Warning: SasoxDei, so shounen ai. Probable small errors in writing. And plot development :)

Disclaimer: Plot idea ALL MINE, but nothing else. Sorry.

OMG! HI! I'm back!

12. Picking Up

Tsunade, team leader for the Hidden Village of Konoha as well as Hokage, sighed. She'd just pulled up the attendance records of all the members of Akatsuki and seen a disturbing pattern. All hadn't attended school for the past week, along with large numbers of other ninja in training from other villages. She knew exactly what was going on, but that didn't mean she wanted it to happen. She scowled, and pulled out her cell phone. Hitting the speed dial, she leaned back into her comfy, well-padded, and plush chair.

"Hello?" someone said at the other end.

"Jiraiya," she said dryly, "I have not so good news and worse news."

"Can I choose which I hear first?"

"Quiet. No. The not so good news is that whatever's been happening started about a week ago."

"That means it's been going on for a while," the teacher commented.

"Yes." She toyed with the sash at her waist, reluctant to continue.

"Well?" Jiraiya prodded.

"About three hundred disappeared a few days later," she said slowly.

"You're joking," her compatriot said flatly. "That many?"

"Two hundred more just dropped off the attendance records yesterday."

There was silence at the other end. "He's been increasing his numbers," the sannin remarked eventually.

"I concur wholeheartedly."

"So far that's five hundred. He wouldn't waste time and effort, so that must mean A's putting up a good fight."

"If they started with three hundred, that means that the minimum killed in order for another hundred- or two, in this case- would be at least one-fifty. If that's Uchiha leading them, then he's doing a wonderful job," Tsunade calculated, adding the last remark with a hint of respect.

"Have you been able to track down Rei yet?"

"Iie. He's disappeared completely, but I bet he's biding his time somewhere."

"Ah." Jiraiya paused. "Are you thinking about lending a hand?"

"Rei wouldn't like it if we interfered without his consent," the Godaime reminded him.

"All the same," he protested. "Should we alert some about the situation?"

"Yeah. Tell Shadow, Scarecrow, Smoke, Caterpillar, Crazy, and Metal-head. No one else."

"Hai, hokage-sama."

Tsunade slapped the phone shut, wondering what the hell Rei was doing. Leaving Akatsuki, the group he'd created, alone to fend for themselves against three hundred?

At the Uchiha estate, Itachi had just finished telling the rest of Akatsuki something similar. Silence dominated the room as people looked at one another with expressions bordering desperation.

The Uchiha surveyed them. Hidan was muttering darkly under his breath with Kakuzu staring stonily at the floor in on corner; Yuri frowning in concentration near Takikko, who looked haunted; Naruto, glaring at the wall, eyes bleeding red; Haku and Zabuza looking unafraid. On the other side of the room, Sasori and Deidara stood quietly, both sharing a grim look before stepping closer together. Sakura stood next to Zetsu, both of whom had looks of calm determination. Tobi looked slightly nervous, and was murmuring something urgently in the spy's ear. Next to Itachi, Kisame shifted uneasily and grasped the handle of Sameheda. The tension in the room was thick enough to be cut.

"We need help," Haku said finally.

"How?" Takikko snapped.

"We've gotten out before," Zetsu said. "One of us can definitely leave and find others."

"Who, then?" the girl pressed. "Who would leave, and who would they go to? We haven't even talked to Rei-sama since this thing began, and he hasn't tried to find us. Who else can we trust?"

"Konoha," Sakura said.

"Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro would," offered Naruto.

"We could probably get some of the teachers to help too," added Zetsu.

Itachi was silent, thinking while the others discussed possibilities.

"We'll have to get reinforcements at some point," he said at last, stopping the talk immediately. "I think—"

Ring. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

Everyone swiveled to look at the phone.


Itachi walked over and picked up the receiver. "Yes?" he asked coolly.

"I'm getting you more help," said Rei-sama. He hung up.

Itachi stared at the phone, then put it back. "It was Rei-sama," he said to the others. "He said he's getting more help."

