X is for Xanadu


From the café, they caught another hotel room, a little cheaper this time, and then when morning came, they both headed in a decidedly northward direction, toward where Deidara assumed Kisame had taken residence. He'd want to be near the ocean, that was for sure, and Kisame had always loved the northern countries. Ever since Kisame and Deidara had first grudgingly met the man seemed so inclined to drift northward, always volunteering for assignments that took him that way or required a passage over any body of water. Maybe it was the shark in him.

"It's like we're just jumping from town to town," Sakura said, one single complaint since they'd started the journey, and Deidara was surprised, to say the least.

"Is that a bad thing, yeah?" he asked, making a mental note that she'd been suspiciously quiet since parting with Yamato. And he hadn't even been able to take her out for a nice dinner that night or buy her a ring. He had, admittedly, ogled a few jewelry stores--even strayed inside one--but the price tags on each item had burned decent-sized holes in his retinas, and he'd since disposed of the idea of buying an expensive ring in an even more expensive city. Maybe in the next city he'd find a nicer, cheaper one.

Kakuzu cackled at him from beyond the grave. Deidara winced.

"No," Sakura said on a sigh, drawing him away from his thoughts. "I do miss the bird sometimes, though. How long do you think until we actually get to Kisame, if we don't use the bird at all?"

"Eh." He glanced surreptitiously at a raven as it hopped along the path beside them, stopping once to pick up a beetle in its beak. "We have to get back on the bird once we get to Waterfall's borders. I wouldn't feel safe traveling on foot through there, yeah."

"Yeah, I know," she grumbled, and she smacked a mosquito, terminating its unsuccessful attempt to stick a filthy proboscis into her squeaky clean arm. "Just whereabouts do you suppose Kisame is?"

"Well," he drawled, putting a hand to his chin. He'd replaced the scope a while back, and the sound of it whirring softly behind the thick, freshly washed, clean fringe of bangs comforted him, oddly enough.

"That's oddly comforting," Sakura mumbled, and Deidara's stomach did an immature little somersault. At that moment he knew Sakura was The One, The Big Catch, and other proper nouns that indicated she fit him perfectly. The ex-Akatsuki, the deprived artist, the sick, bizarre man that captured Gaara and lost a couple arms in the process, was now the lover, the boyfriend, the significant other, the soon-to-be-legal-husband, and just about everything in between, to the Konoha med-nin, Haruno Sakura.

It wasn't that he couldn't classify their relationship because he didn't know or was confused about something; he could classify it simply because the relationship in question fell under too many categories. And maybe, most importantly, she offered friendship that he was thankful to have found. Positive that she felt the same way, it made for quite the nice feeling.

"Hey, did you even hear me?" she demanded, stopping in front of him and poking his chest. "I'm not going to repeat myself."

"Sorry, yeah. What did you say?"

She pouted, harrumphed, crossed her arms, and continued on her merry way. "No. It's too late now."

"What?" He gaped after her, and then caught up, falling in step with her stride. "Come on, I was thinking. Sorry. Just tell me what you said, yeah."

"You didn't even give me the decency to listen," she sniffed, mock offended. He could tell she wasn't being serious, and Deidara relaxed. "Rude."

"If you must know, I was thinking about us, and how amazing you are in every possible way, yeah," he said, almost purring, pulling the flattery card.

Sakura gave in on a fake sigh. She hadn't really been mad in the first place. He loved it when she played games; he had to admit it.

"I said, 'do you remember when we were on that boat, and we sailed from that huge peninsula to a smaller one, through Waterfall's gulf? I've got a hunch that Kisame's living on that bigger peninsula. It's neutral territory, it's close to the ocean, and it's north. It's the only lead we have.'"

"It makes sense." He shrugged. He'd been thinking the exact same thing. "And it's not like we have a choice either way. But…what would make you think he'd want to live there? I don't remember him mentioning anything to you that would make you assume the fact, yeah."

Sakura fell quiet, pouting her lips and looking coy. God, he loved the coy face. And the coy voice. Coy Sakura was almost better than sex. Almost.


