Title: Heat and Sun
Word count: 5,253
Summary: It's not every day that Sakura gets a mission like this. She could deal with the high heels and half-baked revolution, but a dead man from the past definitely wasn't in the job description. Deidara / Sakura
A/N: Since the final chapter of Somewhere is taking forever and a day to get finished due to a terrible case of writer's block, I've gone ahead and written the first chapter of a new fic that has been plaguing me for ages. To begin, we have Sakura embarking on an yet another adventure, and Deidara being one part down, two parts going insane over his artistic sensibilities. Slight Oscar Wilde reference in this chapter. We all know this will take me five zillion years to complete.
Chapter 1 – Ready, Set…
Sakura Haruno was by now quite convinced that life and whatever powers-that-be were having a nice laugh at her expense. How else was it that she could be the renowned Hokage's apprentice, an accomplished healer and all-around fearsome ninja, yet still have to frantically grab hold of the doorframe as she tripped over her own two feet?
As Ino collapsed into a fit of laughter, Sakura pulled a face in disgust and kicked off the pair of black pumps. "I hate these things," she declared as she flopped down beside her best friend on the bed, wiggling her toes now that they had escaped the torture devices masquerading as footwear. "What kind of a mission has the requirement of 'ability to wear high heels'? That's got to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard!"
Stilling her giggles, Ino shook her head. "It's not stupid if you have to pass as a civilian. There's no better way to announce that you're a ninja on an undercover mission than being the only woman in the city in flats."
"I'm sure I won't be the only one –"
"Why take the chance?" Ino asked with a sigh. "I still think Tsunade should've picked me for this mission."
"Wishful thinking, Ino-pig. They needed someone competent," Sakura said smugly. Privately, however, she agreed that her friend was better suited to this sort of mission. Fitting into a
fashion-conscious society where image was everything wasn't one of Sakura's strong suits.
"Don't talk to me about competent when you can't even walk to the door and back in a pair of heels," Ino snorted as she pushed herself off the bed and made her way over to the closet.
She had a point, Sakura conceded inwardly as she surveyed the mess of shoes scattered across Ino's bedroom. They might have the same shoe size but that didn't mean she had any of her best friend's grace when it came to walking in fancy footwear. After a half hour of abortive attempts at learning to walk in heels, Sakura's feet hurt already.
"Here!" Ino announced triumphantly as she pulled yet another pair of shoes from the depths of her closet. "Try these ones."
"Not again, please," Sakura groaned, burying her face into the bed's duvet.
Ignoring her friend's complaints, Ino sat down on the floor and maneuvered Sakura's feet into the new shoes. "I think these will work better -- they've got more straps and things to adjust. Your feet are kind of narrow and kept slipping out of the other shoes."
When the last buckle had been fastened, Sakura dared a glance downwards. "Not bad," she admitted reluctantly, taking in the black, open toed sandals with an array of crisscross straps. Standing carefully, she took an experimental step forward.
"The heels are only about an inch and half – they shouldn't be that hard to walk in," Ino said as she watched her friend hobble awkwardly around the room.
Wobbling over to the full length mirror beside the window, Sakura admired the way the shoes made her legs look: longer, more shapely. In combination with the haircut she'd got for the mission – a short, sleek bob that was apparently all the rage in the Sun Country at the moment – she finally looked like a woman rather than a girl.
"See what you've been missing all these years? Heels make you look good, don't they?" Ino asked. From the tone of her voice, she didn't even need to add 'I told you so'.
Sakura rolled her eyes as she tottered back over to the bed. "They do," she had to agree, "But I don't know how I'm going to pull this off all day, every day, for who knows how long."
"Stop complaining," Ino told her. "Is it really such a sacrifice to have to learn how to walk in heels when it means an amazing mission to a country no one's seen in ages?"
"I know, I know – I am excited. It's a huge honour being chosen for a mission like this. Besides," she said with a frown, "I could really do with some time away from the hospital. It feels like all I ever do these days is put band-aids on genins' scraped knees. I'm definitely ready for some real action again."
"Be careful what you wish for," Ino warned. "You're going to be tracking down a bunch of revolutionaries, it won't be as easy as --"
A sudden knock at the window startled both women from their conversation. Perched on the windowsill, an ANBU with a cat mask and a familiar hairstyle waited expectantly.
