This is the thirteenth in a series of stories that were created from my previous fic, "Twenty Men." The theme number can be explained once you read it. I am proud to dedicate "Project: Twenty Men" to Aloha Laney. She's a dear friend.

Title: Puppetry
Author: Ita-ta
Pairings: SasoDark!Saku
Theme: 5
Rating: T for teens.
Disclaimer: All Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
Note: Please review; they fuel my drive for writing.
Summary: He found that he had a new favourite puppet. Sasori and Dark!Sakura.

Puppetry

Sasori's dull, maroon eyes observed the village of Konoha with boredom. Leader wanted him on a solo mission here for some reason and he was getting impatient. It had taken a few years to reconstruct Sasori, especially without Kakuzu's help. Pen and Konan had managed it somehow and now he was impatiently watching the streets in hopes of tracking down his target. Several of his puppets were out and about, looking for a flash of pink hair in the evening light.

He paused; concentrating his chakra along the strings attached to his fingers and transferred his sight to a puppet by the Hokage tower. He, as the puppet, felt rather than watched a familiar chakra signature move in the direction of his puppet. Soon, he saw her flit out of the tower, covered in black and contrasting her pale features strikingly. He manipulated the puppet to follow after her, arriving at her house. After she disappeared inside, he pulled back to his own body, manipulating the puppets back to him. He quickly dispelled them, tucking the scroll into his cloak. Then, he set off for one Haruno Sakura's house.

He shadowed her all the way out of the village, finally stopping at a clearing some distance away from the sentries of the village. He watched her stand like a statue in the clearing, trying to discern if there was a presence with her.

He watched as the kunoichi turned in his direction and stared straight ahead as she spoke. "I know you're there. Come out, come out!"

He weighed the consequences of revealing himself, knowing she had gotten stronger since the last time she killed him. Then again, his grandmother was there to help her last time. Judging by the circumstances now, he decided they were both potentially matched in power. With that thought, he fluidly leapt down, moving much more quietly than he would in his puppet.

Her dull, shuttered eyes observed him for a moment and Sasori was struck by the darkness in them. He was taking her whole appearance in, appreciating what the years had done to her. He was motionless, wary of her.

She smirked, taking the steps forward to stop in front of him. She opened her moth, tone coloured with dark humour. "Did you think you were puppeteering me over?"

At her words, Sasori's eyes widened in surprise. Before he could formulate a response, a dark giggle escaped her. He was suddenly slammed back into a tree, the breath knocked out of him. Before he could lift his head, he was jerked forward roughly, stumbling. What the—he thought he was the one who had wrapped chakra stings around her, not the other way around!

She smiled in a sick way, manipulating him so that he stopped in front of her, their height even. She looked at him up and down, much the same way he had to her. She stepped forward, so that they stood toe to toe.

He hated her, for having the ability that he so relished in. She was close enough for him to detect her scent, a sweet smell of mangoes. He stiffened at her approach and strained against the chakra strings that were binding him. If he were free, he could so easily snap her neck, or poison her with his wide variety of deadly solutions. At this point he was hoping he'd have the chance to kill her painfully slowly.

A wry smile twisted her lips and her jade eyes were dark and shadowed with malevolent intent. "I suppose you're going over the '101 ways to kill the medic'?" She questioned, making his head nod and he never said a word to disagree. "Sadly for you, I've changed since I last killed you."

He was struck by the dark humour in her voice and slightly surprised by her word choice. This time you don't have my grandmother to help you." He pointed out before he wrenched forward, a poisoned kunai stopping a hairsbreadth away from her left cheek. His arm was shaking with restrained power, the chakra strings not quite letting him land the hit.

She smirked at him, perfectly calm. "Now, that was a good attempt, but you need a little more power and surprise to land the hit." His other arm shot forward; stopping before contact with her stomach. She snapped his arms back down at his sides, making him jerk backward and forward. This caused him to stumble to his knees with the disorientation. His head snapped up unwillingly, so quickly that if he were human, he would have cricked his neck.

Her dark eyes looked down at him, a satisfied smile playing on her lips. He knew she liked the visual shift in power; the image of him on his knees pleased her. "I'm getting better," he sneered up at her.

