One of the Cool Kids ch.6
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One of the Cool Kids
"Is that better, Zetsu-san?"
Zetsu nodded slowly, wincing as Tobi crouched near his bedside and gingerly swabbed a cotton ball soaked in calamine lotion over his bee stings.
"I'm really sorry," Tobi murmured, hanging his head in guilt. "It's all my fault. If only I wasn't so stupid and careless…"
Zetsu sighed, the white half of his face closing an eye.
"It's all right, Tobi. You didn't mean for it to happen. Granted, I'm not happy about it. In fact…"
The black half of his face hissed.
"I should eat you for it."
Tobi whimpered and Zetsu sighed again, reaching out to pat him on the head.
"It's all right. You know I don't mean that."
Tobi nodded, resting his chin on Zetsu's bedspread like a dog, letting his friend pat him on the head.
"Don't you have a test with Deidara?" Zetsu inquired after a moment.
"Yes, but…I was concerned when I heard about what happened to you, so I put it off." Tobi paused, hanging his head again, his voice thick with remorse. "And…I keep hurting everyone, Zetsu-san. I don't mean to, but it just happens. I didn't mean to make Kisame-san sick. I didn't mean to scar Hidan-san for life. I didn't mean to break Kakuzu-san's ribs. I didn't mean to put Itachi-san into a coma. I didn't mean for this to happen to you…"
Zetsu grimaced as Tobi sniffled and withdrew a blue handkerchief from his pocket, dabbing at the hole in his mask.
"Of course you didn't mean it," Zetsu said in a strained voice, his bee stings itching uncontrollably. "Tobi is a good boy, right?"
Tobi laughed weakly and nodding tearfully, leaning forward to clasp his arms around Zetsu's middle.
"I love you, Zetsu-san."
"…um," said Zetsu awkwardly.
"I'll pass Deidara-senpai's test with flying colours!" Tobi declared, standing suddenly. "I'll pass it for you, Zetsu-san. I'll make you proud!"
"Good for you, Tobi," Zetsu said wearily, closing both eyes. "Good luck."
"Thank you," Tobi said gratefully, before backing out of the room. "Rest well!"
Tobi disappeared into the hallway and closed the door behind him, leaving Zetsu in the dark room.
Forget Tobi being the dead man, Zetsu mused to himself. Deidara's doomed.
Tobi flounced down the hallway, humming a tune as he stopped before the room he shared with Deidara. When he pushed it open and stepped inside, he found it empty.
Blinking, he shrugged and decided to head downstairs to look for his senpai.
Kakuzu and Kisame were seated at the dining table—the former mending a hole in Kisame's cloak as the shark man sat patiently and waited. Tobi paused near the table, gazing admiringly at Kakuzu's seamless stitching before speaking.
"Excuse me, Kakuzu-san, Kisame-san. Have either of you seen Deidara-senpai?"
Kisame scratched his head, leaning his elbows onto the table. "He's probably in his workshop."
"Workshop?" Tobi echoed, surprised. "Deidara-senpai has his own workshop?"
"Around back," Kakuzu explained without glancing up. "The back door in the kitchen leads to it."
Tobi nodded in gratitude.
"Thank you, Kakuzu-san. It's Deidara-senpai's turn to give me a test, so wish me luck!"
Kakuzu said nothing and merely continued sewing.
Kisame glanced between the two—at Kakuzu whose left eye twitched with the effort to refrain from violence (his ribs were still healing) and Tobi who stood there expectantly, hands clasped beneath his chin.
"Good luck, Tobi."
"Thank you, Kisame-san. I'm so excited! There are only two tests remaining, and once I pass them I'll officially be part of the Akatsuki! You and I will be comrades!" Tobi gushed, unable to restrain himself as he latched onto Kisame's muscular bicep in a fierce hug, completely oblivious to his horrified expression.
"Get off of me!" Kisame cried, unable to reach Samehada with Tobi latched onto him.
"I'll make up for all the trouble I've caused you, I promise!" Tobi said brightly, letting go just as Kisame jerked back, turning to face Kakuzu as the shark man toppled off his chair.
"Kakuzu-san, I'll make up for breaking your ribs," Tobi said passionately, putting his hand over his heart. "I will never go back on that promise. You have my word, for I, Tobi, am a good boy!"
With that, Tobi advanced to deliver an embrace, only to stop halfway when Kakuzu raised his hand.
"Come near me and this needle's going through your throat," Kakuzu said calmly.
Tobi straightened and slapped his forehead with a laugh.
"I'm so silly! It would be dangerous for me to try and hug you while you're holding something sharp like a needle, wouldn't it? It's so like you to look out for me, Kakuzu-san."
The Falls nin only stared at him, appalled by his stupidity.
"I'm ready! Knowing that Kisame-san and Kakuzu-san care about me makes me feel like I can take on anything," Tobi said happily.
"Go die," said Kakuzu.
"Yes, I will do my best or die!" Tobi cried passionately. "Deidara-senpai, I'm coming!"
And then Tobi went tearing out of the room, snaring a loose thread from Kisame's cloak around one of his shirt buttons and tearing an hour's worth of sewing in half.
