Naruto was dead.
It might not have been such a bitter pill, if it had been a death to take pride in. If he'd died in the heat of battle. If it hadn't been such an ignoble, pointless waste.
If Sasuke had let him surface and continue to fight, rather than following up and forcing him back down, ignoring his wilder and wilder thrashes and tearing claws as he struggled to raise his head the few inches that seperated him from air.
Even as he stared into his own reflected Mangekyou and began to lift the limp corpse of his former teammate out of the river, Sasuke felt mildly disgusted and ashamed of himself. This definitely hadn't been what he'd planned. He'd wanted to fight, had been about to step back and wait for Naruto to press the assault, so that he would have an opportunity to plumb the depths of the curse seal to its new limits, but... something within him had seen opportunity and the next thing he knew...
The savaged leg that he'd used to hold Naruto underwater throbbed, and he tossed the corpse and his thoughts to the side as he limped away. He would have to bind the wounds soon, as they were bleeding freely, but the border to Rice country wasn't far. He'd survive.
What looked like a plant wrapped in a robe slowly emerged from the ground. The leaves opened marginally, revealing a man's head shielded between them as the figure knelt next to the orange-clad cadaver and grunted in disgust.
"This could- Be a problem."
By the time Kakashi and Pakkun arrived at the valley of the end there was nothing left to say what had happened save two waterlogged forehead protectors.
"This is a catastrophe! Zetsu! Why did you allow the Jinchuuriki for the Kyuubi to die while under your surveillance?"
"Leader-sama, your orders were to- observe only, without revealing myself."
"To observe only, without revealing yourself 'unless', and this is the important part, which you seem to have missed somehow, 'Unless an opportunity to aquire the Jinchuuriki reveals itself, or it proves to be otherwise neccessary.' The definition of 'neccessary' to be left to your own interpretation and discretion."
The Akatsuki Leader began to massage the bridge of his nose in irritation.
"Were you perhaps not paying attention when I mentioned that the Bijuu were pivotal to our plans? Or did you fail to realize that the death of its container would place the Kyuubi well beyond our reach?"
"Save your excuses. It will be decades at least before the Kyuubi has enough power to claw its way back out of the depths of hell. Until it reasserts itself on this plane, our plans will have to be postponed, or altered. Though... perhaps eight will be enough. I must consider this. And I very much doubt any more mistakes of this caliber will be made."
The Leader turned and began to stalk away as Zetsu visibly relaxed.
"Thank you- Leader-sama."
"Wait." The Leader turned his head and glared at the unfortunate plant-man. "Did I suggest that you were forgiven? Mind the ring, Itachi."
Zetsu didn't have a chance to protest before a blade swung at his wrist and the black fire of Ameterasu was upon him. The Leader groaned softly and began rubbing at the bridge of his nose again.
"Itachi... Zetsu wore his ring on the other hand."
"Just... geh... Forget it. I'll make a new one. It's not like I have anything else to do with my sudden overabundance of spare time."
The leader continued to grumble caustically under his breath as he stalked out of the room, leaving the rest of Akatsuki in an awkward silence.
"Waaait, yeah..." Deidara said, pointing at Zetsu's smoldering cadaver. "If Zetsu's dead, who's job is it to deal with the corpses?"
There was a slight hesitation before someone answered, while turning to dash for the door.
"Last one out has to deal with it!"
"No way, yeah!"
"I'm not going to do it."
"Whee! Tobi is escaping!"
It was entirely possible that Sasori was scowling as the room emptied rapidly, but as he was inside Hiruko, it was impossible to be certain. Why, exactly, was it that mental maturity seemed to evaporate as a ninja's power grew? On duty, the Akatsuki had a mostly reasonable level of control over themselves, but on their own time they seemed to revert to a second childhood. It was like dealing with academy children all over again, only worse, because they had access to, and ability to use, high rank jutsu. His eyes fell on the corpses on the floor.
Well, Zetsu was pretty much a relatively human shaped pile of ash by this point. He'd get a broom and sweep him out the door later and make a point of recalling to thank Itachi for remembering to put out Amaterasu before poofing away. The kid... huh.
A thought crossed Sasori's mind. In all his collection, he didn't have a single puppet crafted from a Jinchuuriki. Not a one. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't recall any mention of any puppeteer using, or even owning, such a thing.
The matter of Zetsu's ashes completely forgotten, Sasori hefted the ex-Jinchuuriki over Hiruko's shoulder, noting that rigor mortis hadn't begun to set in yet. Good, good. It was most efficient to start with a still-living base when crafting a human puppet, but you take what you can get, and the fresher the corpse the better.
He'd emerged from Hiruko and had set the stripped specimen on a lab table in a room not dissimilar to a civilian surgeon's workroom. How to go about this... what would be the first step for this artwork? He mused upon the matter for several moments as he toyed with a scalpel. Finding it to be slightly dulled from the preferred razor edge, he tossed it at a dartboard where it imbedded next to several others. The next one was satisfactory.
