Clay and Puppets

Summary: In which, all is not over for Sasori. Between his fellow Akatsuki, the menacing Hirohito, and his new and troublesome partner, he may even find a beginning.

Disclaimer: This product is meant for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Some assembly required. Batteries not included. Use only as directed.

A/N: Hello all! This story is what we in the fanfiction business like to call Yaoi, so if you are not partial, please do not tell me about it. This also contains an array of AU story elements, including but not limited to: Deidara joining the Akatsuki completely differently from how it happens in the manga, Sasori did not turn himself (fully) into a puppet at age 15 and is therefore fully grown and taller than Deidara, Sir Leader is the actual leader of Akatsuki, Tobi is just Tobi and not anyone else, and some minor original characters.

Please enjoy the story to come, and I will do my best to make it interesting!

[UPDATE: 12/10/2011]
I am currently re-writing this story, in the hopes of finally finishing it and bringing it as a whole up to a standard of writing that I can feel is worthy of the 1000 reviews that have so generously been given to me.

Chapter 1: Iwagakure

It began with a bang.

"Just my luck." The Suna-nin grumbled to himself, moving quickly and quietly alongside the dark figure to his right as they made their way stealthily through the surrounding darkness.

The air was harshly cold, and even through the parts of his body that were hard and wooden, the wind seemed to cut like ice; the majority of the man that was still regrettably human stubbornly protesting to his having left the hideout without the warm protection of Hiruko. Unfortunately, the bulky travelling puppet was simply not suited for the type of mission that called them to the Rock Country that night.

Halting in front of the tall, shrouded building that edged the forest, Sasori held himself deathly still as he and his companion hid in a dry outcrop of bushes, a safe distance from the guards who manned the front entrance, gazes fixed upon their target – a precariously veiled backdoor, rusted and disused for decades.

The retrieval of the sacred Keiden scroll of Iwagakure was a particularly important mission for the advancement of the organisation, or so Sir Leader had told them, and Sasori had been required to move sleathily, which meant without the dragging weight of his favourite puppet. The organisation in question, was of course the notoriously ambiguous Akatsuki - an infamous congregation of S-Class criminals, boasting nine of the most dangerous missing-nins in the Bingo Book - though it had been ten until just recently, when Sasori's own partner had, rather unsurprisingly, left without a word and never returned.

Which is were Sasori's recently bad turn of fortune seemed to stem from. It was a well-known fact that all of the redheaded puppeteer's battle techniques originated from Hiruko and his other puppets, and so with an absolute offence and no partner at his back to provide an absolute defence, Sasori was forced to rely upon the other members of Akatsuki, given missions only when another pair might need his assistance. Needless to say, the puppet master had been feeling rather frustrated as of late.

"Sasori." His companion's monotone voice called quietly from the darkness, retrieving him from his thoughts.

Sasori turned to the man beside him and was met with flashing orbs of red, nodding in response - a silent code to stay alert.

Tense and ready they sat, as time ticked on, and continued to watch the fortress before them, the pervasive sound of silence heavy in the air. It was sometime indeed, before they heard a decisive thump from inside the door, like the dropping of a weighted sack on a wooden floor, and saw the brief flashing of light through the window facing them - the sign they had been waiting for.

Moving silently against the shadows of the trees, they darted to the door, concealment jutsus lifting as they came to stand before the unkempt and largely forgotten back entrance of the Iwa treasury - a careless oversight in the protection of the many priceless artefacts housed within.

The red-eyed man was silent as he lifted one thin hand and knocked sharply, twice, on the wood of the door; the expected reponse for the one who waited within. It opened without pause, and the two moved swiftly inside, closing it behind them quietly as they turned to face their new accomplice.

Hoshigaki Kisame grinned widely down at them, the great Mist Village missing-nin and largest Akatsuki member bearing his infamously shark-sharp teeth with glee as he stood before them, menacing in the poor light of the old storehouse.

