Holy fudgemonkeys, did Markition actually update?! Why yes, yes I did. After more than a year's worth of waiting, I actually wrote the 14th chapter, and am about half-way done with the 15th. I really have nothing to say about the period I was gone, other than the fact that junior year is a pain, and summer is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I also don't have much to say about this chapter, other than the fact that half of it was written a year ago, so it might be...uh...choppy. I tried to minimize that as much as I could, but nobody's perfect.

On another note, the winners of that number-guessing thing I had last chapter (yeah, anybody remember that? I almost forgot myself) were both Agent Kits, with a fic involving the phrase 'Because life's broken into a million pieces, each one so small and sharp it's hard to avoid the edges...' and Asyh, with the prompt "everything I do, I do it for you". I'm posting the fic those two prompts created as a story on itself...you guys can go check that out if you're interested. It's another Sasori/Deidara one, titled "And the World Falls Apart." Now, without further ado, the chapter.

Chapter 14

Deidara could only watch as Sasori turned and left the room without a word. Probably going to make that report to the leader, to get the man off his back. What bothered him was that he had no idea what was going on in Sasori's head. For once, he couldn't even guess. He didn't know what would happen, and he was totally helpless to that ignorance. If there was one thing he hated, it was not knowing.

He let himself slowly lean to the side, then finally just fall over onto the bed from the sitting position he'd been in. His golden hair fanned out around him, obscured his vision of the rest of the room. He'd never gotten the chance to put his hair back up into the usual tie he had it in ever since coming back to the base, and that made it unruly. Frowning, he lifted a hand to brush the blond strands back, but stopped and stared at the limb when he realized it was trembling.

Was he really that scared? Sasori was the only man he'd ever met that he'd become attached to like this, but certainly he wasn't one of a kind. If Sasori refused him, Deidara would live. He'd live, and move on. Life wasn't going to end with something as irrational as 'heartbreak'. It wasn't even a tangible wound.

Sighing, Deidara let his hand drop back to the bed. He had the sinking feeling that he wasn't going to succeed in fooling himself. He knew that is was true, that life would go on, but it sure as hell didn't feel like it.

It took him a surprisingly long time to realize his side was hurting. The kind of annoying, stabbing pain when a wound was pushed or pressed against. He grunted, and turned to face the ceiling to get his weight off the open wound. And again he was lying in bed; that seemed to be all he'd been doing recently. But healing took time, he supposed. All kinds of healing.

Staring at the ceiling like he was, time seemed to slow down to a crippled crawl. He could hear the occasional shuffle of feet outside his door, one member or another walking by his room to who-knew-where. He knew that none of them were going to enter- the leader had probably banned anyone from entering his room, and even if he hadn't, no one had any business with him- but despite the knowledge his heart picked up every time he heard a sound other than his own breathing. Was it another nin sent by his family, looking for him? Was it the Leader, come to wrench the last bit of the story out of him?

Was it Sasori?

It wasn't going to be Sasori. It was going to be the Leader. Hell, an assassin would be more likely to walk through that door than Sasori was. The Puppet Master had left the room with not even a pause of hesitation, and Deidara didn't think he'd be coming back. Why would he? Missing nin were notorious for their instincts in self-preservation. Keeping himself unharmed and happy would be at the top of Sasori's priorities, and that certainly didn't involve coming back to a blond-haired pyromaniac.

Deidara had almost dozed off out of sheer necessity when he heard the door open. He tensed and his heart was in his throat as he looked to the open doorway. He half expected to see the troubled brown eyes of his partner, regardless of his internal doubts, and maybe that was why he was so crestfallen when he didn't.

The Leader looked down at him with stern eyes, his hands folded behind his back. The door swung shut behind him, leaving the two alone in the room, and for a fleeting moment, Deidara desperately wished that it hadn't closed. Maybe Sasori had been following behind him, but there was no one there.

He closed his eyes and looked away from the Leader. Maybe this was how Sasori had felt earlier. Maybe this was what betrayal was.

"Sasori has made his report." The Leader began. "I do apologize for all the fuss this has caused, but knowing this will make everything easier."

Deidara didn't answer. The wall seemed to capture his eyes, like there was something interesting in the bland surface. It was easier to stare at than the Leader was, at any rate.

