AN: Just something that came to mind. Full AN at bottom. Also, apolaustic means "devoted to seeking enjoyment." And I fail at drama and suspense.

Disclaimer: I really do have better things to be doing than writing fanfiction to series I do not own.
Warnings: Some language, some violence. Possible manga spoilers for anyone not having read past chapter 354.
Summary: What might have happened if Sasuke had not been the first person Deidara and Tobi had run into.


They were circling the skies, looking for either Uchiha Sasuke or Uzumaki Naruto. While Tobi was diligent in his effort to help his partner, it was Deidara's scope that seemed to be better suited for this sort of thing. They made one big sweep of the forest and the neighboring town, searching for either of their targets.

"Do you see them, sempai?" Tobi called over the whoosh of Deidara's constructs flapping their wings. The other didn't respond, concentrating on the task at hand. In reality, he wasn't quite sure which he wanted to find more. On one hand, there was Uzumaki Naruto, the nine-tails jinchuuriki. Although he'd already caught his target, he wanted to catch this one too. Two jinchuuriki caught was better than one, and Deidara wanted revenge. He'd been forced to retreat the last time, that annoying little fox vessel and that damned copy ninja had pushed him into a tight spot. And with the reinforcements of that idiotic Leaf team, he'd had a hard time getting out of that one.

Plus he would never ever forgive Hatake Kakashi for disrupting the beauty of his exploding clone. It would have been a masterpiece, had that damned ninja not did what he'd done; Deidara wasn't even sure what he did, he only knew it was a hideous, ugly thing in the way it retarded his art. So really, he supposed, it would be Kakashi he wished to find and pulverize, but the jinchuuriki would be more beneficial to catch for the organization. And Deidara could still hurt Kakashi, still make him feel pain by whisking the little demon boy right out from under the ninja's nose, and perhaps leaving a nice little fox sculpture in place or something.

And then there was Uchiha Sasuke. Itachi's dearest little brother. Much like Itachi, Deidara wanted to kill him. Wanted to blow him up into little, itty-bitty pieces that could not be seen by the naked eye and let them scatter to the four winds. But before he did that, he wanted to take his hands, dig his fingers into the other's eye sockets and rip the eyes out, throw them on the ground and step on them until they were nothing more than ugly stains on the earthen floor. And then he would ram some clay in those gaping holes at the boy screamed bloody murder and then—

And then he would become art, and Deidara would tell him "You're welcome" because he would be grateful in death, grateful for being turned into something beautiful, just for an instant. Because for all the hideousness and prosaicness that was the Uchiha blood, Deidara knew he was talented and gifted enough as an artist to turn even someone like Sasuke into something to be revered.

It was only too bad Master Sasori would never be able to see that glorified day come. He'd never be able to see Deidara surpass him, nor would he ever be able to see when Deidara would finally rise up against Itachi and kill him, in just the same way he intended to kill Sasuke, and finally wipe the earth free of the putrid and toxic stench that was the last of the Uchiha clan. Those philistines would fall to his perfect art; and those infuriating eyes that could not appreciate his art would be no more, subjugated to the glory of his superflat style.

Yes… too bad, really. He knew Master Sasori would die someday, because his style was dated, too old-fashioned to keep up with the times, but really even Deidara could admit it was too soon.

"Not yet, mm. I'll find them, though. I'll find them both, heh." He grinned a little, turning his head to look over to his left, and then he paused. "Oho…"

"Ah! Did you find them, Sempai? Which one is it?" Tobi tried to clamber over to Deidara, but didn't wish to risk falling off, instead clinging to the clay feathers of the bird he rode.

Thin lips pulled into a sinister smile. "They'll have to wait. I found something else I want to check out first, mm."

Had one been able to see behind Tobi's mask, they would have seen him blinking dumbly. "…Eh?"

"Get over here, Tobi," Deidara commanded, gesturing beside him on his bird.

Tobi hesitated, glancing down at the rather large gap between him and the ground before nervously shifting his weight. "But… Sempai… that's a long fall…"

"Just do it, mm!"

"OK, OK!" Taking a deep breath, Tobi jumped, landing beside Deidara and then dropped to his knees to find purchase on the clay surface. He looked up to his partner only to see Deidara glancing down below. And then the bird Tobi had been on suddenly dove down, plummeting toward the ground at alarming speeds. Deidara formed a seal and hissed a command under his breath as the bird made impact dead in the middle of a street near the edge of the small town, exploding and causing a plume of smoke to rise up several meters.