"Kisame and I had gotten pretty close on the boat," she confessed, putting a purposeful swagger to her step. "He told me lots of things."

Deidara huffed. "You were getting cozy with Kisame at the same time that you were getting me hard every time I turned around?"

"Hey, don't say it like that," she laughed, shoving him in the shoulder. "I just communicated better with Kisame than I did with you."

"That's hurtful." A corner of his mouth slumped into a half-frown.

"Why?" She tugged on a strand of his hair playfully. "Kisame and I were great friends at the end of it. And look who I ended up with." She smiled.

He waved a dismissive hand. "Yeah, yeah. Resign yourself to your fate and all that."

"Don't be that way," she said, exasperated, walking backwards in front of him. When she stopped, he did too. "Who did I cross countries for? Who did I risk life and limb for? Who did I agree to marry?"


She pressed herself against him, still smiling, and gave him a kiss that lingered far too long on his lips. "If I've done for you what I have done for no one else, there must be something between us."

He stepped purposefully away from her, yawning. His lips were still secretly tingling. "Unrequited love, yeah. It sucks."

She laughed and grabbed him by the arm. "Don't play hard to get. It doesn't work with me."

They spent the rest of the walk to the next town, wherever that may have been, holding hands and kissing and rubbing each other's arms and joking around and doing things that generally signified newlyweds. Except they weren't exactly married yet, though Deidara planned to fix this fact as soon as possible.

The last town they'd been in, the posh, lush one with the green and white café and the people in business suits, dwarfed the ragtag jumble of buildings approaching on the horizon. It sat humbly surrounded by a corrugated iron fence, and Deidara could easily survey the east end of this town to the west from where he stood. A fence protected the entrance to the spread, but no guards stood sentry at the gate. In fact, there was no gate, just a break in the fence signifying the entrance, as well as a wooden board with a red arrow pointing inside, exclaiming in loud white letters: "Welcome to Ubasawa!"

"It's tiny," Sakura remarked, and upon stepping inside the town gates, another sign hung directly before them. "But they have a candy shop! Come on, let's go inside."

The candy shop, literally titled "The Candy Shop," did not have very much candy. It did have, though, quite a few psychedelic neon posters and black lights. In fact, the only candy Deidara saw in the entire shop—free, as an added bonus—sat righteously in a basket on the cashier's desk, all shaped like small, erect…

Deidara squinted at the penis candy. "Why is the candy shaped like a penis?"

The cashier squinted at Deidara. "Why is your penis shaped like the candy?"

He had a point, sort of. In some abstract way.

"Are you two looking for anything in particular?"

"Candy," Sakura said, and Deidara could see that she was trying very hard not to look at the cashier, Deidara, the candy on the desk, or anything else, for that matter. "…That's not shaped like a penis."

"We have more in the back," the man said, and he stood, motioning for Deidara and Sakura to follow. He moved aside the black curtain, and they wandered in behind him. The back of the shop sprawled an area easily four times bigger than the front, with wares lining each wall and clinging to displays set on the floor. "Our novelty candy is on that back shelf. Call if you need me, or bring your purchases to the desk."

The man left. Sakura stared at a dildo very near her left hand, vibrating wildly in its scandalous packaging.

"It's calling out to you," Deidara whispered, earning him a solid smack on the shoulder.

"This is a sex shop!" she hissed. "I thought it was a candy shop!"

"So did I, yeah," he mumbled, sneering at a multitude of fake orifices shaped into various entities. A sheep, a person's fist, a knothole on a fence, a nostril, an ear… The vulgar list went on.

After a series of immature and inappropriate comments courtesy of Deidara and an extensive blush courtesy of Sakura, they sidled out of the store, trying desperately not to make eye contact with the shopkeeper. Their precautions perished in vain.

"Are you sure you don't want to buy our newest vibrator?" he called over the top of a magazine. Suddenly, neither Sakura nor Deidara wanted to know what kind of magazine it was. "'Flutter.' It's half off!"

