A/N: This fic was inspired by a line about Karin in chapter 173 of justplainrii's In The Blood:
Hatsumi was sure, however, that her grandmother, with her ageless eyes and cinnamon mouth, had been one of those women she saw sometimes in old movies. The ones with the dark, dark red lipstick, always surrounded by a halo of smoke and danger.
And I got to thinking about Film Noir and Team Taka and came up with something that you probably shouldn't try to place anywhere more specific than "somewhere in the 1930s/40s." Even then, I kind of couldn't figure out how to include enough relevant mentions of time, so it may just come off as "vaguely real world AU" instead.
I figured that without chakra existing, Karin would have other ways of tracking people down, and we all saw how good of a liar she was when Ibiki tried to question her and she made his assistant cry, didn't we?
Sasuke is the kind of man that keeps a gun in a holster and a knife in his pocket, the kind of man that has a reputation. Suigetsu and Juugo aren't much different, though Suigetsu's better known for his knives than his shooting, and Juugo's best known for his fists and sheer size.
Karin isn't known for anything like that.
Karin isn't known at all.
And that suits her.
Sasuke sits in the corner of the smoky barroom, one thumb hooked beneath the clip to one of his suspenders, down by his belt, and the other fiddling idly with the whiskey on the table in front of him. Juugo's outside and Suigetsu's a table near the bar, and Karin…
Karin is doing what she does best.
The dress covers a lot more skin than it appears to. It's the same dark red as her lipstick, and it covers all the scars, but there's enough skin showing that most of the fellas in the bar are looking. That's good. Sasuke may not like it, but it's good.
He's only there as support. Same goes for Suigetsu and Juugo, to be honest. This whole operation is Karin's deal, and Sasuke's let her call the shots so far because he's not ashamed to say that he's not exactly spy material.
(He'd certainly never be able to laugh on command when someone got a little to grabby like Karin does. He's seen her do horrible things to men that do that when she's not on duty, so to see that temper vanish like this is both impressive and slightly infuriating.)
(He's been on the receiving end of those kinds of advances. He doesn't want anyone on his team putting up with it.)
(But Karin would kill him if he intervened right now.)
(He'll just memorize the guy's face and take care of him later.)
"Oh, my, aren't you forward?" Karin's voice is flirty and deep and as smoky as the air that suffuses the place. Downright sultry, he thinks. "I like that in a man. Why don't you and I find a room and have a little fun?"
She's found her target, then. Or her contact. Sasuke isn't sure which, but the fact that the annoying part is over has him heaving out a sigh.
"Bad night?" The guy next to him asks, with a voice like gravel.
"You could say that," Sasuke answers as nonchalantly as he can.
Sasuke wonders if he'll be picking up Karin from the window of her room with a folder full of information or a dress filled with blood scalpels tonight.
"I'm just sayin'," Suigetsu drawls, leaning against the wrought iron lamppost and taking a drag off his cigarette. His hat throws deep shadows over his face. "How the hell do you know you can trust her? She's a spy. Betrayal's what she does."
Sasuke shrugs. He doesn't have to answer. He has his reasons, and if Suigetsu doesn't think that's enough, then too bad.
"Hey boss?" Juugo calls, and Sasuke looks over to the man in the ill-fitting suit. At least the shirt is pressed, even if the jacket's too small for him to actually wear. "I think she's done."
And Sasuke looks up to the wall of the building and sees a bare foot coming out a window, followed quickly by the form of the redheaded spy he's been working with for the past several months (and known for a few years longer). She makes her way down from fire escape to fire escape, and makes her way down to the actual ground by jumping into Juugo's arms. He holds her long enough for her to pull her shoes on.
The air doesn't smell like blood. Contact, then.
"A couple people caught sight of him up in the northern quarters." Karin tells him, rearranging her hair to look less like she just climbed down the side of a building. "All of it across a few days within a few blocks of each other. Probably has a safe house there of some sort."
Sasuke nods and holds out his arm, which Karin takes with a pasted-on smile. He's learned his role by now; pretending that he's her escort means less attention for the whole lot of them.
He hails a red-and-yellow cab after a few blocks, when Karin starts to complain about her feet hurting and her arms being cold. He offers her his jacket like the gentleman he's pretending to be, and he catches the barest glimpse of her eyes staring suspiciously behind them when she turns so he can properly put it on. She's getting them out of there.
