Deidara goes into Ancient Religions not expecting much. He needs it for a general education requirement, and a quick scan around the room tells him that he’s the only fourth year in the class. Wonderful.
He’s never had a class in this building before, and the floorboards creak ominously under his feet as he pushes through a group of firsties to claim one of the free seats in the back, as far away as possible from whatever the kid with the dog is yelling about.
The dog isn’t even wearing a vest. Is that allowed? Deidara does not care.
Deidara waltzed in five minutes late, but it doesn’t matter, because the TA instructor still isn’t there. At around the ten minute mark, the blonde kid in front of him yells something about class being cancelled if the instructor is fifteen minutes late.
“That’s not real, Deadlast,” answers another firstie that Deidara vaguely recognizes as Uchiha’s little brother.
Deidara is considering putting gum in baby Uchiha’s hair when the TA finally walks in.
“Alright, you little shits,” the TA greets, dropping the textbook on the instructor’s desk with a loud thud.
Deidara suddenly finds himself very interested in Ancient Religions. The TA is– how does he put this delicately– a fucking snack and a half.
“This is non-major course, so I assume none of you here give a fuck,” the TA drawls, leaning back casually on his desk. His T-shirt is skin tight, and the movement shows off his broad chest nicely. He looks deeply unimpressed with the entire class, his red eyes moving lazily between them, and Deidara can’t help but note how good unapologetic asshole looks on him. “I don’t really give a fuck about teaching you, either. So here’s the deal: you give me assignments that don’t make me want to Oedipus my eyes out, and I give you an A.”
Two seats down from him, a blonde girl leans over to whisper to her pink-haired friend. It sounds something like, Who let this guy teach?
Obviously someone with eyes, Deidara thinks, and then pulls out his syllabus to check for the TA’s name. It’s Hidan.
Hidan goes over the syllabus in a bored tone, and Deidara spends more time focused on how Hidan’s bicep moves as he glances down and back up from his own printout of the syllabus, held loosely in his hand. Weekly reflection papers, readings posted online, three essays, blah blah blah. Deidara plans to put the absolute minimum into this class, hot TA or no.
Deidara gets his first assignment back with the note:
You should do this shit as stand-up. What’s the stain?
The stain is 70% ethanol, because Deidara wrote his weekly reflection while cleaning up from his biochemistry lab. The ethanol smeared the ink across the page, taking out a good chunk of his concluding paragraph. For his efforts, Hidan has awarded him a D.
“Shit,” Deidara mumbles, and the pink-haired girl gives him a disapproving look.
Deidara cannot actually afford to fail this class. Grudgingly, he fishes some paper out of his backpack and takes notes on whatever Hidan is talking about today.
Once Deidara gets over the pink-haired girl wincing every time Hidan swears, the class is actually interesting. Hidan knows his stuff, and Deidara can tell that behind the front of nonchalance, Hidan loves it. One day, the loud firstie who sits with Baby Uchiha asks a question about human sacrifice.
It was, specifically, in reference to the week’s reading on Mesoamerica. The textbook had shied away from an in-depth discussion on human sacrifice, but had talked a lot about exaggerations and misconceptions of it by Westerners to make indiginous people’s beliefs seem barbaric. In other words, it was a very obvious question for some eighteen year old dumbass to ask.
“Their gods sacrificed themselves for humanity to live,” Hidan says bluntly. “You’d think we’d show them some fucking retribution.”
Loud Firstie squirms uncomfortably in his seat. “But,” he says, “isn’t human sacrifice, you know, kind of gross?”
“Did you not read a fucking word?” Hidan yells back. “Did you not pass your high school reading comprehension tests? I specifically picked this stupid textbook because it actually explains it right–”
What follows is a forty minute rant about death and blood and debts and God. It quickly veers away from anything remotely related to their textbook and into topics like “divine bliss” and “becoming one with god” and “understanding fellow man through pain.” It is very loud, and Hidan waves his arms a lot. The whole room becomes steadily more uncomfortable as students shift and squirm, and Loud Firstie slides further and further down in his seat. Even when they get to their official dismissal time, Hidan is still raving.
Dog Boy, seated closest to the door, makes a mad dash for freedom.
“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?” Hidan screams, and then actually throws a chair at him. Dog Boy barely dodges, and it crashes into the wall. “No one is leaving,” Hidan says, voice low and deep and dangerous as he glares at the class, “until I’m done teaching you.”
Dog Boy gingerly sits back down, and his dog whines. The windows suddenly seem darker, like the clear day has suddenly become overcast to match Hidan’s mood. Deidara leans forward in his desk.
This outburst, unfortunately, has just moved Hidan from “eye candy” to “hottest man alive” in Deidara’s eyes. The wild, explosive nature of man’s true self is the topic of his art studio major thesis, and the reason he has a concentration in chemistry. He really hopes Hidan is still his TA when one of the terrified first years inevitably files a complaint.
Hidan dismisses them twenty minutes late, and he’s panting from the exertion of his tirade. Deidara has never seen anything hotter. He shoots a longing glance over his shoulder as he leaves, and finds Hidan silhouetted by the sudden return of the sun, his skin and hair glowing as his face smoothes out into a pensive expression. Even his shadow, curling oddly over the desk, seems softer than it should be. Then pink-haired girl smacks into him in her rush to flee, weirdly muscular and dense for a petite girl, and Deidara is forced out into the hallway.
“Watch it,” he snaps at her.
Hidan does not so much as apologize next class, though, so maybe his classmates are more cowardly than Deidara thinks. Deidara half wishes he didn’t have lab right before this class, so he could wear sexier clothes and show up not smelling like chemicals.
But, well, those are what office hours are for.
Deidara has never once gone to office hours to discuss a project, because he has always been confident in his work of choice. He’s not sure how to start the conversation, but he does show up recently showered and in flattering clothes.
Hidan’s office is in the basement of the religious studies building. It’s windowless with cinderblock walls, and just big enough to hold a desk and a musty looking orange couch that must have been there since the building was constructed. Strange symbols decorate the walls in shiny black paint, and there’s a poster of some sort of pagan god pasted to the ceiling.
“Oh shit, someone actually showed up,” Hidan says, blinking up at Deidara in surprise when he sticks his head in.
Surprise is a good look on Hidan. His eyes are wide and his mouth lax, and he looks young and naive.