He followed Kakuzu's directions and opened the back door in the kitchen, finding a short flight of stairs descending from it, illuminated eerily by a single bare bulb that hung from the ceiling.
His excitement gradually receded as he cautiously started down the stairs, feeling a little unsettled by the darkness and creepy hallway that appeared before him. It seemed to be little more than a mole tunnel, with flickering, mine lamps affixed to the crumbling dirt walls.
Tobi hurried along the passage, stopping before a half-rotten, wooden door. Hesitantly, he raised his hand and knocked three times, glancing around nervously as a cold draft snaked up his back.
A large spider descended on a thread of silk near his head, and Tobi fought the urge to recoil and knocked three more times, loudly.
The temperature dropped, and when a few more minutes passed and one of the lights went out, Tobi found himself breaking out in a cold sweat. Unable to withstand the seemingly shrinking hallway and its creepy inhabitants, he squeaked and reached for the doorknob, pushing the door open and stumbling forward.
The sight that met his eyes elicited a scream that would have put a troupe of panicked girl scouts to shame.
Some thing with caked, slimy hair and a horrifying, grey, deformed face leered at him.
The thing screamed too.
"Deidara-senpai!" Tobi cried, turning to run. "Save me!"
"You freakin' idiot!" the thing shouted, grabbing him by the neck of his shirt and jerking him back into the room. "It's me, un!"
Tobi stopped flailing as soon as he heard his senpai's signature "un". Turning, his terror waned into shock when the thing reached up with a wet towel and wiped it over its face, revealing a scowling, muddied Deidara.
"Deidara-senpai!" Tobi gasped. "What happened to your face? And hair?"
Deidara rolled his visible eye, the other covered with a mud-caked eye patch.
"It's clay, you idiot. Can't you tell?"
"Why is there clay on your face, Deidara-senpai?"
Deidara reddened slightly before frowning, scratching at the cracked clay on his cheek.
"It's got natural botanicals," he said huffily. "It's good for nourishing my skin, since I get wind-burned from riding my birds."
"I think you have beautiful skin, Deidara-senpai. Is that clay in your hair, too?"
"Of course not. It's olive oil and egg yolk," Deidara muttered, patting his stiff, stringy hair.
"What does the olive oil and egg yolk do? Make your hair shiny?" Tobi asked, fascinated.
"You could say that," Deidara said under his breath, before turning and walking back into his workshop. Tobi followed, only to stop past the threshold and stare in awe.
The walls were covered with shelves upon shelves of Deidara's clay models. Each model bore a distinctive design and sported a distinctive label. Tobi had the sneaking suspicion that these were Deidara's favourites, since they were organized immaculately and the shelves they rested upon were spotless.
In the middle of the room stood one of the Rock nin's gigantic, flying clay birds, along with other animals that looked half-complete. The ground was covered in tile and bits and pieces of clay lay scattered over it.
"These are amazing," Tobi breathed, walking up to one of the shelves to gaze at a row of clay lizards. "You're so talented, Deidara-senpai."
Deidara wiped off the last of the clay on his face, obviously pleased to have his talent acknowledged.
"Yeah," he said with mock modesty. "I try."
"Everyone in the Akatsuki is so talented. You must be the artistic one, Deidara-senpai," Tobi commented, moving to look at a shelf of clay frogs.
Deidara opened his mouth to reply, and then he stopped, suddenly struck with an idea.
"You're right," he said after a moment, a slow, ominous smile working its way onto his face. "Everyone in the Akatsuki is talented, un. In fact, it's sort of a prerequisite to being in the Akatsuki in the first place."
Tobi straightened and turned around at that, head cocked to the side.
"You must miss having Sasori-san for a partner, then. I heard he was a very gifted artist." Tobi took a step forward, tone softening. "Do you miss him, Deidara-senpai? Are you grouchy because you're grieving?"
Deidara gave him an incredulous look. "Do I look like I'm grieving, you dumbass?"
Tobi nodded understandingly. "As your fellow man, I understand that showing emotion is probably a sign of weakness, so instead you vent by insulting me. It's all right. Please, feel free to grieve in my presence."
"You're out of your damn mind, un."
"It's all right, Deidara-senpai, I'm here," Tobi said somberly. He took a step forward, raising his arms and holding them outstretched.
"Let me hold you."
"Get the hell away from me!" Deidara snapped, shoving him away. "Don't get random ideas like that in your head, you idiot!"
Tobi stumbled back from the shove and apologized sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.
"But Deidara-senpai, just so you know, you can cry on my shoulder any—"
"Talent," Deidara interrupted loudly, scowling. "As I was saying, everyone in the Akatsuki has a distinct talent, something that gives him uniqueness."
Tobi perked up. "Uniqueness?"
Deidara nodded, his smile widening.
"Anyone can throw a kunai or learn a jutsu, but only a select few are born with a real talent. Me, for example. I'm gifted with sculpture," he said, beckoning to the shelves. "And performance art," he added with a grin, patting the satchel of explosive clay on his hip.
"So everyone has a talent like you, Deidara-senpai?" Tobi asked, sounding impressed.
"That's right. We're not a bunch of uncultured Neanderthals, you know. The Akatsuki is an elite organization. We've got the best of the best, un." Deidara took a step forward, raising a finger to tap Tobi's mask.
