Disclaimer: I still don't own Naruto or any of the people/places found in his home world.

Author's Note: So, once I started writing, this chapter just floooowed out. It was actually a little fun, getting into rant-mode as our favorite blond artist. So, I figured, since you had to wait sooo long for the last chapter, I'd go ahead and post this one incredibly early. Yay! Think of it as a New Years gift of sorts, and an early apology in case the next chapters are slow in coming. The next one should be fairly easy to write . . . I've got a small chunk of it already written, though I think I'm changing the point of view for it. After that, though, the action is picking up and I have to write the chapters carefully. A big Thank You to Thomas Drovin for his gift of a few characters to help move things along. I've made some slight alterations, but I'm trying to keep them true to the descriptions he gave me of personality and fighting style and whatnot. They even provided a bit of humor at the end of this chapter. Yay! Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the early chapter!

WARNING! There is some bad language in this chapter. Apparently Deidara gets vulgar when he gets angry. Who knew?

Chapter 19: Behind the Scenes

DEIDARA

So here . . . I'm still waiting here, my dear,

For one kiss from you.

So here . . . I'm still waiting here, my dear,

To kill all of you. To kill all of you.

-Coheed & Cambria ("Always & Never")

-o-o-o-

Two words. Madara fucking Uchiha. Okay, well, that was three words, but who's counting, yeah? It doesn't matter. How could my partner - the idiotic, train-wreck of incompetence and annoyance - turn out to really be Madara Uchiha? What sick, twisted, sadistic bastard gets off on acting like some sort of overly-hyper, preteen schoolgirl on a sugar high? That sort of charade can't be possible! I don't believe it! Somebody must have whacked the real Tobi and replaced him with this overly-dramatic denizen of the underworld. There is no way in hell that I'm believing that the two of them are the same person. No way in hell, yeah.

Besides, isn't Madara Uchiha supposed to be . . . I don't know . . . dead, yeah?

Since he's obviously walking, talking, and giving orders, I guess that's a moot point. Maybe he's undead, yeah. That would be pretty cool, I guess. After having danna as a partner - a verified living puppet - I don't think anything will surprise me anymore. I do have mouths in my hands and I work with a plant-man, a shark-man, and a lady that can dissolve into paper. What could be weirder than that, yeah?

Still, undead or not, what gives him the right to swoop in and start giving orders like he owns the place? Well, I guess it could be that he's been secretly in charge all this time, if Kisame is to be believed, but I don't buy it. The fact that he's some ancient relic from a hundred or so years ago and thusly so powerful his existence should be illegal doesn't mean he's allowed to waltz about and do whatever he wants to whoever he wants. Like he did to Katie, yeah . . .

Oh, Kami. Katie . . .

I stop my pacing and sink onto the stool in front of my work bench, leaning forward on my elbows and tearing my hands though my unbound hair. We may be rogue ninja - nuke-nin - S-ranked criminals, but what he did to her was uncalled for and entirely unforgivable, yeah. And Kisame helped! I always knew that, deep down, he was a sadistic bastard but to go along with that sort of plan puts him at an all-time low in my opinion, now . . . almost as low as that Uchiha . . . both of the Uchiha. Hell, make it all three of them, yeah.

I guess that's all the Uchiha are good for: ruining lives, yeah.

My fingers meet resistance and I yank them free, taking a decent chunk of hair with them. Ouch. I scowl at the strands tangled around my fingers for a moment before rising and stalking over to my bedside table. Taking brush in hand, I start to work. I'm not as anal about my hair as Itachi. Kami, that guy should've been born a girl with how perfect that mane of his is - not that I'm jealous or anything, yeah. I at least try to keep mine presentable. Besides, the activity keeps my hands busy while I think, yeah.

The alternative would include a lot of clay and a certain orange-masked bastard, and I don't think it would go over well with anyone here, yeah.

But how can I not be furious - indignant on her behalf, yeah? She trusted him! I saw how she acted around him - a little fidgety at times. I saw the looks she gave him every now and then - the faint blushes when she was caught. Maybe the fidgeting could be because she knew he was really Madara, but the other stuff? She fell asleep practically in his lap once! How is that not trust, yeah? She trusted him and he went and did that? Like I said - we might be missing-nin, but there are limits. He crossed a line, yeah.