Suigetsu's still grumbling, but that's his own problem.
Sometimes, Sasuke needs information from someone who doesn't want to give it.
Depending on the day and the person, the job of getting that information lands in either Suigetsu or Karin's lap. Sometimes, if he's lucky, they'll work together and get it out extra fast with less blood on the floors.
(It's a pain to mop up, abandoned warehouse or no.)
They've got a small liquor store, and Juugo's currently fiddling around with it. "You want anything, boss?"
"Whiskey on the rocks." Sasuke says, trying not to listen to the sounds in the other room. He's splayed out on a chair, his suit jacket on his lap and his head lolling back, arm across his eyes. He doesn't have the stomach for torture, not even Karin's subtler kinds.
(Suigetsu just hits people until they talk. Karin sometimes plays the nice cop to his bad, or plays psychological games, and Sasuke can almost handle that.)
(He's a bit less content with the live vivisections.)
(At least she usually leaves them alive.)
"Hope they finish soon." Juugo mutters as he walks over. Sasuke sits up so he can take his drink. "Damn shame if we have to stay here another night."
"Could be worse." Sasuke grunts, and takes a sip. It burns pleasantly on the way down. "The walls could be thinner."
They consider that for a moment.
"Like the place downtown?"
"It could be worse." Juugo agrees, just as the door slams open and Karin stalks out in the baggy pants and loose shirt she wears when she's not running some kind of operation.
"Got a lead," She says, and starts digging through her bag. It's the largest of all theirs, but that's because she needs the costumes. "Two-parter. One of you joins me for the first half, one for the second, and someone keeps watch."
Sasuke ignores the sobbing coming from the other room as Suigetsu walks out with a cigarette between his lips.
"There's a gala at the Raikage Mansion tomorrow night. Getting in there is part one. One of you is going to need a suit." She pulls out a short, glittery golden dress and pulls it against her. Sasuke figures that flapper style's a little too old-fashioned for this gig, though, since she tosses it back in. "The second part is scoring the second invitation to part two, which is an illegal fighting ring. You need to show up at the gala to get a seat at the fights, though to actually fight there you just need a sponsor from the gala."
She turns to face them with her arms crossed. "One of you needs to be my plus one to the gala."
Sasuke doesn't want to volunteer. He wants to fight.
But Suigetsu would get into an argument within five minutes, and Juugo would be too nervous to do the kind of delicate work that Karin pulls off regularly.
"I guess I'm getting a suit, then." Sasuke mutters, and ignores Karin's pleased smirk. "Anything else I need to know?"
"I'm going to give you a crash course, so yes."
Thirty-six hours is apparently enough time to teach Sasuke the basics of how to act at a gala. He's been taught how to waltz (leading is easier than following, which is a good thing, considering he'll be expected to lead), how to schmooze (Karin spends hours coaching him on the minutiae of his expressions), and how to sound like he knows what he's talking about when someone tries to gossip (he has no idea who these people are, and he doesn't care).
Sasuke really hopes that the only reason he can see how much Karin wants to punch the guy talking to her is that he knows her so well.
"Cripes," he mutters as his eyes land on someone he was not expecting to see tonight, and he leans in to whisper in Karin's ear during a lull in the conversation. "We may have a problem."
Karin nods and smiles to the man she's been talking to, and maneuvers them to the corner of the room with a quick but gracious, "Excuse us."
"What's wrong?" She asks, as she fiddles with his bowtie, his lapels, anything to give her the illusion of something to do.
"There's someone I know here. From the old days. Yamanaka Ino. The blonde in the purple."
Yamanaka Ino was a social butterfly even when they were children, so he shouldn't be surprised to see her here. But the years have worn away his memory of her, and she's changed. The brash child he remembers is covered by the updo and the glittering jewels and glassy smiles. Ino moves through the crowd as easily and as naturally as Karin does, and Sasuke's pretty sure that's not a good thing.
"Will she break our cover?" Karin asks.
Sasuke thinks for a few moments. Ino will definitely recognize him if she catches more than a glimpse, and if she's surprised enough she might call out his real name. She might even do it on purpose.
