Igniting Resurgence

Chapter 5: Lithogenesis


Lithogenesis – the process of formation of rocks


Standard disclaimers apply.

Nightfall came all too soon for Sakura.

Barely able to open her eyes, she emitted a yawn whilst stacking a pile of papers onto a nearby shelf and looked around her room with mild interest. A few days had passed since she attended the conference meeting. It felt even longer since she had last checked up upon Deidara. Her schedule had been rather hectic, too. Scouring the hospital for various patients and teaching a few classes of junior medics. Exhausted from today's work, she collapsed onto her bed and sighed. Pondering over the events during the past few weeks, her thoughts wandered over as to what they had all become. Her expidentures, learning's and encounters – her mindset was now on a whirl. To her surprise a hard rap knocked on the door. She sat up immediately.

Well there goes my train of thought.

"Haruno-san, can I come in? It's just me, Kurotsuchi."

Maybe not.

"Yeah, sure. Why not? Take a seat, actually."

Pulling out an exquisitely carved granite chair for the Stone kunoichi, Sakura eyed her curiously.

"What brings you here?"

"Ah, just wanted to come over and check how you faring with all of this commotion going on."

Kurtosuchi failed to stifle a wide yawn as she rubbed her eyes. "I mean, I've been running around all day but I've overheard that the Council has been impressed with your working attitude so far. You're already earning a good reputation amongst the shinobi ranks, too." She added cheerfully. A wryly smile etched on her face, "It's good to see that we're all in harmony now, I mean as in the Leaf and the Stone. Normally under these alliance circumstances there would've already been a broken fight underway between the villages. Too bad that blond knucklehead sabotaged the whole thing with his ideas of glorious peace."

"Oh you mean Naruto? I know he can be such a complete idiot at times, but he really has his own way with changing people."

I wouldn't even be surprised if the boofhead actually managed to install a few ramen shops in every hidden village.

"He was a complete moron at first, but I guess he won me over in the end." Agreed Kurotsuchi heartily, "Do you reckon he'll be able to change the mind of that Uchiha brat? The other teammate of yours?"

At the mention of Sasuke, Sakura froze and Kurotsuchi immediately realized her mistake. Hastily, she attempted to convert the subject into another matter.

"Err, sorry about that. I didn't mean to fly into something like that –"

"No, no it's fine really. I'm used to people asking about that stuff. You wouldn't be the first to ask."

Letting out a small sigh of relief, she nodded and began to move onto the topic she had been meaning to talk about from the start.

"So how are you going with Deidara-nii? I hope the brat hasn't given you too much trouble. It isn't like him to open up to just anyone, you know. I think the two of you did a bit of negotiating yourself."

Quickly forgetting about the sudden memory of her runaway teammate, Sakura put on a forced smile and shrugged.

"He's been doing alright, actually. Aside from his ridiculous notions of art and constant whining and complaining like a three year old; he's not a bad patient really. As far as our conversations go, their only very limited. My main concern for him is his deteriorating health, as its declining at a rapid pace. Honestly though, it's amazing that he's lasted this long at all. His chakra forms and body ligaments also provides us a nice solid foundation to work with and alter possible physical complications in the future." Sakura then cringed slightly.

That's sounded so wrong on so many levels. Besides, it's not like we're gonna actually examine all of his body parts for future use.

Witnessing the confused look on the Stone kunoichi's face, she streamlined the statement to swat off her mild embarrassment. "I mean on medical terms, only! The scientific data would really help."

"Nah, that's fine. I get your point there. In fact, I reckon your idea of getting Deidara-nii back to the village forces really intrigues me. With his new addition, the Explosion Corps could be totally restructured. I hear Akatsuchi is trying to snap him into place as we speak."

"Isn't this all a bit too soon, though? It was only just an idea that came to mind…"

"Relax; you needn't worry about the Old man's consent. He and the Stone Council are probably dealing with their own problems in other meetings. Besides, my grandfather would always give into me sooner or later."

Not that the Old man ever has a choice to even have a say in the matter, anyway.

Sakura leaned in closer to get a better insight, curious as to what Kurotsuchi knew about her newfound patient. Her relationship and affiliation with the Tsuchikage's granddaughter and Akatsuchi was somewhat stable.

Throughout the weeks of cooperation with the two she had recognized that the two were more like a family than she would've ever thought of, resembling the contrasts and comparisons she held with Naruto during her life at the Hidden Leaf. Within the hardwire frames and rigid attitudes that bounded the shinobi of Iwagakure together, lied a shining gemstone that was only visible to those who dared to look harder and gaze deeper into the abyss.