"Leader-sama uses our talents to fund the organization, so unless you can prove you've got talent, you can't get in."
Tobi cocked his head to the side, inquisitive.
"Fund? He sells your talents?"
"I'll show you exactly what I mean, un. Let's go back to the house. I need to wash my hair."
Twenty minutes later, with his blonde hair wrapped up in a towel turban, Deidara beckoned for Tobi to follow him downstairs. Tobi mimicked Deidara's stealthy tip-toeing, following him to the edge of the wall before the dining room.
"Keep your trap shut," Deidara warned in a hushed whisper, putting a finger to his lips. "Kakuzu will kill us if we interrupt him."
Tobi nodded and waited for Deidara to explain.
"I don't know if you know this, but our cloaks?" The Rock nin pointed to one of the red clouds emblazoned on his cloak. "Kakuzu designed them. He even sewed them."
Wow, Tobi thought, impressed. So that's why he was fixing Kisame-san's cloak.
"He doesn't like to talk about it, but he's a master seamster. When he isn't managing our finances, he's working on things to sell. Right now," Deidara said with a coy smile, beckoning for Tobi to peer into the dining hall.
"…he's working on wedding dresses."
Tobi stared, gaping at the sight of Kakuzu sitting before a sewing machine with a mountain of white chiffon and silk, a measuring tape slung around his neck and a piece of chalk in his hand.
He watched in awe as the Falls nin deftly flipped the sheet of silk over and marked it, jabbing it full of pins before running it under the sewing machine. Near the far wall, a stack of gorgeous wedding dresses lay in a neat pile.
Deidara pulled him back and whisked him towards the living room.
"Ten thousand apiece," Deidara said, smirking as Tobi stared at him, flabbergasted. "Those dresses make a killing on the market."
"They were gorgeous," Tobi agreed, sparkly-eyed. "Kakuzu-san is so talented."
"Exactly. Now I'll show you what our fishy friend Kisame can do. It's Friday, un, so he should be on TV."
"TV?" Tobi said blankly, as Deidara picked up the remote and turned it on. The blonde flipped through the channels until he found the sports station.
There was a wrestling match going on, between two very enormous men—one of which looked very familiar.
"There he is."
"Is that…Kisame-san?" Tobi gasped, kneeling directly in front of the TV. "He's not…blue!"
"Jutsu," Deidara said shortly, grinning. "Kisame is a natural-born athlete. He's got more strength and endurance than all of us."
"Wow," Tobi breathed, watching a flesh-coloured, spandex-clad Kisame fling his opponent headfirst out of the ring. "He's amazing."
"Friday's wrestling. Saturday's basketball. Sunday's football. Monday's boxing," Deidara said, counting on his fingers. "He brings in a lot of money, un."
"He does all of those sports?"
"Yeah, with a different disguise every time."
"Kisame-san is incredible!" Tobi said in awe as Deidara flicked off the television, beckoning for him to follow.
"Come on, let's go see Zetsu."
Happy to see his friend again, Tobi eagerly followed Deidara up the stairs and to the Grass nin's room. When they stopped outside his door, a faint tapping noise could be heard issuing from within.
"Lucky you," Deidara said, before raising his fist to knock on the door. "He must be working on his latest."
"Come in," Zetsu said from the other side.
Tobi and Deidara entered, only to find Zetsu propped up in bed (still covered in calamine lotion) with an old, battered typewriter poised in his lap.
"If it isn't already obvious," Deidara said, pointing to the typewriter. "Zetsu here can write."
"Really?" Tobi gasped, moving to see what his friend had written on the stack of paper on his nightstand. "You never told me you were a writer, Zetsu-san!"
"I dabble," Zetsu's white half said modestly.
"Dabble, my ass," Deidara said with a grin. "Mr. Bestseller-three-months-in-a-row."
"What kind of books do you write, Zetsu-san?"
"Ones that are too complicated for you," Deidara retorted, snatching the stack of papers from Tobi's hands. He glanced down it, his visible eye trailing the words before his brow furrowed.
"Zetsu, this doesn't make any sense, un."
"Stream of consciousness," Zetsu's black half rasped.
"Can I read one of your books sometime, Zetsu-san?"
"Of course, Tobi."
"Silver Ladybugs and Pig Entrails." Deidara read, staring at the first page on a different, complete stack. "That's the title of your new book, Zetsu? Horror?"
"…it's a romance."
Deidara stared. Then he glanced at Tobi.
"Let's get out of here."
They both left Zetsu to his writing, closing the door gently behind them before walking out into the hall.
"Zetsu's got eleven novels under his belt, un. All different genres. He's always in the top ten on the bestseller's list."
"Everyone is so talented," Tobi said, sparkly-eyed. "I wonder what Itachi-san can do. He's already incredible."
Deidara snorted before grabbing Tobi by the sleeve and dragging him towards the Uchiha's room.
"It's Friday, so he should be working on one right now," Deidara said, stopping before the door. "But I'll tell you now…Itachi doesn't have a creative bone in his body. He's the least talented out of all of us. A freakin' robot, un."
