Caught You on the Flip Side
Note: In no way is this connected to "Visitation Rights" (which I swear I'll update ASAP). I have no reasoning behind this fic—it just came to me and wouldn't leave me alone and I blame Aims21 for infecting me with love for DeiIno. This was originally supposed to be a oneshot, but it got way too long and crazy so I'm splitting it into three or so chapters.
No warnings about this fic, but I will say it's pretty different from anything I've written so far in terms of genre/format, and a lot of it is experimental. Oh, and it's AU, obviously, and takes place in a modern real-world setting. Enjoy, and reviews are always love!
"Each man we see, except those who have been transfigured, is but a semi-ego, and each woman the same - two of these having one spirit. When the perfection time cometh, all the halves shall unite, each with its own."
A Dweller On Two Planets
- Frederick S. Oliver
Caught You on the Flip Side ch.1
Nightclubs had never suited Deidara very well. He wasn't much of a drinker, he disliked techno music, and he didn't dance. And every time he resolved to take the mug and drink its contents, the yeasty stink of it made him set it down against the table again. His fingers were cold—low blood pressure, he figured cynically—and he alternated between kneading his forehead where a not-quite-headache prickled and wedging his numb hands under his thighs. He sat hunched, tapping his foot restlessly, and glared at the surface of the table. The smell of his untouched beer was tempting him into wanting to pick it up and smash it over the DJ's head.
Across from him, Kisame watched him and grinned.
"The tattoos are fading. You need a retouch."
Deidara instinctively unfurled his fingers and looked at his palm. The ink had dulled to a faint gray outline in the centre of his hand, resembling a faded pen illustration. He could scarcely make out the teeth that had once been bared in a grin.
"It happens," he said dispassionately, closing his fingers to hide it. "It's been a while since I had it re-done."
"I can tell," Kisame replied, making a point of eyeing Deidara's faded t-shirt and clay-caked jeans "You're lucky Pain knows you and got you in looking like that. Why so glum?"
Deidara gritted his teeth and worked to unstick his jaw before speaking. "I'm fine, un."
"You don't have to be so uptight around me," Kisame said. He tipped a pitcher of sake down his throat. "I'm not Sasori-san."
Deidara thought of his colleague and how he was currently holed away in his workshop, crafting a new puppet. An intense wave of envy washed over him.
"I knew something was up when I saw you at the gallery," Kisame continued. "I figured you were stressed and thought bringing you here would help you relax. But it's been two hours and you haven't done anything but stare into space. It's sort of obvious you're hiding something."
Deidara looked chagrined but didn't say anything.
"What's wrong with you?" Kisame asked, not impatiently. He was oddly polite like that, Deidara noted.
"I'm..." he paused, considering whether or not to divulge such personal issues to Kisame. But then again, Kisame had proven himself to be one of the less aggravating, more trustworthy people in his small circle of acquaintances, and if he was going to do anything to make himself feel better, it might as well have been by talking it over with a friend.
"I'm stuck," Deidara muttered. "In a rut."
Kisame gave him a puzzled look.
Deidara felt the twinge in his forehead escalate into a dull throbbing. He stared at his distorted reflection in the table and spoke with deep disgust. "I have artist's block."
Kisame fell silent and mulled over the admission. In addition to being strangely polite, he had a talent for being oddly perceptive about others. It was a skill he'd been forced to develop after going into business with Uchiha Itachi, and as a result, he knew exactly what not to say in a delicate situation.
He took a moment to lean back and consider his companion.
It was difficult to believe this was the same Deidara he'd gone to college with, the self-proclaimed artistic genius who could go days without sleep while working on his creations and never lose his focus or the vivacious gleam in his eyes; the one who derided the lesser mortals for not understanding the scope of his genius and held sell-outs in the highest contempt; the one who'd decided to dedicate soul, mind and body to his art and accept his inevitable destruction with a beaming smile.
Yet here he was, weary, faded and burned out, with the agitated air of someone perpetually hounded. It had been in Deidara's greatest interests to remain an independent visionary and never fall victim to commercialism, but it was unavoidable with the ego he had. No matter how ardent his postulations about never selling out, his need for acknowledgment and praise had won out in the end. The president of the city's art gallery had personally taken interest in his sculptures and persuaded him into selling pieces, and taking advantage of the mind-clouding euphoria that arose from fame, he persuaded Deidara into a contract that required new pieces every year for the next five years.