"It's a trap," Naruto, Kakuzu, and Hidan all said unanimously.

"Maybe not," Zetsu interjected quietly. "But the line might have been bugged."

"Which was probably why he kept it short," Itachi said dryly.

"If it wasn't Rei-sama, then we're in trouble," Takikko said firmly. "We still need to get a message out. If it is Rei-sama, it'll be superfluous; but it is a precaution, and one that we need."

"I agree," Yuri said grimly.

"We'll only be able to hide behind the barrier for another few days," Kisame pointed out. "This is going to end soon, one way or another."

"We will send a messenger to the Godaime," Itachi said decisively. "She will know what to do. And Konoha has been mostly on our side throughout this conflict, so I expect that we can find many allies there."

The silence that followed the pronouncement was interrupted by no one. Then:

"We should send the fastest" from Takikko.

"And their partner," Sakura added.

"We'll need you, Sakura, so that puts you and Naruto out," Kisame said.

"Neither Kisame nor Itachi," Sasori said after some thought. "They are needed here."

"I will stay," Zetsu said firmly. Tobi looked a bit crestfallen.

"Zabuza and I shall remain as well," Haku said quietly. "Zabuza still needs to recover, a little."

"It has to be Deidara." Kakuzu spoke up for the first time. "He can fly on those clay birds of his if he needs to. He's also quick, and hard to catch."

"Sasori isn't entirely recovered, though!" Deidara objected immediately.

"I can fit in Hiruko," Sasori said quietly.

"No!" snapped Deidara. "It's too dangerous, and you are not healed yet."

"We won't be kicking you out of the barrier and saying 'Have a good time!'" Itachi said a little waspishly. "We are going to plan this thoroughly before we do it."

Deidara looked at the ring of members, entirely unconvinced. He began to speak, but Sasori clapped a hand over his mouth and spoke softly in his ear. "No more. We're going because they need us and we can do it the fastest. I'll be fine, especially with you being all up and ready to drag me out of trouble." Deidara began to relent, hesitantly. Feeling him respond, Sasori continued. "I'll go in Hiruko, which is practically armor in itself. I'll be fine."

Deidara sighed, and gave in. "Alright," he said grimly to Itachi. "We'll do it."

"Excellent," Itachi said. "Come with me, then…"

It was late afternoon, now. The sun was beginning to set in the west, its light now golden over the Uchiha estate. Sasori and Deidara were cloaked in invisibility jutsus, as well as henges underneath and the standard chakra-concealing seals. They were exiting from the roof. They were to climb (or drop) to the ground, and make their way out of the barrier from the south-west. Meanwhile, Naruto, Kisame, and a few others were going to create distractions.

A bang echoed across the silent grounds, startling the sleepy feel of the place. A bright explosion of blue and gold showered over the front entrance, followed immediately by several more of red, green, and purple fires. A blue-smoked bang followed the quickly, and blanketed the ground with dense smoke.

Exploding tags that had been secretly placed by Zetsu went off around the perimeter of the barrier and in a few makeshift camps. Cries were heard as unlucky Oto nin were caught in the blasts. Moments later, more explosions were heard; Deidara had supplied Naruto and Itachi with great numbers of his little scorpions, which the two were now detonating faithfully after having sent them out hours earlier.

The patch of woods ahead of them rang with cries of surprise and pain; Sasori tapped on Deidara's shoulder, and the two quickly scaled down the side of the house and ghosted across the lawn. They were through the barrier in moments, and it was then that their true test began.

Neither could see each other, and yet both had to stay in the same area. Having to constantly dodge enemy ninja was a trying process when you didn't know if the place you leaped to contained your partner. It took them ten minutes to make their way free of the grounds.

Ducking into an alley, Deidara looked furtively around before removing the invisibility jutsu. Underneath he was wearing the henge of a slightly stooped, school-looking brunette teen. Sasori appeared moments later, and though he was in Hiruko, he, too, wore a henge that made him appear human. His was that of another student, shorter, and with plain black hair. The henge pushed rectangular spectacles further onto his nose with one hand as it appraised the brunette.