"Oh little Akasuna," She smiled darkly at him, relishing in the fact that he got what he deserved. "You have no idea how much I have improved over the years. Do you really want to test my patience?"

He had the gall to smile up at her before straining once more against the tricky chakra strings binding him. He said nothing; doing so was a message in itself.

"Hm, not matter." She let her face become completely blank and for once, Sasori couldn't reading anything of her body language. He didn't have any warning as he was flung into a tree. His body slid bonelessly against it, the impact momentarily rendering his limbs useless. Then as he lifted his arm, he knew she'd set him free.

He looked up at her, dull maroon eyes unfeeling of surprise or contentment. Slowly he stood, wood compartments creaking as he moved. He held her gaze for a moment before he launched into offensive mode.

Sakura had but seconds to avoid the lethal needle sent in her direction and was caught off-guard as he caught her in side, ordinary kunai splicing the skin on her arm right through. The wound started to pool blood down her arm immediately, but he wasn't giving her time to heal herself. They were embroiled in exchanging blows, executing several high-ranked taijutsu combinations as well as S-Ranked ninjutsu.

A particularly nasty fire jutsu from her had him spiralling through the air, rock coming up to protect him. He then followed up with a vicious water dragon, catching her in the side with a quick trap the second she landed down from avoiding the dragon. She was now bleeding profusely, several other smaller lacerations slowly dripping blood.

A slow satisfied smile grew on his lips, dull eyes staring to burn a little brighter. She looked very worse for wear and he could almost smell her blood clearly from across the clearing. It was slowly permeating the air, a sickly sweet coppery smell. He'd had to reassemble his arm twice, but that was worth not giving her a second to heal, to reduce her to this state.

Normally he wouldn't was time on taunts but this girl was a very special case. "Getting tired, little girl?" He jeered condescendingly.

Sakura looked up at him, a smile creasing her lips. Then she took a step forward. "Not really," she drawled, watching his eyes widen almost imperceptibly at her approach. Her wounds were closing, blemishes disappearing as she came to a stop in front of him. "I think you'll find me not a little girl anymore."

Sasori pulled a poisoned kunai out and attempted to stab it into her as she dodged the hit, kunai coming to rest against his chest, where his vitals were stored. He halted all movement, self-preservation instincts freezing his entire body. He eyed her speculatively, looking for an out. He considered his next words, knowing hers had not just been referring to her skills as a ninja. "Yes, you have grown." He agreed, referring to both her renowned status and to her physical features.

"Good to know that you've noticed, Sasori-san." She murmured, keeping her jade eyes evenly on his maroon ones. "Not what to do with you?" She asked, deadpanning the question and lessening the possible dark connotations behind it.

Sasori couldn't help the martyred sigh that left his lips. He couldn't hold his sarcasm for very long. "What to do with you, indeed." He agreed, eyes narrowed with the inflection.

"You know you'd be a lot more fun if you stopped deadpanning everything." She pointed out, one hand coming up to sit by the kunai point and curiously trace the rim of his seal. "I've always been intrigued by this." She drawled.

The redhead smirked derisively at the pinkette's comment and yet also felt a sense of pride he always had for his art. It was eternal, something he had contemplated turning Sakura into at several points in time. The itch was there now, the temptation to being the agonizing process that would turn her immortal just under the surface.

As if guessing his thoughts, her fingers tapped against him twice in supposed chastisement. "Ah, Akasuna, you are surprisingly easy to read." She remarked, leaning forward and capturing his lips with hers. She pulled away quickly, only letting him see the flash of a vindictive smile as she pressed the kunai into the circle that held the only vitals Sasori had left.

Her expression was blank as his reflected the shock he felt. She knew he'd get him to express something some day. "Now that's art." She commented, drawing the bloody kunai away. He was bleeding profusely and he'd have to get the hell out and healed as soon as possible in order live. She twirled the kunai around her fingers lazily as she watched him. "See you later, Sasori-san. Behave," She teased, and disappeared in a whirl of cherry blossoms.

Sasori stared at the place where she last was for a moment before letting a very small smile flit across his face. "Until then, Sakura-san," he murmured and disappeared into the forest.

Hidden amongst the foliage, a certain cherry blossom smirked. Until then, indeed.