Clay and Puppets

Summery: In which, Sasori gains, through a string of seemingly unfortunate incidents, a new partner named Deidara. Reluctant to form any kind of friendship with the young Iwa missing-nin, Deidara seeks to get to know Sasori, while adjusting to his new life in the evil organisation of the Akatsuki.

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. Flammable.

A/N: I'm back again! I know what you're all thinking. Someone has the real Emerald tied up somewhere, and is updating her stories for her. Well, thats probably as close to the truth as any explaination I can give you. But we're only about four chapters away from the end of this story, and by god, I'm going to finish it! This is the last arch of everything that will happen, and I'm trying to bring everything together, so I hope it makes sense...

Also, for reference in this chapter, 'hitai-ate' is the Japanese term for forehead protector.

Please enjoy and let me know what you think afterwards!

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Chapter 36: Ruin and Refute

At first, the only thing Sasori registered was pain. Through the haze of his still sleep-deprived mind, the overwhelming noise of the battle around him, the shouting and the screaming, he felt that pain fill him - not from the blade twisted into his arm, or the hand that pinned his wooden shoulder to the cave wall, but the soul-wrenching ache in his chest - as the image of his partner, doubled over and in the arms of the enemy, flashed before his eyes.

Gurosu grinned grotesquely down at him. "Thought you could get away from us?" He taunted, and his tone was soft despite the riot around them, almost playful, as his breath hit Sasori's ear. "You Akatsuki are dead."

Then there was only rage.

Sasori lashed out, throwing Gurosu from him - but the Hirohito was prepared, leapt away from him at almost the same time, and then another enemy was upon him; lunging forward towards Sasori with a mace swinging in the darkened figure's hands.

Sasori reacted with practiced speed, grabbing hold of the blade still stuck in his arm, as he wretched it from himself - and swung, turning swiftly, before he felt it collide with flesh; blood splattering about him as the short knife split the faceless man's neck open, and he fell to the floor writhing and gargling.

It was only a flurry of motion from that moment on. Swinging and turning with the only weapon he had, Sasori felt keenly that he wished he had the scrolls which held his puppets, all hidden within Hiruko, who himself was hidden inside a very small scroll in the puppet master's cloak which lay on the floor where he had woken.

But there was no time for that, he knew - as he turned and dodged the quick, sweeping hands of another dark enemy; thrusting the tip of his blade through the delicate underside of the taijustu shinobi's jaw and retracting it just as quickly as the man turned to dead weight. The puppet master was not best at close-range combat, but he could make do.

Ducking and spinning, leaping and swinging, Sasori was unstoppable in his rampage - watching as more of the featureless figures around him dropped to the bloodied cave floor - Itachi's growling shouts, the bellowed orders of the enemy men, and Sasori's own roars of fury filling the cave 'til all that the puppeteer knew was the bloodlust he felt pumping through him.

And then, the scene shifted. Something was wrong. The battle was over as soon as it had begun, as the numbers around them dwindled, the fight dying, the enemy retreating suddenly - and there was a cry.


Sasori turned abruptly, peering through the darkness to the mouth of the cave - and the puppet master barely caught a glimpse of his partner, the boy's blonde hair and shining blue eyes illuminated briefly by the light of the moon, as the boy was seized by what remained of the shadowed men - and then he was gone.

"Deidara!" Sasori shouted, his tone strangled, and there was nothing like the panic he felt then - as all that was left of their faceless enemy disappeared into the waking world, taking Deidara with them.

Sasori went to run after them, blade already raised, rage and desperation like never before rising within him, before something clicked within his mind's eye - and he stopped still with a sudden, terrible realisation. A glimpse of a memory - the shine of moonlight, as it had hit the face of one of their enemies, and a hitai-ate - the symbol of three rocks.

Sasori felt his heart stop still, his blood turned cold, and he froze with abrupt understanding in the suddenly empty cave. It wasn't just the Hirohito who had attacked them, who had followed them to the Yukionna and back to their cave. The Hirohito didn't even wear hitai-ates. Some of those men had been from Iwagakure.

They had come for Deidara.

And now they had him.