"I think he can hear you, Deidara-senpai," Tobi said worriedly.
"He doesn't give a damn, trust me," Deidara said before pushing the door open.
Tobi hesitantly followed him in and stopped, staring at the sight before him.
Itachi sat by the window on a stool, holding a paintbrush in his hand and running it mechanically over the easel in front of him, his face expressionless.
"Itachi-san can paint?" Tobi said, surprised. "But that's a talent!"
Deidara snorted again, grabbing Tobi by his sleeve before dragging him over to Itachi's side. What Tobi saw made his mouth drop open.
"Starry Night," Deidara finished for him, before pointing to the canvases propped up near the bed. "And that's the Mona Lisa, and the Persistence of Memory, un."
"But they're amazing! They look just like…"
"The originals," Itachi finished flatly. "I copied them."
Deidara gave him a slightly contemptuous look.
"A real artist works from creativity. Technique isn't as important as the subject and the emotion, un. Sharingan-boy here can copy anything down to the smallest detail, but he can't make something of his own…something original. He's got no talent."
Tobi was vaguely alarmed by Deidara's blatant disregard for the Uchiha's feelings, but Itachi kept on painting, looking completely unmoved.
"But since these copies sell for a lot on the black market, I guess it's something you could consider a talent," Deidara said grudgingly.
"I think they're beautiful," Tobi said sincerely, patting Itachi on the shoulder.
"Don't touch me."
"Oh, oops. The painting might get ruined," Tobi said with a sheepish laugh, oblivious to Itachi's sharingan morphing into mangekyou sharingan.
"Let's move on," Deidara said, noticing the change with slight alarm.
Both stepped out of the room, closing it behind them and leaving Itachi to start a copy of Picasso's L'Accordéoniste.
Before Tobi could say anything, Deidara grabbed his wrist and dragged him towards the room at the opposite end of the hall. Tobi realized it was Hidan and Kakuzu's room. Raising a finger to his lips, Deidara motioned for Tobi to stay silent as he opened the door and crept in.
Tobi followed, blinking when he found the room empty.
Deidara stood by the bathroom door and beckoned Tobi over. He did as he was told, creeping over to stand next to him.
"Deidara-senpai, Hidan-san's in the shower," Tobi said in a hushed voice, hearing the sound of running water through the door. "Let's come back later."
"Shut up and listen, un."
Tobi reluctantly did as he was told, straining his ears.
At first, all he could hear was the sound of running water and the odd thunk of hygiene products impacting with the marble surface of the tub.
Then came the singing.
It started out as an unintelligible murmur, and then increased in volume till they could both make out the words to the song. And it was a gorgeous song. It was heart-rending in its sublimity.
"…is that Hidan-san?" Tobi asked incredulously.
Deidara only grinned in reply.
"What's he singing?" Tobi asked after a moment, sounding awed by the lilting notes floating through the door.
Deidara snickered. "A hymn."
Hidan sang on, voice passionate.
"…a fountain full of blood from heathens…and severed heads to put candlesticks in…for me a blood-bought reward, a silken noose and gold-wrought sword…an eternity to punish in, I have an eternity to punish sin…for destruction, sweet destruction, oh holy destruction, divine destruction!"
"It's so beautiful," Tobi said tearfully.
"It's mental," Deidara corrected him. "He doesn't know we know about this other little talent of his."
"He has another one?"
"You do remember when Leader-sama made him dance, don't you?"
"Oh, I remember! Hidan-san dances beautifully!" Tobi exclaimed.
"Not so loud, you idiot!" Deidara hissed, darting forward to clamp his hand over the hole in Tobi's mask, only to trip over one of Hidan's misplaced spears and crash into him. A moment later, there was silence. And then the bathroom door banged open.
"What the fuck?" Hidan said blankly, finding the two in a dog pile in front of the door.
"It's nothing," Deidara said brusquely, jumping to his feet. "We thought we heard a noise and—"
"You sing like an angel, Hidan-san," Tobi sobbed from the floor.
"Tobi, shut up—"
"You sing as well as you dance. Your voice is heavenly. I'm so moved. I'm—"
Deidara reached down and heaved Tobi to his feet, slapping his hand over the hole in his mask again.
Hidan paled, and then turned an embarrassing shade of red.
"You bastards were listening?"
Deidara realized anything but the truth would be futile.
"…were you in your church choir?" he asked instead, lamely.
A moment later, Deidara and Tobi burst out of the room, dodging the spear and the string of colourful curses Hidan threw at them.
"Was Hidan-san in his church choir?" Tobi inquired once they were a safe distance from his room. "He has such a beautiful voice."
"How the hell should I know?" Deidara replied, re-arranging his towel turban. "Hidan's the newest member, and so far we haven't figured out a way to make money off his talents."
"But Leader-sama will figure something out, won't he? Leader-sama is so smart," Tobi said with an admiring sigh. "He must be the most talented one of all. What can he do, Deidara-senpai?"
"Even I don't know that," Deidara replied, heading downstairs with Tobi in tow, back towards the back door in the kitchen. "But now that you've seen what each of us can do, it's about time I gave you your test, un."
Tobi nodded excitedly, following the blonde through the dirt hallway that led to his workshop.
