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What If?

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A gust of wind swept up through the woods, rustling the leaves around. Immediately Itachi's eyes slipped down towards the threads they had spun from tree to tree, making sure they were still set. He didn't need to check. His teammates had done a good job at setting the traps and they simply had to wait for their target to come along. Still his mind was restless. There was something about today that just didn't feel right. Ever since he had left home that morning it had been there, the feeling that something important was going to happen today. Folding his hand into a fist Itachi tried to squeeze it out and hopefully put his body at ease. This mission was important.

Together with two other ANBU Itachi had received the mission to keep an eye out on a carriage coming from Iwagakure. The leaf was expecting this carriage and a regular team of ninja would be waiting for them about a mile from here, but the relationship between the two villages was a difficult one. No mutual trust here like they had achieved with Sunagakure. They were send out merely as a team to check up on everything and make sure the carriage would not be a threat towards the village, but Itachi knew better than that. This is why they had spun the threads all along the path, attached to exploding tags. This carriage was not safe at all and would not be allowed to continue after this. The safety of the village was what was most important here.

Crouching down on the branch he was standing on Itachi let his Sharingan eyes slide through the forest. It was still silent, meaning Iwa was late. Itachi took this as highly suspicious and signalled to the other two to move forward slightly, defending the border they had set up.

The simple cat mask was still firmly in place to hide his features and the white cloak draped over his shoulders let everyone know he was the leader of this squad. Something he had achieved at a very young age, but now at 21 he was not sure if he wanted this job for long. It was not an easy one, but he held a certain responsibility and there still was nothing more important to him than the village. Konoha needed to be safe and this way he was right there on the front line, defending it with his life.

The female with the bear mask on the other side of the road shifted in her position, trying to make herself taller and see over the trees. Itachi would not even think her name while on a mission, even if he knew what it was. The risk would be too great if there were great ninja around who had ways to read their minds. Something as simple as a name could be used against you in horrid ways.

Silently the other male of the team landed down beside Itachi, him wearing a blue outlined bird mask, the beak sticking out as if the man had a really big nose. He was part of a big family in the leaf with abilities that were of good use for this mission. Itachi's eyes could only reach so far, but this man's bugs reached much further.

'They have just crossed the perimeter.' His voice sound dull due to the mask, unrecognisable, so no one in the village could guess it was him behind the mask.

Letting his Sharingan eyes slide through the forest once more he finally found the carriage, it speeding across the road as the two horses galloped forward, trying to make up for the delay they had suffered. There were only two people sitting on the carriage, the load they carried stacked in boxes in the back.

'Get in position,' Itachi murmured and the other ANBU disappeared again, hiding a few trees in front of Itachi.

The whole forest was once again silent, except for the bouldering sound of the horses galloping on, the boxes in the back almost crashing off by the sheer force they sped on. It was on odd sight to see it all from the way up here, hidden away behind a tree. They had their chakra masked, so they wouldn't be noticed by someone who could sense it, but there were always ways to find someone hiding out like this. So they were all prepared for a sudden attack, may it come.

The carriage had almost reached the threads and Itachi was waiting for the tags to finally explode. Then they would move in and see what exactly was in those boxes. But about ten feet before they had reached it, the man holding the reigns suddenly halted the horses and stopped right there. The horses were breathing heavily, exhaustion pulling at their leg muscles. Chewing on the metal in their mouths they curiously glanced around, not understanding why they had stopped here at all, but not minding it either. The two people on the carriage were just sitting there, silently.

The feeling off something being off struck Itachi again and he was about to signal at his team to move in and kill this moment instantly. Since they had stopped right in front of the spun threads it was safe to say they had known about this meet up. Or at least had been expecting it. Nothing could be this coincidental. Raising his arm he saw his teammates get in position to jump down, but then out of nowhere another person appeared, landing right between the threads they had spun across the road.

A dark brown cloak was hanging from his shoulders, hiding away his entire uniform, but spilling out of it came this long blond hair, part of it tied up in a ponytail on top of his head. The muddy brown mask was enough of a signal to tell Itachi where he was from. The Iwagakure emblem stamped onto it only confirmed Itachi's idea. An Iwagakure ANBU. Both villages had had the same idea about this meet up it seemed.

Slowly Itachi lowered his hand again, waiting for what would happen now. Leaning his arm against the bark of the tree he felt the metal of his protector digging into his skin, but he ignored it, keeping his red eyes completely focused on the person below.

Curiously the person was following every thread they had spun, finding every tag they had attached to it, easily scouting them all out. The blond hair whipped up when another gust of hair slid through the forest, the rustling of trees masking every sound one could make. Itachi tried to keep his cool and see this all from a rational point of view, but his heart kept on fluttering as he stared down at the male. This was what his body had been anticipating for. This strange turn of events. He knew immediately that he could not trust this man.

Minutes ticked on as the man reached down and touched one of the treads, mocking them for the work they had done down there. It felt like Itachi was being personally judged for this amateur work they had delivered. And then he saw the man's face slid up, following the line of a tree and look up at the woman in the bear mask on Itachi's left. Itachi's heart caught in his throat. The man knew she was there! They had to move in now!

The one in the bird mask in front of Itachi had the same idea and was about to move over to her, but just as casually as the Iwa ANBU had looked up, he was now looking away again, as if nothing was amiss at all. It was aggravating to see this. Simply jumping in could actually be dangerous since they had no idea what would be waiting for them down there. Maybe there were more ANBU around, but no matter how often Itachi looked around, sweeping his Sharingan eyes through the trees, he found no one. But just like they could, the ANBU from Iwagakure could hide their chakra levels as well and that was the danger of this. They hadn't seen this one coming either.

Crouching down the Iwa ANBU let a hand slide over the soil of the road, as if testing if it would not be triggered as well by something, but that would be more fitting for their ANBU. Earth was still their strongest element. So Itachi did not trust this movement either and he knew he had to come up with a plan soon, because the longer he waited, the closer they were getting to being ambushed.

Slowly the blond hair ninja stood back up straight and then glanced up at the sky, trying to find an answer in the clouds for what was happening here. The leaf ANBU in front of Itachi saw this as an opportunity to move towards the female on the other side and make sure she was safe, but as he jumped across the road, a sudden explosion went off as he was in mid-air, striking him full force in the chest.

Seeing the man tumble down towards the ground Itachi blamed himself for not coming with something sooner. Now they had to move though. No sudden attacks would come again and now Itachi was certain there were more people around. The ANBU below had hardly moved, so he couldn't have delivered that attack. Again he swept his eyes through the forest, but there was nothing. Gritting his teeth he took his resolve and knew it was time to put his eyes to some other use. Perhaps going in blind like that was not smart, but they had no other choice.

And right as Itachi was about to jump down and confront this Iwagakure ANBU, he noticed the masked man was now glancing straight at him. It might him stop dead in his tracks and stare right down at the man. The smirk cut into the muddy brown wood gave the man this eerie look, the mocking tone of before lingering right in those features. Then adding those bright blue eyes staring right up at him continued to gloat, because he knew he was one step ahead of them, knew he was in control in this very moment.

The slow raise of the man's hand signalled something was going to happen and the female to Itachi's left side was now shouting at him to move, to do something and command, but Itachi could not. This mocking look on the ANBU's face was holding him right into place and moving seemed impossible. It was as if he had been put under a genjutsu he could not break.

Two hands clasped together and the blond made a sign Itachi's was familiar with, though he did not know the outcome of that sign.

Far too late did he notice the small creature climbing up the tree, the small white critter easily sliding up the rough bark and moving towards the branch Itachi was currently standing on. The soft sound it made when it had finally reached its destination made Itachi finally turn his head and look down. There perched on his arm was a white spider, the holes where its eyes should be looking up at him as if it wanted to become friends. And then he heard the spoken words, knowing instantly it was too late to react.

'Katsu.'

Chapter Text

Two explosions went off at the same time, the blast scorching down the tree bark, blackening it instantly. Someone cried out in pain and then fell to the forest floor, right beside the other fallen ANBU from before. The sound moved through the forest easily, warning every small animal of the danger up ahead, and the small group of people instantly understood something had happened.

Slowly the smoke the explosions had left behind started to dissipate, revealing two people standing in the middle of the road. The smirking masked ANBU was poised perfectly between the thin threads spun to the trees, arms loosely beside his body as he gazed down at the ground. Right opposite of him stood Itachi, breathing heavily and clutching his arm, having been unable to avoid being hit. The explosion had not been big though, not meant to be lethal, for whatever reason. There was just one thing that now worried Itachi. Because there between them laid his mask, completely unmarked, but still away from his face.

And the ANBU from Iwa had obviously noticed. Strangely enough the male made no move to attack, even if he had the upper hand now. Both of Itachi's teammates had been hit and laid wounded on the floor. Itachi would be an easy target now. If the man would aim for Itachi's teammates, he would need to protect them and that smirking mask could then easily take him out, using the teammates as a perfect ruse. Yet, the man stayed standing right between the threads, staring down at the cat mask on the ground.

Itachi took the opportunity to get his bearings back and prepare for any attack that man might lay on him. At least he now understood the ANBU's specialty laid in explosions and therefore his strength was in the long distance range. Itachi could handle that. Knew perfectly how to counter that, but still the man made no move to attack or to distance himself from Itachi. Instead he crouched down and grabbed the mask, holding it up to study it better.

'An Uchiha, huh?' the man suddenly spoke, instantly putting Itachi on edge. It could be a way to distract Itachi. The carelessness the man had about himself was enough of a distraction already. 'I have to admit I am a little disappointed, un…' The man got back up and took one step forward, closing the gap between them enough, so Itachi could take it back. The Iwa ANBU was smart enough not to look passed Itachi's collarbone, knowing very well that it was his eyes that were most dangerous. 'From what I have heard you are quite the strong family, un. It would've been quite the honour to fight you and see what kind of strength you truly possess, but now is not the time, un.

'I think we can both establish that this exchange will not happen anymore. We'll be taking the carriage back with us, un.' Right as the man had spoken, the carriage started moving again and the horses were turned around before it sped off and disappeared in a cloud of dust. Perhaps Itachi should've spoken up, said something about it all, but this exchange had been off the table as soon as they had shown their distrust in Iwagakure. 'Now we could battle it out and see who dies first, but your teammates are wounded and can't move very well on their own and I need you to relay a message for me, un.' The strange speech impediment was getting quite annoying, but perhaps it was not that. It was the accusing tone in this all. As if it had all been Itachi's fault this had happened in the first place and perhaps that was the case anyway. It was him who had decided to make use of the paper bombs. If they had not done that and had merely followed the carriage to the exchange spot, then this might not have happened.

Reaching inside his cloak the Iwa ANBU went to grab something and instantly Itachi reached for a kunai in his pouch, ready to defend himself if something harmful came out of that. The smirk carved into the mask still gave Itachi the creeps and seeing how the lips behind it followed its curve didn't help one bit. The man was cocky about this situation, knowing he was still in control. That didn't sit very well with Itachi, but giving into that would be a foolish act.

A scroll was lifted from the cloak and Itachi noticed there had been two, one for every outcome to this situation. The other one probably held a kinder message. 'Give this to your Hokage,' the man ordered, extending his hand so Itachi could take the scroll from him. But Itachi was wary of it. It could be a trap, though nothing to severe considering the man was still standing quite close. Eventually Itachi took it, but was not certain if giving it to the Hokage was such a smart idea. 'Open it first, so you can see Iwagakure has good intentions, un. The Tsuchikage has heard of your cooperation with Sunagakure.' And that was everything the man had to say about that. No explanation on how the Tsuchikage actually felt about this. Itachi had heard he was a stubborn little man who did not really believe the countries could work together, so this was all still very suspicious.

Unsure if he should actually open the scroll Itachi looked down at it. He could feel the other's eyes burning holes in his skull now, forcing him to do this. The pained groan coming from one of his teammates eventually made him just react and weave a sign that would unroll the scroll automatically for him. If he wanted his teammates to survive this, he did need to get them to the hospital as soon as possible and wasting time contemplating if he could trust this man was not helping. There was a long message written on the paper in black ink, but that was all there was to it. A message coming directly from the Tsuchikage, speaking of disappointment and distrust. It was not meant for Itachi's eyes though, so he quickly rolled it back up and sealed it again.

'Put your mask back on, un,' the man spoke up again, his low timbre startling Itachi slightly. The patience the man had was quite strange and it made Itachi lose his focus. As if he had all the time to think about this, which he didn't. 'People are coming and it's best if no one knows I saw your face. You never know what the consequences are, un.' The smirk on his real lips followed the curve of the mask perfectly and even if the gesture was a friendly one, the tone it was said in was another mockery. Who loses their mask as an ANBU? Still Itachi pushed it back onto his face, hiding away his features and the annoyed frown that was slipping in.

The man slid a hand into a pouch hanging from his hip and held it there for a while and this time Itachi didn't react defensive. There was no hostility in this man's behaviour whatsoever, no sign he was even going to attack at any point now.

'Do you still have a message for me to relay back, Uchiha?' he spoke again, the shining blue eyes suddenly meeting Itachi's red gaze.

He did not take the opportunity though. Easily Itachi could've slipped the ANBU into a genjutsu, but what kind of message would that be? The man had indeed blown up his teammates, but that had been their plan as well. And if Iwa was actually interested in making peace, then Itachi had to be kind now and stay back. 'No, but I believe the Hokage will have a response back to your message soon enough,' Itachi finally replied back.

Cocking his head to the side the man studied him for a second, his long blond hair falling to the side in a long wave. 'Surprising,' he muttered. 'For a while there I thought you were actually a mute, un.' The hand came out of the pouch and Itachi then caught a glimpse of something he had never expected. The man had an actual mouth on the inside of his hand and it was chewing away at something before spitting out a perfectly kneaded bird. The tongue lapping out sent a shiver down Itachi's spine and he was not sure what to think of it. It must've been where the spider from before had come from as well. 'We will be awaiting your reply then.'

Weaving another sign the bird suddenly blew up in a far bigger form, making Itachi take a few steps back. They were lucky it had not triggered the threads, the bird being just outside of its reach. The Iwa ANBU climbed on top of it with practised movements and sat down comfortably on the thing. Right then Itachi could also hear the approaching footsteps of the other team, finally following the sound of the explosions to see the outcome of it.

'I wish you a good day, Uchiha, un,' the man announced with a mocking grin, waving at him as the bird beat his wings up and down to create momentum and eventually take flight. The white bird climbed higher and higher into the blue sky and then just flew off, moving back to Iwagakure.

The footsteps finally caught up to him and the team halted right behind Itachi, one he knew all too well. It stayed silent for a while as the group took in what had happened, seeing the threads still firmly in place and the two other ANBU on the floor, certain places of their body bleeding heavily onto the dirty ground. Itachi's gaze was still transfixed onto the spot where he had watched the Iwa ANBU disappear.

The first to speak up was of course the leader of the squad. 'Were you ambushed?'

Funny how that was the first thing they all expected. Somewhere Itachi wanted to laugh at it. An ambush, no, it had not been an ambush. Iwagakure had reacted in self defensive, because Itachi had been the ambush. They were the ones who were going to attack Iwagakure before they had even shown their faces. The response had been a correct one and then he still had been treated kindly. None had died.

'Itachi, what happened?' Of course his little brother would be the one to say his name, blow his cover. At least no one else was around to hear it. Slowly he turned to face the group, seeing Sakura already focused on healing the female of his group. The one with the bear mask. Her wounds were possibly the severest of them all.

Receiving a punch to the gut Sasuke doubled over and sent a glare Naruto's way. 'You can't say his name, idiot. He's on the job now.' At least Itachi didn't have to reprimand his little brother now. The bickering that ensued was annoying enough though, so Itachi focused on Kakashi. Someone who had been in the ANBU with him and had shown him the ropes. He still trusted Kakashi with his life and therefore also with his little brother.

'We were the ambush and Iwagakure simply stopped us from what we wanted to do.' Itachi gazed down at his teammates, his comrades, and felt a little guilty. It had been his idea to perform the ambush this way. 'They need to get back to Konoha as soon as possible,' he added, nodding down at the two wounded bodies.

A lingering look made Itachi glance up into Kakashi's one dark eye, but Itachi was not allowed to say more about the matter. His report would be for the Hokage and only she would be allowed to hear. Eventually Kakashi crouched down and grabbed the male ANBU from the ground, ignoring the pained grunt leaving the guy's lips. Itachi took the female on his back and then they sped back to the village.

Every one of team seven was looking at him curiously, wondering what had really happened and what this all meant. It certainly was an odd outcome and Itachi really could not explain what had happened. The only thing he knew was that the smirking mask would haunt him the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

One knee placed on the carpeted floor and the other knee raised to lean an arm on it, perfectly bowing in front of the Hokage. The mask was still firmly placed to hide his features, even if the Hokage knew very well who he was. It was a gesture Itachi had learned long ago, when he had been first introduced to the ANBU life. Always show respect and submit before the rules of the city, the one that arranges every mission the ninjas are sent out on. A position many people aspired to achieve. The Uchiha family wanted one of their own up there for a long time now and some had whispered about Itachi becoming the Hokage one day. Even his father had whispered along, praising him in front of their family members. But Itachi did not really want the job.

'Do you have something urgent to tell or can I wait for the mission report?' The rustling of paper almost drowned out the woman's voice as she flipped through several files lying spread out on the table. She was a busy woman, Itachi was aware, but as an ANBU they always needed to report back to the Hokage, in case something important had happened. The fact that his two teammates were not here by his side should be a sign enough already.

Beside the desk was Tsunade's assistant Shizune, the little pet pig in her arms. The worry in her eyes was clear and the biting on her bottom lip did not help her case. Tsunade had of course caught on, but didn't want to immediately burst the peaceful bubble. Itachi needed the time to prepare his words.

Reaching inside his cloak he took out the scroll he had received of the Iwa ANBU, the smirking mask still vividly playing tricks in front of his eyes. 'Milady, the mission did not go as initially planned. They saw through our ambush and used it against us. The goods have returned back to Iwagakure, but the Tsuchikage did leave a message for you.' After brown eyes had finally looked up from the files Itachi used that moment to stand up straight and offer the scroll to her. 'The scroll is safe. I opened it before arriving here.'

The suspicious glance Tsunade shot up was to be expected, because Itachi was not allowed to read the messages directed at the Hokage and most of all could've hurt himself while opening it in the first place. Normally the scroll would've been send to a special team and it would've taken hours before anyone would even open it.

Weaving a quick sign the scroll unrolled itself and was spread out over the table. Shizune instantly moved forward and read along with Tsunade, their eyes sliding over the paper in a hurry. The lower Tsunade got, the deeper the frown got on her forehead, making her young features slip away slightly. And then the scroll was thrown across the room, the hard side clattering against the wall. 'Damn that old man!' Tsunade called out as she stood up, her chair toppling down as it scooted backwards. Turning her back towards the room Tsunade used the moment to gaze over the city. Itachi could only imagine what she was thinking now, but he wasn't in her position. The village meant a lot to him and he would do everything to protect it, but he was not the Hokage. 'He's just playing with us,' Tsunade gritted out, biting her thumb nail angrily.

'Milady, I'm sure we can figure something out,' Shizune tried to comfort her, but the woman only waved her off, clearly not buying that.

Even if Itachi really wanted to help and give his opinion, he was not allowed to share. It was not his position. Leading a team was what he could do, but deciding what this meant for the village was not in his job description. Only if asked could he give his opinion. So he kept his position in front of the desk, staying silent until he was dismissed and could leave the office.