For one of the first and only times in his long life, Sasori had no idea what to do. Deidara's home village had captured him. The Hirohito had helped them. And all Sasori could do was stand there, frozen, still staring at the mouth of the cave - the last place he had seen his partner, that terribly frightened look on the boy's face, crying out for him.

This had never happened before. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't do anything. They had rules against this.

He had to go after him.

A sudden loud groan sounded behind him, and the puppeteer turned sharply, blade rising - only to see Itachi leaning down next to his partner, as Kisame was roused back to life.

"Ow..." The shark-nin moaned, shifting where he lay, as one large blue hand rose to his head, where he had sustained an open gash. "Bastards got me right in the head."

"Lay still." Itachi ordered him immediately, though his tone was incredibly soft, shaken after the battle. His thin hands took Kisame's away from his head, assessing the damage and soothing the larger man's discomfort.

The two partners' eyes locked then, and something seemed to pass between them, that only increased the alarm that rose within Sasori - but he stayed himself, and a moment of quiet reigned in the rocky enclave.

"Deidara was taken by his home village." The puppet master said then, all of a sudden, and his voice was booming and harsh in the now-quiet cave, full of haste, as the other two turned to look at him in shock - and he needed them to know, to understand. He had to go.

Kisame sat in silence, though he was evidently distressed, as he attempted to sit up - only to wince and be pushed back down by his partner. Itachi simply fixed his sharp red eyes on Sasori, searching him, warnings and reminders of protocol going unsaid.

The redheaded man swallowed, steadying himself, as he stared back at the Uchiha determinedly. "I have to go after him." He stated then, his tone so quiet, almost pleading for acceptance.

Itachi's gaze didn't waver from Sasori's, as he seemed to be weighing the other man's words in that way he often did, and a long moment stretched. Then, finally - as Kisame's hand drifted to his, squeezing the Uchiha's fingers placatingly - Itachi nodded.

"You should go." The Uchiha answered, and there was an air of worry to his tone, as his eyes lingered on the puppeteer. "I will stay... and look after Kisame."

Sasori looked at them then, his fellow Akatsuki criminals, his brothers - Itachi kneeling over his fallen partner, Kisame barely able to sit up and so consumed with worry and pain, both of them surrounded on all sides by fallen enemies - and he felt a sudden reluctance to leave them.

Itachi turned away from him then, though, and Sasori felt himself dismissed. "We will wait for you here." Was all the Uchiha stated in answer to the unasked question, leaving much unsaid. "Go."

And Sasori did. He turned and fled from the gloomy inner-cave into the snow-ladden world outside, still so dim despite the slowly rising sun on the horizon as it turned to early morning, and he searched for any sign - any indication of where the enemy had gone.

Before he found it.

A small piece of material, ripped from a black shirt, lay starkly against the snow on the ground at the bottom of the stone cliff, and Sasori stooped to pick it up - feeling the smooth fabric between his fingers, and he knew. Deidara had left it, was pointing him in the right direction.

He knew he would follow.

Looking up, Sasori faced the white forest that surrounded the border of Yukigakure, and sensed they were heading West - back to Iwa. They meant to take Deidara home.

Sasori would put a stop to that.

Leaping up into the trees at breakneck speed, the puppet master let loose a threatening shout, knowing they would hear it - and followed their tracks, every foot-indentation in the snow and nick in the tree branches that they had so carelessly left behind.

Gaining speed, pushing himself faster, Sasori found himself suddenly wishing he had Itachi's Sharingan or Deidara's scope-eye, as his gaze scoured the forest, searching for a speck of colour in the overwhelmingly white landscape around him.

Feet pounding against the wood underfoot, snow falling from the branches to land heavily on the ground, Sasori ran recklessly through the trees - almost frenzied in his chase, as his heart pounded viciously against his ribs, and all thoughts of shinobi protocol were gone from his thoughts. He had to catch up, had to reach them soon, before he lost them.

Before he lost Deidara.

He pushed himself onwards, unrelenting in his pace, until finally he began to wonder if he was gained on them at all - before he saw something.

Through the unbreaking white of the snow and soft, wet brown of the trees - he saw a cluster of black, smooth and drifting through the tree tops up ahead - and a faint shadow of yellow hair.