She was just a civilian! Yeah, she had some knowledge of the future - of the enemy - that could prove useful to us, but she was still just a civilian! She might have acted composed and mature, but she had no military training. When someone accidentally kills a guy and is then promptly sick at her stomach, that's generally taken as a sign that she's not a shinobi of any sort, yeah. But did that mean anything to him? No. He destroyed her - shattered her civilian innocence - tore her apart bit by bit and then stuck her back together like some macabre puzzle, yeah.

He killed our Koneko, and I will never forgive him. I doubt she will, either, yeah.

I admit. I didn't like Katie at first, but she grew on me eventually. She was a somewhat pleasant respite from dealing with 'Tobi' all the time. She became a friend to me - maybe even like the sister I never had. I look back now at some of the conversations we had while traveling and wish I hadn't been so gruff and abrasive with her. She didn't deserve it - was just an unlucky girl thrown into a dangerous situation. She didn't deserve my rudeness then and she certainly didn't deserve Madara's treatment now, yeah.

How could he turn a civilian into that? I set my brush down with a slight shudder, trying to banish the memory of the expression on her face from my mind. I never thought I would be frightened of Koneko of all people, but in that moment - as she crouched over me with a knee in my gut and kunai to my throat - the mask of utter nothingness that claimed her features absolutely terrified me. It was an expression that would be perfectly at home on Itachi, not on someone like-

[Deidara. Report to the briefing room immediately.] The dark, rich voice interrupts my thoughts and makes my skin crawl. Madara. There he goes again, ordering me around. There's nothing I can do to stop it, though, since he's obviously in charge now, yeah.

I push myself to my feet and sulk out of the room, only pausing to tie half of my hair up into its usual topknot and strap a decent pair of clay-filled pouches to my hips. One can't go anywhere unarmed around here, yeah. The briefing room is two floors up, and I don't rush the trip there. I'm not taking kindly to being ordered around like some trained mutt by an orange-masked bastard that, not too long ago, was bounding around like an idiot and calling me 'sempai' in an overly-cheerful and nerve-grating voice. I bet he was mocking me behind that mask - probably still is, yeah.

I shove the door to the briefing room open and all but stomp in. "What is it now, yeah?" Not the wisest way to greet the overly-powerful Uchiha, but I've got to find some way to express my displeasure that doesn't involve massive explosions, yeah.

"Aw, look. He's throwing a tantrum." I freeze at the sound of the decidedly female voice that, though sickeningly familiar, does not belong to Konan. "It took you long enough. Don't you know not to keep a lady waiting?"

Heart dropping into my stomach, I turn my gaze slowly to the right to find an all-too-familiar face smirking back at me - a face I had hoped never to see again. I have to admit, though, the seven years that have passed since I last saw her have been fairly kind to her. She's grown into a verifiable beauty, not that I'll ever admit that to her face. Brilliantly green, almond shaped eyes. Full, glossy lips. Clear skin and sensuous curves. Delicate hands brushing softly-waving hair from her face . . . magenta hair. Wait. Magenta?

I blink. "You dyed your hair, yeah."

Her eyelids dropped slightly and she cocked her head, dipping forward so that her hair fell back forward, dropping down to brush the tops of her - eyes up, yeah! She grins almost knowingly. "You like it?"

Quickly gathering my wits, I sniff. "No. It's hideous, yeah."

An odd sound escapes the back of her throat, eyes widening. "Why you . . ." She looks about ready to pounce, though I wonder how fast she could manage that with the flowing kimono bound loosely at the waist so that the top slipped off her shoulders, opening almost to the point of indecency and revealing the edge of something . . . lacey.

Before she can reveal just how practical - or impractical - her current ensemble is, a firm but oddly withered voice cuts in. "That's enough, Minako." Jaw tight, she straightens and tosses her head back and away from me with a faint huff. The movement makes the hitai-ate around her neck, pristine as ever, flash - the stylized rock etched into its surface untouched.

I shift my attention to the second speaker, hand dropping almost casually to the pouch of clay on my right hip. There was no mistaking this face either. The wispy white hair cut fairly close to his head. The grey-flecked goatee wrapped around his mouth. The empty, milky eyes of a blind man. Kirigi: Iwa veteran and village elder. Older than dirt, though Madara might beat him in that department. "What're you doing here, old man, yeah?" I never liked the guy - never trusted him - not then, and certainly not now.

