Disclaimer – I don't own Naruto

Author's Note – I've been wanting to do an Akatsuki fic centering around Deidara and Itachi for quite some time. It more or less follows canon except certain obvious liberties that have been taken. I don't know how many chapters this will be.

Contains ItaDei with possible SasoDei pairings

WARNING: Rated M for language, and in later chapters, sexual situations.

|^_V| |^/_\^|

Grass Country, 6:15 a.m.

Tranquility.

That was the perfect word to describe the setting ahead; a village on the outskirts of Grass Country. A small group of thatched huts lay grouped together, diminutive structures under the shadow of the foothills where they were nestled. A small stream trickled by, the water gurgling, as dragonflies skirted over its surface. Not a soul was in sight, and nothing could be heard except for the faint rustle of dew-studded grass blades as a mild breeze swept over them, causing them to ripple in tandem, like a sheet of silk. The sky was a dull, washed-away blue, tinges of orange seeping from behind the hills, heralding the sunrise.

The ninja observed the pretty sight almost distastefully, finding the aesthetic scenery too vapid, too banal to be considered actual beauty in any form. He slowly moved his fingers, threading them into a seal, and his blue eyes - a bright, cerulean blue, unlike the faded sky - glimmered with anticipation.

"Katsu!" he whispered, his voice as soft as the breeze.

BOOM!

Seconds later, the entire village exploded, every single house erupting outwards, as flaming balls of fire were belched out from under their rooftops, in succession. It was like some sort of sick orchestra, and the screams of the inhabitants could barely be heard over the noise of the explosion, as hut after hut exploded in flames. Balls of orange and yellow colored the sky, just as the sun began to rise over the foothills, and for a few transient moments, everything was radiantly lit in the brightness of the explosion, mingled with the light of the rising sun.

The ninja smirked, his lips pulling upwards as he surveyed the scene, the fractured tranquility, the explosive devastation he had caused.

That, in his eyes was true beauty.

A tongue flicked out of a mouth, the grotesque appendage attached to his hand, and licked its lips.

As the small village burnt to ashes behind him, the ninja took to his white mount and wheeled off, circling the damage once before disappearing entirely, a white flapping bird gliding over the now smoking ruins.

|^_V| |^/_\^|

Grass Country, 6:16 a.m.

"Fucking cuntheads!" a silver-haired man cursed, his violet eyes flashing, "The entire motherfucking thing exploded! How the hell do we get the bastard now, he's probably already downing in his own fucking guts!"

'Shut up, Hidan," the masked man beside him said irritably, though from the deathly look in his bloodshot eyes, it was evident that he was furious as well, "Leader-sama will not be pleased. We're short on cash as it is and we needed this man's money-"

"Where in the name of fucking sweet Jashin will you get any money now?" Hidan demanded hysterically, "All that's left of your damn money is bits of ash floating in the intestines of some bloody carcass-"

"Keep talking and I will kill you," his partner warned, but Hidan proceeded, undeterred by the threat.

"Money, money, motherfucking money, it's all you care about," Hidan continued to rant, swinging a large weapon, a red triple-bladed scythe around indiscriminately, "There's some fucking rebel group on the loose, or some Jashin-damned insurgents bombing a village, but no, greedy little Kakuzu only cares about his papery little notes-"

"Hidan-" Kakuzu growled in warning.

"Jashin-sama won't be pleased, I was supposed to sacrifice the bastard, and now all the glorious carnage is already over and I missed out on all the fucking fun-"

"HIDAN!"

"That explosion was fucking epic, I don't know what kind of bastards could rape a village so thoroughly, but fuck, I wanted to tear him to ribbons myself-"

"I'LL TEAR YOU TO RIBBONS!" Kakuzu screeched, and lunged forwards, grabbing the scythe Hidan was swinging around.

In one clean sweep, he sliced the other man's head off his shoulders, splattering the ground with a crimson wave of blood.

Hidan's head thudded to the floor, but the mouth continued to fire off expletives with a renewed vigor.

"YOU MONEYFUCKER! YOU CUNT!" Hidan's head screamed, his face screwing up in anger, "THAT FUCKING HURT!"

"Money makes the world go round, moron," Kakuzu grunted, leaning down and grabbing the head by its silver hair, hefting the scythe and limp body over his shoulder, "You'd do best to respect it. Plus, we've failed, and Leader-sama won't be happy someone else got to the target before we did-"

"YOU TAKE YOUR CUNTING MONEY AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!" the head yelled, its shrieks echoing in the foothills as Kakuzu toted him off towards the still-smoking ruins.

"AND YOU BETTER STITCH ME BACK TOGETHER RIGHT THIS TIME, YOU SON OF A BITCH!"

|^_V| |^/_\^|

Hidden Rain Village, 8:24 p.m.

"Exploded, you said?" a deep voice asked from the shadows, shifting his head.

Though his face was obscured, several silver studs glinted as he moved, pieces of metals reflecting the dimly flickering flames from the torches that lined the hall.

"Yes," Kakuzu grunted, "Exploded to bits. Literally everything vanished, we couldn't even find bones."

"Fuckers, ruining my sacrifice," Hidan's head contributed grumpily from the floor where it lay by Kakuzu's feet.

"The money, of course had been burnt by the explosion as well," Kakuzu said bitterly, "And considering our low funds we need to find some other way to compensa-"

"Did you find them?" the man from the shadows, the leader, asked abruptly, ignoring Kakuzu's grumping.

"Find – who?" Kakuzu asked.

"The ones responsible for the blast," the leader replied, "You should have tracked them down and killed them by now, or at least taken them hostage."

"We looked all over for the little bastards," Hidan piped up, "But there wasn't a trace, not even a footprint or a bleeding intestine. They must've been suicide bombers, dying in the blast, their blasphemous skin ripped apart by the-"

"Leader-sama, if I may," a new voice rasped, not too high up from Hidan's head.

"Yes, Sasori?"

"Did you find anything – unusual at the site when you investigated it?" the man, Sasori, asked, "Perhaps – clay – of some sort?"

"Clay?" Hidan's head sputtered, "We had better fucking things to look for than clay!"

"Actually," Kakuzu cut in, "I did notice these fine white particles everywhere – they weren't dust, and I assumed they were some sort of debris, or residue from the blast. Perhaps that is what you are referring to?"

