Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Orochimaru's laugh, high and cold, shattered the stunned silence. "And so ends your pitiful journey, Master Sasori! Your brat can't save you now!"
"Danna!" Deidara screamed, staggering to his feet. His eyes wild with desperation, he started forward, his claws coiling into fists; but a low growl made him stop in his tracks.
"Stay where you are, Deidara!" Sasori snapped even as blood leaked from the corner of his lips. Deidara froze at the raw fire in his tone; then Sasori turned on Orochimaru, clenching his fist over Orochimaru's own on the blade's hilt.
"I'm not dead yet," he hissed. "I can still…do this… Orochimaru… I made a promise…" With a snarl he clenched his right fist, and the Third Kazekage, from where it loomed over Deidara with its long blade embedded in the snake's maw, stiffened. A twitch of Sasori's fingers and the puppet's arm disengaged, panels sliding back into place to reveal a multitude of blades.
"And I'm not… letting him down… again!" With that Sasori sent the deadly puppet's arm whipping forward, almost too fast for the normal eye to track; silver flashed in the sunlight.
Orochimaru threw back his head and laughed. The knives pierced his skin and then there was black blood everywhere – but he still did not relinquish the sword driven into his partner's chest even as the feral light dimmed in his eyes. "I will be back… mark my words…" he hissed as slowly his figure melted back into the ground.
A jarring silence hit the clearing then, shattered by a scream: "Danna!" Deidara ran forward, stumbling with his wounds, his breath hitching in horror. He reached his partner's side just as Sasori fell to his knees, both hands now stained in the crimson steadily blooming from his chest. With visible effort he raised his head.
"I'm sorry, brat… I couldn't… keep the promise… after all…"
"Danna – no! Hold on, un, I'll get you back to the base – find Kakuzu-danna…" Deidara's words came out in a rush as he clutched helplessly to his wounded partner, with one eye scoring the deserted field around them – but where were the others? He needed to get help for his danna…!
Sasori smiled grimly – grimaced, really, reaching one hand up to feather the pale expression of his partner, leaving flecks of blood across his cheek. "No… It's too late for that, you stupid brat. You've got… you've got to keep living… at least then, we will have defied him…"
"No, danna, please – don't leave me," Deidara finished in a near whimper; Sasori didn't answer. He choked back a gasp and reached for the puppet master's hand.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" muttered Hidan, rubbing his ear. Deidara started and stared up at the silver-haired man – he had forgotten Hidan had been fighting alongside him, but that too was long finished. Hidan's red scythe dragged in the dirt behind him, blood running off its gleaming edges.
"Danna," Deidara repeated, balefully, having no further thought beyond the veil of pain – "He – he did this, to save me."
Hidan blinked, then, his lips still twisted with disgruntlement, settled on his haunches beside him. "Here," he muttered, and reaching over made to yank loose the long sword when something caught his eye.
"Oi, what's that?"
Deidara followed his stare to an odd circular design patterned over Sasori's heart – now visible through his torn cloak. Thoughtlessly he reached over, peeling back the stickied robe, and recognized the kanji for 'scorpion'. The blade had missed the thing by mere inches to the right.
"It's him, un," Deidara said quietly. "Danna turned the rest of his body into a puppet…" He swallowed hard, remembering how the idea had tormented his nightmares for weeks after he had first discovered his partner's secret. "Orochimaru must've known about it, that's why he…"
Hidan tilted his head, brow furrowed. "Then why'd he miss? If that was what the bastard was aiming for."
Deidara reflected on this a moment, rocking back on his heels; suddenly it hit him. "Last night," he breathed. "Danna switched his puppet body because of his broken arm… Orochimaru didn't know he had replacements…!"
"So, if this heart thing's still untouched, what's stopping us from putting it in another puppet, huh?" Hidan asked, scratching his head. Deidara stared at him, color slowly returning to his face.
"But all the puppets – they're back at the lair, un…"
"Well, carrying him across the battlefield's a bitch, but you wouldn't even have to do that," said Hidan. "Why don't you just fly there, huh?"
"But the others…" Deidara babbled.
"Leave that to me," Hidan dismissed, reaching for his scythe as a flicker of his usual masochistic zeal flashed in his eyes.
Deidara, his heart pounding now with adrenaline, nodded. He reached for his danna's limp figure, then hesitated; no, last time, that hadn't worked; carrying another person was just too much strain on his wings. He swallowed hard and placed his hand over the canister.
Deidara's breath caught; that was all the conviction he needed. In a daze he removed the still-warm canister from the mangled puppet and, rising, managed a nod at his fellow Akatsuki. "Hidan-san… Th-thank you."
