Title: The Fire Sermon
Pairings: Deidara/Naruto, Naruto/Sakura, Naruto/?
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi. Fic prompt belongs to Letta, who had no idea what she was in for, not at all.
Warnings: Weirdness, character death, pretentious writing, what happens when Mai lets her mind run away with her, etc.
The Fire Sermon
Another gale is lashing across the seaside region the night Naruto returns, and the eastern coastline, directly facing the onslaught of the storm, is struck by its full fury, a violence of raking winds and cascading water. He runs down the beach, keeping in what he hopes is the general direction for the Chimney. It is a struggle to stay on his feet; the wind continually shoves him back. The world trembles through the tumult of the tempest in complete darkness; not a grain of light can be found in the atmosphere.
It feels as though he's been running for hours, though it can't have been more than twenty minutes, and for a moment, a feeling of hopelessness wells up within him. He stands motionless, crushed by the wind, soaked by the rain, blinded by flying sand, and without a clue as to where he is or whither he should go. The Chimney is no where in sight – nothing is in sight. Sea, sky, and land have melded into one constant, unrelieved mass of black.
Then, from somewhere down the coast, the faint music of the Fire rings out, clear and true.
No shining beacon could have been more effective. Suddenly, all fatigue and frustration have melted from his body, and he feels renewed, filled with hope and strength as he tears down the beach towards that beautiful call, towards the unseen flame.
The stretch of sand in front of the Chimney is peppered with fallen rocks. Through the opening, no light can be glimpsed. The darkness is absolute. With his hand braced on the boulders of the cave to keep footing, rain splashing his face, he calls desperately, "Deidara! Are you there?"
The wait is excruciating; these must be the longest thirty seconds of his life.
Finally, a familiar voice answers, slightly groggy, "Naruto?"
A painful grin breaks across his face. He wants to rush into the Chimney, to celebrate this strange elation, but before he can take more than a few stumbling steps, the world starts to spin, spin, spin out of control. A dark film is coming over his eyes, a darkness blacker than the inky darkness of the tempestuous night. He falls through the opening into the Chimney, his face crushed in dry sand, just as soft footfalls begin to sound in the corridor.
-x- -x- -x-
For now, his immediate wish is granted. He sleeps in the chamber that houses the Fire, and he is always warm.
Cool hands – Deidara's, presumably – pass over his feverish brows at periodic intervals. He is fed various hot liquids whose tastes his dry swollen tongue refuses to distinguish. But most importantly, he is near the Fire, whose song grows stronger as the days drift by, and he is warm. Those are the only things he is capable of signifying right now.
He sleeps, mostly, the tired, intermittent sleep of the sick.
There, too, is a dream.
In it, the sweeping flame-x-shadow on the chamber's ceiling mimics the motions of the hypnotic shapes long fingers are sketching on his skin. There is a sense of movement, he is being lifted, up and off the temporary cot where he sleeps, and into a hopskotching landscape. There is a conspicuous absence of both time and reality; only the touch of the fingers are real, and yet, they are light, pliable somehow, as if the person attached to them too is formed of smoke and shadow.
He is fever-x-drunk, dopily so, and he doesn't mind. Below him, the ground tilts imperceptibly. He is viscerally aware of the ocean, outside, somewhere nearby, but he cannot see it, and for a moment, he is wracked with a yearning for space, for open water, the luxury of freedom.
"Wrong direction. I'm over here."
"You're not supposed to be anywhere," he mumbles, eyes closed. For some reason, he has the feeling of lying down and standing up, simultaneously. There is something apocalyptic hanging in the air, something coming, rapture or death. It is always three o'clock on a bone-x-weary morning that you run into your destiny, here in the land of enchantment.
The man of smoke and shadow chuckles, a low, arrogant sound that unbalances his sense of drowsiness. Suddenly, he realizes that he recognizes that voice, the maybe touch; he realizes this too: the man is supposed to be dead.