"Deidara!" He bellowed, and his voice carried for miles through the trees in all directions, his heartache going with it.

Mutely, the figures up ahead seemed to falter in their pace, before moving faster - and Sasori was prepared, leaping and bounding after them, watching as their figures became closer and closer. He was gaining on them, they couldn't escape, and he could hear Deidara shouting ever so faintly.

Before they were suddenly gone.

Sasori stopped dead, looking around frantically, as he expanded his chakra into the space around him - searching and sensing for any sign of them, and finding only silence. The puppeteer's heart beat harshly, his breath quick, as his eyes darted around him, his muscles tense in preparation.

A moment of quiet followed, the gentle morning breeze teasing at Sasori's short red hair, before the wind carried a sound to him - a very faint 'snap', and his eyes widened.

Sasori jumped at the same time that a kunai sliced though the air to his right, just barely skimming and cutting his arm, and landing with a thump against the trunk of the tree - while a steady sizzling sound instantly filled the air, and the puppet master's eyes landed on the explosive note attached to the kunai's end.

Leaping from the branch he balanced on, Sasori was thrown back by the blast, the heat catching on his face and scorching his clothes, as he landed rolling on the snowy ground.

Breathing heavily, as his blackened cloak turned cool and heavy in the wet snow, Sasori stiffened then as sudden, cruel laughter drifted to him in a chorus.

Turning his head, the puppet master felt his heart still, as he was faced with a congregation of black-clad men - so clear now in the morning light, as they smirked down at him in amusement. Five of them were familiar to Sasori in the way only old enemies can be, members of the Hirohito - probably the majority of what was left of them. The rest were dressed in the standard mask and tunic of the ANBU, hitai-ate - depicting three overlapping rocks - decorating their foreheads. At the forefront of them all, stood Gurosu; a yellow-toothed grin twisted in his face.

"Always the showman," The hunched Hirohito-nin drawled then, laughter tingeing his voice. "Aye, Akasuna?"

Sasori lunged forward, on his feet in a second, the blade Gurosu had left in his arm earlier drawn from the depths of his cloak, slashing through the air as the Hitohito backed away - Gurosu moving with that same swift grace unfitting to his hunched figure, grinning even as Sasori's blade swept just underneath his nose - and then the others were upon him.

Sasori turned, as a fist landed in his back, bolting pain throughout his being - and he ducked, spinning his blade and hitting a tall figure's shin. He swept his blade through the air, only narrowly missing another of the men who surrounded him, before a tall and scraggly Hirohito was suddenly before him - and another blow was landed to his stomach.

The puppet master retched, doubling over in pain, before his blade was up again - slicing through the air and catching on the arm of a man who had been standing behind him, but when Gurosu let out a resounding laugh - they fell back.

Breathing heavily, Sasori's eyes gleamed with anger - fear swelling in him, as the group of Hirohito men stood intimidatingly close, the ANBU hanging back and out of the criminal scuffle, and the puppet master stood defensive. When the leader of the Hitohito pack continued to laugh, the lone Akatsuki bellowed.

"Where is he?"

Gurosu's laughter died away then at Sasori's shout, leaving only a humored smirk on his stretched features, as he turned ever so slightly - his eyes never leaving Sasori's - and waved his hand in the air behind him summoningly.

The puppeteer watched, his heart in his throat, as the rest of the Hirohito and ANBU moved away, clearing his line of sight, as three figures stepped from behind a great snow-covered oak - and he felt his breath catch. His gaze landed first on Deidara - the blonde held with his arms securely behind his back, and a hand over his mouth to stifle his cries. The blonde was injured, he could tell, and shaking with fright - and Sasori wanted nothing more in that moment than to kill every last one of the men who had dared to hurt him.

Sasori's gaze then drifted to the man that held his partner, one of the Iwa ANBU, perhaps the captain, who stood proudly with the criminal held in his arms, like a prize his country would reward him well for. The puppet master felt anger bubble within him at the sight, along with the urge to lunge at the ANBU and take back what was his, before his attention shifted then to the man that stood beside the other two.

The man was inconspicuous for the most part, short and plain-looking, and Sasori wouldn't have noticed him at all if it weren't for his unusually short stature; too small and scrawny for any shinobi - and a little old for it, too.