Sakura looked at Deidara, but Deidara looked the other way quickly. Engaged or not, there were still certain embarrassing topics not yet breached between them. He would not pee in front of her, for one. For two, he would not burp or pick his teeth in front of her; he held his dignity in high regard. And for three, he would not discuss Sakura's private goings-on—whether they truly existed or just floated about his concocted fantasies—with her. Some things just needed confidentiality. He didn't want to know when or if Sakura masturbated—really, did she?—and he was sure she didn't want to know when he…did it. Did she even know? He couldn't remember if he'd—

"Um. N—no thanks," Sakura stuttered, uncharacteristically, and tugged on Deidara's arm. "We were just browsing anyway."

"Well, then, have some of this candy. It'll go stale if I don't give it all out by tonight."

"No, we—"

But it was candy and Deidara loved candy, so by the time they walked out the door, shop bell jangling innocently, Deidara's left pocket was stuffed full with Gummi Penis Brand Candy. He decided, as he periodically popped the candy into his mouth and occasionally attempted to shove one into Sakura's tightly closed mouth, that he needed some real candy from a real candy shop.

Despite the stereotypical scarcity of small town fare, they did find a candy shop. And, after reassuring that yes, it was a candy shop and not, in fact, a sex shop in clever disguise, they tiptoed in and sampled every piece of candy readily available. Deidara held a sneaking suspicion that the elderly woman at the counter knew when fingers slinked into the candy tubs, but if she did happen to notice, she didn't say anything.

They emerged from the store ultimately triumphant. Deidara held, in his hands, a one-pound box of chocolate truffles. Sakura pretended not to care that he clutched a veritable sweets goldmine in his palms, but he knew. Oh, he knew. He didn't miss the sideways glances.

"You know," he drawled, opening the box and waving it under her nose, "you can have some if you want."

She snorted. "Of course I can have some. What, you think I'd let you have them all to yourself?"

Deidara arranged a penis atop one of the long, flat truffles. "This is a true work of art," he mused, deliberately ignoring her question. That question bordered the rhetorical, anyway. "A masterpiece, yeah." Afterwards he tossed the creation into his mouth, replacing the lid on the box. Before he could say anything else to tease Sakura, she grabbed the box from him and shoved it into her shirt. It was a mystery how she managed to keep it from falling out.

"You're going to share," Sakura said firmly, and she took off toward the outskirts of town laughing. He followed her, but he made sure not to overtake her until they sprinted into a massive field of wildflowers. Old pollen long left over from summer and stray petals and leaves kicked up around their shins as they ran, and butterflies mirroring the full color spectrum, quietly alit on the flowers, flitted into the sky at the disturbance.

As Sakura drifted to a stop somewhere in the midway point, she ditched the box and grabbed Deidara by his collar, pulling him to the ground and falling with him. The force knocked the breath out of his lungs, especially when she landed on him, but he tried not to make a big deal out of it because—quite unexpectedly—she pressed her lips to his in hurried, prolonged movements. Deidara's arms wrapped almost instinctually around her upper back, and he returned the kiss in kind, chocolates and penis candy forgotten.

Wildflowers towered over their heads, curled seductively around their limbs, and the petals and pollen still settled carefully all around, dusting them both with fine dots of feathery gold. More than once he felt a sneeze tickling in his nose, but he held them back and concentrated on the task at hand, that task being a very passionate Sakura.

"What brought this on, yeah?" he began to ask, when she absolutely stunned him by pulling off her shirt. Her bra was black. Not lacy. Oh, well.

"Just happy," she muttered shortly, shrugging, running fingers down his chest and underneath his shirt. She helped it over his head as she sat straddling him. "Happy that I'm with you right now. I don't want to think about where else I would be."

"No regrets?" he asked.

"None. Though I could have done without the abuse in the beginning." She gave him The Eye, but she didn't look too torn up about it. Not anymore, anyway.

"Yeah, well… Sorry."