This was year three. And Deidara had everything he'd ever wanted. He was famous, rich, respected, and admired.
And it was all slowly killing him.
It was obvious to everyone but the artist himself, but then Deidara had always been the type to forgo health and happiness in the pursuit of art. Kisame also knew of Deidara's insanely sensitive pride, so feigning ignorance, he rested his chin in his hand and gave him his full attention.
Deidara gave him a meditative look. He rarely spoke about his shortcomings—something he didn't think he had much of, anyway—let alone his artistic failings. But then again, this restless sense of unease, misery and frustration had been rending him from the inside for months now, and it was only a few hours ago that he'd abandoned his three-week stint in his workshop in a fit of pique (after destroying several mediocre sculptures, hence the dustiness).
After a minute of struggling with himself, he leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms.
"It's only temporary," he said shortly. "But it's trying my patience and the people at the gallery are expecting new pieces from me. I can't stand not being productive, and this lack of..."
He trailed off and grimaced.
"...inspiration?" Kisame supplied.
Deidara's posture deflated visibly.
"That's understandable," Kisame said, seeing his pained expression. "It happens to all artists at some point, right?"
"Not for this long," he muttered.
Kisame mulled over the situation for a few seconds. "Can I offer a suggestion?"
Deidara would normally be annoyed that a non-artist would even attempt such a thing, but was too miserable and desperate to care.
"You're jaded. You've surrounded yourself with the same people for too long," Kisame explained, thinking it was probably best to be indirect with someone like Deidara and let him figure out the rest. "Those people at the gallery—they're leeches. They just want to make money off of you. What you need is a change of company."
Deidara pursed his lips but said nothing, narrowing his eyes questioningly when Kisame suddenly raised his head to look at something behind him. Curious, he straightened and glanced over his shoulder to follow the other man's gaze.
He immediately scowled when he saw what Kisame was looking at.
"I know," Kisame placated, raising his hands. "No room for distractions. But social interaction is generally conducive to sound mental health and it's pretty obvious you're cracking up. So maybe just a chat?"
"All right," Kisame relented, giving him an impossibly wide grin, "but a little stimulation for the mind goes a long way. I've got to meet with Itachi to settle a business deal. Unless you want to tag along, I suggest you give it a try."
Before Deidara could reply, Kisame stood up and immediately disappeared into the crowd. He stared after him, half-contemplating following him, but then, against his better judgment, he glanced over his shoulder again.
She was sitting alone at another booth a few aisles down, gazing absentmindedly out into the dancing crowd. She looked young and wore a sequined azure dress that ended a few inches above the knee and she swung one leg while her fingernails tapped around the edges of the table.
Deidara rolled his eyes at Kisame's train of thought and turned back around to glare tiredly at his stale beer. He sat there for a minute more, then abruptly stood up to leave, reaching into his back pocket and sifting through the wad of notes and paper until he grabbed what felt like money and threw it down on the table.
It was a hundred dollars. He couldn't bring himself to care and left for the exit, walking past the booths without a backwards glance. He was about to weave his way through the group of hostesses depositing drinks at a group table when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
Deidara stopped. He turned his head and found the blonde girl standing behind him and holding a folded piece of glossy paper.
"You dropped this," she said.
It was the pamphlet advertising his new art exhibition. He felt half-tempted to tell her to throw it away but forced himself to take it back.
"Thanks," he muttered, pocketing it.
The girl smiled in a bemused sort of way and cocked her head at him. "I've seen you somewhere before."
Well, he was considerably famous in the art world and that was usually the default pick-up line in the club scene, but then again he'd never heard of a girl using it and she sounded genuinely surprised. He looked at her, this time properly.
She had iridescent glitter on her cheekbones that reflected the strobe lights flickering overhead. Delicate features. Blue eyes. Blonde hair. Very pretty. It was like peering at himself in an alternate universe where he made a freakishly beautiful cross dresser. And he had the inkling that he'd seen her somewhere before, too, but it was a vague nagging feeling that didn't elicit any serious consideration.