"I'm ready for anything, Deidara-senpai!"
"Good," Deidara said with a grin as he stopped and turned to face him, his visible eye glinting. "As an artist, my work—" He gestured to the clay models. "—gets put in art galleries. I'm famous for my distinctive style, un, and it brings enough funding to keep Leader-sama happy."
He paused, his grin widening.
"And since you insist on calling me 'senpai', I thought of a fair test. You have to mimic my art and prove you've got enough talent to be my apprentice."
Tobi glanced at the shelves and the innumerable sculptures, inspired.
"Me? You think I have what it takes to make art like yours, Deidara-senpai?"
"Why not?" Deidara said, biting on the inside of his mouth to keep from grimacing. "I'm sure you've got plenty of talent, Tobi."
Deidara could almost feel Tobi's elation through his mask.
"You have no idea how happy you've made me, Deidara-senpai. I won't disappoint you, I promise! You're my inspiration!"
"Yeah, yeah," Deidara muttered, scratching his nose. "Now pay attention. Here are your instructions. You see that box over there?"
He pointed and Tobi found a large, sealed box placed on the large wooden table against the far wall.
"That," Deidara said matter-of-factly, "Is the clay you'll be using. You can pick any model in this room to base your work on, and you have to complete it within five hours. That may seem like a lot of time, but trust me, you'll need it. It's harder than it looks."
Tobi nodded seriously, glancing around at the models with his fists clenched resolutely by his sides.
"Once you pick a model, take it and the box with you out there," Deidara instructed, pointing to an obscured door behind his giant clay bird. "That door leads to the backyard. I want you to complete your work there."
"We have a backyard?"
"That's what we call the patch of dirt and rocks, yeah. Make sure you take it far away from my workshop," Deidara said, his grin growing wider.
"All right, Deidara-senpai! I'm ready," Tobi said excitedly.
"Good. Don't break any of my models, un, or I'll blow your head off," Deidara said over his shoulder as he turned to leave. "I'll be back in five hours."
Deidara smiled to himself as he departed through the door and into the dirt hallway leading back to the kitchen, leaving Tobi behind.
It was a simple test, almost easy compared to what Zetsu and Itachi had given him. Even a simpleton like Tobi could more-or-less mimic Deidara's art with a model at hand and do a decent job. It was almost too easy.
Deidara snickered, an ominous glint flickering in his eye.
Behind this seemingly innocuous test, a much more nefarious purpose lurked.
In actuality, Deidara wasn't planning on testing Tobi at all.
He was planning on killing him.
Where Kisame, Hidan, Kakuzu, Itachi, and Zetsu had failed to rid the world of the idiot known as Tobi, Deidara would succeed. He planned his "test" in a way so cunning there was absolutely no way for Tobi to turn it against him. Within the next five hours, Tobi would die, and Deidara would play it off as an unfortunate accident.
The clay he'd supplied Tobi with was imbued with a C2 level of explosive chakra, enough to cause an explosion violent enough to take out a small dwelling—more than enough to rid the world of Tobi once and for all.
Once Tobi was securely within safe exploding distance in the rocky landscape outside headquarters, and once a couple of hours had passed, Deidara would sneak around back, hide behind one of the rocks, and detonate the clay.
Then bye-bye, Tobi.
Deidara couldn't help himself. He cackled in triumph, paying no attention to the strange look Kakuzu gave him when he walked by the dining room in his towel turban.
For all the misery he'd caused the Akatsuki, for the sleepless nights and migraines and urges-to-commit-suicide that he'd inflicted upon Deidara, Tobi would die. There was no way Deidara would let a dunderhead like Tobi become his partner.
This time, he was a dead man for sure.
Deidara-senpai wasn't joking when he said this would be hard, Tobi thought to himself, his hand poised thoughtfully on his chin as he examined the model he'd chosen.
He stood in the middle of the barren landscape outside the headquarters, surrounded by rocks and bones. The sky was cloudy and the air was cool, perfect for molding clay in, yet Tobi found himself at a bit of a loss as he examined the model.
It was a dolphin, lying flat on its belly with its fins akimbo and tail jauntily curved up. It looked like a very happy dolphin, which was why it attracted Tobi in the first place. But trying to mimic it was proving very difficult, indeed.
Discarding the misshapen lump of clay in his hand, Tobi knelt and dug out another handful, crouching in front of the model and eyeing it intently as he let his fingers do the work. A moment later, he pulled off his black gloves. Then after another moment, he removed his mask for better visibility. Time ticked on.
His second attempt yielded something that looked like a cross between a worm and a sailboat, and his third attempt looked like a misshapen lizard. It was all very frustrating.
Before he knew it, an hour had elapsed.
Sighing, Tobi glanced down at the dolphin model, cocking his head to the side.
"Maybe I need something else," he said aloud, examining the small figurine. "This is too hard for me. I need something simple…something big…something like…"
Tobi stopped, suddenly, struck with an idea. He jumped to his feet and put on his mask, excitedly scooping up the dolphin model and the box of clay before darting off towards Deidara's workshop.
He had the perfect idea for a sculpture, so perfect he didn't know why he hadn't thought of it earlier.