She nuzzled his neck—she reminded Deidara of a cat pining for affection—and proceeded to give him what would very likely be the biggest hickey he had ever received. One kiss on the neck led to two, and then Sakura was sporting some blooming bruises of her own. He had three times the advantage that she did, though, with those extra mouths on his hands, and he used them to full benefit. When he finally took a second to look at her, he almost laughed. If this didn't tell the people she was taken or otherwise engaged in some sort of relationship, nothing would.

"This seems like kind of an inappropriate for sex," Deidara said as tactfully as he could (while currently trying very hard not to jam himself inside her and fuck her six ways from Sunday. And that wouldn't be very romantic.) She was acting a little more fervent than usual, like she just couldn't get enough of him. At first he thought that was just because they'd been reunited after a long—too long—separation, but now it just left him a little confused. Had she come to her senses and finally realized what a mind-blowing lover he was? Surely that was it. Or maybe her hormones were just going haywire on her.

"I don't care," she said, and by the way she was looking at him, she clearly wanted him to go ahead with his plan involving jamming and six different ways. Maybe not so much jamming as…easing, though.

But no. Sakura, ever the opportunist, insistently ran light paths down his hipbones, dipping under his pants, dominating despite being underneath him. Deidara groaned, loudly, but when he threw his arms over his face, he disturbed a group of butterflies. They fluttered up in a flurry of color and away and tangled in Sakura's hair, and after a second of panicking, she managed to free herself from them, sending the flustered trio deeper into the tall grass. Then, to Deidara's immense pleasure, she continued. Or she pretended like she was going to continue, anyway.

This was no time for teasing. He would be pissed if someone happened to find and interrupt them. He hadn't expected the situation to progress any past love-bites and sweet nothings, but now she was taking it to a whole new level. He watched the trio of butterflies return, and then another group of three flew overhead, but he paid no mind, because Sakura pulled his length out of his pants and she wasn't even touching it anymore, so why did she pull it out in the first place. Damn it.

"Sakura," he panted, half out of exasperation and half because if she didn't stop teasing him he was going to climax right there, skin-to-penis contact or not, and it would get all over her stomach, therefore lowering the glamour factor by about a million points. "You—"

Then he saw it. One butterfly, on his penis. Like it was a fucking spring flower. Horrified for a brief second, he proceeded to panic, much as Sakura had with the butterflies in her hair, batted the purple-and-yellow monstrosity away, and then promptly lost his erection. Maybe that would dissuade Sakura from trying to have sex with him in a field of butterflies.

Before either of them could speak or laugh about the situation, the skies darkened and a thick blanket of multicolored butterflies coated their skin, the whole field darting in at them at once. The insects pelted relentlessly against the hapless couple, sticking in their hair and flapping past their ears. Deidara could hear Sakura alternating between screaming and laughing. The situation was so horrifically humorous.

"I can't see! Shit!" he yelled, trying vainly to clear a path through the butterflies. The fluttering sound nearly drowned out all other noises.

"I think this was a bad idea!" Sakura yelled back, and eventually they both just sat down in defeated, half-naked slumps and waited out the storm.

The barrage didn't last long. Less than five seconds later, the only butterflies remaining struggled across the field and occasionally whacked into Deidara or Sakura's head.

Mood thoroughly ruined and mood sufficiently killed, Deidara sighed. He declared, as Sakura picked a hairy caterpillar off of his equally hairy leg—though the leg hairs were blond so it wasn't like it was unattractive or anything, he assured himself, unlike Itachi's monstrosities—that he felt very tired of anything and everything even minutely related to butterflies. They pulled on their clothing, laughed some more, and wandered back into town.

Ubasawa offered them no more novelties besides a small water fountain full of (possibly toxic) gunk. After buying two canteens and two bagels, they continued down the road toward the next town, presumably toward where Kisame presumably resided. Presumably.

The cold steadily penetrated the warmth of their clothes the further north they traveled, passing through town after town as the sun swam a lazy path through the graying clouds. Sakura put on her jacket and Deidara beamed, feeling all too proud of himself.