"You always try to recreate the ones you have lost, don't you?"
"No, it's -x--x- " but the problem with half-x-truths is that half the times, they are completely true. Already he finds himself falling, through air, through an empty sky, but he shakes and the scenario changes, and he doesn't know if he's being fucked or killed, or both. Which is par for the fucking course, because after all, this is…
"I always seem to bring out the worst in you, don't I?"
He is angry now. He is slogging through endless miles of non-x-reality, or maybe is immobile and in-x-place, but everywhere, the smoke-x-and-x-shadow sensation lingers on his skin, and he wants to get out, wants desperately to escape what he's always wanted to be inside. He's tired and dizzy and burning up, and most of all, he's angry, at himself, at the phantom voice. Futile, this rage.
"Over here. I'm over here. Can you do nothing right?"
He launches himself blindly at the taunting creature, hands clawed and reaching for a tuft of hair that he knows will be coarse and rough and dark when he opens his eyes and -x--x-
This is where he wakes up.
He is on the ground, spread-x-eagled half a foot from the kiln, and Deidara is half-x-sprawled across him, having obviously just thrown himself onto him in a full-x-body tackle. He realizes with a flush of shame that he has been sleepwalking, and has nearly pummeled straight into the Fire.
Deidara pulls himself up, and helps Naruto back to his cot without a word. He adjusts the covering, pulling it over Naruto, and turns to leave, only to pause at the door and announce quietly, "Be careful. At this close to the end, the Fire becomes hungry. Ambition is a thing to be wary of."
He rounds the slow bend of sleep again, and dreams of long fingers, not ghostly but graceful and calloused, carding through his hair.
-x- -x- -x-
On the forty-x-eighth day, the fever breaks.
"Look at you, keeping down solid food," Deidara says, cocking his good eyebrow. "Does this mean you're going to live after all?"
They are again sitting side by side at the mouth of the Chimney, finishing up an early breakfast as a coppery haze settles over the water, beating back the yellow morning sun. Although the day is young, the hazy mirage is already up, spreading the vagueness of dreams. The edge of the horizon shimmers and vibrates blindingly. The fog shifts in colonies of cottony, skeletal shapes. It has no voice, but it is an intelligent fog, with memory and laughing faces, it is a fog that understands all the violent ways of death, and who by fire, and who by water.
Deidara wipes at his lips and yawns wearily, leaning back on pillared arms. "About time you got better. You're a sodden deadweight, you know that? Between cleaning up after you and working on the birds, I haven't had a good night's sleep for days."
Something of an uncertain air hangs over sea and shore, magnifying certain things and blotting out others. Even the mermaid song is dull and distant, a mere garbling babble from beneath the turbid surface. Only the music of the Fire is clear, steady and deep and triumphant in Naruto's ears. There are pinpricks of light searing the back of his eyelids. His head rings with the ghost of fever pain. Everything seems far away, everything is an illusion of an illusion of an illusion.
The fog lies. Death is a possibility, but not knowledge of death; that alone is unknowable. The sun reveals dead bodies washed up all down the beach: corpses covered with brown seaweed, some without faces or eyes, torn and soggy in the dull morning light. If he looked, would he find someone he knows among the bloated fallen?
"So," Deidara's voice filters in suddenly from beyond the haze, which might as well be countries away. "Don't I get anything for nursing your sorry ass back to health?"
"This," he mumbles, and reaches out with one hand – both – fumbling blindly for a disoriented moment until his fingers catch onto rough fabric. Fisting a handful of shirt material and pulling clasping jerking hard, until the distance is negated and the fog clears and he has Deidara's lips smashed against his, clashing teeth and spit and tongues and pain.
Whatever else may be an illusion, this is real.
He pulls back, out of breath, but doesn't let up. There's a moment of stale, frigid air and then the world goes tumbling head over feet in a blind whirlwind and he finds himself on his back in the sand with Deidara leaning over him like the shadow of some bird of prey.