The first step... yes, that would be to carefully make a circular incision around the remarkably complex seal pattern inscribed on the specimen's stomach and carefully peel it off to be preserved. It was certainly interesting enough to be studied further and maybe he'd nail it back on once he was finished. Or maybe he'd hang it up on a wall somewhere. It would make an interesting conversation piece, if nothing else.
Second step, removal and disposal of all unneccessary internal organs. Digestive tract, liver, kidneys, lungs. Throw them in a barrel over in the corner. Carefully set the heart to the side to be preserved, then carefully tug out all the blood vessels and arteries. No need for them and they were taking up valuable space. Carefully remove the top of the skull and tug out the brain, from what he understood about the subject it was in prime condition, barely used. No doujutsu, so scoop out the eyes and toss them with the rest of the refuse.
This next bit would be tricky. Carefully make incisions around the body and peel the skin off in one large piece. He considered for a moment before setting the mass with the rest of the bits to be kept. It was always amusing to watch peoples reactions when forced to fight a puppet wearing a face they recognized. And if he changed his mind, he could always scrap the stuff later. Once again, Sasori began gently tugging veins and arteries out from the body before moving to the skull, where he removed the lower jaw and tongue and tossed them aside. Now to get to work.
Most of the skeletal frame had to be kept. Most of the muscles didn't. Everything that wasn't required for the specimen to retain a chakra system was removed and disposed of... by this point he'd been at his work for several hours and was satisfied with his progress for the moment. Only a couple more things to do and he could call it a day.
He carefully set everything to be kept, heart, brain, skin and all, into a glass vat and dragged a set of tubes down from the ceiling. With the flip of a switch they began pouring a nifty little cocktail of chemicals, preservatives, and pickle juice into the vat from a large cistern in the room above. After several minutes passed and everything was fully covered beneath several inches of the mixture he closed the valve back off and allowed the hoses to retract out of the way as he hefted a heavy lid onto the vat. Now he just had to dispose of the refuse and wait a day or two for the specimen to properly cure. In the meantime, he would consider a final design to work towards.
It was only after he made Tobi scream like a little girl that he realized he'd forgotten to scrub himself up after he was finished for the day, and was covered in a thick layer of congealing blood up to his elbows. Whoops.
Sasori flipped a switch at the base of the vat and watched as the fluid inside began to drain away. Time to get back to work.
After much consideration, he'd decided to play up the Jinchuuriki angle for the final product, decorating the specimen with ears crafted with faux fur and whiplike tails. Those would come later, though. For now, he had the bare bones of the specimen to build on, and he had a lot of weapons to install and seals to inscribe.
And now, he mused, it was time for the important questions. Flamethrower or Chainsaw? Shuriken launcher or Senbon? Poison grenades or vials of corrosive chemicals? Hmm... Decisions, decisions.
It was several weeks before the specimen was close to what could be called 'finished'. Sasori's partner Deidara had been both surprisingly helpful and unsurprisingly vexing. On the one hand, he was a surprisingly apt assistant, and had suggested little 'tweaks' that Sasori would never have considered, but after experimentation improved the specimen in countless small ways.
On the other hand, Deidara kept attempting to rig the specimen to blow up. The hourly checks for hidden explosives that weren't supposed to be there had begun to take its toll. Still, today was the big day... just a quick check for any last-minute 'surprises' his partner might have left, a couple final adjustments and... and the fucking door to his workroom was gone. This was just typical.
Sasori paused in his enraged scream as he took a closer look. The hinges, the splinters, the way the door had fallen. It wasn't, as he'd originally thought, his partner playing a ridiculously stupid prank on him, but something else. The door had been broken outwards.
Stepping over the splintered heap of wood, he entered the workroom and took in a second important fact. The specimen was gone. Aside from that, everything inside had been moved around, like someone had been searching for something. Like a key, in the hopes of unlocking a door. The circumstantial evidence was painting a grim, blatantly impossible picture.
"Self-aware?" He considered, then shook his head. Not possible. Self awareness in a puppet could only be achieved if the subject remained alive throughout the entire process... tricky, considering how much had to be replaced. And the specimen had been most certainly dead throughout.
He couldn't see. Or rather, he could, but it wasn't exactly sight. A confusing, twisting mass of colors and shapes that somehow overlapped and combined and then made perfect sense, wraithlike, glowing auras that screamed into his mind.
He might be able to hear. Or he might not. That is, he wasn't entirely sure whether the sounds he was hearing were really there or not. Some of them, frankly, he was really hoping were imaginary.
He knew that he had a sense of smell. Oh boy did he have a sense of smell. And the less said about some of the things he was smelling even now, the better.
He didn't seem to be able to feel the things he touched. In the room where he'd awoken from the darkness, he'd accidentally squeezed the knob of the locked door too hard and had to pick shards of metal out of his hand. It was then that he'd noticed a nagging sense of something missing that should have been there, but wasn't. It wasn't until many minutes later, when he'd smashed his way through the door and had to tug splinters out of his shoulder that he'd realized that he should have been left in pain and bleeding rather than the slight sense of irritation he had felt.