At one point, they stopped at a rest stop and sat down on a bench, leaning on each other. Attempts at a conversation sat stubbornly in the air, but each and every one fell to silence, because all they really wanted to do was sit there. Deidara's feet hurt like hell, and he was sure Sakura's didn't feel a whole lot better. He began to calculate exactly when and where he could conjure up that bird of his when an elderly man wandered into his range of vision. And when he said "wandered into his range of vision" he really meant "stopped two inches in front of him and stared into his face."

"…What?" Deidara asked, leaning away. The old man smelled like too much incense and too little laundry soap.

"Would you be interested in a bag of goods?" the man asked, pulling out a raggedy bag and plopping it on the bench in between Deidara and Sakura. "It's handmade jewelry. I'm also selling, for a limited time, homemade bleach. The best this side of the country, I assure you."

Sakura laughed, not unkindly, but Deidara didn't feel amused in the least. "Come on, what are you trying to pull? Get out of here."

"Why, I'm but a humble traveling salesman," the old man answered, half on a gasp, and scooted the bag more toward the visibly appeasable of the two. "Wouldn't you like some beautiful jewelry, young lady? You'll dazzle the young men with a stunning necklace."

"The only one she's going to be dazzling—"

"Sure, I'll take it," Sakura relented, smiling, and she handed over whatever change she had left. The man took the money, thanked her for her patronage, and high-tailed it out of the rest stop. He disappeared just as quickly as he'd come, leaving Deidara more than a little confused and disoriented.

"What the hell was that about?"

"He was just trying to earn a buck," Sakura said on a shrug, and she dug through the contents of the bag. "Yeah, these definitely look homemade."

"Why would you give up the money? We don't exactly have much as it is, yeah."

"Oh, Deidara, you stole it anyway." She shuffled through a handful of cheap jewelry, picking out a ring set and an old necklace in dire need of cleaning. "Haven't you heard the taboo? You can never keep what's not yours."

Deidara folded his arms and prepared to brood. He saw Sakura slip something sparkly onto her hand, though, and this caught his attention sufficiently. "What're you doing?"

"The ring fits," she said, admiring the undoubtedly fake golden band on her finger. She pulled the ring's twin out of the pile of jewelry and admired that, too. "I think this is a set."

Deidara took the ring from her, and something in his heart fluttered uncomfortably in response. If it fit, then they'd finally have something—even something as small as this—to validate the engagement. He drew in an unnecessarily deep breath, heavy with anticipation.

"Does it fit you?" Sakura asked, and by the tone of her voice—quiet, anxious—he could tell she felt the same tumultuous emotions as he did.

He slid it over the tip of his left ring finger. It wouldn't even go past his knuckle.

Sakura frowned. Deidara made an unsatisfied noise in his throat. "No. Not even close."

"You could always wear it on your pinky," she offered, hopeful.

"No. It's not the same." The disheartened droop of his mood overtook him unexpectedly. Why the melancholy over a bit of tin gone wrong when he'd been planning on buying proper rings? That had been very high on his priority list, hadn't it?

Yes. But he couldn't help but think about the possible symbolism in this. Damn his artistic propensities, and damn Sakura for looking just as unhappy about the ring situation as he did.

"We could put them on chains," Sakura said after a moment, picking out two faux-gold chains from the pile and attempting to untangle them.

"Isn't that more of a 'best friends forever' thing?" Deidara countered, not at all fond of the idea for personal reasons.

"I think so." Her laugh was completely unwarranted. "Actually, I had a best-friends necklace with my old best friend when I was a kid. But we had two halves of a silver ladybug, and these are obviously two wedding rings. I don't think the connotations are the same, Deidara."

After a bit of coaxing on Sakura's part and a heaping serving of complaining on Deidara's part, the two marched away from the rest area with matching necklaces. Deidara was embarrassed. And emasculated. And he felt like a huge idiot. Despite all this, though, he couldn't stop himself from stealing a couple glances at her neck, where the old, slightly dilapidated ring swung loosely on the chain. He'd long since tucked his own necklace beneath the collar of his shirt, but every so often he'd tug the chain to make sure it hadn't fallen off.