"You kissed me," Deidara says, grinning like a predator with white, white canines. "With tongue."
"I did," he returns, somewhat defiantly. His position is vulnerable, thus undesirable, but never mind that for the moment, he'll wait. He's already in too deep to get out. He's just done something that is pretty hard to smooth over and forget about – it won't kill him to keep going a little further. "Sorry I couldn't wait and went at it with the morning breath and everything."
Deidara kisses him.
Cool hand on the back of his neck, another under his jaw, tipping his head back gently by the chin. He loses his breath and can't catch it back with the sprint his pulses are running in his ears, so he opens his mouth and lets Deidara in completely, throws it all up and lets himself be kissed. He gasps and feels the roving tongue move roughly over his, tasting nothing but sea-x-salt and the faintest hint of ash, and now his cock is ridiculously hard and he wants.
Deidara is smiling, and he can feel it. It makes him want to laugh, and for a minute or two, he does. There's a feeling like pure delight in his stomach, but he understands by osmosis that it's only the sudden release of tension, a tightly wound coil unwinding in a storm of cracking chrysalises. How absurd this all is, having sex on the beach, but he senses danger in that avenue of thought, like if he thinks too much about the absurdity he might never be able to stop laughing. When Deidara leans back to let him breathe, he immediately pulls him close again.
"By the way – ah, do that again! – one wise crack about orgasm as artistic sublimation and I will kill you and make it look like an accident. A messy one."
"You mean like 'sex is a bang'?"
"What did I fucking say?"
"Too fucking much. Shut up."
Deidara's tongue is in his mouth again, moving, pushing over his palate, and he remembers with a pleasant little shock that Deidara's skin is so very cool. He's never kissed anyone with cool skin before, not Sakura, definitely not the ghost of smoke and shadows. Something about the knowledge, the novelty of it all, makes him push his hips up and forward. His cock is fully erect, trapped inside his pants, rubbing a wet spot down one side of the crotch. He moans and squirms and Deidara's hand tightens on his shoulder, tongue driving harder into his mouth.
They're both losing their shirts, fast. He puts his hands on Deidara's back, touches the supple small of the back that's all clean-x-cut muscle and sinew under sweaty, smooth skin, and his grip is brutal and tight. Deidara doesn't react, just goes on kissing him, stroking his mouth with his insistent tongue, demanding to be kissed back. Then he pulls back for a moment and runs his hand over Naruto's forehead, the skin damp with perspiration.
"You're toasty again. And flushed all over. D'you think the fever might be coming back?"
"No," Naruto coughs in a half-x-strangled rasp. "Trust me, that has nothing to do with the fever at all."
"You sure? This isn't too much for your emaciated body to handle or anything?"
Naruto laughs lightly, and Deidara kisses him. He's smiling again, they're both smiling, grinning like naked skulls, trembling against each other, bumping teeth clumsily. When they pull away, Naruto has to gasp and pant for air. He's thrusting blindly now, responding to the rhythm of their bodies, the even beats of the Fire Sermon still marching through his mind. Deidara's hips are moving too, and he's leaning deeper into Naruto, fastening his lips to the hollow of Naruto's neck, arms braced on either side. His cock is a pole beneath his pants. Naruto's hands slide downward and come around Deidara's hips, feeling them strong and hard and moving.
The feeling is electric. His heart triphammers. The warmth in the pit of his stomach is cycling up fast into a hot, pulsating ache. This is sex, pure, undiluted fight or flight instinct boiled down to a battle of rough possession that he really, really doesn't want to lose. His cock is out of his pants now, so is Deidara's, he bucks and jerks and Deidara is coming down fast, grabbing his shoulders and pushing him down hard into the cold damp sand. His skull is grounding out white sparks like a million nails are being driven into its surface, and he isn't sure the fever hasn't returned after all, but he doesn't care, cannot care because of the sweet hot guttering in his cock, and nothing matters because he knows he's coming, hands locked around Deidara's shoulders.
