"You'd be taking over as her primary carer," said the cool and professional voice on the phone. "The rest of her immediate family is dead."
"...Yeeaah," drawled Deidara slowly. "But is it really okay to ask an internationally wanted criminal to take her in, I mean - hey! Danna! Give that back!"
"How did you get this number?" Sasori demanded. Which, yes, okay, maybe Deidara should have been worried about that too... but seriously, what kind of social worker tried to palm a kid off onto him? Even he knew that was a terrible idea!
Scowling fiercely, Deidara leaned closer. When he was close enough that his hair was mingling with the reddish edges of Sasori's, the tinny voice from the speaker was loud and clear.
"-able to divulge those details without sufficient identity related information except to Deidara-san. However, the Konoha department of child welfare has avenues of information available through the rest of the bureaucracy, including the tax office. Now-"
Deidara rolled his eyes and took the phone back from Sasori with some effort. Sasori gave it up after a moment's struggle, but he countered by putting it on speaker.
"-can commit her to care as necessary." Deidara snorted. He had grown up in an orphanage, and, look, yeah: it was shitty. But he turned out fine, and he didn't see why anybody else should get it any easier than he had, so really- "but the Hokage has decreed that we must contact any living family that isn't actually institutionalised."
"What," said Sasori flatly.
Deidara was a little inclined to agree with him, which was how he knew it was dire. "Even if they're S-ranked criminals from outside the village?"
He shared a glance with him, and they were both thinking variations on: That would not have happened in Suna and Iwa would never.
"Honestly, Deidara-san," said the caller, sounding briefly but intensely exhausted, "the Hokage makes a great many strange, questionable or clearly unethical decisions about the village's orphans here. At this point I'm just doing my job and hoping for the best."
"...Yeah," said Deidara slowly, which was probably not the response he should have had to what was doubtless vile sedition inside the village's walls. "...Sooo, does the Hokage have final authority over the orphanages themselves, or-?"
"Of course," said the voice, sounding a wee bit strained.
He shot another look at Sasori, whose expression was completely blank. There were, you know, orphanages. And then there were orphanages. The mouth in his left hand licked its lips nervously.
"No," said Sasori. The tone of his voice was a warning, although his face still didn't change.
The person on the phone went on as though Sasori wasn't clearly audible. "So, Deidara-san, if you're amenable to a brief interview and to proving your financial state is equal to caring for a second person-
"Deidara, no," Sasori repeated, pitch rising.
"-we'd be delighted to give you full guardianship of your half-sister."
"I'll do it, yeah," breathed Deidara, heart pounding.
"Lovely," said the caller. "Our office is open nine to five. There's an outpost in the capital, near the public gardens. Drop in any time this month and I'll make room for you in my schedule."
There was a click and a dial tone.
"You're telling Leader," grated Sasori from between his teeth.
...which was about when Deidara realised he'd just agreed to parent a child.
Pein was surprisingly good about it, actually. "She'll have no contact with her village again," he said with his pale eyes boring into Deidara's.
"No problem, yeah. All her family's dead, it's not like she's got much to go back for."
"Poor girl," mused Konan, although not as though she pitied her. Instead she looked at Deidara as though she was seeing right through him. A moment later, she glanced out into the rain and her stare remained locked there.
Annnd Konan continued to be hella creepy. Deidara inched away from her. He reminded himself once again that it was all okay because paper burned really well.
Then after a pause: "Kakuzu isn't likely to increase your pay," added Pein.
"...shit," said Deidara.
Yamanaka Ino was twelve, the illegitimate a product of the war with Konoha, and she looked a hell of a lot like him.
"Wow," he muttered, eyeing the photograph he'd been given. "We could be -" he was about to say related, but then he would probably have to have smacked himself. "Huh."
"I know, right? She'll be a knockout when she's older," said the officer of the department, sitting down across from him.
Deidara eyed the man uncertainly. He wasn't the best at social stuff, but he wasn't, like, Danna. He was pretty sure that wasn't the sort of comment a thirty-something year old should be making. He'd have felt weird saying it, and he was only eight or so years older than her. "She's twelve," he pointed out.
The officer looked up at him, made a delighted expression, and noted something on a piece of paper.
Okaaay...? Deidara actively chose not to read whatever the hell that was.
"I can tell we're going to have a good interview already, Deidara-san," he said cheerfully. "Now, let's talk about your criminal history. I can see mercenary acts of terrorism and violence, but none of those are any different to the missions sanctioned by Iwa..."
Considering the missions sanctioned by Iwa - and considering the missions sanctioned by Konoha, which were just as bad - that wasn't really a ringing endorsement. Deidara knew it, but the officer seemed to have developed some kind of selective stupidity.
Or non-selective stupidity. Deidara didn't spend a lot of time around civilians.
"Your criminal history appears to be limited to large-scale property damage and mass murder," the officer went on.
"Pretty much my skill set, yeah."
"Excellent, excellent. There's no history of non-consensual biological experiments, non-consensual psychological experiments, longterm imprisonment, sexual violence -"
The list went on.
A lot of the list seemed ...strangely specific.