After a few minutes had silently passed by, Tsunade busying herself with biting her thumb nail more until there hardly could be any nail left to latch onto. Then slowly she turned to face Itachi once more, a dark stare focused on Itachi's mask. 'Can you explain to me how exactly you received this scroll?'

So Tsunade would not wait for the report. The missing teammates must now also mean something more. It was time to relay the whole story, but with as few words as possible, focusing only on the most important parts. 'We waited for the carriage to pass by our ambush, but an Iwagakure ANBU showed up and prevented anything from happening. He attacked our team, wounding my teammates badly.' The strain in his arm from the bomb that had touched him coursed through him again at the reminder of the explosions, but he pushed it aside. Hospital would be the next point he would visit. 'He spared me so that I could give you this message, Milady.' That should be enough information. He didn't need to mention the mask and the smirk that was cut into it, nor the way his smile curved so perfectly inside that hole.

'He acted alone?' An expected question and Itachi could almost hear the disappointed tone in her rough voice. It made his lips tighten, thinking about how bad that actually was. They had been with the three of them and maybe if Itachi had instantly reacted and had taken him out, then none of this would've happened.

'Yes,' Itachi answered in a monotone, not wanting to show his guilt or his annoyance about this fact. What had made him stop from acting instantly anyway? Was it truly only the laid back manner the other had shown himself in, taking his time in looking around, in the mean time figuring out where they all had been hiding. Itachi had played right into his hands and it had jeopardized everything. What the outcome of this truly was, Itachi wasn't sure of.

Glancing back down at the files on her desk Tsunade disregarded the subject, but it would be remembered, Itachi knew it would be. It wouldn't be mentioned in any kind of report, but when Itachi would go on a next mission, Tsunade would remember this moment and reconsider sending him. Reconsider making him the captain of the team. Being part of the ANBU meant that you were strong and would do the dirty things to protect the village, but three ANBU members of Konoha should be able to take one down from Iwa.

'I want you to write a full report on what happened and go into detail,' Tsunade picked up again, leaning heavily on the desk as she sent another dark stare his way. Her loud voice carried easily through the room and people standing outside of it should be able to hear her word for word. 'I need to know exactly what occurred before we can decide on what to do next. Ōnoki will not get away with this so easily. We have a good bond with the Sand and we are working really hard to make peace across the countries, so he better not mock us again. I want to know everything!'

'Understood,' Itachi answered quickly, bowing before the Hokage to show his respect once more. This was of great importance, but did he need to mention everything? Even the smirking mask that had mocked their mission the entire time? The way it still made Itachi shiver at the thought of it.

As Tsunade went to sit back down Shizune scrambled towards the chair and put it straight up again, at the exact right moment so Tsunade could sit down in it. A heavy sigh left the Hokage's lips as she rubbed her temples. 'Shizune, get the board together. We need to have a meeting as soon as possible.' With an agreement the woman sped out of the room, sending the message towards the three elders still in charge of this place. Itachi did not really like them and they did not seem to like him either, together with the entirety of the Uchiha family. 'You are now dismissed. I expect the report on my desk tomorrow morning before I get here.'

Turning around Itachi was ready to walk out of the building, the need to take off the mask and the rest of the gear growing and growing. The pain in his arm now had become this throbbing point and was hard to ignore at this point, but he would need to get rid of the outfit first.

'Itachi, before you leave I have a final question for you.' Tsunade's voice had turned softer and even warmer somehow. A bit confused Itachi turned and stood there, his features still sheltered away by the cat mask, giving him an even more indifferent look than he possessed himself. 'Your father came to see me earlier today…' A sentence started like that couldn't mean anything good. What would his father have asked the Hokage now? Would it be about him once more, claiming Itachi needed more responsibilities, mostly so he could spy more on what even happened inside this office. 'He mentioned Sasuke and how he has been working so hard lately.' So Itachi was not the target this time, but it was about his little brother instead. What would Itachi have to do with it though? 'Fugaku asked me about when Sasuke would reach a higher rank and finally would become Jōnin.' That was getting ahead of himself. How long had Sasuke been Chūnin now? Itachi did not want to have an opinion on this, because Sasuke could show his strength for himself and Itachi was not the person to decide if one should be ranked higher or not. 'I sent your father away without an answer, because I don't like being put on the spot like that. But I want your opinion anyway. Do you agree with your father and should Sasuke become Jōnin?'

Wasn't she putting him on the spot now? And what was he supposed to answer to that? He didn't agree, but his father would assume Itachi would support his idea. Time ticked on and Tsunade that stared at him, hands folded under her chin in a relaxed position. She would wait as long as she needed to and that only troubled Itachi more. Did his opinion really matter?

'I don't think Sasuke is ready yet,' Itachi eventually muttered, not wanting to elaborate on the matter at this point. This opinion should be enough and she could do with it whatever she wanted to. He really hoped Tsunade would not make Sasuke Jōnin yet. Team seven is a strong team, but it still has flaws and before those are straightened out, Sasuke should remain there and not rank higher.

In response Tsunade nodded slowly, her eyes ascending down to the desk. 'Thank you, Itachi,' she said. 'You may go now.'

And so Itachi did, in a hurry. Tsunade would not ask him more questions now. He was finally home and could take off his uniform and pretend that he also had a normal life on the side. That he was not just a ninja, though his family shattered that idea quite effectively as soon as they saw him. His father would be even worse. He would ask about Sasuke's rank and if Tsunade had said something. Fugaku was intuitive like that. Couldn't Itachi have a normal day just this once?

Walking out of the Hokage building Itachi bumped right into team seven, except for Kakashi. Three pairs of eyes looked at him curiously, waiting on some kind of big story Itachi was never allowed to tell them anyway, but they always had their hopes, thinking one day Itachi might spill the beans. This day would not be that day either. Itachi wanted to push passed them, but Sasuke's hand placed against his chest stopped him and then another hand reached behind his back, under his hair.

'You have something there,' Sasuke murmured, taking the thing off his back and then holding it up in front of the group.

There posed on his hand was a small white spider, eyes hollowed out spots, still with this sweet expression on its little head. Its little legs were lifeless though, only there to hold the little critter up. There was no danger from it now, it possibly being out of range of the Iwa ANBU.

Another mockery coming from that smirking man.

Chapter Text

A harsh wind blew across the land, sweeping up dust along its way. The sun stood high in the sky, signalling it was early in the afternoon. They still had a long day ahead of them, but this had not been what they had expected to find.

Down below was a small town inhabited by mostly farmers, it sheltered by a long cliff on which the leaf ABNU were standing, or at least the remains of the village were sheltered. Houses had been broken to pieces, some only being a pile of splinters. Bodies laid scattered around, bloody stains seeping from under them. No one had been spared. It hadn't mattered what their age had been or what their value could've been. They were slaughtered and for what reason?

This was a new mission Itachi had been sent out on, with a complete new team. It was supposed to be a simple check-up. After the previous mission that Itachi had failed, Tsunade had wanted to send him on a mission with a simpler task. The village had said something about intruders taking over the village, but the message seemed so light. This looked more like a mission meant for a Chūnin team, but Tsunade had sent the ANBU out anyway and it seemed that had been a good call. But what could they investigate? There were no survivors and they didn't know much of the intruders the town's people had spoken of.

The white cloak draped around his shoulders swept up due to the wind again. A fresh layer of dust coated the bodies below and soon you would hardly be able to recognise the blood around them. Beside him one of his team members shifted uncomfortably. He was about a head shorter than Itachi was and wore a fox mask with red details around the ears and eyes. This was the boy's first mission and even if he should be used to sights like these, it was never easy the first few times.

'Should we go down and check?' It was the other teammate that spoke up. A girl with soft brown hair cascading down her back. Her mask was that of a bunny and even if the idea of it sounds sweet, it had the same emotionless expression as all their masks had. So different from the mask Itachi had seen the Iwagakure ANBU wear.

For a second Itachi found himself distracted, the mask still so fresh in his memory, and as he was about to respond with a confirmation, something caught his eye. They had scanned the entire area to see if there were any people left behind and also to be sure the enemy was not lurking somewhere, waiting for their time to attack. There had been no one besides them and this was why they were standing out in the open, on that cliff gazing down at the obliterated village. And yet right there to the side he saw someone moving forward, getting closer and closer to the crime scene as someone might call it.

At first Itachi assumed he was imagining things, because he couldn't be seeing this right now, but as the person slowly turned his head towards their little group on top of the cliff, he knew it was true. The smirking mask was back.

The girl in the bunny mask instantly got ready to fight, flinging a kunai at the Iwa ANBU, which was easily avoided by said man. Itachi's other teammate seemed a bit more taken off guard and just stared at the man down below, wondering the same thing Itachi was. How come they had missed him, again? And then two other ANBU followed after the smirking man, both wearing the same type of mask. The only thing that differed was the type of emotion they showed. One with lips pulled down in complete agony and the other a smile so wide it looked maniacal. The two were followed by a giant white clay bird, all stopping right at the point the smirking masked man had halted.

Their eyes locked and right in that instant Itachi knew they would not be in any danger of them. It was only instinct telling him this, but the ninjas down below had not made a move yet to reciprocate their attack. So Itachi lifted up his arm and told the girl to not continue throwing another kunai and that was the signal the group below needed.

Sharing a few words with his team the one with the long blond hair and the smirk that send a shiver down Itachi's spine climbed on top of his creation and let it fly up. The wind instantly took a hold of the man's hair, blowing it around in all kinds of tosses and turns. The dark brown cloak blew all around his body as well and Itachi was impressed by how easily the man stayed standing on top of that clay bird. Soon the man reached their height on the cliff and lingered right before it, letting the bird beat its wings slowly to stay at that level. The blue eyes shone with recognition as the man locked eyes with Itachi once more, but he did not comment on it. The lips behind the smirk were set in a firm line, no sign of mockery this time.

'I believe you have no hand in this, un?' the man spoke up first, the low timbre of his voice sounding so unfitting. And the speech impediment was also not something to throw Itachi off guard, but something that the guy seriously suffered from. Though it probably did not bother the man as much as it did others around him. To answer his question Itachi merely shook his head, which the Iwa ANBU accepted. 'I'll take your word for it then, un.' The blue gaze was then averted to the ground, looking over the scene below from this range now. 'I understand us being here is odd since this town is on your border and not ours, but a village over asked for our help and we still have a better bond with the wave village, un. They heard screams coming from this place last night and instantly sounded the alarm.' Slowly the man lifted up his gaze again, eyes moving from one teammate to the other. His eyes narrowed slightly when they fell on the female of the group, she still having a defensive stance even if the Iwa ANBU had made no threat whatsoever. 'Since we have no further right to be here since this does not fall under our jurisdiction, we can only offer you help today. We've made the trip here, so we might as well make it worthwhile, un.'

The offer hung heavily in the air. The whole team had now gone rigid, because this was something unheard of. And after the mission last time Itachi had not expected any help in this case. There was still ill blood between their countries, but Iwagakure had ill blood with almost every country right now. It seemed the Tsuchikage was trying to make up for it in some way or was it all just trickery? Itachi honestly tried to come up with the right answer, because he did not want to be blamed for making a mistake once more, for choosing to act wrongly. Balling his fists he tried to squeeze out the frustration, but he couldn't. His sharingan was spinning rapidly as he gazed over at the Iwa ANBU, trying to come up with the right resolve. He just didn't trust this man.

'I believe you need some convincing then, un,' the smirking masked man spoke up once more, not patient enough to wait for Itachi to come up with an answer of his own. 'We might have an idea on who might've done this, but we need to see investigate first before we can be certain. We've seen attacks like these all along our border where villages were destroyed, un. And we might know who were behind it, un.'

That was quite some convincing material the man carried there. If Iwagakure knew who was behind this and was willing to share this information, then this would help out Konoha solving this as well. This might work out really well then, but it was still a dangerous agreement they would be getting in. 'You may do the investigation,' Itachi finally spoke up, hearing the surprised gasps coming from either side of him, but the one in front of them on the bird didn't react at all, because he knew there was more to come. 'But we will shadow your every move and you will explain everything you see while you do your investigation. I also expect that the information you have now on these happenings will be shared. If all this happens I think we can cooperate right and maybe strengthen the bonds between our villages as well.' The last bit might not be the case, but it could help to convince the other since that was what they were meant to do last time they met.

'I believe you have mistaken me for a short old man whose back always aches, un,' the blond man replied, an easy smile forming on his lips behind the smirk. How could this man suddenly turn this in something so light hearted? 'I cannot promise you will receive all the information we have gathered during the previous attacks we have seen, since I am not the Tsuchikage and I don't have the power to agree to that. But I have no problem with you shadowing us while we look around. Feel free to learn, un.' And then the man let the bird ascend down to the ground again to meet up with his team.

Glancing to either side Itachi took in his teammates appearances. They somehow didn't look ready for this, but they had no other choice. The village was too far away from here to get another team here quickly and with the promise of this kind of help, they just had to push through. 'I'll shadow their captain. You two shadow his subordinates. Watch their every move, because I do not trust them necessarily. So beware of any kind of attack that may come. Never show them your back. And one last thing, don't be afraid to ask them questions as odd as it may sound. If you don't understand something they are doing, then ask them about it. We need as much information as we can get. Now go,' Itachi finished his order and the two leaf ANBU jumped down instantly, taking place by either side of the Iwa ANBU.

The blond captain looked up then, meeting Itachi's eyes for a third time and then Itachi let himself drop down from the cliff, easily landing on his feet. He could feel the landing resonate through his body, but shook it off while walking towards the smirking masked man. 'Show of, un,' the man muttered, turning away from Itachi instantly. The reaction made the corners of Itachi's lips twitch slightly. This man really was something else.

Slowly Itachi followed after the man, but his sharingan eyes were now focused on his teammate with the fox mask. The Iwa ANBU he was shadowing had crouched down beside a body and gave it a push to turn the deceased woman onto her back. Instantly a wave of blood spilled from a gaping hole inside her stomach. The Iwa ANBU simply ignored this and reached for the whole, only to let her hand disappear inside of it, rummaging through the woman's body as if searching for something. Itachi's teammate clearly had not expected this and started coughing instantly, trying to mask the fact he currently wanted to puke.

'New, un?' The blond man asked, having turned around to follow Itachi's gaze.

Not wanting to show that Itachi was concerned about the fellow, he turned around and took a few steps forward, signalling the man could continue on with his investigation. 'First mission as an ANBU,' Itachi admitted, which he probably shouldn't have, because it shows their weak point to someone he still considered the enemy, but it kind of just bubbled up and left him on its own accord.

'He's quite unlucky then,' he answered, trudging towards the edge of the town where a large building had vanished completely, a few wooden splinters left in the outline of where it once stood so proudly. 'This is not something you want to see and very hard to get used to, but I guess it's better than facing an enemy far stronger than you,' the man mused, throwing a wooden plank to the side before crouching down much like the other Iwa ANBU had done.

The ground below it had been blackened by fire for some reason, but no house had been burned down to the ground. The man let his finger slide over it and then lifted it up to his face, staring at the black dust now gathered on the tip.

'Her liver is missing!' the Iwa ANBU called, her bloody hand now lifted in the air to wave over at her captain. He merely nodded at her, letting the info settle in.

Now Itachi was getting a little annoyed, because the man was not talking, not explaining every move he made. Why was the missing liver so significant? It was odd, yes. If it was about a normal ambush to make a point, livers wouldn't be taken. Right as he was about to say something, ask the questions that needed to be answered, the man stood back up and stepped a little closer to Itachi, their chests almost touching, but the man's gaze was focused on their two teams.

'I'm not sure how much information your village will actually receive from the old man that leads our city, un, but there is one thing I believe you should know about.'

Itachi held his breath as he listened intently to the man's words. In a way this could be betrayal and Itachi didn't understand why this man would be so helpful, but he would listen and he would take these words with him. Everything to keep the village safe.

'Have you ever heard of a group called the Akatsuki?'

Chapter Text

With the help of the Iwagakure ANBU the investigation went by swiftly. They couldn't check everything, but the major details were captured. The things that stood out and were significant to the story of what had happened here. The captain seemed to know the most, even if his mask made every word sound like a mockery or a lie. Itachi believed him nonetheless, because the tone in his voice was sincere and there was no reason for him to really lie about this, was there? It was odd to part ways after that, because what would happen to them now? What story would they relay to the Tsuchikage? Itachi didn't really want them to leave. It would be easier to let them tell the story of what they knew about previous happenings and what they saw here. Now it would him telling a second hand story and that didn't feel right.

After Iwagakure left their side it took another hour before a new squad arrived to go over the rest of the scene. Itachi had to tell them a short version of the story already, but purposely left out the bit about the Akatsuki. It would be better to first tell the Hokage before and then see what she would do with that information.

The road back towards Konohagakure was spent in silence. The young boy of the group was still quite nauseous and had been left alone for the entirety of the trip. The girl hadn't been very talkative since the beginning, much like Itachi. This did give Itachi the opportunity to think about everything that had happened today. How they had arrived and how he had reacted. Nothing he had done was wrong. He had not made a mistake today, he was sure and yet it felt like he had failed once more. Maybe it wasn't the smartest move to trust Iwagakure after their last encounter. Would he be punished for that? It could mean Tsunade would decide to remove him from the ANBU and degrade him to a lower position. Why had he trusted the man who had wounded his previous team so badly?

Right before the entered the gate of Konoha, Itachi halted, face turned downwards. His two teammates moved behind him restlessly, longing to be back inside their warm homes and back into their families' arms, if they had a family. But Itachi couldn't face home just yet. Was it really alright what he had done, what he had chosen to do? A scroll would already be lying on the Hokage's desk, spread out and read multiple times. Itachi had tried to share a bit of information already and had mentioned Iwagakure there as well. Tsunade knew. Maybe someone would be waiting right by the gate, ready to bring his team in for questioning. Ibiki would be the right one to choose to do that.

'Captain,' the boy spoke up hesitatingly, the fox mask slightly crooked on his face. 'Are we waiting on something?'

Glancing over his shoulder Itachi watched his two teammates, trying to make out what exactly they were thinking. But the masks made everything so impersonal. What did Itachi really knew about these two? What did any of them actually really know about him? He had not shared anything with them. Not about his family affairs, not about the spying he had done on both sides and not about how he could not stop thinking about that smirking mask or the way the lips could curve along with it so nicely. He now often found himself wondering what the man would look like underneath that mask.

'No,' Itachi eventually replied and then stepped forward, slowly moving through the gate. He still expected someone to grab him by the arm and lead him towards the Hokage's building, but nothing like that happened. It all seemed quiet.

Normally Itachi would move over the houses and shops to get to the office faster, but this time he decided to move through town and feel the people around him move, get on with their lives as if nothing is amiss. Most had no clue on what happened outside of these protective walls. Most would never even leave Konoha, stuck here until they died and they lived far happier lives than most of the ninja.

Curious glances were shot their way, wondering what the ANBU would be doing here. Excited shouts came from a group of children, mentioning they would someday be part of the ANBU too. It was not a life someone should aspire to have. There were far more fulfilling jobs, but who was he to tell them that?

It took them almost half an hour to finally reach the Hokage building and Itachi already imagined Tsunade pacing back and forth in front of the window, waiting for them to finally enter and tell the story. Tell them about the attack and how he had blindly trusted the Iwagakure ANBU. The more he thought about it, the more he regretted it. Perhaps the girl's first reaction had been the right one. Force them to leave, make them hurt as much as they had during the previous mission.

The walk up the stairs was long. The echo of their feet signalled everyone they were coming and some would get ready while others would ignore it completely. Right in front of the two red wooden doors Itachi halted again. Going against the rules he actually took his mask off and rubbed his face tiredly, frustration carving a deep frown into his forehead. The lines beside his eyes had gotten far deeper during the last few years. Stress lines his father had quite badly too. Maybe it was time to choose a different type of job and abandon the ANBU, but deep down he knew he couldn't.