"You took your time." Uchiha Itachi muttered to his partner, red eyes shinning with something unnamable as he sent the larger man a pointed look, to which Kisame only grinned wider, and with a quiet excitement, opened the adjacent door from which they had just come through – revealing to the others a maze of connecting hallways and sub-chambers, only one of which would lead to the main treasury of the repository, and their mission's goal.

They had to move quickly.

Systematically drifting through the varying rooms of the warehouse, Itachi led the way with his clan's most coveted weapon, the infamous Mangekyou Sharingan - manoeuvring them around and through the vast collection of shinobi artefacts that filled every room of the treasury, tirelessly seeking out their prize.

In no time at all, they found what they were looking for. A roll of parchment, sat on a pedestal of gold and covered ornately in detailed kanji - the sacred Keiden Scroll of Iwagakure.

Sasori allowed himself to relax at the sight of it, the opportunity to cease the powerful object and escape from Iwa unseen and with enough time to return home by morning filling him with a careless optimism, and he charged towards the pedestal.

It was then that it happened.

Such things often occur at times like these, when the simplest of mistakes can set off a string of events that would inevitably lead to a future that one Akasuna no Sasori had never envisioned for himself, and one little indescresion would set not only his own life, but the lives of countless others, on an entirely different course.

It began with a bang.

The door to the treasury burst open, sending dust and smoke cascading through the air, and Sasori had only time to register the sudden beacons of light streaming through the entrance from five dozen fire-torches, only just managed to pull one summoning scroll from the depths of his cloak, before the shouting of a hundred guards exploded into the room.

Before any of them was aware of it, they were fighting; rolling on the ground, forming hand-signs and shouting deadly jutsus at the enemy through the dim red light of the torches as they fell to the ground. The Uchiha's Sharingan inflamed to a blood-red, as he used the katana hidden within his cloak to smite those nearest to him, slashing the figures around him relentlessly while Kisame and Sasori fought back to back, the puppet master conjuring his best poison-specialist puppet and shooting toxic needles at any who approached as Kisame wielded his great Samehada, the monstrous shaving sword of the Village Hidden in the Mist, effectively ploughing through the crowd of guardsmen.

As the battle progressed, bodies continued to pile up around them; slowly at first, and then suddenly, as the fallen began to outnumber the living - and with them, the fire of the torches as they caught hold of human kindling. All within a minute, the old storehouse had caught aflame - and as the fire grew and spread, so too did the fear of those who fought on.

"The scroll!" Kisame called over the cacophony of death and destruction, eyes wide with panic as the red light of the fire danced off his blue skin, and he gestured emphatically in the direction of their mission's goal, fending off two of the largest Iwagakure guardsmen who still sought to defend the burning treasury.

Sasori's eyes flashed to the scroll, sitting untouched but dangerously close to the flames, then back to his current opponent. With a deadly twist of his arm, the puppet he conducted, now bearing poisoned blades as long as a man's shin, stabbed the kunoichi before him through the chest - her face darkening instantaneously, before she dropped heavily to the floor.

Turning, Sasori surveyed the warehouse, puppet held at the ready – and the moment Itachi sheathed his blade, he knew that the last of them were slain.

Hastily, they made towards the scroll.

"We must leave." Itachi intoned, panting from the effort of fighting without genjutsu and the thin oxygen in the blackening air around them, his tone edged with urgency. "There will be reinforcements."

Sasori needed no further encouragement, rushing forward, the Uchiha's eyes following him as he made towards the golden pedestal, wooden arm stretching through the shroud around him as he reached for the scroll - before something stopped him.

It took the puppet master all of three second to realise what had happened, what now stood between him and a successfully completed mission.

Something, someone, dared to block his way.

The smoke around them billowed thick and dark, obscuring any view of the figure's face, though through the blackness Sasori could see it was another Iwagakure guard, overlooked it seemed – and no wonder, smaller and so obviously younger than the rest had been. And yet, this one had boldly come to stand between the redheaded Akatsuki-nin and the scroll, kunai in hand and raised to strike - but it was the clumsy and inexperienced manner of it, if anything, that gave them away to the old puppet master.

It was just a kid, he realised.