"Indeed, it is," Sasori grunted, and then moved forwards.

His movements were strange, as if he was crawling on all fours, and he had a short stature, and a hunched back. He moved in an eerie, insectile manner, and nearly rolled over Hidan's head as he passed.

"Watch it, doll-boy!" Hidan's head yelled.

Sasori ignored him, and turned to look straight at the leader.

"Leader-sama, I believe the one responsible for the blast is the man I spoke to you of earlier," Sasori said gruffly.

"It does seem like it," the leader said, but Kakuzu interrupted.

"Sasori-san, I think you are mistaken when you refer to a particular man. I saw the extent of the blast. It isn't possible that only one person was responsible for it; the magnitude was too large, for it wiped out an entire village."

"And yet, your words confirm my theory," the leader replied, "Sasori, I believe you are correct. The one behind this blast was most likely the terrorist bomber, Deidara, the missing-nin from Iwagakure-"

"Leader-sama, we saw the fucking explosion," Hidan protested, "Whoever this Deidara is, it's impossible that he could have managed it himself and escaped alive-"

"And yet it's not the first time," Sasori cut in, "Just two weeks ago I returned from a mission to find my target destroyed, with nothing but ashes and the very same white particles of clay you mentioned. Zetsu's spies have notified us of numerous bombings in various lesser villages. This Deidara is no normal shinobi – he is powerful, powerful enough to have escaped from Iwagakure unscathed, if my sources are correct – and he is currently taking commissions from village leaders to do their dirty work. I'm not certain about his age, experience or other skills, but from whatever intelligence I've been gathering over the past few months, I'm sure that he would be an unwanted enemy for the Akatsuki if one of the villages uses him against us-"

"Fucking dangerous," Hidan agreed, "The guy blew up an entire motherfucking village, for Jashin's sake…"

"Sasori," the leader spoke, ignoring Hidan, "I think you understand as well as I do that this Deidara would be best eliminated as a threat before he is used against us."

"Yes," Sasori agreed.

"However, you lack a partner after Orochimaru's – betrayal," the leader's calm voice took an angry edge at this word, but he continued thereafter, "And his talent could come in handy."

"So you want me to capture him and convince him to join?" Sasori asked gruffly.

"Zetsu will be tracking him, and after we receive note of his location, I want you, Itachi and Kisame to go after him," the leader instructed, "Consider this a recruitment mission: when you three come back, I expect you to have a willing new member, to refill the spot which that snake of a Sannin left empty. Understood?"

"Hai," Sasori affirmed.

|^_V| |^/_\^|

Village Hidden in the Haze, 8:21 a.m.

Deidara surveyed his surroundings from a lone visible blue eye that was not obscured by a curtain of bright bright blonde hair, blissfully sucking on a stick of dango as he rolled the dumpling around in his mouth, savoring the syrupy goodness that coated it. The dumpling had a smooth texture, somewhat rubbery and soft, not unlike the clay he was so found of chewing.

His free mouthed hand skittered over the surface of the table, chewing involuntarily on a piece of clay, unconsciously molding the substance into the shape of a small centipede.

The white clay critter crawled along the table, before vanishing into dust with a small poof!

Deidara grinned to himself, watching the spectacle he had created, admiring the moment when his creation dissipated into nothing. It hadn't been a violent explosion, for he'd barely injected any chakra into the bug – he was only passing time, after all – but Deidara knew that a critter of the same size could easily be packed with such condensed chakra that the resulting blast could prove fatal to anyone within a foot or two of it.

It was artistic, his jutsu, and though the ignorant village leaders wouldn't recognize the beauty in his work, at least they paid him well enough for his bombings. His last mission, to Grass Country, had earned him quite a hefty pay, and he was currently splurging some of his earnings on food.

The restaurant he was at was a small place, in a relatively unknown village. He'd been eating here for the past couple of days, choosing places where he'd be unrecognizable to most. His own village, he avoided completely, on principal; as well as the other four of the Five Great Nations, lest one of their shinobi recognize his picture from their blasted bingo books. But isolated villages like Haze he could freely without the fear of being caught, which was fortunate – Deidara was loathe to use any jutsu to modify his appearance, and he didn't want to cover his face with a mask. He took pride in his looks, and from the sultry and admiring stares he'd received from many young woman over the past couple of years, he knew his pride wasn't unfounded.

Though his long hair gave him a somewhat feminine appearance, Deidara wasn't androgynous by anyone's standards. He had a firm, muscular figure, tanned skin and well-cut, undeniably masculine features. The mouths on his hands could be a relatively repulsive factor to many (though fascinating to others as well) but he kept them shut most of the time when in public, making his hands appear otherwise normal.

"Would you like some more dango?" a female voice asked, and Deidara looked up to see a curvy brunette waitress leaning over the table, her position offering him an ample view of her cleavage.

It was probably intentional but Deidara looked away disinterestedly.

"I'm good, yeah," he replied, kneading a new ball of clay with his free hand.

"Let me know if you need anything," the girl said, attempting to catch his eye, and when she failed at this, she walked away, swaying her hips as she moved.

"No thanks, un," he muttered, sliding another piece of dango into his mouth.

Deidara was on his fourth dumpling, when with a jingle of bells, the screen door slid open, and a cloaked stranger walked in.

Deidara normally wouldn't have cared to observe the newcomer, but something about him radiated strength and power; Deidara wasn't quite sure what, and his chakra-sensory skills weren't that strong, but he had a feeling that the man who just walked in was an extremely powerful shinobi.

He was wearing a black cloak patterned with red clouds – Deidara narrowed his eyes, racking his brain for where he'd seen or heard about that very same pattern – perhaps the man was a part of some special ANBU or Jounin group of another village? Most of his face was obscured by a high collar and a triangular straw hat, but Deidara could make out the pale skin and dark hair. The man was relatively tall, about two inches taller than Deidara, and though his figure was hidden by the cloak, Deidara was sure he was lean. The shinobi profession tended to produce lean, muscular men and women alike. Though Deidara couldn't see the man's face, he was pretty sure he'd gotten the gender correct; though the man moved with a fluidity and grace attributed to high-ranked ninja (which confirmed Deidara's suspicion that he was at least of Jounin or ANBU level), he didn't seem to be a kunoichi from his stature and build.