The flaring power that streaked through their veins and radiated through the stone walls of the village had outlined to Sakura that there was far more to the eye than just a mound of crumbling rocks. That under the rocky brashness there was an unbreakable pillar of strength and a resilient foundation which untied them all.

The Will of Stone.

It was more than an aura that masked their tightly kept secrets and held them to sworn loyalty to each and one of their own. But an ignition that brewed each other's camaraderie and sense of amity. The character of Kurotsuchi had sparked the light, defining the stone statue with a gleaming shine.

Lurid, poised and without a doubt, headstrong, the girl was a born leader. She had clearly inherited the traits from her grandfather, the stone-like fortitude needed to build a rock-hard fortress. As expected from someone distinctly related to a Kage, her physical abilities were not be miffed. Kurotsuchi held a high level of velocity, the precision regarding her short and long range fighting techniques never failing to accurately hit the desired target with strong force. Using her aptitude to gather any required informational data when needed, Sakura had noted that the kunoichi had been gifted with sharp tongue that was able to lash out and pierce others without the harsh shackles of authority and dictation.

Something that Sakura herself, one day hoped to achieve.

There were times when the two would often meet up in the midst of the busy hallways, laughing and cheerfully talking amongst the annoyed glances of the Elders who walked past. Despite her often wildly tousled hair and yet boyish looks, it was Kurotsuchi's fierce drive and devouring ardour that caught Sakura's eyes.

Yet even as they parted ways, it was the silent sound of mixed hope and despondency in those shining dark orbs that drew her even closer to girl. The world of perception and observation had quietly exposed that the girl's confident stride was only but thick armour to hide the confused pain and bewilderment that had been inflicted on her soft spots over the years. The blissful grin that was planted on her face was a simple façade to conceal the bitterness and acrimony she bore towards those who still held someone close to their hearts.

Sakura had felt it too.

She leaned in closer, and decided to take her chances to find out what could about the tight yet tattered bonds of the three. Regardless of the size or depth the wound was, healing was still needed. The pounding question snapped through her.

"You miss him don't you?"

"I…" Sakura waited patiently as Kurotsuchi let out a long suffering sigh. "Yeah, you could say that. You could say that I've been waiting for Deidara-nii's arrival for a long time, despite me knowing that it would never have happened on his own accord. I just never expected it to be like this."

"Have you visited him or talked to him at all?"

"Like always, I get the same 'Oh it's just you.' response. I expected nothing less than that for sure; and then yet, I had things more to say than he had time to listen."

But unlike the fire that would blaze and rise, the Stone Will lacked the ability to provide the emotional warmth for those around them.

The stone walls only provided a firm physical shelter and emotional reserve, unable to satisfy those who desired passion and existed for the reason of catching their own haven of solace.

There were those who could easily mask their emotions with rigid attitudes such Kurotsuchi. People like Akatsuchi whose physical appearance took that of a boulder was the equivalent of a melted gold.

Sakura peered at the calendar hanging above her.

It looks like I'm also scheduled to see him tomorrow. Perfect timing to meet and check up on the art-crazed criminal.

And then, there was Deidara.

He was said to be the most enthusiastic of the group, raring to go with his never-ending rants of art and all that it affected. It was obvious the man was ruled by his emotions and zealous behaviour. However he had also been the lively core of three, and yet the wild root that tore their art pieces all down.

Kurotsuchi ran a hand through her hair and gave a frustrated breath that seemed to mix itself with a chortle.
"He hasn't changed a single bit, that idiot." She laughed, "He still goes on and on about his desire for art and how in the end he'll end it all in bang just like he once did during the time when we were kids back at the Academy. Loud, reckless and careless."

The room fell silent as she got up to continue speaking, her rants growing louder. "I was excited at first when I heard the news of Deidara – I remember my hands shaking so hard that I was beginning to wonder if it was involuntary or not. My mind exploded with all of the things we had to do and possibly say if he ever responded to our interactions." Her fists clenched tightly as she added, "Even Akatsuchi didn't know what to say."

Her dark brows furrowed in frustration. "I had hoped he would consider what's best in store for him, knowing that he would always put his own demands before the village's requests. I had always hoped he would come back to us, knowing and yet completely forgetting that he had left us – Akatsuchi and I as he bombed the village."

The light in her eyes stopped dancing.

And just like that, Sakura felt Kurotsuchi's tone turn bitter.

It was a familiar sensation; she had felt so many a time before. She watched as Kurotsuchi slammed a hard fist into the wall.

"He hasn't changed at all, that reckless idiot."

A giant crack then tore through wall, the impact of the blow causing the physical force to rip through the remaining stone structure.

"I'd forgotten that he had already made that choice so long ago. I'd forgotten that he had already left us behind."

