Written on a whim for Falling Tears of Death because I love her and sometimes the best (and worst) things in life are surprises. Hopefully this was one of the better ones.
Ashes and Other Such Things
Sometimes things change just long enough so that Itachi misses them when everything is back to normal. [mild ItaDei]
Deidara is kneeling outside, detonating balls of clay in small piles of leaves and watching them burn with a satisfied smile on his face. He looks rather like a pyromaniac five year old - at least, a pyromaniac five year old with a ninja's awareness of his surroundings, because the explosions are muted and the fires burn out quickly against the packed earth of the forest floor.
The smoke of the last small blaze drifts up to Itachi's perch on a tree branch, mingling comfortably with the sweet scent of decaying leaves and chill of the autumn breeze. It's rather nice, he thinks as he shifts into a more comfortable position, leaning back against the paper-white bark. That, combined with the fact that he grew up in a village surrounded by forest, makes his frayed nerves begin to relax for the first time in over a week. It's really rather nice.
A light wind drifts through the upper branches of his tree, making it sway a bit and sending a few yellow, heart-shaped leaves drifting down. One lands by Deidara's fingers but is pushed aside - it's too fresh to burn.
Itachi finds it mildly worrisome that Deidara doesn't at least look up to check for an intruder. He knows the blonde is... not necessarily the best at planning ahead, or strategy, or even thinking, but - still. Though Itachi's not worried enough to actually say something. He's too amused by this juvenile display. He prefers blue skies and shaded sunshine to the dark underground quarters of their headquarters, also, and would like to put off his report as long as possible. Although he came back uninjured, aside from a nagging ache in his hip, the mission still wasn't quite a success.
He sighs, sees the breath leave his lips in a little cloud of white, and wonders whether Deidara is cold, crouched on the ground wearing only his undershirt and pants, his Akatsuki robe providing support for his knees. Itachi has used his own robe for many things (a blanket, a bandage, a decoy, material for a genjutsu), but has never before seen one employed as a cushion. It almost makes him smile. Almost.
Far away, a crow makes a caw, caw noise. Itachi shades his eyes and peers through the trembling leaves, hoping to see it silhouetted against the sun. When he turns back, Deidara is also gazing up - glaring up at him.
Maybe, he'll just go back to his amusement, and let Itachi -
"Oi!" Deidara calls again, sounding annoyed.
Itachi gives a small sigh, straightens up, and leans over to meet the blonde's single visible eye. "Yes?"
"How long have you been up there?" Defensive. Itachi finds that amusing.
Resigning his chance at another peaceful ten minutes, he uses his hands to push himself away from the branch, landing on the ground in a crouch with his Akatsuki robes billowing around him. Deidara scrambles away. "I haven't been there long. I was under the impression you were aware of my approach."
"I did - I..." the blonde gropes for a reply. If Itachi's not mistaken, that's a ball of exploding clay he's rolling around between his fingers. Subtly, he shifts so that he can move away more easily. This situation might get dangerous. Finally, Deidara thinks of an answer. "It still felt safe!"
Itachi raises an eyebrow. "...Safe?"
"Yeah. I've been in this hellhole long enough to be used to your damn bloody chakra. Now fuck off, Uchiha, un."
Instead of obeying the insubordinate order, Itachi moves a bit closer to the blackened circle where the remnants of Deidara's last fire had burnt out a some moments before. The ashes are still glowing in places with faint orange light, and a few wisps of smoke still hang around the remnants in a grayish haze. "Safe," he muses quietly, and finds that its irony leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.
"How long were you doing this?" He prods the ashes with his sandalled foot, quenching the last embers of the fire. A thin gray dust clings to the toe of his shoe.
Although his tone is becoming more antagonistic by the minute, Deidara seems to have recovered from his initial surprise. He's moved back towards the fire - still keeping his distance from Itachi. At this, he looks up and glares. "You tell me, un."
"Like I said, I haven't been here long. I just returned from a mission."
He takes a seat, crossing his legs and feeling his hip give a twinge. Odd, he thinks. It was hurting before, too, in the tree, but he doesn't recall getting hit there. "I was under the impression that you didn't sense my chakra...?"
"I sensed safe chakra and I assumed it was someone going into the hideout," Deidara spits. "Next time, Uchiha prince, I'll be sure to double check to make sure it's not you, stalking me."
Not wanting to start a fight, Itachi keeps his eyes down and steeples his fingers, staring at the pale pile of ashes. "I understand the root of your animosity towards me but I am not quite sure I grasp -" he begins.
Deidara cuts him off with a sharp gesture. "Stop. Just stop it with that stupid big brother act of yours, un. Everyone knows it's a lie."
Surprised, Itachi can't stop himself from wincing. He can't help thinking of a smiling face and a cheery 'Niisan!'. "I-" He falters for a moment, then takes a breath and continues, restoring his icy demeanor. "I apologize," he says coldly, and gets up.
There's really nothing else left to say and the peace of the autumn afternoon is gone. He wouldn't mind the slightly dank corridors of the Akatsuki headquarters as much; he needs to report the results of his mission, anyway.