Something within Sasori prickled with recognition, though, as he stared at the man; the short figure standing smug beside the powerful ANBU, his smirk wide and eyes scathing. He was a small man, evidently not very well-trained, his stature more suited to being a spy than a ninja, with short mousy hair and a scar crossing his right cheek - his only defining feature.

Then it hit him hard - the knowledge of who the man was, and Sasori stopped still.

The one who had killed a spy of theirs in Amegakure years ago, who had scorned the Akatsuki by evading them and hiding behind the Hirohito's Boss, whose own brother had led them to him, who they had captured and kept in the dungeons of their hideout ever since - the very same man Sasori had seen only the day before, posing as a representative of the Yugami clan.

Sato Yuki.

"How?" The puppet master asked then, without dropping his defensive position - though his grip had slackened in shock, and his eyes were now fixed squarely on the eldest of the Sato brothers. "We captured you."

The man grinned, scarred hands coming to rest arrogantly on his hips.

"It was easy." He bragged, though the puppet master could tell from his scrawny form and malnourished figure that it hadn't been. "After this blonde kid here," he gestured crudely to Deidara, who stood tense in the ANBU's grip. "Gave me a visit a few weeks back, it was all cake from there."

Sasori scowled, his eyes flickering to Deidara and back. "What are you talking about?" He asked then, very lowly.

The Sato's smirk widened, Gurosu giving a very soft chuckle as he stood off to the side, as though it were all a joke, and Sasori felt anger replace his confusion.

"He came, in the middle of the night." Yuki answered, his tone casual, eyes twinkling with amusement and superiority as he gazed over at the puppet master. "Seemed a little out of it, but he was helpful, none the less. You see, I'd already been preparing. For months, almost an entire year, I dug at the crumbling wall of your dingy old dungeon; using anything I could reach - rocks, bones, the metal shackles that chained me to the wall - to dig my tunnel out of that godforsaken place. And then, he came."

The Sato's smirk became indulging, as he turned then to Deidara, and Sasori tensed with anger as the man reached out a hand - letting his fingers glide along the length of the blonde's cheek, Deidara's eyes burning.

"Without him, my revenge would have been incomplete." Yuki continued then, his tone more serious, as he slowly retracted his hand once again, though his eyes lingered on the blonde boy. "I knew I would return to the Hirohito, that they would assist me in my plans. But I was still missing something, some vital piece of information, and he gave it to me that night."

With a smile then, Yuki turned back to Sasori, and gestured towards the ANBU.

Sasori turned wide eyes on the expressionless elite Iwa-nin around him, the light of the new morning reflecting against their hitai-ate - the answer to a wordless question.

"You found out Deidara was from Iwa." The redheaded puppeteer whispered. "And you convinced them to help you capture him."

"You would be surprised what lengths a village would go to apprehend a missing-nin, Sasori." Gurosu's voice slithered from beside him then, and Sasori felt a lump of dread and hatred lodge in his throat. "Especially one who had joined the infamous Akatsuki."

Yuki laughed; a high, scornful sound - and the puppet master's hard gaze flickered back to him.

"From there, it was all just so simple!" The Sato said, too loudly in the quiet of the forest. "You Akatsuki had long since forgotten about me, down in your dungeons - and after I got out, the Boss welcomed me back with open arms! When I told him what I knew, what I had planned, he was overjoyed - sent me and some of the others to see a man he knew in Iwagakure who would help us, the top of the ANBU guard. And none of you had any idea I was even gone!" The Sato laughed uproariously then, almost hysterically, his crude joy echoing through the trees and across the snow, and telling much of the time he had spent in the darkness of the Akatsuki caves.

Gurosu smiled his own twisted smirk, as he came to stand before Sasori then, looking deeply into his old enemy's brown-red eyes. "The Boss has always had a pull with the Yugami." The hunched man admitted then in his ever-present drawl. "After we'd tipped off Iwagakure, it was only a matter of setting up a meeting - somewhere far away from both the Akatsuki and Hirohito bases, somewhere unfamiliar, where you would not be able to go for help. Then we simply waited, and when your guard was dropped..." The greasy-haired man waved a hand languidly, the rest history.

