.disclaimer: don't own.

.chapter seventeen: the end of the storm.


Once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what the storm's all about.

-Haruki Murakami


8:04 AM, January 8

"Where's Akasuna Sasori?"

Deidara had awoken alone, jerking awake on the couch. As he sat up and rubbed his eyes, he saw his friends scattered in the cafeteria, each being in charge of getting a different food item. They weren't paying any attention to him, which was good, and the blonde used this golden opportunity, having a feeling that they had taken turns watching him nearly the entire night to make sure he wouldn't dash off. Without any hesitation, Deidara immediately threw his legs over and got up, quietly making his way to Sasori's room, remembering being forced to take a cup of hot chocolate which suspiciously tasted odd and knocked him out.

He supposed he could understand why. After all, yesterday night he had been an absolute wreck. He usually managed to stay composed when Sasori was, for a lack of better term, "dying," but last night it was different. It was worse and he wasn't stabilizing and sometime around ten or eleven, the doctors said they had to operate on him. That was about when Deidara started hyperventilating and having some sort of a panic attack and had been fed the drink, just taking it from Konan's hands and drinking it.

But now it was morning and he still knew nothing; either no one knew anything or no one was telling him anything. So he had to go see for himself; he couldn't wait for his friends, he couldn't wait to find a nurse, he had to see it for himself, whether or not Sasori was there, whether or not he was alive, whether or not he was awake. As each day passed, every beat of his heart felt more painful. Anxiety was eating him alive; he just wanted to see Sasori and talk to him, something that had been so easy to do in the past and now so nearly impossible to do.

He wished he didn't take advantage of all those opportunities that had graced him in the past; Sasori was willing to talk to him but Deidara refused, not relishing it, not making use of it. Now all he wanted to do was talk, to pry himself open and to show himself to Sasori, every last ugly bit of himself, but he couldn't and he was terrified that he would never be able to. Every day it was getting harder and harder to not take his own life; he would admit that he had thought about it and actually held the blade to his wrist, stood a bit too close to the edge of the platform at the subway station, stared at a bottle of sleeping pills for too long. But he stopped himself just in case, just in case, Sasori would wake up.

For once he was living for hope. He fed off of that hope, he lived it, he breathed it, he thought about it all day. It was scary because he didn't want to be crushed, but he couldn't help but believe in that tiny sliver of hope. Belief was a terrible but beautiful thing and Deidara was finally willing to take that change again, to believe when he shouldn't, to believe when it might kill him.

But for Sasori, Deidara would do anything, try anything, no matter the risk to himself.

When he finally reached the door and threw it open, a gust of wind came at him. The windows were open and curtains were moving gently, the air not as stuffy as it was before. A nurse was there but the bed was empty; she was replacing the sheets, a white expanse that Deidara remembered staining several times in the past. The machines were gone, the gifts were gone, Sasori was gone. His voice was shaking when he asked his question and the girl turned to him, arms in midair as she was folding one of old sheets, her large eyes blinking a few times before answering with a single word that had so many meanings and that Deidara didn't want to hear.

"Gone."

10:27 AM, January 8

"Gone."

The nurse's voice echoed in his head as Deidara stared up at his ceiling, laying on his bed. When he heard the word, it was like his mind shut down to prevent emotions from overflowing. Immediately, he had turned around and just walked out of the hospital, not stopping when he heard his friends call out his name, asking him where he was going. He felt his phone buzz and ring with texts and calls but ignored them all, focusing only on getting home and being in solitude. He didn't want to speak or see anyone right now; he wanted to go home and think about this, ponder that word, to break down in private if he needed to.

Gone.

He berated himself; he should have calmed himself enough to ask her to elaborate. What had she meant by 'gone'? It was such a disgustingly ambiguous word; it could be temporary or permanently, literally or figuratively. A mystery. It was a mystery and Deidara hated mysteries.

He tried to argue with himself that it may not be 'gone' as in death, that the nurse said the first word that popped into her head to explain Sasori's lack of a presence in that room. That 'gone' literally meant gone, as in he had left, checked himself out, went home. But that didn't seem to fit; why would he do that, especially if he had surgery last night (Deidara was knocked out before he was taken into the operating room but he assumed that Sasori had the surgery)? He tried not to think about it because it made his heart wrench, but he couldn't help but wonder if it was him; did Sasori endanger his life just to avoid Deidara? Was that why he left early; he didn't want to see the blonde that badly?

But then while he was thinking this, a small voice in the back of his head would laugh at him.

You really think he's still alive, meandering out there somewhere? He's dead; he's gone; he's not here anymore. He died, just like how you wanted to die. You killed him; if you didn't make those tapes, he wouldn't have rushed over here, he wouldn't have gotten into that car accident. You killed him, you're the only one to blame, you killed the one person that loved you, the one person that had the ability to make your pathetic, miserable little existence a tiny bit better; you killed him, you killed him, you killed him.

