Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters, locations, etc. (Please, Kishimoto-senpai, can't I just have the Akatsuki?)

Important Warning: This story contains yaoi, specifically the ItaDei pairing. There's nothing explicit, but if you object to same-sex relationships on principle (or just don't like reading yaoi), you should probably read one of my 33 other stories instead of this one.

Reflections in a Broken Mirror

There were many things that Deidara disliked about the Sharingan. It pierced through all jutsu, laying bare the innermost secrets of another shinobi's craft and making something that should be mysterious seem mundane instead. It made its users arrogant, immune to surprise or awe. And in his opinion, its appearance was just plain unartistic. But none of these was the worst thing about the Sharingan.

The worst thing about the Sharingan was that, once you had been affected by it, you could never again be sure that what you were thinking or feeling was real.

It had been a few years since Itachi had forced Deidara into joining the Akatsuki, and at times, Deidara found himself wondering what exactly Itachi might have done to him. He had, after all, used his Sharingan to defeat the Iwa renegade, and everyone knew that Sharingan genjutsu was a form of hypnosis. As Kisame put it, "The Sharingan lets you get inside your opponent's head and mess around in there." As far as anyone knew, Itachi had simply used the Sharingan to make Deidara entrap himself with his own jutsu.

But who could say if that was really all he had done?

Some genjutsu specialists could implant "post-hypnotic suggestions" in a victim's mind. The target might seem unharmed at first, but when he returned to his home village, he would find himself sending secrets to his enemy, or plotting to undermine the village's stability. He would have no conscious memory of doing these things, and would even be genuinely shocked and offended if accused of turning traitor. Who was to say that someone with Itachi's level of genjutsu mastery couldn't do something even more subtle? Who was to say that he couldn't push a person's mental development in a direction that he wanted it to go?

Sometimes, wondering about this kept Deidara up at night. Once a Sharingan user had been inside your mind, how could you be certain that your thoughts were your own?

Deidara had hated Itachi pretty much from the first minute he saw him. He continued hating Itachi for the first couple of years that he spent as an Akatsuki member. But then he noticed a disturbing trend occurring. When he thought about the Uchiha, hatred was no longer the only emotion he felt. At first, the hatred was mixed with a grudging admiration. Itachi was pretty strong, because only someone strong could beat the Great and Talented Artist, after all.

Over time, this grudging admiration morphed into a kind of fascination. Deidara insisted to himself that he only paid so much attention to Itachi so that he could learn as much as possible about him, in preparation for a rematch. It made perfect sense that he would want to watch Itachi sparring with Kisame or practicing ninjutsu and katas on his own. How else was he going to prepare defenses against Itachi's strengths and uncover his weaknesses? He was absolutely not admiring Itachi's graceful movements or his physique. Absolutely not.

"I don't see why you're trying to hide it," Kisame remarked to him once. "I mean, our organization includes a plant man, a couple of immortals, a guy with six bodies, and a woman who can turn herself into paper. No one's gonna think you're strange just because you're gay."

Kisame barely escaped with his life.

The beginning of their relationship wasn't something that Deidara ever consciously thought about. He hadn't come to a realization, or made a decision, or anything like that. One night, about halfway between his eighteenth birthday and his nineteenth, he simply found himself walking down the hallway to Itachi's bedroom and knocking on the door. A soft voice from inside told him to enter, and so he did. He closed the door behind him and stood with his back pressed against it, as if he wanted to be ready to escape at any moment.

Itachi was sitting in an armchair, reading a book. A small oil lamp sat on the table beside him, casting flickering shadows on the walls. Itachi didn't look as though he had been waiting for Deidara, but he didn't seem surprised to see him either. "What do you want?" he asked, looking up from his book.

Deidara slowly crossed the room and stood in front of Itachi. While the older man looked up at him blankly, he reached out one hand and laid it against Itachi's cheek.

Just as Deidara hadn't made a conscious decision to begin a relationship with Itachi, he didn't make a conscious decision to continue the relationship once it had started. He just kept returning to Itachi's room at night on a fairly regular basis, without ever really thinking about what he was doing or why.

Itachi never turned him away. Deidara only seemed to get an urge to visit Itachi on nights when the Uchiha was in the mood for such a visit. And Deidara seemed to like the same things that Itachi liked, and to be in the mood for the same things at the same time. If Itachi felt like being gentle and taking things slowly, so did Deidara. If Itachi wanted to play rough, that was what Deidara wanted as well. They agreed on everything perfectly.

Sometimes, a nagging suspicion in the back of Deidara's mind insisted that it was too perfect. Weren't couples supposed to disagree from time to time? Weren't there supposed to be some nights when one partner had a "headache", or when one person's desired pace didn't match the other's? Even Pain and Konan argued on occasion, and they were actually in love.

Could anything so perfect be real?

Eventually, Deidara and Itachi's relationship became something of an open secret among the Akatsuki. Neither Deidara nor Itachi ever actually told anyone about it, but they all seemed to know what was going on anyway. Tobi proclaimed it "cute," and got almost all the way through singing about "Senpai and Itachi-san sitting in a tree..." before Deidara blasted him through a wall.

Hidan said nothing about it, which surprised Kakuzu. "Aren't you going to start ranting about how such things are 'against the will of Jashin-sama'?"

Hidan snorted. "Why the hell would Jashin-sama care about something so unimportant, seriously?"

"Well, I don't know, he seems to worry about a lot of other unimportant things. Anything that isn't money, for example."

"WHY YOU--!"

Pain merely admonished them not to let it interfere with their missions.

And as for Konan...

"Itachi-san, there's a butterfly in here. See it? It's flying around up near the ceiling, yeah."