The stranger sat down, two tables away from Deidara, and Deidara's curiosity was piqued. The Village Hidden in the Haze wasn't famous for its shinobi, and in all his time here, Deidara had barely stumbled across a few bumbling Genins and a Jounin or two.

The man signaled towards the waitress, and then ordered something, as Deidara munched on his own food, watching him out of the corner of his eye. Then, he removed his hat.

Deidara's breath caught, and he froze, nearly choking on his dumpling as he gulped it down.

The man – yes, he was quite certain he was a man – was the most attractive person Deidara had ever laid his eyes on. He looked to be quite young, and Deidara estimated his age to be around eighteen or nineteen, only a year or two older than himself. He had flawless, pale skin and sharp features that were beautifully cut, as if they had been sculpted by a master. Deidara, with his fondness for clay, knew a thing or two about sculptures, shapes and faces, and when confronted with the work of another, had always found something to criticize. Yet, this man, with his straight nose, high cheekbones, slim, elegantly slanted eyebrows and well-crafted bone structure, was like an exquisite piece of art, one which even to Deidara's critical eye seemed absolutely perfect. He had long ebony hair, which contrasted against his light skin tone, and was tied in a low ponytail, a few shorter strands brushing his cheekbones and framing his handsome face. But what made Deidara's breath catch, what made the mouths on his hands unconsciously drool – were his eyes. He had dark eyes, a deep onyx color, darker than any eyes Deidara had ever seen, and though his visage was an impassive mask, his eyes carried an intensity that made Deidara shiver.

Deidara then noticed that he wasn't the only one surreptitiously glancing at the handsome stranger; most of the women (and some of the men) in the restaurant were openly gawking at him. The man, however, seemed to ignore all of them, as well as the waitress, who nearly tripped over her own feet as she scurried over to serve him, her cheeks flaming.

He had ordered dango too, Deidara noticed, and watched from the corner of his eye as the man polished off his food with grace, Deidara's own dango stick lying forgotten on the plate.

Suddenly, the man tilted his head slightly, black bangs shifting, and his eyes locked on Deidara's own.

Deidara's stomach gave a funny leap, and one of the mouths on his palms licked its lips.

Deidara looked away, feeling strangely hot and uncomfortable, and hoped fervently that the stranger hadn't caught him staring.

The stranger continued to look at him for a moment longer, and Deidara stared ahead resolutely, fiddling with his dango stick. He then realized that the man had been looking at his hand – or more specifically, the mouth of his hand, and the tongue which kept darting out involuntarily every few moments.

Shit, Deidara thought, he seems to be a high-ranked ninja, and he probably has high chakra levels too. If he recognizes me and is from an enemy village, it could be bad. Unless he's been sent to recruit me?

Deidara however, highly doubted that the man had been sent to recruit him. From whatever Deidara could make out of his chakra, he seemed to be powerful, and Deidara knew that most shinobi of such power yielded from one of the Five Great Shinobi Nations; and none of them would recruit a notorious missing-nin like himself. Deidara could only hope that it was a coincidence that this man was in the same restaurant as him, and that he passed on without recognizing him. That, however, seemed too late, for the stranger had suddenly stood up, and in a few swift steps which only ninja would be capable of, he was standing right in front of Deidara's own table.

Blast this, Deidara thought, the hand in his pocket frantically chewing out an explosive bird, if he's here to capture me, or if he's recognized me, this will evolve into a fight. Though I wonder, how the hell did he find me anyway? This has to be a coincidence!

Hoping for the latter, Deidara looked up casually, flicking his hair out of his eye.

His stomach felt queasy – the man was even more handsome up close – and from a glance up at his forehead protector, Deidara realized he was from Konohagakure; the strongest village of the Five Shinobi Nations.

"What's up, un?" Deidara asked casually, hoping the stranger had come for merely a friendly conversation.

"I'd like to speak with you in private," the man said, his voice even and his face impassive.

Still, his voice sent shivers down Deidara's spine – it was a low, husky baritone, with a smooth quality like fine clay – it complimented his beautiful face perfectly.

"Really?" Deidara drawled, struggling to maintain a calm façade, though his heart was pounding furiously; he didn't know why, he'd barely spoken to the man and he hadn't even attacked him yet. Still, something within him tingled in anticipation for a fight or battle of sorts.

"Why's that, hm? You could always grab a chair and sit with me here, yeah?" he suggested, trying not to sound flirtatious or anything similar – after all, the stranger was the one who wanted to speak in private – Deidara's wildest imagination couldn't even fathom why, unless it involved a fight.

The man didn't reply to this, though Deidara saw the dark eyes narrow by a fraction, barely unnoticeable if Deidara hadn't been staring right into them. He shook his head however, and then nodded towards the door, before disappearing in whirl of black feathers.

Deidara pushed his chair back, wide-eyed; the man was obviously making no effort to conceal his profession, but Deidara hadn't even seen him make the signs for the transportation jutsu!

Grunting, Deidara pushed back his chair and stood up, slamming a wad of cash onto the table, before digging his hands into the cloth bag he kept fastened at his side. The hand-mouths greedily swallowed copious lumps of clay, before they began to chew at a faster rate, and as Deidara stalked out of the restaurant, a flock of small, newly-formed clay birds followed him, fluttering around his head.

I could just make a run for it, yeah, Deidara thought to himself, one big bird and a couple explosions is all I need…

Despite the fact that common sense dictated that he escape immediately (for he was sure that the mysterious man was extremely strong, and why waste chakra on an unnecessary risk?) Deidara had been entranced by the stoic man, and was curious to know what he wanted. His nerves tingled in anticipation as he stepped out of the restaurant, drawn to the dark-haired stranger.

|^_V| |^/_\^|

He found him waiting outside, but to Deidara's disappointment and increasing anxiety, he wasn't alone.

There were two men with him, garbed in similar cloaks. One of them was extremely tall and rather bulky, with beady yellow eyes and unusual leathery blue skin. Deidara winced slightly when he saw him, taken aback by his unusual appearance. He resembled a shark, in every possible way, and it was unsettling.

The shark-man leered at him, displaying a row of razor sharp teeth, and shifted a gargantuan sword wrapped in white bandages, which he had slung over his back.

He's one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist! Deidara thought, panicking, as he recognized the infamous legendary sword. This is three on one! If they're my enemies, I'll need to think of an escape plan, fast!