"Ready?" Deidara queried softly, glancing towards the busy street. Sasori nodded, and the two walked out of the alley together. They did not look about, and instead used their senses as they chattered about their "girlfriends" and "schoolwork."

"The upcoming exams are going to be a bitch," sighed Sasori resignedly as they passed some industrial-looking buildings.

"I know! My mom'll ground me if I flunk," complained Deidara, and made for the nearest subway station.

They took the trains to a station a mile or so from the school's southern entrance. Konoha village was in the southern quarter, and the Hokage's office was in the center of the village.

It was here that the second difficult task awaited them: they had to sneak onto school grounds without being seen, if at all possible. The invisibility jutsus were thrown on again, and the two proceeded to walk in through the front door. Quite literally, actually; they waited until a few students kept for late detention had to leave, and swept in before the door closed.

They were in a long hall. Doors lining the walls opened into classrooms on both sides. The hall took a sharp turn to the right; Sasori and Deidara stole along it silently, wary for booby traps and security devices.

At the end of the large hallway there was another door, which led outside. Neither wanted to risk alerting late students outside, so they went back a ways and entered a bathroom, where the proceeded to jump out the windows. Now they were on the training grounds, half of which was forest. In the middle, however, was a tall tower that contained the offices of the Hokage and a few of the more important instructors.

The Hokage's office was at the very top of the tower, and the window was lit. A well-built woman with dyed-blonde hair stood in front of it for a moment, looking out; her mouth was moving. She turned away and went out from view.

After another tap from Sasori, Deidara began to move forward.

The Godaime looked at those assembled in front of her: Shikamaru, the tactical shadow genius and only student there; Kakashi, one of the more capable instructors; Asuma, Shikamaru's instructor and the son of the previous Hokage; Gai, taijutsu master and ebullient teacher; Ako, former pupil and worshipper of Orochimaru; and lastly, Ibiki, torture and manipulation specialist.

"Here is the current data we have," she said coolly, waving to the stack of papers on her desk. The others each took one and looked it over. "As you can see, the current statistics of those involved are far less than those estimated to be currently working in Oto. Akatsuki is greatly outnumbered by the renegades, and I'm afraid that we'll have to step in—sooner, rather than later." She looked out of the window to the silent training grounds below, and waited for them to tell her why she could or could not do something.

Kakashi raised a hand. "Is there any particular reason why we're going to get involved?" he queried lazily. "It is only a few students we're talking about, after all." Despite his rather uncaring statement, his eyes watched her sharply.

"If you'd bothered to look, Kakashi," Asuma interrupted, "you'd notice that a quarter of those 'few students' are Konoha nin."

"Don't forget the operation is being directed by Orochimaru," Anko hissed, eyes glittering. "Even if he is not associated to it by any material evidence, we all know he's the primary mover in this scheme. He's probably planning something dreadful after he's through with Akatsuki."

"Doubtless this has something to do with his falling out with the group," Shikamaru said dryly.

"We can't do anything," Ibiki said firmly. "To go against Oto would wreak political chaos. Students from practically every village are involved."

"We will do something," Tsunade informed them, turning away from the window. "I want you to tell me what."

"Volunteers?" Kakashi suggested. "We could ask for volunteers to go help."

"Absolutely not," Shikamaru contradicted him instantly. "Even if Konoha has the smallest defection count, there are undoubtedly Oto sympathizers. It should be hand-picked. Any lack should be taken from Akatsuki supporters in other villages."

Anko snorted. "And who would that be?" she demanded. "Much of the major villages are almost entirely pro-Oto."

"Gaara of Suna, for one," the genius defended. "Temari, too. I wouldn't be surprised if their brother Kankuro wouldn't object, either."

"We should stay within Konoha's population, first," Asuma cautioned. "Anything outside will spread like wildfire."

"Where's Rei in all of this?" demanded Ibiki of Tsunade.