"You're going to have to lead us to him, you realize. I'll send Kisame and Itachi along with you, to help out, but no one knows Iwa as well as you."

"I know." His voice was hoarser than he expected. He blamed it on the annoying little lump that refused to go away, sitting at the back of his throat. "As soon as I can travel I'll go, yeah."

"Good. I'll send someone in to check on you later." The Leader murmured, then left. The door clicked shut behind him.

Deidara sucked in a breath through his teeth, and turned his back on the door completely. 'Send someone in'. Probably Kisame, then. Or maybe Hidan, if he was in the base. And once he could stand without wincing, he'd be off, leading the Uchiha and the shark off to Iwa to kill a man who just never gave up.

He didn't think he'd be coming back, after that. Kisame would cover for him, say that he died in battle or something. And he'd go to the ends of the earth to escape the man who he never expected to see again.


Kisame wasn't really a 'people person', so to speak. He liked killing people much more than he liked talking to them. He liked talking to them even more than he liked taking care of them. But he was well aware of what Deidara had tried to pull earlier, and he knew that he was probably the only one willing to go make sure he didn't die. Sasori sure as hell didn't look like he was going to budge from the corner he'd lodged himself in.

The shark nin rolled his eyes and picked up the tray he'd carefully set. He figured Deidara had to be hungry by now, so he'd found a bit of soup and whatnot. He'd even remembered to cook the meat before putting it in this time. He hefted the Samehada onto his back before he picked the wooden tray up, carefully balancing the contents on it. He gave Sasori a brief glare before heading out of the kitchen, down the hall.

The puppet master was being useless again...Kisame would have to kick his ass for that later. Moping around wasn't going to get anything done. And moping in a corner that happened to be very near the kitchen was even worse, because Kisame was going to have to look at him every time he walked through the area, which happened to be one of the centers of the Akatsuki base. Damn useless psycho...

It took him a couple of minutes to get to Deidara's room, considering he had to watch the tray and make sure he didn't spill anything. That led into almost walking into walls and tripping over a euphoric and bleeding Hidan, but he made it there. He knocked once before just opening the door and shutting it behind him.

Well, Deidara was there. That was a good sign. And it looked like he was breathing. That was even better. He was on his side and facing away from the door, and it didn't look like he even twitched when Kisame entered the room, but maybe that was just due to fatigue. Was he asleep? With that notion in mind, Kisame walked across the room as silently as he could, and set the food on the bedside table. He leaned over the blond to get a look at his face, and started when he saw the single visible blue eye open and trained on the wall.

"Hey, Deidara. I brought ya some food." Kisame stated, poking at the blond's bared shoulder. Deidara stirred but didn't look at him, didn't speak. "Ya gotta eat, kid. An' with injuries like those, ya gotta eat a lot."

Deidara mumbled something.

"Eh?" Kisame blinked. "I'm over here, kid, not in the blankets."

"...'m not hungry." It was louder, though the words were just as slurred.

"Well, that's good for you. Yer eatin' anyway." Kisame stated, then sat down on the edge of the bed. Deidara flinched at that, for some reason. The shark nin frowned. He knew the gist of what had occurred a couple of hours ago- but he didn't know the whole story. Maybe it would be smart to invest in finding out exactly what had gone on, if only for the sake of being prepared to deal with this kid on the way over to Iwa. And having some leverage to get Sasori out of his corner. "C'mon, sit up, or I'm gonna shove the bowl down your throat."

That got Deidara moving, albeit slowly. Probably because everyone in the Akatsuki knew Kisame didn't make idle threats. Once the blond was sitting and didn't look like he was just going to topple over again, he handed him the bowl, as well as a pair of chopsticks. Deidara took the items and began eating indifferently. His one blue eyes was focused on the food and the food alone, unable to meet Kisame's eyes- or unwilling to.

"You gonna tell me what happened?" Kisame asked, after some minutes of silence. He wasn't really curios in a sympathetic sense- hell, Deidara could commit suicide and Kisame wouldn't bat an eye- he wanted to know more for the fact that he didn't want to travel all the way to Iwa with the kid having that look in his eye. It would just piss him off, and that wouldn't be beneficial to the whole mission thing.

Slowly, like he seemed to be doing everything else, Deidara shook his head. "Doesn't matter now. What's done's done, yeah." Eye blank, he continued eating.