"Maybe. Not if we talk to her first, I think." He doesn't want to talk to her, but he can't see any way around it.
"Great, then that's what we'll do." She pulls him down briefly to leave a kiss on his cheek like the doting lover she's pretending to be, and Sasuke fights not to flinch because he knows it's all part of the game.
All part of the game.
Like talking to Ino.
Karin gets to them first, with fake happiness and a high class whine of, "Ino, I didn't see you there, we absolutely must catch up."
Ino's on guard in seconds, which is enough that when she sees Sasuke, she doesn't react in a way that breaks their cover. She blinks placidly and pats her date on the arm (he's a pretty one), and follows Karin to the edges of the party.
"Sasuke," She says once they're out of earshot. "What a pleasant surprise."
There's no emotion to her words; Sasuke can't tell if she's being sarcastic or not. He hangs back and lets Karin take control of the situation, lets her build her bridges and lay her rules or whatever it is that she's doing. He just watches the crowd.
"On one condition." Ino says, and there's something in her voice that draws Sasuke back to the conversation because it means nothing good.
"Name it." Karin says, and there's no promise to fulfill, but if Ino makes an unreasonable demand…
"How about that dance, Sasuke?" Ino asks, holding out a hand towards him.
(He vaguely remembers her pestering him to dance with her at school functions for several years. Her and quite a few others.)
In the grand scheme of things, it's a small request. It's not an equal exchange at all; it's Ino flexing the power she's been given in a way that she knows Sasuke will take issue with.
She's smart, and spiteful.
(He wonders vaguely what it would be like if she teamed up with Karin.)
He wants this night to be over.
Sasuke didn't want the night to end like this.
Juugo and Suigetsu had flipped a coin to see who would fight, because Suigetsu may have wanted it more, but Juugo had felt it his duty.
And now he's bleeding out on the ground.
"EVERYBODY MOVE." Karin's voice is loud, commanding, and Sasuke's inordinately relieved to see that he isn't the only person whose instinctive reaction is to do what she says.
Karin rolls Juugo over, takes one look at the injury in his side and the growing bruise on his head, and lets out a string of curses that turn the air blue. She looks up at Sasuke and jerks her head to call him over. "Grab his legs. He needs medical attention."
Sasuke's pretty sure the op is a bust. He doesn't care. "Let me take the torso. I'm stronger, and the top half is heavier."
People try to get in their way, to offer rides to wherever, but Karin's acerbic tone gets most of them out of the way. Sasuke sees Ino alone at a table in the corner, with a glass of champagne and a bored expression.
Suigetsu's already hailed a cab. The driver doesn't ask any uncomfortable questions about why they aren't going to the hospital, just listens to Karin's directions and takes their money without complaint.
"KABUTO!" Karin practically roars as she kicks open the door to the basement of some run-down apartment building. Sasuke isn't sure how, considering the shoes she's wearing. "GETU UP HERE."
"Karin," The voice is calm and almost oily, and a man with silver hair and an incongruously youthful face comes out of the shadows of the stairwell, wiping his hands off on a towel. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"We need medical services." She jerks a thumb at Juugo, currently being carried by Sasuke and Suigetsu. "As soon as possible."
The man, presumably Kabuto, tilts his head as he looks at Juugo, and then turns to head back down the stairs. "Follow me."
Sasuke follows him.
What he sees down in that basement is disturbing.
So he leaves.
He stays in a room off to the side until Karin and Kabuto are done with… whatever they're doing. Suigetsu's gone outside to smoke by the time they come back, and Sasuke watches as the two of them take seats on the couch, Karin leaning heavily on Kabuto. She's back in the pants and shirt combo, but Kabuto still seems to be in whatever he wore while operating.
"He'll be fine," Kabuto says, reaching up with one hand to absentmindedly scratch at Karin's head, as if she were a cat. She doesn't protest. "I'd like to keep him here for a few days for observation, though."
"Hn." Sasuke crosses his arms and slouches a little further down in his chair, not showing how relieved he is.
"Stay still." Karin mutters, shoving against Kabuto's ribs. He smirks and ruffles her hair in a way that leaves it standing up in the most ridiculous way. She doesn't take that well. "You jackass."