He lies there shivering, feeling dull and exploded and motion-x-drunk, until Deidara's teeth unlock from his neck. The burning is tamping down to a faint glow, and his vision starts to blur. His head aches, his shoulders ache, but everything else is warm and dark and quiet. The last thing he remembers is a cool touch on his sweaty brows.
-x- -x- -x-
At some point, much later, he slits open his eyes groggily to see that it's already dusk. An exhaustion of unbearable heaviness is clutching at him, and it takes a long moment before he pieces together that he's just inside the Chimney's opening. Beside him, there's movement. He sits up with immense difficulty, his abdomen screaming and barely taking his weight. In the dark, he puts out a hand, groping blindly, and almost recoils sharply when it makes contact with cool skin. A bare, supple back, bent in labor. Someone is working in the dark.
"Shh." The light is too dim to make out anything beyond vague shapes, but he can tell from the familiar shifting shadows that Deidara is briskly, furiously molding clay.
He tries to fight it – he does. But, as though with a mind of its own, the wave of heaviness dips suddenly and crashes over his head , and he's sinking into a hot, fevered sleep, down and out before he can utter another word. Cool skin, a bare, supple back to press his hot forehead to, something to want, if not understand. The Fire sings, the waves cry, in the end is the beginning.
-x- -x- -x-
The sky and sea are black and red, red and black, the sea is black the sky is red. The sky is red, and strange shafts of light bounce out of secret keyholes, illuminating grotesque shapes of rocks, an eclipse of the sun. In the chamber of the kiln, the Fire has grown to swallow the entire room, emitting an unbearable heat that finally transcends the barrier and moves through the Chimney in waves. Its song is louder and fiercer than ever, a terrible battle cry, and from it the mermaids hide their song, quaking at the bottom of the ocean for dear life. The great ocean itself seems to quail before the unveiled glory of the Fire Sermon.
The corridors are alive with a bustling commotion like a thousand swarms of angry locusts, for crows of clay (earth and life, life and earth) are shooting forth from every crack, every corner, and kamikaze-x-ing into the Fire, from which they emerge, bursting from the no longer excessive chute, all sleek and perfected, circling the sky overhead. A thousand birds, taking flight, and soon the red sky is black with them.
There is no room in the Chimney to stand. Naruto sits on the sand outside, mesmerized by the sight unfolding before him. Behind him, Deidara is standing upright, facing the roiling sea with his back to the Chimney, as though unconcerned with the fruition of all his labors. His expression is as calm and blank as the sea is not.
"Come, let's go," he says suddenly, and as Naruto turns to look at him in surprise, Deidara unclasps the Akatsuki cloak he's still wearing and casts it off. The great cape-x-like garment falls to the ground, where immediately it begins to stretch and spread, turning the white sand to a kaleidoscope of black and red, red and black.
Stepping over the cloak, Deidara strides determinedly towards the sea, disrobing as he goes. By the time his last piece of clothing has been discarded, he is standing at the edge of the water, naked as the day he was born. The glow of the sky bathes him in silent, pale light.
"Are you coming?" he asks impatiently.
Is he coming? Kami, he could come five times a day.
Deidara turns and marches willfully into the ocean as Naruto jumps to his feet. His hands are flying at his own clothing. It is early December, but the air is hot, charged with invisible energy, the sweeping of the flying sand giving the cove the illusion of a desert, a mirage in reverse. Even with his clothes shed, his skin begins to bead with sweat. Stumbling over his feet in haste, he rushes across the sandy beach (mottled with black and red, red and black) and jumps into the sea.
The freezing water cuts into his skin like salt in a fresh wound. He shivers, and struggles hard against the strong current, quickening his strides, fearing lest his muscles should seize. He wades deeper and deeper into the black, black water, beckoned by the shock of light hair in the distance where Deidara is floating serenely, swallowed in the sea.
