Note: Thanks to ObsidianJade, DustFlower, sasodei-iz-awesome, kally77, 1Ivanessence1, foxflight, black55widow, VampiricShadow, RANDOMNATIONS, Sweetciel, A-shadow-of-a-doubt, Dark Kisuna, Flash Gator, and BlackLace801 for the lovely reviews last chapter! Comments/questions/etc. are answered at the bottom.
Flesh and Blood
"Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending." – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ten years later…
"No way." Sakura froze, blinking in disbelief at what she saw across the crowded tavern. "It can't be…"
Naruto scrunched up his nose. "This place is even worse than the last one," he agreed.
"No." Sakura reached out and caught his wrist in an iron grip. "There."
Naruto frowned in the direction she was pointing. Several patrons were sitting at the tables against the far wall. There was an old man all but drowning in his sake, and a pair of soldiers playing cards, and a redheaded young man scowling in a superior sort of way at all that he surveyed. "What?" he asked.
"That's Sasori!" Sakura hissed. "Don't you recognize him?"
Naruto's frown deepened. "I only ever saw that scorpion puppet he walked around in, remember?" He tilted his head to one side. "Are you sure?"
"There are a lot of redheads in the Storm Country. Maybe he just looks like Sasori." Sasuke had crept up behind them while they were arguing, and he surreptitiously flicked his Sharingan on the man in question.
"It's him," Sakura insisted dangerously, her hand clenched into a fist.
Sasuke blinked and took a careful step back. "I believe you," he quickly assured her. He didn't mention that the reason he believed her was because he'd just assessed that the redhead was a puppet.
"But Sasori's dead." Naruto scratched his head. "You and that old granny killed him years ago. How can—oh."
If any doubt had remained in any of the three Konoha ninjas' minds, it vanished when another man joined his table. With a flirtatious flick of long, blond hair, the second man landed right in the lap of the suspected Sasori.
"Hey, hey!" Naruto protested. "Isn't that…?"
"Deidara," Sakura nodded.
"He's supposed to be dead, too! Sasuke, you bastard, you said he was dead."
"He was…" Sasuke said a bit breathlessly as he watched Deidara slowly begin to grind in a sensuous lap dance.
Sakura rolled her eyes. She couldn't believe now that she'd ever thought Sasuke was shy or chaste. It turned out he was the biggest pervert of all of them; he just didn't switch over to pervert mode unless there were two penises involved. It was something she'd accepted long ago, although it still made her blush on occasions like this when Sasuke was so open about his ogling.
"I don't know what I was thinking, though," Sasuke sighed. "There aren't enough hot blonds in the world as it is…" It was a pointedly suggestive comment.
The point, of course, went right over its target's head. "But that can't be Deidara," Naruto was still in denial. "Look at him. He hasn't aged a day."
Sakura considered them. "He wouldn't be the first to make himself immortal," she retorted. "He wouldn't even be the first one at that table." Her cheeks reddened further when Deidara arched his back and threw his head back as if in the throes of ecstasy.
Sasuke gaped, and he all but whimpered at the sight.
Sakura glared over at him, and he at least had the decency to look contrite. "What do we do?" she asked, turning back to the matter at hand.
"You think we've found the source of those missing freighters?" Sasuke considered the pair across the room.
Sakura bit her lip. "Neither of them are particularly water jutsu users," she finally reluctantly shook her head. "They might be the source of all those desert bandit rumors we've been hearing about, though. That would fit their style more."
"Who cares?" Naruto countered. "We can kick their asses any day!"
Sasuke and Sakura gave him equally frustrated looks.
"What?" he asked sheepishly.
"The mission comes first," Sakura insisted primly. "We don't have time to pick fights with old adversaries."
"We can't afford to blow our cover," Sasuke agreed before letting out a wistful sigh.
Sakura gave him a glare, too, just for good measure. She didn't even want to know what Sasori and Deidara were doing right now to give Sasuke that glazed look in his eyes. "We should regroup at the inn," she decided. "The raiders have to be operating out of one of these port towns, and we need to investigate them all in the most efficient manner possible."
Naruto looked as though she'd murdered a puppy right in front of him.
Sasuke still hadn't taken his eyes off the couple across the tavern. "Oh…" he breathed so low that Sakura could barely make it out. He licked his lips surreptitiously.
Sakura couldn't fight her curiosity any longer. She glanced over to see that Sasori was now running his hands up under Deidara's shirt. She rolled her eyes. Whoever said boys got more mature as they got older obviously hadn't met her boys.
"We're going," she informed him, popping her knuckles deliberately. "We can't afford to be found out here."
"Yeah, you're right. Let's go," Sasuke said with a shrug. "Although it makes me wonder why I returned at all. Missing ninjas get all the lap dances."
Naruto scowled at him as Sakura all but shoved them out of the tavern. "Don't say things like that, bastard. Good blonds give just as good lap dances as evil ones."
Sasuke fixed him with a look so neutral there had to be some powerful emotion behind it. "You wouldn't have the guts." A pregnant pause followed. "Dead last," Sasuke delivered with perfect timing.
"You asshole!" Naruto's temper flared. "I'll show you! I'll give you a lap dance so hot that your balls will turn blue and fall right off!"
"I'd like to see you try." Even Sasuke couldn't keep the smirk off his face.
Sakura rolled her eyes and pushed them both back out the door. Boys were such idiots.
Their departure caused no obvious reaction, but across the tavern, Deidara slipped a little bit lower into Sasori's lap and nibbled his ear. "They're gone?" he whispered.
"Yeah," Sasori agreed.
"You think they're after us?"
"Hmm. What do you think?"
"I think we could defeat them," Sasori shrugged. "I also see no good reason to."
"They're the past, yeah?"
Sasori's hand tightened on Deidara's hip. "This is the future."
Deidara smiled at him coyly, his hair all thrown over the left side of his face. Sasori could tell he was trying to look quite the seductive nymph.
"You know you're never going to get a reaction out of me while I'm in this body," Sasori commented disinterestedly.
"But it's still fun to try," Deidara teased. "And, besides, it just gets you all the more worked up the next time you are in your human body."
Sasori didn't try to deny it. There was no point. In the end, that was their art together.
Whew! It is done, this 90K+ monster fic of mine. :P First of all, I want to thank everyone again who's taken time to let me know what they thought. Just: Wow! The fic currently has over 250 reviews, which I never ever thought I would reach. Double wow! You guys are amazing. Hugs to all! :D I also want to thank kally77 especially for catching many a typo in this fic, as well as helping me brainstorm whenever I'd written myself into a hopeless corner and was yanking my hair with frustration.
As for the big question - will there be a sequel? - the answer is... I don't know. I definitely wrote this story with the thought that it would be a good jumping off point for other Sasori/Deidara fics. So I do plan to write short stories set in this 'verse. Another full-length fic is a big project, though, and I would need a meaty enough plot to justify another huge undertaking like this. So...maybe. If I come up with another big plotline, yes. If not, then it'll probably just be a bunch of short fics. We'll see. :P
Thanks again to all my readers and all my reviewers! I hope to see you around in my future fics. :D