"So," Sasuke says after the impromptu shoving match shows no sign of abating. "Do I get an explanation of who you are?"
Kabuto tilts his head at an angle that leaves the cold lighting bouncing off his glasses. "She hasn't mentioned me?"
Karin rolls her eyes. "Kabuto and I trained under the same man. We've known each other for a very long time."
"Close as siblings." Kabuto says almost cheerfully.
"Don't get ahead of yourself," Karin mutters, but she stays in her position curled up against his side.
Sasuke's slightly amused by their interactions. Not that he shows it, of course. Karin and Kabuto keep talking about something he doesn't quite care about, exchanging information on gang movements and someone that Karin refers to as 'uncle' in a nearly sarcastic manner.
"Who?" He ends up asking after an argument nearly sprouts from that, which is probably Kabuto's fault, judging by Karin's aggression and Kabuto's smug grin.
"Our teacher." Kabuto explains. A door slams from somewhere up above, and the steps on the stairs sound like Suigetsu's.
When he comes into view, he effectively stalls any conversation that could have grown out of that, seeing as he is covered in cuts and carrying himself quite gingerly.
"What did you do?" Karin asks, seeming more disbelieving than concerned.
"Got in a fight." Suigetsu lies down on the floor, spread-eagle, and makes no move to stand up.
"Are you alright?" Sasuke asks, since it doesn't seem like anyone else is going to.
"What does it look like?" Suigetsu lifts his head just enough to look at Sasuke. "I feel like I'm about to buy the goddamn farm."
"Don't exaggerate." Karin says, rolling her eyes. She uncurls herself from Kabuto's side and walks over to Suigetsu, who only makes a token effort to get her to leave him alone as she checks him over. "You're fine. Just get something on those cuts so you don't get infected and you'll be right as rain soon."
"You're so helpful." Suigetsu retorts, and the night proceeds much the same as any other.
(Sleeping next to a room full of dissected corpses in a back-alley medical clinic isn't really Sasuke's idea of a fun night, but it's safer than most of the alternatives.)
Karin leaves sometime after lunch the next day, and when Sasuke asks around, Kabuto just smiles and says, "Stress relief."
Sasuke doesn't know what that's supposed to mean, and Suigetsu doesn't care, so he just stares Kabuto down for about five minutes and then decides he's wasting time and asks as bluntly as he can.
"There's a bar three blocks over, called Hidden Sound. Orochimaru owns it."
Sasuke blinks at him. The name means nothing.
Ah. "And she'll be doing what?"
Sasuke grabs his coat and hat, hunches his shoulders as though it'll protect him against the wind, and makes his way towards the bar in question. He doesn't get any trouble from the bouncer with the ridiculous orange hair, and makes his way in.
He finds out that, for Karin, 'stress relief' means playing the role of the Chanteuse, in a red dress and with a slit that reaches up almost to her hip. She's up on a stage with some unknown man with tanned skin and spiky black hair playing the piano, with such skill and speed that, for a second, Sasuke's eyes trick him into thinking the man has more than one pair of arms.
She's good. It's bouncy, fast swing music, and there's a sort of dance floor in the middle of the room, with a few couples dancing the Charleston.
Sasuke orders a drink from one of the silver-haired twins behind the counter, and focuses on the stage again, listening closer.
She's really good.
After half an hour or so, Karin leaves the stage, and a woman with black hair that nearly reaches the floor takes over. It's a different sound, but this woman is just as skilled, if not more so. Karin's obviously noticed him, seeing as she immediately makes her way over to the stool beside him. "Ukon? Gin and tonic."
Sasuke doesn't say anything while they wait for Karin's drink, and she doesn't either. Once it arrives, and she's taken a few sips, she finally talks to him. "So, what do you think?"
"You're good." There's no point in lying. "Do you do this often?"
"Once every couple of weeks. I used to do it more before I decided to start freelancing. Now I just go to the back room and talk to Kimimaro if I want to go again. Kin," she nods at the girl on the stage, "was pretty happy to get my old spot, but she's got enough respect left for me that she lets me give it a go when I feel like it. Don't get that kind of respect from Tayuya, though, which makes me pretty lucky that she's one of the musicians and not a singer."
It's more information than Sasuke was expecting, but he doesn't quite mind. "Are these all friends of yours, then?"