"Maybe," he replied vaguely, shrugging.
Her smile widened slightly and she gave him a strange look he couldn't place. "I really feel like I should know you."
He thought that perhaps she was trying to flirt and wondered why when he looked like complete crap and was dressed like a construction worker. But then she shook her head as if freeing herself from the thought and offered him a departing smile before striding past and onto the dance floor.
At the same time, a small scuffle broke out at the entrance over someone attempting to bypass the velvet rope, and as Deidara moved towards the exit, two massive bouncers shut the doors and barricaded the way.
"It'll be just a minute or two," they said shortly when he gave them an exasperated look. "For your own safety."
Muttering a curse, Deidara turned away from the exit and went back to the junction between the dance floor and the lounge to avoid the crush of sweaty and drunk socialites. He found a spot against the wall and leaned against it, turning his gaze back to the dance floor where a mild commotion was taking place.
He watched as a group of girls fanned out in a circle, cheering wildly and enticing the rest of the crowd to join in when one of them took to the floor solo. Deidara didn't have to move any closer to realize it was the same girl from the booth.
She spun and split the crowd with the force of a dynamo, her long blonde hair whipping out and around her and sending the other dancers scattering. Her eyes were closed and a smile was breaking slowly across her face, skin glittering blue, purple, red as she continued with the ecstatic verve of a whirling dervish.
He realized he was staring, but then again a lot of people were, and they all wore the same expression; smiling, curious, envious awe, all thinking 'this girl has completely cut loose' and entertaining what kind of high they'd experience in doing the same, in not fearing the scrutiny of an audience.
He stood there, watching and feeling oddly transfixed until someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Problem's over," the bouncer said in passing. "Door's clear."
Deidara blinked himself out of his reverie just as wild cheering broke out through the crowd. Through the gaps in the queue, the girl could be seen sweeping her hair out of her face and smiling her appreciation for their applause.
Deciding he'd been there long enough, he headed for the exit and emerged into the balmy night air. A stifling, perfume-scented breeze wafted after him from the club doors and he walked faster, holding his breath. He left the entrance and the conglomeration of cars and people jostling to get in, circling around the corner of the street to call a cab. The lights and voices faded and only the rhythmic thump of bass followed him onto the nearly deserted street. Car headlights twinkled in the distance. The lights in the surrounding apartments were out and the concrete of the sidewalk appeared a dull orange beneath the rutilant glow of lamp posts. When he got there and pulled out his cell phone, he found the battery dead.
"Shit," he mumbled, thumbing the buttons haplessly. "Forgot to charge it."
With that, he looked left and right down the street, considering finding a payphone, then decided he'd wait for the line in front of the club to thin out so he could make his way through it and to the gas station at the end of the block. With a curse of resignation, he lowered himself to sit at the edge of the curb, sneakers kicking up dust as they scraped over the asphalt.
A few cars drove past and he stared discontentedly at some spot on the road. His head still hurt but the pain felt muted after the two painkillers he'd taken earlier. A discomforting murk settled over his mind, and the distant wail of car horns were dull remnants of noise he couldn't tune out.
What happened to me? He wondered, picking up a pebble to throw into the slots of a nearby gutter. Since when do I lack inspiration?
Since you got a taste of fame, a snide voice answered in the back of his head. It's all about listening to the wants of art collectors and rich patrons now, isn't it? Sell-out.
"Tch." He threw another rock and glared tiredly at the tire treads in the dust underfoot. Then he reached into his back pocket and withdrew the bundle of notes again. They included a list of deadlines, a prescription to renew his painkillers, preliminary sketches for new sculptures, six hundred dollars in cash, and the pamphlet.
The paper was sturdy. High-quality. The vapid faces of his creations stared back at him from the cover, and feeling his resentment for himself and everything around him boil over, he scrunched it into a ball and threw it at the gutter. It bounced off the grate and rolled over onto the road.
He sat there for several more minutes and didn't bother looking up as footfalls came around the corner.
At the sound of the surprised voice, he glanced up and found the blonde girl from the club standing a few feet to his right, holding her heels by the straps in her right hand. She was wearing flip flops now.
"Hi again," she said, easing into a smile when she recognized him. "Almost ran over you. Waiting for a cab?"