Although interestingly Deidara did learn that sex with an intelligent, consenting summon was still considered a crime in Fire Country, but only if it was a reptile.
In the end, Deidara was approved to become the carer of a twelve year old girl without delay. Even after he'd told them that his hobbies involved blowing things up and watching in a kind of trembling, heart-pounding excitement and elation so intense it almost made him dizzy.
"Excellent! It's good to be enthusiastic about your work," the officer had said cheerfully.
"Danna," he wailed into his phone ten minutes later, flying high above the capital on a clay bird, "their child welfare department is terrible."
"It's windy. I can't hear you," said Sasori, "and also I don't care. Why are you calling me?" And then he hung up, leaving Deidara squawking indignantly five hundred meters in the air.
Kakuzu didn't even make the effort to acknowledge him when Deidara appeared in his doorway. 'Not likely' Pein had said. Well. That had been something of an understatement.
"No," he said. The room behind him was dark, although Deidara could see the disturbingly serene silhouette of Hidan praying against a window. It was overcast outside. It pretty much always was, here.
"You don't even know what I was going to ask!"
"No," he repeated. He'd never even looked up from his book. It wasn't their accounts for once - it was a dated bingo book, which he seemed to be comparing with a newer release, subjecting both to an intensely critical eye.
"I'm not asking for money." Deidara'd already given that one up as a lost cause. There was the kind of 'no' that could be coaxed into a 'yes' and then there was the kind of 'no' Kakuzu made when he was talking about precious, precious funds.
And since Deidara wasn't stupid, he was willing to offer that concession right from the outset just to pique Kakuzu's interest enough to get his attention. Negotiation with Kakuzu was ...delicate. At best. Sometimes he just lost his temper and murdered someone.
"I just need somebody to show me how to plan a budget, yeah," he added sourly.
That made Kakuzu look up.
He squinted. "...really."
Deidara crossed his arms, scowling. He didn't need to look so disbelieving! Deidara could be responsible. ...sometimes. Well, not about himself, but he was an adult, that wasn't anyone's business but his!
But he was plenty responsible when Danna asked him to be, for example. Well. Mostly.
Either way, the child welfare people were insane and he wanted to make sure he wasn't going to, like, let the kid starve or something.
"She's a genin?"
Then Kakuzu made a disgusted noise. "Sit," he commanded.
"Where do you get money coming in?" he barked.
"What?" Then: "Oh. You?"
Kakuzu twitched, but leaned forward to write 'AKATSUKI' in his sharp, old-fashioned script. The number he wrote next to it was not one with which Deidara was actually familiar, but it was probably around the same amount Kakuzu showed up with every month.
"...Would you even notice if I didn't pay you?" Kakuzu asked, twenty minutes later.
"Yes," said Deidara quickly, because he wasn't stupid enough to say otherwise. But he wasn't actually that sure.
There was a tick developing in Kakuzu's cheek. It was partially covered by his mask, but it was definitely there.
The intent in the air was rising, too, enough that Deidara was tensing every time Kakuzu moved his hands and Hidan, despite his relentless droning prayer, was obviously getting restless.
They kept going. Deidara was actually learning, which was unexpected. Kakuzu wanted a running account of all of his outgoing expenses, which Deidara thought was pretty unlikely to happen ever, but he was...
"You spend more than you get paid," Kakuzu said shortly.
"How does that work?" Deidara wondered.
"It doesn't, idiot. Do you have a line of credit anywhere?"
"Credit card? Source of income other than stated?"
That vein in his forehead could not have been good for Kakuzu's health.
"I need your tax invoices and the transaction history from your bank."
"...and, um, where would I get those?"
Deidara supposed he shouldn't have been that surprised when Kakuzu flipped the table and stormed out, but Hidan's laughter was really unnecessary.
Of course, Kakuzu's temper was uncertain at best, and he stormed back in about ten seconds later.
This time he grabbed Deidara by the hair. "Come with me," he hissed in a low and terrible voice.
By the time he made it back to his own room – shared grudgingly with Sasori – he was seriously bruised. Battered. Lightly singed. More sick of listening to Hidan laugh like a broken hinge than he'd even thought possible.
Kakuzu had been too close to really get any distance from, too.
It wasn't that Deidara minded setting himself on fire, but he really would have liked for there to be an alternative option. Taking away the choice factor made it significantly less exciting.
"Danna," he whined.
"I'm not really a short distance fighter."
Sasori looked up at where Deidara was sprawled across the bed. He had the nascent urge to reach down and shove the edge of his shirt down lower where it was riding up over his belly, but Sasori was never really interested in Deidara's naked skin - except when he occasionally discussed what a nice puppet he'd make.
But that was perfectly normal and not perverted or creepy or anything, so Deidara didn't worry too much.
"Idiot. You knew this would happen."
"Money is really boring, yeah," he said defensively.
Sasori grunted again.
"I could poison him," he offered after a moment's silence.
Deidara looked away and didn't let the smile overcome him. The warm fuzzies in his gut had nothing to do with the heat from his bruises.
He sighed instead. "No. I just need to talk to my bank."
As soon as he figured out which one was his bank.