Deidara's visible eye narrowed slightly as the bird he and Tobi rode on began to descend at a much slower rate until it finally touched down just outside of the blasting range. Debris had flown in various directions. Two buildings were decimated and several stands and their contents destroyed. At least a dozen people were lying around on the ground; some Deidara knew were dead, and some were still alive, if their pitiful cries and moans were any sort of indication.

He cared not, though, only giving them a cursory glance before hopping off his bird, hearing Tobi slide off behind him. "What were you aiming for, Sempai?"

Deidara didn't acknowledge him, only continued to step around charred remains and soot-darkened dirt. And then he stopped about seven steps in and a grin broke out across his face. "I knew you'd survive that, mm. It just couldn't have been a fluke before, after all."

Tobi looked around, wondering just who Deidara could be talking to when he saw movement. He canted his head to the side as a figure came into view, stepping out from behind a building. He didn't recognize her, and inquired, utterly nonplussed. "Eh? Who's this?"

"This," Deidara breathed, eyes bright, "Is the little brat who helped kill my former partner, mm."

In front of him stood the apprentice of Tsunade, brow furrowed and eyes hard as she stared down at the two Akatsuki members. Her cloak hid all the tenseness in her body, but nothing could hide the way her eyes blazed with a fury well-known, angry for what they had done. She took a step forward, and Tobi took a step back, anticipating an attack. Deidara only grinned, opening his hands up as the flesh of his palms pulled apart, revealing mouths grinning just as hard as he was. "Want to have a go at me, too, mm?"

She continued to glare at him, moving slowly in a semi-circle around the two. Then she dropped to her knees and Deidara's grin dropped just a little when he saw her look away to focus her attention on someone who had survived, clutching his arm which had been caught in the radius of the explosion.

And then his grin turned into a sneer when her hands formed seals and began to glow green, hovering over the injury and healing it. So the little bitch was a medic. No wonder she was glaring at him so angrily, like he'd just killed her mom.

He honestly wondered if she was going to go around tending all those who had survived and ignore him. Curious, he didn't move from his spot, his single eye never leaving her form as she finished with the first person and stood up, moving to the next. He must have been dead though, because after she felt his pulse, her nostrils flared and her expression became even more hateful as she stood up and moved on.

He couldn't help but smirk at that, smug that he could infuriate the girl. He wasn't even certain why it made him so happy. It certainly wasn't for Master Sasori's sake, no.

She finally finished her rounds, and stood to see the two men dressed in black and red still staring at her, and she stared back as evenly as she could. She had no idea why they didn't attack her when she'd left herself open to heal those civilians. She had no idea why they had attacked her in the first place. Were they trying to lure out Naruto? Perhaps, but another idea blossomed, one that disturbed her even more, perhaps. She knew who the blond was. She didn't remember his name, one of those little details she'd somehow managed to forget, but she remembered him easily enough. Sasori's partner, the loudmouthed blond who had taken off to lure Naruto away, flying on one of those giant birds.

The same bird she'd noticed just seconds before it dove down to the street, and she hadn't even been consciously thinking when she started shouting for people to run away. She'd only wished more had listened to her. At least five were dead, possibly more, and for what reason she didn't even know.

Revenge? Did he wish to avenge his partner? They had argued and didn't seem to get along, but his words from earlier still rang in her mind. 'This is the little brat who helped kill my former partner.'

Or maybe he wanted to prove something. If he killed her, who helped kill Sasori, would he think that made him the better man? But Chiyo-baasama was no longer here, so that idea seemed unlikely.

Her mile-a-minute train of thought was interrupted when the blond finally spoke. "Tobi. Go stand by the bird. I want to have a talk with the girl, mm."

"OK, Sempai! Be careful. She's giving you an angry glare."

With Tobi moving away, Sakura tensed up even more, shifting her weight into a better stance and expecting at any point some sort of attack. Deidara merely cocked a brow, putting a hand on his hip. "So, tell me. Was it you who delivered the finishing blow, or was it the old bat? I'm kind of curious, mm."

Pink lips pulled into a frown and she weighed her options. Finally she replied back, "It wasn't me."

"Huh. Well, if I'd had to bet between the old lady and a little punk kid like you, I would have guessed you, mm. Disappointing, really."

By this point, Sakura was even more perturbed than she wanted to admit. "Why is it disappointing?"