He is not, Deidara notes, wearing shoes. His boots are kicked off under his desk.
Hidan waves him in and tells him to have a seat while he finishes up an email. Deidara cannot for the life of him imagine Hidan trading professional correspondances, but he must manage to do so on a regular basis to stay in graduate school.
Deidara sinks into the couch, and watches Hidan’s back muscles twitch as he types. Autumn started with a fierce cold snap, but Deidara is happy to note that Hidan has not stopped wearing his too-tight T-shirts.
Aside from his laptop, Hidan’s desk contains exactly one book and a collection of animal bones. They’re all bleached a perfect white, and in no apparent order– there are a couple of vertebrae, some knuckles, a femur, and a goat’s skull, complete with little horns. It’s a little bit weird, Deidara thinks, but he shares studio space with a guy who taxidermies things for “art,” so it could always be weirder.
“Okay,” Hidan finally announces, and swivels around his chair to face Deidara. “What’s up?”
“Uhh…” Deidara splutters out, and immediately feels humiliated. “I wanted some advice for the first midterm paper.”
“Yeah, okay,” Hidan says. His voice is easy and conversational, like Deidara isn’t turning into a red mess right before his very eyes. “Deidara, right? Just don’t write like your fucking reflection papers, and you’ll be good.”
He flashes him an incredibly endearing smile, as if he has just solved all Deidara’s problems. Deidara feels his face flush even hotter, this time with anger.
“It’s not like you give any actual feedback, yeah,” Deidara points out snidely. “Last week you just circled a paragraph and wrote L-O-L next to it. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”
“I did that?” Hidan asks, and then bursts into laughter.
Deidara scowls and thinks about the CO2 cartridges he has in his backpack, currently being ported to the art studio. His fingers itch with the idea of setting them off in here, of blowing apart Hidan’s weird desk full of bones and sending the couch stuffing into the air. What sort of face would Hidan make at that?
Hidan’s laugh is loud and obnoxious, and Deidara sees the edges of his vision go red. On the walls behind Hidan, the symbols twitch. Deidara blinks rapidly, the rage-filled tunnel vision fading.
What the fuck?
“Ah, I crack myself up,” Hidan says, wiping a tear from his eye as he calms down. “Yeah, your reflection papers suck. Here’s why.”
Hidan goes into a short breakdown of why he’s been giving Deidara solid Cs, and minus a smattering of swears and unwarranted insults, it’s useful feedback. Deidara feels his scowl deepen.
“Anyway,” Hidan drones on, leaning back in his swivel chair. It moans under his weight. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking of writing about, and I’ll tell you if it’s a good idea or not.”
Deidara goes to great effort to relax his face. He didn’t come here to make himself vulnerable; he came here to make his hot TA notice him. He can’t just talk like a blustering moron.
Across from him, Hidan’s attention drifts to his stupid cieling poster, and a vague, happy smile tugs across his face. Deidara wants those eyes on him. He has not put a single thought into his paper, but he has some inkling of what will get Hidan’s attention.
“I liked your lecture on human sacrifice in Mesoamerica, yeah,” Deidara says.
Hidan’s attention immediately snaps back to him, and a huge grin spreads across his face. Deidara feels a flash of heat deep in his stomach. “Really?” Hidan asks.
“Of course,” Deidara says, and it’s not a lie at all. Hidan’s rant had been a deep departure from whatever their textbook had said about Aztecs and Flower Wars straight into crazyland, but Deidara had definitely liked it. “I like it when people are into what they’re teaching.”
“Hmm,” Hidan says, and now his dumb little smile is focused on Deidara. Good. Excellent. “Well, I’m always into reading essays on human sacrifice, even when they’re shit.”
Deidara still only makes a B- on his essay.
It’s a pity grade, Hidan has written across the top.
Deidara picks up his pen and throws it at the back of baby Uchiha’s head. Baby Uchiha turns around with an annoyed little snarl on his face.
“Hey,” Deidara says. “Does Hidan write real comments on your essays?”
He holds up the second page of his paper, where Hidan has simply written B A D across the bottom in block letters.
Baby Uchiha’s face relaxes into a sort of resigned expression that makes Deidara think his experience is universal, but it’s Loud Firstie that answers.
“He didn’t write a single word on mine!” Loud Firstie yells, waving his essay in Deidara’s general direction. He’s made a D, so at least Deidara is doing better than him. “I tried to go to his office hours Monday, and he wasn’t even there, ya know!”
“Monday was a religious holiday for me,” Hidan drawls from the front of the class, projecting his voice in their direction. Loud Firstie jumps, and slumps down guiltily in his seat.
“You could have at least sent an email about it…” he mumbles.
Deidara does have a vague memory of Hidan writing a list of dates on the white board, citing them as “religious holidays” when he’d either get a substitue for class or be cancelling office hours. Deidara did not write the dates down, but they had randomly had a monk teach their class a couple weeks ago. It had been a very disappointing day for Deidara.
Hidan gives a short lecture on having extra office hours because no one did very well on their first paper, and he’s sure everyone is going to want to “bitch and moan” to him in person.
As Deidara shoves his essay into his backpack, he wonders what sort of religion Hidan follows. The list of dates had seemed kind of random to him. Deidara isn’t religious, nor is he all that socially aware, but he does feel like he has a decent enough grasp on when other major religions in the country are doing their thing.
Would that be a weird thing to ask a TA? Probably.
After class, Deidara makes a beeline for his advisor meeting. In general, Deidara tries to jam all his classes and meetings into mornings, so he can spend the rest of his day in the shared studio space the university has granted him as an art major.
Orochimaru scares the shit out of Deidara, but he’s also the most supportive faculty member of Deidara’s art. It’s a little bit weird, since Orochimaru is his chemistry concentration advisor, but Deidara supposes art appreciatists come in all types.
“Raw sodium?” Orochimaru asks, delicately shaped eyebrows raised, a smile tugging at his lips.
“Yeah,” Deidara says. “Professor Sarutobi said you guys used to play with that stuff all the time.”
“Do you have adequate space to store it?” Orochimaru asks, and there’s a barely contained laugh behind his voice.
“Of course I do,” Deidara said. “We have to waterproof stuff all the time.”