Tobi recalled Deidara's words.
A real artist works from creativity.
Tobi had been given the task of mimicking an existing artwork, but that didn't mean he couldn't add his own creative flair to it. It didn't mean he couldn't take the initiative and turn it from something mediocre into something magnificent.
He had to show Deidara his talent, did he? He had to demonstrate his capacity for sculpture?
Tobi smiled as he entered the workshop and turned on the light, his gaze falling on the model at the back of the room.
If sculpture wasn't his forte, then he'd just have to prove his worth by mimicking Deidara's other talent—
Nearly four more hours went by, and Deidara, nearly giddy with excitement, happily strode about the house knocking on doors and inviting the others to come witness his greatest art display yet—The Combustion of Tobi.
Except Zetsu. Because Deidara had the inkling that the Grass nin was actually somewhat fond of the witless wonder. So he skipped his door and managed to convince Kakuzu, Hidan, Itachi, and Kisame to follow him around back.
"Deidara, what exactly are you showing us?" Kisame asked, recently returned from his wrestling match on TV. "I'm exhausted."
"I have a deadline to meet," Kakuzu said testily. "And a consultation with some customers soon."
"Adele Bloch-Bauer I is missing an eye," Itachi said tonelessly. "The original wasn't a Cyclops. I need to finish it."
Hidan glanced at the others, having no outstanding duties himself, so he settled with a perfunctory—
"What the fuck do you want?"
Deidara paused near an occlusion of boulders, turning to face them with a wicked grin.
"Tobi," he said slowly, and with great effect. "Is about to meet his Maker. I just thought you four would appreciate the show, considering how he managed to outsmart all of you, un."
"How the hell are you going to do that without Leader-sama finding out?" Kisame asked doubtfully.
"Simple. I told him to make a model from my C2 clay. I detonate it, he dies, and we label it an accident," Deidara said triumphantly, forming his hands into a seal. "On the count of three."
Intrigued and somewhat impressed by Deidara's cunning, the four shuffled closer to peer over the rock at Tobi's work station. What they found was an empty patch of dirt and rocks with the odd smattering of clay bits.
"Are we in the right spot, Deidara?" Kakuzu questioned, raising an eyebrow.
"Of course we are," Deidara replied, moving between Hidan and Itachi to peer over the rock. "He's right over…there?"
"Apparently," Itachi said after a moment's stunned silence. "Your target has gone AWOL. Or perhaps he already succeeded in exploding himself."
Deidara shook his head in disbelief, scrambling away from the boulder and onto the rocky landscape, glancing around in bewilderment and dismay.
"I told that idiot not to move from here!" he shouted, pointing near a pile of human skeletons. "And I know he was here! He left pieces of my clay everywhere, the stupid ape—"
"This is a waste of time," Kakuzu said in a bored tone. "I have wedding dresses to sell."
As he turned to leave and the others moved to follow, Deidara suddenly came to a horrific realization.
"Wait!" he shouted, running after them. "You have to find the retard. He has enough C2 clay to take out a house!"
Hidan gave him an incredulous look.
"You gave Tobi explosive clay? Are you out of your goddamn mind?"
Deidara scowled, clearly irate as his seemingly flawless plan fell apart.
"I didn't think he would disobey me," he snapped in reply. "Hurry up and help me find him, un. One spark and he could kill us all."
"I believe that's unnecessary," Itachi said blandly, pointing to the ground.
Deidara followed his gaze and blanched when he found a trail of crumbled clay leading back to the reinforced, steel door to his workshop. It had been propped open with a doorstop when he'd left Tobi, and now it was shut.
There was no doorknob on this end.
The mere thought of Tobi alone in his workshop with his most beloved creations, armed with a box full of explosive putty was enough to make him panic. Horrified, he ran at the door and banged on it with his fists, shouting himself hoarse.
"Tobi! Open the door, you idiot! Don't touch anything! Just open the door! Tobi! Tobi!"
Realizing the futility of trying to shout through a reinforced, steel door, Deidara turned and fled back to headquarters to take the long way back to his workshop. The others exchanged looks, shrugged, and followed.
Deidara tore through the house, knocking over a lamp and a few chairs on his way to the kitchen in panic, and his right hand got so flustered it accidentally bit its tongue. Cursing, Deidara flung open the back door to the kitchen and practically flew down the stairs, bolting through the tunnel and bursting into his workshop.
He stopped dead, his heart leaping up into his throat when he found Tobi.
The masked apprentice stood on a footstool, putting the finishing touches on a massive replica of Deidara's giant, flying clay bird. It stood more or less identical to the original, although it was a bit smaller and a little rough around the edges. Despite his panic, Deidara had to admit that Tobi had done a decent job.
"Deidara-senpai!" Tobi exclaimed, turning to glance at him, waving a carving tool in his clay-caked hand. "Just in time! There are only a few minutes left before my test is over."
Tobi hopped off his stool, completely oblivious to Deidara's horror as the metal base scraped over the ground, driving up sparks near the clay bird's posterior.
"Tobi," Deidara croaked, putting up his hands in a pacifying gesture. "Don't. Move."