Deidara looked down at his dead phone. "That was the plan, un."
She noticed the inert display screen. "You can use mine, if you want."
He stood up and brushed off his jeans, shaking his head. "I'm just gonna walk."
I need time to think.
"Same here," she said, slinging her shoes over her shoulder. "Well, goodnight then."
He nodded, and with that, they started down the street and made to separate at the intersection. He kept his gaze trained on his shadow and the cracks in the sidewalk, subconsciously waiting for the footsteps to disappear off into the distance. But when he passed the intersection and the sound followed, he stopped at the same time she did and they looked at each other.
"You're going this way?" she asked, pointing and smiling sheepishly.
He looked down the street and fought off the urge to sigh. "Yeah."
She shrugged and fell into step beside him again. "We can keep each other company, then."
Deidara said nothing and merely continued at his ambling pace, hoping his silence would put off any attempts at conversation. Despite that, the soft, clicking rustle of her sequined dress repeatedly jarred him from his thoughts, and resentful of her presence, he dug his hands into his pockets and glowered at the ground.
As they crossed the first block in silence, he wondered what she had been thinking, wanting to walk home alone in a getup like that. The thought only aggravated him when he realized she easily could have gone home with her girlfriends instead of burdening him with her presence. When he finally spoke, it didn't occur to him to think his question would sound accusatory to anyone but himself.
"Why didn't you go home with your friends?"
"Friends?" she echoed. "Oh, you mean those girls? I have no idea who they were. I don't know anybody here, so I figured I should just go out and mingle. What about you?"
He thought of all the things he could have said to spare himself the obligation of idle chatter, but his brain felt irresponsive and cantankerous so he settled for the first and honest thing that came to mind.
"I realized I didn't know what the hell I was doing there, so I left."
She laughed. "You looked like you were thinking that when I ran into you."
He smiled humourlessly but said nothing.
"Were you with friends?" she asked.
"Yeah, one." He paused, realizing the irony of his own words and hoping she would get the hint. "He wanted me to chat up strangers, but I wasn't in the mood, un."
"That's a pity," she said, raising her head to gaze at the passing streetlamps. "You seem like a cool person. Tired and kinda standoffish, but cool. You should go home and take a hot bath."
At his bewildered stare, she shrugged her shoulders. "Just saying. You seem stressed."
"Are you always that up front with strangers?" he asked dryly.
"Always. Life is short, you know. Might as well be straightforward with people so you don't waste time trying to figure them out." She paused a moment before laughing. "But then again that approach scares people off."
Deidara couldn't help but think of Sasori and secretly agree.
"It's because of that I can't find the right people," she continued, clapping her hands together and entwining her fingers. "I don't mesh with anyone, you know? I'm starting to think it's because people are intimidated by me."
Deidara was giving no indication that he was interested or that he was listening, for that matter, but she bulldozed ahead anyway.
"Be honest. Do you think I'm intimidating?"
"No," he almost snorted. "Why would I?"
She shrugged as though it was obvious. "Because I'm beautiful. And confident. And all-around awesome."
The corners of his lips twitched even as he resumed watching the sidewalk. "You forgot 'humble,' un."
She smirked. "Humility isn't my style. Besides..."
On the pavement, he could see the shadows of her arms rising and stretching languorously over her head. Her voice was calm, wistful.
"These looks won't last forever. I should be proud of them while they do last."
That was close enough to his train of thought to shake him from his reverie, and just in time to alert him to the streetlamp he was about to walk into. He came to an abrupt stop.
She stopped, too, and looked at him quizzically as he recalled the crumpled pamphlet he'd thrown at the sewer. With mounting regret, he thought of the sculptures he'd donated to the gallery and how they would remain there indefinitely, gathering dust in the fine lines and cracks until they greyed, accumulating fingerprints beneath the onslaught of strange hands until they withered, and withstanding time until they crumbled into something mundane and mediocre. There was a twist in his gut and he felt sick at the knowledge that his creations would one day elicit disinterest, even apathy.
Without thinking, he turned to look at her and spoke with thinly veiled desperation.
"Do you wish it would last forever?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but something in his tone gave her pause. Her smile faded into a pensive look.