“Well.” Orochimaru settles back in his seat, tucking one strand of silky hair behind his ear. He makes a show of scrolling through Deidara’s file on his computer. “You’re on track to graduate, and you’re in good academic standing, which is all I’m really supposed to be checking for…”
He agrees to get him the sodium. As an undergraduate student, Deidara cannot procure volatile chemicals himself, but Orochimaru is surprisingly amenable to having one of his techs or grad students pick stuff up for Deidara.
When he gets to the art studio, Sasori is already there, glaring fiercely at a pile of wires.
“I told you not to touch my stuff,” Sasori snaps when Deidara walks in, not even looking up. “I’ve spent the last hour untangling this.”
“If you don’t want me to touch your stuff,” Deidara says, picking his way over the bones Sasori has scattered around the floor, “then keep it out of my space, yeah.”
To make his point, he picks the taxidermied deer’s head out of his chair and throws it as best he can over to Sasori’s area. It knocks over a taxidermied raccoon, and they both tumble across the concrete floor. The result is immediate, angry hissing from Sasori’s general vicinity.
Deidara stays up all night one night sculpting and completely forgets he’s supposed to be writing Hidan’s stupid weekly reflection paper. He writes it in lab, hiding the paper in his lab notebook as he keeps half an eye on the experiment they’re supposed to be conducting for the day. His lab partner sends him several dirty looks but doesn’t say anything.
Because he’s tired and distracted, Deidara writes a completely disjointed account of how Hidan’s class ties into his interests as an artist. Life is a series of moments, Deidara writes, and we only remember the extremes: passion and fury and pain.
He then writes a paragraph on how those extremes drive people to religion and make them believe in god– which is, strictly speaking, not even really that consistent with ancient peoples, and his examples are more bullshit than not. Hidan seems to just give him Cs and Ds no matter what he writes, though, so he turns it in without shame.
To his absolute shock, the paper comes back with a B and a see me after class scrawled the top.
Something learches in Deidara’s stomach, and he’s not sure if it’s nervousness or excitement. Every time he’s gotten a see me after class, it’s been some elderly professor looking at him with deep concern or a warning about personal safety when handling explosives. Neither of those options seem like Hidan’s style.
The blonde girl with the ponytail who sits a few seats down from Deidara practically runs to the front of the class once they’ve been dismissed, and Deidara lingers awkwardly behind her as she pins Hidan down with a comical glare.
“You haven’t replied to any of my emails,” she says, voice snooty and accusatory. “I can’t make your office hours to discuss my midterm paper. I’d like to make an appointment.”
She puts her hands on her hips and the glare gains a defiant quality. Hidan’s eyes wander from her furious form to Deidara.
“Holy shit,” he says, and then snorts with laughter. “You two have the same hairstyle.”
The girl whirls to set her glare at Deidara now, her blonde hair whipping behind her and– shit. They do have the similar hairstyles.
“It’s a good look, yeah,” Deidara says to Hidan, giving him his best smirk and ignoring the girl’s affronted look as she eyes him up and down.
“...yeah,” the girl agrees eventually, once she’s done checking Deidara out. She flips her ponytail over her shoulder and sends Hidan one last glare. “I’ll send you another email. Please reply.”
She stomps out of the room then, joining her pink-haired friend who’s been waiting for her at the door. That leaves Deidara alone with Hidan.
“You wanted to see me?” Deidara asks.
“Yeah,” Hidan says, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Come on.”
Deidara follows Hidan obediently out the door and down to his basement office. The weather has gotten cold enough that Hidan has switched from T-shirts to a long-sleeved athletic shirt. Paired with jeans, it’s a less fashionable look, but Deidara can still make out every contour of Hidan’s back and biceps, so he’ll forgive him.
“Okay,” Hidan says, once he’s unlocked his office door. “I’ve only given one A and, like, five Bs all semester, so next class I’m going to announce an extra credit assignment.”
Hidan sits in his chair, so Deidara flops down on the couch. Hidan’s chair creaks as he leans back, and the symbols painted on his wall curl and uncurl lazily.
Deidara blinks. What?
“I thought you might be interested in this,” Hidan continues, not noticing the moving symbols at all. He picks up the lone book on his desk and offers it to Deidara.
Deidara takes it. It’s bound with black leather and has the words EVIL HEART printed across the top in silver. The rest of the cover is a pagan symbol– an inverted triangle in a circle– and Deidara knows he’s seen it before. His eyes dart upwards, to the poster of the god above.
“You recognize it,” Hidan says, sounding incredibly pleased. His eyes are lit up as he watches Deidara study the poster. It’s a… sort of very androgynous but very frightening person with red eyes and inky black hair biting the head off a man, squirming and bloody in the person’s seven-fingered hands. The Evil Heart symbol is carved in blood into the victim’s back. The person has needle-like teeth and ram’s horns, and Deidara had initially dismissed it as a heavy metal band poster, but…
But… its eyes are hungry. Deidara suddenly feels pinned beneath it, and he imagines his own blood dripping from the god’s lips. It’s a struggle to get his lungs to take in air so he can keep talking.
“Saturn Devouring His Son,” he says, and he sounds half-strangled to his own ears. Hidan doesn’t seem to notice.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“It thought it was…” Deidara rips his eyes away from the poster, and it’s surprisingly difficult. His breathing returns to normal. “It’s a painting. One of Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings.”
“That Spanish guy?” Hidan asks, tilting his head. “Yeah, he was one of Jashin’s more famous followers.”
“Jashin?” Deidara repeats dumbly. Who the hell knows Fransisco Goya but not Saturn Devouring His Son?
“Our god,” Hidan says brightly, and then points to the book. “For extra credit, I’m going to let everyone turn in a small project related to their second essay topic, which is a religion we don’t cover in class.”
Deidara blinks down at the book in his hands, feeling woozy. Okay, so this is Hidan’s mysterious religion. A cult. Makes perfect sense.
“I think most people will just write something,” Hidan says. “But you can do whatever you want.” He does a very slow one-over of Deidara with his eyes that makes Deidara want to melt into the couch. “An artistic interpretation, even.”
Deidara’s grip tightens on the book. The symbols are moving again, and he can’t tell if they’re actually in motion or his vision is just swimming. His breathing is off. Hidan’s cheeks suddenly go pink, and he rips his gaze away from Deidara to frown at his computer.
“If you want to, that is,” Hidan mumbles. “It’s an optional assignment. Just thought you’d be interested.”