A gasp rose up behind him, coming from the boy in the wolf mask, because he knew it wasn't allowed. The girl didn't really care, would accept everything the captain would do and keep her reaction hidden behind her bunny mask.

Right before he pushed open the door, not caring to knock this time, Itachi placed the mask back on to hide his features. It would at least show his loyalty and he did not want to come across as a complete failure that did not care about this mission. It would leave the wrong impression.

When stepping inside the team was instantly met with people running around, going through books and handing out scrolls, while the Hokage was leaning against the desk, a relaxed expression on her face. It did not fit the scene around her at all, but Tsunade had always been a special kind of woman and that's what made her so fit to be Hokage. Itachi liked her. Straight to the point and not as soft as the Third had been. Shizune was yelling things at a ninja dressed in the blue sweater and a headband wrapped around his forehead, while the little pet pig was squeezed far too tightly against her stomach. The assistant was ready to blow her top, but the Hokage stayed relaxed and Itachi noticed the hint of a smile on her glossed lips.

No one noticed the team until Itachi had stepped forward and had reached the desk Tsunade was leaning against. Everyone around kept on moving in a hurry. Beside him someone was scribbling things on a scroll, writing a message to someone, a bird already posed on his shoulder. They currently weren't very important and this was odd to Itachi. They had just come back from the mission this stress must be about, so how come they were not important? And then Tsunade turned around, finally facing them and the smile had somehow grown a little.

'You have done a good job today, Itachi,' she mused, something shimmering in her eyes Itachi couldn't quite place. 'As soon as we got your message, we got to work here. I'm sure you have gathered more information after that, but this was what we needed. We have invited Ōnoki over to discuss the matters of what happened today and I am sure the old man wouldn't refuse us. How can he after telling we showed no respect.' Now Itachi understood the shimmer. She was satisfied with what happened, thinking this could be used to show the Tsuchikage that we were a respectable village, to put it politely.

Slowly Itachi let his eyes slide down to the scroll that was still being written. If they had sent a message to Iwagakure already, then who was this message for? It was not meant for his eyes though and maybe he should not get too involved anyway. It was better to step away from all this and let the rest of the village deal with it. Itachi had no leading position.

'There is more you should know,' Itachi replied, disregarding what Tsunade had said. What was he supposed to reply anyway? That he was glad that the information had been received so well? 'The Iwagakure ANBU cooperated very well with us and their captain gave me some information that I believe we need to look into. He has been present on more of these scenes, villages on their border completely obliterated. According to him this looked very similar to those happenings and he mentioned a name that we should investigate.' A curious look had lit up Tsunade's eyes. Even if her attention was also focused on what to do about the relationship with Iwagakure, she knew this mattered as well. It hadn't been Iwagakure that had attacked the village. 'Apparently there is a group of missing nin that call themselves the Akatsuki.'

'But I just got back!'

A warm breeze blew through the large boulders, making sweat slowly drip down Deidara's back. He badly wanted to take of the cloak he was wearing, together with the rest of the ANBU outfit. The mask had to go first. It didn't work well with his scope and it was a bother to wear anyway. And he had just come back from a mission he wasn't supposed to be on, so it was time to take everything off. Preferably be blown up right after that.

But here the Tsuchikage was, standing right before him, trying to glare up at him, but Deidara could never take him seriously from that position. 'Stop whining, you brat. You are my student and I am still your Tsuchikage, so you better listen to me. Now get on with it. We are leaving right now.' Ōnoki lifted his little pack higher up on his shoulders and then cringed when some kind of muscle moved in the wrong way again and painted his frail little back. Instantly Akatsuchi lifted it from his shoulders and held it for the old man, wearing this kind smile.

The smile annoyed Deidara, but at this point everything annoyed Deidara. He was tired and felt disgusting. The fact that Kurotsuchi was standing on the old man's other side, shooting him a smirk wasn't helping his cause. 'Can't I at least take a fucking shower, un?!' Deidara tried again, sending a glare at Kurotsuchi when he heard a snicker coming from her.

'There is no time, Deidara. Now take of your gear and get to it. We need you to fly us to Konoha right away.'

Oh, that was why he needed to hurry! This damn old man just wanted to make use of his abilities. First the man reprimanded him severely for ever stealing the jutsu and he had to work hard to even proof he was still part of this village, even if he hated its villagers most of the time. The hateful comments they dared to say about his art. What did they even know? And now the old man wanted to make use of it.

'Fuck this,' Deidara gritted out as he ripped the clean uniform from Kurotsuchi's hands and then he started stripping right on the spot. They wouldn't let him shower? Then they might as well enjoy the damn show. The mask was thrown of first, lying somewhere forgotten. Someone was going to complain about that, again. Then the clothes came off, sticking to his body in awkward ways. All of them were now looking away awkwardly, suddenly not happy with the fact they hadn't let him shower. Good for them! Too soon Deidara was dressed again, wearing the burgundy coloured one sleeved shirt and the brown gear strapped in front of it. Instantly Deidara ripped the one sleeve off, finding the material quite annoying and also to make some kind of statement, he wasn't even sure what. 'Done, now let's go, un.'

Letting the hands on his mouths chew on a piece of clay, forming the right type of bird that would be able to carry them all, he watched the discomfort slowly ebb away from their faces. The hump of clay was spat out, the small white bird lying perfectly still on the palm of his hand. With one final hand sign it blew up to far bigger proportions and the first one to get on was that damn old man. No thank you or anything. No one appreciated his art!

'Now get this thing up, Deidara!'

Damn old man… Deidara was definitely going to have some fun in Konoha.

Chapter Text

The sizzling of eggs being fried in a pan filled the otherwise quiet kitchen with noise. Mikoto was standing behind the furnace, making breakfast for the entire family right before everyone's day would start. At the table sat the three men of the household, waiting patiently until their eggs were ready. Fugaku was absentmindedly flipping through the newspaper, trying to find an article on the police force, but it seemed the publisher had once again put it somewhere at the back, not finding the information interesting enough to make it front page news. Beside him sat Sasuke, eyes glazed over as the teen had disappeared in some kind of dream world.

There would practically be no missions today. Only the ones that mattered enough would be continued. All because of the arrival of the Tsuchikage. Everyone had been instructed already, knowing exactly what their job today would be. Sasuke and his team would be on patrol somewhere, making sure no enemy would infiltrate them at the other entrances. Even if the Stone had been invited, it didn't mean the Leaf actually trusted them. Maybe they would arrive with a whole army. No one could deny that they had the strongest military force out of the five countries.

The ANBU had been instructed differently though. Only a few would actually keep an eye on things and do their bit of spying from the shadows. Itachi was not one of them and he truly understood why. Tsunade had explained everything to him why she had decided to not send him out on this mission. He had interacted with the Stone, had met with them often enough, and all that could cloud his judgement. Of course he was taught not to and Itachi could push himself passed these things when the Leaf was in his best of interest, but it was a risk Tsunade rather didn't take. And there were more strong ANBU besides him, so why shouldn't she choose someone else?

There was only one person that did make a big deal out of this and that was the person sitting right across from Itachi at the dinner table. Three plates of eggs were placed on the wooden surface, Sasuke's and Itachi's eggs still decorated with a droopy smiley face. Didn't matter how old they now were, Mikoto would always make their breakfast a happy occurrence. The newspaper was placed to the side and after wishing each other a good breakfast, they all started eating. The silence was now broken by Mikoto washing the pots and pans she had used to make the breakfast and it was loud enough to prevent Fugaku from saying more to his son. Now that the newspaper was out of the way Itachi could feel Fugaku's eyes on him. His father of course had given him his own mission during the arrival of the Tsuchikage.

When Itachi had first mentioned he was not working today, Fugaku instantly blew his top. Questioning his son and the Hokage herself. Fugaku wasn't too fond of Tsunade, even if she gave the Uchihas a lot more rights than the third even had. He was now even on the board and was present at a lot of meetings where decisions were made about what would happen in Konoha. But somehow his father had favoured Danzo's opinion and had sided with him oftentimes. Too bad Fugaku didn't know Danzo left him in the dark most of the times and only kept the Uchihas this close, because he simply didn't trust them. Itachi knew all this, because somehow they all saw Itachi as a separate being, as if he didn't fully belong to the Uchiha family. And perhaps he didn't. He had never told them about all his findings and the spying missions they had asked him to do. Fugaku knew more about Konoha than he once did, but he certainly didn't know everything.

Today Itachi's mission was simple though. He would be waiting with the rest of the town's men in civilian's clothes and welcome the Tsuchikage as the old man entered the village. This was what Tsunade expected of him and what his father now also expected of him, with an ulterior motive of course. Tsunade only wanted him there to greet the Tsuchikage together with other family members of the Uchiha clan. His father wanted Itachi to start spying right from that point on. Not necessarily the Tsuchikage himself. No, the old man would instantly be led towards the Hokage's office for a first meeting and Fugaku would be present there as well. Itachi would be the one to watch Ōnoki's subordinates. The man would not come alone and who knew what the Stone ninja were up to? It was Itachi's job to find out, supposedly to protect the village from any harm. But Itachi knew better than that.

'I need to catch up with the rest,' Sasuke muttered after finishing his breakfast, using his right hand to push himself up to a standing position. Mikoto shot him a soft smile over her shoulder, her hands still busying themselves with scrubbing a pot clean. Fugaku barely acknowledged him at all and simply nodded at the statement, finding this form of goodbye the best form.

It was Itachi who stood up with Sasuke, hoping this could be his way out as well. 'I'll join you. The entrance they'll be using is on the other side of town and I'd like to get there at a leisure pace. Still need to act like a civilian,' he explained, though that was not the full reason why he wanted to leave a little earlier. He simply wanted to avoid another lecture coming from his father. Itachi didn't need to hear about his mission one more time. The point had come across and even if Itachi wasn't very pleased with it, he was not really in a position to refuse.

This did make Fugaku look up from his plate, almost empty of his breakfast. 'When anything odd happens, make sure the Stone knows who they're dealing with. No one will pass an Uchiha.' And that was the last bit of encouragement they would get. The sliver of disappointment barely went unnoticed, but both Sasuke and Itachi knew better. If Iwagakure would pass them, Fugaku would not be pleased. They both had a lot to proof, and they both worked very hard for it.

'I'll leave some dinner for you in the fridge for when you two get back,' Mikoto closed of their goodbyes and then the two brothers disappeared into the hallway.

Sitting on the ledge by the door the brothers proceeded to put on their shoes, silence settling between them. They were both men of few words and only spoke when necessary, but if there was someone they spoke most to, it was the other. 'Got another spying mission to do, I see?' Sasuke commented. Even if the boy had not heard their father's plans, Sasuke was always very aware of what Fugaku exactly wanted from Itachi. The teen was smart and they did live under the same roof. It shouldn't be too difficult to see right through the charade.

'Yes,' Itachi said, first finding this enough of an answer, but then he realised this was his little brother and there was no harm in sharing with him at this point. 'Father doesn't trust the Iwagakure ninja, which is understandable, and now I need to watch over them as they roam through town. Apparently this information is only meant for the Uchihas.'

The soft warning that Sasuke was not meant to share this information with his teammates, which the Chūnin never did, but you could never be too sure. Something his life in the ANBU had taught. 'As if I would tell that idiot Naruto anything. I wonder if he's even capable of keeping a secret.' And with that final thought Sasuke stood up, straightened out his shirt and moved to open the door. 'I'll see you tonight when all this has died down. Good luck.' With a hard jump, chakra rushing towards Sasuke's feet, the teen made his way out of the Uchiha residence and disappeared over the roof of the house next to theirs.

Much slower than Sasuke, Itachi rose to his feet as well and proceeded to leave through the still opened door. Closing it behind him Itachi went on his way. Dressed in a simple grey t-shirt and black loose fitting trousers he would fit right in with the rest of the villagers. It was important to blend in, even if most civilians did know who he was. He did have the Uchiha features and took after his father, so it was hard to miss. The Iwagakure ninjas were not aware of this though.

The first part of town Itachi moved through was almost completely deserted. Only a few villagers were inside their homes at this time of day. Others would be out working right now or doing grocery shopping at the market. Then a few would be waiting by the western entrance, ready to welcome Iwagakure into their town. There wouldn't be many there though. Most saw this as ninja business and they had nothing to do with it.

The closer Itachi got to the city centre, the more people he ran into. Some would greet him friendly, asking how his mother was doing and if there were still enough missions for a strong man like him. Then there were also the cold glares, coming from people who were still not pleased with the Uchiha family. It was something Itachi always ignored and tried not to take personally. It was not hard to understand their point of view. They were the police force and people did not really enjoy the thought of abiding the law.

Then as Itachi left the market place and got closer to the western entrance, he could see a large crowd formed in half a circle, waiting for the Tsuchikage to finally arrive. Only a few meters apart from the large group a sudden gasp rushed through the crowd, all eyes focused on something up in the sky. Following their gazes Itachi tried to get a lock on, but could not see yet what they saw. Not while still trying to push his way through the group to get a closer to where everything would happen.

Reaching the first circle Itachi finally gave himself the time to really look up and by that time, the thing the crowd had been looking at, had gotten a lot closer. A gigantic giant white bird was ascending down from high up in the sky. With a few last beats of its enormous wings the bird landed and Itachi instantly recognised it. The hollowed black eyes. The almost sweet expression on its face to mask its deadliness. The only reason why Itachi trusted this thing wouldn't blow up now, was because of the people standing on top of it. A short old man was trying to climb off of it, but had to be helped by a man who was almost as wide as he was tall. A woman with shirt black hair followed, easily jumping off the bird as if she had done this many times before. And lastly a younger male followed, the long blond hair fanning around his face, bright blue eyes scanning through the crowd while this satisfied grin was plastered on his lips.

Heels clicking hard on the ground Tsunade rushed forward and halted right in front of the old man, who Itachi assumed to be the Tsuchikage. It was not really hard to miss. Two hands were firmly placed against two wide hips and an arrogant look crossed the woman's features. The two shared some words the crowd couldn't hear, but Itachi was not focused on them anyway.

His eyes would not move away from the blond guy he had met only twice before. Somewhere Itachi believed he would've recognised him even without the clay bird they had arrived on. The blond hair was something quite noticeable already, together with those bright blue eyes, but it was the smirk that made Itachi certain. He could see it form right under the mask the ninja normally wore. Why would the Tsuchikage decide to take an ANBU with him? Itachi needed to know, needed to know more than that.

And when those blue eyes finally landed on him and those blond eyebrows were raised for a moment, recognition passing through those bright blue eyes, Itachi couldn't prevent his heart from speeding up slightly. The smirk that then grew wider and the nod as a greeting that followed, only made Itachi's resolve worse. The guy hadn't even cared about Itachi recognising him and even acknowledged him as well.

And Itachi was now supposed to spy on this guy?

Chapter Text

Excited whispers rose up out of the crowd, all focused on the Hokage now walking off with the Tsuchikage. That was what everyone should be paying attention to. Watch how the lean girl followed after with a slight hop in her step and this kind expression on her face as she curiously glanced through the crowd. Or the big guy who even made the Akimichi family appear to be small, hurrying after his teammate, carrying all the packs they had brought along. But Itachi's eyes did not focus on them at all. Did not care about where the Tsuchikage was going. He was drawn to the person that stayed behind, standing right beside his clay creature.

'Deidara, hurry up!' the female called back, making the group turn around towards the blond man. The blue eyes shooting up towards his teammate, teasing glance apparent in their depths, made Itachi's heart speed up slightly, because now he knew his name. Somehow so fitting and yet not carrying enough power for someone like him.

With a swift hand sign Deidara shrunk the creature back to the size of his hand, the little bird now fluttering up and settling down on the Iwagakure ninja's shoulder. Then he turned towards the two kage once more, a far politer expression on his face. 'If you don't mind I'd like to take a look around. My lord has two ninja with him already and I have not had a break yet since my last mission. Of course of milady doesn't mind. I promise I will not cause problems around your beautiful village.' The low timbre of his voice easily carried itself through the crowd, eyes slowly drawn to him and then shot curiously back towards the kages, wondering what the answer would be. Deidara proceeded to bow down, showing his respect towards Tsunade.

'Whatever, enjoy yourself,' Tsunade replied shortly, waving him off and regarding him as not important. Her mind was focused on Ōnoki and the meeting they were about to have. Why would she spend more time on someone who was only here to bring the Tsuchikage from village to village? She did not know what Itachi knew.

Sharing a light conversation and a short laugh the kages faked having pleasant conversation, not wanting to show the villagers exactly what was going on. But behind closed doors Tsunade would raise her voice and throw things when necessarily. A very emotional woman Tsunade was and she was not always great at hiding it, but today was different. This made the crowd break apart faster. Small groups disappearing around the corner. Eventually it was only Itachi who was left, standing there in the empty street, watching the blond Iwagakure ANBU. And Deidara had not moved in inch yet.

The bird then lifted off Deidara's shoulder, flying up and circling around Deidara's form until he was high enough in the sky. Then with an almost hidden hand sign and a soft muttered word the bird exploded right there, it's colours showering the sky in orange, red and yellow, black smoke rising up towards the sky. And with a smile on his face Deidara watched it until the bird had completely disappeared, the colours had left and even the smoke had drifted off. Something Itachi couldn't quite grasp. The sheer amazement in Deidara's eyes was something so unfamiliar to him. The happiness that buzzed of the other's body as if he had just seen the most perfect thing happen right before him.

Blue eyes flittered back down and settled on Itachi, the smile now appearing more as a smirk, as if Itachi was in one some inside joke they had just shared. With relaxed steps Deidara made his way over to Itachi and halted right in front of him, cocking his head to the side as he looked up into Itachi's dark eyes. 'Not even in uniform today?' he asked innocently, but the teasing undertone was clearly visible. 'I have to admit I am a little jealous. I'd prefer being in casual attire now, but was forced to join in on this very important mission.'

So many questions were on the tip of Itachi's tongue. Why did he have to come along? Why was Deidara not even pretending they didn't know each other? Why was Deidara so different? But he didn't ask any of them. Itachi kept his mouth shut, not wanting to be as careless as Deidara. They were not supposed to recognise each other and if Itachi had not lost his mask that first time, then this all would not even happen. This was the first one to ever surprise him. Deidara was so different.

For a moment Itachi's eyes moved up to where the bird had blown up and Deidara followed his gaze, smile moving back onto his lips. 'Beautiful, right?' Deidara asked softly, emotion making his voice waver slightly. Itachi could then only study Deidara's face as silence crept up between them, Deidara's eyes still focused on the bright blue sky. And there Itachi saw a certain sadness cross those blue orbs, but it was carefully hidden away behind a once again teasing smile, appearing right when Deidara noticed Itachi watching him. 'I see you are still as silent as ever. At least I already know you are not a mute. Otherwise I would feel a bit like a fool.'

'I don't speak when I don't feel it's necessary to say anything,' Itachi then replied easily, the words practically tumbling off his lips.

The look that then crossed Deidara's face made Itachi's stomach flutter, mouth slightly agape as the blond stared up at him. 'That's… actually quite insulting,' Deidara replied, snorting out a short laugh and then Itachi could not help but smile down at Deidara, showing he was indeed teasing a little, which he had never really done at this level with anyone else besides his little brother. But Deidara's whole personality just asked for it. This light approach. Don't take things too seriously.

Taking a step back then, creating a little more distance between them, Deidara extended his hand, holding it out for Itachi to take. The shake was firm and somehow felt like a little too much.