Sasori was silent, filled to the brim with anger, confusion, and desperation, as he focused his unwavering gaze on the face of his old enemy - and the darkly-haired man stared right back at him. Memories surfaced then in the puppet master's mind; the battles he and Gurosu had shared, the few times they had worked together to defeat a foe, the times he had crossed paths with the hunched man without either acknowledging the other - a silent agreement to let the other move on freely, their last battle when Sasori had knocked Gurosu unconscious after the hunched man had told him of Deidara's supposed demise, all so long ago. There was such a rich history between them, truly; full of animosity, death and distrust - but also understanding, and mercy - the kind of amiable cooperation that can only occur between fellow criminals.

But this was something different. There was no understanding in this situation, no mercy - Gurosu knew, he knew this was killing Deidara, but it was killing Sasori too.

And what of Itachi and Kisame? When Sasori didn't return, as he wouldn't - not without Deidara - would they make it back home, or would they die too? Were more Hirohito waiting to finish them off, hiding just outside the cave? And if they died, an attack on the homebase would definitely follow - and the rest of the members couldn't protect it on their own, especially not if the Hirohito Boss got involved. And what if the Boss did get involved and Sir Leader did too? Would Akatsuki be victorious, in the end? Sasori doubted it, not with all of them gone, not against all of the Hirohito and whatever other forces they would bring with them.

Gurosu had killed them all, likely. Sasori could see it all now, the full scope of what he had done. He, and Sato Yuki and the Boss of the Hirohito and the ANBU of Iwagakure, they would bring down the Akatsuki - the greatest of the S-class missing-nin, the most powerful criminal organisation in all the shinobi world - simply by capturing one short, blonde and deceivingly powerful Iwa boy.

The irony of it all reminded Sasori of a poem his grandmother had once told him; this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Shaking where he stood, the world seemed suddenly so still, so silent around him, as Sasori held his blade in front of his face - his fist clenched so tightly around the naked handle that he felt the tough skin of his palm split against the blunt edge of the weapon.

When he finally found his voice again, it was uneven and full of open anger.

"Why... why do all this for revenge?" Sasori ground out through his clenched teeth, blood dripping from his wrist to land on the pure snow below - and Gurosu smiled.

The hunched man shrugged then, in an almost helpless way, and it was a strange thing, as he lifted his hands in a vague gesture. "He blew up our hideout."

Sasori's eyes flashed. "And you attacked ours!" He shouted, breaking the silence irreparably. "You almost killed him, almost died yourself at my hand, but I left you then!"

"And that was your choice." Gurosu answered quickly, something testy edging his voice - and then, after a moment, his smile returned. "All's fair in love," He glanced meaningfully, lingeringly at Deidara, who stood wide-eyed. "And war."

Then, all Sasori saw was red. He must have attacked, broken out of his defensive stance and swung the blade long and hard, because he was moving - and the men around him, nothing more than shapes in his blind rampage, fell and hit back, but he felt not a single blow. Gurosu's voice was calling - orders, to the others - and Sasori might have shouted, screamed, as he lunged and stabbed and ducked and swung his blade; his limbs shaking and muscles aching.

When finally his vision cleared and the rage inside of him eased just a little, the puppet master realised he had retreated outside the edge of the snowy Yukigakure forest - the ANBU and Hirohito all around him, Deidara held a safe distance away, Sato Yuki staring avidly from where he hung behind his fellow Hirohito, and Gurosu was standing right in front of the puppeteer - no longer smiling.

It took Sasori only a moment to realise he was standing at the edge of a cliff - empty air at his back, his foot stumbling for a moment, snow-covered rubble falling away into the steep abyss below him - and a certain alertness seized him, not exactly fear, but alarm.

"Sasori," Gurosu's voice reached him then, and Sasori stared back at him mutely, his gaze falling on a gash running the length of the other man's face, a single line of blood running from it and dripping from his chin. "Sasori, step away from there."

Sasori stood still, incomprehension showing in his expression, as he glanced back over his shoulder - gazing down into the emptiness beyond the cliff's edge, the other side of the snowy landscape too far to jump to - and he wondered suddenly how he had gotten there.