The marshes gave way to solid ground and fields of wild grass many footsteps ago, and now all those fields slowly melted into sparse woodland. The barks of the trees were white and grey; the frail branches dotted with colored leaves. The ground, blanketed with oranges and browns and yellows and reds, crunched as they walked. The air certainly held a colder bite, and the climate change registered immediately. Deidara soon followed Sakura's earlier actions and donned his own jacket, his bags now significantly lighter. Any civilian that they happened to see walking past bundled up warmly, the men wearing long, thigh-length trench coats and the women wearing flared pea coats. Just about everyone wore a cap and a scarf. Definitely in the northern countries now.

"I think it might snow," Sakura said, watching her breath come out of her mouth in a puff of warm vapor. "That would be nice."

Deidara scoffed and, for the millionth time, fiddled with his necklace, now hidden deeply in the confines of his winter jacket. "Snow? Nice? Have you even been to the northern countries?"

"Yes. But not in the winter."

"Snow is not 'nice.' Especially not up here, yeah."

"We never got snow in Konoha. I mean, we did, but it didn't usually stay. It melted as soon as it hit the ground, or it melted the very next day. We never got more than about six inches at a time."

"You don't know what you're missing," he bit back sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "I lived in Iwa for a good damn part of my life. I hated shoveling snow. I hated how cold it was, yeah."

Sakura laughed. A woman walked past the pair, holding armfuls of shopping bags. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, and she glanced warily up at the sky. "Does the cold weather freeze your clay?"

"If I leave it out. It's at my hips constantly, though, and the bags are insulated. They're also waterproof, yeah."

"It's good to be prepared."

"Obviously. I'm not stupid, you know."

It didn't take long before the clouds emptied a small flurry of snow upon the earth below, quickly coating Sakura and Deidara with fine white powder. They stopped at a remote ski lodge—not yet renting skiing supplies—that was happy to hand out cheap hot chocolate, coffee, tea, soup, maps, scarves, beanies, and gloves. Sakura and Deidara each bought a pair of wool gloves; Sakura bought the scarf. Deidara, typical, complained that he didn't very well need a scarf, thanks, because he was already well accustomed to the colder northern environment. At which point Sakura called him a great outdoorsman and Deidara refused to buy her a cup of hot egg drop soup. (He ended up buying it anyway.)

They also picked up a map, which Sakura kept tucked safely in an inner pocket in the coat—once again, Deidara applauded himself for such ingenious decisions in fashion—and Deidara purchased some steaming green tea in a plastic cup. They left the main building with accomplished attitudes and red extremities as the cup passed back and forth between hot hands, veering off the main path and into the more forested part of the area.

Deidara led her a few miles out of the way, deeper into the increasingly deciduous backwoods. The trees began to bunch together and the snow fell faster, though not harder. Snowflakes stuck determinedly in Sakura's hair and eyelashes, although Deidara rubbed his eyes every so often, because men didn't do such things as get snowflakes caught in their eyelashes.

Sakura brushed the snow off a tree stump and sat down, crossing her legs and sipping at her soup gingerly. Sitting comfortably on the stable perch, she watched Deidara work out whatever he needed to do to summon that great big bird of his.

Deidara had never been happier to see that damn bird in his life. He climbed atop it and waited for Sakura to join him. As it was, she was busily finishing the rest of her soup and staring at the map.

"We just passed through Otaru," she said, after finishing her soup and folding the paper bowl into a ball. "Where did you say we wanted to ultimately end up?"

"Rumoi. If Kisame's anywhere, he's there. It's a huge port town. Big fishing economy, yeah."

"What makes you so sure? And what if you're wrong?" Quickly replacing the map within her jacket, she joined him on the bird, wrapping her arms around his middle.

"'Kenji' has been advertising," Deidara muttered, and the bird took off, climbing high enough that its belly didn't scrape the trees, but low enough so that Deidara and Sakura weren't soaked by the clouds. The bird stayed over remote areas, thankfully, without Deidara having to instruct it.