“N-no,” Deidara stutters out. “It sounds cool. I’ll do it.”
Hidan beams at him, and Deidara staggers out of the office feeling lightheaded.
“He knew Goya but not his paintings?” Sasori asks, watching Deidara suspiciously as he flips through the art book. Sasori is a very weird and creepy man, but he has every art book a person could ever want. “Not even the Majas?”
“Those would be your favorites,” Deidara mutters, flipping to the back of the book to look through the Black Paintings.
“They’re beautiful,” Sasori says, then turns back to wiring animal bones together into some sort of monstracity.
The Black Paintings are a series of paintings Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house, presumably in the fit of some sort of depressive episode. They all have very dark themes– cannibalism, witchcraft, people wailing in pain. Deidara pauses at a print of Fight with Cudgels, which depicts two men buried to their knees in the ground, left to fight each other to the death with clubs. Staring at it, Deidara can see the clubs swinging, and feel the crack of bones and splash of blood…
Deidara blinks rapidly to get rid of the intrusive thoughts. He’d barely read any of Evil Heart, and it was already getting to him.
The Cult of the Evil Heart ran on sacrifice and pain, and they worshipped a god named Jashin. Deidara has only really skimmed the first half of the book, but it made the subject matter of the Black Paintings make a whole lot more sense.
“This book doesn’t have any of his aquatint prints,” Deidara complains to Sasori. Sasori twitches. Goya’s prints had a lot of wacky shit going on in them, and had themes like “madness” and “witchcraft.”
“Those are hideous,” Sasori snaps back.
Deidara pouts and grabs his tablet to look them up. He doesn’t really like reading, and Evil Heart has literally given him nightmares about evil gods and dismembered corpses, but art helps make it make more sense. The book describes itself as redundant, anyway, because Jashin is a feeling rather than a being to be written about or prayed to.
The only really relevant thing Deidara has learned from the book is that all those days Hidan takes off are for… sacrifices. The book is vague about what the sacrifices are though, except for “physical experiences of mutual suffering.” There multiple ominous reminders about murder being illegal.
Hidan… does have a thing for human sacrifice.
Yesterday, Deidara picked up raw sodium from Kabuto, Orochimaru’s pissy lab tech. He changes his plans for it.
The semester crawls along, and in early November Deidara turns in his second midterm essay on Jashinism’s role in art, along with an invitation to the art department’s autumnal art show.
Jashin, he concludes, can only really be understood by art. He gives a much more expansive definition of art than he’s really comfortable with, to include whatever the hell Hidan does as worship as “art.”
Hidan flips the card over when Deidara hands it in with a hard copy of his paper, and then offers Deidara a toothy grin in response. Deidara goes back to his desk feeling disproportionately pleased with himself.
The art show is on a Thursday night, and it’s a small but bougie affair. Entrance is free, but there are pricey drink cards for sale, and pretty art students with desperation in their eyes asking for donations. Hidan waltzes in an hour late, by himself, and Deidara immediately turns from the argument he’s having with some second year about her pottery to approach him. Hidan goes straight from the entrance to the drinks table, and Deidara steps up behind him in time to overhear him asking how many tickets would get him a whole bottle of wine.
“I can’t just give you a whole bottle,” the woman behind the drink table says tightly.
“Sweet talking them won’t get you anywhere,” a blonde guest also at the tables says, rolling her eyes. “Trust me, I’ve tried.” Deidara has seen her around– she’s friends with Orochimaru, he thinks, despite being associated with the medical school or something.
“Give me a double of whatever has the highest ABV, then,” Hidan says.
Before Deidara can say anything to Hidan, Orochimaru appears in front of him, purring some sort of standard greeting. His blonde lady friend puts a plastic glass of red wine into his hand.
“Is this your art student then?” she drawls.
“Tsunade, this is Deidara,” Orochimaru introduces, swirling his wine. To Deidara he says, “I noticed you have your sculptures in an airtight container. Is this where my sodium went?”
“God, I don’t even want to know,” Tsunade says, and then steps away to look at a first year’s watercolor drawings. Deidara watches her drain her own cup of wine in one go.
“Yeah,” Deidara says, pulling his eyes away from Tsunade. She’s lucky Sai hasn’t mastered enough facial expressions to include ‘judgement.’ “Did you read the program?”
“Of course I did,” Orochimaru says, waving the handout. “I’m looking forward to it.”
He flashes Deidara one of his creepier smiles, and then follows after his friend, handing her his own wine to drink.
“Who the fuck was that?” Hidan asks from behind him, and Deidara jumps. “What’s in the program?”
“I’m doing a demonstration at 8:30,” Deidara says, and watches Hidan’s throat as he takes a sip of his drink. “The art’s not complete until then, yeah.”
“Hmm,” Hidan says, and his eyes rove around the room critically. “Show me around?”
Deidara cherrypicks his favorites, skipping the pottery and the watercolors. The front room is mostly boring– family friendly paintings and aesthetically pleasing 3D work– but he went to high school with Kurotsuchi, so he stops by her painting series.
“She uses cremated remains, which is kind of cool,” Deidara says. Her paintings are heavily textured and vividly colored, and not at all thought-provoking unless you read her artist’s statement in the program. “She got in trouble in high school for using her grandfather’s dust in a project, so I think it’s all animal remains now.”
“What the fuck,” Hidan says, sounding delighted.
The second room has more interesting pieces and is mostly dominated by Sasori’s atrocity. Hidan lets out a wolf-whistle at it: it’s a six-armed creature, made of bones and fur, with the taxidermied deer’s head. It looms over the rest of the room, taking up an entire wall.
Sasori was asked not to attend in person, as he has a bad habit of verbally abusing people who do not immediately worship his art. Hidan spends a long time admiring it, and Deidara feels bitterly jealous over it. He’s glad Sasori is not there to be smug about the attention.
“Where’s yours?” Hidan eventually asks.
Deidara’s piece is in a plexiglass box he’s taken great care to seal airtight, because it absolutely cannot gather excess moisture. It’s filled with human figurines, ranging from three to four feet tall. They represent a family, Deidara has created a short biography for each member, printed and pasted to the outside of the box. His artist’s statement invites the viewer to pick a character to identify with.
“You’re meant to imagine their lives, and how they’re like you,” Deidara explains.