He felt a wave of nausea come over him and he immediately got up and sprinted to the bathroom, dropping to his knees and lifting the toilet seat, watching last night's meal (or rather, last night's liquids) come back up, pain in his throat, that same invigorating, exhilarating pain. He wanted more, he thought as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, he craved that pain that made him forget everything else.

You killed him.

He squeezed his eyes shut and brought his knees up to his chest, resting his forehead on his knees as he tried to take deep breaths and calm himself. He craved pain so badly; he didn't even need a razor, just his nails were enough…

But he couldn't; he couldn't revert, not now. He swore to get better for Sasori; he was done being weak, done being scared, done being the old him.

What's the point, though? Sasori's gone; you don't have anyone you have to show off for anymore. Just do it. Just a little cut. And then maybe another. Come on, it'll help you feel better, I promise. You want a distraction, don't you? You want somewhere to look to know where this pain comes from?

Besides, you killed him. You think you can be normal ever again, knowing you killed your best friend? He had so much to live for, you know, and now he's dead. You think you deserve to keep living, to one day smile again, to be happy, to laugh? And he was in love with you; you think you deserve to try to move on from him, to maybe even like someone again? That's disgusting, you pathetic coward.

You don't deserve to live.

Here, take that razor.

Cut into your arm. Make several cuts.

Bleed to your death, you disgusting whore.

"No…" Deidara brought his hands up to his ears, trying to block out that voice, the one that was coming back louder than ever, "No… no, no, no, no, no, no!"

Sasori wasn't dead, he tried to reason with himself as he opened his eyes, wide and terrified, he wasn't, it wasn't confirmed, no one had told him that.

But that voice wouldn't shut up; he just wanted it to shut up, he thought as he reached on top of his sink and picked up the razor that he had left laying out, just wanted the go to sleep for a while, maybe permanently, to never hear the voice again…

He just wanted silence and silence was unattainable until you were dead.

His hand was shaking as the blade neared his wrist, old scars and fresh cuts still visible. He almost laughed; he had really deluded himself into thinking that he could get better, he deluded himself into thinking he deserved to get it. It was a grand joke, just like his life.

This is your fault.

Here, punish yourself.

Do it, bitch.

And then a rapping came at the door.

Startled, his hand stopped and he looked out the bathroom, towards where the sound was coming from. It was quiet for a few moments and then the person knocked again, slowly, steadily, calmly, patiently. The blonde hesitated before putting the blade down, feeling like someone just jerked him awake. He stood up and walked over, deciding the least he could do to thank whoever it was for saving him from doing something stupid was to kindly tell him to go away.

"Sorry you had to come all this way but leave, damnit, there's a reason I haven't been answering my phone. I know you're worried but…" he had begun speaking before he even opened the door, taking his time to undo the lock, and his blonde brow was creased in annoyance. But when he yanked the door open to give the person a glare, the annoyance disappeared and he felt his heart lift and contract with anxiety at once.

The redhead held up a hand and smirked.

"Hey brat."

Last night, 8:47 PM, January 7

"…But I would never leave Deidara," Sasori continued, bowing his head, feeling guilt claw at him, "I'm so sorry, okaa-san but… I can't stay. I love you but I'm so in love with him and I just now realize that no matter how futile something seems… you don't give up. I don't know if anything I can do will help him but I can't give up because… because I can't let him slip away without doing something."

He fell silent and couldn't bring himself to look up at his mother, even when he felt her hand on his, a soft, warm presence. He wondered what he would see if he looked up; would she be angry? Sad? Confused? He wouldn't blame her for feeling those; he had always believed that family came first, no matter what, even after he realized he was in love with Deidara. But now that he was here with his mother, he found that he still wanted to be with Deidara more. He loved his mother but he was in love with Deidara, he wanted to be with his mother but he had this need to be with Deidara that was so ravenous.

His mother symbolized his past; her death was such an impact on him and what she told him about his childhood was something that haunted him for so long. And being here with her was like being stuck in the past, trying to stop time, go back to when he was still with her, when he still remembered everything. And Sasori didn't want that; he never liked the idea of staying in the past but before this he couldn't get out of it. He wanted to live in the present and look forward to the future and Deidara was that, Deidara symbolized the future, he was that ray of hope, that beacon of light.

He had to be with Deidara. Deidara was the sole person that Sasori was inspired by in order to keep moving forward, to not be bogged down by the past, by events that hurt him so much. And Deidara did all that for him without knowing it; he was there all the time, he saved Sasori's life so many times, he was so kind, so deserving of love that now Sasori wanted to love him as much as he could, as long as he could. He wanted to make Deidara happy, he wanted to help him get better, even if it seemed futile, even if it wouldn't work in the end. He knew the possibility of losing Deidara was strong, that Deidara was right when he said that if he wanted to die, he would. But Sasori was stubborn; he never let something go without a fight and he was willing to fight to the death to keep Deidara alive.

