A/N: Wrote this for the Mistress of SasoSakudom (I'm sure she hates it when I call her that, but still...) GigiCerisier. It's angsty and the last three paragraphs are LAME, because I have serious writer's block right now and it almost killed me just to write this... but aside from the last three paragraphs and the fact that it's serious, I like this one.
Sasori dropped the arm of the marionette he had been repairing on his work desk and stood, returning to the tangled forest of preserved limbs and puppet strings that hung in the depths of his 'workshop'. Every puppet he had ever created hung from his ceiling, ordered by a complex system that no one but himself ever understood. Once a year he would methodically take each of them down and perform maintenance on them; oiling joints and patching up little spots where wear-and-tear, not to mention moths, mice, and other nuisances, had begun to take their toll. It was his spring-cleaning.
And it was time. He knew it. He knew that he should be working on them, on his children, on his creations. But he couldn't sit still and carefully go over the lifeless hollow bodies as lovingly as he would have liked. He was restless. He was short-tempered with the others; he had even threatened little Tobi for trying to cheer him up. The boy had walked away frightened and dejected, and Sasori had isolated himself in his room ever since, afraid of having another outburst.
He thought maybe his mood was an urge to create, and had started a few simple wooden puppets, but was too uninspired to finish them. He had gone to a village near the Akatsuki's current hideout and killed a man, thinking to make one of his special weapons of the body, but he had quickly abandoned the idea and give the corpse to Zetsu. His attention wandered, he couldn't stay still for long, and he spent hours pacing through his puppet forest, listening to their dry rattling, windchimes for the dead.
Today he came to the section in the very back of his collection, where he kept the ones he had made solely for atheistic reasons, or simply because he wanted to. Few of them had weapons, even fewer had once been alive. Some were practice, to see how many limbs could be added and where before they became too difficult to manipulate. A lot of them were studies of animal parts; there was one with a lion's head and sharp teeth made of kunai points, another was the prototype for his beloved Hiruko's tail. A few were more sculpture than puppets; form studies of humans. He brushed his hand against the form of a woman hanging gracefully next to a man as perfectly-formed and life-like as she was. Her head lolled to one side tiredly, and he pushed her away.
Behind the couple was a much smaller puppet, a tiny person just the right size for them to be able to hold in their arms. Sasori shook it free from its strings and carried it back to his work space. He had never liked how this one turned out, and he didn't understand why. He had examined it so many times before banishing it to that forgotten corner in frustration, and he knew that it was perfectly proportioned, a miniature human being made of wood and wire.
Someone knocked on the door once before pushing it open, as though the warning was enough in the way of asking permission to enter. "Hey, Sasori-danna!" Deidara said in his sing-song happy voice. Sasori set down the puppet and turned coldly.
"Special delivery for you!" he announced. "Could you watch this one for us? We need a place to stash her for a while."
"Whatever," Sasori said disinterestedly, about to turn back to his failure of a creation, when Deidara growled, "get in there," harshly and shoved a pink-haired young woman into the room roughly. She whimpered and clutched something protectively to her chest as she struggled to regain her balance.
Sasori was interested at this point, and stared openly at her as she surveyed her surroundings. Her eyes widened as she took in the gruesome assortment of replacement parts scattered around the walls and floor, illuminated by the dusty, yellowish light filtering through the few filthy windows. He kept meaning to clean them... but he liked the mystique that the half-light gave to his personal space.
He thought about running after Deidara and asking him, basically, "what the hell?" but since he wasn't really in the mood to care, he decided not to bother questioning about his new charge.
Her eyes were darting around, watching for any movement, as she gently shook the bundle in her arms and walked slowly around the small area of floor space that he kept clear as a walkway. Her legs seemed to shake a little. In fact, none of her looked to be in very good shape. It seemed whoever had captured her had roughed her up pretty well; not surprising given the sadistic dispositions of most of the Akatsuki. What was odd was that they had brought her home with them.
Her eyes still darting around, peering into his puppet jungle especially, she cleared her throat. "Hello?" she called out, holding the bundle in a protective huddle against her breasts.