Sasori could have laughed, had the situation not been so dire and time so short, but now the young one's defiance only served to aggravate him further, as the hots flames around them rose, the wooden walls of the building began to cave in on them. Thinking to end this quickly and without hassle, Sasori drew his puppet before him, the wooden figure's blades poised threateningly, the puppeteer's fingers twitching in anticipation of striking the young ninja down.

"Stop!" The figure shouted abruptly, nothing that Sasori had not heard from his victims before, until the youth cried; "I won't let you leave unless you take me with you!"

To the surprise of both the child and himself, Sasori stopped still at those words. Caught off-guard by the young shinobi's boldness, the puppet master's hands hung in the air, fingers frozen in mid-command. Itachi and Kisame, the puppet master noted, were similarly silent behind him, and a kind of surprised disquiet filled the air, disrupted only by the crackling of persistent flames. The puppet master squinted through the smoke, the fire drawing nearer, as he attempted to see the hidden expression on the young guard's face.

Take the kid with them?

Sasori frowned as the heat of the storehouse permeated the deep folds of his cloak.

"Stupid brat!" He bellowed in reply, watching with growing aggravation as the youth jumped at the harsh tone of his voice, but did not retreat. "I will kill you here, if you will not move!" He growled, and finally released his poised strike - blade slicing through the air, the arm of the puppet lunging forward.

The Iwa ninja's response was instantaneous, and Sasori watched as the kid released something from a hand - a tiny white bird, it seemed, which dove itself into the heart of the menacing puppet - shocking the puppeteer to his core when it exploded upon impact, leaving a cavernous hole in the once-flawless woodwork of the weapon, and rendering it useless.

Before Sasori could openly react, watching as his precious puppet fell heavily to the burning floor with the other kindling, the child released more strange clay figures from behind the smoke - tiny spiders now, which immediately jumped and latched themselves onto both the lifeless puppet and the three members of Akatsuki.

"Katsu!" The young ninja yelled, and the already-destroyed puppet exploded once again with even greater force - the blows reducing it finally to charred wood and tarnished metal before it's creator's eyes.

Sasori gazed at what had only moments ago been one of his deadliest weapons before focusing once again on the kid in front of him, and stiffened, as he felt the scurry of one of the clay spiders on his human shoulder.

The threat was clear.

"Sasori." Kisame hissed loudly, urging the puppet master to act, as the flames of the building continued to rise to increasingly alarming heights, threatening the existence of the scroll.

Sasori stood conflicted as he continued to stare down the undeniably dangerous child before him, and felt, more than saw, the intensity with which the youth gazed back at him.

When the same steady voice reached him from the shrouded figure, it was gentler, but just as demanding.

"Take me with you." The kid repeated.

Sasori was silent, felt keenly every second that passed as he made his decision. This low-level guard, this child, more than a half a head or so shorter than him - although no doubt much younger - was willing to betray his village and surrender himself to them, the enemy, and in doing so would give up the scroll, his home, and any life he had here. He had destroyed one of Sasori's favourite puppets, compromised the safety of the mission, and directly threatened to kill them.

Who was this kid, anyway?

A crash from outside alerted them that the back-up for the guards was arriving just beyond the walls of the treasury, and the group of Akatsuki grew anxious. A hundred guards was one thing, but trained shinobi - no doubt the best Iwa had to offer - were another entirely.

They had run out of time.

Sasori refused to think twice about it as he grabbed the arm of the kid, moving as quickly as he could while simultaneously shouting over his shoulder; "Come on!"

Then, they were escaping; turning on their heels and running full-speed from the treasury, the rooms they passed through now full of light from the spreading fire, jumping over crumbling wall and burning wood as smoke rose all around them, making their way haphazardly through the collapsing warehouse. When they spotted the barricaded back entrance once again, their speed doubled - the voices of the pursuing Iwa shinobi echoing not too far behind them - only to stop short when they found that the door was now aflame, the roof collapsing from above rapidly, as a heavy wooden pillar came crashing through the adjacent wall, blocking the escape.

"Kisame!" Itachi shouted meaningfully to his partner.

