Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

"Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, from desires that make us their puppets, from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh."

- Marcus Aurelius

Dance for Me, Marionette

Black eyes stare emotionlessly ahead. Water drips - plink, plink, plink - onto the cold stone floor, masking the nearly silent brushes of his footsteps. He's a wraith. Icy, like the winter wind.

Impassive. Unrevealing. That is simply who Uchiha Sasuke is.

Who he will always be.

He blinks slowly upon coming into contact with the soft glow of candles. They line the entrance of the Akatsuki hideout, giving off dim golden light that casts dark shadows all around him. The dripping of the water dies down as he slips inside and heads down the narrow hall.

It's his first time back in weeks. Several assassination missions have kept him and his team occupied for quite some time, and although the coolness of the hideout parallels his own, he finds some security in returning.

"Look who's back, yeah." Deidara's voice is easily recognizable.

Sasuke's gaze flickers to the blonde for a moment before taking in the rest of the room. Kakazu and Hidan are sitting in the corner, locked in a heated arm wrestling match. Kisame is sleeping on the ground next to his infamous sword, Samehada, while Zetsu sips from a cup of tea not far off. As usual, Pein and Konan are nowhere to be seen.

"Where's Sasori?" Sasuke asks, beginning to shrug off his Akatsuki cloak.

"Playing with his newest toy, yeah," Deidara replies as he studies his fingers. "She apparently took out his Third Kazekage puppet a couple of days ago."

Sasuke's brows furrow at this. "The Third was his favorite, was it not?"

"Sure was, un." Deidara leans forward in his seat and fixes his one visible blue eye on the Uchiha. "Some Konoha chick punched the living daylights out of it. Sasori got her in the end, yeah. Said it was the most difficult fight he'd ever had."

Sasuke frowns slightly. "Sasori said that?" he questions flatly.

"Go ask him yourself, un. I'm not lying."

"Who was it?"

"Some pink-haired chick, I think." Deidara shrugs, unaware of the Uchiha's immediate reaction. "I got a glimpse of her before going to fight with her partner, the Jinchuuriki boy. She was quite the looker, yeah. Shame she had to die."

"Haruno Sakura," Zetsu's white side chimes in. "That was her name, you idiot," his black side finishes.

"Haruno Sakura, yeah." Deidara glares at Zetsu's unmoving form before turning back to the Uchiha. "The Jinchuuriki boy heard her scream when we were fighting," the blonde continues, and sighs. "He rushed over to save her, un, but Sasori caught him by surprise and was just about to impale him when the Haruno girl jumped in front and took the blow instead. Went straight through her heart, yeah. She had no chance."

By the time Deidara has finished, Sasuke can hear nothing but the pounding of blood through his head. He stands up in a flash, sparking obsidian eyes focusing unsteadily on the blonde Akatsuki member.

"Where is he?" Sasuke can't even recognize his own voice.

Deidara seems unsettled as well, frowning. "Who, un?"

"Sasori," the Uchiha snaps. "Where is he?"

"In his room, yeah."

Deidara doesn't even have the time to say anything else before Sasuke has disappeared.

Sasuke finds himself seconds later standing at the door of Sasori's room. It's closed, allowing him only the view of flickering shadows underneath the door's sill.

His heart pounds wildly in his chest, pulsing through his veins. He can't remember a time when he was this distraught.

With shaking fingers, Sasuke reaches up to knock on the door, surprised he has the courtesy to do so. However, when no one answers after ten seconds, he takes it upon himself to turn the silver knob and open it.

When he steps inside, he has to admit that the feeling of hundreds of eyes fixed upon him is deeply disconcerting. Puppets line the walls by the dozens in various shapes and sizes. He recognizes a few of them from the handful of Sasori's battles he witnessed.

But the puppets only serve to capture his interest for a couple moments before his eyes rest upon the most enchanting of them all.

She's across the room from him, hanging on customized metal ledges built into the wall. Sasuke instantly feels the Sharingan whirl to life, spinning in alarm, expecting some sort of enemy. His instincts tell him to run, to flee, to get as far away from her as he can. Unnatural, his mind screams at him, inhuman.

And it's true. Because she is.

He unconsciously takes a step forward, ignoring the chaos in his head, then another and another, until he finally reaches her still, motionless form.

Sasuke hates the way the Sharingan is able to pick out all the abnormalities she now holds. Her pale jade eyes, normally so bright and vigorous, are dull, lifeless, staring down at him unseeingly. They are nothing but dolls' eyes, glassy and imitated. Her skin is pale, yet still not as pale as his own. Where joints used to be there are now pins and screws holding her body together. Her hair seems to be the only part of her that has remained the same.

He recoils when his crimson gaze comes to rest upon her mouth. It's designed now to open and release weapons, like so many of Sasori's other toys. She will never smile again.

Sasuke inhales, exhales. Every movement he makes is unsteady, so uncharacteristic of him.

He raises his hands and touches his fingers to her cheek, pulling back immediately when he finds that she is as cold as the stone walls surrounding him, and he thinks to himself that the prospect of killing Naruto has never felt so good.

Haruno Sakura, the teammate who once fawned over him incessantly, who always laughed and smiled and lived, has been transformed into a puppet.

"Beautiful, isn't she?"

Sasuke narrows his eyes at the figure that emerges from the shadows to his right. Sasori tilts his head to the side as he steps into the glow of the candles, his brown gaze locking on Sakura's puppet form.

"Utterly fascinating," the older shinobi murmurs, and caresses her cheek with his palm. The strings of chakra flare to life upon his fingertips, and Sasuke resists the urge to flinch when the Sakura-puppet's arms lift out of their confines, moving so that she is standing at the red-head's side.

"I am surprised, however, that you would also take a liking to her," Sasori continues, tone smooth and detached. "Interested in the art of eternal life, now are we, Uchiha?"

"What you do is repulsing," Sasuke replies scathingly. "How one could find beauty in such a thing is beyond me."

"But you agree, do you not?" Sasori twitches his fingers, and the Sakura-puppet moves closer to the Uchiha, her arms open, as if waiting for a hug. "My prize possession. Sakura. She's beautiful. And the fact that she put up the most difficult fight only adds to the glory of it all."

Sasuke shakes his head, but cannot take his eyes away from her. "You're wrong," he chokes. "She's nothing but a puppet."

The Sakura imitation moves back to the confines of the wall. Sasori chuckles lowly, emotionless as always. "And she will be the greatest weapon ever to face the world. Not even the Third Kazekage could withstand her in life, and in death" - Sasori's depthless brown eyes flash with the closest thing to excitement Sasuke has seen from him - "in death, she will be invincible."

Sasuke finds his feet carrying him backward, away from the man before him, away from the staring eyes, away from the cold aura of death, away from the sad imitation of a girl he once knew and cherished.

"Just you wait, Uchiha," Sasori's voice reaches him over the pounding in his head.

Just as Sasuke picks up a sprint - the Sharingan still whirling uncontrollably - to get as far away as he can, Sasori calls, "She will dance like none other before, my marionette."

The picture of her dull, lifeless eyes fixed upon him would haunt his nightmares for years to come.

A/N: I've had this idea for over a year now, but never got around to writing it. It's a creepy, weird little piece, but I like it. The prospect of Sakura having died in her battle with Sasori and Sasuke finding her as a puppet later on never failed to intrigue me, so here was my version of it. A twist from the original story line, but Chiyo was the one who practically saved Sakura, so I had to change it.

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Silver Echo