"Advertising? Advertising what?"

"'Eye of the Shark,' a locally owned fishing business and café in Rumoi. Run by none other than Yoshida Kenji himself. I saw a flyer in the ski lodge, and that restaurant in the fancy town had some coupons for it on the counter."

Sakura laughed out loud. "Kisame? Kisame owns a fishing business? And a café? I never would have guess. That guy's got such a huge hard-on for battle all the time."

"Don't get ahead of yourself, yeah. It could just be a coincidence. But we might as well take the chance." He spared a glance back at her from the corner of his eye, raising an eyebrow. "Besides, Kisame's not just interested in fighting, you know, even if it is his strong point. He's not some battle-obsessed lop, yeah." So she didn't know Kisame as well as she said she did. Well, she might have gotten close with him, but she didn't know him better than Deidara. That was a definite certainty.

Sakura just smiled, shook her head, and buried it in Deidara's back. Deidara lowered his face to shield it from the snow, wishing he'd bought one of those scarves right about now. His cheeks stung and his lips and nose felt numb in the freezing air. Improvising, he zipped the collar of his jacket all the way up over his nose.

A couple hours later the increasingly violent weather forced them to land; the bird was starting to freeze and get wet and slippery. They camped out for the night deep inside a cave, sleeping in their new jackets and huddled around the fire. The bird stayed too, thawing beside the campfire, and Deidara and Sakura propped their packs up against the clay feathers and slept. Deidara woke up periodically during the night to add more wood to the fire, but a couple times he'd catch Sakura doing it, smile to himself, and go back to sleep.

When they awoke, they allowed themselves to laze until about noon when the temperature had warmed, and then took off again. It wasn't long before the forests dimmed and the coastline came into view, and then the ports, boats, heavy with snow, floating tethered to land.

"I like this place," Sakura decided, wrapping her scarf tighter around her. The people here wore snowsuits, not just the coats and caps that they'd seen in Otaru. Deidara felt severely underdressed. Again.

"It's cold," he replied simply, and post landing they proceeded to ask around for this café known as "Eye of the Shark."

Turns out it wasn't a very popular place, and it was very, very new besides. It was also rather in the slums of Rumoi, if the Rumoi slums could really even be classified as such. Deidara had seen much worse. They managed to catch an old man already on his way to the café—bar, actually; it turned out that Deidara had read all those fliers wrong—who happily allowed them to follow on his way. He led them down several alleys, and finally down a small flight of stairs. The door to the bar laid propped half-open, and the windows were yellowed and frosted over. A large wooden sign hung above the entrance reading "Eye of the Shark" with a small subtitle of "Kenji's Place" painted on. There was also a comically drawn shark, as well as what looked like a child's drawing of a mermaid.

Deidara snorted and grinned from ear to ear. "Mr. Mermaid makes his comeback."

Sakura elbowed him playfully. "Quit it, or I'll start calling him Mako again."

Deidara's grin dropped. "Please don't."

The old man pulled open the heavy door and shuffled inside, claiming a seat among a table of other elderly gentleman. Each held a pipe or a cigar between their lips, puffing away over a game of cards and between swigs of warm alcohol. Besides the old men, though, there were only a few stragglers here and there. The place was small, and almost empty.

"Looks like the bartender's out," Sakura mumbled, sitting down at one of the many vacant tables. Deidara followed.

"We might as well wait," he mumbled right back, rubbing his nose with his hands to warm it up.

"What if it's not…the Kenji we know?"

He sighed, rubbed his nose one more time, and then shrugged. He didn't want to think about the possibility. Would they stay here anyway? Would they be safe here? None of the options were ones he wanted to consider. "I don't know. We'll figure it out as soon as we figure out who, exactly, owns this damn bar, yeah."

One of the older patrons suddenly looked up and toward the front door, which swung open roughly. "Kenji, you made it back!" Every old man in the bar stood, snuffing their cigars and setting down their pipes. "What did you decide to bring us today, boy?"