If Sasori staying here with his mother meant that Deidara would live, he would do so in a heartbeat because anything, anything to ensure Deidara's life Sasori would do. Anything to keep him alive for a bit longer in hopes that he would have that epiphany that Sasori prayed would come at any time. But he knew that if he stayed with his mother, that wouldn't ensure Deidara's life. If anything, that might hinder those chances, and so he couldn't stay. He still had things to say Deidara, he had to explain the voicemail in person. He couldn't let those words be heard once from a machine; they had to be face to face so Deidara would understand.

"Sasori," she said quietly, "Please look at me."

He looked up slowly, fearful of what he may see in the expression of the mother he loved so much. He was expecting distaste, anger, confusion, sadness, tears, but he saw a smile, a hopeful, angelic smile that was genuine and that he was surprised at. Because she had every reason to be heartbroken, to be angry, but she chose to smile—why?

"Deidara is so very lucky to have you," she said softly, "I wish I had someone like you when I was suffering. Because all we want is for someone to listen, for someone to care, even if we don't realize it, that's eventually all we want. I wish I had someone that cared for me this much, that loved me this much. It's scary, trust me, I know it is. Deidara is scared and lonely, and he doesn't realize that things will get better. But you will help him, Sasori, just being there for him, constantly reminding him that you are there for him will help him realize he's not alone, that things will and do get better. You love him. He loves you. Love is the single strongest emotion and to share that with someone is euphoric. Along with love comes trust; Deidara trusts you because he loves you, he trusts that you won't betray him, that you won't leave him. Once he realizes that, once he accepts that you want to be with him forever, that's when the cloud will lift. It's not something you can do, Sasori, but you can help him; it's so much easier to realize things get better if you have someone with you."

She paused and smiled, leaning forward and kissing him on his forehead, bringing back memories of him being sick with a fever and feeling his mother's cool lips and instantly feeling a bit better. She pulled back and smiled again, tears in the corner of her eyes.

"I love you, Sasori. You're growing up to be such a fine gentleman; that's so cliché, I know, but it's true. You're kind and you're loyal, you're honest and you're confident, you're persevering and you're caring. You are just what Deidara needs. I'm so happy that you're in love. I want you to be happy, Sasori, and I know that your happiness lies with Deidara as his lies with you. I'm proud of your choice and I support it. It just isn't your time yet, and that's okay."

And she began disappearing; the solid body began to become transparent as she spoke, her voice echoing. Sasori wanted to reach out and grab her, to stop her, but knew he couldn't; this was his choice and he had to stand by it. He closed his eyes and smiled half heartedly as she continued to fade away, her last words echoing, as he felt a gust of wind, or her mother leaving him again.

"Goodbye, Sasori. I love you."

Present day, 11:13 AM, January 8

He was alive.

That was the first thought that ran through Deidara's mind, relief expanding through him. He scanned his eyes over Sasori, as if he wanted to make sure that this was real, not some kind of a holograph or impersonator. There was the brilliant and fiery red hair that was his trademark, bed head style with strands grazing the top of his eyes. There were his half lidded honey brown eyes that seemed to be permanently smirking, a deep brown that Deidara loved to lose himself in. There was his smirk, the signature Akasuna Sasori smirk that defined him. But there was the pale skin, the cuts, the bruises, the bandages; there were the bags under his eyes, the fatigue that was obvious. There was a loss of weight, a loss of radiance, a loss of energy that was understandable but confusing; why would he be here if he was that tired? Why was he not in the hospital, if he wanted to see Deidara, why didn't he just wait there?

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Sasori remarked dryly, raising an eyebrow. "I promise, brat, I'm real."

He was alive, and Deidara couldn't believe that. The voice, the voice that had been so loud in his mind earlier, was gone now and he couldn't believe that it had nearly driven him to suicide earlier. Sasori was alive; he had jumped to conclusions, the worst of them, but he was alive and he couldn't even begin to explain the relief that he felt.

But he still had questions.

"Why…" Deidara had to stop and lick his lips, "Why… did you leave the hospital? Before… before letting me see you? Are you… angry at me?"

The question caught him off guard. Sasori's eyes widened momentarily before he relaxed, letting out a sigh. He looked down and smiled slightly and Deidara noticed that his hand clenched around a plastic bag he had with him. "I'm not angry at you," he answered in a low voice as he looked up tiredly, "It's just that… our relationship is different now, you know. The past few times it feels like I've been seeing you in a hospital bed after nearly losing you far too many times. I don't want our relationship to be defined by that anymore, I don't want that to be the norm, seeing each other for the first time after one of us nearly dies? I don't know what we are now," he shrugged, "But it's different. I don't want to start this new relationship with that kind of a meeting."

Deidara visibly exhaled and relaxed; he had been so worried that he had done something to anger Sasori or to drive him away. He suddenly felt a sense of déjà vu in a way, was this how Sasori felt when waiting for Deidara to wake up? This anxiety and this horrible waiting game? And suddenly he felt guilt override him; he had been so unfair to Sasori, always making him wait, even though he hated waiting. But the wait was over and now they were reversed. He wanted Sasori to wake up for so long but now that he did, he didn't know how to act around him anymore. A thousand questions were in his mind but he couldn't ask any of them; his tongue wasn't working and his throat was dry. But the last part of what Sasori said, that he could ask about.