Unlocking the window, Ino threw it open and asked irritably, "Can't you people ever use the door?"
Ignoring the comment, the ANBU delivered her message: "The Godaime requires both of you in her office. Immediately."
"Both of us?" Sakura repeated. The ANBU nodded and Ino shot her friend a curious glance – only Sakura was officially slotted for the high-ranking mission. Although Ino was expected to help prepare her for life as a civilian, the final, official details of the mission were to be given only to Sakura. That afternoon should mark the end of Ino's involvement, as Sakura was to head out to the Sun Country the next day. So why would Tsunade be calling them both?
"Alright, tell her we'll be right over," Ino said with a wave of her hand. "See you later, Tenten."
The ANBU's confident posture deflated and Sakura could almost picture the look of annoyance on the face behind the mask. "Come on guys, you're not supposed to know it's me."
"Well it's not like it takes your boyfriend's byakugan to see who you are," Ino pointed out. "If you're really going for anonymity you might want to change your hair – who else in Konoha wears buns like that?"
Sakura was certain that Tenten was trying her best to give an intimidating glare, but the effect was largely lost due to her mask. With a sigh of frustration, the ANBU disappeared in a swirl of leaves as Ino moved to close the window. Sakura shook her head and grinned. They might tease her, but she was happy for Tenten – she had finally achieved her dream of joining the prestigious ranks of elite ninja. In some ways, Sakura envied her. Work as a medic was an important and sometimes challenging job, but in the relatively peaceful time that had followed the final fall of Orochimaru and the Akatsuki she felt like she wasn't using her full potential.
Ino rapped her knuckles on her friend's head, interrupting her thoughts. "I realize there's a lot of extra room behind that great forehead of yours, but now's not the time to space out – we've got to go see Tsunade."
With that, Sakura kicked off the black strapped sandals and slid into her usual, military-issue shoes, reveling in their comfortable, not-high-heels feel. "That's so much better," she said with a sigh as she wiggled her toes. "Screw fitting in with the civilian population if it means being subjected to torture. Besides, maybe I'll start a new trend for flats or something."
"You are so doomed," Ino concluded.
Sakura never felt at ease in the Hokage's office. The polished floors, neat stacks of files meticulously organized by Shizune, and Tsunade's stiff posture and serious gaze all contrasted with her own mental image of the Fifth. Confined by protocol and the need to keep up appearances however, Sakura understood that a more comfortable atmosphere in the Hokage's office was impossible. But as Tsunade frowned over her steepled fingers at the two kunoichi in front of her, Sakura had a hard time recognizing the kind-hearted and often intoxicated woman she'd apprenticed under.
"Report," she said shortly.
Ino snapped into a smart salute. "We've got two suitcases packed with appropriate civilian clothing and have covered hair and makeup training according to the information we received."
Sakura had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. 'Hair and makeup training' was something only Ino could ever say.
"Overall she should be ready to pass as a Sun Country civilian," Ino finished, and Sakura silently thanked her for neglecting to mention the afternoon's trouble with shoes.
"Good." Tsunade nodded slightly. Pushing forward a large envelope, she motioned for Ino to take it. "There have been some last minute changes to the mission."
As Ino took the package, Tsunade explained, "Sakura will still act as the lead infiltrator, but rather than sending her reports as correspondence back to Konoha she'll meet with you once every few weeks. This should help eliminate the threat of her information being intercepted by the revolutionaries – we still don't know how many of them are active, or how they operate. You'll meet within the borders of the Sun Country under the guise of two old friends. As such, you've been accorded a small budget with which to purchase the necessary items to complete your disguise as a civilian of that country."
"Sweet!" Ino exclaimed as Sakura tried not to grin. Giving Ino a clothing budget was like throwing her an early birthday party. Tsunade raised an eyebrow, causing the younger woman to blush and clear her throat. "Ah, I mean… Thank you, I'm honoured to be of service."
Tsunade somehow managed to keep her face neutral. "Dismissed."
Ino threw Sakura a quick wink, obviously quite pleased, and flounced out the door.
As the door slid shut, Tsunade's rigid posture relaxed and she slouched into her chair.