The other man was short, and hunched over, and wore a mask. Deidara couldn't see much of him except for bloodshot eyes and weird, spikes of hair that protruded from an otherwise bald head.

Deidara wrinkled his nose in distaste at the hairstyle, before glancing at the third part of this strange trio, and inwardly wondered what such a good-looking man was doing with two creeps like these.

He waited for one of the men to speak, but they just surveyed him, and he was getting impatient.

"So where's the party?" he asked sarcastically, "You've called me out for a good reason, hm?"

"The party?" the hunched man rasped, his voice sounding abrasive to Deidara's ears, "If only you knew… Deidara."

"Huh?" Deidara was stunned, "How'd you know my name, un?"

He then turned to the dark-haired man and spoke, gesturing to the other two.

"Thought you said this'd be a private conversation, yeah?"

The dark-haired man said nothing, but the one who resembled a shark let out a harsh laugh.

"Private conversation?" he snickered, "Ah, we should've used that trick the last ten prospective recruits… it would've had them swarming to us like sharks to blood…"

"What are you talking about, un?" Deidara demanded, losing his patience. He was sorely tempted to detonate one of his birds, but chose to refrain for a moment.

"You've got another thing coming if you think you can have a conversation with Itachi-san here, much less a private one," the shark-man chuckled, "Though obviously the idea seems to have attracted you, not that I blame you-"

"Kisame, enough," the dark-haired man, Itachi, said quietly, and Deidara felt his cheeks burn.

"Listen, would one of you kindly tell me what the fuck is going on?" he asked loudly, before adding in a threatening tone, "You don't want me to lose my temper!"

"No, we wouldn't," the hunched man agreed, "Three on one would surely kill you, and we actually don't want you dead."

"Don't want me dead – what the fuck?" Deidara sputtered, before looking towards Itachi, "You! You're the one who called me here, un! Can you explain what this crap is about, because I don't have the time to waste, yeah?"

"Come inside and we will tell you," Itachi replied, nodding towards an old empty dojo that stood a few feet away.

Despite his internal protests, Deidara found himself shuffling behind the three cloaked men, towards the dojo, all three mouths gnashing their teeth.

"Come outside, come inside, who the hell does this guy think he is, un?" he muttered to himself.

He stood inside the dojo, facing the three men; the shark-man, who he gathered was named Kisame, stood in the center, flanked by the hunched man (who Deidara noticed moved in a rather odd way, as if on all fours) and Itachi, the latter of whom stood up straight, his calm gaze fixed on Deidara.

"We have called you here to extend an invitation to you," Kisame said after a moment, "We would like you to join the Akatsuki."

Deidara staggered back at this, eyes widening as he processed the man's words.

Akatsuki?

He now knew why he found the red cloud motifs familiar – he'd seen them on wanted posters and in various shinobi books. The Akatsuki were infamous, the most dangerous terrorist group in the entire ninja world. The group consisted of the most powerful delinquents, shinobi who had been expelled or who had defected from their villages.

Deidara then realized that Itachi's forehead protector, which showed his status as a shinobi of the Leaf Village, had a thin scratch slashing the Leaf's motif; symbolic of his defection from the village. Deidara wondered what he could have possibly done, and how someone like him could be part of a group of terrorists and killers. Itachi didn't look evil, not at all, and he didn't radiate any killer intent or bloodthirsty vibes. Deidara couldn't say the same about the shark-man, however; he'd felt uncomfortable the moment he saw him.

Still, looks could be deceiving, and Deidara didn't ponder the thought too long; he was still quite shocked that the most powerful terrorist group in the world wanted to hire him.

"Stop gaping there like an idiot!" the hunched man snapped, "Do you accept our offer?"

His voice had a warning edge to it, as if he was daring Deidara to decline.

Deidara swallowed, flexing his fingers.

"Akatsuki, you say?" he asked.

"Yes, Akatsuki, we said," the hunched man said irritably, "In case you don't know, let me enlighten you. We are the most powerful shinobi in the world. We have killed many of our village leaders and possess various kekkai genkai along with secret jutsus and forbidden techniques. We want to recruit you, and you would do well not to refuse us."

Deidara considered his position for a few moments, his annoyance getting the better of him.

"Hell if I care about all that!" he finally yelled, "Don't interfere with my enjoyment of art, yeah?"

It was probably not the smartest thing to say when outnumbered by three insanely powerful terrorists, but Deidara had never been one for tact.

"Do I really have to make this brat my partner?" the hunched man grumbled, "He's got spunk, but he's the kind who ends up getting himself killed before you know it!"

"It's the leader's orders," Itachi said calmly, "His abilities will serve our cause."

"You know my abilities already?" Deidara asked incredulously, deflating; if it had come to a fight, he would have loved to shock his opponents with a blast or two.

Itachi didn't deign to reply, and Deidara stared at him for a moment.

"Who are you anyway?" he demanded.

This time, it was Kisame who spoke.

"You have been involved in antinationalist terrorist cells in surrounding countries causing a number of explosions, correct?" Kisame asked.

"Yeah," Deidara nodded, feeling both proud at his apparent fame over his accomplishments and uneasy that these criminals knew so much about him.

"For what reason would I rogue ninja like yourself do such?" Kisame questioned.

"Reason?" Deidara asked, not quite getting it, "Why would I need one of those? I merely take on contracts to blow things up! With my art, that is," he added proudly.

The hunched man twitched at this, and then spoke, sounding genuinely interested for once.

"Your – art?"

"Yeah!" Deidara said enthusiastically, before producing a large clay spider his hands had been working on, "Behold! Aren't you impressed? The product of pursuing refined linework matched with two-dimensional deformation! Now that is art, hm!"

The hunched man looked unimpressed.

"But my art doesn't end here," Deidara rattled on, now getting quite into it, "None of my works are static! When they have physical forms, they're more than just models, un!"

He made a seal with his free hand, detonating the clay bug. It exploded in a shower of sparks and particles of clay.

"They explode, yeah!" Deidara demonstrated, "And with the explosion its essence is propelled to greatness, at that moment becoming the true work of art I intended!"

He was in his own world now, oblivious to the vacant stares he was receiving from the three onlookers.

"And it's in that fleeting moment of grandeur that I see true art, un!" Deidara gasconaded, "ART IS A BANG!"

He expected fireworks, or claps, and envisioned more explosions following his little speech. Instead, he was greeted by silence. Then-

"Damn, he's annoying," the hunched man muttered.