"Well, of course I don't want my beauty to be short-lived, but I don't want it to last forever, either." At his nonplussed expression, she gestured for them to keep walking as she tried to elaborate.
"It's because people get bored of things, even beautiful things. I guess it's human nature, but after a while you get used to seeing it. You start looking for flaws. You start nitpicking. And I wouldn't wanna stick around long enough for that to happen, to be honest."
When he didn't reply, she continued with an airiness that was at odds with what she said next.
"Actually, as crazy as it sounds, I sometimes hope that I'll die—" she snapped her fingers abruptly "—like that. Young and beautiful. It's kinda weird and morbid, but I have this fear of aging. I don't want to fade into obscurity. People remember beautiful girls who die young. Like Marilyn Monroe."
She was silent for a moment. "Is that vain of me?"
"No," Deidara said, gazing out at the lights twinkling in the distance and feeling weak with relief. "It isn't."
"Really?" she sounded surprised.
He didn't answer but gave her a look to show he was serious. She caught him off guard with a beaming smile and a twirl of her heels that narrowly missed his head.
"You are seriously the first person who didn't look at me like I was crazy!"
"There's nothing crazy about it," he said, a look of contempt shadowing his face. "People might as well be Neanderthals, they're so narrow-minded. Any form of aesthetic can be interpreted as art, and true art is fleeting. It's only natural for you to think that way, un."
She gave him an amazed look. "I definitely didn't expect that from you."
He looked offended. "Why not?"
"Because you had all the verve of a friggin' zombie a second ago."
He opened his mouth to argue, then closed it again. "It's been a long night," he mumbled instead.
She smiled sympathetically and didn't reply, lapsing into silence again as the sidewalk gave way to asphalt and formed an incline to the railway crossing. The railroad was silent on both ends, its signal lights glowing faintly in the distance. Pebbles and gravel were strewn beneath the tracks and the cool skin of her arm brushed his as she carefully sidestepped the rocks. He pretended not to notice and ignored the strange sensation of déjà vu that swept over him when she glanced up and momentarily met his gaze.
"Can I ask you something?" she said suddenly.
He felt inexplicably exposed, then, and quickly looked away. "Yeah?"
"Do you apply that art philosophy to life?"
He shook his head. "The other way around. It's the ephemeral nature of life that inspires art to be fleeting, un."
"So what does that mean in terms of living your life?"
It was more of a statement than a question, the way she asked it, and he pointed out her straightforwardness.
"You said it yourself. Life is short, so be up front with people."
"Yeah, but to what degree?"
It felt odd that she was asking him, a stranger, philosophical questions that she seemed personally invested in, but at the same time he couldn't help but admire her for it. Self-conscious self-awareness was all he seemed capable of these days, and he envied her carefree demeanour.
"Whatever helps you sleep at night," he answered eventually. "Your choice, un."
"And if people don't like it?"
He didn't look at her this time, thinking of the patrons of the art gallery and grimacing at the taste of his own hypocrisy. "It doesn't matter what people think."
"Can I be up front with you, then?"
'I thought you already were' was on the tip of his tongue, but feeling curious, he glanced over at her.
She gazed at him intently. "I really feel like I should know you."
He gave her a blank stare and she laughed as though she couldn't blame him for it.
"I know how it sounds, and no, I'm not coming on to you. No offense or anything—you're really cute—but you're not my type."
No wonder she'd asked what people would think of varying degrees of straightforwardness. After all, there was always a bit of indignation inherent in being rejected point-blank, especially if it was before he'd even had a chance to consider her in that light.
"It's all about tall, dark, and handsome," she added. "If you were wondering."
(He wasn't wondering, but then at the same time it made sense. He was short. And his hair was a peppy, sunshine yellow. And he was more pretty than handsome...)
"But it doesn't matter," she continued. "Because you probably have a girlfriend—"
"I'm married," he interrupted.
She did a double take. "What?"
"To my work, un."
"Oh." Her voice became teasing. "You look awfully young for such a committed relationship."
"Twenty-four is not young."
"Don't say that. I'm only three years behind you."