Deidara woke to an itemised list titled How Not To Be A Terrible Older Brother pinned to his door.
It was scattered with suggestions like 'make time for her instead of putting her off' and 'try not to kill anybody she's fond of'.
Perplexed, he crumpled it up and threw it away and commenced putting his hair up.
Then after a second he put his hair brush back down, pulled it out of the trash and peered at it again.
Teach her things when she asks.
Deidara hesitated, then left it on a table to be forgotten about instead.
Sasori refused point-blank to come to meet his new charge with him. He did not want to wait for the bureaucracy to organise themselves.
Deidara did not understand Sasori's impatience, because it was always so selective: he'd plot and settle to wait like an ambush predator half the time, and then the other half would see him lashing Hiruko's tail and spitting insults as his ire rose by the second.
So he asked, Sasori said no, he asked again and Sasori said no again, and so he asked again - although this time he was mostly just stirring shit and they both knew it. Sasori ignored him at the time but somehow found the patience to wait hours for revenge, at which point he poisoned his breakfast.
This really only proved Deidara's point about Sasori's patience. He sure had time for some things.
Deidara was heartily sick, however, having ingested the spores from some obscure emetic mushroom.
"Really?" sighed Kisame, peering at his own food. "Really?"
The overcast sky lit the kitchen through a skylight, and the rest was all sturdy benches and utilitarian seats. They didn't cook often, so when somebody did cook it usually attracted the others like flies to shit. (Provided it wasn't Itachi's cooking, which attracted precisely nobody.)
"It's not in the food. It's on the spoon," said Itachi, completely unconcerned. His eyes flickered red and spun, bright and alien.
Deidara flipped him the finger. He was too busy throwing up on his own boots to shriek at him like he deserved. Asshole.
"Yeah, I think I'll eat something else anyway," Kisame sighed, and got up in a ripple of oversized muscle and terrible grace to go throw his breakfast away.
Itachi watched him for a moment, but in the end he ignored the commotion and picked delicately at his own rice.
When he was done vomiting he looked back at Sasori with bright, fevered eyes and contemplated stuffing Hiruko's mouth with C4. Deidara could think of five or six ways to do it, and Sasori would probably survive it.
And even if he didn't, Deidara couldn't help but think of all that potential and energy, all the beautiful essence of him, burnt up in one glorious moment. Mmm.
He licked his lips, tasted bile, and decided against it. It was a fine thing to balance, but there were other things.
Still, from the way Sasori edged around him and calmly but meticulously checked his things, he'd probably seen the thought on Deidara's face.
In the end, nobody came with Deidara. He supposed that was for the best, because Itachi was the bogeyman of the girl's own village, Kisame was a mountainous brute of a man, and everybody else was either too creepy for words or actually insane.
Sasori had really been the best choice of all of them, temper aside.
Although Deidara could allow that he spent a lot of time filling out paperwork in that office and Sasori probably would have snapped and stabbed someone.
As it was, Deidara alone - short, blond, androgynously pretty with no obvious weapons - seemed to terrify the pants off her.
Which just meant that at least she wasn't an idiot. (Of course she wasn't an idiot. She was his half-sister. Duh.)
In this case that wasn't necessarily a good thing in the short term, though, because it meant that when she was escorted into the office, Yamanaka Ino took one look at his forehead protector and went white.
"There's been a mistake," she said frantically, reaching out to snatch the elbow of the person who'd led her in. She seemed torn between shoving the civilian behind her or using him as a meat shield and fleeing.
The officer of the department of child welfare seemed totally inured to this sort of behaviour. "No mistake," he disagreed, removing his arm from her grip.
"He's a missing nin," she hissed quietly, as though Deidara might be offended by the comment, or perhaps as though he wasn't aware and she was trying not to break the bad news to him prematurely. He stifled a snort.
"Yes. But he's your half-brother," said the officer, shuffling a surprisingly thick pile of papers. "By decree of the Hokage, your familial relationship trumps politics in this situation, Ino-chan. Now please sit down."
Ino crept into the office and perched tensely on the edge of her chair. Her eyes strayed only briefly from Deidara and when they did it was mostly to check out her surroundings. He could see her picking exits, skimming obstacles. Obviously not much of a fighter, then; at least she knew it.
She was... skinny. Skinnier than he was, skinnier than Konan or Itachi, and that was saying something. Her face was pretty, but he skin was dehydrated and there was a darkness and a tension around her eyes.
He kind of wondered what she was seeing when she looked at him, because he hadn't gone out of his way to be intimidating or anything.
"So, this is Deidara-san. You'll be going home with him today-"
"Yo," he said, and flashed her a bright smile. "Shitty situation you've found yourself in, yeah. Let's hope we'll get on."
She looked at Deidara like he was a death sentence. The expression rolled off him. He'd seen it plenty of times before. "Please take care of me," she said flatly, by rote.
Still. He kind of wondered how she was going to deal with his housemates. He was really not the scariest thing in that building, yeah.
...not to look at, anyway.
Well, they could burn that bridge down when they got there.
He looked at this too-skinny girl with her delicate looks and careful assessment of her surroundings and wondered for the first time if she liked blowing things up.
He hoped so.