'Deidara,' the Iwagakure ANBU said curtly, giving a nod as the blue eyes shimmered something dark back at him. A silent warning, because Deidara was not easy to handle.

For a short moment Itachi doubted if he should introduce himself, if it was alright if someone from Iwagakure knew who he was. But what did it matter? Iwagakure was now here to talk things through and perhaps make peace. Maybe Itachi could make friends with this person? There weren't many people Itachi actually cared for and he was more often used for little schemes than that people wanted to see him to simply hang out. Deidara wouldn't do that, didn't even know others did. What did he truly have to lose? 'Itachi,' he breathed out.

'Oh, I believe I've heard your name before,' Deidara spoke, releasing Itachi's hand slowly. Tapping a finger against his chin the ninja tried to remember, but nothing came to mind it seemed and Itachi didn't really want to hear what others had said about him. What kind of reputation he had outside of Konoha. He must have a nickname, much like Kakashi did.

'Don't believe all the things you hear,' Itachi replied, trying to change the subject to something besides his name. And it worked perfectly.

Blond eyebrows rose up and the lopsided smile Deidara shot towards him told Itachi Deidara was all up for talking about something else. 'You're right. It's far more fun to find everything out on your own, right? Experience it yourself.' Internally Itachi felt stunned, but on the outside he stayed the stoic person he always appeared to be. But it had seemed as if Deidara had just flirted, doing it oh so casually. Pretending it had never happened Deidara simply continued though and now Itachi wasn't sure if it had ever happened. 'So what kind of fun things can we do around here?' And there was the silent invitation that Itachi was spending the day with Deidara today.

Eyes finally shooting up and away from Deidara's face Itachi glanced through the street, wondering what exactly people did do in this village. He hardly ever had a day off to actually spend some time alone and usually those hours were cramped with training to improve and get stronger. Itachi never really spend a day on himself.

'Really?' Deidara spoke up before Itachi could even reply. 'Should've known you were that type. I think it's time for the both of us to do some relaxing then.' Grabbing Itachi by the arm Deidara led him through the main street that crossed Konohagakure entirely. The confident in Deidara's step was something else Itachi amazed. The Iwa ANBU had never set foot in this village before and yet walked here as if this was his hometown. Heads turned everywhere to simply watch him, the air he carried forcing people to focus on him. 'We'll start with getting me out of my uniform, because I want to be in something comfortable like you,' he continued, his voice even luring people in and forcing them to look over at the blond. Deidara took off the headband wrapped around his forehead and he wiped away the sweat that had formed under it. A woman's eyes widened as her eyes fell on him and Itachi realised then Deidara was indeed quite handsome and the confidence made him even more desirable, no matter if he perhaps had a few feminine features. 'After that we'll get something to eat, because I am starving. And I would also appreciate it if you stopped staring at my face. I know this is the first time you see my face, but it feels like I am still wearing my mask this way.'

Caught. Itachi hadn't even realised he had been staring that much, but thinking back he had hardly ever glanced away from Deidara's face. 'I'm sorry,' Itachi said softly, averting his eyes and now looking ahead, focusing on all the people around now.

For a moment Deidara then stared up at Itachi, taking his time to take in the features on the Uchiha's face this time. The unsettling part was that Deidara wasn't smiling nor smirking, which he had done so often before, and Itachi started to understand that expression. The serious one with the spark of curiosity was something he was not familiar with and could not place. No matter how much expression Deidara showed, it was hard to understand it all. Deidara was just so different.

'So where are we going to get me a new outfit?' Deidara continued, disregarding the previous staring subject and pretending it was all good now.

Now Itachi could show he would be a good host and would grant Deidara a good time. Leading him towards a small clothing shop, hidden away on a small street right outside of the city centre, Itachi gave Deidara the opportunity to find a new outfit. The smile that formed on Deidara's lips told Itachi he had done a good job and that Deidara would find something he would definitely enjoy wearing there.

Entering the shop Deidara manoeuvred through the clothing racks, trying to find what he liked most and Deidara just watched him, right from the door opening, and when Deidara had his hands stuffed with all kinds of clothes, he turned around and shot Itachi a new look. 'You know if you pay for my new outfit, we can actually pretend we're out on a date. No one would notice who I am after I get rid of my uniform.' And there was the eyebrow wiggle, the one that made Itachi doubt if any of this was serious or if he was being messed with. But the idea made Itachi's eyes widen, not just internally this time. With a chuckle Deidara disappeared into the dressing room, leaving Itachi alone with his thoughts.

Deidara was so different.

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Strange how time passed so fast all of a sudden. Not too long ago Itachi was waking up and getting ready for this day and now the sun was already setting, signalling the start of the evening. A whole different crowd could now be found outside. Ninjas who were off duty were moving towards restaurants and cafés to spend the rest of the evening in good company, youngsters were all dressed for some kind of party happening somewhere in the village, and lastly his family was outside, wearing the Uchiha symbol, making sure no one would be causing too much of a ruckus. Usually Itachi wasn't out at this time of day, but instead locked up inside his family home. Today was different though and it was a nice change of pace, so far.

The Hokage was already spotted drinking her sake at her favourite bar in the village, laughing away with none other than the Tsuchikage. It seemed they had a good time, at least now. Itachi would hear about it later, but only vaguely. There would be a meeting on the Uchiha grounds and Fugaku would mention a few things discussed between them all. Perhaps Itachi would hear more later, in the privacy of their home, but only if the information was necessary to know for a future mission. It could either be helpful for Itachi when spying on everything happening in Konoha or when Itachi would actually be involved in working alongside Iwagakure.

But that was something Itachi didn't necessarily want to think about right now. That would be a problem for later, when he would return home again, and as far as he was concerned, that would not be for a while. If anything Itachi was still working on his mission. He had been spending the day with someone from Iwagakure. It was just in a different way than his father was expecting of him. And in a way Itachi was truly enjoying himself, which didn't happen very often.

In a few seconds the sun would fully disappear behind the Hokage wall, sheltering the village in a blanket of darkness. Streets lights were already flickering on. And right there on the darkening street Itachi was walking around at a leisured pace, Deidara right next to him, chatting away about things that didn't truly interest Itachi, but he listened nonetheless. It didn't matter that Itachi wasn't replying much. Deidara would still continue the conversation, this excited tone in his voice whenever he changed to a subject that he truly loved.

They had just had dinner since Deidara had still been very hungry, so they were a little earlier than most and this was somehow a very pleasant thought. No need to make small talk with others when they would run into familiar faces in a diner. Now Itachi could just focus on spending the evening with Deidara, all alone, out on the streets. The word date kept echoing through his brain, even if they hadn't fully determined that this was in fact a date and how could they? They hardly knew each other and how odd would it be if they indeed started dating. Why would Itachi even focus on that? Dating had always been something far from his mind. Something he never had time for and would not make time for either. Dating a stranger from another village was absurd, but the idea was nice. Not being alone was nice as well.

'What's your family like?' Itachi interrupted Deidara's chant about explosions and how their colours were the most brilliant thing or something alike. It was a recurring subject and even if Itachi enjoyed the bright sparkle in those blue eyes whenever Deidara did speak about it, it was time for another subject. Something he was merely curious about. What would Deidara's home situation be?

Their pace was very slow as they made their way down a deserted street, everyone either huddled inside or out and about on the main street. It stayed silent for a while as Deidara tried to come up with a suitable answer, at least this was what Itachi assumed. There was no way he could tell what Deidara was actually thinking. 'That's actually a little complicated and I'm not sure if we should be sharing family stories here, un. I mean would you actually say something about your family?' Deidara replied, a shimmer of curiosity now present in his eyes.

'You are right, I would not share. I'm not really allowed to. I guess my situation is quite complicated as well.' Itachi let his eyes slide through the street, a flash of a memory striking him as he remembered how he once ran down this very street with his cousin Shisui. Such a long time ago already.

Itachi could feel those blue eyes still staring up at him, sliding over his features as if to take in every muscle movement he would make. It made him uncomfortable. He had received looks like this before, but for other reasons. Women had come on to him quite frequently, but Itachi had never shown any interest. There had even been a few men. A while back he had bedded a few, but it hadn't happened in a long time. Itachi was simply not interested in it anymore. But now he was receiving such a look again, though it held something different. This wasn't lust, it was still only curiosity and yet it made Itachi think of those other looks, but what could the reason be?

And then the eyes were dropped down, glancing forward to make sure Deidara was still following the road. Itachi felt like he could now finally breathe normally again, though there was this strange feeling left. 'Well, my situation would not be tied to a clan though, un. I guess I can explain a bit. Maybe it's a good way to get to know me or something, un,' Deidara started talking and Itachi knew what was about to come. A long story with many details, only this time it was something personal. 'I mean I've heard about the Uchiha clan. Most people have. I do come from a certain clan, though less famous than yours, but I've kind of been shunned, un.

'My family is part of the explosion squad. It's our main strength. We know how it works and know how to deliver the right ones. But I went a little further than that, un. Got a little too passionate and excited and did something forbidden. I received a pardon from Ōnoki mostly because I am his student and it would be a bad example if I would go rogue, un, but that didn't matter in the eyes of my parents. I had done wrong, so I was pretty much kicked out of the family home and have been living on my own ever since.' Deidara's eyes turned hooded for a second, but then the Iwagakure ninja lifted his chin up again and acted as if nothing had bothered him. As if this was only a mere story that didn't involve him in any way. 'Since then I have distanced myself from the family name and only go by my first name. I left the bomb squad and trained on with the old man, un. I'm the first in the family to actually make it to ANBU. I don't need them. I don't need any of them, un.' The last words were whispered and Itachi almost didn't catch them, but he knew those were the most important ones.

But how to reply to such a story? Itachi didn't exactly know what Deidara had done that was exactly forbidden, but it must've been something awful if his whole family decided to shun him like that. Itachi couldn't even imagine what it would be that would have his father kick him out. Though if Fugaku knew of all the things Itachi had done and knew, then he might just do that.

Perhaps replying with a bit of his own story was the way to go and it would be the polite thing to do. Deidara had opened up a little here, even if it wasn't the most valuable information Itachi could've gotten. This was not something he could use against Deidara if he ever wished to do so. It was a smart story. 'My family is very tight or at least we pretend to be like that. There are so many of us that some aren't happy with the position they are in. I usually tend to avoid other family members, because all they want is information on what my job exactly entails. The only one I ever spend time with is my little brother, but I do have to admit I don't have much time for anyone at all.'

The second he had told his very short story, Itachi saw his first mistake. He had expressed the value of Sasuke. A rookie mistake. Why had he done this? How could he be so careless around someone coming from another country? This could be the exact thing Deidara was after. For all he knew Deidara was here spending the day with him, because Deidara wanted to spy on him.

'The ANBU life, right? The world is a lot less bright when in the ANBU I have to admit, un.' Deidara didn't comment on Itachi's comment, as expected. Yet Itachi was certain Deidara had noted it somewhere inside his mind, keeping it for later. They both had the ANBU brain and would use every bit of information against the other if necessary and Deidara surely had a lot more on Itachi than the other way around.

A hand then moved up between their bodies and in a soft gesture Deidara grabbed Itachi's upper arm, bringing their bodies a little closer together. This was the way a couple would walk and now they were doing this together. What kind of hint was this? Perhaps a way to show this was in fact a date and Deidara was enjoying himself? That lit a spark inside Itachi. Was he being a good date then?

Turning a corner they moved onto another empty street, walking on in silence for a while. They were actually moving further and further away from the city centre, the main street somewhere far behind them. The sound of leaves rustling in the wind came from somewhere in front of them, signalling they were actually about to reach the gate. How far had they walked already today? It was getting later and later and it would probably be time to part soon, but Itachi really didn't want to yet. There was this peacefulness surrounding them and Itachi was afraid this little bubble would break as soon as they went their separate ways.

But then Deidara stopped walking, pulling Itachi to a halt as well and Itachi could feel it coming. Blue eyes were glancing up at him once more and again it reminded him of the looks he had received many times before, but it wasn't the same. There was no interest in those eyes. Right now it was just a light shimmer of kindness. Nothing more. Deidara had enjoyed himself and that was it. They were probably friends of some kind, even if it wasn't very fitting for them. A friend was nice to have as well, but it struck Itachi that friends was not what he wanted. He now understood why the look reminded him of those women and men. It was because Itachi was shooting that look to Deidara, not the other way around.

'It's getting rather late and I think the old man wants me in the morning, un,' Deidara started, waving back towards the city centre somewhere behind them. 'So it's time to say goodnight. If we're staying another day, you should come find me tomorrow…'

And there was the goodbye. Itachi could come find Deidara tomorrow, but it would make sense that Itachi needed to go on another mission tomorrow. He had gotten lucky today really. This was not something that happened very frequently. So he couldn't let this night end yet, right? He didn't want to at all.

So in a desperate attempt to make Deidara stay, Itachi brought both his hands to Deidara's face and then leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to Deidara's tender lips. It was only a mere peck and as he pulled back, Itachi realised how dumb that had been, until he noticed the smirk plastered on Deidara's lips.

'I have to admit I didn't think you would actually try to seduce me, Uchiha, but I sure as hell am up for it, un.' And then it was Deidara who moved in, pushing Itachi's head forward so their lips locked again and this time to kiss lasted longer, far longer, tongues swirling together right in the middle of the deserted street.

Chapter Text

How he ever even got in this position, Itachi could hardly remember, but it didn't matter one bit right now. It was unexpected, but god, was he enjoying himself. That one kiss had led them all the way to a hotel, stopping in every shadow to share another sloppy kiss that sent wave after wave of need through Itachi's body. The money for a room was practically thrown at the woman working behind the counter, both males too focused on the other to really pay attention to her. The only thing Itachi had made sure of was to choose a hotel they wouldn't necessarily know his face. This needed to be private and discrete, even if they were acting anything but.

Rushing up the stairs they wasted no time in finding their room, forcing the key into the lock and throwing the door open. As soon as it closed again behind them, shirts had already come off. Before they even reached the bed they were already naked, tripping over pants and shoes carelessly thrown to the floor. Somewhere Itachi realised it was Deidara who was hurrying them along, his experts hands knowing exactly when to touch and where to touch Itachi, setting in a rhythm that made everything fly by in a haze.

And now they were here… Deidara sitting on top of Itachi, riding his cock as if his life depended on it and yet Itachi still wanted his dick further up Deidara's ass, forcing it deeper and deeper until he could go no further. Never had he experienced anything like this. Felt so incredibly turned on that the need for the other was almost overwhelming. And seeing Deidara bounce up and down in his lap only made his need grow.

The blond hair fanning around him with every thrust, the slick sounds coming from where bodies were joined together, and the sight of pure pleasure on Deidara's face. It was all so incredible, beautiful perhaps. And god, did Itachi want more of it, have this last forever. This unexpected animalistic moment that made him forget all about who they were. This was not a smart move. Sleeping with someone who could become an enemy of some kind. But fuck, did Itachi need it. Needed to drill his cock inside of Deidara and make the other see stars.

Blue eyes moved down and locked gazes with Itachi for a second. Plump kissed lips were parted to let out moan after moan with every thrust Deidara shot down. It awakened something in Itachi, seeing Deidara merely pleasuring himself on Itachi's dick without caring about Itachi's needs. Grabbing a fistful of blond locks Itachi forced Deidara to bend forward and there he ravaged the plump lips in a rough kiss. The loud groan bubbling up between them let Itachi know Deidara appreciated the rough treatment and he could feel the familiar smirk form between them. Nothing would overwhelm the Iwagakure ANBU.

'Fuck,' Deidara breathed out when their lips parted, burying his sweaty face in Itachi's neck. 'Harder, un.' And so Itachi complied, forcing his cock deeper inside of Deidara, thrusting up so their hips smacked together roughly. Their chests slicked together due to their shared sweat. Itachi could feel a drop sliding down his forehead and with Deidara pressed so tightly on top of him, it only got warmer and warmer. But he couldn't care less now. Feeling the heat stick to his skin was only confirmation that this was indeed happening. That his cock was still sliding up Deidara's ass with every thrust.

Without really thinking about it Itachi suddenly pushed Deidara off of him and forced him to push his ass up in the air. The chuckle filling the air let Itachi know that Deidara was surprised by Itachi's sudden dominant behaviour, but was not very impressed by it either. Hell, how could he? Itachi had never really done anything like this. One night stands were not foreign to him, but this. The lust vibrating through his body? This was brand new. All of it.

Getting on his knees right behind Deidara, Itachi glanced down. The puckered hole was opened slightly, waiting to be filled again. He wasn't patient enough to stare any longer, his cock throbbing with need, and the soft sounds coming from Deidara's throat left the same idea behind. Scooting forward Itachi aligned his erection with Deidara's puckered hole once more and as he slid in, both males let out a much needed groan, happy they were once again connected.

A fast pace was instantly picked up and Deidara had to hold onto the bed post to not slam hard into it. For a while Itachi simply watched his dick slide in and out of Deidara's puckered hole, seeing it get sucked in every time he pushed forward. When a particular loud moan bubbled up between them, Itachi glanced up and for the first time noticed the mirror in front of them, hanging right above the bed.

Was that really his face? Bloodshot eyes, hair sticking in all kinds of weird places to his face, flushed cheeks. Not to mention the sounds leaving his lips as well. Never had he been a vocal person, but he couldn't prevent the groans from spilling from his lips. He had never seen himself like this. Lose control so completely and let the needs of the body take over. Itachi was calm and collected. Stoic they often called him. But this was different. Deidara made him act different.

'Fuck, man,' Deidara suddenly let out, the smile noticeable in his voice as he breathed the moans out. His arms were shaking lightly from the harsh grip he had on the bed post. Slowing the pace down a little, Itachi glanced down, seeing the blond hair spilled all over Deidara's back, a glistening strip of sweat spread out over Deidara's spine. 'I wish you lived in Iwagakure, un. This is the fuck I need when I get back from a mission. Those assholes back home have no idea how the fucking please a man, un.' In response Itachi delivered a hard thrust into Deidara, making the other let out a chuckled moan. 'God, I would mail you to myself and put a bow on your dick, so I would have a nice gift to fucking unwrap when I get home, un.' Deidara swallowed heavily before chuckling again, apparently finding this all very funny. Itachi simply let him rant on and on, the words spoken not really settling in his foggy brain.

The fact Deidara was speaking this much still though was not a good sign, though. So Itachi grabbed a handful of Deidara's hair again and pulled him back up, Deidara's back colliding with Itachi's chest. Instantly Itachi wrapped an arm around Deidara's waist, keeping him in that position. The other hand moved towards Deidara's jaw and forced him to turn his head, making Itachi able to force his tongue passed those plump kissed lips. It was all sloppy and messy, but god, did it feel right. And with the way Deidara was groaning into the kiss, Itachi knew this was all just perfect. Suddenly a pair of nails dug deep into Itachi's ass, forcing his hips up even more into Deidara. Sadistic little bastard.

The smirk on Deidara's lips was evidence that the guy knew what type of guy he was. And then the blue eyes slid towards the mirror. The way he then bit his lip and let his hand slide through Itachi's tangled locks of hair was strange to see. It was as if Deidara was putting up a show, letting Itachi see just how sexy he was. As if Itachi needed to see even more of that.

'Aren't we gorgeous together, un?' Deidara suddenly muttered, hollowing his back a little as he pushed his ass back with every thrust Itachi forced up. 'It's a shame no one besides us gets to see this, huh?' Not words Itachi necessarily wanted to hear. No one needed to see them have sex. This was enough. Just them enjoying the other's body, craving their lusts for the other. Deidara then turned his head towards Itachi again, keeping one blue eye focused on the mirror in front of them. 'Touch my cock, Itachi. Let me fucking come, un.'