The blond's lips pulled back into a feral sort of smirk. "Because I wanted him to go out with a bang. And I doubt the old woman was capable of doing that justice, mm. But I bet you are…"

She took an instinctive step back when he stepped forward, still grinning. "I saw the cave, mm. Went back to take a look. It was in ruins. The ground was broken; the walls had cracks everywhere, ceiling caved in. And broken puppets everywhere, mm." His visible eye lit up. "You did it, didn't you?"

She turned her head slightly to the side, but still keeping both eyes on him. "I don't get what you're talking about."

"You did," Deidara affirmed, taking another step forward. Sakura didn't step back, keeping her ground though every fiber of her being told her to get out of there. But she ignored the urge to flee. She just had to wait this out. And so she drew up her fists, but Deidara paid it no attention, continuing. "That old woman couldn't have done all that, mm. It had to have been you. Show me."

And with this command did the roseate-haired girl pause, blinking rapidly. "What?"

"I want you to show me what you did back there, mm." Finding the jinchuuriki was forgotten. Killing Sasuke and gouging out his eyes was a thing of the past. All that was important right now was that Deidara saw just what kind of destructive power this little girl held.

But she made no move to show him, still staying her ground with her fists raised. "What, did you not hear me? I want you to show me your technique, mm!"

Vivid green eyes stared at him, and he could've sworn he saw some measure of fear there and his lip curled. He wanted to see what beauty this little girl possessed, not some pathetic emotion that did him no good. "Fine. I'll make you show me, mm," He growled, shoving his hand into one of his bags. Sakura tensed, and he smirked, but made no move.

And then his hand lashed out and her eyes widened. She dove to the side as a little sparrow darted into the space she was occupying, exploding instantly.

She tumbled and rolled back onto her knees, her cloak settling about her and she stared at him as he tipped his chin up. "I'm going easy on you, you know. I'm only using C-1 explosives. Still won't show me, mm?"

Another flick of his wrist and Sakura was once again forced to dodge lest she be caught by his attack, and she hand-flipped across the street, landing on her feet a few meters away. This time Deidara scoffed, frowning. "What is your problem, mm? Why won't you just show me?"

Again, he attacked, and again she dodged, but this time, her eyes widened when in the shadow of the first came a second, right for where Deidara predicted she'd land. She dove, but not fast enough as the explosion caught the cape of her cloak and she hit the ground, elbows skidding across the dirt and she grunted. Ignoring the pain, she pushed herself to her feet and pulled the cloak off and throwing it to the side. Again she took her stance, and again, she did not attack.

Deidara's hands curled into fists and he glared at her. Why wouldn't she just do what he asked? Why was it so hard? He was going easy on her, for crying out loud. He wasn't even trying to kill her! Well, if he had to resort that, then so be it. He shoved his hand into his bag, seeking more volatile clay when he saw her eyes shift from him to something else. He paused and then broke out into a grin. "Hey Tobi, mm!"

His partner scrambled to attention, flailing briefly to keep from falling off the bird he sat on. "Yes, sempai?"

"Get all the civilians out of here. Even the dead ones, mm."

Tobi tilted his head at this, but didn't wish to disobey an order from his partner. "If you say so, Deidara-sempai!"

And so he set about his task, scooping up a person under each arm and taking off to deposit them elsewhere. Sakura only spared him a cursory glance to make sure he wasn't hurting them before she leveled her gaze back to Deidara, who seemed quite proud of himself, arms akimbo as he smirked at her. Naught but a few seconds later, Tobi returned, gathering up two more people and taking off. And Deidara waited patiently, and Sakura with him.

Four more trips and Tobi came back for the last person, tossing him over his shoulder and bounced off. As soon as he was out of range, Deidara opened his arms wide, grinning manically. "Now show me, mm!"

And this time, Sakura's eyes narrowed and she spared the Akatsuki member a very unforgiving look—and then she slammed her fist down into the ground.

Deidara had a brief moment to be amused by her expression before his eye widened as the ground broke apart in a fast line directly toward him. He jumped back, clearing the range of the attack as Sakura straightened up, flexing her hand, eyes hard. And then Deidara laughed, breathlessly as he came back to the edge of the crevice she'd formed. "Yes! That's it! Do it again!"

She stared at him, and he grinned at her widely. There was something in his eye that set Sakura on edge; that manic sort of look that belonged to someone who'd long since forgotten what social norms were, what morality and acceptable behavior was. He was the exact opposite of her, and he was standing in the way of finding Sasuke. He was someone wanted to hurt Naruto. He was someone who had hurt Gaara and the Hidden Sand. He was an infection. She was the cure. And now with the civilians gone and out of the way, she was going to crush him.

