"What I find weird is when people start bagging on Japanese car companies."
"What? Toyota employs more American workers than any other car company."
"Hey, I'm not the one saying it. I
love Japanese cars; they don't break."

- Random guy, my teacher, and the random guy again.

o.o.o.o.o

Of the hostages, Sai woke first.

Karin's head snapped to the side when she felt the movement of his chakra change, felt it spike and shudder as he woke up.

"Suigetsu, he's waking up!" She snapped out, not bothering to turn around or stop. Deidara wouldn't stand for it, she knew. They had to get as far from Konoha as possible by nightfall.

And then she heard a thud.

At this point, she did stop, and turned around to stare at Suigetsu.

Who had dropped Sai to the forest floor.

"What do you think you're doing, idiot?!" Karin glared at him. No, she definitely wasn't happy. Not at all. She didn't want to get Deidara angry if she didn't have to, and Suigetsu wasn't helping matters.

Deidara just growled out a short order to pick the pale boy back up, now that he was unconscious again, and mentioned that Suigetsu would be getting punished later, and not in a way he'd find fun.

Taka members were now questioning their decision to follow Deidara.

But they'd made it this far.

They could make it through.

o.o.o.o.o

Neji woke quietly and instantly. The second he could wake up fully, he did.

Unfortunately, controlling your breathing, heartbeat, and facial muscles wasn't enough.

Not when there was a sensor only a few feet away.

Less than a second after Neji woke up, he found his arm wrenched up behind his back, a blade pressed to his neck, and grinning purple eyes only inches from his own pearly orbs (and orbs they were, for most people didn't have eyes quite so strange and uniform, so creepy and blank, as to be called by the wonderful name of orbs).

"Make even one move and I'll slit your throat." The boy with the pale blue hair said, seeming inordinately happy at the idea.

"We need him alive, un." The voice was amused but unimpressed, slightly sardonic, and terrifyingly familiar.

It hit Neji then. He hadn't expected to live through what happened, and yet, here he was. And by the looks of it, he was a prisoner.

He was a hostage.

The boy with the sword scoffed and stood up, turning and strutting back to his spot in the circle around the… fire.

Camping out for the night? Likely, but not certain. It was still fairly light out, and Neji didn't doubt that they wanted to get as far away from Konoha as quickly as possible. There was the smell of something cooking, meat or fish, and there was an air of settlement around them, showing that they weren't planning on moving any time soon.

Neji's eyes connected with Sasuke's. The traitor. The one that Neji, and every other member of the retrieval team bar Shikamaru, had nearly died to bring back, and still failed.

Sasuke stared at him, and Neji stared back. And then they both flinched as a piercing whistle hit their ears.

"Are you two done yet, un?"

Neji looked over, his eyes connecting to the 'victim' of Akatsuki. Neji wasn't very convinced of her innocence in the matters, but he had played along to Naruto's plans, tried his best to go along and change her.

Given the disdainful look on her face, she was never going to even sympathize with Konoha.

"Great… listen, buddy." Deidara looked right at Neji, still looking unimpressed. "I'm not happy with your village right now, un. Not at all. I think I've made that pretty clear, particularly in concerns to your spiky little friend there, un." She nodded in his direction, and Neji glanced around quickly, noting the closest body to his own, still unconscious, to be Shikamaru, and then turned back to Deidara. She continued with a smug smile. "Fortunately for you, the Leader of Akatsuki wants you alive. Congratulations, you just survived your second fight with an S-rank nukenin."

Neji frowned, his brain working overtime. He couldn't let himself be used as an information source. There was no visible way out, though there may be one when the others woke up. However, if they couldn't escape, he knew what he, and the others, had to do to keep Konoha safe.

Then he realized he could no longer move.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Deidara's laugh was humorless. "Anti-suicide seals are a wondrous little creation, un. If you think about it, you're paralyzed. If you actually act on it, well…" She laughed again, cold and cruel and, to Neji's ears, faking both emotions. The laugh was forced. Deidara wasn't really enjoying the threats, but she found them necessary. Or possibly, she was enjoying it, but disturbed at herself for it.

Or maybe it was something completely different.

"And don't try running away, either." She laughed again, like shattering crystal. "Those bombs around your necks are primed to go off as soon as you go more than a few dozen meters from me."

Neji frowned, finding his facial muscles working once more. "And if we are stolen from you in turn?"

Deidara shrugged. "No big loss. The only one I'm concerned with is pineapple-head, and that's because I want him to suffer."

The grin and viciousness on her face this time… it wasn't faked. Neji didn't show just how much that look terrified him.

"Why…" He licked his lips, mouth suddenly dry, and started over. "Why would you want Shikamaru to suffer in particular?"