Reaching down Itachi did grab Deidara's erection in a firm hold and then started stroking it, trying to match the pace he was driving his cock into Deidara. Both pair of eyes were now glued to the mirror, watching the other move, watching their connected bodies. Itachi had no idea how much time passed, but the louder Deidara moaned, the harder he thrust. And then it was all just a sudden burst of light. Deidara's semen slipped all over his hand and the contracting of the walls around his cock was what drove Itachi over the edge. How had it hit him so sudden? Had he been delaying his orgasm this whole time? Yes, he had. He had been waiting. Waiting till Deidara finally let go and came.

Breathing heavily Itachi slowly retracted his softening dick, the last squeeze of walls sending a shiver down his spine. It was difficult to detach himself from Deidara now. Even if he had now orgasmed, the need had only slightly subdued. This had been amazing and Itachi wanted to experience this more often. The thought of being send to Iwagakure as gift suddenly sounded very appealing, as long as he could keep on fucking Deidara.

Flopping down on the bed Itachi felt his body growing heavier and heavier. Exhaustion was pulling at his muscles and all he wanted to do now was snuggle into these thin sheets and fall asleep. But Deidara had other problems. Only for a minute did the Iwa ANBU grant himself to relax and after that he expertly sprung up from the bed and started gathering his close. Swiftly he put back on his pants, buttoning it up and hiding away his now flaccid dick.

Deidara knew what he was doing. This was not something he did occasionally, but regularly. The rant from before was evident enough. The assholes in Iwagakure didn't know how to pleasure him and this should mean Deidara had slept with many of them. The only thing Itachi was that apparently he did know what to do, even if he hardly had any experience in this at all. But the difference now was that Itachi wanted to do this more often, see Deidara more often. The man was interesting… Different from anything Itachi had ever experienced and he wanted to learn so much more. Get to know the man behind the smirking mask. It didn't seem Deidara even had another meeting on his mind now though.

Completely dressed Deidara set a step towards Itachi and leaned forward to give a soft kiss on his lips, such a change from the way they had kissed before. The soft blond hair tickled his bare skin and the more Deidara moved his lips, the longer Itachi wanted it all to last. But the lips were pulled away before he knew it, hovering right above his face with that smirk Itachi knew too well. Would it ever stop haunting his dreams?

'Thank you for today, un,' Deidara murmured, lips sliding over his once more. 'You have made this trip worthwhile and if you ever come to visit Iwagakure, make sure you seek me out. I'd like to return the favour, un.' Skilled fingers slid down his body and teasingly grabbed hold of his dick, giving it a few lazy strokes, but it wouldn't come back to life anymore anyway. And then he was out the door, in search of the Tsuchikage, showing his loyalty to his village.

That was when the regret settled in. It had been the dumbest thing Itachi had ever done, purely moved on impulses. Itachi was supposed to be watching Deidara, not fuck him. Not let him in so intimately. How vulnerable had he been?

A minute later Itachi got out of bed as well, the high of before completely gone. Without Deidara around the magic had disappeared. Without him there it all wasn't the same. Had it even been worth it? Clothes were put on again and with shaky legs Itachi moved down the stairs and back out on the street. The cool night air let him sober up entirely. Unfortunately it didn't help him actually figure out what to do right now. Deidara was still clouding his mind…

Chapter Text

Waking up with the morning night filtering through the blinds, was always a nice touch to things. Waking up with a little brother standing by your bedside, glaring down at you somewhere around midday was not a nice way to wake up at all. But at least Sasuke had figured he should wake Itachi up and not have him lie around in bed all day. How could Itachi have overslept? After he had made his way back home from the hotel and had taken a cleansing shower, it had taken Itachi hours to even fall asleep. Deidara was haunting his dreams even more than before and it left this sickening feeling behind in his stomach.

'You really need to get up, Itachi,' Sasuke muttered in that deep voice of his, boredom clearly visible in his tone as he kicked against the mattress to force Itachi out of bed. 'Father is not pleased at all and actually forbade me to wake you up, because this was your responsibility, but the Tsuchikage is leaving and I think you should be present.'

That made Itachi's eyes snap open instantly and shoot Sasuke a bewildered look. They were leaving already? That was absurd. They had just gotten here and Itachi had shared this moment with Deidara. With him leaving already Itachi would never fully understand what it had all meant. Why Itachi had acted on impulse instead of logic. He should've known better. Itachi was an excellent ANBU and an Uchiha at that. How could someone affect him this much? He needed to understand, but now Deidara was leaving, taking that smirk with him that still haunted Itachi wherever he went.

Right as Itachi threw his legs out of the bed, Sasuke flung his clothes at him. Still casual clothes Itachi would wear around the house, because he was still not supposed to be in his ninja gear. Their movements perfectly in tune, Itachi and Sasuke moved through his bedroom. Clothes were put on, followed by a hair tie, and then by the door Sasuke had Itachi's shoes ready. It took them less than five minutes to actually get from Itachi's bedroom to the front door, fully dressed and ready to go. Their bond had always been a strong one and Itachi really held his brother dear. Sasuke didn't even know why Itachi personally wanted to be there when the Tsuchikage left, but helped him hurry along anyway.

Using the paths over the roofs Itachi and Sasuke quickly made their way to the western gate. Arms stretched out behind them and bodies low to catch the least amount of wind as possible. The streets were far busier now than when the Iwagakure ninjas had arrived, the villagers not caring too much about the Tsuchikage leaving. There would only be a small group present, but Itachi needed to be there. To keep an eye out on the Iwagakure ninja for his father and to personally see Deidara leave. To see those vibrant blue eyes one last time, with a smirk to match the teasing glance. Shaking his head he tried to get rid of the vision now, not wanting it to let it distract him while on the move.

The first thing Itachi saw, was the big white dragon sitting on the floor, ready to take lift already. It sent his heartbeat in overdrive, scared he would miss the goodbye already. But thankfully no one was sitting on the dragon's back yet and the crowd was still gathered in front of it. The bigger one of the Iwagakure ninjas was stroking the dragon's nose was this strange fond smile on his lips, as if he really found the creature endearing. The Tsuchikage himself was talking to Tsunade and they were laughing away about something that made Shizune cringe slightly. And with the last final steps on top of the long red roof, Itachi finally could see the one he had been looking for.

The girl they had brought along was standing next to Deidara, wearing a smirk that almost matched Deidara's, but the Iwa ANBU didn't seem to care at all and simply brushed her off. Right as Itachi halted in his steps, standing at the edge of the last roof they could take, he noticed more people were standing by Deidara's side. Sasuke had stopped right next to him, his body slanting to the side due to the roof. Itachi's gaze was still focused on Deidara and Sasuke seemed to follow his line of sight, and without Itachi having to ask, he started explaining.

'They ran into each other this morning. The blond one was walking around with the girl, complaining about being hungry, so of course Naruto felt the need to introduce them to his favourite ramen. They have been spending the day together ever since.'

So Itachi had had troubles to actually fall asleep and Deidara slept like a rose. At least good enough to get up early and get breakfast with team seven. Did Deidara really view their time together as something simple? Would Deidara have done the same if it had been Naruto guiding him around? No, Itachi did have something over the kid. He was the ANBU Deidara had met before and now Deidara had proven that he was the better one out of the two. He was able to shake this off so easily and move on. Itachi had simply been a one night stand.

'What else did they do?' Itachi asked casually, trying to keep the curiosity out of his voice. He was just checking up on things, because he was supposed to be shadowing Deidara.

Dark eyes glanced up at Itachi for a moment, studying his steady features. No matter how well Sasuke knew his big brother, Itachi could still hide everything from him. Put on a blank face and not let shine through how he was really feeling. And so Sasuke glanced away again, eyes falling on his team down below, easily chatting away with the Iwa ANBU. 'They didn't do much. Naruto can eat for hours, so they spent a lot of time there. Naruto tried to ask about Iwagakure, but the guy chose his answers carefully. It was obvious he was trained for this. More than the girl. She would sometimes answer a little too honestly and then get a look from the guy. I don't know what they are hiding, but something seemed off.'

And there was his smart little brother. Sasuke had learned a lot from Itachi and had caught onto how conversations went and what it could mean. It wasn't the content that mattered, it was the things that weren't being said what was important. And Sasuke was the silent type around others, so didn't need to take part in the conversation. He could simply evaluate and now report back to his big brother. As expected Deidara hadn't let loose anything, just like when Itachi had spoken to him. Deidara was smart, very smart.

Maybe Itachi needed to rethink everything that had happened. Their night together, had it really only been about achieving pleasure together or had Deidara done it to get under Itachi's skin. To find out more. Had Itachi let go of secrets he shouldn't have? It was all so vague. All Itachi really remembered was the immense pleasure he had felt while they had been together. Because it had really been amazing. It really could all have been a trick and Itachi had fallen for it. It would've been the first. No woman had ever been able to seduce him like that, nor any man. Some had tried, but it had never interested him. Deidara's strategy had been different. It hadn't started out with flirting. It had slipped in until Deidara had gotten right under Itachi's skin. After that it had been easy.

'I need to get down to my team now,' Sasuke muttered, shooting one final glance up at Itachi's face. It seemed Sasuke was onto something anyway. Not only was he able to read others better, but Itachi belonged in that line as well. 'Don't hide out on the roof either. It actually makes you stand out and I'm sure that's not what you want.' And with that said Sasuke jumped off the roof and strolled back towards his team, hands casually stuffed into his pants pockets as if he had just taken a walk. The kid was a great actor. Maybe Itachi should reconsider his opinion on Sasuke becoming a Jōnin after all.

But Sasuke had a point. Standing here would not give him a good view on everything happening on the ground and eventually people would notice him. It was better to not attract too much attention. Not when he was still spying.

Easily he jumped down from the roof, his feet touching the ground so lightly, no one around had heard him. And then in a leisure pace Itachi made his way through the crowd, pushing passed people that really had no interest on what was happening in front of them. The big ninja had climbed on top of the dragon already and had dragged the Tsuchikage with him, the old man complaining all the way until he was in a sitting position. Tsunade just laughed at him while making comments on his age. It seemed they got along fine when they weren't talking about politics.

At this point Itachi had avoided glancing to the side, but that idea soon went out the window when a very enthusiastic blond started waving at him, shouting a very kind greeting across the grounds. 'Itachi! You need to meet this guy before they leave. He's really cool and almost the same age as you!' Naruto bellowed.

Itachi tried to look stoic, but when he glanced to the side and his eyes met with those striking blue ones, he felt his breath caught in his throat anyway. But he couldn't avoid the conversation now. Slowly he made his way towards the little group. Sasuke was shooting him a wary look already while elbowing Naruto in the side, but they really couldn't blame Naruto. He was not aware on what had happened and Sasuke was only moving on a hunch too.

'Sorry to disappoint you, Naruto. But Itachi and I already met.' This pleased smirk adorned Deidara's lips as he looked up at Itachi, challenging him in a way. The expression sent a thrill down Itachi's spine and it instantly took him back to what had happened the night before. How Deidara had ridden him and how he had thrust himself into that lithe body so perfectly.

It was the comment coming from the right that made the fantasy disappear instantly. 'Okay, I have to admit. I understand why you chose this one. I mean, damn,' the girl murmured, lazily hanging an arm on Deidara's shoulder as she gazed at Itachi for a little while longer.

Many different facial expressions moved through their little group. Deidara glanced over at the girl with a raised eyebrow, questioning her sanity, before retorting with his own comment. 'Too bad I got there first, huh? Maybe you'll get lucky next time.' The girl didn't seem fazed by it all and simply let a smirk of her own grace her lips, accepting the challenge laid out in front of her. Naruto and Sakura mostly looked confused, having no idea what the two were even talking about.

But there was one other person that knew. Dark eyes moved up at Itachi's face suspiciously, but Sasuke understood instantly. It wasn't something they ever talked about as brothers and there never had been a need to, but this was different. Dangerous even… But how was he going to explain to his little brother that he had slept with the one he was supposed to watch? What kind of explanation did Itachi even have?

'Get on this damn bird, Deidara, Kurotsuchi!' the Tsuchikage roared, kicking the dragon in its sides, much like you would do to a horse. It didn't have much effect though as the dragon stayed seated in its place.

With a sigh the girl trudged the dragon's way, yelling something at the Tsuchikage on her way. Deidara actually lingered back a moment longer, not having that much respect for his sensei. 'I'll see you around. Don't forget my offer, Itachi.' And with a last smirk on his lips, Deidara walked away and flew off in the blue sky.

Chapter Text

Weeks had passed and all that had happened was now stuffed somewhere in the back of Itachi's mind. It was better left forgotten. Life had moved on and Itachi had barely heard anything of Iwagakure. It was not his place to know anything and the only information he received, came from his father, who had joined in on a few meetings. Though Itachi was fairly certain Fugaku had not been allowed in on every meeting either. There were things the Uchihas did not know, which Itachi understood as well. They may be a high ranking clan, but the Hyūgas were the same and they didn't receive any special treatment either. They thought the information they got was sufficient enough. But their history wasn't as unstable as the Uchihas was.

Missions had come and go again, none having anything to do with the Akatsuki. But Itachi put his uniform on without hesitation for each of them and finished them without complaint. There had been no missteps and all his results were perfect once more. A praise had even left the Lady Hokage's lips. Itachi was getting back on track. No more distractions. Itachi was stronger than that and it was his duty to the village to protect it. There would be no further slipups, no matter what would happen next.

The changing room was empty when Itachi redressed himself, the ANBU uniform strapped tightly around his skin, the material flexible enough to follow every movement. It was designed to fit every need, though there were still some details that didn't work out as well as it could. The metal parts were there to protect certain areas, but it made the uniform heavier. To compromise there was less fabric used to cover the rest of the body, so in colder weather they always needed to wear cloaks to keep their bodies warm. And then they also had a problem with taking stuff with them. Unlike the normal squads, the ANBU could not bring a lot along the way, and there had been moments when food had been scarce, but they could not move from their positions. Those had been the hard missions.

Strapping his short sword to his back, Itachi found himself ready to meet the Hokage. It was odd that no other ANBU was around. Single missions were not unheard of, but they were certainly rare, and Itachi had not been on a solo mission in a long time. Moving towards the door Itachi let that thought slide off his shoulders. Tsunade would have her reasons and that was all that mattered. Itachi followed orders. Clicking the mask in place over his face, all of his features were hidden behind the wooden cat mask, a few red details marking it as Itachi's mask. And then Itachi pushed the door open to meet the morning sky.

The weather was soft, though the humidity high. It would be a warm day today, but not until a few more hours had passed, and Itachi would be long gone by then. His steps were quiet as Itachi made his way over the roofs, avoiding the early risers down below. He would not be seen by any of them. Only his family would be aware that he was out on a mission, as it was supposed to be. Reaching the end of his final roof, Itachi made the jump to land on the Hokage building, his feet barely leaving any sound as they hit the concrete floor. He would not enter through the window as some did and would not appear in Tsunade's room without knocking. Itachi simply preferred stepping in announced, especially this early in the morning. It was not a secret what the Lady Hokage did during her time off and Itachi rather not startle her when she has a hangover.

Walking around the building, Itachi entered through the main doors, finding the hallways of the building as deserted as the ANBU building. As he reached the two red doors he could hear the rustling of paper, accompanied by annoyed grumbling. It really was still early. A knock to the door made the sounds still inside and after a muttered 'come in', Itachi did step inside and joined Tsunade in the mess she called her office.

'Don't mind the papers,' Tsunade instantly waved off, in the process actually wiping a few of them right off her desk. 'I've been trying to locate certain information, but I can't seem to find it in the libraries. And that annoying Ōnoki keeps harassing me with letters. I understand that old man wants to get a move on, because he might not live long enough before we actually find everything.' Tsunade kept on blabbering, and Itachi wasn't sure if he was actually meant to hear all this, but he kept his mouth shut. It was not his place to question. So he pushed some of the files away to make place on the floor, and then kneeled in front of his superior, head bowed down. 'But that man should understand that we need more time to figure it all out!'

It wasn't polite to tune out and Itachi did his best to follow every sentence Tsunade spoke, but the rant wouldn't stop. Casting a glance up from the floor Itachi noticed she was still flipping through books and files, scribbling things down in the process. 'Milady?' Itachi eventually dared to speak, stopping more words from spilling off Tsunade's lips. 'Was this the reason you called me in for?'

Blinking down at him Tsunade realised she had not been paying much attention, and she quickly straightened herself out. 'No, no. Of course not, Itachi. And stand up. I have no time for common courtesies.' Behind his mask Itachi raised an eyebrow at that comment. Her own complaints had taken away more time than his kneeling, which was not a simple habit, but something he was told to do. 'This is going to be a special kind of mission and you do have teammates, though different ones than you expect. I have to admit I am not entirely happy with this idea, but Ōnoki left me no choice. I was going to send out team Kakashi alone and meet up with one of Iwagakure's teams across the border. But that old man decided his team needed someone who had been present during the last mission where our paths crossed. So he's sending the ANBU you met before to go along with his team, and therefore I am sending you out as well.

'I know it's not a perfect plan, and I am not happy about it, but I have no other choice. I don't trust that man,' Tsunade spat, crumpling up one of the papers in front of her. Possibly a letter that had been sent to her by the Tsuchikage. 'So team Kakashi is still going out and is going to try and find some new information on this whole Akatsuki business. They are not allowed to go in too deep, but we don't have much information as we speak. You have worked with Kakashi before and your brother is someone you know as well, so I have faith this works out alright.'

Itachi had told himself nothing would get him down again, but all this information came as a smack in the face. How could he process this? There were so many questions lying on his tongue, wondering where this whole idea had come from. Shouldn't they send a whole ANBU team to track down the Akatsuki and find out who they are? A Chūnin seemed hardly capable of something like that. And cooperating with another village just like that as well. How many jabs would there be given along the way and would everyone really play fair? It was all to benefit the village, but did the Tsuchikage share that same idea?

'Do I keep my mask on?' Itachi eventually asked, not finding the right words to voice his others.

Pursing her lips Tsunade looked at Itachi for a while and eventually shook her head, her two ponytails moving from left to right in the process. 'No, not while you're traveling with team Kakashi. They all know who you are, so there is no need to. But do bring it with you, in case you need it during your mission. If a task gets too dangerous, I expect you to step in and arrange things with Kakashi.' Her voice was stern and powerful, tolerating no responds to this. It was what made her a perfect fit for this job, even if people had questioned it often.

Sliding the mask off his face, Itachi slipped it down towards his hip and let it hang there on his belt. 'Are they aware that I am traveling with them?'

'Yes, I informed them all last night and they are waiting on you by the Western gates. Kakashi will inform you on how they will proceed. He will be the contact point.' Her dark brown eyes slid up towards his face, studying his features for a moment longer. Her lips pursed again, another thought striking her. 'I want a separate report of this mission from you personally. The others don't need to know of this. I want you to take in as much information as you can, not only on the Akatsuki, but also on Iwagakure. Bring it to me once you've returned.'

Another mission to spy on others. Something he had done many times before, even within this village. It was not something Itachi really enjoyed, and even now it would complicate things. It would not solely be about gaining information from one party, but also from the other. And then he still had the problem that the other ANBU would be coming alone, and even if Itachi had tried to avoid that thought, he knew who it would be. There was a reason why the Tsuchikage would choose him to join in on the mission. It would be a small taunt towards Konohagakure as well.