Inhaling sharply through her nose, she sneered at him and sprinted forward, drawing her fist back. Deidara's bright eye sharpened, narrowing right as she plunged her fist into the ground again, and once more he was forced to jump up and away, bouncing free of her strike range. The ground erupted, chunks of earth flying up and he found himself perched precariously on a fence a good few meters away. He was grinning, crouched low and chakra holding his feet in place. He seemed unperturbed that she was slowly approaching, adjusting the gloves on her hands. She moved with purpose, a deadly look in her eyes that sent a shiver of excitement through him.

He loved it; he loved what she could do. She could really become something; she could make things beautiful. "That's some technique, mm! I like it!"

She said nothing in response, staring at him, tense and unsure as to what to expect. She had seen the look in his eye as she moved, and it was strange. She couldn't quite place it, but it was frightening—much more frightening than any other enemy she'd faced thus far. Frightening because it was foreign; frightening because it was focused on her; frightening because some miniscule part of her liked it. And she felt vaguely disgusted with herself.

The desire to bring him down doubled, and green eyes surveyed her surroundings. She'd done a number on the street, uncaring of the collateral damage. And then she moved, and he simply watched her with a morbid fascination as she skidded over to the disturbed stacks of crates and barrels nearby. Turning her gaze back to him only briefly, she twisted, hooking her foot on a crate and hurling it at him. He yelped and dove to the side as the wood hit the fence and splintered. "Hey, watch it! You almost hit me, mm!"

'Idiot, that's what I'm trying to do,' Sakura thought, eyeing him. Fingers slipped into the back pouch of her skirt, finding and grasping what she looked for. And then she twisted, throwing her hand out and releasing a kunai at him. Deidara blinked owlishly ducking as the metal smoothly embedded itself into a wall behind him. "What are you trying…" He trailed off, turning his head to see the smoking explosion note attached. "Oh, shit."

It exploded and Sakura snorted softly, though she didn't doubt he'd survived.

"No! Sempai! You blew him up!"

She whipped her head around to spy his partner on the roof, clutching at his masked head in dismay. "Oh, the irony of it all! But if he had to go in such a way, it was only suiting…"

"Tobi, shut up, mm!"

She inhaled sharply, eyes going wide because that voice was in the wrong place—it was right behind her and before she could turn around, his arm casually draped across her shoulders, and she felt hot breath on her neck and she froze. He was too close, and she wasn't sure what to try because he was just crazy enough to try something stupid like blow them both up to make them both some sort of crazy part of his art and—

He turned his head toward her ear, lips curving upward against the shell. She was shaking, eyes closed, shallow breath coming and going through pink, parted lips. Any minute he was going to kill her. Backup would come too late; the ninken didn't reach Kakashi in time for him to come help her.

And then he spoke, breath on her ear making the hair on the back of her neck rise. "You have the potential to be something beautiful someday—to make beautiful things, mm. Do me a favor and don't disappoint me. The world needs more people like me, like what you could become, mm."

And then his presence was gone, and it was like an uplifting of a heavy weight off of her shoulders. Her legs gave out from under her and she dropped to her knees, gasping for breath.

Laughing, he jumped up onto his bird, his partner scrambling behind him to not be left behind. Lifting his hands, the construct spread its wings and lifted off the ground. "Be grateful, mm! In return for showing me your power, I will not touch the Jinchuuriki today."

It sounded like a gracious thing, but what she wouldn't know was that he had every intention to hunt down the younger Uchiha instead.

They were gone within seconds, and Sakura stayed there on her knees, staring up at the sky. Not a minute later, Kakashi would arrive with backup, and would spend several minutes trying to get Sakura to tell him what had happened after she'd sent the ninken to retrieve him.

And the rest is history.

AN: It's just something that popped into my head and I decided to write. I like it, though it's not nearly as fantastic as I'd like it to be. (I don't think I quite did the characters justice, and I fear it may have sounded a bit forced at points.)

This will also be posted on my writing LJ, which can be found in my profile. I encourage you to check it out periodically, for I will be posting stuff that I may not choose to put up here.

Also note that this is a one-shot and that I don't intend to continue this. And sorry for not updating other stuff; this semester's been very rough.

Thanks for reading and comments are welcome (especially long ones!).