Tobi opened his mouth to ask why, but then noticed the others come in behind Deidara. Itachi, Hidan, Kakuzu, and Kisame stood behind the petrified blonde and stared in detached shock at the explosive abomination next to Tobi—fit to explode at the smallest spark.
Then, Tobi saw someone he hadn't expected to see, the dark figure going completely unnoticed by everyone else as he silently entered the room a moment later.
"Leader-sama!" Tobi exclaimed joyfully. "Did you come to see my art?"
An eerie silence fell over the room, then—
"You're totally fucked, Deidara," said Hidan.
The blonde's blood ran cold. He slowly turned around and almost choked when he found the Leader staring directly back at him, gaze icy.
"Tell me, Deidara," the Leader said slowly. "What exactly compelled you to rampage through the house, track mud over the carpets, and destroy my Tiffany Lotus lamp?"
Deidara paled, his blue eye darting between the Leader and Tobi's creation.
"Sir, I can explain—"
"And what," the Leader interrupted icily. "Is the meaning of that?" He pointed to Tobi's model.
"The fruits of my labour!" Tobi said proudly, waving his carving tool. "Deidara-senpai gave me a test and—"
"Shut up, Tobi!" Deidara shouted, before whipping around to face the Leader.
"Sir, I'll pay for replacing the lamp and rug—"
"Carpet," the Leader said venomously.
"Carpet. I'm sorry, un, but I was trying to—"
"I told you to shut up, Tobi!"
"I want to hear what he has to say, Deidara."
"Um, Deidara-senpai, this is kind of important…"
"What is it, you dumb idiot?" Deidara finally screeched, whipping towards Tobi.
Tobi hesitated, before tentatively gesturing to the clock on the far wall.
"There are only two minutes left."
"Two minutes till what?" Deidara demanded, his right eye twitching uncontrollably.
Tobi carefully set down the carving tool on a nearby table, walked over to his clay bird, and patted it fondly on the head.
"Two minutes left for you to judge if I passed or not," Tobi said cheerfully. "We better take it outside."
Deidara was at a loss, and apparently, so was everyone else in the room.
"Explain, Tobi," the Leader ordered.
Tobi nodded, and gestured to the empty box of C2 clay Deidara had given him in the beginning.
"Deidara-senpai said that to pass his test, I had to show I had some talent by mimicking his art. To tell you honestly, I found that my sculpting skill is nowhere near the caliber of Deidara-senpai's, so I took a chance and decided to try my hand at something else, something Deidara-senpai does best!" Tobi chirped.
A cold, ominous feeling bore down on the Rock nin, and for a moment he could only mouth wordlessly before finding his croaky voice.
"Tobi, what have you done?"
"I really wanted to impress you," Tobi continued earnestly, oblivious to his terror. "And everyone else, too. So I took what you said to heart, Deidara-senpai. To prove that I have the talent to be your apprentice, I took the initiative to show you performance art. Like you, I want to show everyone—" Tobi patted his clay bird on the head.
"—that art is a bang. I don't know the jutsu like you do, so I made due with the next best thing…"
Tobi wheeled around the platform the clay bird was sitting on and showed them its posterior. A minimum of at least twelve exploding notes rested there, emblazoned with a time seal of five hours.
Silence. Complete, utter, silence.
"One minute," Tobi said cheerfully.
Deidara nearly passed out. The Leader blinked.
"It's nothing to worry about," Tobi said airily, noticing their horrified expressions. "I just have to wheel it outside!"
Tobi opened the steel door, went around to the front of the platform, and pushed.
The bird moved forward an inch before its wings impacted dully off the surrounding drywall, two feet too wide for the narrow doorway. Another moment of deafening silence.
"Oops," said Tobi.
Hidan, Kisame, Itachi, and Kakuzu slowly exchanged looks. Then the room erupted in a chaotic, mad dash for the only exit. Hidan leapt over a table and Kisame knocked over a shelf of clay models (to Deidara's increasing horror), and the two became sandwiched in the doorway on the way out.
"Get out of the way, fish face!"
"You're immortal, you bastard! You should get out last!"
Itachi merely stared at the spectacle before walking over to the other side of the room and blasting a fiery hole in the wall with Amaterasu. Then he calmly walked out.
Kakuzu wordlessly strode towards the stuck pair in the doorway and delivered a solid kick to their backsides, un-wedging them before ducking his head and following through. The Leader merely took his leave by vanishing, but not before saying—
"The cost of repairs is coming out of your pay cheque, Deidara."
Then he was gone. And Deidara and Tobi were alone.
"You idiot! You stupid, retarded, jackass! How could you be so dumb? How? How?" Deidara raged, futilely struggling to push the heavy clay model through the too-small doorway. "Don't just stand there! Help me!"
Tobi hurriedly did as he was told, only to quickly realize that time was running out.
"Now there's less than a minute left, Deidara-senpai," Tobi said worriedly. "I'm sorry, I didn't think it was too big to get through the door—"
"Because you're a moron!" Deidara shouted, putting all his weight into shoving the bird out. "Oh, screw this!"
He stepped back and formed a seal, and a moment later the bird sprung to life, flapping its wings and cocking its head to the side.
"Get out," Deidara instructed, pointing the bird towards the doorway. The bird took a step forward, tucking its wings in, only to get itself wedged between the doorway.
