-days later-

The infiltration into Regi had to be done with the highest level of discretion. Only half a dozen members of VUM would be allowed to go to the surface, and these six would be split into groups of two sent out over the course of a week, to avoid suspicion and decrease the likelihood of losing too many agents to capture or worse. It was obviously out of the question to allow any humans to enter into the Falk settlement, so some of Konan's most trusted men had to be sent into the city to speak with the informants. Among those chosen few were Deidara and Kakuzu. Deidara, though a recent recruit, had the skill and cleverness Konan required of the men who would be speaking to members of their intelligence network. Kakuzu had been in the VUM for years, and would not only protect Deidara on this assignment but also take out the blond in a heartbeat if Deidara did anything to betray the organization.

The two of them had left the camp early in the morning, disguised as ordinary civilians with no telltale VUM markings. Kakuzu was dressed in an oversized coat to conceal the money they would be bringing the informants, whereas Deidara was able to escape with a more formfitting coat. They'd walked through several miles of sewers before coming across an old ladder guarded by two Falks, who upon recognizing the pair as VUM agents let them ascend. Deidara and Kakuzu had climbed this ladder for what seemed like a small eternity, eventually arriving at a wooden trap door that opened into the ground floor of an abandoned building. Wincing against the cold, Deidara had helped Kakuzu and closed the trapdoor before they made their way out of the building and into the city proper.

Regi was hundreds and hundreds of miles north of the old VUM camp, as Deidara recalled Konan telling them. Spring was still a little ways off here; a chilly wind caused the blond to pull his coat tighter around him as they wove through the dilapidated old buildings that were brimming with poor, dirty Falks. Clearly this was a slum of the city, full of refugees that were struggling to get by. Kakuzu moved closer to the blond now; there was always a chance that they'd get jumped before they could get to their informants in Regi.

Deidara kept his eyes down as they walked along for quite some time. Everywhere he looked he could see hungry children, haunted-looking adults, and a few wretched souls screaming for revenge against the humans who had done this to them. Few kids played in the streets; most of the ones Deidara encountered ran up to him with hands outstretched, hissing and clicking for some assistance from the newcomers. Eventually Kakuzu and Deidara made it to a street that was well-kept enough to allow for taxi travel; they hailed a vehicle and gave the address for the first client, who lived several miles away and could not have been reached if the duo continued to be assaulted by begging children at every turn.

"Have you heard the latest news on the peace talks?" the cab driver asked, trying to make conversation with his passengers as they drove off down the busy city street.

"No, what's happened?" Deidara inquired.

"That human general, Zetsu or whatever, gave another announcement that he wants to try and negotiate with his Highness. Says he'll pull out the troops and help us rebuild if we admit that the attack on their moon was intentional and help them repair the scarring. Heh, like it'll ever happen now that General Suigetsu's missing."

"What? When did that happen?!"

"You been living in the middle of the plains with the meridics or something?" the cab driver asked, giving the pair a scrutinizing gaze. "It's all anyone's been talking about for weeks!"

"Sorry, we just arrived this morning. Our homes were, you know…"

"Ah." No more needed to be said; it was a common enough refugee story. "You have family here then?"

"A friend. He'll look after us for a while."

"Must be some friend, living out of the slums right now," the cabbie remarked as he slowed the vehicle and pulled up to the curb. "Here he is."

Deidara thanked the man and gave him his fare with a small tip besides. Once the driver had pulled away, intent on finding another passenger, Kakuzu led the way into the building and to their contact. Hopefully he would be able to help the VUM.

-meanwhile-

"So boooooored," Hidan whined from his cot. "Sasori, entertain me."

"How exactly am I supposed to do that with Tobi cutting my hair, hm? I'm sure he doesn't want to accidentally snip off part of my ear for your amusement."

"That would be very messy," Tobi agreed as he continued to trim his friend's hair.

The three of them were currently staying in Hidan and Kakuzu's shared tent, Hidan lounging on his cot and Sasori sitting on Kakuzu's while Tobi gave him a long overdue haircut. Hidan still made a number of Falks uncomfortable, which was especially troubling now that they had to settle into a new camp. Konan and the local leader, Tsunade, had agreed that for the time being it would be best to keep Hidan isolated from the other rebels until Kakuzu got back, and had asked Tobi and Sasori to stay with him so the zealot wouldn't get lonely (or incredibly angry, more likely). "Just do whatever it is you do when Kakuzu's here," Sasori suggested.