"Yeah, sure, whatever," muttered Hidan. "Just hurry up, will you? I'm itching to kill something."
Deidara nodded, his expression hardening with determination. He slipped the canister within his robes, ensuring it to be secure against his chest; he could feel the steady throb of a heartbeat against his own, and uttered a silent prayer.
Hang on, danna… I'm coming.
He flared his wings, a rush coming over him as wind tickled his feathers; then in a mighty beat of his wings he was shooting up, up, the forest falling away to a sea of upright grass blades below, Hidan's upturned face becoming a pale dot below. Deidara was a thousand times grateful he now knew how to manipulate his new feathers with ease as he turned into the wind and set off for the Akatsuki lair.
The village of Kirigakure spread out below him – thick columns of smoke rising into the sky, which he avoided even as he felt the heat of fire ripple the air; the wind carried a scent of blood and screams of shinobi, and he was all too glad to be heading in the opposite direction. At the same time he kept an eye on the dissolving battle, anxious to know the state of his companions.
He sought out the low hill where they had earlier met with Leader-sama and Konan; but the precipice was deserted. Taking low over the forest, he caught a telltale flicker of black and blue and turned his head to look; his heart leaped. There were Itachi and Kisame, returned from the Wave country, launching into the fray with the most fearsome barrage the Akatsuki knew. As the black flames of Amaterasu scorched the horizon Deidara sank lower and lower, his eyes now on a darkened cavern yawning wide in the mountainside.
He landed, stumbled, and caught himself, one hand immediately flying to his chest to steady his delivery. He breathed out, ignoring the burning pain of his own wounds as he whispered, "Almost there, un."
Quickly he stole inside the hidden entrance and wound down the darkened corridors. A lump rose in his throat as he accosted a familiar door – so many times he had stood here, watching his partner at work, bent over a scroll or puppet by candlelight, the light illuminating an absolute focus in his sharp features that Deidara knew well himself, and loved. True art.
After a moment to catch his breath he won out over his fears and pushed open the door; by memory alone he ventured into Sasori's dark room, fumbling for matches along the desktop. He found the remaining stubs of candles and breathed a little easier when their faint light glimmered in the gloom. He turned back on the chamber.
Now – Deidara strained his memory back, and recalled the many puppets Sasori had restored the night before the battle. Yes – he was sure now at least one of them had been intended as a replacement, now where had he put them? Deidara pawed through the shelves – uprooting a lot of dust, and coughing – until he laid eyes on a scroll left on the desktop.
"There we go, un," he breathed, and cautiously, reverently unfurled it. There was a puff of smoke, and then, strewn across the desk, was a figure that made his heart lurch.
It was no perfect replica of his danna in the least – the hair, of which he was accustomed to a vibrant red, was instead a dulled brown; and the lifeless features were slightly different, though he could not spend long pondering what made them so. But when he unhooked the puppet's dusty cloak, he found the gap in its chest, and dared allow a tense smile.
He carefully withdrew the canister from in his robes and locked it into position; he waited a breathless moment, watching, hardly aware that his every muscle had stiffened in anticipation.
A long moment passed in the darkness.
"Danna…" Deidara whispered, feeling a sudden warmth behind his eyes; he blinked, and then there were tears forming on his lashes, tears he had somehow held back in the heart-pounding rush outside; now alone in the silence, the stillness sank in at last in his consciousness.
"No, danna, you can't be…! You can't leave," he mumbled, throwing himself at his irritable, impatient, but so fiercely protective mentor. He buried his face in his chest, a low whimper rising in his throat.
And then beneath him the puppet's chest contracted in a rasping cough. Deidara froze; still with his tearstained face to his chest, he looked over at Sasori; amber eyes blinked back at him, slowly, and focused on his face. Sasori frowned.
"Danna?" Deidara breathed, hardly daring to believe that Sasori was speaking to him; Sasori was alive. That alone lifted a huge weight from his shoulders and he hastily scrubbed a fist over his eyes.
Sasori's eyes closed again, but a small smile tugged at his lips as he let his hand fall onto Deidara's head. "I swore I saw an angel."
Author's Note: So there you have it. :D You all thought I killed him off, didn't you? *ducks flying Sasukes* I know I'm evil, but I'm not that evil... Well, now that it's over ... I can't believe it's over. :D This fanfic ranks right up there in my longest two, alongside the ongoing Shadows of Dawn. I know, shameless self-advertising, but if you liked this fic, please at least check out Shadows, which also stars the Akatsuki. And might I add Deidara being awesome, as usual.
Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who's been reading and reviewing thus far; you're great and I hope that you enjoyed it! Thanks, guys!