'One final thing before you leave,' Tsunade announced. 'This is also the mission where I will test Sasuke's capabilities. If this mission returns with great results, I'll grant him the title Jōnin.' More news Itachi wasn't ready for. Now this mission had far too many goals and Itachi would need to pay attention to all of them. 'Now you're dismissed.' Another wave of her hand sent Itachi out the door without a word. There was no way Itachi could actually talk back to the woman, but it seemed she had cut his thoughts off every time on purpose. So he wouldn't question her. Wouldn't comment on her ways.

The closing of the door behind Itachi, didn't stop his thoughts from running wild. Normal missions Itachi would accept without a second thought, and even this one Itachi had accepted, but not full heartedly. It would be an odd mission. The first he would ever share with his little brother. Nothing had changed in their relationship after Deidara had left, and Sasuke hadn't even asked about what had happened. He was mature enough to understand that there were needs Itachi had or perhaps he simply didn't want to know these things about his brother. Itachi wasn't very interested in Sasuke's love life either. As long as the boy was happy, then Itachi would be happy for him as well.

But now the next confrontation would arise. Deidara had been gone, so Sasuke didn't need to think much of it. Now they would be stuck together for quite some time, working together side by side under good circumstances. The resting periods would hold some conversations, ones that might turn more private than intended, and who knew how Deidara would treat him now anyway. But Deidara was an ANBU as well, professional like Itachi was, so he didn't expect much from it. It would be simply Sasuke's moment to prove that he was mature enough as well, and would not let this little bit of private information get to him.

The red gates of the Western exit soon came into view, between the wooden doors three figures already visible. Itachi didn't need to check if his little brother was there. Sasuke had his eyes focused on the path the whole time, and they had now instantly locked with Itachi's.

A slap against his shoulder made Itachi turn to the side, meeting Kakashi's on eyed smile. 'I'm not sure what this mission has in store for us, but keep your eyes open, will you. We'll be of need of your Sharingan.' The serious tone didn't match up with the expression Kakashi had on his face, but Itachi understood it was to not give anything away to the others. It seemed Kakashi questioned this mission as much as Itachi did.

Chapter Text

A soft breeze sweeps through the forest, the leafs rustling as it passed by. But it was barely able to even touch the skin of the ones passing by, their pace too fast and too swift. Feet barely touched the bark of the branches they pushed themselves off against, the impact barely making any sound as the ninjas already moved forward. They were not in a rush, but they still acted as if they were on a time schedule. As if they had to be somewhere at a certain time or otherwise fail this mission. That was not the case though.

Itachi could feel it in the air, the little hairs on his arm standing up at the tension lingering around them. None of them spoke a word, which for Itachi was not a strange occurrence. His missions were usually spent in silence, unless they spoke of mission plans. There was no small talk. But missions with team Kakashi shouldn't be this silent. They were close, and shared more than superficial subjects. But even Naruto had been quiet for most of the journey. Here and there he would spit out a few words, and Sakura would react lightly, but Sasuke merely ignored them, while Kakashi only turned his one eye at Naruto.

There was something unnerving about this situation, and Itachi would've preferred wearing his mask now. Hiding his features away from the rest to create some distance. But his little brother was right beside him, falling into step so easily. Sasuke would catch on as to why Itachi would put on his mask, then question it in private, because as brothers he believed they shouldn't have any secrets from each other. Unfortunately Itachi kept quite a few from little Sasuke, though he had not been little anymore for a long time. Still Itachi would keep his secrets and not share the burden with Sasuke. It was just what big brothers did, and there were a few things Sasuke didn't need to know.

As the forest slipped away below them, Itachi's eyes were turned up to the sky. The sun was shining brightly, providing them with enough light in the dark forest, but it also caused the temperatures to rise high. The shade cooled them off slightly, but they would need a resting moment soon. Drink some water, sit for a few minutes. Have some extra time before they got to the meeting point. Right at the border of their countries. The little town where Itachi had met Deidara the second time, and had been utterly swept away again as well.

This was truly why Itachi wanted a break for them all. To delay the moment he would be seeing Deidara again with just a little extra time. To prepare just a little longer before he would see those shining blue eyes, the bright blond hair, and the lips tilted up in a mocking smirk. Because that was what Itachi expected. A mock, a tease, words spoken so carefully that only Itachi would catch the meaning of them.

'In about a hundred meters the trees will be getting less and less, so we're moving to the path to the side and follow that the rest of the road,' Kakashi's voice boomed between them all, the order placed kindly, but firmly, and team Kakashi easily swerved to the right to jump down from their positions in the trees, and down on the hard ground. Kakashi sent one look at Itachi over his shoulder, his eye lazy to not show any emotion behind it, and then he followed after his team, feet hitting the ground smoothly before stepping back into his previous pace.

Itachi was the last to join the team on the path, the dried out sand crushing under his feet. With a spurt he caught up to the rest of the team, the three teens running in front now, arms thrust backwards to make their bodies smoother and less air resistant. This time Sasuke didn't join Itachi to run beside his brother, and Itachi assumed it was because Kakashi was preventing him from actually slowing down to join Itachi. The look from before was a hint for that as well, because Kakashi wanted to have a word, in private. With their speed their spoken words would never reach the three teens in front of them.

'I put us on the ground, because I think this will be a better welcome for the Iwagakure ninjas, than when we arrive through the trees. Even if we would not be able to hide, this would be more welcoming than hiding between the leafs,' Kakashi explained, which Itachi could understand. The bond with Iwagakure was still unsteady, and they really had no clue on what to expect. What if an ambush was waiting for them at the meeting place? Iwa still had more information on the Akatsuki than Konoha had, so perhaps there was more to that than they all knew. 'What kind of welcome do you expect?'

A logical question, because Itachi was the one who knew them the best, even if he hardly knew anything. The only one he was familiar with, was Deidara, and how much did he really know about the Iwa ANBU? Practically nothing, except a few hints here and there about his family. 'I'm not sure,' Itachi replied softly, voice rumbling deeply in his throat to keep his voice as low as possible. 'I find them unpredictable, but I cannot say they have been unkind to me. As far as I can tell, they do want to help or receive help with this case.' Which was the truth. But it could all be a façade. It could all be a lie. But Itachi didn't want to voice those thoughts since he had no reason to find them untrustworthy. They had not done anything wrong so far.

'Good,' Kakashi said, turning his one-eyed gaze to Itachi. His eye lingered a little too long, studying Itachi's features to make sure there was no hint of something else. He and Kakashi had gone on many ANBU missions together before, until Kakashi moved back down to the Jōnin level. They had worked well together, and Itachi could always anticipate on Kakashi's movements, following every single one of them. But that had not always worked the other way around, because Kakashi was not aware of so many things. 'Then I will trust your judgement. We'll move in like this and I will assume that everything will run smoothly from there. I may ask your opinion more often, because you may notice more at points than I do. Consider yourself part squad leader here.' And without waiting for a reply, Kakashi sprinted forward and moved to the middle of his team, running between the three teens now.

Squad leader… Not something Itachi was unfamiliar with, but he had never guided a team like this before. Only ANBU missions. Sliding his fingers through his bangs, he pushed the black locks away from his face, finding the hairs irritating his vision. Suddenly he became very aware of the weight of the metal pieces, and how tightly he had strapped down his belt. But it was all just the discomfort of this.

Silence settled between them all again as they continued on their path. Hours ticked by and the sun was soon setting before them, the orange globe hanging lowly in the sky, casting the earth in a warm hue. Their pace had slowed down slightly, their tired limbs pushing through the need to rest as best as they could.

But then the trees really started disappearing, making room for a rocky surface, boulders growing and growing until they reached higher than the trees they had seen before. The border was almost there, and the closer they got, the more team Kakashi got on edge. No matter what Itachi had said, this was still an interesting occurrence for all of them. None of them had ever cooperated with Iwagakure on a mission, and they all had heard stories on how Iwagakure worked.

Activating his Sharingan, Itachi let his eyes slide through their surroundings, and instantly found a few chakra sources about a kilometre away. 'I see a group of four in front of us. Three of them behind a large square rock, and one on the side. It seems they are waiting for us.' They had done the same as their team had done. Gotten out in the open to let the other team feel welcome. It was a considerate thought, and Itachi felt a little better about this meeting. Deidara would still be something to recon with, but Itachi trusted the mission would start right.

After a few more steps Itachi didn't need his Sharingan anymore to see who was waiting for them. The long blond hair flowed up in the warm breeze that blew around him, blue eyes turned their way to watch them coming, and a playful smirk lingering around his lips. They all instantly knew who it was. Most of them recognising him solely by his looks, and others would know simply by casting a glance down to his hip to see the wooden mask hanging from his belt. Itachi's heart beat sped up as they got closer and closer, his eyes locking with Deidara's right away. He could see Deidara give him a slight nod as a greeting, and he felt himself return the gesture. It caused a strange fluttery feeling to move through his stomach.

'Welcome, welcome, un,' Deidara greeted, voice loud enough to carry around their surroundings. Movement was then visible from his side as the rest of his team also got up to join him. 'We were told team Kakashi was going to join us on this mission, un. Quite an honour to work together with the copy-nin. And of course nice to see you again, Itachi.' His name was spoken just a little lower, the word almost vibrating in Deidara's mouth before it left his lips. It made Sasuke glance up at his brother, narrowing his eyes slightly in wonderment. What did that mean exactly? 'Since it's getting quite late already, un, it's better to set up camp and get used to each other first, before we start the mission tomorrow.'

The way Deidara just took the lead, took everyone aback at first, and Naruto looked like he was about to say something about it. Thankfully their sensei was far more relaxed, and preferred seeing how everything would go first. Cutting in right before Naruto spoke up, Kakashi accepted this small sign of leadership. 'Agreed. We've had a long travel, and a break would be nice at first. I believe you know these grounds better than we do, so we'll follow you to a good position for a camp. There I'd like to learn everyone's names.' Kakashi's one eye turned into a happy look, trying to settle a comfortable atmosphere for everyone.

'Our travel was a little easier, so we already set up camp nearby, un. Follow me,' Deidara answered, waving his hand up as a sign for everyone to start moving.

Deidara's team of three fell right into pace. Itachi recognised only one of them. The girl with the short hair he had met when the Tsuchikage had visited Konohagakure. Kurotsuchi was her name if he remembered correctly. As Itachi, Deidara was dressed in ANBU gear, the outfit very similar to his to provide the right amount of comfort and protection. The other three were dressed in the typical Iwagakure clothing, one long red sleeve and on the other no sleeve at all. The rest of it was as brown as mud, blending in perfectly with their typical surroundings.

The camp was only a short walk away. Itachi remembered this place too, knowing the attacked village was only a few steps to the right, but for now it was hidden away between the rocks. The camp was small, sheltered by a few pointy boulders around them, but it would make do. It was only for a good night's rest.

'Alright, now that we are here, we'll do some introductions,' Kakashi announced, taking back the leading role as he dumped his bag onto the ground. 'My team here exists of Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha. I am their squad leader, Kakashi Hatake. And then lastly we have our ANBU member, who you are familiar with, Itachi Uchiha.' Kakashi's hand moved from person to person, not elaborating on their ranks or roles in the part of the team. Only Itachi's rank was mentioned, which was hard to avoid anyway. Some secrets were meant to be kept still.

Kurotsuchi stepped forward now, instead of Deidara, a similar smirk playing around her lips as well. She carried this air of confidence. 'Very nice to meet you all. I only have a small team of two, Yajirushi and Yumi.' The two were siblings, twins even perhaps. Dark hair with matching dark eyes, with features that didn't really say much. They seemed to be about the same age as Sasuke, and were probably ranked the same way as well, but you could never be sure. 'I am their squad leader, Kurotsuchi, and this one over here is Deidara, our ANBU member, though sometimes I wonder how he ever got that position.'

Deidara's eyebrow twitched at the comment, but an easy laugh carried through the group as they let the joke create some kind of bond. No one doubted Deidara had earned that position, but showing this friendly vibe made it all the easier to work together.

Some small talk was shared after that, though most stuck solely to their own teams, feeling more comfortable there still. Itachi kept to the side though, wanting to see everyone move around at first. Leaning back against a rock, Itachi watched team Kakashi create places to sleep, while Kurotsuchi's team started a fire to make some dinner.

Deidara… Deidara was directly walking towards Itachi, nothing suspicious in his movements visible. But as Deidara pushed himself against the rock beside Itachi, he still felt like the air was knocked out of his lungs. Their bodies were so close and an instant memory of that intimate night flashed through Itachi's brain.

Whispering soft enough so only Itachi could hear, Deidara made sure they got up on the right foot. 'I still expect you to come visit me in Iwagakure, you know, un.'

Chapter Text

Night fell fast in the desert. Before the Konoha ninja had so much as settled in the camp the Iwa ninja had set up, the sun had set behind the high stone walls. And as the sun had disappeared, the warmth did as well. The desert was known for its frosty nights. Itachi had felt them before, on those midnight missions together with Suna. At least it was not as sandy as Suna was, the piercing wind casting up so much sand, it made it hard to see and breathe. And if one was not careful it would even cut through skin.

Iwagakure was prepared for the cold evenings, the fire crackling away in a pit carved out especially for it. Huddled around, sticking as close to each other as possible, were the Konoha ninja. Sakura visibly shaking, but keeping up a tough act by only tugging her cloak a little closer around her, not uttering a word. Naruto was not one to hide away such a weakness, loudly complaining about the cold, comparing it to warm Konoha nights he loved so much. With clattering teeth the whole scenario seemed a bit amusing, and Kurotsuchi laughed loudly at Naruto's antics, slapping him on the back as some form of comfort. Right beside Itachi sat Sasuke, seemingly unfazed by the cold, but Itachi knew better. Sasuke was sitting just a bit too close by Itachi, feeding off his brother's body warmth.

It was quite apparent the three were simply not used to these weather circumstances, the turn of temperature too sudden. The Iwa ninja were comfortably cooped up under a thick cloak or blanket, the twins wrapped up in one single blanket. Kurotsuchi had hers lazily draped over her shoulders, the cold not getting to her as much. Kakashi had folded himself into his cloak, familiar with the cold temperatures and how to fight against it. Itachi was in a very similar situation, though not as tightly wrapped as the copy-nin.

One Itachi had skipped over, his heart racing only at the thought of looking over. After that one uttered line Itachi's whole world had turned upside down. He had been able to compose himself. Had even been able to utter a reply, though it had not been as clever as it could've been. An apology was all he could muster at that point, the other snorting out a short laugh after that.

It all had taken Itachi aback. The fact that Deidara had brought it up right away, talking about he still wanted Itachi to come on over. What did it mean? And why did it affect Itachi so much? He should be able to shake this off. This shouldn't matter as much, especially not on a mission. But every time Itachi encountered Deidara while on a mission, something seemed to happen. The very first time they saw each other was a very clear sign. How Deidara had kicked his feet right from under him, and was now towering over him with this smirk on his face. And the idea seemed so menacing, but Itachi did really fear Deidara. Not in strength, but in how he made Itachi feel so vulnerable. A position he rarely was in. Itachi wanted to understand, because from understanding came control. But in this case he was clueless. Clueless on what it all meant.

Somewhere in his stomach he could feel something bubble up though. It was that little bit of hope. Hope that Deidara had indeed thought of Itachi as much as Itachi had of Deidara, and that it all really meant something.

"Quit whining, Naruto," Sasuke muttered from Itachi's right side. "It's not that cold." The glare Sasuke added to his words made it even clearer that Sasuke was done with Naruto's behaviour. His little brother had once complained that Naruto always needed to be the centre of attention, or at least made sure he was in all sorts of ways. The tremble of envy in Sasuke's voice didn't go unnoticed by Itachi. And even now he could see it deep in those dark eyes, shimmering in the light of the fireplace.

An instant retort was thrown Sasuke's way, Naruto only becoming louder once challenged by Sasuke. It was somewhat childish, but also endearing. No matter how long the two now knew each other, and had worked together, they would never shake off this rivalry between them. Something that brought them closer. Itachi couldn't help but smile softly at that, envy striking him as he reminisced back to the days he spent with his cousin. Lost far too soon in a far too brutal way. One of well-kept secrets for many years now.

"You have a nice smile. You should show it more often, un."

Jerking his head to the left Itachi now sat eye to eye with none other than the blond he had tried to avoid. Those piercing blue eyes were staring up at him with honest interest, slight smirk playing around the corners of his lips. Itachi almost lost his composure, the gesture far too sudden by someone who was already getting to him. Swallowing heavily he tried to come up with a response, hopefully clever this time.

Thankfully someone beat him to it, cutting right into their conversation before it even started. "Geez, man. Keep it on your pants. We have kids around and we're on a mission. You really should know better, Deidara." A deep frown had settled between sharp dark brown eyebrows, Kurotsuchi sending a clear vibe Deidara's way as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.

Blue eyes had left Itachi's face, now focused on glaring right back at the girl. "I'm only making small talk!" Deidara retorted instantly, throwing his arms out to emphasize his phrase, almost hitting Itachi in the face with one of them. "Everyone is talking about how cold it is, and frankly I don't give a shit about that, un. Don't get mad at me, just because I saw him first, un." Deidara mimicked Kurotsuchi then, folding his arms together as well. Silence stretched between them, both waiting on the other to break the silence first. It made Itachi smile ever so softly once more, the same feeling like before bubbling up.

"You two are quite good friends, aren't you?" Itachi spoke, breaking the silence for them as he directed his attention to Kurotsuchi, finding it not as safe to look down at Deidara.

Deep brown eyes shot towards Itachi's face, Kurotsuchi blinking dumbly a few times before a soft blush settled on her cheeks. Itachi could feel Deidara looking at him as well, his expression a bit different. One eyebrow raised, eyes narrowed slightly in partial distrust. The same feeling Itachi had felt over and over again during conversations with Deidara. "I, uh, I guess we are. We grew up together, so we know each other quite well." Deidara shot Kurotsuchi a look, telling her to shut up. "Oh, uh, I mean, we're not that close." But the damage was already done, at least in Deidara's eyes. It was good to see that Itachi wasn't the only one who feared saying too much.

"Don't worry. We knew that you were friends already. It's not hard to tell. I mean at first I thought you two were dating," Naruto pitched in, giving the conversation a turn for the better, in an effortless way. It was not difficult to understand why Sasuke liked and disliked the guy at the same time.

Deidara snorted at Naruto's words, shaking his head, but Kurotsuchi was the first to speak. "Oh, he wishes he could date me."

"I'm pretty sure that's the one thing I don't wish," Deidara said, raising an eyebrow at Kurotsuchi.

She opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to come up with a good response, and then settled for something simple. "Shut up!"

"Why would you not want to date her? She's really pretty," Naruto said. "I know I would want to date a pretty girl like her." Naruto casted a glance over his shoulder to Sakura, an almost sad look in his eyes, which earned him an eye roll from Sasuke. A love drama Sasuke hadn't mentioned before. Either Sasuke deemed it not important enough, or it was a secret Sasuke felt like keeping.

Deidara looked over at Naruto and stayed silent for a little longer, questioning Naruto's intelligence perhaps. Naruto was not as dumb as people sometimes thought he was. Sometimes he was just a tat clueless, and that was certainly the case here. "You really don't know what I mean?" Deidara asked first, cocking his head to the side, amused smile on his lips. "Everyone else around understands, un." Deidara looked around the camp, eyes eventually settling on Sasuke. "Even your little buddy over here gets it." Deidara struck a thumb up at him.

Now feeling Naruto's eyes burning on him, Sasuke had to avert his eyes from the group, a slight blush staining his cheeks. Why had he been singled out? Now feeling embarrassed for his brother. Ultimately this was about Itachi anyway, and if they were not careful, Deidara would spill everything, just to get some sort of rise out of everybody. A shock value in some way.