"Sometimes I just don't know about that one," Tsunade muttered to herself. With a quick shake of her head, she refocused her attention on the kunoichi standing in front of her. "So tell me really, how are you feeling about this mission? And take a seat, no need to be so formal."
Sakura smiled at her mentor and sank into one of the chairs in front of the Hokage's desk. "I'm a little nervous," she admitted.
Tsunade smiled wryly. "That's no surprise. It's a solo mission in a foreign country – you'd have to be crazy not to be a bit scared. Let's go over the details again, it might help you out."
Sakura paused to collect her thoughts before she repeated the information she'd been given. "I'm going undercover to the Sun Country, which is a small, isolationist city-state to the south-west of the Fire Country. While there I'll act as a civilian. My objective is to infiltrate a group of revolutionaries that's trying to incite an uprising again the ruling monarchy and government. Once I've discovered the leaders, I'm to assassinate them and turn the other members over the country's military forces to deal with."
"That's the gist of it," said Tsunade. "I don't think I need to say this but: be careful. I know you can handle this but if there's anything unexpected come home immediately."
"I can't do that!" Sakura began, her eyes going wide at her mentor's words. "I know we're being offered a lot of money from the Sun Country for this. And Konoha needs it. We haven't had many big missions recently, not since the end of the troubles with the Akatsuki, and at this rate the economy is --"
Tsunade cut her off with a wave of her hand. "I know, I know. But we can't risk losing you – you're one of our top jounin, and a medic at that. And my student, of course." She smiled warmly and Sakura couldn't keep a happy blush from her face. "The Sun Country government rules the city-state with an iron fist and they're in dire straits indeed if they need to call in ninja. They've been self-sufficient for years, relying on their wealth from the colonies to build up their own forces – infantry and the like. They're only a city-state so they're far too small to have a hidden village of their own, and besides, after past experiences they hate ninja. So the situation must be out of their control if they have to call us in. The Sun Country rarely lets any outsiders in."
"I know," said Sakura gravely, her heart beating a little too fast, slightly anxious at being entrusted with such an important mission. "That's why I can't screw this up – we need to earn their trust. Having such an immensely wealthy country support Konoha would be just what we need to turn around the state of Konoha's finances."
Tsunade shook her head. "Your safety comes first. The government has only granted permission for you to cross their borders – they were reluctant to allow Yamanaka in too. So if you do get into any trouble, we can't send backup. I need you to promise me you'll get out of there if things get too hot."
"But I couldn't just abandon the mission –"
"Actually you can," Tsunade said with a wry grin. "It's not a cheap commission, and they're paying half the fees in advance."
Sakura considered this for a moment, letting a small smile play across her face. Tsunade might joke about it now, but Sakura wouldn't feel right letting her down. Letting Konoha down. Cultivating a good relationship with the Sun Country would secure the hidden village's future.
"Anyway," sighed Tsunade as she handed Sakura an envelope, "I've kept you for too long. Take this – the final details of the mission and a complete briefing of the Sun Country's culture and current affairs, put together by their government. Remember: this is top-secret, even here in Konoha. The only agent you'll be meeting with is Ino, who will relate all information back to me. I will then pass the information back along to Sun Country personnel. A long and tedious process, but it should help maintain your undercover status. You can't meet with any royal agents directly – we can't risk your true identity being discovered. But once in the Sun Country, you've been cleared to use whatever means necessary to accomplish the mission."
Tsunade gave her a pointed look and Sakura raised an eyebrow in response. That wasn't a phrase ninja heard very often. The monarchy must really want the revolutionaries dealt with if they'd handed her complete immunity – license to do whatever she pleased if the ends justified the means.
Not knowing what else to say, Sakura took a firm hold on the important mission papers she'd been given, rose from her chair, and gave a small bow in farewell to her mentor.
"Sakura," called the Hokage, causing Sakura to turn back to face her teacher just as she was about to leave. Tsunade gave her a tight smile, full of pride yet tempered with worry. "Good luck."
"Just leave it to me," said Sakura with a reassuring grin, as she barely stopped herself from giving the nice-guy pose. "These revolutionaries are going down."
Deidara sneered unpleasantly at a group of young bourgeois women who giggled and cast him flirtatious glances over the tops of their lace fans – the fashion of the week, apparently.