"Is he done now?" Kisame wondered aloud.

"Who knows…" Itachi murmured.

"Tch, you ignorant freaks!" Deidara cursed, "Can't you understand the true essence of any artistic-"

"Enough already," Itachi interrupted him, sounding almost bored, "I'll take care of this…"

He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and when he re-opened the, Deidara was stunned to see that the onyx irises had been replaced. Itachi's eyes were now red, like pools of blood, dotted with black commas swirling in their depths. But what was worse, according to Deidara, worse than the color, was the flat, dead stare that now inhabited Itachi's eyes. Compared with Itachi's initial cool gaze, Deidara loathed this deadly blank one; it was beautiful, yes. Artistic, yes – but he loathed it immediately for some incongruous reason.

What are those eyes? he wondered, some dojutsu, perhaps?

Itachi shot him a leveled stare, and Deidara bit his lip.

"You wanna fight me, hm?" Deidara asked, his veins surging with adrenaline and chakra.

"If I defeat you, then you will join the Akatsuki," Itachi stated calmly, his eyes never leaving Deidara's.

"Don't underestimate me, or my art!" Deidara yelled, perturbed by Itachi's gaze.

He spread his legs slightly, slipping into an offensive position. Itachi remained completely still, not even bothering to take a fighting stance, something which irked Deidara.

"MY NINJUTSU IS THE VERY PINNACLE OF ARTISTIC ACCOMPLISHMENT, YEAH!" Deidara shouted, hoping to instigate some kind of rise out of his opponent.

Itachi said nothing, merely observed him, the crimson eyes locked with Deidara's own. Deidara, though he wouldn't admit it, found himself rather mystified by Itachi's gaze, and didn't bother looking away either.

He quickly crafted a clay spider, and then a centipede, hurling the former at Itachi.

"Katsu!" Deidara murmured, forming a seal.

Itachi leapt backwards and dodged, the resulting explosion grazing the side of his robes and blowing up the back part of the dojo's wall, which splintered outwards. Deidara smirked; he had expected better. The first bomb had just been a decoy, and now Itachi was right where he wanted him.

"That all you got?" he taunted, lips curling upwards.

An enormous centipede, which he'd maneuvered by taking advantage of Itachi's distraction, was now curled around Itachi's torso, ready to detonate at Deidara's own whim.

"Game over, un," Deidara grinned triumphantly, as Itachi looked downwards and witnessed his own predicament.

He looked back up after, but seemed unaffected. If anything, he was smirking, which infuriated Deidara.

I beat him and he has the gall to smirk at me! he thought, moving his fingers into the familiar seal.

"You should take a closer look at yourself first," Itachi said smoothly, looking far too comfortable for one incarcerated within a ticking clay bomb.

Deidara looked down, suddenly feeling something constrict around his chest and stomach – and gasped, his head reeling.

Wha – how?

Wrapped around his body was a white clay centipede; another bomb.

Kisame whistled from the sidelines.

"That was a close call!" he laughed, "You were about to blow yourself up!"

"Like I said, he's going to get himself killed in no time," the hunched man added.

Itachi, for his part, was silent, not even gloating. Deidara hated him for it.

"Genjutsu?" he finally spat out, "When did you manage to-"

"From the very start," Kisame interrupted, displaying rows of sharp teeth, "You were bound by the illusion from the moment you looked into Itachi-san's eyes."

Deidara breathed in sharply, his mind still in a tumult. He stared ahead, transfixed, at Itachi, who was standing on the rubble, still surveying him with that cold gaze, his silhouette illuminated by the sunlight that poured through the hole in the wall which Deidara had exploded earlier. He seemed shrouded in the celestial light, like some sort of a God. It highlighted his perfect features, especially his eyes, which stood out, like blood-red rubies on pale, white satin. Deidara couldn't take his eyes off him.

Deidara's mouth opened, but he didn't speak, thoughts and unidentifiable emotions inundating his mind.

This is – this is true art.

He then shook himself, angry at being in such awe of Itachi. Something hot bubbled within him – was it envy, hatred, or perhaps something else? He wasn't sure, but it made his skin crawl.

"Tch!" Deidara scoffed, tearing away from Itachi's gaze and covering his eye with a hand.

How can I be so taken in by his abilities like this?

Itachi's jutsu, Itachi's eyes – they were neither beautiful nor magnificent nor awe-inspiring. No. He wouldn't think that.

You're telling me this is art? Deidara scolded himself, Spare me! I won't admit it! Ever!

He was drowning in his own sea of denial, and he knew it. He'd never appreciated someone else's skills more than his own, but Itachi had entranced him in more ways than he'd ever thought possible, all the while appearing nonchalant, and making all of it – his art, his beauty – seem effortless.

And Deidara despised him for it.

"You've lost," Itachi said softly, jolting Deidara out of his thoughts.

His voice wasn't gloating or prideful; he was simply stating a fact. Deidara ground his teeth together.

Those fucking eyes!

The abhorred eyes faded away, however, back to their natural onyx shade, and Deidara exhaled loudly.

"Yes, that he did, and quite spectacularly," the hunched man grunted.

"Don't be too hard on yourself though," Kisame said, grinning, "No one has ever been able to defeat Itachi-san and his Sharingan till date; it's kind of embarrassing since he's the youngest member we have, but I suppose you can join the club now! How old are you, kiddo? Sixteen?"

"Seventeen and a half, un," Deidara growled, unsure of what to do or say.

"Ah, Itachi's nearly nineteen, so that makes you the baby of our group," Kisame said cheerfully, "I'm Kisame, by the way, as I'm sure you know by now. One of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist."

Deidara was quite miffed at being called a baby, though he was interested to learn Itachi's age. Itachi wasn't even two years older than him, and yet he had defeated him so thoroughly in battle with his dojutsu – the Sharingan, Kisame had called it. And from what Kisame said, Itachi seemed undefeated by anyone, an extremely commendable feat, especially considering he was a part of a group of insanely talented shinobi.

He's probably one of the strongest ninja in the world, Deidara realized, but if the Akatsuki is so keen on hiring me, I can't be that far behind in skill level…

Deidara vowed to work on countering the Sharingan and genjutsu from now on so he could have a rematch with Itachi one day, and blow him to bits. Literally.

"So I'm in then, yeah?" Deidara asked casually, "What am I supposed to do?"

