Inspired by: "Dangerous", by Arriku (DeviantArt); years of self-loathing; and a compulsion to finish this after Naruto has (finally) ended.
It was Deidara who had approached her first on that sultry spring weekend which set everything else into motion. If Sakura thought back on it, she'd chalk it up to her hair: pastel pink that stood out like a sore thumb in a crowd and made grown-ups do a double-take, as if she was a rebellious teenager dead set on following all the fashion trends and breaking every school rule.
Occasionally, she'd wonder why it was her he approached, some girl crouched in the shadow of one of the huge archaic status in the market squares. And then she'd stop wondering, because it had happened, and she couldn't unmake the day the same way she couldn't unmake the mistakes that happened following that day.
If she could unmake that day – if she'd seen him and spotted him for the criminal that he was – she would have sensibly stayed clear, because sensible girls like Sakura got their straight As, kept out of trouble, and maintained a perfect record with child services to justify their moving out of home while still a minor. And because she hadn't, she didn't think much about him: no suspicion, no remarks on his dress fashion, and certainly no questionable twist in her stomach that she'd later think of and regret.
The only thing Sakura thought was: finally, ice cream, when a blond with a long hank of hair obscuring one half of their face came up to her at the base of that statue. She raised one hand to shield her eyes from the sun, and looking up, saw someone who could have passed as Ino.
They peered down at her through their sunglasses. Said sunglasses looked expensive – shiny everywhere, red tinted lenses, possibly Armani.
In return, Sakura peered up at the stranger suspiciously. Ino did not wear leather bomber jackets.
The stranger grinned as though satisfied by what they saw, shrugged their sunglasses off, and fished out a scrap of paper from their jacket.
It was a nice-ish smile, if overstretched. Just a bit wild to match their hairstyle.
"Wouldn't know where I could find a place like this," he waved the paper around, "around here, would you, un?"
He talked weird, but at the same time, he was wearing a leather jacket in spring and barely feeling the heat. She chalked it up to him being a foreigner and shrugged it off.
Sakura straightened up from her crouch, brushed down her sundress and held her hand out for the scrap of paper. It was a piece of a roadmap, most likely one with a page viciously torn out, with a blurry Polaroid of a motorcycle stapled to the edge.
The photo was awful, but the motorcycle was fire engine red and Kawasaki, a trademark symbol of a certain infamous garage in her area.
She frowned and handed it back.
"The Yamamoto repair shop?" she asked, with enough disdain on repair shop to make anyone else question how accurate a term it was. "Why would you want to go there?"
He grinned knowingly to himself, and leaned into her personal space. "That's for me to know, un," he said, with a strange gleam in his eyes.
Sakura leaned away from him. "The motorcycle's basically the sign for the garage, and you're not going to find street signs to point it out. You go down there," she started, gesturing to the main road to her left for his convenience, "and keep going until you see the Seven-and-I-Holdings, and take the left at the street right before you actually get there and just go straight until you see the motorcycle parked at the streetlight."
"That's all, yeah?"
"Well, you follow the motorcycles until you get to the garage. They're parked at the street corners. You can't miss it really."
He nodded his thanks and was about to tuck his map away when Sakura added, "And by the way, Yamamoto charges a lot for the guys who wear leather and think they're all that."
The man laughed, sounding less mad than she would have thought he might have, and reached over to scuffle her hair.
In the ten seconds she used to fix her hair again, he had vanished in the busy crowd of ecstatic teenagers and weekend shoppers. Thankfully, Ino came back almost immediately with ice cream in hand to fill in the vacant position, and even pointedly nudged her in the ribs.
"I can't believe you let that one go," she muttered.
Sakura licked at her ice cream absently. "He was asking directions to the Yamamoto garage."
Ino looked over at her. Sakura returned the look.
As one, they sighed.
"That type, huh?" Ino muttered. In Sakura's part of Konoha, it was well established that almost anyone going to that garage were very likely not looking for a motorcycle repair.
"Guess so," Sakura agreed. "He had your hairstyle though."