"Hey -" Deidara calls, sounding almost surprised. "...Wait."
Itachi stops, turns so he's looking back over his shoulder.
"Look. I..." The blonde grits his teeth, forcing out his next words. "What I said - it was out of line." His hands, empty of clay now, curl into rebellious fists. "Way out of line. I... It was - hell. Just... whatever, un." He looks positively mortified. "You can go now."
Instead of leaving, Itachi, perplexed, returns to the burnt patch of ground and sits back down - and once again, there's that little twinge from his hip and he's slightly worried. "Why the sudden change of attiude?" he asks, placidly.
Deidara won't meet his eyes. "Because. I have a family too. Had." His hands find a fallen leaf, begin methodically ripping it to pieces. "No matter how much I hate you for... everything, it's just not something I can... say, un." He manages to look up, his blue eye meeting Itachi's tired black ones. "Y'know?"
"...Had?" Itachi asks after a bit, mildly curious.
"Had." Deidara affirms his statement but doesn't say anything else. Itachi doesn't mind; it's rare for the Akatsuki members to discuss each other's pasts. The only reason Deidara knows why he would be sensitive about family matters is because his situation became a matter of widespread knowledge in a great many ninja countries.
He finds it inexplicable that the blonde doesn't take the usual missing-nin attitude of rough congratulation, or blood-bought respect. He doesn't want to look too deeply into it, though. So instead he reaches out a hand and sifts through the small pile of ashes, feeling their feather light softness against his fingers. They're not warm any more, in fact, they're rather cold, the leftover heat lost quickly to the chilly wind.
Deidara watches him for a moment, looking uncomfortable in their silence, then glances up to the sky. Midafternoon has passed into late afternoon while Itachi wasn't looking, and now the sun is getting lower and the shadows are getting longer and the chill is deepening slowly. "It'll be dark soon, un," the blonde says, oddly civil, to break the silence.
"Yes," Itachi agrees. He notices Deidara shiver. "You must be cold."
"I... Well. It's a little chilly, without my fires, un." He speaks haltingly, embarrassed.
"We should head inside." Strange, Itachi thinks, that he automatically says we instead of I, how somehow in the past few minutes he and Deidara have somehow formed a sort of group. They're not just individuals anymore, at least for now.
Deidara gets up in one easy, fluid motion. "Yeah, un," he replies.
Itachi leans forward to follow him but his hip refuses to move. He sits back again, puzzled. It shouldn't be this hard for him to do something that he's been able to do since the age of, well, one. Six months, maybe. He ignores the pain, tries and fails to get up again, and takes a moment to reflect on the irony of him, of all people, being in this position. He's glad it's just Deidara here, instead of Kisame or Hidan or Zetsu or practically anyone else. They would've mocked him, probably taken advantage of this one moment of weakness. Deidara has shown him through his earlier comments that he's not the type of person to do a thing like - that.
"Something wrong, un?" Deidara asks when he glances back to see the Uchiha still seated by the fire.
Itachi weighs his options. He is a ninja; he will have no trouble getting up a third time especially if he pushes himself. But that might lead to further injury and having Deidara help him would be... easier. He sighs. "I apologize, but I seem to be having a little trouble getting up."
Deidara's eyes widen, then he puts his hand over his mouth to cover a smirk or a snort. "Getting old, Uchiha, un?" he asks, walking back and sticking out a hand.
Itachi takes it and manages not to wince too much as he is hauled upright. "You'll have to start treating me with more - respect," he retorts through gritted teeth as the pain in his hip intensifies. Although they're still keeping up an acerbic kind of banter, Itachi thinks it's not as vehement as before. The poison anger has been sucked out of Deidara's words, the icy coldness from Itachi's. It's like, mutual regard, maybe?
The blonde's not looking at him stumbling and recovering balance, trying not to rest his weight on his right leg. Instead, he's staring at his wrist, which is smeared with black. "I forgot you were playing with the ashes, un," he murmurs almost ruefully.
"As did I." Itachi begins to limp towards headquarters. It's painful but he knows he'll make it eventually. To distance himself from the pain he gazes down at his hands, smeared with the black sooty residue of the ashes. They have kind of a filmy texture; it's strange but not so bad. He refuses to look too deeply into the symbolism of blackened hands.
For some reason, Deidara is walking beside him, instead of ahead of him. "...Hey," he begins after a moment, awkwardly.
"Do you - you know - need help?"
The offer is given with a strange combination of awkwardness, resentment, and kindness. Itachi limps a few more steps. "You've already helped me once today," he replies finally. "And my hands are dirty."
Deidara doesn't press the issue. "All right, un," he replies, speeding up and passing Itachi, disappearing in a little while through the trees.
The Uchiha watches him, his feet crunching in the carpet of autumn leaves. He realizes that refusal maybe wasn't the best idea. It's like, he thinks, twenty-twenty hindsight. Could have done that better.
And after a while, when he has almost reached the secret entrance, I really am getting old.
Reviews are appreciated, con. crit. is encouraged, and I don't own Naruto.