Then came the small tinkering pieces of grey pebbles at her feet, and Sakura swore that there was three whom were silver that were significantly larger than the others. Looking at the dismayed sight of the once headstrong kunoichi, she had realized that she was staring into a version of herself – one that was faltering slightly and slowly losing hope.

If Naruto wasn't at her side, would she have transformed into this too?

She ran a finger through one of her pink strands and turned to the side. The glass window displayed a clear image of the night, and yet it showed her the Konoha metal headband on her forehead. It glinted brightly against the light, the shine striking Sakura deep in the eyes. She breathed softly.

"Don't give up on him."

Instantly Kurotsuchi's head snapped up and she her face was marked filled disbelief. She wanted to believe – to hope – and to know that one day her past teammate would return to the person he once was.

She shook her head.

"Deidara-nii isn't like the Uchiha." She said stubbornly. "Once he's stuck on something then he's purely hard core. There's no turning back for him, the self-detonation blast during his encounter with your ex-teammate should be a prime example of that. It's the Will of the Stone. It's all he's ever known."

"Deidara isn't like Sasuke-kun."

Regardless of the extending circumstances that surrounded them all, the fateless point of no return considering the path Deidara had once chosen was now inevitable. Frustration reeked through her.

"How can you say that?" she asked incredulously. "How can you be so sure – so full of hope that he'll just –"

And then Sakura looked to the ground and smiled sadly, behind her tough demeanour stood a little girl who spoke of pain.

"Do you love him?"

"Wha –"

"Well do you?"

"Heck No! Well, maybe yes – but it's not what you think. More like a brotherly and sisterly love that's between us all. I did have major crush on him when I first met him, though."

"Then seize those bonds. Restore them no matter how long it may take."

There was a hint of challenging valour conveying in her tone, as Sakura's memories of her icy childhood sweetheart began to dawn upon her.

Uchiha Sasuke.

"My heart belongs to a man who probably committed double the amount of crimes to what Deidara has done." she admitted slowly, "More than once he has tried to kill me and my teammates, even threatening to obliterate the village at the least. The bonds we share, the forever changing exchanges of hate that run so strongly in him have convinced so many others that he's now just a lost cause to be reckoned with."

She bit her lip as Kurotsuchi's response went unheard. It was if her words and actions had a startling effect on Kurtosuchi, the Iwa kunoichi now gazing with admiration.

"Sakura, why are you so…"

But to her surprise Sakura just twirled wildly on the spot, a fist thumping on her chest and a finger pointed to her headband.

"Ever heard of the Will of Fire?" she grinned. "Or have you forgotten? I may not be Naruto and have all of his rather exuberant qualities," She declared, "but if this stony will is all Deidara knows, then I'm not going to give up on him. I'm not going to give up on him just yet."

One of her free hands gently flexed its fingers, the limbs tightening strongly as her resolves began to tighten even stronger. She clenched his fist and held it to chest closely.

The spread of civilisation may be likened to a fire; first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.

"These bonds we have, the cherished memories and the silent pillars of friendship and camaraderie that binds us all,"

And transformed into a soaring punch in the air as her green eyes gleamed.

"I'd do anything to reignite them."

The statement brought her comfort, with Kurtosuchi somewhat able to lift a burden of her shoulders. Yet for Sakura, it had been another declaration to test Deidara's resurgence into the world that had been carved out for them.

No matter the cost.

In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail.

The dark haired girl suddenly smiled sheepishly. "You know there was a time when we both were actually considered for the position that is now considered undeniably close to the Tsuchikage."

Sakura then did a double take as her job dropped. A fitting image of the Deidara she knew floating above her with flying white birds and clay models somehow made its way into her mind.

"Really?"
Kurotsuchi nodded proudly. "Yep. There was a time when even the Old man was taking the verdict into consideration. It was rather odd, actually." Her tightly clenched fist unfolded gently and she began to play with her uniform. "I'd never seen the Old man so happy. Even the council was elated at the news."

"But Deidara didn't accept it?"

Her shoulders quickly drooped at the questions and she shrugged. "Well, it was such momentous ask of us. I mean, who wouldn't? But yeah, Deidara just saw something else in store for him. He was never the indoorsy type. Sakura then snorted with a rather unladylike face.

He'd probably just bomb the stack of paperwork, knowing his way.

Taking a dozy look at the clock, Kurotsuchi let out a loud yawn and gave a cheerful wink. "Well I think that this is preferably the wrap up time for me. I'll see ya sometime soon." As a shadow of Kurotsuchi's slim figure made her way past the vast array of chairs and tables, Sakura found herself running out of time to ask that one last question echoing in her head.

"Hold on – wait a minute!"

"Yeah?"