"I don't see why that's a cause for comment. Butterflies are quite common."

"Really? Even ones that are made of paper?"

Staring up at the ceiling while Itachi slept beside him, Deidara wondered. Just how much could genjutsu manipulate a person, anyway? Some mind-affecting techinques could last for years, and make a person do things they normally wouldn't--betray their village, for example. But could a genjutsu have even more influence than that? Could a skilled Sharingan user implant someone with a genjutsu that would cause them to develop an infatuation with a certain person?

If that were true, though, what's going on would be something even more subtle than that, yeah. This hasn't been just a fleeting infatuation--it's been over a year now, and I feel the same way as I did at the beginning. If he really has been manipulating me, it's something that's been going on since we first met. Something that developed slowly enough for it to seem natural, even to me. Certainly none of the others have been suspicious, yeah. It's like he planted a seed during our first fight that started to grow, branching out over a period of five years, until finally, I went to him for the first time. And my feelings developed so gradually that no one would have any reason to think it wasn't all coming from me.

But it was even more than that. Deidara always wanted what Itachi wanted, when Itachi wanted it. He always seemed to know what would please the Uchiha, and those same things pleased him. Could a genjutsu program a person's mental responses to such an extent? Could something have been planted in his mind that allowed him to read tiny, almost imperceptible signals in Itachi's speech or body language, so that he would know when it was a good night to go to him and when it wasn't? Could he, in the same way, read in Itachi's manner what the other man wanted, and be made to want the same things? Could any illusion have such thorough influence and still remain completely undetectable?

I'm building a mountain out of a molehill, yeah. We're just really compatible, like Tobi says. (Oh gods, did I just admit that Tobi might be right about something?) I have no reason to believe that Itachi-san did something like that. There's no evidence of it whatsoever.

But would there be evidence? How deeply in one's psyche can an illusion be buried? And if a genjutsu can exert that degree of control, how much of me would really be left?

And how would I ever know the difference?

One night, Deidara entered Itachi's room to find the man staring at a bottle of sake that sat on his desk. Next to the bottle was a glass, half-full. The bottle itself was three-quarters empty, and Deidara was suprised to realize that Itachi had been drinking. There was only one day a year when Itachi drank, and on that day he would get absolutely plastered. It seemed so out of character for him that Deidara had asked Kisame about it once.

"There's something he needs to forget," was all the shark-nin would say.

But this wasn't that day, so why was Itachi drinking sake?

"Why the bottle, Itachi-san?"

Itachi blinked at him. "I turned twenty-one today."

"So...you're celebrating the fact that you can drink legally? Even though you've had alcohol before, and no-one in an organization of S-rank criminals would care anyway?"

Itachi regarded him contemplatively. "I just never thought that I would live this long."

If it is Itachi doing this, then why? The way he looks, he could have anyone--woman or man--that he wanted, yeah. Why would he even need to use his stupid Sharingan to get himself a lover?

Maybe he doesn't want just anyone, another part of his mind answered. Maybe he wants you.

The last time they're together is different. Deidara has barely closed the door behind him when Itachi grabs his wrist and flings him onto the bed. There's a look in Itachi's eyes that speaks of urgency, almost desperation, and Deidara is struck with the crazy idea that Itachi thinks this is the last chance he'll ever have to be with Deidara. It's like he wants to memorize every line and curve of Deidara's body, every note of his voice, everything about him, because they'll never see each other again after this.

It makes no sense, but nothing about this has made sense from the very beginning, so that's nothing new, really.

As he rips the stitches out of his chest, it occurs to Deidara that he might actually figure things out before he dies. His final masterpiece works by converting everything in his body into pure energy--every cell, every molecule, every chemical bond broken. And also every millijoule of chakra. If there's any foreign chakra in his brain, anything fueling a genjutsu that's been working for years now, it will be broken down too, becoming part of that final radiant burst. And in the split second before the structure of his brain itself breaks down, he will finally know.

It's exquisitely painful. Every part of him is being ripped apart, cell severed from cell, molecule severed from molecule. It feels like he's on fire, yet he isn't afraid at all.

"Cry like a lost child!"

His limbs grow weak as his chakra pathways collapse under the assault of more energy than they were designed to handle. His vision is hazy and his hearing is fading. He can just barely see Sasuke's eyes finally, finally widen in fear.

"Drown yourself in the awe and despair!"

He can barely speak; looking down at his hands, he sees them becoming translucent. "Only change is eternal," he told Sasori once, and now he's proving himself right, undergoing one final transformation.

"Because my art--"

For just one instant, he maintains coherent thought despite the fact that his body is completely non-existent. The electrical impulses that once flashed from neuron to neuron manage to hold their pattern for just a few milliseconds before the jutsu converts them into a purer form of energy.

"--IS A BANG!"

And his last thought is of what he now knows, now that he can be sure that everything that's left is just him.

It was all--

A/N: I have no idea what part of my brain this came from. Seriously, no clue. I've never made an attempt at writing a male-male relationship before, so I'm really hoping that this came out well (or at least not horrible).

I didn't really know what genre to put this under, either. Romance had to be one of them, but there's some psychological angst on Dei's part, the suspense of waiting to see what the hell's really going on, it's definitely dramatic, and the idea of Itachi mentally manipulating Dei for all that time with some kind of MS genjutsu probably counts as horror. So I just sort of threw my hands up in the air and picked a random second category for it.

Oh, and the ending is meant to be ambiguous--I wanted each reader to be able to decide for him/herself what the end of Dei's last thought is. Whether it's "It was all real" or "It was all an illusion" is up to you.

And I promise I will try to update "Dreams of the Will of Fire" soon. This thing just took over my brain for a while. I hope you all enjoyed it!