"You should be honored," the hunched man rasped, "Very few shinobi receive this honor. Most of them, we kill immediately."

"Goody," Deidara said with fake-brightness, "So now what?"

"Drop that flippant attitude for one thing!" the hunched man hissed, "As well as your ridiculous ideas about art! I've never heard such nonsense in my life!"

"What the hell are you talking about, un?" Deidara practically screeched, "My art's a bang, yeah! What do you know?"

"True art is about preserving beauty not blowing it up into bits!" the hunched man snapped, "Eternally beauty that can be admired by future generations and-"

"I prefer ephemeral, thanks," Deidara shot back, "The shorter, the sweeter, yeah? What's the point of something that lies around, decaying and losing its value-"

"True art increases in worth over the years! Any novice would know that!"

"Meh, whose interested in antiques! It's modern art that's more exciting, un-"

"You are but a dilettante in this field with your amateur dabbling! You don't know the real-"

"AND YOU'RE JUST A GERIATRIC OLD CRONE WHOSE FADING AWAY LIKE YOUR PERCEPTIONS-"

"WHY YOU LITTLE BRAT!" the hunched man roared.

Deidara was forced to duck as a large metal chain of some sort whipped out of the hunched man's back, like a demented tail.

"WHAT THE HELL, HM?"

"You need to be taught to respect your elders!"

"See," Kisame commented to Itachi, "Leader-sama was right pairing them up. They'll get along swimmingly."

"At least they won't have problems conversing," Itachi murmured.

When Deidara and his adversary had finally settled down, Kisame went on as if nothing had happened.

"Welcome, Deidara, to Akatsuki. Let's hope you survive!" he said, unusually cheerful.

"Not bloody likely, if he doesn't keep his mouth shut!" the hunched man said threateningly.

In response, Deidara turned his palms outwards, and stuck out all three of his tongues rather childishly.

The metal tail whipped forwards again, but Kisame stopped it, blocking it with his giant bandaged sword.

"Sasori-san, please," Itachi said, "Leader-sama stated to bring him back alive."

"Oh please!" Deidara protested, "You think I can't defend myself against one goddamn tail?"

"Coated with poison," the hunched man added, "For which the antidote rests only with me. And I don't think I'll be in the mood to administer it to you."

"But your big leader wants me alive, yeah?" Deidara countered, "So you can't kill me. And I'd blow you and your stupid tail to bits, poison and all, before you even-"

"Considering how well your attempt to blow Itachi-san to bits went, I'll take my chances," the hunched man retorted.

"Sasori-san, Deidara," Kisame spoke up, "I think killing is out of question for both of you right now. I'd also suggest you attempt to get along. You will be teammates from now on, so it's advisable."

"Teammates?" Deidara screeched, "Akatsuki has teammates? Why do I have to be with him?"

"For once, I agree with the brat," Sasori said, "Why do I have to play babysitter? That too for someone with such warped artistic preferences…"

"It was either him or Tobi, Sasori-san," Itachi said, and for some reason, that stopped Sasori's grumbling.

Deidara, however, continued to voice his dissent.

"I can't work with a partner, un!" he whined, "I'll end up blowing him up! I'm used to solo mission, yeah!"

"Everyone in Akatsuki works in two-man squads, Deidara," Kisame informed him.

"Yeah? Whose yours?"

"Itachi-san."

"…oh," Deidara said, momentarily wishing that he'd landed Itachi for a partner, before dismissing the thought, "So I'm stuck with Sasori, hm?"

"That's Master Sasori to you, brat!" Sasori spat.

"Master Sasori?" Deidara made a face, "I may be a missing-nin but I'm not mental, yeah? No way in hell am I calling you – what the fuck, un?"

He stopped mid-sentence, when he found the sharp tip of Sasori's gleaming tail-like contraption poised an inch away from his nose, liquid dripping from its edges – the poison, he supposed.

"What did you say?" Sasori asked dangerously.

"Nothing," Deidara mumbled, before adding sulkily, "Sasori no Danna…"

The tail retracted.

"Well, now that that's all sorted, let's go back to headquarters, shall we?" Kisame said, "So we can ingratiate him with Leader-sama and get through the formalities."

"Where are the headquarters?" Deidara asked, "What's your leader like, hm?"

"So many questions!" Sasori scoffed.

"And you'll have to answer them, Sasori-san," Kisame said, "Itachi-san and I can use transportation jutsu, but Deidara doesn't know where the headquarters are. You'll have to accompany him."

"What? We're walking there?" Deidara moaned.

"No, you're flying there," Itachi answered, "You can make clay birds, I believe, which should serve as suitable mounts for the two of you."

"No!" Deidara and Sasori both said together, but before they could protest further, Itachi and Kisame had already disappeared.

"So, kid, looks like it's just you and me," Sasori muttered after a moment, "How fast can your birds fly?"

"Not fast enough," Deidara said under his breath, glaring at the man, and then with exaggerated politesse added, "Master."

|^_V| |^/_\^|

The flight back wasn't as unpleasant as Deidara would have expected. In fact, Sasori was actually interesting conversation, he found. Despite their frequent tiffs about art, Deidara could tell that the man had his own unique artistic sense, and even though he didn't agree with it, he could, at least, argue with him about it. The older man also had a dry sense of humor and acerbic sarcasm which Deidara found amusing at times, when not directed towards him.

"So why are you even telling me all of this, un?" Deidara asked, "What if I were to change course right now, and abduct you, hm? Sell your secrets out to some other village; you've given me some pretty valuable information on the workings of the most powerful terrorist organization in the world, hm…"

"I know the way to the headquarters," Sasori replied from behind him, "You go even half a mile of course, and you'll find your back embedded with poisoned senbon. You're not selling us out now, or ever. Akatsuki's going to be your life now. You'll see."

"What if I exploded this thing, yeah?" Deidara went on, "Then what would you do?"

"I'd feel sorry you wasted your life by suicide at such a young age and for such a pointless cause," Sasori replied, "Though I suppose with you dead the Akatsuki wouldn't have to worry about your apparent betrayal."

"You'd die too," Deidara said, "Don't forget that, un."

"You'd be surprised, but it would take more than one measly explosion to kill me," Sasori replied confidently.