"Why did he leave the village? Why did he leave you all behind?"

The two abrupt questions struck Kurotsuchi as her eyes evidently widened, the involuntary tensing of her light muscles deflecting what a delicate subject it was to her. "You never told me the exact reason as to why Deidara defected."

Yet within her heart, Sakura already knew the answer. "Forgive me," she said at once. Trying to cover up her tactic skills would now be meaningless. "I didn't mean to pry into –

"Whatever Deidara wanted, we tried to give it to him."

At the simple answer, Sakura froze with lightning speed. Soft, cool blasts of winds made their way through the now open doorway as she struggled to grasp what she had just comprehended.

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

"Then why would just he just defect from the village and then destroy it?" Kurotsuchi sifted a few fingers through her dark hair and released a sigh.

"I guess there was just always that one thing that we weren't able to give him, eh? Whatever he wanted, we weren't able to give it to him."

~-0-~

"Good morning, Haruno-san, Akatsuchi-sama."

"Morning Hideo, how is the patient complying?"

"Do you mean the prisoner, Deidara? Well his behaviour has been satisfactory, ma'am. A few struggles at times, though. I'm sure we'll get there."

"I'll see to that then. Please let us in – I'm scheduled to check up on him."

"Of course."

It had been almost a week since Sakura had last met Deidara – let alone talked to him face to face.

Akatsuchi had also insisted on accompanying her for the morning check-up to which the guards had no objection to. Inclining her head to the usual pair of sentinels who greeted her respectively, she nodded and motioned to Akatsuchi to walk beside her. He quickened his pace to hers and cracked his knuckles.

"Kurotsuchi insisted on me coming," he panted, "that girl is such a boyish hassle that she never knows when to give up." Sakura let out a loud laugh and pushed the doors open revelling in the familiar smell of medical disinfectant. "We're about to meet a bigger hassle very soon."

The sight in front of them may have proved her point more than she needed.

Deidara sat on a tightly shackled chair, his wrists securely bound to metal chakra restraints that fully covered the mouths on his palms. The golden hair that had been tied in a high ponytail now cascaded upon his slumped shoulders with hundreds of frayed ends. Dirty tones of blonde that resembled in the artificial light began to remind Sakura of a sickly mustardy paste, filling her with apprehension.

He looks even worse than last time I saw him.

Her eyes traced the outlines of his jaw down to his neck, legs and torso. The flesh was marred with a number of deep abrasions, lacerations and burning punctures. The torn skin would take many weeks to heal at the worst. As her eyes began to analyse the deep wounds and injuries that lay before her, swarming sense of concern began to pit at the bottom of her stomach. How long had it had been since he last received any medical treatment?

The physical complications seemed to be crying out for more than just bodily attention. How long was it since he last fully consumed a meal or even acquired a decent amount of sleep? It was visible to anyone that the man was shaking; deprived of a period to sleep that was desperately needed to regenerate his cells and internal organs.

Sakura couldn't blame him; who wouldn't have been able to get a good night's sleep in a prison cell? Yet as far as the guarding custodians were concerned, all those in need of medical assistance – given that the need was great or small regardless of their social status – were patients in her eyes. Involuntarily, her body began to move as if her limbs had a will of their own.

Sakura shot forward to grasp a woollen blanket on a nearby shelf and frowned as it failed to unravel consistently. Deidara growled loudly, unsure of whether the sound came from his vocal cords or his rumbling stomach.

"Don't touch me, yeah."

"Oh for god's sake," An exasperated sigh escaped Sakura, "stop being such a child and grow up."

"I'm not cold, yeah."

"The reactions of your body must be telling me a whole different story, then." She snapped. A more disturbing thought perturbed her mind.

"Have you been eating?"

His lack of a response failed to motivate the question as he decided to ignore her. Gradually, the warmth of the blanket ran across his skin. Slowly the shivering began to stop. Sakura then took a step back to examine her patient once more. At last, she found herself gazing at his eyes. What appeared to be a purple bruise had started to take over the area near his ear with red welts forming.

Deep, dark bags sagged under his tired eyes. Those blue rings.

Those once brilliant orbs.

The windows to the soul and the very tongue of love – Sakura couldn't help but drown herself in the waves of melancholy and despondency. All her life, she had been brought up to know that the eyes were the home of silent prayers. They were the very oceans that dreams were reflect in and yet all she could see was a hollow reflection of someone of dead will.

With no desire to live, what use was a body? With no ribbons of hope and credence, what good was it for one to dream? What was the point in fighting to reach the top? Perhaps the sight in front of her feet beared the full side effects of the Edo Tensei.

For the man she knew as Deidara seemed so lifeless.

A knock at the door snapped her back to reality.