"What are we?" he asked, raising his gaze to meet Sasori's, "Now, I mean. We're not… just friends anymore, un."

The redhead sighed again and closed his eyes, smiling and shrugging slightly before opening his eyes, a gaze that was piercing but soft at the same time and sent chills down Deidara's spine. "I don't know, brat. I really don't."

They stared at each other quietly for what felt like forever. Deidara swore that Sasori could hear his heart beat rapidly; his palms were sweaty as he curled and uncurled his fingers around his door handle. Sasori looked tired, so tired, he should invite him in, have him rest, scold him for not being in the hospital, for being stupid, for risking his health; he wanted to elaborate on the tape Sasori heard, he wanted to say everything he wanted to say that night, he wanted to ask if Sasori meant what he said. All these thoughts were a whirlwind in Deidara's mind; he wanted to explode from all these thoughts but couldn't open his mouth to let them out. All he could do was stare.

"Here," the redhead was the first to break the silence and he coughed, wincing slightly in pain as he held up the bag, "These are your tapes. …It's about time I return them."

The tapes.

As Deidara took the bag, he felt oddly nostalgic. It felt like such a long time since he began looking for them and the memory of him realizing that Sasori had them was hazy and distant. He felt so much had happened even though only a bit over two weeks had elapsed since he found out about Sasori's accident. That felt so far embedded in the past, feelings that he thought would never leave him, anger that drove him almost insane. He looked at them; even the idea that he was going to kill himself and attempt it multiple times was far away. He still had those feelings but the execution… he couldn't bring himself to execute those thoughts anymore. Which scared him because getting better was still terrifying but it meant he was getting better, as Iruka said, and getting better was scary. Even that last attempt was so hazy, like he couldn't believe he had done it, like he was under a trance.

"Er…"

Deidara looked up immediately, hearing Sasori. He faltered for a moment before looking at the blonde, a lopsided smile. "I know this is sudden but… do you have time? I want to go somewhere… with you."

11:37 AM, January 8

"You think the idiot's gone to find the other idiot yet?"

"Aw," Konan smiled brightly at Hidan, putting a hand over her chest at his sudden irritated glare, "You care about them!"

"Shut up, penguin!"

"Penguins don't have blue hair."

"In cartoons they do!" the silver haired man countered, trying to hide his rising flush but Konan just continued to smile and behind them, Kakuzu chuckled lightly at the fact that Hidan had to resort to cartoons to try to win an argument.

"Admit it," she teased, smiling wider and more genuinely than she had for several weeks, "You care about them."

"…Well," Hidan muttered, crossing his arms as he leaned back against the couch of the café they had moved to after leaving the hospital, "Who wouldn't? After these past two fucking months? They better get together. They better fuck."

"Not everything's about sex, Hidan…" Kakuzu murmured and stirred his cappuccino, "I just hope they sort everything through and don't just dive in and go about this recklessly. The idiots better have a plan."

"Considering Sasori is part of this, they really might have a plan…"

"Tobi thinks we should go stalk them!" the red eyed boy piped up and everyone eyed him warily, their "no" unspoken but communicated telepathically and he deflated, frowning. "Tobi wants to make sure Sasori-san takes good, good care of senpai."

Pein smirked as he picked up a napkin and held it out to Tobi, a silent message for him to wipe his mouth because he still had crumbs of the pastries he had been eating earlier. "We don't even have to worry about that. Did you see Sasori's face last night as he was leaving? He's going to take good care of Deidara in his own way. I don't know how and I don't know if I can even imagine it but… I think they're going to get their happy ending. It took a while but… they're going to get it."

Tobi stared at him and looked down at his hands, smiling softly, recalling the private conversation he had with Sasori after everyone else had left the room.

"Thank you."

"…Huh?" Tobi turned around, blinking and staring at Sasori who was looking at him, physically tired looking but eyes looking determined. "…Did Tobi do something for Sasori-san?"

"Thank you for reminding me to fight for him," Sasori said quietly, "I got so used to having him around that I forgot that I could lose him at any time. But you reminded me of that and reminded me to really appreciate him. So thank you."

The Uchiha blinked a few times before he chuckled lightly, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. "Make senpai happy, Sasori-san, okay? Because that's what Tobi wanted to do. But since he can't, he hopes you'll do that for him."

"I'll try," when he looked up, Sasori was smiling so softly, the expression that would only appear in his eyes when he talked about Deidara, "I'll do anything to make him smile."

Ten minutes after Deidara had been put to sleep (Pein's quick thinking), Sasori woke up; literally ten minutes later. The doctors had come to tell them of the news; as they had been rolling him to surgery, he woke up suddenly, fully conscious and annoyed that they were going to cut him open. When the nine of them crowded around him Sasori just groaned and waved them all away, telling them he'd explain later, that he just had to get out of the hospital before Deidara woke up for reasons that he, as he said again, would explain later.

