The blonde ex-terrorist skidded to a halt on the branch and turned to his masked partner. "What, Tobi?"

"Where are we going?"

"You are going back to the base to tell Leader-sama we completed the mission. I will meet you back there later. Got it, un?"

Tobi nodded, probably smiling behind his garish mask. It was hard to tell what the newest member to their group was thinking at the best of times. "Got it, sempai."

So damn cheerful all the time... and here I was thinking all Uchihas had a stick up their ass.

Deidara nodded too and vaulted to another branch, not as gracefully as he'd have liked to... but when insomniac sand-wielding demon hosts rip your arm off above the elbow, you're allowed a bit of clumsiness. He was lucky Kakuzu had been in the area to sew the other one back on, since his own peculiar brand of art needed at least one hand attached and functioning.

Tobi, the proclaimed 'good boy' that he was, headed off towards the base to report.

The blonde Rock-nin skipped nimbly through the branches, his recently-attached hand rummaging in his pouch for the spare clay bird he kept there in case of emergencies. What these emergencies were, he still didn't know, but he did know that the one time he didn't have a backup, something would happen to make him wish he did. Life worked like that.

A quick hand-sign later, and he was soaring through the last of the trees of the back of an eagle, emerging over the scorched sands of the desert surrounding Sunagakure and wishing he'd brought a bottle of water. The Akatsuki cloak came off, revealing the bandaged stub that was left of his arm.

Still haven't found it, damn it, he thought bitterly, scanning the scrubby wasteland below him for a particular spot.


Deidara circled down and jumped off the bird's back, landing in a crouch and a roll that brought him back to his feet awkwardly. The massive eagle stood nearby, wings folded neatly by its sides, providing a small but welcome patch of shade from the hot desert sun. He shaded his eyes, looking over at the lone piece of metal propped up against the base of a stunted tree, its roots clinging tenaciously to the dry soil. He walked over and knelt down in front of it, running his fingers over the deeply engraved scorpion decorating the carefully shaped piece of metal, once well cared for, now scoured by the sand and wind and starting to rust.

That single scrap of steel was the only marker for the last resting place of Sunagakure's finest puppeteer and puppet maker, one of the few to achieve a sort of immortality, and one of the most feared shinobi in the land. And he still looked like he was twelve years old…

"Heh, Sasori-no-danna. Look at your eternal art now..."

True, the puppet master had been rude at times, even downright caustic when he was in one of his moods. But the blonde artist had a grudging respect for the lengths the red-haired 'boy' had gone to for his art, the skill his chosen profession took. Even if his art wasn't true art, his passion for it was still admirable. But he had gone the way of the rest of his family, not eternal, not immortal. In truth, more alike to his once-partner's views than he would have cared to admit. A fleeting moment in the flow of time, something that could never be repeated. Because who else would be so devoted to their craft as to turn themselves into a wooden mockery of life? Not enough to be considered human, but incapable of becoming truly a puppet. Sometimes, that was enough to make Deidara pity him.

The one-armed shinobi bent forward and brushed the piling dirt away from the honed edge of the grave marker, a broken piece of Sasori's most-used, most well known puppet, Hiruko. That razor-sharp edge was dulled now, its poison washed away by the sporadic rainfall and sand-laden winds, the hinged joint filled with dirt and sand.

"Remember, danna? You nearly killed me with this damn thing once, un..."

And he had. Of course, Sasori adamantly argued that his partner had started the whole thing, and it was just an easy way to end it. Another argument about art, with the puppet master in one of his foul moods...

You think art is just a fleeting existence on the face of the earth, something that's never to be repeated?

Of course, Sasori-no-danna. Something beautiful, something that will be remembered, but never able to be seen again.

Idiot brat! Perhaps you'd like to be a fleeting existence too!