Normally he should be flattered by the attention, but after a few weeks in the Sun Country he'd quickly learned that the constant parade of well-dressed women along café-laden streets would make doe eyes at anything resembling a member of the opposite sex. By now he found their lifestyle irritatingly frivolous, and their attentions downright annoying. And besides, he had no patience for games.
He hadn't since he'd fought that Uchiha kid, since he'd lost everything. He'd taken such pride in his work, in his art, but when it came down to it, it wasn't enough. His art had been defeated, and to add insult to injury, he couldn't even blow himself up right. That knowledge alone was painful, but on top of the physical agony he'd had to endure over years of healing it was almost too much.
It was a miracle he'd survived at all – alone and on the brink of death. If the explosion had worked as it was meant to it should have been impossible for him to survive. But somehow his body had clung to the thin remnants of life, despite the hole blown open in his chest, and his consciousness had had no choice but to follow along. He hardly remembered the first few months, but that was for the best. Vaguely, he knew that he'd been found by villagers and had been too weak to fight off helping hands. Once he'd been healed enough to regain some lucidity he'd fled, too proud to accept any more help. But once again his body betrayed him, and after he collapsed he was taken in by yet another kind-hearted village.
This pattern – long, painful, and humiliating – had repeated itself until finally he had regained enough of his strength to survive on his own. By that point there was no question of whether he would live, only a matter of how long the healing process would take. He'd cheated death, but the ordeal had left its marks. Eventually he regained movement in his limbs, working out the stiff, damaged muscles until they functioned passably well, yet nowhere near their former capabilities.
Another group of young women waved at him as he stalked past their café table. He ignored the women – they wouldn't pay him as much attention if they knew what was partially concealed beneath a pair of dark sunglasses. His hand reached up to touch his face, absentmindedly running his fingers over the web of scars that distorted the skin under his left eye. Realizing his actions, he shoved his traitorous hand back in his jean pockets.
As his healing had progressed, it had become increasingly clear that the explosion had shattered the symmetry of his face. Most of the scars had faded, but he was forever branded with that one particular patch. The other permanent scars could be hidden quite easily – the messy array of twisted, rough scar tissue across his chest that replaced his previous tattoo, and various other marks that wound their way from his left shoulder to elbow. Perhaps it was punishment for his former vanity –he could still make works of art, but no longer be one.
He'd come to terms with that long ago, but now that his physical healing was complete – years after the event – he had a whole new set of issues to deal with.
There was no place for him in this world.
No place for artistic genius, and certainly no place for a wanted criminal, presumed dead. He'd begun to realize this shortly after he'd regained enough strength to live on his own. There was nowhere for him to hide, nowhere that he could call home. So he'd stuck to the seedy parts of cities, places where no one would care if one more victim of terrible scarring appeared.
He'd considered his options but found none. He couldn't, wouldn't go crawling back to the Akatsuki, not after having failed so thoroughly. The final nail was driven into that option too when the rumours began that the organization had been defeated. His only other two choices were also busts. He couldn't exactly waltz into a hidden village and pick up a new life, nor could he adopt a new identity in a civilian town – it wasn't really his thing.
So he found himself wandering, practicing his art but drawing less and less pleasure from it – it had let him down, and besides, what could he possibly do to top the finale of his ill-fated battle with the Uchiha boy? The explosion had destroyed the bloodline mouth on his chest, making a repeat performance impossible anyway.
The Sun Country had seemed a likely haven at first – an isolationist city-state with little contact outside its borders and a profound mistrust of strangers. It was something new and exciting, just enough to pique his interest. He'd found a place that made fake papers, run by a rather unscrupulous gentleman who asked no questions, and paid in the only thing he could offer – his profession. After assassinating a rival falsifier, Deidara was on his way with a Sun Country identity card. He'd kept his name the same – it wasn't as though anyone would recognize him here. Besides, he thought bitterly, his name was one of the few small scraps of identity he had left.
After two weeks of living in the city, however, it was beginning to grate on him. He'd begun to tire of his wandering lifestyle and had at first thought that this was the perfect opportunity to spend a year, maybe two, in one place. It wasn't as though he was copping out and taking up a civilian life either; the cost of living in the Sun Country was exorbitant, and Deidara was pleased to note that his body – no longer fit for the exertions required of a ninja – still served him well enough for petty theft and burglary.