To illustrate his point, a child bangs on the glass in front of the figurine meant to represent the teenaged daughter.
“I’m this one!” the girl shrieks. “She has a cat and a ponytail!”
The child’s mom laughs, and then points at the womanly figure next to the girl. “Then is this me?” she asks. “The mommy?”
Hidan does not look impressed, and Deidara immediately feels his mood go foul.
“Okay,” Hidan says, sounding disappointed. “Did you read the book I gave you or not?”
“Of course I did,” Deidara lies, indignant. “I told you, it’s not finished.”
“How long do I have to stay here?” Hidan whines. “I’ve already finished my drink.”
“I’m setting it off at 8:30, you impatient dick,” Deidara says through his teeth, then glances at his watch. It’s ten past. “I have to go get ready. You better fucking stay.”
Deidara stomps off to find Konan, the art department head, and behind him Hidan calls, “Oh, fuck this.”
Deidara doesn’t care if Hidan stays or not, he decides. If Hidan can’t appreciate fine art, then he’s not worth Deidara’s time in the first place. It doesn’t matter that he’d lost sleep to working on it and has nightmares from the book and swears that Sasori’s taxidermied animals watch him now. Fuck Hidan, and fuck Jashin!
Deidara drags his box carefully outside, and Kurotsuchi shows up grinning to lend him a hand.
“Go get my camera while I set this up,” Deidara commands gruffly, and Kurotsuchi drops her half of the box.
“Sure,” she says, good natured as always. “I always love your crazy art. Where’s your camera?”
Konan makes an announcement inside, and visitors slowly trickle out into the cold. Hidan is not among them.
Good riddance, Deidara thinks as Konan introduces him.
Deidara makes eye contact with Orochimaru, who is standing at the back of the crowd. Orochimaru’s eyes very purposefully move from Deidara to the box of clay statues and then to the decorative fountain in the middle of the courtyard. His eyebrows are raised pointedly. Next to him, Tsunade is flushed from wine and snorting with laughter into his shoulder.
Deidara cracks the lid off the box, and there’s a faint hissing as the seal is broken.
“This is a family,” Deidara announces, “just like your own.”
He grabs the biggest one– they have to be placed in descending order of size– and gently lowers it into the fountain so that it’s waist deep in water.
“This man is a father and a provider,” he says. A man in the front row smiles. “He loves his family and works long hours to support them. One evening coming home from work, he falls asleep behind the wheel and dies.”
The smile slips right off the man’s face.
Deidara goes through the whole family– there’s eight in all– and explains their stories and eventual demises, positioning them in circle within the fountain. Then he takes several steps back, and motions for Kurotsuchi to move back with his camera and tripod too. There’s no use damaging his expensive camera, after all.
The water seeps all the way through the clay of the grandmother figurine first and hits the sodium pellet packed inside. The figurine explodes, sending water and clay flying everywhere. Several people scream. Konan looks mildly alarmed, and Deidara really doesn’t know what she expected.
In Deidara’s ideal world, all of the sodium would have gone off at once, but he hadn’t had enough time or resources to test it all properly. Instead he gets eight explosions in rapid succession, and there’s definitely major beauty in that.
Clay bits and dust fly everywhere, and people run screaming. At around explosion four, even Kurotsuchi abandons the camera on its tripod, running back inside with her arms over her head. Deidara stays, though, eyes fixated on his creation. The statue in the middle of the fountain has been blown to bits, and there are multiple holes ripped in the walls. Water splashes over his feet. Debris has broken several several windows, and there’s screaming and wailing. It’s beautiful.
“You’re bleeding, you fucking lunatic,” Tsunade says, and then presses some type of cloth against his face.
As she wheels him around and pushes him back inside, Deidara swears he sees Sasori’s deer head turned and watching him.
Deidara wanders into Konan’s office with three stitches in his temple and eight spread out across two cuts in his arm. A handful of the guests who had been dumb enough to stand too close to the fountain had come out worse.
“The university has absorbed much of the liability for human injuries,” Konan says gravely, and Deidara wonders if any of the flying debris got her too. She’s poised as ever, though, and her make-up and hair are certainly flawless. “But your student account will be feed for damages.”
Deidara immediately opens his mouth to protest, and she raises her hand to cut him off.
“The building was insured, of course,” she says. “The fee is meant to be a slap on the wrist. You did list a raw alkali metal as a material in your project, so the department is taking on culpability for not recognizing the obvious repercussions.”
The logical part of Deidara’s brain recognizes he just got off incredibly lucky, but he’s very good at ignoring that part of himself.
“What about my camera?” he asks. He hadn’t recovered it before the drunk lady pushed him towards an ambulance.
Konan sighs deeply. “I don’t know.”
She goes into a very bland speech about responsible conduct, and Deidara zones out. He’s heard this speech plenty of times. He wants to get his camera and send the video of his beautiful masterpiece to Hidan to rub it in his face.
Konan continues to talk, Deidara continues to fume, and then her shadow moves, arms stretching out even as she has her hands clasped on her desk in front of her.
“Deidara, are you okay?” Konan asks suddenly. Her shadow peels itself from the wall and lovingly wraps its fingers around her throat.
“Y-yeah,” Deidara stutters out. “I’m late for class.”
He practically runs out of her office.
Kurotsuchi has his camera, and she makes him bring her lunch to get it back.
“Are you going to put it on your channel?” she asks, examining the styrofoam box he hands over. The back of her hand ripples, like something moving underneath the skin, and Deidara very firmly ignores it.
“Of course I am, yeah,” he says, and then takes his camera and flees.
Deidara keeps a YouTube channel of all his artistic endeavors. He mostly gets very annoying comments about I love how nuts this guy is and set this on fire next, like he’s some hack influencers and not a real artist. Still, it’s useful to have a portfolio, and every once in a while he gets thoughtful comments from people who get what he’s doing.
Currently, though, Deidara is not thinking about YouTube, or about much of anything. He has not been to class for the last two days, because things have gotten weird. Things move constantly in the corners of his eyes, he sees Hidan’s stupid poster every time he closes his eyes, and he can’t even stand being in the art studio because he can hear Sasori’s bone collection rattling.
He considers going back to the hospital and asking for some sort of head scan more than once, but dismisses it. He absolutely needs to get this video to Hidan, to prove a point.