"Friends?" Karin snorts. "Acquaintances, maybe. We've worked together, and there's no lingering desire to knock each other off, which is honestly more than I can usually hope for in this business."
Sasuke figures that's fair. "So your closest friend is Kabuto, then?"
Karin shoots him a look, seeming almost amused at his ham-handed attempts at figuring out the organization she still had ties to. "You could say that."
They sit in silence for a bit longer, enjoying the music and the atmosphere, even if Sasuke's eyes and throat are protesting at the amount of cigarette smoke in the room.
(There's a reason he always makes Suigetsu go outside.)
"Let's dance." Karin suddenly says. "It's been a while since I've been able to get out on a dance floor."
"No dice," Sasuke says as quickly as he can. He doesn't dance.
But it's not exactly good for his reputation.
Karin seems to know this, because she gives him a doubtful look, raised eyebrow and puckered lips and all.
"Karin, I don't dance."
"Not even with little ol' me?"
The twin behind the bar coughs, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like "Share crop."
"Ukon, if you don't stop flapping your lips, I'm going to ram one of those bottles so far up your rear that even Kabuto won't be able to get it out." Karin says without looking away from Sasuke. Ukon doesn't even blink. Apparently, this kind of interaction is standard fair for them.
"…one dance." Sasuke finally says, and Karin pulls him onto the floor with a grin.
"How's your jitterbug?"
Picking a fight with the One-Eyed Thief may not have been the best idea.
Okay, so getting information from a lazy gumshoe like Hatake had worked, but going after Danzo Shimura had clearly been a terrible idea.
Sasuke knows this because Suigetsu and Juugo are preoccupied (and losing) and Danzo's got Karin held in front of him. She's a hostage, and Sasuke's pretty sure it's all his fault.
(She's not even supposed to get involved in fights. She tracks down the target, the boys do the fighting, that's how it works.)
Sasuke's got three bullets left in his gun. He's a good enough shot to hit Danzo in the head from this short of a range. Probably.
Except Danzo manages to dodge, barely, because lining up a shot that focused takes too much time and he's still got Karin.
Sasuke has two bullets left. The shot between the eyes idea has already been nixed, so…
"Karin, I'm sorry." He says, and shoots through her to get to Danzo. It's low enough that she won't die immediately, just collapse to the ground with a groan of pain while Danzo staggers back, which is enough for Sasuke to close the distance and get that headshot he was going for.
Sasuke doesn't have any bullets left, but he has a shirt that he immediately takes off and stuffs against Karin's newest wound. It's going to leave a scar, and she won't be happy with him, but there wasn't much of a chance of her staying alive as Danzo's hostage. At least this way, she has a chance.
Sasuke thinks about where to take her for medical attention. Kabuto's too far away for her to make it. He still hasn't actually met Orochimaru. The hospital is out of the question.
…But he does know one person in the area.
He curses, but gathers Karin into his arms and heads for Sakura's place. Suigetsu and Juugo can catch up later.
"I don't want to know."
Sakura isn't happy to see Sasuke, but she doesn't ask questions beyond what's needed for treatment. In her care, Karin is probably going to make it. Sasuke was told to make some tea and sit in Sakura's parlor while she took care of Karin, and only come in if asked. Sasuke had made the calls to Kabuto's place, guessing correctly that Suigetsu and Juugo would return there after seeing the blood all over the place. He assures them that he's somewhere relatively safe, tells them to stay there until he can leave, and goes back to waiting.
"She's going to pull through," Sakura says as she walks into the room, her front splattered with blood. "But I'm putting her on forced bed rest for two weeks at minimum, and strongly suggesting that she no longer be involved in whatever the hell you were doing to get her shot."
"She wasn't supposed to get involved in the fighting." Sasuke mutters. "She finds the people, we take care of the fighting."
Something in Sakura's face softens. She sits back in the soft-yet-uncomfortable chair with her tea cradled in her hands. "So it's like that, huh?"
"Never mind." Sakura shakes her head. "Is there anyone other than me that you trust to take care of this?"
"She has a brother," or whatever the hell he's supposed to describe Kabuto as, "I think he's technically only supposed to work with the dead, but he's the one that usually patches us up."