But the Sun Country sickened him.
Finally arriving at his destination, Deidara refocused his thoughts to the present and wrapped his hands – carefully clad in gloves, despite the heat – around the golden bars of the gates that surrounded the royal palace. Among the crowds of well-dressed citizens who regularly gawked at the enormous structure, his presence went unnoticed by the guards.
The palace was one of the largest, most impressive buildings in the entire city. It shone with the pristine white favoured by most of the Sun Country architecture and was surrounded by well-kept gardens and fountains, safely guarded by tall, shining gates. The palace itself was a masterpiece of architecture and masonry, renowned for its facade that curved gently, giving the entrance the appearance of undulation, like a rippling wave. From the centre of the palace rose a great tower which housed a giant, golden bell. The entire structure was covered with statues that must have taken lifetimes to carve, depicting goddesses and creatures of legend. It was celebrated by the Sun Country as one of the most magnificent feats of architecture ever accomplished.
And it was the ugliest thing Deidara had ever seen.
It hadn't taken him long to see that if the people of the Sun Country valued something above money, it was beauty and appearance. But what passed as beauty was, in Deidara's mind, absolutely revolting and a disgrace to true art. Everything in the Sun Country was overdone and superficial, worn or created only to dazzle the eyes of others.
Even the architecture -- domes, churches, piazzas -- filled him with an irrational amount of fury. Some of them had been built centuries ago, and yet they were still admired as great works of art, never to be replaced or destroyed. The older buildings were the measure by which modern architecture was judged, and so even the newer structures resembled these old monstrosities. Of all these, the royal palace was by far the worst offender, taking every aspect admired in past masterpieces and compiling them into one great abomination.
And if the elite of the nation had their way, it would stand forever.
The thought of this was even more horrifying to Deidara. If art was to imitate life, then how could it last forever? If something was to be truly beautiful it needed to end, otherwise it would remain incomplete. Beauty could only exist if it were fleeting in nature, nothing was meant to be adored for centuries.
But it wasn't just the architecture. He hated the fashion, the people, and the whole frivolous style of life with equal fervour. And yet, he found that he couldn't just leave. It was like watching some horrifying accident; he couldn't bring himself to look away from something so terrible.
At last releasing his white-knuckled grip on the gates, Deidara stalked away from the monstrous palace, unapologetic as he shouldered his way roughly through the crowd of onlookers. With thoughts of how much everything in the Sun Country went against his own theories of aesthetics weighing heavily on his mind, he paid no attention to where he went.
He was uncertain of how long he'd walked, but by the time his rage had subsided enough for him to regain awareness of his surroundings, he'd ventured into a part of town he'd never seen before. The first thing that struck him was that it wasn't white. The surrounding apartments were the same tall, imposing structures found everywhere else in the city state, but their usually perfect walls were marred by dirt and grime.
Drawing himself completely out of his thoughts, he wandered into a main square, surprised to find that the stones on the ground were slightly sticky beneath his shoes and clearly hadn't been cleaned in ages. He frowned and glanced around, noting that for once he wasn't surrounded by people wearing extravagant colours and outfits. Instead, the emaciated figures were dressed in torn and tarnished clothes and seemed to be staring at him, the strange newcomer.
Deidara grinned to himself, feeling slightly better to know that even the Sun Country had its bad parts of town.
Before he could investigate the area further, a boy ran into the centre of the square, shouting some nonsense about "Liberty or death!". Deidara was almost tempted to give the annoying brat the one of those choices he could fulfill, but figured the police would do so soon enough anyway.
As the boy proceeded to throw an armful of papers into the air, Deidara frowned and glanced around. Now that he thought of it, the familiar Sun Country police in their bright blue uniforms were nowhere to be seen.
Curiosity piqued, he knelt down to pick up one of the pamphlets that had been scattered across the square. 'The time for change is now!' it declared in bold, black letters, followed by various other revolutionary slogans and what seemed to be a manifesto against the heavy-handed monarchy and its oppression of the lower classes.