Deidara doesn’t even bother editing the footage before sending it to Hidan. He send him the full, raw footage, in an email that simply says FUCK YOU in the subject. After he gets the send confirmation, he immediately feels better.
Deidara stretches, a weight off his shoulders. On top of the mess on his desk, Hidan’s copy of Evil Heart smiles at him, and Deidara has the sudden urge to throw it as hard as he can through Hidan’s closed window.
Hidan’s office doesn’t have a window, though, so Deidara goes with plan B, which is breaking into the office and decorating it with the desecrated pages of Hidan’s book. It does not at any point in this plan occur to Deidara that Hidan might be in his office on a Sunday.
“Oh, hey,” Hidan greets the second Deidara kicks the door open. “I’ve watched your video twice already. This is some cool shit.”
“What?” Deidara hollers. His face is red. He has not showered or slept since before the art show. The symbols on Hidan’s walls are fucking dancing.
“You were totally right,” Hidan goes on, seemingly unaware of Deidara’s distress. “I should have stayed. You nailed it. Sorry I bailed.”
He smiles at Deidara, and Deidara feels something in him snap.
“You’re fucking right you should have stayed,” Deidara screams, and hurls the book at Hidan. “I had to go through fucking– nightmares and visions or what the fuck ever for this bullshit, and you just fucking left!”
Hidan looks surprised, as if he didn’t expect Deidara to be angry he’d left. The book skids under his desk.
Instead of addressing any of the issues Deidara actually wants him to, like how he’s totally wrong and begging Deidara to let him lick his shoes, or telling him he’s a genius artist and please, Deidara, light my couch on fire for me, Hidan just sort of tilts his head curiously.
“You had visions? Really?” he asks.
“Fuck you,” Deidara answers and marches away.
“You sure you don’t want to keep the book?” Hidan calls after him. “I have plenty of copies!”
Deidara shows up for exactly one Ancient Religions class in the next two weeks because there’s a substitute. He knows this because when he’d had Hidan’s stupid book, he’d copied down all the stupid sacrificial days.
Deidara is not in class to get his essay back with comments, but grades are posted online. Deidara has won himself an A and full-points extra credit.
Getting rid of the book and yelling at Hidan did, weirdly, make his hallucinations go away and greatly reduce the number of nightmares, so Deidara throws himself into his art. In a fit of fury and spite, he makes plans for his greatest creation ever, and fills out the paperwork for the winter show. Konan denies it immediately.
Deidara looks up her office hours for a class he is not enrolled in, and shoves the first year with the watercolors out of the way to go into her office. What follows is a lot of yelling on Deidara’s end.
Konan’s shadow, thankfully, stays exactly where it’s meant to be.
“You can’t start a fire in the exposition hall,” Konan says calmly for the third time.
“I have clearance from the chemistry department,” Deidara yells back for the third time, slapping the paperwork on the desk between them as if Konan has not already read through it.
Konan is an internationally renowned artist, who specializes in ephemeral structures made from paper. Her presence was a major draw of this university for Deidara, but that didn’t mean she isn’t horribly wrong about some things.
“What authority does the chemistry department have in the applied arts building?” Konan asks calmly, blinking her hooded eyes at him slowly. “They approved of the sodium, and yet that ended poorly for everyone involved.”
Deidara leaves her office seething. Orochimaru is a thousand times creepier than Konan, but at least he will sign off on any sheet of paper Deidara shoves under his nose.
Outside, Deidara kicks furiously at a trash can, and the resounding clang does little to calm his nerves. He kicks it again, harder.
“Oi,” a familiar voice calls, “what the hell did the garbage do to you?”
Hidan is standing there, on the picturesque cobblestone path of the university, eyeing Deidara with eyebrows raised. He’s wearing a fur-lined leather jacket, because of course he is. A smoldering cigarette dangles between his lips, despite the no smoking sign literally five feet away.
“Some people,” Deidara says, glaring at the garbage can and then at Hidan, “don’t appreciate true art.”
Hidan gives him a sort of sad pout, like Deidara has just kicked him. Well, good!
“Yeah,” Hidan says finally, and his boots crunch in dead leaves as he approaches Deidara. He flicks his cigarette, still burning, into the grass. “Yeah, I get that. You wanna drink?”
“No,” Deidara says immediately, pointedly turning his face away from Hidan’s stupid sexy lips. “Not with you.”
“I’ll pay,” Hidan offers. When Deidara continues to pout, he adds, “As an apology for not appreciating true art.”
Fuck me, Deidara thinks and kicks the trash can again.
“Fine,” Deidara agrees.
There’s a street at the edge of campus lined with restaurants and bars, and Hidan leads Deidara to a slummy hole-in-the-wall Deidara has never ventured into. The lighting is dim and the floor is sticky. Hidan orders them two draught beers that taste exactly like watered down piss.
“Why’ve you been skipping my class?” Hidan whines as soon as they sit down, opposite each other in a grimy booth. “You’re the only interesting one in there.”
“Been busy, yeah,” Deidara mutters, even as he feels a trill of excitement. Hidan missed him!
“Anyway,” Hidan continues, casually rolling and cracking his neck. “I found your YouTube channel. I don’t think I get half of what you do, but I can’t stop watching it.”
Deidara scowls at his beer. Why did stupid Hidan have to go straight for the jugular with petting his ego?
“You going to do anything else like that any time soon?” Hidan asks, and then pokes Deidara’s calf under the table with his foot. “With the explosions,” he clarifies unnecessarily.
Deidara fixes Hidan with a glower that he’s sure is very unsexy. “Nope,” he answers testily. “Art department shut me down.”
“Man, that’s bullshit,” Hidan half-yells, and slaps the table emphatically. “This university is full of fucking cowards. The religious studies department--”
Hidan rants, and Deidara finishes his beer. It’s cathartic, to listen to Hidan rant and rave about… actually, Deidara has no idea what he’s yelling about at this point, but he’s enjoying it. It’s very soothing. At some point, he slides out of his seat to get them more beer, and Hidan grabs his arm and yanks him back down.
“I told you,” he says, leaning in so close to Deidara that he can smell stale beer on his breath, “I’m paying.”
Well, Deidara wasn’t going to argue with that.
When Deidara has beer number two in his hands, Hidan asks, “Oh yeah! What did you mean when you said you were having visions?”
Hidan phrases the question with extreme innocence. Deidara does not know him well, but he knows that Hidan has never sounded like that before in his life.