"It's not the same!" Hidan protested. "Kakuzu and I can have these, fuck, I don't know…like, we talk, but we're not talking 'cause he's missing half his fucking throat, you know?"

"Really?"

"Yeah."

Sasori thought about that for a moment. "So, what do you two…not talk about, I guess?"

"Fuck you. And just…stuff. His family's gone, so the VUM's all he has. Apparently that's true for a lot of people under Konan. And I think he's worried about what's going to happen to everyone after the war. Like, these fuckers aren't on anyone's side, they're just trying to keep the death count as low as possible, so sometimes that means helping humans, and sometimes Falks. Shit, it's a mess."

"Wow."

"Tobi feels kinda bad for them," the masked soldier remarked as he combed through Sasori's hair. "It must be hard, not to have a home to go back to when the war is over."

"Hey, when the war is over, how long do you think they'll keep us on Verden?" Sasori asked. "They can't just pull out everyone at once; and there was talk of helping rebuild at one point, right?"

"Hell if I know," Hidan replied. "But it'll be weird, you know? I've gotten attached to these fuckers; even that dumbass Kakuzu isn't so bad, sometimes. Once we go home, we'll probably never see them again."

Sasori frowned at the thought. Part of him was always thinking of Earth, and his grandmother, and how he'd get by once he no longer had to fight in the human army against the Falks. But another part of him had grown to enjoy spending time with his fellow soldiers, Kisame, Konan, and especially Deidara. Dear Kami, what was he going to do if the end of the war really did separate him from all these people forever?

"Ok Sasori, Tobi's all done!" the Uchiha cheerfully stated. "Here, I know it's a small mirror, but it's the only one that the girls would let me borrow!"

Sasori took the compact from Tobi's hand and briefly glanced over the haircut. "Great job Tobi."

Tobi beamed in appreciation of the compliment and took the mirror back. "All right Hidan, you're up!"

"Fine, but if you give me a buzz-cut, you're dead."

-n-

Deidara and Kakuzu were not having much luck getting information out of Konan's connections. The first three hadn't heard a thing about Orochimaru, and the fourth only knew that Orochimaru was set to resupply his ship sometime within the next six months, but couldn't give them anything more specific than that. Needless to say, Deidara's patience was wearing thin by the time they arrived at the home of the fifth and final informant. "Not one of them knew anything that was worth the effort of seeing them, and we'll have to walk back now because we ran out of money for cab fare," Deidara hissed as they knocked on the apartment door. "What was Konan thinking?"

The door was answered by an old man with black hair. "Who the hell are you?"

"The repairmen," Deidara quickly answered, remembering the password quite easily by the fifth time. "We heard you have some wires that need a closer examination."

"About time you showed up. Come in," the elder beckoned, ushering the two Falks into his apartment.

Unlike the other informants, whose apartments were rather bare and free from personal items, this place at least had a few books on a shelf and some pictures hung up on the walls (though none of them contained any family members, of course). Deidara and Kakuzu immediately sat down in a couple of chairs that had been set up in the main room, probably in anticipation of their visit. "What is it that our illustrious leader wants to know this time?"

"We're trying to find information on a man called Orochimaru."

"What about him?"

"He's set to restock his supplies in the near future, from what we can tell. Do you know when he'll be coming to Regi next?"

"No idea. He's been laying low for a while now; something bad must've happened to his suppliers. I'll have a few of my men look into it, but of course I can't promise we'll find anything new before you do."

"Damn it," Deidara cursed. Another waste of time.

"Sorry kid. Anything else you want to know, though?"

Deidara decided it couldn't hurt to ask about a certain missing Falk while he was here. He'd been inquiring about Itachi at Konan's request, but so far no luck locating the weasel either. "We're looking for a former informant called Itachi Uchiha. Orochimaru sold him to someone in Regi about three years ago; I know it's unlikely, but-"

"Wait. Is this Itachi by any chance an albini? Very soft-spoken, used to be a soldier?"

Deidara felt a flicker of hope spring up in his chest at the question. "Yes, un!"