Well, he wasn't going to get anything out of this end. Off to bug Sasori, then. He'd know. "Fine. I'll come check back on ya in an hour or two." And with that, Kisame stood and left the room. Deidara didn't protest in the least.

He made his way back down the hall, to the kitchen area. Hidan was still in the hallway, only Kakuzu was there too, yelling at him this time. Kisame couldn't help but roll his eyes as he passed them. They really were something, those two. He didn't stand by to watch, however- he was on a mission to figure something out, after all. In a minute he was standing before a rather dark, empty corner.

Damn. He'd moved.

Kisame grumbled to himself and glanced around the immediate area. It was as empty as the corner had been. With no puppet master found, he widened the area of his search, and walked around aimlessly for a full five minutes before finally deciding to check Sasori's rooms. He didn't really want to, but the thought of getting Deidara out of whatever slump he was in was a little more desirable than the negative aspects of snooping around Sasori's workroom.

So, a little annoyed, Kisame walked back down the hall in the direction of the Puppet Master's workroom. The hall leading there was eerily empty, and even more eerily silent. It was the kind of uneasy atmosphere of a battlefield- a killing field- a forest after a fire. Or maybe more along the lines of a forest, just before it erupted into flames. A clearing that knew it was about to host a battle. Or even a mixture of the two. There was a kind of morbid tension, as well as a complete doomed exhaustion that somehow confused the predator in him. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it, because it was such a contradictory thing...it almost made him growl aloud, in instant dislike.

It felt like years, to reach the door. It also felt like less than a second, entirely too fast. But, nonetheless, Kisame found himself staring at the closed door to Sasori's workroom. And he stared at it for quite a while before he finally reached out a hand, deciding that there wasn't really anything that could happen, beyond Sasori being peeved at him. So he grabbed hold of the door handle, ignored the instincts that were screaming at him to turn around, and opened the door.

In retrospect, he probably should have expected Sasori to be working on a puppet. What else would he be doing? It was his workroom, after all. Kisame snorted, shut the door, and casually made his way toward Sasori's form. The puppet master was bent over the largest worktable in the room, his back to the door, and small curled shavings of wood were dropping to the floor beside him at a steady pace. Kisame's silver, shark-like eyes flicked to the floor, but he didn't stop his approach. He was here with a goal, and the shark nin wasn't going to leave without his answers.

Because of his height, he could easily see over Sasori's shoulder. The puppet wasn't looking like much more than a block of wood at the moment, meaning he'd just begun work on the thing...which was strange, considering there was a shelf of half-finished puppets along one of the walls. The guy couldn't need any more new projects, could he? Well, he was as insane as the rest of the Akatsuki, maybe he couldn't stay with the same thing for more than a week.

Kisame was about to say something to catch the guy's attention, but he noticed something resting next to the block of wood. Two somethings, actually. A wooden eyeball, painted blue, and fake blond hair, kept together with a string.

And here, Kisame had thought they'd gotten over the Deidara-puppet thing.

"So, the kid's been staring at a wall for the past hour, an' you're makin' a puppet of him." Kisame's voice visibly startled Sasori—the man froze completely, the stead stream of wood chips ceased to fall. "Care to tell me what's up?"

After a very long silence, Sasori's hands got back to work, carving what looked to be an elegantly shaped hand. "...What are you doing here, Kisame?"

"Sniffin' out answers, before I have to go on a journey with that kid."

Another silence fell. If this guy was going to take five minutes to answer every question, it was going to be a long conversation.

"I've no answers to give you," Sasori murmured.

Kisame growled, took hold of a wooden shoulder, and spun the puppet master around without warning. It was easy, he was twice Sasori's size and had been trained physically since he could walk. The only gratification he received for the abrupt action was a brief look of shock that went through those brown eyes, before they were expressionless again.

"Bull shit." His low, graveling voice was more suited to a snarl than it was spoken words. He didn't bother to hide that fact, now. "Listen, something's wrong with both of you. Now tell me what happened."

"There was a discussion," dodgy, vague, a typical Sasori response, "and a lack of trust was brought to attention. That is all."