Sakura makes a face, but she doesn't argue the subject. They drink their tea in silence for a while, and then Sasuke brings up a question that he's been trying hard not to think about. "How have you and Naruto been?"
"Individually or in regards to each other?"
"I've got a steady job and it's enough to pay the bills. I still see Ino every couple of days." The look she gives him is a clear sign that she's heard about the gala. "Naruto's working for Tsunade in City Hall, and he's dating Gaara."
"He's…?" Sasuke trails off, not wanting to use a word that he's pretty sure Sakura might hit him for. She's staring at him speculatively, and whatever he says next will be used to judge him. Hard.
Looking back, even with Naruto's crush on Sakura, this really shouldn't be a surprise. Naruto's always been particularly affectionate with everyone, and Gaara had blushed more than once when Naruto had been his usual friendly self.
"Good for him." Sasuke eventually says. Sakura rolls her eyes, but she seems to be appeased for now.
"Well, if you want to know more," Sakura says, and launches into a story that only gets more ridiculous as it goes along.
This time, Sasuke isn't surprised in the slightest.
The man has black hair, is wearing purple eyeshadow, and has the palest skin Sasuke's ever seen.
He's also doting over Karin and asking her if she's found a husband yet, or at least taken over a gang or three since he saw last saw her.
"Uncle, I'm fine." Karin says, "I'm not ready to settle down yet."
"I'm getting old, my dear. I'd rather know you've gotten yourself something steady sorted out before I'm laid to rest." Orochimaru shakes his head. "Kabuto has his clinic, and some of the children are running the bar, and here you are, still running around risking your life. Why, Kabuto told me you almost died last month."
"I'm hard to kill, and you're the one that taught me all that anyway." Karin sniffs, crossing her arms and turning away. Sasuke feels like he's slipped into a world of fever dreams, because this is even stranger than watching Karin and Kabuto act like siblings. "Uncle, I'm good at what I do. I'll take over some organized crime rings or go white collar when I'm good and ready, and not a moment before."
"I am not having this conversation."
"Really, the least you could do before I die is—"
"I'm not doing this!"
Kabuto moves to stand by Sasuke. "It's really rather amusing when they get like this, no?"
"You need to seduce the Mizukage."
Sasuke doesn't think he heard that right. "What?"
Karin raises an eyebrow. "You don't need to sleep with her. Just get the info we need and get out."
Sasuke blanches. "Why can't someone else do it?"
And who put you in charge?
"I can't do it because she isn't attracted to women, she knows Suigetsu's face because he used to work for the Water Demon gang, and Juugo's too bulky for her taste."
There's an unspoken 'and he's too awkward to make small talk with a woman like Mei Terumi, let alone seduce her.'
Sasuke bites back a noise of frustration. "What about your Sound friends?"
"The info's too sensitive for anyone outside the team. It would compromise the search." Karin says. After a few seconds, she tacks on, "Plus, Orochimaru is annoyed with me for branching off on my own. I don't want to go back there until Kabuto can tell me he's cooled down some."
That's… that makes a bit more sense.
"I don't know how to seduce people," Sasuke still protests, because it's true. He lives his life the way he wants to, and the way he wants to live his life is as a complete asshole.
"Then I'll teach you. Besides, Terumi's easy." Karin rolls her eyes. "I mean, not sexually, but as a target. She's a sucker for a young, pretty face, and you have that. Your standoffishness will probably help, if anything."
Sasuke's twenty-two years old. He doesn't think of himself as that one, but for a woman near thirty like Terumi… well, he probably seems that way.
(Near thirty is the best estimate he can make, because no one knows how old she is, save for maybe Ao.)
Sasuke feels his heart sinking. He knows what kind of information he's trying to get. He needs it if he wants to find his brother.
"What do I need to do?"
Sasuke sits down in the high-class lounge a few seats away from Mei, his hair perfectly coiffed and his suit looking ridiculously expensive. He orders a whiskey on the rocks and waits.
It doesn't take long for Mei to take notice of him. He glances over once or twice, and looks away again, feigning disinterest. Finally, he takes a longer look, letting his slide over the whole of her figure, catching her eye and raising a brow at her almost predatory smile.
He has no idea what he's doing, but he knows he's doing it really, really well.
A/N: This is a one-shot.