"I think I may know who you're talking about," the informant stated. "He's staying with a member of my information network, working as a code breaker. I'll give you the address; and no, I have no interest in knowing what you want from him. The less I know about what you rebels are doing with my intel, the safer I am."

The man wrote an address down on a scrap of paper and handed it to Kakuzu, who quickly exchanged the paper for the man's payment. Trade made, the informant was quick to shuffle the duo out of his apartment, locking the door behind them. One could never be too careful in these times.

Deidara remained calm and collected on the outside, but inside he was jumping for joy. Finally, in this miserable and destructive war, something good was going to happen! Separated lovers could be reunited, and a morale boost like this would do wonders for his friends.

Still, the humans were to be returned to their army after Itachi and Kisame were reunited; meaning that soon he and Sasori would be separated from one another. It wasn't fair; after everything they'd done together, after nearly dying on several separate occasions, why did they have to be split apart? Deidara could probably ask Sasori to stay with him, but he doubted the human would agree to such a thing. There would be no guarantee for Sasori's safety in the VUM, nor any chance that he would be able to reunite with other humans any time soon. Besides, Konan would probably shoot down the idea as soon as Deidara suggested it.

Kakuzu and Deidara at last arrived at the decrepit building that would lead back into the sewers. As Deidara reached down to lift the trapdoor, however, he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He looked to see that Kakuzu was now holding out a letter to him, addressed simply as: "To Deidara; from Konan." Curious, the blond took the note and began reading it.

"Deidara, if you are reading this then you have finished the information collecting I asked of you, and you are somewhere private where it is safe to read this message. Listen to me; I know what you are attempting to do with Monsieur Sasori. Kakuzu has seen you stroke his neck on a number of occasions, and if he's seen it then others have as well. You must stop this immediately; you are only putting yourself and the other humans in danger right now. It is unfair to us, and especially to Monsieur Sasori, who I'm certain doesn't understand the meaning of such touching. Please listen to my advice here. Destroy this note after reading."

By the time Deidara had reached the end of the note, he was practically shaking with terror. He quickly shredded the note into miniscule pieces, which were then hidden in the bowels of a number of garbage heaps. After making sure that no one had seen him dispose of the evidence, he returned to the trapdoor and quickly lowered himself into the passage, all without a word to Kakuzu.

-m-

Deidara and Kakuzu arrived in the camp a while later, surprised to find it mostly empty. Then again, it was close to dinner time; most of the rebels were probably in the MESS tent at the moment, chowing down on whatever new shipment of food had arrived in the wee hours of the morning before he and Kakuzu had set off.

Seeing a perfect opportunity to speak to Kakuzu in private, Deidara quickly beckoned for Kakuzu to follow him to the edge of the camp near Kakuzu's tent. "Look, I'm not mad at you. I understand why you had to tell Konan what you saw," Deidara clicked rapidly in a quiet voice. "I'll be more discreet, but I can't stop this thing with Sasori."

Kakuzu gave him a stern look.

"You don't understand what it's like! Being around a human and wanting them so badly that it hurts…I can't help it. Please, I'll be more careful; just don't tell Konan any more about this."

Kakuzu reluctantly nodded in agreement; Deidara was one of the few Falks that treated Kakuzu like he wasn't a deformed monster. Whatever went on in the privacy of Deidara's tent didn't concern him anyway; the bigger issue was Deidara's touching Sasori outside the MESS tent, where anyone could catch sight of the gesture.

Please with the agreement, Deidara thanked Kakuzu and took off towards the MESS tent, intent on getting at least one good meal in before they were forced back to eating rancid leftovers. Kakuzu decided to first visit his tent and let the humans know that it was time to eat.

Much to his surprise, however, he found that Tobi and Sasori had already vacated the area, leaving Hidan alone and asleep on his cot. This was one of those rare moments when the zealot wasn't screaming or bitching about something, and looked rather peaceful. Kakuzu felt as though something was pulling him closer and closer to the slumbering zealot, until at last he was standing directly over Hidan. Cautiously, he extended his hand towards the slumbering soldier, bringing it closer and closer…

And suddenly the Falk's hand was reaching for the blanket instead, pulling it up until Hidan was properly tucked in. Satisfied, Kakuzu exited the tent and followed after Deidara towards the MESS. When Hidan inevitably woke up, he'd certainly be hungry; Kakuzu could at least get the man some decent food.