Kakuzu tried to talk him out of it but after Sasori gave him a glare, the older man relented and said he would fill out the paperwork.

"Konan, your face looks like it's going to break," Kisame's blunt words brought Tobi out of his daydream and he, as well as everyone else, all shifted their gazes to look at Konan who was still smiling. The blue haired girl shrugged, the smile still holding strong.

"I can't help it! After all this it all ends like this, so perfectly! They're going to get together and they're going to be happy; it's like we made it through this huge, horrible storm and the most beautiful rainbow is now here. And I like to think we're all different people now; we're all better and stronger after going through this, not just Sasori and Deidara. Because when you really think about it, this was a beautiful thing, wasn't it? Maybe it doesn't seem like it, but it's changed us for the better and it's brought us closer, and that's what's beautiful about it."

Quiet murmurs went around the table and Tobi blinked. Everyone was different and that was so true; this event changed everyone, showing him that sometimes things just weren't meant to be and he hated to take his fate into his own hands. He smiled and looked down at his hands; that chapter of his life with Deidara was over and Tobi was starting his new one, a blank page with a fresh pen, and he had a feeling he knew how he wanted to start it.

"Zetsu-san!" Tobi stood up, surprising everyone, and Zetsu stared at him, eyebrow raised.

"…Yeah?"

"Tobi would like to take you out on a date!"

As it fell deathly silent and everyone just gawked at Tobi, Itachi laughed dryly. "If either Sasori or Deidara just said that, maybe half of this wouldn't have happened."

11:56 AM, January 8

"The old hideout, hm?" Deidara asked, smirking as he followed Sasori. Once they had begun crossing a large grass clearing in the park, he had known where they were heading but he didn't want to say anything; they didn't say much as they made the journey from his house to the park, as if they were lost in their thoughts. Deidara, who was behind Sasori, couldn't stop staring at him. Everything was different but it all seemed the same; he wanted a confirmation that it had happened, some kind of physical proof and he thought if he kept staring at Sasori, he would get the confirmation.

But all he saw was how hurt Sasori was. He saw the wince in Sasori's expression every once in a while, the limp that would hinder his walking, the deep breaths that indicated this was taking a toll on him. Deidara wanted him to stop; he wanted to say they could go back to his place or sit in a café or something. But he also knew Sasori would object; once the redhead was set on doing something, it would happen. He couldn't help but smile slightly; maybe deep down Sasori knew Deidara would get better just because he had decided he would and Akasuna Sasori was never wrong.

"Haven't been here together in a while," Sasori commented after coughing a few times and sitting down against a wall and Deidara took a seat across from Sasori against the other wall. Somehow, for some reason, there was a huge hole in a tree, like someone had carved out the inside. The tree was still alive, which they found miraculous as first graders until they learned about xylem and phloem later in biology in high school, but it was still good news; it meant that this tree wouldn't be cut down any time soon because it was still healthy and still growing. When they had stumbled upon it by chance, they immediately set to work covering up the entrance and making sure they were the only ones to know about it. They had planted seeds but then realized it would take a long time so they then found twigs and leaves and created a pile. It didn't work well; they had to redo it every time they came, but eventually their seeds grew and the plants covered the entrance fairly well.

It wasn't a huge space like a cavern but it was quite large; it was tall enough for them to stand in, but that wasn't saying much because they were both rather short. They could fit in it comfortably enough but now that they were older, if they sat across from each other, as they did now, their knees would occasionally brush. But it wasn't cramped; it was comfortable and cozy, more than enough room for one of them to stretch his legs out. They still came here, although separately, because it held so many memories; this was where they felt they really began to get to know each other better and so it was kind of a sacred ground.

"Danna, are you all right?" Deidara asked suddenly, frowning in concern as Sasori began coughing again, his wince making Deidara wince because he absolutely hated the idea of Sasori in pain.

"Yeah, I'm fine," the redhead pounded on his chest a few times, still wincing, as he took out a water bottle from his backpack which had held the blanket Sasori had pulled out earlier to set out on the ground so they wouldn't be sitting on the nature and everything about it. He took a few deep gulps and closed his eyes, Deidara watching anxiously and relaxing when Sasori seemed to feel better.

"You shouldn't have left the hospital so early," Deidara muttered, glaring lightly, "You could've told someone to tell me to not visit, un."

"Brat," Sasori couldn't help but smile as he looked at him, a weary look, "We both know you would've beat up whoever it was, even if it was Hidan, and come barging into my room anyway."

The blonde had no response but rolled his eyes and looked away irritably, knowing that Sasori was, as usual, completely correct. He crossed his arms and he drummed his fingers along his right arm, chewing on his lip and looking down. "…I really thought you were gone, un."

"You did?" Sasori asked softly and Deidara nodded. He heard a sigh and looked up to see his friend shrug and smile almost apologetically. "I did too."