“What’s it to you?” Deidara asks.
“You read the book,” Hidan said, and he sounds very confident and very pleased. “You read the book and you got it.”
Deidara pouts at the foam on his beer. He’s not about to admit to Hidan that he may or may have briefly been going a little nuts.
“Not really,” Deidara assures him. “I just skimmed it and looked at art.”
“I read your essay,” Hidan says with great conviction. “You get it.” Then he whoops and slaps the table again. “I’m going to get you so sloshed tonight!”
Hidan pulls off his sweater to reveal a tank top underneath, and Deidara really, really wasn’t going to argue with that.
The night ends with Hidan switching sides of the booth and sidling up to Deidara, pulling out his phone and scrolling through Deidara’s YouTube channel.
“This is my favorite,” Hidan says into Deidara’s hair, and Deidara struggles to focus on the video and not at how Hidan’s thigh is pressed against him, firm with muscle and warm through the denim. The video is of Deidara setting an effigy on fire and pushing it off a building. Ah, yes, that one had been really good– so good that he’d spent a night in jail for it.
Deidara is very into Hidan showing him videos of his art and complimenting them. Very, very into it. He lets out a low whine when Hidan decides to show him a Jashinist cult video instead.
“No, shut up,” Hidan says, elbowing his ribs lightly. “You’ll like it.”
There’s a lot of fire, and the screaming of bloody goats, and weird animalistic yells from human participants. The sound of the bar fades away around Deidara, so all his drunk brain can hear is the steady rise of the wailing from HIdan’s video. Even on the tiny screen, the fire seems to get brighter and brighter until–
Until it goes dark, everything ending at once. Deidara shivers.
“I told you,” Hidan murmurs into his hair.
At the winter art gala set-up, Deidara smashes a bunch of empty beer bottles in his assigned space.
“This is childish,” Konan says, as she watches him. She stands a good distance back but makes no move to intervene.
“This is art,” Deidara says, and waves his arms in a dramatic gesture over the piles of yeasty smelling glass. “You signed off on it.”
Konan rolls her eyes and turns to where Sasori is waving her down.
It’s not good art, Deidara admits, but the statement he submitted with it has a lot of fluff about “satire of current definitions and limitations of art,” which at least sounds good. He’s sure there will be at least a few people who get the joke, and more who will think it’s serious and meaningful.
“I don’t understand why I can’t stay,” Sasori says to Konan. A replica human skull is clutched in his hand. Or, at least, Deidara hopes it’s a replicate.
Deidara has a cooler of more beer, and he drinks it as fast as he can throughout the gala, and then smashes the empty bottles in his growing pile. The reactions to the breaking glass are always good– everyone tenses and jumps and looks around wildly.
“This isn’t your best work,” Hidan drawls when he comes to see him. “Can I try?”
Hidan somehow procures a bin of empty wine bottles from the drink table and goes to town throwing them at the floor. Konan kicks him out about five minutes later, but it’s Deidara’s favorite part of the night.
Deidara is not really sure what Hidan and he are, besides two people who get each other a little bit more than others. It doesn’t get him anything better than a C on his final paper for Hidan’s class.
Also not your best work, Hidan writes across the top. Deidara should average about a B overall, so he doesn’t really care. He fills out his course evaluations on the quality of HIdan’s educational practices with brutal honesty.
Sasori is spending the winter break with his grandmother, so Deidara is looking forward to some quiet alone time in their studio. And by quiet, he means he’s definitely going to blow a bunch of shit up and film it.
He’s surprised to find Hidan in Sasori’s chair the morning of New Year’s Eve, inspecting a deer vertebra with interest.
“Where does he get this shit?” Hidan asks, bypassing any normal greetings.
“He knows some spots where hunters dump their prey,” Deidara says, shrugging off his coat and tossing it over the back of his own chair. “At least, that’s his story.”
“Hmm,” Hidan says, dropping the bone. “All mine come from sacrifices.”
“Uh-huh,” Deidara replies, and drops into his chair. “What are you doing here?”
“I had a question,” Hidan says, and leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Your art– the one they didn’t let you display– did you ever get to set it off?”
Sasori’s bone collection is rattling again, and the overhead lights catch unnaturally in Hidan’s hair. Deidara narrows his eyes at him.
“Set it off?” he repeats.
“Yeah, you gotta set all your art off for it be complete, right?” Hidan says. He looks excited. Deidara can hear the echoes of wails, like people are screaming two rooms away. “I wanna see it. Tonight.”
Deidara knows there’s some sort of Jashinist ritual that happens at New Year. He is not sure he wants to find out what it entails. He gives Hidan his most suspicious one-over.
“I really,” Hidan emphasizes, leaning in further, his eyes dark and pupil wides, “want to see.”
Sasori’s bone collection is basically playing a marimba at this point, the pieces are vibrating so hard on his desk. Light bends around Hidan, making him inhuman and unreal and watching Deidara so very closely. Deidara think his own bones might be rattling, from how Hidan looks at him.
“Fuck,” Deidara exhales. “Yeah, okay.”
“Great,” Hidan cheers, and the bones’ song dies down. “I’ll pick you up at five.”
He leaves without asking if that’s enough time for Deidara to prepare, and Deidara makes him stop by a gas station to pick up more fuel as they drive out of town. Hidan drives a fairly new pick-up truck, with the bed covered by a flapping tarp, and he was extra helpful in assisting to load Deidara’s supplies into the back.
“Get me one of those burritos,” Hidan yells out the window as Deidara inspects the pile of firewood for sale outside the gas station. Deidara winces. Gas station burritos: gross.
He buys two.
Hidan drives them for hours, way out of town and through the next, until streetlamps disappear from the highway and they stop seeing other cars. Outside is cold and overcast, but Hidan has the heat up high and has the radio tuned to a country music station. Eventually, he pulls off onto a country road that winds through the woods, and Deidara glances down at his phone. It’s almost 9pm, and he no longer has cell service.
When Hidan pulls over at a random spot on the road and kills the engine, it does briefly occur to Deidara that maybe he should be a little wary of this situation. He ignores this inkling of a feeling immediately; Hidan is nuts, but Deidara trusts him.
Hidan hops out of the truck and pulls the tarp off the back. “Come on!” he yells at Deidara, his voice cutting through the otherwise silent night. “It’s going to take multiple trips to get all your shit there.”