Though he still felt no inclination to talk, doing so was oddly effortless now. She didn't stop talking, for one, and filled whatever empty gaps he left in the conversation without giving awkwardness a chance to linger. It was sort of ridiculous how open and frank she was now that he'd given her the go-ahead, and it might have grown tiresome had he had any energy to care about maintaining some sort of affected personality.
But he didn't care about anything in that moment and answered her with a bluntness to match her candour.
"You're a Taurus."
He twitched but didn't show his surprise. "Yeah."
"Ha, I knew it. You've got all the qualities of a Taurus."
"I don't buy into that astrology stuff, un."
"Who cares. It's fun. Guess what I am."
He picked the first sign that came to mind. "Libra."
She was silent for a moment. "You're pretty good at this for someone who doesn't buy into it."
"It was a lucky guess."
She didn't ruminate on the subject for very long and changed topics frequently. He tried not to cringe when she told him it was adorable that his favourite animals were birds and tried not to crack a smile when she told him she was madly in love with his hairstyle. Even though his mind was a mess of deadlines and worries and painkiller-induced fog, he found it relieving, and even pleasant, to cut loose and 'talk about dumb shit' as Hidan put it.
"Be honest. What do you think of Andy Warhol?" she asked, sucking in a breath as if preparing herself for his answer.
"I hate Andy Warhol," he said flatly.
"Pop art is dead. And I hate canned soup, un."
"That's it. We're twin souls," she declared with finality. "I was the only one in art class who didn't like his work. Bunch of hipsters."
Deidara snorted faintly in amusement before she suddenly slowed her steps and came to a stop beneath a street sign.
"Ah, here it is." She peered down the dark, one-way street and sighed. "I'm staying with a friend for the weekend. Then I've got to head back to my city on Monday."
She stopped, suddenly, and whirled to face him, gravel crunching under her shoes. The darkness in the background seemed to swallow her and the sequins on her dress glinted under the streetlamp, dotting the dark sidewalk with quivering specks of light. She looked like a glam spectre ready to depart into the pitch after a night's excursion, and him, contrasting her in a drab t-shirt and dusty jeans, watched and mused over how surreal she looked against the void. She gazed at him intently for a long moment, a look he returned with a raised eyebrow.
"Would you mind if I was really straightforward with you this time?" she asked plainly.
He shrugged, which had been his response to most of her weirder inquiries during the night, but he found he was somewhat interested in what she could possibly interpret as 'really straightforward' when she'd practically interrogated him already.
"I'm not going to find someone like you back home," she stated.
There was nothing in her tone to assure him that this was a compliment and he wondered what she meant until she stepped forward.
"I really like you."
Deidara went abruptly still when she rested her hands on his shoulders and leaned forward, bringing her mouth close to his ear.
"Can I take you home with me?" she whispered.
He slowly turned his head to look at her and found himself dumbfounded.
"You would be my best friend," she continued, pulling back. "And you're cute. I'd find you a girlfriend in a heartbeat."
He merely stared at her, too surprised to respond.
"No?" she said disappointedly. "Oh well."
She didn't wait for him to speak, instead leaning forward again to press a kiss to his temple. It left a shimmering, pink, bow-shaped print.
"Bye," she said. "I love you."
Then she turned to leave and he stared, dumbstruck, after her. She took a step into the blackness, the reflections of glimmering sequins vanishing from the sidewalk, and he raised his arm and parted his lips to speak before he could reconsider.
She stopped and turned, expression politely quizzical.
He quickly dropped his arm, not bothering to reassume his look of casual indifference. A baffled sort of intrigue showed through every facet of his face and he felt no compulsion to hide it.
"What's your name?"
She blinked before a slow smile crossed her face. "Ino."
Then she was gone, disappearing with a wave of her high heels and leaving him standing, somewhat stunned, under the singular glow of a streetlamp. Several seconds passed, and though he lacked the capacity to assess the bizarre happenings of the night and the girl who may or may not have been a figment of his analgesic-addled mind, he instantly became aware of how tired he felt and that his feet hurt, and that he'd completely lost track of where he'd been going since leaving the club.
He pulled his hands out of his pockets and looked at his watch. It was 2:30 AM. He'd been walking for an hour and forty-five minutes.
Confounded, he glanced at the unfamiliar street sign in front of him before spinning around to look at his surroundings.
Just where the hell was he?