Itachi did not want to wait for Deidara to continue, teasing the Chūnin of Konoha as much as he could. "Deidara means he is not attracted to women, Naruto. He prefers men."

"That I do, Naruto. But can you blame me, un? Those tall, dark, and handsome men? Who can resist them, right?" Deidara teased on, sticking out his tongue at Naruto to make it seem a little lighter, but the other blond was only now comprehending what was being said. His bright blue eyes shot to Sasuke again, and then settled on Itachi's face, understanding what was going on here, and what had happened before. Itachi didn't know if he was being judged for it now. Even if it was not unheard of, seeing two men together was still quite uncommon. This may be the first time Naruto came across it.

Eventually Naruto started talking, his volume dimmed a lot from what it usually was, carefully asking his questions. "So Deidara likes men? And Itachi likes men too?" Naruto asked, eyes curiously shooting from one to the other. "Because you two had been together or something in Konoha before," he explained.

Before Itachi could reply, someone cut in before him again. This time he wasn't as happy about it. "I think this is not the time to discuss sexualities," Kakashi voiced, words booming over the camp sight. Itachi suddenly realised the copy-nin had been silent this whole time, ingesting every word being said between them all. And this last conversation of course opened something new. Kakashi had not been aware of Deidara and Itachi's relations. Itachi had wanted to keep it silent, thinking it wouldn't be important for this mission, hoping it wouldn't be. But now it was out in the open. And Kakashi was the last to know. A rookie mistake made once more on a mission with the Iwa ANBU. "Naruto, if you have more questions about sexualities, you can bother your mentor with them. Jiraiya would be happy to tell you everything you want to know.

"Deidara, I kindly ask you to keep your private matters private. Our romantic lives have no further impact on this mission, and we have no need to know these things. And now since we have nothing else to discuss, I'd like to know more things about the Akatsuki and this mission we are on in particular. So anyone who'd like to start?"

The interruption by Kakashi got to everyone, all looking quite embarrassed. Kurotsuchi was the first to find the words to speak, stumbling over her words as she relayed some of the information on the Akatsuki.

Itachi tried to focus solely on her, but he could feel the one-eyed stare of Kakashi on him, punishing him for not saying anything about it before. And on his other side he had Deidara pressing his thigh against Itachi's, keeping a tight connection between them, sending a memory of pleasure down Itachi's spine. How was he supposed to focus on Kurotsuchi now?

Chapter Text

After the elaborate explanation on the Akatsuki, Kurotsuchi finished off with a question round. Everyone ended up being so tired, none had any questions left to ask, except for perhaps Kakashi, but he had enough information it seemed. At least for now.

The Chūnin all moved to their respective sleeping bags and tugged themselves in. The group broke apart per country, Iwa on the right and Konoha on the left of the campfire. They were still close together, but not close enough to hear the other whisper. As Itachi stood up to move towards his own bed of the night, a hand wrapped around his arm and pulled him along. It was not very surprising that the copy-nin wanted a private conversation with Itachi, not with the new information he had just received.

Blue eyes followed them as they moved closer to the wall, enough out of earshot, so Deidara would not be able to hear. But even the Iwa ANBU knew they may be in trouble now. He had been too relaxed, too nonchalant, and had said too much. But there was nothing he could do about that now, and all he could hope for was that Kakashi would not be too harsh on them. Would not quit the mission before they had even started.

Finally releasing Itachi's arm, Kakashi met his dark gaze. Itachi couldn't read of any emotion in that one-eyed stare. Kakashi hid it well. Itachi felt silently judged as Kakashi stared at him, neither of them breaking the silence. Eventually Kakashi sighed, scuffing his feet over the rocky ground. A hand was pushed through his unruly grey hair, a tired expression flashing through his dark eye. "I rather have known this before we started the mission," he said.

"I didn't know who the Iwa ANBU would be, and didn't think it mattered," Itachi responded, trying to defend himself, though he knew he had been in the wrong.

That one eye glared at Itachi. "Don't lie to me, Itachi. You should've known better." Kakashi glanced to the side, watching as the Iwagakure ninja slipped into their sleeping bags as well, and settled in for the night. "You both should've known better," Kakashi added as he watched the blond hair flop down on the ground as well. "I don't care what you do in your private time, Itachi, but this… As an ANBU there are rules. This is as if you're sleeping with the enemy, and it could make you vulnerable when things turn awry. How can I be certain now that you will choose your own men over him?"

Itachi felt like that young ANBU again, when he had first joined the squad. He rarely made mistakes, but Kakashi had been his squad leader on numerous occasions back then, and whenever he had made a mistake, Kakashi was there to let him know. It hurt to hear Kakashi distrust him, but it was only fair.

Turning his head away from Kakashi, Itachi finally broke eye contact. "It won't interfere with my work," he said resolute. "And perhaps as a compromise I should not be the one to be linked to Deidara, but you should."

"I was going to send you home," Kakashi sighed, shaking his head at the Uchiha. "But we'll try it your way first. This does mean I will be even stricter on you, and have you listen very carefully to me. We also need to show that we can handle ourselves better when it comes to sexual relations than Iwa." Itachi had almost missed the little joke Kakashi had made in the end, just to make him feel better. Kakashi wasn't one to hold a grudge, and didn't deal with emotions well. So this was a nice solution to the harsh lecture Itachi had just gotten. "And I hope it was at least worth it."

A soft chuckle escaped Itachi, for the first time experiencing Kakashi in a different way. Not treated as a child or a fellow ninja, but as guy who could become his friend, and who was old enough to speak about mature things. "It was definitely worth it," Itachi answered, shaking his head at the memory of that one night.

"I don't believe I want the details," Kakashi said, shooting Itachi a knowing look. He pushed himself off the wall to walk back to camp, before shooting Itachi one last line. "Just behave professionally, and perhaps avoid the blond. He seems quite the instigator." And with that he walked off.

And as Kakashi reached the camp, Deidara had gotten up from his sleeping position. Apparently their conversation had taken too long, and the Iwa ANBU had gotten suspicious. It wasn't just Itachi's position on the line here. He shared a few words with Kakashi before turning his blue gaze on Itachi, eyes almost shining in the darkness of the night. Kakashi glanced over his shoulder, shooting Itachi a warning look as Deidara moved towards him.

Itachi leaned back against the wall of the mountain, crossing his arms in front of his chest to put up a bit of a defensive post. After the conversation with Kakashi he felt a bit surer of himself, though he never knew how he would respond to Deidara.

"Are we in trouble?" Deidara asked first, shooting a look over his shoulder back at Kakashi.

"No," Itachi responded. "For now we are okay, but he's keeping an eye on us both."

Deidara nodded as he turned back to Itachi, staring up into his dark gaze. He remained silent for a moment as he just stared, and Itachi almost felt as if he should break the silence, but then Deidara opened his mouth as he casted his glance down in defeat. "I apologise for this, un," he said. "Kurotsuchi isn't really good at filtering what is right to say, and what isn't. And I tend to respond to her, un."

"It's alright," Itachi said. "I think we made the mistake long before this evening."

Looking up once more, an almost sad smile formed on Deidara's lips. "I don't like to see our adventure together as a mistake, Itachi, un," Deidara said, sounding a bit insulted. "We had fun, and I still enjoy thinking of it whenever I am in private. And I believe we are professional enough to be able to work together still, un. We have made ANBU for a reason, haven't we?"

Itachi found himself at a loss of words. Deidara was so different from one moment to the next. He had this playful nature about him, tricking people whenever he could, playing them right into the role he wanted them to have. So it surprised Itachi whenever the Iwa ANBU got serious, and actually managed to teach Itachi something. He was not just that smirking blond. That was a front he put up.

"You are right," Itachi said softly. "I'm sorry for what I said, and the memory I have of us is still very pleasant as well."

The sad smile instantly turned into a smirk, receiving an eyebrow wiggle with it as well. "Then my offer still stands," he said, referring to Itachi coming over to Iwagakure to receive a similar treatment Deidara had had in Konohagakure. Dimming his smirk, he shot Itachi a meaningful look. "I'm serious, un. You should come visit us. Take a little break, un." He looked over where Sasuke laid, sleeping soundlessly, and Itachi followed his gaze. "I see the way he looks at you, un. He worries, and when brothers worry, it means something is not going right, un. So I am guessing you need a little vacation. And I think a vacation spend in Iwa is great, because then I can show you around town during the day, and show you my bedroom at night."

A second chuckle of the evening left Itachi's lips, and as Deidara heard it, his smile grew. "I'll think about it," Itachi relayed. "But you know how difficult it is to get time off as ANBU."

"Yeah, it sucks, un," Deidara said. "Sometimes I wonder why I took on the job, un. You have no time off, which means you are constantly working. Hardly ever home, un. And I don't get to have as much fun as I want to, un. Not to mention that I hardly get to use my art, because it pulls in too much unwanted attention, un." The last part he said in a mocking tone, apparently something he had heard often enough.

Itachi smiled softly at Deidara's antics. It was odd how quickly he felt at ease with the ANBU close, though when he left it usually had quite the opposite effect. "The ANBU life is not for everyone, and I have to say I'm not enjoying it as much as I once had anymore," he admitted. "But I still feel responsible for my country, so I don't know if I could ever quit."

Deidara hummed at Itachi's reaction, glancing over at the campfire as it crackled on. "I sometimes wonder what Iwa has ever done for me, un," and that's all he said on the matter, pushing himself away from the rock. "I think it's time we get some rest. We have enough to do tomorrow, and considering we are the ANBU of this weird bunch, we should be acting proper, un. So I'm off to bed." He sent a wave Itachi's way as he moved back to camp, not really waiting on a reply.

"Sweet dreams," Itachi hummed just loud enough for Deidara to still hear.

This made the ANBU turn around, cocking his head to the side. "You really are irresistible, aren't you? Damn, un… Take that vacation and come visit me," he pointed out again, this time literally pointing at Itachi. "That one day with you really wasn't enough, un."

Shaking his head with a smile on his lips Itachi also made his way back to camp, mind full of pleasant things and good conversations. He was really for a night of rest, and responsibilities in the morning. Until Deidara shot one last thing over his shoulder as he laid down on his sleeping back.

"You're taking first watch, un."

Confused Itachi looked around the camp and saw that everyone had wiggled themselves in their warm sleeping bags, eyes closed as they dreamed of good things. Soft snores rose up from Naruto, limbs spread out in the sleeping bag in awkward positions. Even Kakashi had his eye closed, possibly sleeping soundly. He could still be awake for all Itachi knew, making sure the two ANBU weren't up to things.

With a sigh he sat down by the camp fire, warming his hands by the flames. The soft sleeping sounds rising from around him were calming. He would wake either Kakashi or Deidara in a few hours to take the next shift and get his own bit of rest, but for now he would stay alert, Sharingan activated as he glanced around the campsite. He didn't pick up any foreign chakra, only the bodies around him. It didn't say much, but for it did enough. With the rest of his senses on high alert it should be fine. It was why he noticed that Sasuke wasn't sleeping yet, dark eyes now staring up at his brother's back from his position in the sleeping bag.

"You should be sleeping, Sasuke," Itachi murmured softly.

At first Sasuke didn't reply, just kept staring at his brother for whatever reason. Until finally he spoke up. "You should take that vacation."

Itachi's eyes softened, Sharingan disappearing for a moment. He didn't look back at his brother. Sasuke must've heard Deidara when the Iwa ANBU had been moving back to camp, but he knew nothing about what they had talked about before. And yet Sasuke understood that the vacation would be good for Itachi.

"Go to sleep, Sasuke."

Chapter Text

A harsh wind was blowing through the high mountains of Iwagakure, whistling as they passed different rock formations. There was barely any vegetation around, the ground too dry to grow anything, and the weather too harsh to really give stubborn plants a chance. Not too mention that sun hardly ever reached down between the large pillars, the paths too narrow, the shadows they cast too dark. The weather was similar to that of Sunagakure, and yet the experience was so different. It was hard to accustom to for the Leaf ninja. Especially the ones that had never been here before.

Curious glances were casted up as they tried to figure out where the pillars ended. Where they could find the sun when light was so dimmed. Naruto called out, his voice echoing down the rocky path. It really never seemed to end.

"We're almost there," Kurotsuchi said, turning around with hands posed in her hips. "And please don't scream around here," she added. "It's very annoying for the people that live around these parts."

A grin formed on Deidara's lips, remembering something from his younger days probably. Part of Itachi wanted to ask what, but he refrained. Personal matters were not important now, and he had made Kakashi a promise. Stay professional and don't focus on the other ANBU. At least Deidara stuck to that plan as well, and hadn't bothered him much during their trip here. It made things easier, and harder at the same time. Not having the attention of Deidara made Itachi crave it more.

"People live around here?" Naruto asked, just a bit too loud, his question echoing as much as his call had done. It made the other Iwagakure Chūnin chuckle, and Deidara's grin grew wider. Kurotsuchi seemed anything but pleased though, a frown etched on her forehead.

A clack of the tongue and a muttered "idiot" coming from Sasuke, made Naruto shut up in the end, not wanting to appear less capable than his pear. It helped that both boys wanted to be as strong as the other. Itachi had seen it in their dynamics before. It made them in tune whenever they fought, knowing exactly what the other was capable of. There were still some rough edges, but they will perfect it as they grow older. Itachi was certain they'd remain a great team. After the death of Shisui, Itachi never found someone he was as close to anymore. It was times like these that he missed his cousin the most.

"Let's go," Kurotsuchi said, waving at the group as she started the track towards the village again. She took the lead, the Iwa ninja familiar with the village they were going to. It was on their border this time. That's why they had heard the rumours.

Kurotsuchi had told them yesterday what they would be investigating in the first place. Their intel exceeded Konoha's by far, having suffered more attacks. They had been going after the issue for more than a year already, and that made the case even more serious. If Iwagakure had been after these people for over a year, and had not been able to stop them, then how dangerous were they really? And what were they after? It seemed Iwagakure was not entirely sure yet on that matter, though Itachi felt like they were still keeping that to themselves. They knew more than they let on. And he knew Kakashi felt the same way when their eyes met during that bit of information.

But they were on their way now following a rumour Iwa had caught on. People had whispered about a few Akatsuki members being on their way to that very village. What they were after, Iwa didn't know. No one really knew what they were after in the first place. The only thing they every found were villages left in ruins, the villagers slaughtered. Hopefully they could prevent it this time, but Itachi was very aware of the team he was with. They were not necessarily to engage in a battle. They were here to scout, and gain as much information as they could.

Their footsteps echoed down the rocky surface as they made their way to the small village they were about to visit. Kurotsuchi shot a look over her shoulder to see if everyone was keeping up. Right behind her were her two Chūnin, followed by Deidara who closed their little group. Behind him was Kakashi, in his turn shadowing the ANBU and leading his own team. The three Chūnin of Konoha were running next to each other, widening the group just a bit. And Itachi closed it off, being the last protection at the end of their group, to keep them al safe. He would be the first one to hit with a surprise attack, but he was always ready, Sharingan activated the moment they had set of.

"There is one thing I forgot to mention last night," Kurotsuchi called over her shoulder. "The Akatsuki all wear the same thing, making them quite recognisable. When you see a black cloak with red clouds, then you know it's them."

This was very good information. Why Kurotsuchi hadn't mentioned it before, Itachi didn't understand. Had she really merely forgotten? Or had she kept it to herself for a different reason? Itachi didn't really trust it and it seemed Kakashi didn't either, shooting a glance over his shoulder, glint in his dark eye. He masked it well though, addressing his squad with a simple "so make sure you all pay attention to black cloaks with red clouds. As soon as you see one, report it to me." The emphasize here was on the fact that they could only come to Kakashi with this info, and not the Iwa ninja.

Deidara looked back as well, hearing that little hint in Kakashi's voice. His gaze met Itachi's and they looked at each other for a moment, but then the blue eyes glanced away, a different emotion shimmering in those bright blue depths. Itachi wondered what the other was thinking. If he was as wary of the Konoha ninja as they were of the Iwa ninja.

No one said anything after that, even the Chūnin too aware of the energy around to fill it with chatter. This was not such a peaceful mission after all. No matter how great the campfire conversations had been, during a mission it still felt different. The wars their ancestors had fought had made them opiniated. Had made them not trust anyone coming from a different village.

Holding her hand up Kurotsuchi signalled that they should slow down to a walk, and as Itachi let his Sharingan study the surroundings, he understood why. They were very close to the village now, it hidden between the giant pillars. If you had taken the path over the pillars, rather than down on the ground, you would never even have seen it. A perfect hiding place, though it was sad to know why it was necessary for such a small town. No ninja lived here as far as Itachi could tell.

There was no real entrance. No gate to welcome them in. You suddenly passed a door hidden in one of the pillars, and knew you had found the town. It was fairly quiet around, though enough people were out and about, selling their produce, catching up with friends. It seemed to be a friendly town, unaware of all the darkness around, sheltered away in their little bubble of happiness. Oh how Itachi envied that feeling.

A few curious eyes were cast their way, but once they found the familiar Iwagakure headband, the villagers seemed happy to have them here. An old man shared a few words with Kurotsuchi and then waved the rest of the group to follow to a small hotel the village housed. It may not be used much, but it really was only there for passing ninja, and for them it would be good enough. It was a luxury to stay at a hotel during a mission, one Itachi usually didn't have.

"Kurotsuchi, un," Deidara muttered, leaning against the door post of the entrance of the hotel. "Shouldn't we look through the town first and get ourselves acquainted with the lay-out before we find a place to sleep?"

The girl glanced black, dark look in her eyes. She didn't appreciate it to be lectured, even if it was in such a subtle way. The hotel owner looked at both ninja a bit wary. "We haven't had a moment of rest yet today after we left the campsite and we are here with a big group of Chūnin. I'm giving them an hour to catch their breath, and then we will take a sweep through the town."

Deidara raised two eyebrows, but didn't reply, knowing he had nothing to say against that plan. It was simply something he was not used to, like Itachi wasn't. Sleeping in a hotel, having a moment to rest right before their mission. Of course ANBU did rest, but not at such vital moments. The difference was that this was not the same type of mission. They were not here to sniff out the enemy as soon as possible.

Seeing Deidara roll his eyes as he turned around, Itachi couldn't help but smile, which of course the Iwa ANBU noticed. Deidara shrugged with a grin, showing there was nothing he could do about it.

"At least we get to sleep in a bed," Itachi heard himself say, making the grin on Deidara's lips grow even more.

"You mean we actually get to sleep?" Deidara returned, and as he said it, his smile turned a little softer, an almost tired look crossing his face. "I'm not really used to this anymore apparently. Can't even remember how long it's been since I've gone on this type of mission, un."

Itachi's smile faltered, shooting a look at Kakashi. Their gazes met, sharing memories of past missions they had gone on. How young Itachi still had been at that point. He couldn't really remember ever going on these types of missions. He had been part of the ANBU for as long as he could remember. "Let's enjoy it while it lasts," he murmured.

Deidara was about to say something, opening his mouth to comment, which he shouldn't. They shouldn't keep up the conversation they were having. It was on a much too personal level. But neither could stop themselves. So perhaps it was good Kurotsuchi stepped out of the hotel and interrupted them. Even if Itachi still wanted to know what it was Deidara had wanted to say.

"I just talked to the owner," she said, a serious look on her face. "And it seems our black cloak, red clouds wearing friends have also booked a room in this place."

A few eyes widened, knowing how close they were to their enemy. Naruto balled his hands into fists, ready to get the fight started. The one they weren't supposed to have. The intel Iwagakure had gathered had been correct at least, and they weren't here for nothing. Perhaps just a bit too late, considering they were already here.