"Hah!" Deidara laughed at him, "You're joking, right? My blasts use such concentrated chakra that once they detonate, they can wipe out everything in a ten or twenty foot radius, depending on the strength! Recently I wiped out an entire village with just over fifty bombs, all set off at once!"

"I know," Sasori said wryly, "And you cost us 800,000 yen. There was a man in that village who was supposed to pay us our bounty for one of our missions."

"Did I now?" Deidara was pleased, "Guess that's why you lot were so desperate to have me, yeah? Couldn't have me blowing up your targets before you got to them!"

"That's a part of it," Sasori admitted grudgingly, "But don't get too cocky. You saw Itachi's strength. Even though he's probably the strongest among us all, I'm certain all of Akatsuki, save perhaps Tobi and Zetsu, could rival you in a spar."

"Even you, Sasori no Danna?" Deidara teased, "Doesn't look like a rickety old man like you can do much except stab that tail around, and if I'm flying above you out of range, dropping bombs, I'm sure you'd explode soon enough, un!"

"That's what you think," Sasori said, "And if you're so sure, why don't we test that theory once we land?"

"You're on, yeah!" Deidara said delightedly.

The fight with Itachi had been frustrating, to say the least, and he was itching to blow something up.

|^_V| |^/_\^|

Hidden Rain Village, 9:15 p.m.

The main Akatsuki headquarters (for they had many scattered over the different nations) were located in the Hidden Rain Village, a rather gloomy establishment. It was a hodgepodge of shanty huts with roofs of tin and corrugated iron, interspersed with tall, ugly steel buildings which jutted out of the land like malevolent teeth, connected by tangled wires. It was quite industrialized for a shinobi village, which was a rare sight. Sasori and Deidara both agreed, for once, that the architecture and cityscape was ugly and had no aesthetic value whatsoever.

There was an inexorable downpour of rain, which clattered on the metal and tin, creating quite an omniscient ruckus, and Deidara was soon soaked to the core. He cursed about this, casting a protective layer of chakra around his pouch of explosive clay, to repel the water. The earth element was naturally stronger than the water element, but the downside of this was that if wet, Deidara's clay could explode sooner than expected, and considering the nature of his explosions, even a few milliseconds could mean the difference between life and death.

"Never stops raining, hm?" Deidara asked his partner, as the white bird swooped towards the highest tower, a cylindrical monstrosity of steel.

"Not in the past few years," Sasori replied, "The rain is actually a jutsu. Allow Leader-sama to know who has entered the village. It's impossible to sneak in here undetected. Or escape, for that matter."

"Hm," Deidara nodded, the realization now slowly dawning upon him, that he was probably a part of this organization for good.

They landed some sort of balcony, shaped like the jaw of a hideous steel statue, and Sasori directed him to a steep staircase on the left.

"Leader-sama awaits you for your initiation," he said.

Deidara cautiously walked down the winding staircase, pushing his bangs out of his eyes as they began to get accustomed to the dim lighting. The stone walls were dark, lit only by flickering red flames in brackets every few meters. The staircase finally led into a large dungeon, at the end of which appeared to be some sort of throne-like structure. Deidara could see a man sitting on it, his face obscured by the shadows.

Itachi and Kisame stood on the side; Deidara glanced over at Itachi, meeting the man's intense gaze for a moment, and his stomach gave a weird leap. He quickly averted his eyes, looking towards the various other people standing along the dungeon walls, dressed in similar robes. Deidara surmised they were the rest of the members.

There was a woman, with delicate features and short purple hair, who stood closest to the leader. Hr hair was bedecked with an ornamental flower, and she had a piercing on her chin, and bright orange eyes. She was elegant, and her gaze was soft; Deidara wondered what someone like her was doing in this criminal organization.

Next to her was a man with short spiky black hair, wearing an orange swirly mask. He waved jauntily to Deidara as he passed, the first proper greeting he'd received from this group of people. He, too, looked nothing like an S-class criminal; more like a clown or jester.

There was also some sort of a weird plant, which Deidara surmised was actually a person. He had yellow eyes, and half of his body was white, the other half being black. An enormous plant with snapping jaws sprouted from his head.

Next to him stood a man with slicked back silver hair and violet eyes, holding a red scythe. He sneered at Deidara when he passed, his handsome face morphing into an ugly expression. Deidara noticed he had black stitches around his neck, which was visible through his open collar.

Finally was a dark-skinned man with shaggy dark brown hair. Most of his face was obscured by a mask, but Deidara could make out two bloodshot eyes with eerie green irises.

Sasori shuffled over to where Itachi and Kisame were standing, taking his place next to them, leaving Deidara standing in the middle of the dungeon.

Deidara gulped, unsure of what to do or say, the mouths on his hands biting their lips anxiously.

The Leader then stood up, and stepped out of the shadows.

He was tall, and well-built, with tanned skin and shocking orange hair. His face had multiple metal piercings, around his nose, his chin, his ears; but what was most striking about his appearance were his eyes. Sasori, on their flight, had told him about the leader's legendary Rinnegan, but Deidara was still unsettled to see the light purple eyes with concentric circle and tiny black pupils.

This place is full of freaks! Deidara thought to himself, his eyes flicking from the Rinnegan to the plant-man, to Kisame. He fit in well that way, with his hand-mouths.

"I am Pein, the leader and founder of Akatsuki," the man said, "Consider it an utmost honor that you have been deemed worthy enough to join our ranks."

"I've been getting that a lot, yeah," Deidara said, before biting his tongue.

Pein's eyes flashed, but he didn't comment, though the dark-skinned, green-eyed man hissed sharply from the corner.

"What a rude fucking brat," the silver-haired man snickered, "Mommy didn't teach you your manners, baby?"

"Hidan," Pein said sharply, before turning back to Deidara, "You are young, and talented, but far too rash for your own good. I expect you to remedy that in your time here. I expect nothing but exemplary service on your part."

Deidara fidgeted, not knowing what to say, and Pein continued to address him. The leader's voice droned through his ears, as he elaborated Akatsuki's goals and finer workings, most of which Sasori had already briefed him on. Deidara stifled a yawn, his mouths chewing on some clay to pass the time. When the formalities were finally over, the female Akatsuki member stepped forward, carrying a red and black robe and a straw hat, just like the other members wearing.

"I am Konan," she said, and her voice was gentle, like water rushing over rocks, "Here is your attire which you will be wearing on missions. You can also wear your headband, though you have to slash the motif, to denote your status as a missing-nin."

