the plant. Sometimes, parasitoid wasps bore into the galls and lay their eggs on the larva within, giving their freaky babies protection in the form of the gall and a food source in the shape of the larva. Shiori helped Deidara gather calls from which either a gall insect or a parasitoid wasp will emerge. 

Sasuke levels Deidara with a look that clearly says, Why would you gift me the fuel of my worst nightmares?

“You’ll get to see what comes out,” Shino says, pulling free of his father’s hand on his shoulder to pick up a jar himself. “It could be anything.”

Shino’s gift is a book to help Sasuke identify what the insects are when they emerge. Sasuke still seems unsure, but more children move forward to look at the jars, and it’s generally decided that “what horrible bug will come out?” is a fun game. Sasuke relaxes. 

This is, of course, Deidara’s genius plan to get Sasuke to accept the existence of upsetting bugs and stop bothering Deidara about nightmares. 

The rest of the gifts are more usual– things Sasuke can use for school and training, a couple of games, and a variety box of exotic snacks someone’s parent must have brought back from a mission. Itachi’s gift is high-quality ninja wire, which is a step down from the sword he was trying to convince Mikoto that Sasuke could definitely handle. 

They let the children set off the firecrackers and don’t offer any to Deidara, which isn’t fair. None of the kids but Sasuke even know any jutsu to set them off, and they have to use matches. 

(The Nine Tails kid gets so into being handed a matchbook that he also sets off two smoke bombs, a cherrybomb, and something which dyes a large patch of grass bright purple. This is, at least, sort of hilarious.)

When the guests are gone and they’ve cleaned up everything but the purple grass, which is bafflingly water resistant, Itachi tells Sasuke that his second present is to sleep outside on the veranda with him. 

This is apparently an old tradition they have, of dragging futons outside on warm nights and sleeping side by side. Deidara, who has spent a lot of his life sleeping outside, doesn’t really see the appeal, but Sasuke goes giddy with excitement. 

At least he won’t be coming to Deidara about his stupid nightmares. 

 

xXx

 

One week later, Daisuke and Shiori manage a surprise team attack that knocks Kakashi right off his feet. A clay centipede bursts from the ground, encircling Kakashi’s chest and pinning him in place. 

“Oh no,” Kakashi says, entirely laid back. “I’ve been had.”

Daisuke and Shiori still aren’t good enough to actually hit Kakashi without a lot of luck and very mean tricks. If he let them knock him over, he must be impressed with something. 

“That was pretty good teamwork, right?” Daisuke asks, setting the tip of his sword to Kakashi’s throat. The freshly-graduated Daisuke would not be so aggressive, but new, cooler, Deidara-mentored Daisuke knows that sometimes ninja sic bugs (real or clay) on you when you think they’ve been immobilized, so you need to keep their vitals in stabbing range at all times. 

“I don’t know,” Kakashi says, looking languid even as the centipede squeezes itself around him. “Do you still scream when you hear explosions?”

“I’ve learned to keep it all internal,” Daisuke answers through gritted teeth. 

“Weeell…” Kakashi says, then wriggles an arm free of the centipede to stroke his chin in thought. 

“We’ve all agreed we want to go,” Shiori says. A bug crawls up her nose and she doesn’t even twitch. “We have all the required missions.”

Kakashi sighs deeply. “I suppose I can talk to the Hokage about entering you in the Chunin Exams.”

When they start to head out for their mission that afternoon– something about digging for new pipes to be put in around the Hellpit with no helpful explosions allowed, ugh– Kakashi pulls Deidara aside. 

“You do understand they have no chance at passing, right?” Kakashi says seriously. 

“Well, obviously,” Deidara replies. “They’ll get other things out of it, yeah.”

Like general experience, and meeting and fighting foreign ninja, and whatever their weird hobbies are. 

“I need you to promise me, before I nominate you,” Kakashi presses on, and there’s no hint of his usual lazy voice. He’s dead serious. “If something goes wrong, you prioritize their safety over your own promotion, got it?”

“Sure,” Deidara says. 

“Say it,” Kakashi demands. 

Deidara almost rolls his eyes, but he senses that any sass will make Kakashi drop his offer to nominate them immediately. 

It’s not like Deidara isn’t powerful enough to watch his idiot teammates’ backs and also get promoted if the whole thing goes to shit. 

“I promise to look out for Daisuke and Shiori, yeah,” Deidara says, “even if it means I fail. Happy?”

Kakashi transitions right back into his troll persona, grinning down at Deidara. “As a clam.”

 

xXx

 

The Chunin Exam is in less than a month, and so Kakashi has to hustle to get them registered. He acts like he’s being lazy about it when he updates the genin about his progress around teaching them to water-walk, but Deidara hears from Itachi that Kakashi has had to have several very intense meetings with the Hokage and the jounin council over it. Konoha is currently planning to not send any teams, due to the ongoing war in Kiri, and Kakashi has to fight for an exception. 

“Kakashi is a powerful shinobi, even among jounin,” Itachi says. “If you’ve convinced him, they’ll cave eventually.”

They do, and one week before the start of the Exam, Deidara finds himself packing for his trip to Kiri. He’s rudely interrupted by Shisui appearing in his room directly through his window. 

“Could you at least knock?” Deidara snaps. Itachi pushes open the door, and there’s a weird sense of urgency from both Uchiha. 

“Welp,” Shisui says, dropping a bingo book to the floor. “You’re screwed.”

The bingo book is opened to a certain page. Both Deidara and Itachi stare down at it. 

Iwa has finally publicly listed Deidara as a B-rank missing-nin, and his Academy graduation photo stares back up at him. 

Previously, the only people who knew Deidara was a wildly dangerous missing-nin were the shinobi of Iwa, and anyone in other villages with a high-enough ranking to be in on secrets stolen from Iwa, such as the Hokage. It was the reason Deidara could run around with a Konoha hitai-ate without any random shinobi recognizing him. 

Now, Iwa had released their information on Deidara in their bingo book, which would soon spread to everyone else’s bingo books, ruining Deidara’s hitherto exploitable anonymity. 

“Why am I only B-rank?” Deidara whines, breaking the silence. 

“This is okay,” Itachi says, brows furrowed as he kneels and picks up the book. He sounds just as much like he’s trying to convince himself as he is Shisui and Deidara. “We knew this would happen eventually. We planned for this.”

“You mean you planned for it and didn’t let anyone else in on it, yeah.”

“Itachi,” Shisui says, and he looks very strained. “I don’t know what’s been going on with you recently, but this is getting really out of hand.”

“No, it’s okay,” Itachi insists. “One of us will just have to go with him to Kiri.”

“What?” Shisui scoffs. “So we can– what– genjutsu everyone we meet?”

“Something like that,” Itachi confirms. 

Deidara laughs at the face Shisui makes. He’s so glad other people also see how insane Itachi is, even if it seems like no one has any power to stop him.