Deidara didn't say anything but when Sasori looked up, his blue eyes were wide and he looked absolutely terrified and confused, so much so that Sasori felt guilty for his words and immediately tried to retract him. "I mean, I didn't want to die. I didn't want to leave you, not after… you know. I just… I was with my mom. I saw her, I mean. In the afterlife. Kind of. I was in a transition state, I suppose, and I was with her… and we talked and… I just couldn't see myself leaving her because I've missed her so much and I finally got to see her again."

"What did you talk about?" Deidara asked softly, relaxing and looking at Sasori calmly. It surprised him that Sasori was with his mother; he had always imagined death to be… well, death, where everything stopped. The fact that Sasori was with someone seemed to ruin that ideal death for him but he chose to ignore that; it was probably because Sasori was unconscious, not dead. Thank God for that.

He was also surprised because Sasori was here with him and not there with his mother. Did this mean that Deidara was chosen over Sasori's mother? The idea gave him butterflies and made him feel so happy but he tried to squash it, not wanting to jump to conclusions. He knew how much Sasori's mother meant to him and the idea that Sasori decided to come back for him instead of stay with his mother… that idea made him ridiculously happy and thankful.

"Everything," Sasori answered after a moment of hesitation, shrugging again, "About why she committed suicide. About how she regrets it. About my childhood. And she told me who," he added quietly, not bothering to tell Deidara what 'who' referred to. And he didn't need to, he heard a small 'ah' from Deidara and he knew that Deidara understood completely. And he was also thankful that no questions were asked about the matter; Deidara still knew it was a sensitive topic, one that Sasori still wasn't comfortable talking about even after knowing the person. "And…" he paused again, "…She asked me if I wanted to stay with her and come back. And I… I almost did stay with her, to be honest. Because I miss her so much and coming back… I felt like I was doing more harm than good to you, so I was scared to come back and possibly make everything worse. But after listening to her, it reminded me to never give up on the person I'm in love with, no matter what, no matter how bad or hopeless it seems. And you're the future. She's the past. And I want to move forward." Sasori paused again and smiled slightly, looking down, feeling Deidara's intense gaze on him. "I can't leave you, brat, no matter how hard I try. I'll always come back to you. Always."

"…So you do?"

Sasori looked up in the surprise asked in such a soft, timid voice that he wasn't sure if it was really Deidara. The blonde was looking at him, almost peering at him nervously and when it fully occurred to him what the question was about, he felt just as shy, just as awkward. He smiled slightly, which seemed to help put Deidara at ease. "Yeah. I'm in love with you. I really am."

Again, Deidara was quiet but he had a small smile on his lips and a soft expression in his eyes. He was happy to hear that, so happy, but he didn't know how to tell Sasori and he hoped that the redhead could just sense it. Because they were good at sensing things from the other; words couldn't explain this feeling, no matter how many he used.

"I'm getting better," the blonde said suddenly, looking away as he concentrated on a spot on the blanket and he began picking at it, feeling Sasori look at him, "I'm not better, per say. Actually, I'm basically still the same, un. Still depressed, still suicidal, still unhappy, all that. But… I want to get better. I want to want to live. So… I think that's a good thing, un." He faltered and heard nothing and instantly flushed, bringing his other hand up to awkwardly brush at his bangs, a habit he had. "Sorry, that's stupid, you probably don't care about something like that especially because I could relapse any time and—"

"No," Sasori said calmly, interjecting softly and he was smiling when Deidara looked up in surprise, "I do care. And I'm glad because wanting to get better is the first step, isn't it? It's better than when you didn't even want a will to live."

Deidara blinked a few times before relaxing and closing his eyes. "Yeah, that's what Iruka says too. You had a really big part in it, danna," he added quietly, "I don't know if you think you do but you really did. If you weren't here… I would be dead. So thank you… for staying with me, un. You could have left after the first time because I know it must've been so hard and so frustrating. But you didn't and you kept trying to be my friend and you kept saving me repeatedly and… I'm not blind," he paused to laugh slightly, "I saw how much it was hurting you and I feel so bad about that. But now I want to get better. And maybe one day I'll be normal again. Or maybe not. But… the fact that I'm here in this mentality right now is because of you. So thank you," he fell silent and looked up, a small smile, "Thank you."

"You give me too much credit," Sasori muttered, looking away but Deidara saw the slight flush in his cheeks, "I wasn't always that patient."

"You're never patient, un."

"Exactly."

"Danna, you were the best a friend could be," Deidara said, looking amused at Sasori's humbleness, "It's hard and most people would have left. But just the fact that you stayed and you tried to help and you offered to listen is more than what most people would have done. And you were genuine and you didn't sugarcoat anything. You were saving my life every day, un." It was quiet again and when Deidara finally looked up, Sasori was looking at him with an odd expression that seemed to be expressionless but Deidara knew it wasn't, yet he couldn't identify what it was. But Sasori was moving forward; he wasn't sitting with his back against the wall anymore and Deidara had a feeling he knew what was going to happen and his heart rate accelerated.

"Brat, you know I hate waiting right?"

"Yeah, un."