"Hello," Sasori returned the greeting lazily. The woman let out a small gasp and took a step back. Sasori smiled. She had mistaken him for another puppet. "Nice to meet you, too," he said dryly.
"Wh- Where are you?" she asked, looking around for the puppeteer.
"I'm right here," Sasori said, standing up. "So stop looking for me. And yes, I am alive, I am the only one here, and there's no hope of escape. When you fight me, you fight every marionette in this room. The odds are not with you."
The woman nodded quietly. Sasori stood and pushed his chair forward. "Sit down," he told her. She sank into the chair, still wary, but clearly grateful for the chance to rest. Sasori brushed some tools to one corner of his desk and sat down on the edge.
"Wha-who are you?" she asked.
"It's polite to give your own name first."
"It's polite not to kidnap people."
"Then clearly I'm not polite, and you need to go first to set the good example."
She glared at him, but lowered her eyes quickly. "I am Sakura...Uchiha,"
Sasori laughed, because the name rung a bell almost immediately. "So, this is Itachi-kun's lovely sister-in-law. It's a pleasure to meet you, Sakura. My name is Sasori."
Sakura nodded to acknowledge she had heard him, but didn't seem surprised that he knew about her, and kept her attention on the bundle in her arms.
"So, why aren't you safe and sound with your pretty-boy husband?" Sasori asked. "I can't think of much the Akatsuki want with Sasuke... or you."
Sakura sighed. "How should I know what you want with me?"
"You wouldn't happen to be a present for Itachi, would you?" he asked. He had been isolated for so long, he had forgotten that Itachi's anniversary with the Akastuki was coming up and hadn't taken part in planning the celebration. "Did you know your estranged brother-in-law has always been somewhat... obsessed with you? ...I do hope they'll let me put my name on the card too, for watching you."
"You're sick," she whispered, a small, listless shudder shaking her briefly. The light caught her skin as she moved, illuminating a patchwork of scars and bruises on her face, neck, and arms. Sasori reached out and traced a long scar running along her jawbone.
"They should have taken better care of you. It doesn't reflect well on our relationship with Itachi to treat his birthday present like this."
"They didn't–," she started to say, but shut her mouth again.
"Didn't what?" Sasori pressed. "Do this to you? Who did?"
"The hell business is it of yours?" she snapped. A wail went up from the bundle in her arms, and she immediately turned to it solicitously. "Shh, shh... It's all right, don't cry,"
And then Sasori realized what was in the bundle. "Is that a baby? I didn't know Sasuke had already started reviving the Uchihas... doesn't waste time, does he, now?"
Sakura pressed her lips together and ignored him, instead focusing on quieting her child.
Sasori watched as the infant's cries turned slowly to little coos of laughter. "May I—,"
Sakura's head snapped up. "What?"
"I've... never seen a baby before," he explained. "May I... look at her?"
"Him," Sakura corrected. "You've really never seen a baby?"
Sasori shook his head. It had never seemed odd to him before; where would he have seen one? His parents died when he was quite young; he had no little siblings, nor did he know anybody with a child. Clearly the Akatsuki didn't bother themselves with infants... did most people know what babies looked like? Where did they find out?
Sakura regarded him suspiciously, trying to decide if he was a threat to her child. Finally, she folded back some of the blanket and tilted the baby forward so Sasori could see. A round little face smiled up at him with bright blue eyes.
"That's what's wrong..." he whispered to himself. "It's proportions are different from a grown human's..." Unconsciously, he reached out his hand to touch the baby. Sakura grabbed him by the forefinger and twisted it back, testing the joints.
"No weapons in this one," she said, doing the same with the rest of his fingers before declaring him safe to touch the child.
"I had forgotten you used to be a renown ninja yourself..." he laughed, shaking out his hand and hoping she hadn't broken anything. Hands were a bitch to replace. "I tried to make a baby puppet before," he told her, pointing to the little one on the counter next to him. "But it didn't come out too well."