"You will show Kirigi-sama more respect, traitor," the man to Kirigi's right snapped, shifting forward. Short and somewhat wind-swept, strawberry blonde hair and clear blue eyes narrowed into slits. It takes me a moment to place him, but at the sight of the staff clutched in his right hand, I quickly find a name. Nogami Chedaki. Cocky, arrogant bastard. I'd love nothing more than to shove a clay bird down his throat, yeah.

My retort has no chance to leave my mouth as Tobi - Madara - rises from his seat at the long table dominating the room. "They, and others, are here to offer us Iwa's support."

I balk, jerking my head around to stare at him so quickly that it almost gives me whiplash. "Say, what, yeah?"

Kirigi taps his cane against the floor, clearing his throat. "Officially, Iwa has no qualms with Konoha and is on fairly decent terms with them, though there is no treaty connecting us, currently. Unofficially, however, there are still those of us who do not take kindly to the way the last war ended and would rather enjoy watching the Leaf burn."

Gears start turning as I study the blind man. "So, you're here in the unofficial capacity, then." He inclines his head. "Am I correct to assume that the Tsuchikage has no idea what you're doing, yeah?" Kirigi does not move, but he doesn't have to. Slimy git.

"Of course the Tsuchikage knows. Why else would we be here?" Nogami snaps testily. "We aren't the traitors here." That's what you think, yeah.

I smirk back at him. "Careful what you say, Nogami. That sort of talking can get you killed around here, yeah." My smirk fades as I return my attention to Madara. "So what do you need me for? You seem to have everything under control, yeah."

The masked Uchiha folds his hand behind his back and begins moving toward me - toward the door. "They are your responsibility, now."

"W-what?"

"You are in charge of Iwa's presence here, making sure they know their places in our plans and keeping them out of trouble. You will escort them to their assigned barracks and keep an eye on their movements. Do you think you can handle that?" He sweeps past me without waiting for an answer. Oh, how easy it would be to slip a small bomb onto his person as he passes, but no. I can't do that. Not yet, anyway, yeah.

I redirect my glare to the Iwa-nin - my ex-teammate, the jerk-face, the old codger, and . . . was he standing there the entire time? I blink briefly at the fourth shinobi from my old village. Black hair tipped in blood red - short and messy at the top, long chunks framing either side of his face, and a longer tail tied back at the nape of his neck. Coal-black eyes blink back at me, and I shake my head. They brought Saito? "Fine. Whatever. Come on. Stay close, yeah."

As soon as the words leave my mouth, I regret them. Minako attaches herself to my arm and – damn it! She's taller than me! I try to tug away, moving out of the room and down the hall. "Let go of me, Mimi!" I snarl, unconsciously reverting back to the name I used to call her when we were genin.

All I receive for my efforts is a smack upside the head. "It's not Mimi anymore, Dei-chan. I go by Mi now." She leans against my side, pressing her-

"Let me go, yeah!" I grab her bare upper arm and try to pull her away, but she only tightens her hold, giggling. Fine. She wants to play it that way, yeah? Still gripping her, I open the mouth in my hand and slide the tongue over her skin. It has the desired effect. With a shriek of disgust, Minako releases me and jumps away.

"Deidara! Ew! That's gross!"

I smirk and continue walking down the hallway. A few steps later, Seito appears at my side, looking somewhat impressed and a bit . . . eager? I give him a wary look and he replies with a thumbs-up. "That was awesome, man. How'd you get her to back off like that?"

I lift an eyebrow at him, realize it's the one hidden from my bangs, and then lift the other in what I hope is a properly skeptical expression. "Let me guess. She does it to you, too, yeah?"

He sighs and glances briefly over his shoulder before focusing back forward. "All the time." A distinctive blush rises on his cheeks and I grin. So, in my absence, she's directed her overly-flirtatious teasing toward him, then. Poor guy. I can't help but feel sorry for him, yeah.

My smile turns almost apologetic as I lift my right hand and open the mouth, tongue lolling out. He blinks at it a couple times and then looks down at his own palms. "Well, darn. There goes that idea."

I chuckle, not slowing my pace as I feel Minako's glare at my back and hear her dark muttering. Maybe all of them aren't so bad, though that doesn't make me any less upset at Madara for sticking me in this situation. There's another reason to hate him. He seems to enjoy going out of his way to make me miserable, whether as Tobi or Madara. Maybe that's proof that the two of them are one and the same, though I still don't buy it. Somebody's off-ed Tobi and replaced him with Madara, yeah.

Just like he killed Koneko and replaced her with Yaiba.