"You have no idea how long I've waited to do this," Sasori barely breathed before he leaned forward and had his hands on either side of Deidara's face and his lips were pressed to the blonde's roughly, a hungry, passionate kiss that Sasori thought he would never be able to experience with him. It still felt like a dream, knowing that he could kiss Deidara any time and the blonde wouldn't reject him, that he wouldn't be disgusted.

Sasori couldn't count how many people he had kissed but he knew that none of the kisses ever felt like this. At times he would berate himself for being in love with Deidara, his best friend, of all people; that seemed like a recipe for disaster and he couldn't believe his stupidity. But at times, like now, he was so glad because it felt so right and it felt so perfect. He knew who Deidara was and Deidara knew who he was; they knew so much about each other that they didn't have to put on a show or anything.

And this kiss felt so natural, so eerily calm, like he was meant to do this, something as normal as breathing but as exhilarating as sky diving. It felt so perfect, so right, like the eye of a hurricane, the single saving grace he had experienced in these times of madness. I'm in love with you, Sasori thought, heart beating furiously, I am so in love with you.

"You know, I was planning on a kiss after we finished this long overdue heart to heart, danna. You really are impatient, un," Deidara breathed when they broke apart for air. His eyes were still closed as he was talking but he was smiling; somehow, when he was this close to Sasori, he liked to keep his eyes closed, knowing that the redhead was just a few centimeters away. It was like he was dreaming, feeling Sasori's presence there, and opening his eyes would ruin it.

But then he would remember, as he opened his eyes and grinned, that he didn't have to worry about waking up and losing Sasori because this was reality, it was finally reality.

"You of all people should be well aware of my impatience," Sasori said in a low voice that sent shivers down Deidara's spine. He felt Sasori move away and was disappointed but then felt the redhead sit down next to him and felt his hand right by his, his pinky hesitantly brushing against Deidara's then he linked their pinkies together, like in a promise. They weren't really holding hands but they were doing something; it seemed so innocent and so gentle. He had been closer, much closer with much more skin to skin contact, with other people but he felt closer to Sasori than anyone else right now.

"Don't tell me you kissed me just so you could move next to me, un."

Sasori laughed and Deidara couldn't help but smile. Sasori laughing was something so rare that when it did happen, he couldn't help but smile. "It made the transition from one side of the hideout to the other less awkward, yes."

They fell silent again and stared across the hideout, against the wall where Sasori had been earlier. They made out distinctive lines that eventually formed into words and Deidara smirked, remembering carefully carving them in with Sasori when they were younger. "Remember when we first found this place? We were sitting just like this, un," he motioned with his other hand, "Side by side, staring at that wall."

"Then we went over and wrote in it," Sasori continued for him, "Because we wanted to stake our claim." The redhead pushed himself up and made his way over to the other side on his knees and pulled out a Swiss army knife from his pocket, the one that he had received from his father. Deidara knew how important it was to Sasori so he kept it with him always but he never saw him use it until now. He blinked and watched in fascination as Sasori traced his fingers over a smooth area next to the old carvings before he set to work and the blonde squinted, trying to see what he was writing in the dim light.

Akasuna Sasori.

Sasori stopped and turned around, a crooked smirk on his face as he offered the knife to Deidara. The blonde blinked before laughing softly and crawling over, taking the knife and carving his own name next to Sasori's in the smooth wood.

Iwa Deidara.

The redhead took the knife back and carved in the date and stepped back to admire their handiwork. It was a mirror of the first carving made the first time they were in here as kids, barely old enough to write.

Akasuna Sasori

Iwa Deidara

September 6

Grade 1

The handwriting was scraggly and the strokes were uneven and there were scratches where they had made mistakes in their own names and had to start over.

Akasuna Sasori

Iwa Deidara

January 8

College freshmen

The handwriting was smoother and the strokes were much more even, looking like it was something more handwritten than unevenly carved. The lines were clean and smooth and no mistakes were made; the same words in a different scenario, together still but as more than friends. They sat in silence and stared at it, trying to think back to when they were first graders, if they had any inkling that they would be where they were now, that they would go through all that they had gone through.

"I kind of miss that childhood innocence we had," Deidara commented quietly, smiling halfheartedly, "When our biggest issues were not having the right shade of red to complete a drawing."

"When we were worried about girls having cooties."

"Well, we only worry about that half the time, un. Not too bad."

"I've missed your dry wit," Sasori said and he heard Deidara chuckle. They were against the wall again, staring at the opposing wall. If he tried really hard, he could hear Deidara's breathing and that reminded him that he was alive and he was eternally grateful for that; he had been scared to wake up and learn that Deidara was gone, that during the two weeks that passed, he had given up.

But he hadn't. He was alive and he was even getting better and that made Sasori know he made the right choice. He had found himself looking upwards while walking here, wondering if his mother was watching, if he had made the right choice, and now he had his answer.