Deidara raised his eyebrows. This was the first he'd heard of social unrest in the Sun Country. Then again, this was also the first time he'd wandered into one of the less privileged neighbourhoods. Knowing that class tensions lay hidden behind the extravagant facade of the city-state was an oddly cheerful thought for Deidara. In a way, it reminded him of his time before the Akatsuki, when he'd been involved in revolutionary groups. He hadn't thought of that part of his past in a long time, but suddenly he found himself almost nostalgic for the excitement it had contained.
Glancing up from the pamphlet, he caught sight of the boy who'd thrown the papers just before he dashed off down an alleyway. It was a foolish idea, he told himself, but he had already begun to follow the boy. He had no business playing at revolution here, in a country he knew little about, but it struck him that this could be the perfect opportunity to lash out at the people and culture that had created the 'art' he so despised. Failing that, it would at least provide some amusement for a while.
The boy glanced over his shoulder and, seeing that he was being followed, quickened his pace. But he was young and his stride was not yet long enough to contend with Deidara's own. When at last he caught up with the brat he grabbed him by the collar and held him up, an arm's length away.
"Put me down!" demanded the boy and swung his fists futilely. He was a thin, scrawny child, and his reach was too short to pose any danger to Deidara.
The boy continued to flail and generally be a nuisance so Deidara shook him a few times until he seemed to calm down. At last, seeing that he was outmatched, the boy glared at him and spat, "You can kill me if you like, but I'll never betray the revolution!"
"As appealing as that idea is, yeah," Deidara drawled, finding it somewhat amusing that the boy seemed to think he was one of the king's forces, "I have no intention of killing you."
"I won't give in to torture either!"
Resisting the urge to shake the kid some more, just for getting on his nerves, Deidara tried with little success to keep his temper in check. "Look," he said through clenched teeth, "I'm not a cop, and I'm not going to harm, kill, or otherwise maim you, so just shut up for minute."
The boy, unconvinced, took another swing at him.
"Stop that," Deidara growled and held the kid higher in the air. "I want to join your revolution, yeah," he said without further preamble.
"Well, you can't." The boy made a face at him. "We're running a civilized revolution -- we'd never let someone as brutish as you join."
Frustrated and reminded why he hated children, Deidara glared at the boy and tightened his grip on his collar. Civilized. He could do civilized. He could keep his past hidden and pretend to be good. For a while. But at this rate he wasn't going to get any information out of the brat. It shouldn't be this hard to join a silly revolution -- with his skills they should be begging him to join.
The boy seemed to notice that he'd struck a chord with his captor and continued with a sneer, "Besides, you have to be a professional revolutionary to join."
Deidara didn't know quite what to say to that. "You're a professional revolutionary, yeah?"
"Yes," replied the boy. "As a matter of fact, I am."
He raised his chin in an effort to appear dignified, but the effect was somewhat lessened as he swung suspended above the ground from Deidara's grasp.
Deidara could tell it was high time to let the boy go, before he ended up breaking his promise that he wouldn't hurt him. "Whatever," he said shortly, fixing the kid with his most menacing stare. "If you don't want me to help you out, that's fine. But tell your leader this: your revolution could use my skills. Tell him to watch the front pages of the papers if he wants my resume. If he's interested, he can find me himself. I don't want to deal with underlings anymore."
The boy sucked in a breath, no doubt preparing to express his displeasure at being called an underling, but Deidara dropped him unceremoniously from his grasp before he had the chance.
The boy stumbled as he hit the ground, but quickly regained his balance. "Down with the oppressors who prey on the weak!" he cried, delivering a swift kick to Deidara's shins before turning tail and running as fast as his skinny legs could carry him.
Deidara clenched his fists and, in a display of astonishing self-control, refrained from tracking down and murdering the brat. With what felt like a bruise forming on one of his legs, he made his way back to the main part of the city. All he had to do now was cause enough trouble to draw the attention of the less juvenile revolutionaries. And really, for him that would pose no problem at all.
As he emerged back into an upper-class neighbourhood, he grinned at the pristine white buildings and lavish shops for the first time. A few female passersby noticed his good humour and giggled at him. Deidara took no notice and continued on, lost in his own thoughts of how best to cause mayhem and destruction on a more 'civilized' level.
It would be so easy, really. The Sun Country was going down.