"Haruno-san, is everything alright?"

The head of an ANBU sentry peeked from the doorway as Sakura rose to her full height. She narrowed her eyes.

"No everything is not alright." She replied tartly, "When was the last time he was given a meal?"

"Err…"

It was obvious that the man was struggling to offer a decent answer. "All prisoners are given a daily meal which includes rations of vitamins, minerals and protein supplements."

"At what time of the day?"

"Every noon, ma'am."

"Do you often check to see if he has consumed his meals?"

"Of course."

The burly guard now stood in the middle of the entrance with his slightly bowed. Sakura tightened her fists and tilted her head towards Deidara.

"Why hasn't he eaten, then? Did you not check him recently?"

"Well, we assumed he wasn't hungry due to the lack of inclination to eat, Haruno-san."

If it wasn't for the thickness of the pewter bars that separated Sakura from the Iwa shinobi, she was highly thankful that it prevented her from physically tackling the man to the ground. Despite the strange thought flitting across her mind, a vision of an angry Tsunade lecturing her about the unnecessary death of an Iwagakure ninja soon got the better of her.

"You and your predecessors presumed he wasn't hungry?"

"The prisoner displayed no signs of interest in the food brought to him –"

"Did it not occur to you that he was unable to feed himself, and desperately needed to seek medical treatment?"

"We do not supervise his interrogation and the physical aftereffects that may be present. Only his confinement."

Sakura bristled under his terse tone and yet, she stood her ground. "Do you not know that such a mere task like the consumption of food poses a greater challenge for those who are weak or injured?"

"The man is our prisoner – not our patient."

"Then I shall be reporting this incident as well as your ineptitude to oversee such a small task back to the Tsuchikage."

The ANBU didn't say a word as his proud chest began to deflate, failing to register a response. It was outrageous, to think that they would take a meal due to the ignorance of a physical obstacle such as bruised or broken limbs.

Shizune would have an epileptic fit if she saw the state of how some people were treated here.

As rude as it was, Sakura longed to see if the man was perspiring with sweat behind his stupid ceramic mask.

"I offer my deepest apologies, he began, "and I assure you that such a mistake will not be overlooked again."

Anyone could've picked up the notion of derision that hid through his voice; but Sakura couldn't blame him. Why would there be a need to care for a prisoner's health? Least of all a traitor who had a stolen a kinjutsu and then defected from his home grounds to become an S-class criminal.

"With all due respect," she sighed softly, "I understand your position as a guard to maintain the highest level of security to confine such a prisoner." She watched out of the corner of her eye as Deidara scoffed and gave them a look of disparagement. "However, it is my duty as a medic to make sure that all of patients sustain a high level of health – regardless of them being a prisoner or a patient. Because of your assumptions, Deidara's level of health has diminished rapidly."

"I understand. I'm prepared to take action in order to face the consequences."

"Then I hope you don't mind me reminding you once more that the condition of Deidara," she jerked her head back to the slumping blonde, " is of the utmost importance to Tsuchikage and those that surround him which include Kurotsuchi and Akatsuchi."

"Of course… Haruno-san."

Noticing that his last reply took a tad too long, Sakura beckoned him to return back to his post.

At least the deal is done with that daft dimbag.

Turning back to the situation which was now in her hands, she shrugged as Akatsuchi tossed a right on target, Sakura look. Immediately she took hold of her skills and started to emit the healing chakra.

"You pathetic act of sympathy was unbelievably futile, yeah."

She looked up from her barely finished work and found herself face-to-face with Deidara's gauzy stare that was so undoubtedly filled with ennui. Sakura ignored his insult.

"Well as the head medic it's my duty to retain your health and bodily needs at a basic level at the least." She started, "Don't start telling me what I can and can't do just because your breathing is at what someone would like you describe a steady rate."

I can still sense some irregular cardiac patterns, though.

His perplexed reaction at her words seemed to depict an emotion of bewilderment and confusion. Declining to comment, his lip curled in distaste as Sakura busied herself with one of his heavily damaged shoulders.

"Is there anything that I'm not aware of?" she asked suddenly, pushing her tongue and lips to cooperate in what would be classified as a useless attempt to start a conversation.

"I'm perfectly alive, yeah. Breathing and kicking."

"You're dead wrong with the latter."

"How ironic, yeah. I'll be dead soon if I don't comply with the Tsuchikage's wishes."

"Oh, so you've come to terms within yourself and made the decision to cooperate with the interrogations?"

"No. Definitely not, yeah."

It was hard not to overlook the hint of bitterness in Deidara's voice. Sakura soon found herself gazing out the window to the clouds as she regarded him.

He wanted to be free.

He wanted to fly.

He wanted to soar above and beyond the borders of all he knew.