"You know," Deidara broke the silence and Sasori turned to look at the blonde who was still looking straight ahead, "Through all of this I feel like I've lost myself, un. I don't know who I am anymore. I know that sounds dramatic but… I do. I don't even know myself, I don't understand my mind, I don't know why I want to do what I want to do. And I still can't believe that you're in love with me," he added in a lower voice, casting his eyes down, "I mean, danna, you're… Akasuna Sasori. When you almost died, I just feverishly wish that I was the one gone and not just because of the suicidal thing, un. You've got so much to live for; you have such good grades, people looking at you and expecting greatness, a bright future, and you're kind and you're loyal, and you're talented and…" he paused and laughed dryly, shaking his head, "I don't know why you'd waste your time on someone like me when you could literally, literally get anyone you wanted. You deserve someone that's as flawless as you are, someone that can make you happy. I'm not… good at being happy, un. I really don't know how anymore. And I can't make you something that I don't know how to be."

"Your arrogant humbleness is something that I find complicatedly fascinating."

"…What the hell are you talking about?"

Sasori smirked. "That. You're humble but you're arrogant about it, which is perfectly fitting to your personality. You're an oxymoron, a combination of them, and you're a huge paradox, and I love puzzles, I love paradoxes. You're not two dimensional; you're complex and a mystery, and you'll never cease to fascinate me. I can tell you things about you. You're Iwa Deidara, and you're nineteen. You're a college freshman with me and you're smart, you really are, but sometimes you don't apply it to your studies. The scar by your left eye? Received from protecting Tobi, someone that you secretly love as a little brother but pretend to hate. You love bakudan and I don't understand why. It's hard to earn your trust but once you trust, you trust wholeheartedly and without a single doubt. You're an artist and you sculpt, you forced yourself to become ambidextrous so you could work from any angle. You keep your nails at that exact length in case you need to use them to make markings; you love warm colors. If you want to know anything else, I can tell you, but as for who you really are, I can't tell you that because no one's sure of that. We're all empty shells, trying to figure out what defines us, what makes us truly human. I don't know myself. You don't know yourself. I can't help you and you can't help me; we have to figure it out ourselves but we can do that together."

"And," he added, eyes softening, "You don't have to know how to be happy to make me happy. I don't know how to be happy either. I'm good at being unhappy."

"Oh yeah?" Deidara smirked slightly, "I put the 'un' in unhappy."

"…Clever."

"Thank you."

"You don't have to be good at something to do it," Sasori said, "Like… I'm not good at being in love, but I'm in love with you. I'm not good at listening, but I try to listen. You don't have to be good at being happy to try to be happy. I'm not good at it either but I want to be so… we can not be good at being happy together and see where that leads us."

Deidara stayed quiet and Sasori just stared at him, wondering what could possibly be going through his mind. "What's on your mind?" he asked quietly, seeing Deidara stir slightly at the question.

Deidara sighed and looked upwards, contemplating Sasori's question. He saw the roof of this small hideout; he always imagined that if he cut the tree in half vertically the hideout would be a tear shape. It was weird to think he was inside something living; the tree was missing such a huge part of itself but it was still alive. He frowned and made a low humming noise before looking at Sasori, a mischievous smirk on his lips. "I haven't gotten laid in a long time, un."

The redhead stared at him before rolling his eyes and laughing dryly. "That's not really what I meant, brat."

"Well you asked, un. And it's true," he added, "I don't feel right doing it with someone else if I'm thinking of you the entire time."

"Are you always this brutally honest?"

"Only with you because you're my best friend, un," Deidara smirked at Sasori's eye roll. He sighed and closed his eyes, resting his head on Sasori's shoulder. "I'm tired."

"I know. You did well," Sasori added in a quiet voice and Deidara couldn't help but smile slightly when he heard that, "You stayed strong and fought. You did well."

"You'll be here when I open my eyes, right? This isn't a dream? I've got abandonment issues, un. You can't leave me."

Sasori laughed and Deidara's smile widened hearing that. "I won't leave. I promise." He felt Sasori pull his hand away and he missed the contact of their pinkies. But then he felt Sasori's fingers all entwine with his and he felt so much closer to him and his heart leaped a bit, before it settled back into a calming rhythm because being with Sasori made him feel safe and comforted. Sitting here with his head on his shoulder in the hideout, he felt calmer than he had in a long time and for once he didn't think about dying; all he could think about was right now, and how he wanted to stay like this forever.

He didn't know what was going to happen next because life was unpredictable. He didn't know if tomorrow would bring joy or sadness, serenity or anger, amazement or boredom. All he knew was that he had made it through six tumultuous weeks of his life and he had emerged stronger, different, and better. He had survived his own treacherous mind more than once and knew he was never lonely and he would never be lonely again.

And that was a good enough reason to keep living and smiling.

.author's notes: i've been ridiculously excited for this chapter just because of the quote; i thought it fit so perfectly for the story.

thank you for all reading this story, it's certainly been a different kind of story than i'm used to writing, but i have enjoyed writing it. any reviews would be very much appreciated, and i hope to see you all soon again :)!.