When he'd entered the room, Kisame had felt pretty confident about getting answers from Sasori. Normally the puppet master was able to recall any conversation to the last detail, and was willing to relate information if it meant being left alone. This kind of hesitance was making the shark nin doubt his own cause.

"That doesn't till me anythin', and you know it." He wasn't one of those social, delicately-pick-up-the-small-details type. If it wasn't blunt and obvious, it was too much work for his liking.

Sasori said nothing further. He just stared up at Kisame with flat, expressionless eyes, patiently waiting for the larger man to release his grip, so he could get back to work. He made a brief attempt at staring the puppet master down, eventually realized it was hopeless, and reluctantly let Sasori go. The shark nin watched the puppet master work for a few minutes, before he left, having no better idea what happened than when he'd entered.

Well, he had that cryptic statement.

Kisame sighed, and crossed his arms over his burly chest. Maybe Itachi would have an idea, or two...


Deidara let his gaze flit briefly to the door, when it opened again. He half-expected to see Kisame's silver eyes. Maybe that was why he was so startled when he found unreadable gray-toned black pits staring at him. He blinked his blue eye, and picked his head up off the bridge of his knees, despite himself. "Itachi...?"

The Uchiha said nothing, until he reached Deidara's bedside. The man was carrying a chair with him, though he only noticed that until Itachi moved to set it down beside Deidara's bed. The man sat down, and removed a scroll from his sleeve, still with no explanation. Using the very business-like moves that characterized him, the Uchiha spread the scroll out on the bed, between Deidara and himself. Deidara, again belatedly, realized it was a map. Of Iwa.

"Leader just informed me that we're to set off as soon as you are battle capable."

Deidara was not such a fool as to miss the significance of battle capable, and the difference between that term and battle ready. "And you want to plot a course, yeah?"

Itachi scanned the map, before looking up and meeting Deidara's singular gaze. "Not a course, so much as an area I can have scouted. I dislike running blind into new territory."

He nodded silently, and pointed to a small area, just outside the village's walls. He also noticed, in passing, how pale his hand was compared to Itachi's. Usually he was the tan one. "That's the last place I saw my uncle, yeah. I don't know where he is now, but it's best to start there."

Itachi marked the spot with a bit of ink, as well as a few other locations Deidara pointed out as being important. The process only lasted about five minutes, and consisted of nothing but dry discussion on Iwa's geography. Even though it was one of the last places he wanted to go, Deidara found the talk pleasantly distracting. Planning a mission was such a factual, every-day thing; it was familiar, and he took joy in that familiarity. He wasn't sure if Itachi bothered to notice the change, but he could feel himself becoming more talkative as the discussion wore on—what they would need to bring, how long it would take to get there—and even as he skirted around the more personal anecdotes, he was able to divulge information without hesitating. It was better than he had been two days ago, when he'd been unwilling to mention Iwa in the slightest.

Finally, Itachi rolled up the map and slipped it back into his sleeve. But, surprisingly, he didn't move to leave. He caught Deidara's gaze with his own enigmatic one, and the younger man found himself pinned under a gaze that was as intimidating as it was searching.

"Kisame is questioning how efficient you'll be, on this coming mission, Deidara." Nothing, not the slightest flicker of emotion went across the Uchiha's face. "He's concerned with your emotional state getting in the way of your ability to carry out your goals. What concerns him, concerns me."

He should have expected this, he realized. Kisame and Itachi weren't outwardly the closest of partners in the Akatsuki, but they worked together the smoothest by far. And there was a reason for that—similar goals, similar expectations, and similar worries. He had no idea what they acted like, when alone with each other, but something that Kisame was worried about was bound to make its way to Itachi. And somehow, denying Kisame information was much easier than denying Itachi.

Still, Deidara could be stubborn if he wanted to. He'd denied the leader under threat of torture. A simple cold-hearted glare wasn't nearly enough to scare him. He made a soft noise, sounding like a grunted "yeah," and he carefully averted his gaze to one of the far corners of the room. He could hear Itachi shift, and the legs of the chair scrape the floor as he stood.

"Come to a decision soon, preferably before we leave." Footsteps, as he began walking away. "I'd like to know ahead of time if we'll be returning with you or not."

He still didn't respond—but this time, it was because he didn't know what to say. The door closed, Deidara gave it one last look, before laying down again. Things were becoming very difficult, very fast.