"There is no fear of being pulled under today," Deidara shouts delightedly. "None of those broads will dare show their faces above the surface."
Then he bursts out laughing. It is a strange laughter, for no funny thing is apparent, but it is infectious and pleasant: it invites you to forget your sorrow and immerse in something higher, something vague but achingly, infinitely beautiful – neither joy nor peace but something more – so that when Naruto's breaststrokes take him astride of Deidara, he too begins laughing.
There they float, side by side, swallowed in the sea and laughing to their hearts' content.
When Deidara pulls Naruto in for a kiss, his mouth tastes of the sea: salty, dark, and deceitful above all things.
Then he pulls away and begins wading to shore. After a moment, Naruto follows. He finds his clothes in a sandy bundle, and struggles to pull them on. Deidara keeps on walking, now in the direction of the Chimney. He is beautiful like that, pale and slick and gleaming, a splash of ocher across a canvas painted over in black and red. As he reaches the discarded cloak (which has now spread to enormous size), he bends to pick it up, and wraps it around himself.
"Are you coming?" he asks again.
Now clothed, Naruto quickens his steps to catch up with him. At the mouth of the Chimney, he freezes, mouth slackened.
The Fire has spread through all the corridors and filled the entire cave. Its encroaching tongues of flame are visible now through the Chimney's opening. All one thousand crows, soot black from beak to foot, circle the sky overhead with cries of triumph, echoing the shrilling Song of the Fire, which has metamorphosized into a veritable victory march. The beating of their tiny wings call up a vortex of wind, maelstrom gusts blowing materialized ashes against their faces.
At the entrance, Deidara stands cloaked in his mantle of black and red, which billows around him like ragged wings. The king of crows, beckoning.
"Are you coming?"
"Then take my hands. And don't look back."
The sky and sea are black and red, red and black, the sky is red the sea is black. As Naruto takes a few shaky steps forward, the Fire stretches and rises and roars around Deidara's body, until he is but a mere pinprick in a forest of flame. It flicks harmlessly at his skin; the wind is swirling his hair around his face, slapping white-x-and-x-red streaks on his cheeks. He leans back, and instead of falling he rises, arms outstretched. This, then, is the moment of truth, when all Naruto's life and everything he has learned and experience before taper to a throbbing point, and he realizes that he must take it, now, before the Fire goes out and the chance is lost forever.
"Take my hands."
Naruto reaches out, his sweaty little fingers quivering, there is a great flash of lightning and the wind roars deafeningly, but no, something is holding him back. Fear. He is afraid of what comes next. He is afraid of the deep blue of nonbeing. Equilibrium is impermanent. One must move forward, toward more or toward less. If he takes the proffered hands, if he steps into the Fire, will he vanish, cease to exist, be reduced to nothing (what is less than nothing?) or will it be something else entirely different? Death or rapture? Pure emptiness or pure possibility?
The whirlwind picks up more speed, the world flying by so fast the colors are a blur. There is still the Fire ahead, and earth and life, and life and earth. Deidara's face is up, towards the circle of whirling birds, and he sees it, whatever it is. He is rising towards his destiny, drifting further and further out of reach, his arms still outstretched. Naruto looks too, but he sees nothing at all, and now added to fear there is the taint of doubt.
He looks back.
There is a deafening roar, like the Earth ripping asunder. An invisible force of tremendous strength knocks him backward, and even as he's tumbling through space, he's hanging in the air, he knows. He knows it's over, it's too late, and he'll never get a second chance again.
He hits the ground with a soft thud, pushes to his feet and runs, runs in the opposite direction, as fast as he can, the landscape a blur, sand and sea streaking past. The Fire Sermon is hot on his heels, pursuing him with mocking cries that shake him with every step he takes. The birds caw louder. He never looks back, and so does not see the Fire curling back and shooting up in a tall column of flame, ripping the sky open, and Deidara, rising, the same manic gleam in his eye.