"There's no need for you to do this." Gurosu was saying then, but he stood his ground, made no move to approach the puppet master. "If you come quietly, we'll sort something out."

But Sasori knew what that meant. Turning back around very slowly, he dropped his blade - the sound as it cut through the air and pierced the snowy ground reverberating in the still air, and he shook his head.

There was a moment of silence, as the Hirohito looked back to their blonde captive then, and Sasori followed his gaze - red eyes locking with blue, as Deidara stared at him deeply, fearfully, meaningfully; and so much was felt between them that would never be put into words. Sasori let it swallow him whole, that feeling.

"All of this," Gurosu said then, looking at Deidara for a minute, before turning back to Sasori once again - and something old and no longer familiar tinged his voice. "This is all just business."

Sasori didn't reply as he took a very minute step back, relying on his acute shinobi skills now as he balanced on the edge of the crumbling cliff, and his gaze was slow to leave Deidara's, focusing once again on the Hirohito in front of him with a cold calm that came from the very core of him.

Gurosu frowned deeply, seeming to struggle with something deep inside of himself. - and for one very brief moment, Sasori saw something in the other that reminded him of an old friend.

"You don't have to die today." The hunched, graceful man told him then, his tone so utterly quiet.

Very slowly, Sasori felt a smile upturn one corner of his mouth - and abruptly, he felt a clarity fill him, an understanding - and he tensed what left of him was flesh, the wood of his joints clicking faintly, as he spread his arms wide.

"Then when?" The puppet master asked, his short red hair waving in the low wind drifting up from the gorge, and he barely had time to witness the alarmed expression on Gurosu's face before his gaze flickered to Deidara - beautiful, fearful Deidara - and then he fell.

A sharp, piercing cry shattered the shocked silence as Sasori slipped over the edge, falling backwards behind the cliff to be swallowed by the darkness below, and then he was gone from all sight.

Deidara felt anguish swell within him - surrounding him, filling him, overwhelming him until it was all he felt, all he would ever feel. As the hand over his mouth fell away, he cried out over and over what might have been Sasori's name - the image of his partner, charred and black and scratched, as he fell from view playing itself in a loop inside the blonde's head.

Gurosu flinched, turning away, his fists clenched at his side - and many of the men lurched forward, as though to stop Sasori's decent, only to stand in shock a moment later.

For what might have been minutes or hours, they all stood there and stared, the sound of Deidara's retching sobs the only thing permeating the air. Then, Gurosu turned his back to the cliff, his eyes reopening to fix hard and cold on his men, who straightened themselves wordlessly.

Akasuna no Sasori had taken his own life.

That was the end of it.

When Deidara's sobs diminished to gasps and then to muted cries, and he simply hung limp and boneless in the arms of the ANBU who held him, he let the grief wash over him - hot, heavy tears sliding over his cheeks without a sound. When the arms of the ANBU tightened around him once again, holding and lifting him away from the scene, he made no more resistance, didn't attempt to cry out or throw the arms away. He was ruined, tired, and defeated.

"We thank you for your assistance." A voice was heard then, speaking lowly, and there was the clink of money within material passing between hands.

"There is nothing to be thankful for." A low voice answered, and Deidara knew it was Gurosu. "We had our own reasons for doing this. The fact that Sasori..." The man seemed to struggle for words then, and a silence drifted between the two talking men, before Gurosu finished; "...It was unfortunate."

There were few words said after that, but Deidara didn't hear any of them, before the Hirohito criminals parted from the Iwagakure ANBU, each party going their separate ways - and for the first time since he had first laid eyes on his redheaded partner, Deidara was headed home.

Somewhere along the way, darkness crept into his one-sided vision, blessedly easing the ache in his heart, and Deidara passed out.

A/N: So, ah, to put it simply: Sato Yuki, the guy captured way back in chapter 16, has gotten back with the Hirohito who have teamed up with Iwa to capture Deidara and are attempting to bring down the entire Akatsuki. So now they've got to get Deidara back. Yep.

I hope I'm not being too confusing with all of this so far. I've planned it all so long ago, I know it all already so I just hope I'm not leaving anything out!

Anyway, I will truly try to be back with another update as soon as possible, so perhaps expect one within the next week or two? I'm really trying to pump 'em out!