"I have no idea," she said calmly. "He's dropped off the face of the earth as far as our intelligence goes, and I doubt there's been any contact to the group."

"Then we should—"

A knock on the door interrupted Ibiki's next words. The group was immediately alerted, and most tensed while reaching for their weapons.

"Yes?" Tsunade said.

The door opened, and two teenagers stepped into the room. One was moderately built, with brown hair and ruffled clothing. The other was shorter, with shaggy black hair and rectangular glasses. They both reeked of ninja.

Tsunade gave them a look up and down. "Who are you?"

The images of the teens flickered and disappeared, leaving a short blonde and some kind of contraption. The Konoha nin all had weapons in their hands and were in fighting poses, but the blonde put up his hands, and the Konoha nin realized that both of the intruders were wearing red-and-black cloaks.

"Peace," rasped the blonde, eyeing them warily. "We're just here to talk to the Hokage."

"I am here." Tsunade's eyes narrowed fractionally. "Please identify yourselves and your reasons for breaking into Konoha ground."

"I am Taiga Deidara, and this is Akasuna Sasori," the blonde said. The thing next to it shifted.

"That's Akasuna?" Ibiki raised an eyebrow. "What is he, a robot?"

Deidara gritted his teeth and opened his mouth, about to retort viciously until Hiruko began moving again and a large hatch opened on the back. The puppet lost animation as Sasori gingerly climbed out. On flat ground, he stopped and gave a wavering bow. He handed a scroll to the Godaime, who slit it open and began to read Itachi's elegant kanji. When she had finished, she looked up at the two Akatsuki members, seizing them up.

They both looked ragged. The blonde one, Deidara, had a bandage wrapped around his head and over one eye; he held an arm gingerly, suggesting a recent wound. His gaze was steely and hardened. The red-head seemed to have some trouble with standing, and flexed his hands every so often. Dark shadows hung under his eyes. Both eyed those she had assembled warily. As neither appeared to be in any position to be a danger to her, she addressed the Konoha nin.

"Start making lists of possible volunteers," she said. "Now scat." She beckoned to Deidara and Sasori. "Tell me your exact circumstances," she said as the others assembled began to leave.

"No dead," Sasori said shortly as the last member of the previous assembly disappeared and the door closed. "Some injured. We have a barrier up, but it'll only last a few more days."

"We're not low on supplies by any means," Deidara added. "But most are low on reserves of chakra."

"If the rest can't get out, we're dead, and none of them will leave voluntarily—Itachi isn't going to move, and neither will Kisame. Everyone else is staying because leaving would leave them with no honor," Sasori explained.

"And what about you two?" the Hokage asked. "You two look like you can barely stand on your own feet."

The blonde and redhead grimaced. "We're the fastest," Deidara said. "And the most injured, I suppose." He gave a dry smile.

"Well," Tsunade said, "I can't do anything until tomorrow morning. Since it would be too dangerous to take you home with me, I suggest you stay here tonight; there's a couch over there and the office is nigh impregnable when the security is in place."

The two looked at each other.

"Tomorrow morning I'll be able to send you back with at least a small force of Konoha nin," the medic continued, getting up. "I've been intending on stepping in since a few days ago—Jiraiya and I are old school friends of Orochimaru, and we know what he's like," she added at her driest.

"Well," the redhead said, relenting, "that sounds reasonable." The blonde opened his mouth, but Sasori stopped him from saying anything. He bowed again. "Thank you for your help, Hokage-sama." After a moment, Deidara bowed as well.

"No problem," she said, getting up. "Come here. I want to see what Sakura's done to heal you before I go."

After checking their physical state, she got ready to leave. She gave them some last instructions. "Eat something—there's food in the refrigerator under the desk there. I expect you to be ready to go by tomorrow."

"Hai, Hokage-sama," the two chorused as she left.

A/n- Ah, yes. School. What a lovely word. And so now I hide behind it as the reason why I haven't done anything in the past… uh… well, it's pushing seven months. How about that?


However, I think that updates are going to pick up now that my sophomore year's coming to an end :)