Instead, he had been cast and shunned by some of those he knew. Perplexed between two worlds of what was right and wrong. Was it that he was refusing to let something go?

"Looks like you're still drowning yourself in the melancholy of falling snow." She mumbled, somewhat absentmindedly. He turned towards her and gave her a withered look.

Great. Now he thinks that insane. Talking about the weather and all.

"I was just referring to your attitude." She shrugged. Hopefully putting her hands up in mock innocence would make her act more convincing. "It's always so negative and cynical about everything and everyone that comes your way."

"If you believe I fear death, then you're wrong, yeah."

"Oh? I'd thought you'd place in a few of your artistic crazes into it."

"True. Although I daresay that greatly disappointed. I'd very much prefer to end it all out in a bang, yeah."

His statement declared what she pretty much already knew. He welcomed death as much as any insane, psychotic criminal. He acted completely carefree of the painful blows that inflicted those around them. Yet, even she knew that death could reveal the worst of fears. You could turn to face your fears, but would you have the courage to stand your ground and fight them?

Everyone lives for a day, for it's their birth that creates the sunrise and their death of final breath that marks the sunset.

Sakura steadied herself on the opposing wall and picked at the peeling debris. "It's human nature to avoid death and the strife that it's interested in." she reasoned, "So why do you welcome it? Why do you praise it with your art in hopes to fulfil a purpose? "He raised a blonde eyebrow at her argument, signifying that it was rather invalid.

"You never did get it, did you?" he asked. "Even though I'm not dead, I'm still not human, either."

"Then what are you?" challenged Sakura, "Because you definitely aren't a piece of art." Instantly Deidara's eyes flashed with anger. The words were harsh, for she knew she had ventured into forbidden territory. However, it was the truth – even Deidara had to know that. He turned his head to the side and spat on the ground bitterly.

"I guess you could call me a sacrificial body, yeah. A living, yet artificial replacement for someone who was once as artistic as I was."

There was a dying light in his eyes, and a faltering wind in his voice. Sakura placed the remaining bandages back on the shelf and sighed.

"Sit up."

"No."

"Sit up or at least straighten your posture."

"No…yeah."

She fumed in silence as she struggled to force Deidara in decent sitting position without applying any further damage to his bruises. When he sat, he slouched so low that his square shoulders brushed up against the back of the chair. The two were separated by a small wooden table, hardly more than two feet apart.

"Could you not sit like a four year old?" she chided, "I thought you had more dignity than that."

Hopefully the reminder would have some impact on his thick head.

"You look slightly less boring from this angle, yeah. It does make your already stuffed forehead even more demented, though. Call it a squashed potato, if you like."

Now this punk is really asking for a beating.

A vein threatened to pop on her forehead as a chortled snigger caught their attention. She had forgotten that Akatsuchi was here in the room as well. The Stone shinobi sat at the back of the room, cross-legged and floating in mid-air. He waved a hand to alleviate the situation.

"Don't mind me," he chuckled, "I'm just here to observe."

Deidara's muted response gave away the answer that the he was either satisfied with Akatsuchi's presence or that he just didn't care. According to Sakura's testimonials, the latter was probably correct.

A wry smile etched upon Akatsuchi's face. "I can't say that I'm not surprised, though."

That caught Deidara's attention.

"Hmm?"

"You hardly said a word during your other interrogations. I'd never given thought that you would ever participate in such small talk."

Deidara raised his blue eyes slowly with a frown formed on his features as he rolled his eyes and gave a scoffing remark. "It must be a grand spectacle, then. Too bad it'll end soon, yeah."

"Oh I don't know about that, mate."

Sakura watched the two with dumbfounded curiosity as Akatsuchi suddenly grabbed a nearby chair and launched himself next to the blonde. "So tell me," he grinned excitedly, "do you still have mouths on your hands? The hideous and rather ghastly aftereffects of the kinjutsu you stole from the village?"

Gesturing to his wrists, Deidara grunted at the question and tossed him a dirty look. Akatsuchi seemed to take no notice and rubbed his hands together.

"Ah, so you do!" he exclaimed gleefully, "Did you know that the Old man still has some of your creative art explosions? Oh and remember the spiders and the birds that could enlarge? We still use them for training in the Explosion Corps."
"The Explosion Corps is still intact?"

Sakura couldn't believe her ears. She looked up from her work and matched herself with Deidara's gaze. His facial expression was as solemn as ever, yet the faintest glimmer of interest sparked in his blue eyes.

No way, he's actually interested in something. And that something is actually worth talking about, too.

From the looks of it, Akatsuchi also seemed surprised with Deidara's random streak of curiosity.