Sakura adjusted her baby so that she could stroke the face of the little model. "Well, how could you make an imitation, if you'd never seen a real one before? ... why did you want a baby puppet?"
Sasori sighed. "I don't know... I have a man puppet and a woman puppet... I thought maybe they wanted a baby puppet, so they could be a family."
Sakura tilted her head to one side as he spoke, watching him. "Here, do you want to hold him?" she asked gently, offering the baby to him. Sasori smiled shyly (if he were more fleshy he would have blushed) and reached out, trying to support the child's head the way he had seen Sakura do it.
"Shh, careful, now," she said, gently guiding his hands into place so he could cradle the child. "See, you just have to keep him supported... look, he likes you."
"He's a beautiful boy," Sasori whispered, watching the baby in his arms. "I could never create anything this beautiful..."
Sakura watched the delight in Sasori's eyes as her baby gurgled at him, but with a bittersweet happiness.
"His father must be so proud to have a child like this," he said after a moment, and she burst into tears. "What's wrong?"
"I just– I wish his father was proud of him," she sobbed. "I wish he cared about him as much as you do..."
"Sasuke doesn't love him?" Sasori asked, shocked. He stared down at the child he was holding. "But he's beautiful!"
"It's his eyes," Sakura explained brokenly. "He says that they're supposed to be black, like his family's... he says that it isn't his son..."
"Well..." Sasori looked back at the blue eyes and pink tuft of hair on the child. The lack of family resemblance was undeniable. "Is he?"
"Of course!" Sakura sobbed. "I'm not that kind of woman! His eyes aren't black, but look," she pointed to the baby's eyes. "You can see the Sharingan marks in them if you look closely... they're a darker blue, do you see them?"
Sasori nodded, and Sakura sobbed again.
"I've always been faithful to Sasuke," she said. "But he... he's so suspicious. Even before Ryuu was born... almost as soon as we got married, he started getting jealous, whenever I spent time with any other guy he would say I was flirting... he would always go with me when I left the house... He even used to get jealous of my best girlfriend. And when the baby came along, he was so angry..." She touched the child's head tenderly.
"Did he give you those scars?" Sasori asked quietly.
She closed her eyes. "Yes... and he watched me so closely... I couldn't leave... if he caught me, he would have killed both of us..." she said, stroking the baby's forehead. "I'm glad he doesn't look like his father. I- I never want to see another Uchiha as long as I live!" she declared, staring him defiantly in the eye.
"No," Sasori whispered, handing the child back. She was so passionate, so strong, so full of love for her child, so beautiful... he knew that Uchihas (at least, Itachi, and apparently Sasuke) had dominance issues, but he couldn't imagine what emotion could drive a person to treat her like that. And the child... how could anyone threaten that little boy?
Sakura smiled lovingly at her baby. "Sa— Sasori-sama? Will you...Could-," she gulped. "Could you take care of him while I'm with Itachi?"
"No," Sasori whispered again. Sakura's chin wavered.
"Please, it's not hard," she said. "You're already better at it than his father."
Sakura stood, apparently too on edge to sit. "What am I going to do with him? I want him to be safe... I love this boy..."
"No..." Sasori stood up and wrapped his arms around her gently, pulling her close but making sure to give the baby room to breath. "No..."
Sakura looked up at him, her lips parting a little in surprised.
"No..." he whispered one more time, taking in every detail of her face, her hair, her body. He had never found a living human as beautiful as what he could create on his own. But he had never created a puppet as beautiful as this woman and her child.
Sakura, for her part, was fascinated that this half-human, half-mechanical man was so kind, so loving. The Akatsuki was a criminal organization; he was an outlaw, an enemy. She had always been told that, always. The Akatsuki and its members were evil; her friends in Konoha, her husband, they were good. And yet... She thought again and again how Sasuke hated his child, while Sasori loved him almost instantly. There was more to Good and Evil than what group you align yourself with, and there was more to being a father than Sasuke could ever comprehend.
And when Sasori finally kissed her, they had to be careful to hold themselves back, to keep the child between them comfortable, but it was clear to both; neither had ever truly felt passion until that moment.