In addition to Deidara’s stuff, Hidan also has a cooler and a camping lantern. He shrugs one of Deidara’s bags over his shoulder and grabs both the lantern and the cooler. Deidara takes an armful of firewood and follows him into the woods. He has to keep close: Hidan had said he was taking him to “a nice spot where you can do whatever you want,” but had neglected to mention it was in the middle of fucking nowhere and that Deidara might want to bring a flashlight.
The hike is short, down an unofficial trail worn into the ground by off-trail hikers. It leads to a clearing of frozen mud, and Hidan dumps Deidara’s stuff right in the middle. It only takes two more trips to move all supplies and firewood to the clearing, and Hidan flips open his cooler to reveal a bottle of whiskey and several plastic bags of slabs of meat wrapped in butcher paper. He takes a swig of whiskey and then offers the bottle to Deidara.
Deidara downs as much whiskey as he can in one go, and eyes the meat in the cooler.
“I thought you did live sacrifices, yeah,” he says.
Hidan grins at him, the camping lantern casting twitching shadows across his face. It feels like the whole forest is watching them.
“Usually,” Hidan says. “But tonight’s all about you. This is just dinner.”
Deidara has no idea what that means, but he accepts it at face value. Of course this night is about him. Hidan had asked him out here to see art, hadn’t he?
Hidan helps Deidara set up the firewood, and then Deidara sets about assembling his paper mâché figure from pre-prepared pieces in the center. In the woods at night, the assembly is a bit sloppy, and the trip put a few holes in the delicate material, but Deidara can hear a sort of rhythmic pounding in his ears that isn’t his heartbeat. It’s reassuring. He packs salt into the figure’s limbs, and can feel Hidan’s eyes on his back.
(Deidara had worn very tight pants expressly for this reason.)
In Deidara’s original design, the figure had been a sun goddess, and his art to represent the cycle of birth and death she represented. With Hidan asking for a private viewing, he’d changed it a bit: added horns and red eyes and extra fingers to match common representations of Jashin. By the light of the lantern and Deidara’s phone, it’s a frightening image.
“It’s beautiful,” Hidan breathes, right down his neck. His hands brush the tops of his hips.
“Move,” Deidara commands, pushing him back. “I’m not done.”
When he’s sure a strong breeze won’t knock his creation over, Deidara steps back and grabs for Hidan’s bottle of whiskey.
“There,” Deidara says, rubbing alcohol from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Now you can put your horny hands on me.”
Instead of taking him right there in the middle of the woods, Hidan flashes his cell phone at him.
“It’s almost midnight,” he says. “We gotta start right at midnight.”
Hidan spends the next few minutes emptying lighter fluid onto the wood and paper mâché while Deidara strings up two lines of firecrackers. He takes a moment to step back, admiring his work and licking his lips with anticipation. The trees around them crack and hum as they sway in the wind, and Deidara can feel their restlessness in his blood.
“OI!” Hidan barks at him, and Deidara springs into action. Fire! Yes!
Hidan counts down to midnight, and the whole forest goes silent. Deidara can’t focus on anything but the fuse in his hands, and when Hidan gets to one, he watches his hand move by itself to light it. There’s a short but excruciating moment of complete silence, and then the fireworks go off.
Deidara staggers back, and realizes he hasn’t been breathing. The chemical taste of the firecrackers hits his face, and the noise makes his heart race in the best way. Then the whole paper mâché god goes up in flames, and the noise dies down to the hiss and crackle and pop of burning paper and wood, and Hidan practically knocks him over in a tight embrace.
“This is fucking perfect,” Hidan says into the top of his head. He has Deidara in some hold that is somewhere between a chokehold and a hug. “Now we pray.”
Hidan does not pray in a language Deidara understands, or if he does, Deidara has lost all ability to understand it. His face is pressed against Hidan’s chest, and he can feel the words vibrating right through his head and down his body into his toes. The fire, huge and raging and out of control, is hot against his back and so bright he can no longer see properly.
The salts he packed into the figure make the flames flicker red and blue and green and orange. He’s vaguely aware of Hidan moving them around the fire, but not of his own legs moving or even supporting him. His whole world is the hum of Hidan’s prayer and the light of the fire.
It’s good. It’s so good. Deidara wants it to never end.
Then, Hidan stops. He drops him. The paper mâché figure has collapsed, leaving behind a normal orange bonfire.
“Wha… wha…” Deidara stumbles. His eyes are unfocused. “It’s not over, is it?”
Hidan laughs at him. “Of course not!”
Hidan pulls off his own shirt, and then his pants. Deidara watches as Hidan removes his underwear, in the light of Deidara’s own art, and thinks that he should get his mind together so he can concentrate better. This is a thing he wants to remember.
“Okay,” Hidan says brightly. “Now you!”
“...what?” Deidara repeats.
“C’mon,” Hidan urges. “It’s part of the ritual.”
Deidara does not remember anything like this in Evil Heart, but he also barely read it. Luckily for Hidan, Deidara is very open to getting naked for him, even in the freezing cold.
“Nice tatt,” Hidan observes, eyeing the smiling mouth across Deidara’s chest. Hidan does not have the decency not to blatantly stare at a naked person in front of him, and Deidara is fine with that.
The whole ground is humming now, the way Hidan’s chest did when he prayed, and Deidara can feel it from his toes to his brain. He feels flushed and the only reminder that it’s the dead of winter is the sight of his breath in the air. He stares back at Hidan, completely unaware of whatever dumb but pleased expression must be on his face.
Hidan’s grin turns into more of a smirk, and then he steps into the fire.
Deidara’s entire body goes rigid. “What–” he starts.
Hidan just watches him, a lazy, cocky expression on his face. His white skin in unmarred by the flames. The ground is singing, and Deidara can hear the roar of the trees in his ears. Hidan’s body in the flames casts shadows that dance around Deidara’s feet. Hidan extends a hand to him.
“What the fuck,” Deidara yells at him. His face is so, so hot.
“Do you trust me?” Hidan asks. It’s a simple question, no implication or begging behind it.
“This is your fire,” Hidan says. “This is for you.”
Jashin is a feeling, Deidara remembers reading. Jashin can only be understood through art, he remembers writing. The forest is watching them in approval.
He takes Hidan’s hand.