Deidara nearly tore out his hair.
"No, no, no, no! Out! Get out, un!" He pushed on the stuck bird as hard as he could, cursing Tobi till he was hoarse.
"Deidara-senpai, there are only thirty seconds left!" Tobi cried, tugging on his cloak. "Please, you have to come with me. We have to escape!"
Deidara staggered away from the stuck bird, panting, and moved his wide-eyed gaze to his workshop.
"Oh no," he whimpered.
Tobi realized what the despondent, hysterical blonde was looking at and immediately took hold of his arm.
"No, Deidara-senpai! It isn't worth it!"
"What do you know about worth, you ignoramus?" Deidara shouted, shoving him off and rushing towards his shelves. "These are my life's work! They're priceless!"
"Deidara-senpai, you're not supposed to stay behind for valuables when there's an emergency!" Tobi cried, pleading now. "The firemen never lie!"
Deidara ignored him, trying to get as many of his precious favourites off the shelves and into his arms as possible.
Panicked, Tobi looked between the clock and his hysterical senpai, realizing there were only twenty seconds left on the clock. It was do or die. His senpai was obviously not in the right state of mind. He wasn't thinking straight.
I have to, Tobi realized suddenly, with a burst of resolution. I have to save Deidara-senpai.
Meanwhile, Deidara was reaching as high as he could, straining his fingers towards a one-of-a-kind model of an owl on the top shelf while precariously holding on to an armful of fragile models.
He had the wind knocked out of him when Tobi suddenly ran and tackled him like a linebacker, heaving him over his shoulder as all his most precious works fell to the ground and shattered.
Deidara couldn't even scream. He burst into tears.
"I'll save you, Deidara-senpai!" Tobi said, valiantly attempting to keep his hold as the blonde thrashed like a wild animal.
"Let go of me! Tobi, you stupid bastard—I need them!" Deidara latched onto the doorframe as Tobi tried to cross the threshold, refusing to let go.
"Please. Let. Go!" Tobi pleaded, trying to pry the blonde from the doorway. "You can't, Deidara-senpai! It's not worth your life!"
Tobi gave one last, mighty heave and the doorframe snapped off beneath Deidara's vice-like grip. Tobi didn't hesitate. He ran like the wind.
"My babies!" Deidara sobbed.
Tobi didn't stop running.
Fifteen seconds later, Deidara's workshop exploded.
Zetsu paused his typing as a tremor shook the house, rattling its foundations and sending bits of dust and plaster raining down on him from the ceiling.
He winced and sat up straighter, turning to look out the window.
Somehow, the sight of an enormous mushroom cloud ascending into the sky didn't surprise him as much as it should have.
Fortunately, Tobi later discovered, setting a stunned Deidara down in the living room where the others resided—the only explosive clay in Deidara's workshop had ironically been the one he'd used for his test. The rest of the models were simply there for asthetic purposes, and the high-grade explosive clay was stored in Deidara's room.
The kitchen remained untouched, as the brunt of the blast occurred in the workshop and only extended as far as the tunnel, collapsing it.
But Deidara's workshop was utterly destroyed. His life's work was in shambles—fiery, smoking shambles.
The blonde had gone into shock, and no number of Tobi's heartfelt apologies—or harsh slaps (happily bestowed by Hidan)—could shake him out of his stupor.
Tobi could only hope that his senpai would find it somewhere in his heart someday to forgive him.
But for now…
"Since Deidara is seemingly incapable of answering right now," the Leader said, glancing askance at the blonde's glazed eye and slack-jawed expression. "I will vouch on his behalf."
Tobi looked up at the Leader hopefully from where he sat on the floor, holding his breath.
"The test was for you to mimic Deidara's art," the Leader intoned. "And that is what you did, more or less. So despite the immense property damage on your part, I must acknowledge the fact that you've passed Deidara's test."
Tobi leapt to his feet, ecstatic.
"Did I really?"
Behind him, Deidara made a sound half-akin to a sob.
"Yes, really," the Leader said, advancing a step with an ominous glint in his eyes. "You've proven yourself worthy against the likes of Kisame, Hidan, Kakuzu, Itachi, Zetsu, and even Deidara. You've done what ninety-eight percent of candidates fail to do."
Tobi nodded, brimming with pride.
"But," the Leader said softly, gesturing to the ring on his right thumb. "You still have to get through me."
"I'd be honoured to try, Leader-sama," Tobi said reverently, and he bowed.
Behind him, the six members who'd incurred Tobi's wrath gazed at the pair in fearful wonder.
Where once stood a naïve, ignorant good boy, who'd somehow managed to wing his way through the likes of Itachi and survive…now stood a vessel capable of destruction so extreme that for the first time in the organization's history, it was not the candidate's safety at stake, but the Leader's.
Tobi was no ordinary person.
He was a demon.
Slowly, Tobi turned around to face his prospective comrades, and in that moment of silence, Itachi readied a kunai, Kisame took hold of Samehada, Kakuzu fashioned a noose from string, Hidan reached for his collapsible pike, and Deidara shuddered violently.
Tobi smiled wide.
"Who wants waffles?"