"Hell yes. You didn't think we'd tear down our mightiest defence force just because of your defect and the end of the war, did you?"

"Right…yeah."

"Why do you ask? Are you interested in our old subdivisions we used to train in?" The room fell quiet as Deidara lingered on the question for a few seconds.

"No." He responded softly, "Not at all, yeah."

Sakura wrinkled her nose in disappointment.

Damn. And here I thought that we were getting to the good part.

Akatsuchi ignored Deidara's response with a quick wave off.

"The youngsters here still have a lot to learn by a longshot." He admitted, "The numbers are constantly increasing and at times its gets pretty hard to control them when they get such a blasted ego the moment they've realized they've handled the various detonations and ignitions."

He gave a cheeky grin that Sakura found hard not to call contagious. "You'd be surprised to find out how many of them remind me of you."

Deidara glared at him. "Don't compare me with those top shots, yeah."

"They're loud like you. Reckless like you. They're absolutely wild like you –"

"Shut your mouth, yeah. Or I'll shut it for you."

"Alright, alright."

Sakura shook her head at the scene. "You are such a hothead."

"At least I'm not an airhead, yeah!" he retorted. She and Akatsuchi could hardly bite back their howling laughter as Deidara looked on, clearly unamused. Finally the laughter died down as he waited for the two to compose themselves.

"Why do you use my art pieces for your own extent, yeah?" He inquired suddenly, "Any good fool would've learnt to keep their hands off my art – otherwise a wrong move may set it off. The kinjutsu wasn't labelled as forbidden or nothing, yeah."

The question that flew out of the blue made Akatsuchi think, pondering in silence for a good answer.
"Despite not having unlocked the full secrets or even being able to access a batch of info about the stolen kinjutsu, we still sometimes use the remaining detonations you left behind to help train the more advanced students." He fisted his hands to pause as both Deidara and Sakura looked at him to continue on, "Barely any of them hear the stories of the past, but everyone knows your name."

"Out of fear, out of sheer mockery, yeah. What do I care?"

"The Third Tsuchikage's student and all. I'm sure everyone would love to see the Deidara in the flesh and action mode." Akatsuchi smiled sadly, "You were always held in high regard, you know." He added, "You and your notions of art."

"That's…a lovely complement, yeah."

Sakura, who was watching the two with dumbfounded curiosity, snorted.

Sarcasm or no sarcasm, he made it sound like a bad thing.

Yet, she noticed he had lingered a little too long on the comment. Akatsuchi did a half shrug – half whatever gesture with his hands.

"Shame you don't have the chance to see your clay or at least release a bit of explosive chakra." He sighed, "I would've loved to see how long of a spar I could fare up against you.

"You and your rock shit up against me, yeah?" scoffed Deidara, "Quit being stupid with those ridiculous ideas."

"Don't get me wrong. Kurotsuchi and I would love to fight you one on one if we ever had the chance."

"Get real and stop dreaming, yeah. In the current situation we're in now, that's not going to happen. Besides – you've got no chance against my art with those dammed rock walls. Not even Kurtosuchi could lay a finger on me, yeah."

Finished with healing his wounds, Sakura peered at him closely. Surely, surely he must've been at least frustrated in the physical state he was in. Chained, starved and beaten to a pulp, there was no way that someone could not act emotionally upset. There had had to be a tiny bit of eagerness writhing to prove himself from his body.

"So Deidara," she queried, "Would you actually fight Akatsuchi if you weren't ditched here?"

"They're definitely not worth blowing up, yeah. Anyway, yeah – that would just defeat the meaning of having a purposeful life."

Her confident reproach to Deidara instantly began to sour. Seriously though , couldn't he have anything more nice to say?

"I see your dismal approach to life hasn't changed at all."
"I see you're still that pink, obstinate mule that was barely able to defeat Sasori no danna,yeah."

First, she was wasting her time with taking care of him. Now she was a pink mule? Her fists clenched in annoyance as Deidara raised his eyes to level her gaze. Neither one of them dared to break eye contact until Sakura let out a loud scowl.

What a rotten man.

She then shifted her attention to his medical needs. It was a far better way to take out her anger on him. She faced him to shoot off a haughty lecture.

"Whether you like it or not, you'd better start eating. Any less than the amount of food you receive now and you're gonna wane into a shrivelling prune."

"A charming way to convert malnourishment into your own words, yeah."

"I have my way with words."

" I can tell the obvious, yeah."

Sakura narrowly avoided his gaze and shrugged her shoulders. There was a niggling feeling at the back of her head as Deidara's eyes bore into her. "I'm not exactly your average medic." He regarded her dryly.

"I gathered that, yeah."