"They are not here right now," Kurotsuchi continued. "Apparently, they have been gone for a few days already, according to the old man. But they still have the room reserved, so he says they should be back soon. They only paid for two more days."

Silence settled between them as they let Kurotsuchi's words sink in. The first to speak up was of course Naruto. "So what do we do now?"

"Well, we get to work of course!" Kurotsuchi announced, immediately beginning with forming a plan, Kakashi adding to as well as they divided their group into smaller teams.

Meeting blue eyes amongst the group, they shared a small smile. "So much for hotel beds," Itachi murmured.

"Or sleep," Deidara mouthed, shooting a wink the Konoha ANBU's way.

Chapter Text

The town streets were suddenly a lot emptier after the group of ninjas had spread out to investigate. Perhaps it were the Konoha headbands that were scaring them away, the villagers very aware of what country they were from. Iwagakure and Konohagakure hadn't been on good terms for a very long time, and Itachi wondered if this would even mend it. Too much had happened and from what he heard was the Tsuchikage very stubborn and perhaps a bit spiteful.

It did make their job of getting familiar with the town easier, but Itachi hoped it would go unnoticed by the Akatsuki members, if they would return. If one of them noticed the streets were emptier than they should be, their cover would be blown in an instant. These were still powerful ninja, though Itachi had no idea till wear their abilities stretched.

Brushing a strand of dark short hair to the side, Kurotsuchi let her eyes slide over the border of the town. Itachi had been paired with her, as he had promised Kakashi. He would shadow the Jōnin of the bunch, and hopefully gain some extra information from her. He expected she would be easier to break than Deidara, and hopefully she knew just as much.

"Do you think they will come back?" Kurotsuchi muttered, turning around to face Itachi rather than glance around some more.

He looked her over for a moment, deactivating his Sharingan to set a different mood. "I don't necessarily think so," he replied, leaning back against the pillars as he thought about it a little longer. "It depends on what their plans are. We only know them from destroying villages and murdering the villagers in it, but if that were their plan, why wouldn't they have done so right as they came here?"

It was a rhetorical question, but Itachi still hoped to see a reaction from Kurotsuchi, and he indeed did see one. The tightening in her jaw, the way she averted her eyes. His instincts had been right. Iwa did know more than they let relayed. It would make cooperating with the country a lot more difficult. Itachi really wanted to speak to Kakashi about this, and perhaps wanted to ask the same question to Deidara, wondering if he would react the same way as his team leader.

"It's almost time. We should head back." And that swiftly Kurotsuchi changed the subject, not wanting to give her own opinion on the matter.

Kurotsuchi turning around and started walking back towards the hotel. There they would meet up with the other teams and relay the information they had gathered. They had mostly scouted now, trying to find good spots to wait on the Akatsuki to return while staying hidden themselves. What they would do after that was another question. Something they still needed to discuss, perhaps because they all weren't as sure. With the few Chūnin in their team they would need to take a different approach. Though this was also the mission where Sasuke needed to prove himself worthy of the title Jōnin, which Kakashi was aware of as well.

"You know Deidara is quite the handful," Kurotsuchi said, casting a look over her shoulder at Itachi.

Keeping the same stoic look on his face Itachi wondered what she meant by that. Why she now felt the need to say something. Perhaps because they had not shared many words before or perhaps she was curious about the type of relationship the two had. Though Itachi expected Deidara had said more than he should've. "I can imagine that," Itachi replied, feeling like this would be the safest answer.

"You know he's lucky he didn't get kicked out of Iwa by my grandfather. Though many people still rather see him go." The girl continued, giving quite a bit of information on her friend, something she shouldn't have said to someone like Itachi. Gaining this information through her seemed even wrong to Itachi.

He halted in his steps, Kurotsuchi doing the same as she glanced back at him. They were only a few houses away from the hotel they were meeting at, but the large pillars would hide them away enough to keep this moment private. "I don't believe we should be talking about this," he told her, in a way even lectured her.

She disregarded the comment, instead now focusing on Itachi personally. "What do you exactly want from Deidara?"

"Why would I want anything from him?" Itachi replied, not fully understanding the question. Partially even finding it insulting, towards himself, and towards Deidara.

Crossing her arms in front of her chest Kurotsuchi held her chin up high. It seemed she wanted to come out as the more dominant one, or something alike. Something Itachi again did not understand. Why did this even seem like the time to ask these questions to her? "Don't play your little games with me," she retorted. "Deidara may have fallen for you, but I haven't."

Itachi could already feel the other chakra signatures closing in on them, and he was very aware of those listening ears that came with them. For some reason Kurotsuchi hadn't, too caught up in this conversation to focus on that. He admired her protective nature for Deidara, but this really was not appropriate. "What makes you say I didn't fall for him?" he shot back, face still void of any emotion.

It seemed to ever annoy Kurotsuchi as she gritted her teeth, ready to spill the next insulting question, but right then Deidara stepped around one of the pillars, shooting them both a look. "Thank you for saving my ego a little bit, Itachi," he murmured towards the ANBU, and then turned to his teammate. "And I can ask these questions myself, Kurotsuchi. I know what I want from him, and that is enough for me, un." He then turned away and started moving to the hotel.

Kakashi then appeared right beside Itachi, also having heard their conversation it seemed. For a moment he met Itachi's gaze, though he felt no judgement this time. Itachi had handled it correctly this time. It was Kurotsuchi that got the stare instead, and she felt the heaviness of it. Somewhere Itachi did feel bad for her, because she really was only looking out for someone who was important to her. It should just not have come before the mission.

"Let's meet up the rest and see what we can do," Kakashi said, slapping a hand on Itachi's shoulders as he steered the ANBU forwards. "I expect we have some things to discuss in private as well," he whispered only for Itachi to hear, and the other shortly nodded in reply.

Kurotsuchi was the last to join the group in front of the hotel, still seeming a bit out of it, so Kakashi took the leading role for now.

"Let's discuss what we have seen now, and after that head inside to relax for about an hour. Catch our breaths and prepare for what could be a very long mission," Kakashi started, clapping his hands together so that everyone was really paying attention. "I'd like to start with what Deidara and I found out and then we'll go from there."

The group shifted a little in a more relaxing pose, Sasuke stepping back to join Itachi at the edge of the group. His dark eyes warily moved through the group. Itachi and Kakashi were not the only ones to distrust the Iwa ninja. For a moment their eyes met, but then Sasuke quickly glanced over at Deidara, as if to make a point. But when Itachi followed his gaze, he found blue eyes staring back at him, instantly taking his breath away. Itachi could not read Deidara's expression, and he wished he understood what it meant. Wished he knew how to respond properly and not give Deidara the wrong reply.

"Deidara and I used one of his clay birds to look out over the town," Kakashi started up again. "I wanted to see exactly how far these pillars stretch. They reach about ten kilometres to the west, which means the Akatsuki could be outside of the pillars. Which also means they could've covered a lot more ground. The ground outside of these pillars is still filled with large rocks and mountains, but there is enough flat earth to make your way through. This is something we should keep in mind as we come up with a plan."

After that the other groups had their turn to share their findings, Naruto enthusiastically talking about some kids who had spoken about the two guys wearing black cloaks with red clouds. Itachi didn't find the courage to tell him it may be misinformation, but Sasuke gladly did, calling the guy an idiot right after. After their bickering had died down again, Itachi still wanted to say something.

"I'd like to share something else Kurotsuchi and I had discussed." The girl eyed him warily, as if Itachi would now make fun of her by sharing their previous conversation about Deidara. "I believe there is a good chance they won't return. Their reputation tells us they destroy the village and kill everyone that lives in it. If they were meant to do that here, they would've done so straight away. I don't believe they have any business left in this town."

The comment was not just meant for Kakashi, or the rest of the group. It was mostly directed at Deidara, because Itachi wanted to know what he would say. Would he keep his mouth shut as well and not include every bit of information Iwa had, or would he share and help Konoha with this mission?

Blue eyes had darted towards him right as Itachi had started speaking, but it took him a moment before he actually said anything. "They'll return," he said in a monotone, averting his gaze. And that was all they would get. It was more than Kurotsuchi would say, but not enough. The Konoha ninja still had no idea why Deidara was so certain the Akatsuki would return. What information did he have that made him think that?

"Alright, I think we heard enough opinions for now," Kakashi said. "I think we should now let everything sink in before we come up with a plan. I'd like to go over a few things before we decide. So we'll meet up again in an hour." And with that Kakashi closed of this little meeting and turned around to enter the hotel.

Silently the rest followed, different pairs of eyes meeting, unsure of what was happening. At least they were all aware enough of the seriousness of the situation. Even Naruto eyed Deidara with a look of confusion, finding his reply not sufficient enough. It was Sakura who made sure he didn't voice that thought though, squeezing him in the shoulder as they moved towards their rooms.

Kakashi was the first to enter, a happy look on his face as he slid open the door. "Ah, I hope they have fluffy pillows," he sighed, pretending that they wouldn't have a serious conversation right after they closed the door.

The three Chūnin entered afterwards, Naruto running through the door, flinging himself onto a folded duvet.

Itachi was the last one in line, and as he shot a final look to the side, he found Deidara standing there, looking at him.

"You don't trust us, un," Deidara accused, though his voice stayed levelled, not sounding angry at all.

Pausing in the doorway Itachi let those words sink in, and then looked up the Iwa ANBU again, meeting his gaze steadily. "Neither do you," he said back, accusing Deidara of the same thing. It wasn't strange that they didn't trust one another.

Deidara contemplated Itachi words, jaw tensing as he looked away for a moment, but in the end he dared to gaze back up. "I trust you," he said resolute, and Itachi took this as a sign to leave. Grabbing the sliding door Itachi was ready to close it right as he stepped through. But before he closed it fully, he murmured a few final words to Deidara, to make sure the ANBU knew where they all stood.

"You shouldn't."

Chapter Text

After shutting the sliding door, Itachi turned towards the rest of the group. His heart hammered inside his chest, the encounter with Deidara leaving more behind than he was willing to admit. It was perhaps harsh to tell the ANBU that he should not trust Itachi merely because they came from different villages. But weren’t they taught to lie and deceive if it were to protect Konohagakure?

Itachi would willingly sell out Deidara if it were to safe one of his own. Even if it would somewhere deep down hurt him.

“Everyone should freshen up a little. We’ll be meeting Iwa for dinner,” Kakashi announced.

The other three ninja scurried around, Naruto loudly announcing he was going to wash himself before anyone else. Sakura grumbled something under his breath about him needing to be polite and let a girl go first. Sasuke did not seem to care one way or another about who was going to clean themselves up. His dark eyes were strained on Itachi and Katsuki, getting the hint of what was about to happen.

A nice ruse to give Kakashi and Itachi a private moment to talk things through. Neither ninja was opposed to the others staying, but it was something they needed to figure out for themselves. A test Kakashi had conceived specifically for Sasuke.

“Aren’t you coming, Sasuke?” Sakura asked innocently. Her green eyes watched him intently, wishing he would join them in their silly little escapades.

A quick shake of the head was Sasuke’s reply. Itachi bumped him with his elbow, forcing him to use his words rather than his neutral expression. “I’ll catch up to you,” he muttered. “Naruto is a menace when he’s washing his face.”

“Hey!” Naruto called back, but was ushered away by Sakura, clearly seeing through Sasuke’s pathetic lie.

The sliding door was shut once more, the room silent in an instant. The three ninja gazed at each other, creating this discomforting energy that said neither were all too happy with the situation. Something was definitely up with this mission and with Iwagakure’s involvement.

“Okay, let’s stop being so glum,” Kakashi said, his eye sparkling with a smile. An easy way to change the mood. Something he must have learned as he trained the younger generation. Itachi was not very familiar with this side of his previous sensei. “Sit down and gather the information we have so far. I am curious what you’ve all gathered.”

Kakashi sat down by the small coffee table first, waving the other two over. Itachi sat down opposite of him, sinking through his knees. Sasuke joined them last, warily looking from one male to the other, unsure of why they were throwing away the formalities and were relaxing in their shared room. But he remained silent, waiting on some guidance on this part.

“So I am rather curious about what you found out,” Kakashi said, pointing at Itachi. “I thought paring you with Kurotsuchi would be a good idea. I think in her emotional vendetta against you, she would spill some secrets. Am I wrong?”

Itachi was a little taken aback by that. He was sure Kakashi had paired him with Kurotsuchi to keep him away from Deidara, since they did have a bond they shouldn’t have. But the matter was different. Kakashi had seen how close Kurotsuchi was to Deidara and how she could not close of her emotions when it came to him. She was protective of her friend.

“You’re not wrong,” Itachi replied. “She did change the subject to Deidara and asked questions about my intentions.”

“Why does that matter?” Sasuke asked bewildered.

“It doesn’t,” Kakashi answered, explaining the situation to the Chūnin. “She shouldn’t have asked in the first place, because it puts a strain on this mission. She is aware of that, but her focus lies more on her friend than on what we need to do. It’s why she is a weak spot when it comes to intel. So Itachi, tell me what you did find out through it.”

Itachi squinted his eyes, recalling the conversation they had previously. “Most of that conversation you heard,” Itachi said, referring to the moment they all met up. Kurotsuchi had chosen the wrong moment to talk about those things. Even Deidara had heard, as displeased as Kakashi had looked. “I did learn that Deidara is not a loved member of Iwagakure, but an ANBU member doesn’t have to be.”

Slowly Kakashi nodded, taking in the information. “Is that all?”

“Before we walked back Kurotsuchi asked me if I thought the Akatsuki would return. It seems to go against Deidara’s firm believes. She also evaded the question why the Akatsuki did not destroy this village in the first place. I think they know more than they led on.”

“I can add to that,” Sasuke pitched in, pulling their attention to him. “The two we were with pulled back a little at some point. They seemed to be whispering about something. I tried to listen in and caught the last few lines. They wondered why they had to go after the Akatsuki now.”

“Implying they haven’t done so before,” Kakashi finished.

Sasuke nodded, seeming quite pleased he could actually help the mission along. “I could’ve heard more if Naruto hadn’t jumped into their conversation and started ranting to them about covering more ground.”

“That’s alright,” Kakashi said, his eye twinkling with a smile again. “It’s best if we don’t all appear suspicious of them. Naruto is a good cover for us.”

“What about you?” Itachi asked, nodding at Kakashi to relay his story as well.

Kakashi hummed, casting a look up at the ceiling. “I didn’t get much, but I didn’t expect it either. Deidara is as wary of me as I am of him. He cooperates well though.”

“But isn’t it weird that he knows the Akatsuki will be back?” Sasuke asked the question that was running through all of them.

It was said so calmly, as a way to shut down the conversation. Itachi had been confused by it, wondering why Deidara was convinced that they would return if there was no reason to do so. They had found no information about them so far. Hadn’t even found a sign that they had been here, except for hearsay.

“I think that comes back to something we’re already thinking,” Kakashi said. “Iwagakure knows more than they let us believe. Even the Chūnin know something, so an ANBU member surely knows even more. I think if Deidara says they’ll be back, we should trust his words and prepare.”

“Agreed,” Itachi replied.

Sasuke nodded, not satisfied with that explanation. He wanted to talk more about this. Discuss it until they all came with an answer. Perhaps one where they could abandon Iwagakure and close the mission without them. But they would need to see this through. Not just to repair the bonds between their villages. It’s better to keep the enemy close.

“Now let’s get ourselves cleaned up as well and join the others for dinner. We’ve travelled for a long time and deserve some relaxing, don’t you think?”

Kakashi’s offer was kind, getting up from his seat. He slapped Sasuke against the shoulder in a comforting manner, trying to get his pupil to feel less down about things. Sasuke was known to fret about things, Itachi had learned that first-hand.

Right as they were about to leave the room, Naruto came rushing back in, sighing happily as he flopped down on one of the mattresses. Sakura followed suit, complaining to Naruto about being rude towards their teammates. Naruto really had no idea what kind of conversation the three of them had been having, unaware of what he could’ve walked in on.

“Hope you didn’t use all the warm water, Naruto,” Kakashi shot over his shoulder, making the boy flinch.

As they walked out the door, they were joined by the members of team Iwagakure, all ready to freshen up as well. Itachi ended up at the back of the group, politely letting the two women pass. He ended up walking right beside Deidara, who remained very silent as they continued their route. It was such a difference between meeting Deidara all those weeks ago. Itachi had to admit he preferred the Deidara that filled the air with mindless chatter.

The small bath house did not offer enough space for everyone to go in there at once. It happened to cut off right before Itachi and Deidara, who had to wait outside together. Something they perhaps should not do, but the choice was already made. Kakashi shot one look at them, but trusted Itachi enough to make the right decisions.

“Had a nice long talk about us?” Deidara asked, filling the silence.

Itachi glanced down at the shorter male, keeping his usual unreadable expression on his face. “We discussed the mission. I expect you did the same.”

Blue eyes shot up to him, his expression as neutral as Itachi’s. “There was enough to talk about, un,” he answered.

“At least we can now get ourselves cleaned up. It has been a while since we last saw a bath house,” Itachi said, changing the subject to something lighter. Something less distrustful. Not necessarily something he was good at, but after spending some time with Deidara, he had gotten better at holding a conversation.

“You’re right,” Deidara said. “You stink, un.” The cheeky smile that formed on Deidara’s lips made Itachi’s heart flutter. He was not one to smile a lot, but at that he felt it tug at the corner of his lips.

“I’ll make sure to wash myself well, then,” Itachi returned.

Blue eyes slid over his form, something darker taking over those bright blue orbs. Itachi instantly saw what it meant. The memory of their night together was still imprinted on Itachi’s body. He could still feel Deidara’s body pressed against his, sliding along with every thrust. A moment in time where they had enjoyed each other so thoroughly. Something so unfitting for the mission, but once Deidara thought of it, Itachi could not push it out of his mind.

“I could help you with that, un,” he said, feigning innocence. “Make sure you don’t smell anymore. Cannot trust you with that. You’ve been stinking up the place for weeks, un.”

Itachi shivered at the offer, knowing what Deidara was implying. Everyone would be washed up before they even got their turn, which meant they would have the bath house all to themselves. A moment of privacy they couldn’t get the rest of the mission. They should always be on edge, waiting on the next attack to come in, but hearing Deidara say that, made Itachi actually consider it.

Another night with that beautiful tempting man.

“Are you certain you can get me clean?” Itachi heard himself say, playing right into Deidara’s advances.

Deidara bit a plump bottom lip, keeping in the sound that was about to leave his mouth. “A dirty man like you, un? I will need a little time for that. I promise I will work long and hard to get you all clean.”

As that sentenced finished, Kakashi walked up to them, eyeing them both suspiciously. At least he had not heard the things Deidara had said. It left very little to the imagination and Itachi was getting quite excited. Much too excited.

“Don’t take too long,” Kakashi ordered. “The hotel has provided us with a dinner, and I cannot promise Naruto have eaten everything by the time you join us.”

“Got it, un,” Deidara said, winking at Kakashi as if he had not just offered Itachi something else. “Kurotsuchi is the same. I know how to fight for my food, un.”

“I resent that,” Kurotsuchi said, slapping Deidara against the shoulder as she left as well.

In a manner of minutes Deidara and Itachi were left all alone in the steaming bath house. Itachi felt his heart flutter, his body jittery as it prepared for this next moment with Deidara. It was foolish to even consider. They both knew better than this. ANBU were not supposed to engage in physical contact during missions, because it diverted their attention.

But when he felt those plump lips pressed against his, all was forgotten.