"I already did that some time back, un," Deidara said, pulling out his Iwagakure headband from his pant pocket.

Indeed, a long gash ran across the otherwise smooth metal, bisecting the motif in half. Deidara had scraped it there with a kunai a couple of days after his defection.

Konan handed him the clothes, before pulling something out of the depths of her robe.

It was a ring – it was made of smooth, gleaming metal, unadorned except for one round teal stone, which had the kanji for 'blue' written on it in black. Deidara quickly glanced around, and noticed that all of the Akatsuki members had similar rings; Itachi's was scarlet, Sasori's was purple and Kisame's was a dull yellow.

"You will wear this ring at all times, and never take it off," Konan said, "It will be used amongst the Akatsuki for communication and some of our special collaboration jutsu."

Deidara inwardly suspected it had some sort of tracking jutsu, but chose not to voice this thought. Shrugging, he slipped the ring onto his right index finger, the metal cool against his skin.

"I trust you're already familiar with Sasori-san, your partner, as well as Itachi-san and Kisame-san-" Konan began, but he was interrupted by a rather disturbing squeal from the man with the orange mask.

"Introductions!" he chirped, sounding far too excited for his own good, "Tobi loves introducing new members!"

Deidara narrowed his eyes, wondering if this was some kind of a joke.

"Deidara-senpaiii," Tobi said enthusiastically, gesturing to himself, "Me, I'm Tobi! And Tobi-"

"Is a good boy," the plant-man finished blandly, and Deidara noticed that only half of his face, the white part, seemed to be speaking.

"I'm Zetsu," he added pleasantly, before his voice dropped to a menacing hiss, "And you better be nice to us or we'll eat you up!"

Deidara winced at this, before deciding that Zetsu was either bipolar, or schizophrenic; he didn't really want to know.

"And this is Kakuzu-senpai!" Tobi continued, bouncing over to the other masked man, who merely grunted in acknowledgement.

"He really likes money," Tobi added in a loud whisper, before skipping off to the next member.

"I'm Hidan, and I'm a Jashinist," the silver-haired man said aggressively, "And you, it seems, are a blasphemous non-believing cunt. May your innards-"

"Hidan-senpai is very religious!" Tobi interrupted shrilly, "So now you know everyone, senpai?"

"…yeah," Deidara muttered after a moment, still taken aback by the weird introduction.

"Sasori will escort you to your room now," Pein said, "And you will be notified when you have a mission. Members, you are all dismissed."

The various Akatsuki members walked off, to different parts of the dungeons.

"Come," said Sasori, and Deidara followed him, Itachi and Kisame into a small passageway that led to another flight of stairs.

They emerged in a rocky hall, which was a cross between a passageway and some sort of room. It was bare, save a few wooden chairs and a threadbare couch, as well as one bookshelf containing a couple of scrolls.

There were two doors on opposite sides of the room.

Without a word, Itachi disappeared inside one of them, shutting his door with a soft click. Deidara, for some inexplicable reason, was sorely tempted to follow him.

"Well, you survived your first day," Kisame said toothily, his rough voice almost sounding friendly, "I'll retire for the night!"

He strode off in the direction that Itachi had left, leaving Deidara with Sasori.

"So – uh – Sasori-no-danna…?" Deidara began questioningly.

"Our quarters are here," Sasori replied, moving towards the other door, "It's a shame since I was accustomed to having the whole room to myself."

Deidara stepped inside, to find a large, rectangular room, lit by dim torches. The walls were stone, and there was a small circular window which overlooked the convoluted jungle of steel below, illuminated by the silver light of the moon. He could hear the clamoring patter of rain as it poured from the sky, though the room was refreshingly cool compared to the rest of the dungeon.

One side of the room, Deidara suspected was being habited by Sasori. There was a small steel bunk-bed with unruffled white sheets. Either Sasori made his bed (which Deidara doubted) or barely used it. There was also a collection of boxes; overflowing with scrolls, wire and wood. Deidara wondered what they were for. There was a workbench, above which hung various complex tools, and Sasori's side of the room was littered with more pieces of wood, and what looked like some sort of large doll.

"What's that for, un?" Deidara asked, pointing, before sneering, "Didn't take you to be the type who plays with dolls, Sasori-no-danna…"

"It's a part of my jutsu," Sasori said tightly, though Deidara thought he heard a hint of pride color his voice, "I'll show it to you tomorrow, when we spar."

"Oh yeah," Deidara grinned, walking towards his own, barren side of the room.

He sat down on his bed, and the mattress creaked. Deidara lay down, folding his hands above his head.

"Can't wait to kick your ass, master," he said.

"We'll see about that," Sasori said, as Deidara adjusted his position on the bed. The pillow was hard, but not uncomfortably so.

In fact, everything about the organization wasn't nearly as – unpleasant – as Deidara had expected. The shinobi were eccentric to say the least, and Pein, though intimidating hadn't turned out to be the bloodthirsty tyrant that Deidara had envisioned. Of course, the calm exterior could just be a façade; Deidara had yet to see him in action. Tobi had been a surprise though, weirdly enthusiastic and childish. Deidara assumed he must possess some spectacular kekkai genkai, because he seemed like quite a clown.

And Itachi…

Deidara's pulse quickened as he thought of the shinobi just across the hall with his beautiful, deadly eyes. Though he still harbored antagonistic feelings towards Itachi for having defeated him so effortlessly earlier, a part of him was thrilled by the idea of living in such close proximity to such a man. Never had he met someone who exuded such power, someone so breathtakingly handsome.

Itachi seemed like a loner, but Deidara was determined to converse with him, or get to know him somehow. Even though he'd barely known the man for a few hours, he was already mystified and craving to know more.

"Night, Sasori-no-danna," Deidara called, turning slightly towards the wall.

He wasn't sure if Sasori was even going to bed, or if the man would even bother replying.

There was silence, for a few moments, and then the gruff voice answered.

"Good night."

Deidara smiled for a moment to himself, before drifting off to sleep.

The last thing he saw, amongst the collage of images that filled his mind, was a pair of swirling blood-red eyes with black irises, staring intently into his own, spinning relentlessly.

|^_V| |^/_\^|

A/N – Please review, I would appreciate your feedback. And be warned, from here on it gets darker and more graphic, with a lot more – well, action so to speak.