Deidara's smile, so sugary and sweet, was utterly terrifying, especially since Neji couldn't read her eyes, seeing as they were closed. "Well, he kind of half-killed Hidan. I know Hida-kun's immortal and all… but it still wasn't nice, not at all, un."

She giggled, and her eyes opened, barely slits, her tone turning conversational, which was extremely unnerving to Neji. He was used to different intimidation methods, not… not whatever it was that Deidara was using. "Tell me, un, what would you do if someone blasted the love of your life to pieces and buried them at the bottom of a hole and left them there to rot?"

Her voice didn't grow any louder, but it grew more forceful, more angry, her face losing its calm and sweet demeanor.

Neji gulped.

The priest had been in a relationship with Deidara.

Shikamaru had apparently doomed Naruto's little goal to eternal failure.

Deidara would never love Konoha.

Some things were eternal.

The anger on a loved one's behalf was one of them.

o.o.o.o.o

"Start with his head, un."

Karin looked up at Deidara, frowning. "Are you sure?"

"Well, you'll be putting his body back together slowly, right? I want to talk to him, un, and I need him awake anyway."

Karin shook her head. "No, that's not a good idea. It would be better to heal each piece individually, and then put him back together at the end. It'll make transportation easier, and make it less likely for my work to be undone when we move him by the jostling that will occur while running. And it would be best for me to heal the head last, so that he doesn't have to deal with the pain."

"We need him awake if we want to get the information we need to get those seals made, un." Deidara fixed her glare on Karin, ignoring the hushed whispers behind her, both from the boys of Taka and form the hostages from Taka. "And those seals NEED to be made."

Karin wavered, but nodded. "I'll induce a coma after that to prevent him from waking up when it isn't necessary."

Deidara nodded, a sharp move. "Now, what was that you said about re-breaking him?"

"It's not very complicated," Karin sighed. "It's… if we put him together first, then there are going to be issues. His body is frail at the moment, and the movement from going at high speeds will be too much and break recently healed areas."

Deidara laughed, and there was an amused edge to it. "We're not running anymore. We're out of Konoha and we've got you to fix Hidan, un. Our way back to Akatsuki is going to be far more leisurely than our way to Konoha. Less likely to get the little Locus—" Sasuke twitched, but Deidara ignored him. "—exhausted before his 'big fight,' too, un."

Karin bit her lip, thinking it over. "…It's still better to heal him piecewise and then put him together when he's capable of moving on his own again."

Deidara looked at her, measuring. Then she nodded sharply again. "You're the medic. You know more about this than I do anyway, un. I'll trust your judgment on this."

Karin nodded and turned back to the cadaverous limbs laid out on a blanket before her. "Heal the head first, right…" She picked it up, unflinching at the texture of the skin and the hollow cheeks. She placed Hidan's head in her lap and closed her eyes, sensing the areas that needed to be fixed, and how.

She picked up a kunai and slit her thumb, moving to put a dot on the tip of each finger. A shouted question from Suigetsu, a snippy reply that Hidan couldn't bite her, and a snappy command from Deidara later, she flashed through several handsigns. Her hands glowed green, but there was a strange reddish-gold mixed in as well, streaming from the blood instead of her whole hand as the green medical chakra was.

"Alright… easy does it…" Karin muttered to herself as she lightly placed her hands on Hidan's head, pressing the tips of her middle fingers against his temples. Deidara stood behind Karin, watching the healing with wide eyes. Slowly, ever so slowly, the life seemed to return to the head. The half-gone eyes, dried out and immobile, filled in as fluid and life filled the ocular cells again. The dry skin filled out, the cheekbones growing less pronounced. The chapped lips filled in slightly, and his ears were no longer shriveled.

Blood also began to drip from the bottom of his neck, but it wasn't nearly as disturbing as seeing him as a husk of a man, the way the rest of his body still was.

Karin let out a large breath of air, drooping as she finished up. "I won't be able to do that for more than an arm and a leg again tonight. The head is the most complicated due to the brain, but I'm done now."

She gave the head to Deidara, one hand still on Hidan's forehead, glowing. "He'll wake up in three, two, one…"

She pulled away her hand.

Deidara held her breath as pale purple eyes slowly blinked open, taking a long time to focus on her.

"…Deidara?"

She smiled, unaware of the tears that were once more going down her face. "Hey, Hidan."

"…I should've f***ing guessed."

"You should've known, un."

"…Yeah."

"…I have news, un, and you're not going to like it."

"…F***."

o.o.o.o.o

A/N: A happy chapter! Ish. Because I actually like Neji as a character, and this chapter was just a little… well, Deidara's not very forgiving, shall we say.

Ja ne,

Phoenix