The sound of scraping rock and leather across the floor quickly broke the tension. Akatsuchi hovered near the entrance of the doorway, amused at the interactions and interchanges between the two. Interestingly enough, Deidara acted rather differently compared to when he wasn't being tortured.

Perhaps we could use that to our advantage.

"I'll be taking my leave." He announced. With a cocky grin, he jerked his head towards the latter. "I know you want to crack his head, Sakura – but by the looks of it, we're gonna need him all patched up."

With that statement now dispatched, Sakura soon found herself alone with Deidara once more.

Bloody hell.

~-0-~

Immediately, she began to feel the impacts of Akatsuchi's sudden departure. His presence had been quite reassuring, the old familiarity with Deidara putting her mind somewhat at ease. Now with the comforting presence of Akatsuchi now gone, her nervous anticipation of her patient's reactions was churning at the bottom of her stomach.

What did Akatsuchi have to report, anyway?

Nothing of mild interest came to mind when she thought of the conversation between the other two.

"Why was he with you, yeah?"

Deidara now sat straight up and stared, his blue eyes piercing directly through her. They narrowed suspiciously and then ceased as he realised the question had caught Sakura off guard.

easy, yeah.

"Did his company bother you?"

Sakura turned the tables instantly as Deidara turned to look away.

"No."

"Akatsuchi seems to really venerate you in spite of the many situations you've been put in. He holds you in high regard, everyone does actually. Even Kurotsuchi."

"The two have a lot to learn in terms of growth, yeah. Akatsuchi was always a lagging longshot."

"And Kurotsuchi ?"

Sakura hid her empathy for the two, greatly picking up something unknown in his sombre tone. His voice seemed to rasp as if heavily chained.

"She was unbelievably loud and annoying – just like your teammate – the blond one – the Kyuubi." She swore that she could've punched his jaw if she heard that word again. Deidara ignored her glare and continued.

"She could never learn to let go, yeah."

A moment of silence filled the two, neither one of them daring to speak. As the crucial seconds went by, Sakura couldn't help herself but to speak again. "I can't say that I'm not interested in watching a sparring match go down between the three of you." she started, "I think you might be surprised how much the war has changed them, and how far they have come since you last ran so freely with them."

"War doesn't do anything, yeah." Reasoned Deidara, who shook his head stubbornly, "Nor does it change anyone. It's just doing what each side thinks is right – and doing it again and again and again. Each and every one are but pawns in the game, yeah. Time ticking bombs."

"And how does that differ from your art?"
For a spilt second Sakura's heart skipped a beat as Deidara slowly turned to face her as if something so blasphemous had been said. His voice was toned dangerously low as she realized how much bitterness had consumed him.

"Don't talk like you know everything, yeah!" he spat, "Don't hold your head up so high and speak so freely as if you can any references between my art and that shit!"

"Well I hope you realized that shit was war. I hope you realized that shit does have the effects of change, the wounds leaving scars so deep in which most cases time can never heal."

It was a statement, not a question as it took both Deidara and Sakura a full minute to process the words they had thrown at one another. Deidara made a move to speak first, regaining his self-control. "Do you know what's it like to be cast out, yeah? To not be given a second chance? Do you know what's it like to be used in a fucked up state over and over again for the purposes of war?"

Sakura stood up to exhibit her full height, knowing that it would make no difference. "I know what it's like to be cast aside. I know what it's like seeing the ones you love used and the emotional suffering and pain that accompanies it."

"Yeah, well surely –"
"But do you know what it's like to on the border line of holding your arms up and waiting for someone to grasp it?"

The sound of a ticking clock reverberated through the walls as a pair of green eyes flashed against blue. Sakura picked up a stray gauze that had fallen on the floor and tossed it at the bin, sighing as her aim failed miserably.

"Sometimes, we all need a second chance. However not everyone uses it to its full extent and not everyone even makes a single step to try and hold on." His blank stare brought no reaction as she began to gather her materials and equipment. "I've healed most of your injuries so you should be able to complete the basic skills. Next time you receive a meal – make sure you finish it. Otherwise you'll starve to death."

"I already told you –"

"Many bad artists will you that art is life. There's a subtle difference however. You can always turn your back on art, but you can't turn your back on life."

Deidara was left utterly perplexed at her words as she walked out of the room and gave him no chance to reply.

The door slammed hard on its hinges.


Author's Note: I've been away for so long that when I look at my works it makes me so sad! I know have absolutely no excuse for updating and can understand that there may be people out there who feel like strangling me. Life, unfortunately, has just got this terrible way of whirling you up into for its own extent. I'd also like to use this as a way of thanking those who reviewed as it's really nice to know your thoughts and opinions! Excuse my rambling on, but I hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I would also really appreciate your feedback :)