The shark-like man wasted no time, pulling Samehada off of his back and swinging it forward with all his strength, the gigantic blade impacting with the charred wooden door full-force. It burst open, the wooden pillar breaking through to land on the ground, the sudden chill of the wind filling the blistering building and enraging the flames as the four shinobi escaped.

Sasori's lungs burned as he ran, but still he kept a firm hold of the thin arm of the Iwa-nin, though he wasted no time looking back as they leapt into the trees; swiftly making their way through the branches and away from the treasury, all the while listening for tell-tale signs that they had been spotted, were being followed.

They ran and jumped as fast as their feet would carry them for what seemed a short eternity, until at last they came to a halt at the very top of a cliff overhanging the outskirts of Iwagakure. Safely outside the perimeters of the village, the four coughed the smoke from their lungs, relief filling them.

"That... was close!" Kisame huffed, his gaze travelling to where Itachi rested against a tree, eyes closed and chest heaving.

"Too close." Sasori replied, looking down over the rocky mountainside that stood between them and the hidden building they had infiltrated, before he cast his gaze beside him for the first time, to the kid whom he held in hand – and felt his breath catch in his throat.

Let it be said, that Akasuna no Sasori had never been a man to find much value in appearances, but in this circumstance, he could not help but stare at the creature that stood beside him. Long blonde hair reaching far down to the youth's lower back, a thin waist and slightly curved hips, delicate hands, full lips - and the most striking blue eye Sasori had ever been one to witness.

Indeed, it was only the flat chest and angular features which led the puppeteer to conclude the youth to be a boy.

"Look!" The young ninja cried then, his one visible eye widening, as he pointed down to the village once again, and the treasury from which they had just escaped as it glowed a furious red in the dark.

Sasori tore his gaze away from the boy, looking down just in time to see a burst of light and feel the heat of the explosion that erupted through the air, blowing him onto his back with force and momentarily blinding him in its brilliance even at their distance from the village, the boom resounding over the cliff, ringing in the puppeteer's ears.

Sitting up quickly in alarm, after the white light faded out from his vision, the puppet master gazed over the cliff once again to see that the building and surrounding forest was now a fiery torch in the sky. Iwagakure ninja swarmed the newly-exploded building as hundreds lay dead outside, many of the structures surrounding the treasury also damaged or destroyed by the blast - and most notably, a large section of the protective wall which surrounded the village of Iwagakure lay in rubble.

The puppet master looked back to the boy who sat next to him, peering down the cliffside in wonder at the destruction that he had caused. He turned to the redheaded puppeteer then, returning the older man's shocked expression with a wide smile, blue eye sparkling with excitement - and that was was the moment that Sasori really knew, this was no ordinary kid.

Reluctantly breaking eye contact with the boy, Sasori turned back to Itachi and Kisame, who also looked on in astonishment at the explosion.

It was Itachi who broke the ringing silence.

"We should go." The Uchiha announced simply, as he helped Kisame off of the cliff floor where the large man had fallen, and turned to face the path ahead of them.

Sasori rose to his own feet - that bright blue eye following him all the while, as he turned, ready to depart the scene. But the puppet master hesitated, as he heard the uncertain shuffle of the youth behind him, and found himself turning back to look once again at the deceptively alluring young man, who seemed equally as fascinated with him.

Before Sasori could help himself, he asked the boy, voice barely more than a half-suspicious whisper;

"Who the hell are you, brat?"

The young ninja's eye widened at the term, more than a little surprised to be asked, but he smiled, holding intently onto Sasori's brown-red gaze as he replied cheerily;

"My name is Deidara, un!"

The puppet master stared, deeply unnerved by the jovial way with which the other conducted himself, and might have, under normal circumstances, admonished the boy - but decided immediately that he was far too weary. It had been a difficult night.

"Come on." The man grumbled, for the second time that night, and the boy seemed only too happy to oblige.

They took off, quickly catching up to the other two Akatsuki shinobi, and finally, with only a hesitant nod from the puppeteer and answering indifference from the others, they began the journey back to the hideout - one more than when they had left.