One of the scientists slices the boy's arm open, from the inside of his wrist to the inside of his elbow. There is a sickening squishing noise as muscle peels away from flesh- peels away from bone.

The others state their approval. "Perfect," they marvel.

"Flawless."

"Beautiful…the finest of the bunch…"

The boy tries to distract himself by looking around the room, looking at the rows of empty cages surrounding the laboratory.

Once, they had all been full- fullof ninety-nine other boys and girls. (At least, that's what he heard.) But they all died off. Some went quickly. Some went slowly. Eventually, he was the only one left.

Him. Subject Ninety-six.

He cannot distract himself anymore-the pain comes back to him, even worse than before. He screams, even though his throat is torn, foamy blood gargling out of his mouth.

Kill me…Kill me…

~oOo~

Deidara flew upright, gasping for air, his bright blue eyes alive with panic. A cold sweat drenched him, fusing his skin to his clothing and gluing his straw-blond hair to his neck and forehead.

That dream again…

He strained to look around in the darkness of the room, forcing himself to take slow, even breaths.

Just a dream. Just a dream…

He got up off his futon, crossed the room and threw back his curtains, blinking in the light of the rising sun.

(Dawn- his favorite time of day.)

A knock at his door.

"Deidara, sweetheart." Akatsuchi, the Tsuchikage's wife. "It's time to get up."

She called him 'sweetheart.' That only meant one thing.

He'd been screaming in his sleep.

Again.

He grabbed his towel and went to take a shower to wash the sweat away. He dressed and brushed his long hair, humming a little; the hot water had done wonders for his spirits.

He skidded into the kitchen, his trademark smile painted on his face.

"Morning, Aka-baa," he said. Akane looked at him with her tired eyes.

"Good morning, Deidara." The look on her face says what she does not.

"Baa-chan, I'm fine," he assured her. "It's just that stupid nightmare. I can deal."

Akatsuchi looked for a long time at her ten year old, adoptee grandson- he was already handsome-she could only guess what he'd look like as an adult.

But he was troubled. Vile creatures haunted his mind- dark and dangerous creatures. Too often, the house was filled with his awful cries, pleading with invisible attackers. But the worst part was that no one could wake him- or console him. It was as if she was trapped in a nightmare as well.

(She saw past Deidara's smile and shallow display of happiness.)

"I'm fine, Baa-chan," Deidara repeated. "Where's old man Tsuchikage?"

"He went to his office- he told me to tell you you're gonna get buried six feet under if you forget to train again."

Deidara grinned.

"Not on your life, Aka-baa."

Deidara snagged a piece of toast and ran out the door to the training grounds.

He honestly did try to train- he just got bored. He ended up shaping clay birds with his mouth in the shade of a tree.