The only sense left was taste, and he wasn't sure how to test that. He hadn't come across anything he particularly wanted to taste.
There was another turning in the hall. He didn't pay attention to which direction he went, not sure where he was going, or how to get there. He wasn't particularly sure which way to go to get back where he started, either, or why he'd bothered to leave. He'd been slightly surprised when he'd looked in a mirror and caught sight of his ears, although why they disturbed him he couldn't quite understand. His three tails, also, had sparked the same disturbance, though he still wasn't sure why.
Ah, now he remembered. Clothes. He wanted some. Just why, he wasn't precisely sure, as he was about as anatomically defined as a Ken dolly. Whatever that may be. There was a blue man walking slowly in front of him. He sped up and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and blinked.
"I want your clothes."
The blue man blinked again.
"Uh... Sasori? What the hell?"
"I want your clothes. Give them to me."
"Did you change puppet body things and mess up something in your head? I'm not giving you my clothes. Get a hold on yourself."
He punched the blue man in the face as hard as he could. It was neccessary... the man was being completely unreasonable about a simple request.
Several minutes later he came to the unfortunate realization that none of the clothes the blue, scaly man was wearing fit him properly. So when he left, he was wearing a cloak more than a few sizes too large for him that was dragging on the floor behind him, and an armful of everything else the man with the glass jaw had been wearing. He wasn't sure why he was making the effort, when he could just drop them somewhere, but that would be too easy on the blue man.
He considered the new man in the orange mask, wondering how he'd snuck up on him.
"Direct me to your kitchen."
"Tobi wonders what you will do there."
"I will put these-" He lifted the armful of cloth to demonstrate. "Into the freezer, where the blue man will not think to look for them."
"Tobi thinks that makes perfect sense! Follow Tobi."
Itachi stared. It wasn't often that he was surprised, anymore, but finding his partner collapsed nude next to his sword in the middle of the hallway? Yeah, that would do it. He was immensely glad he didn't have his sharingan activated... Kisame's scaly blue ass was not something he was particularly interested in having seared into his memory until the day he died. Even so, as horrible as it was, he just couldn't look away.
"Eeew! That's horrible, yeah... I think I'm gonna hurl. Damn, uh, is there a blanket around here somewhere?"
Itachi grunted and removed his cloak and draped it over his unconscious partner before turning to Deidara. He didn't say a word, but his glare clearly stated 'You will tell me what the hell is going on or I will do horrible, awful things to you that will make you wake up screaming in the middle of the night for years to come.'
"So... you remember when the nine-tails kid got killed and Zetsu sent a possessed civilian to bring his corpse back, yeah? And by the time he got back himself Leader-sama had cooled off and was happy enough about not actually having to make another ring, yeah?"
Itachi's eyes narrowed at the apparently pointless blather.
"Easy, easy... I'm getting to the point. Anyway, Sasori-danna took the kid and made it into a puppet, only he thinks that it came to life and broke out of his workroom, yeah."
Itachi arched an eyebrow.
"No, I don't know why it would stick around and beat Kisame up and steal his clothes instead of trying to escape, yeah. I was hoping you would have some idea."
Itachi frowned and narrowed his eyes slightly.
"Hey, yeah, now that you mention it, I have no idea how strong the puppet was supposed to be... Maybe it is... uh... 'testing its capacity'."
He totally wanted to destroy something, he decided, as he reached down his throat with the chopsticks so that he could pull the noodles that Tobi of the orange mask had given him. He couldn't taste anything, and to top that, while he could swallow things, his throat only actually extended a few inches down his neck before coming to a flat stop.
He also had no gag reflex. For some reason, he found that really, really creepy, and didn't want to look any further into it. On the other hand, he'd probably have been even less pleased with the situation if he was choking.
Finally getting a grip on the last clump of noodles, he tugged the chopsticks out of his throat and tossed them to the table, then stalked out. Or he would have, anyway, but the door swung open before he reached it. The theatrically framed and backlit man paused and stared at him with hawklike eyes.
"So... This is interesting. Do you understand the meaning of the cloak you wear? I doubt it. Hmph. Nevertheless. I am Pein... you, however, will adress me as 'Leader-sama'."
Plotbunny that CaerAzkaban sent me, that leapt up and held a switchblade to my throat.
You see the trick, though, is taking this storyline and making it funny, rather than letting Puppet-Naru get angsty. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against angst, but... Whatever. In any case, I will be taking dramatic liberties with the characters. By which I mean I will be carving them down to the bare bones and rebuilding their personalities nearly from scratch. OOC. This is your only warning, peoples, so if you take offense at that sort of thing then feel free to bail like rats from a sinking ship.
One last little point to make. Naruto is equipped with lots and lots of weapons. However... that doesn't neccessarily mean he knows how to use them. Or even that they're there. Which is why he punched 'Glass-Jaw' Kisame instead of, say, setting him on fire. It wasn't just for the humor aspect of the thing.