He hadn't dodged quickly enough, and still had the scar to show for that, a ragged line of scar tissue across his hip that hadn't healed well. He remembered being laid up in a cheap inn, sweating, paralysed and in constant pain, from the poison and a possible infection, until Sasori had seen fit to dress the wound properly and give him the antidote.

That was an experience he never wished to go through again, so he either tried to stay on his masters good side, or learned how to duck really, really fast. No matter that Sasori hadn't been seriously trying to kill him. It still hurt like a bitch either way.

"I got a new partner, too, Sasori-no-danna... Nothing like you were. A fucking Uchiha to boot, un... He knows nothing of art! I swear, one of these days I'm gonna blast him sky-high..."

In truth, Tobi wasn't quite that bad. Still bad, but it could have been much worse. Could have had Itachi as a partner… Those mood swings were hard to deal with, too. One moment he'd be all 'Tobi's a good boy!', and the next he'd be talking like he wanted nothing more than to rip the blonde's liver out and eat it. Raw. Then laugh that irritating laugh of his. Bloody Uchiha-bastards... To be frank, Tobi scared him sometimes. One never knew what he was capable of, or what he would do. Once, Deidara had remarked offhand about the Uchiha clan massacre (he couldn't even begin to remember what he'd said) and five minutes later he was waking up at the base of the nearest convenient, solid and very unforgiving tree, with a tonne of bruises, a split lip and the grandmother of all headaches. Tobi was just standing there, waiting for him to pick himself up and get moving. 'We're going to be late if you don't get up, sempai,' like nothing had happened.

"Damn it... Why'd you have to go and lose to that old hag and that girl...? I thought you were made of tougher stuff than that, danna..."

The first time he'd met the puppeteer, he was gruff and cold, huddled inside Hiruko, commenting on how Deidara was one of those people that got himself killed right off the bat. Unfeeling, unfriendly, and unresponsive at best to the blonde's attempts at conversation. Now he was the one dead, while Deidara lived on. It was dull now, missions with the enigmatic good boy, occasional group meetings at one of the bases scattered around the countries, days off spent alone practicing and refining his art. Hidan had even pointed out how much more reserved the 'little pyromaniac chick' had gotten... Deidara had pointed out how interesting it would be to watch Hidan piece himself back together without Kakuzu around. That had shut him up, for a while, at least. So, he missed his old partner, what of it? They were the closest to friends two such different shinobi could be, no matter how pointless it was to have close friends in a world filled with death and loss. At least, Deidara liked to think they were friends. Who knew what Sasori was thinking behind those emotionless doll eyes?

"Well... were we friends? 'm sad I never got to ask you that. Would be nice to have a real friend, I guess..."

The once blue sky was darkening with the onset of night. Clouds were sweeping in across the sun, heavy and grey with the promise of rain. He'd stayed too long, Leader-sama would be wondering what the hell had happened to him. He didn't really want Zetsu or any other member finding out where he spent some of his free time.

Deidara reached into his clay pouch, withdrawing a crumpled and battered white lily and laying it on top of the sandy grave. He bowed his head for a moment, silent. Then he stood up, brushing sand from his clothing and striding back over to where his bird stood, still as a statue waiting to attention. He jumped up onto its back as it flapped its smooth wings once, twice, and took off into the air, stirring the dust and knocking the single lily into a drift, to join the collection of withered stems and smothered petals, the reminders of his last visits, left to lie unnoticed in the grainy sand.

As he soared off towards the forest and the nearest base, Deidara pulled his cloak back on, the chill in the air freezing his exposed stomach and arms. He glanced at the clouded sky and smiled slightly, unable to stay moody for long with the wind blowing through his hair, the dry air of the desert giving way to the fresh, earthy scent of the forest, the crisp breeze drying his tears before they even had a chance to fall.

"Goodbye, Sasori."

Because there needs to be more friendship between these two. Waaay too many romance stories out there for my liking. Seriously. Two characters can be great friends and don't have to love each other. I mean… yikes. One of them is a puppet.