-x- -x- -x-
The ghostly flutter of tartan curtains brings to mind a measure of tranquility. Daylight filters in through them, gauzy and paled. He wakes to a snowscape of linens, a bed in hotel room from once upon a very long time ago.
"Oh thank god you've finally come to," gushes his landlady, mopping his brows with a damp cloth. "You had us all so worried. But the doctor said you will be alright now."
She gets up to draw the curtains and he winces against the harsh flood of light. There is a deep soreness in his limbs that speaks of long, uninterrupted sleep, and some steep labor before that. For a second, he flounders helplessly in the no man's land of the memoryless, until the proper recollection comes rushing back and he startles, springing up in bed.
"What day is it?" he asks, fighting rising panic. "Please, tell me, quickly!"
His landlady looks taken aback by his urgency. "Why, it's the fourteenth. It's been three days since they found you on the eastern beach. You were…"
"Three days?" he exclaims in disbelief.
"Yes," says the old woman, plainly annoyed at being interrupted. "You were unconscious, and soaked to the skin, I might add. We all assumed you had gone swimming in the sea and caught a bad cold. Terribly dangerous, swimming in this weather, but you hotheaded young men are always doing foolhardy things…"
"Did anyone see anything unusual down on the beach?" he pleads desperately. "I mean, was there strange light, or an explosion, maybe…"
"I can't say anyone did," says the woman, perplexed. "To be sure, it was a gloomy, overcast day. Ash-x-days, we call it down here, when the sun looks as if it's been covered by black ash. We all expected a great big storm was coming, but the next day the sky was clear as you please, not a scrap of… but where are you going? You need to rest!"
The sound of her voice follows him out the door.
He's flying down the cobblestone streets, the empty boardwalk leading eastward down to the sea, jumping over rocks and the clusters of fernlike reeds. Gusts of slicing wind cut into his skin through the material of his flimsy nightshirt. He pays them no mind.
The gaunt shadow of the Chimney soars up before him, that miracle of nature's architectural feats. From beyond the small opening, its darkness seems as dense and impenetrable as the first time he laid his eyes on it. Yet other major changes have taken place in his absence. Serious rockslides have occurred, covering the beach with large boulders. The sea has overrun the cove, and flooded the beach up to the very foot of the granite structure. At the cave entrance, the ground has been deeply rutted by the relentless assault of the waves. Strewed across the sand are strands of dried kelp and seaweed, resembling nothing so much as the carcasses of great beasts.
A grim foreboding runs through Naruto's mind. Tries as he might, he cannot pick out the silent summons from the wind. Drawing a steeling breath, he plunges into that womblike shadow.
A moment later, he emerges, and, standing motionless at the entrance, stares unseeing out into the great sea, mirroring drab skies. That sinister water has flooded the corridors, leaving behind only devastation, naught but ruin and destruction. Here and there, the pathways are obstructed by large boulders from the wrecked walls. And the Fire…
The Fire has been extinguished – its ashes mingle now with algae and mud – or maybe it has never been at all. Not a trace remains of the strange, beautiful, terrifying things to which the shamed walls bore silent witness. The sea has won the final battle in its ruthless war against the powers of those who have tarried here.
With slow, weighed steps, Naruto makes his way down to the sandy edge. The sun is coming up high; the surface of the water is a green mirror, glimmering. As he stands with his hands in his pockets covering the waterfront with the weight of many regrets, the eternal song of generations of dead mothers and sisters and daughters rises to a triumphant finish, now unrivaled, before drifting to a whisper. It sings of the men whose ambitions have lingered here a while and disappeared. None will live to remember them. Only sky and sea matter.
The endlessly repeated crashing of green waves mimic the mournful beats of his heavy heart.
And would it have been worth it, after all?