"You're kidding," Ino said incredulously, flicking her bangs away from the ice cream.
"He was you as a bishonen and taller—hey, hey, no, don't try to stick your ice cream in my face—"
Two days later, just before homeroom started, Kiba crashed his way inside the room and whirled upon Sakura because neither Shino, Hinata nor Naruto were in the general vicinity and were willing to listen to his rambling. (Shikamaru was there, but dozing in the corner, and hardly a good listener at the time being.)
"You have no idea," he started, dropping down on the seat beside hers, "how close I was to get here late—" because nobody was ever late to Ibiki-sensei's homeroom, "because, you know, my bike just kicked it two days ago and I thought if I left it at Yamamoto's with a load of cash, it'll be fixed by Monday, right?"
"Right," Sakura ventured cautiously.
"And I went by that Saturday and he wasn't there."
"You have to explain to me why Yamamoto's garage again," she pointed out.
"Because I wouldn't trust my Ninja with anyone else. They've got some good mechanics there, you know."
Sakura scowled. "Not just mechanics."
"Ah, yeah, well," Kiba shrugged it off with a wince, "I know it bothers someone on the west side like you—"
"But either way," he continued loudly, "he wasn't there and that assistant of his was—what's his name? Ka-something? Kanna? Kane? Whatever his face is, I left it there and said I'd pay him in full once it was done, and that I'd come back this morning to get it."
Kiba folded his arms and scowled at the desk, "And when I get there this morning, there's… well, a roadblock cutting the whole thing off. Damned if I know why, but—" he clapped his hands together in a mimicry of praying, "—so, since you live so nearby, Sakura, can you please, please go and check up on it? Please?"
Her neighbourhood wasn't the safest place in Konoha. She knew that. Kiba knew that.
"Why would I want to go there by myself—"
"I'll come with you!"
And that seemed to settle it.
That part of the neighbourhood had always resulted in unfavourable encounters for Sakura: the first time she decided she needed to know the place and not get lost in the different part of Konoha she was now living in, someone decided to take it upon themselves to try and grope (or mug) her. He ended up being kicked somewhere that would compromise his reproductive ability, and Sakura felt guilty until she figured that the human race didn't suffer from the loss of that man's genes.
The second time was nearly the same thing, except she was close enough to the garage that Yamamoto's employees appeared around the corner from the ruckus they were making, stared down the guy who had tried backing her into a corner, then told her that it was bad for business when random acts of violence happened around the shop.
"Not that a kid like you should be around a place like these," one of them added, watching the man run off screaming.
"A friend's looking to get his Ninja 500R fixed around here," Sakura explained, waving around Kiba's list of potential mechanics in hand. "I guess… you're the guys who fix up Kawashima bikes then?"
They were politer after that, although it was Kiba they insisted on talking to, and she hadn't even anything to pass on except 'yes, they'll take a look at your bike, and no, they wouldn't talk to me because I'm not a client.'
Every other time she had ended up in the area, through some misfortune or bad judgment call with directions, it was as it usually was: empty beer bottles on the walls, discarded cardboard boxes and rats living inside them stacked up in corners, and a kaleidoscope of graffiti sprayed over every concrete and brick surface. It was no different today, except Kiba insisted he'd seen yellow police tape cutting off alleyways and shortcuts, and therefore, was now taking her along the most convoluted path to the Yamamoto garage.
It was a good place to hide a drug-dealing, sketchy garage, but if what Kiba said was true, Yamamoto knew how to handle a motorbike. Sakura wondered exactly how much he adored his Ninja 500R to be willing to take it (and leave it) in a place like this. And then, not to be hypocritical, she reminded herself that she certainly walked through this shortcut on umbrella-less rainy days to get back home.
"If it's something the police have roped off, exactly what do you think us going to check it out will do? We'll ask extra nice and they just give it back to you?"
"You worry too much," Kiba said with a shrug. "And we don't know the garage is roped off, just the way to it. It's probably just one of the restaurants doing—ah—something, and they've closed the area down to get forensics in."
The last time one of the restaurants did 'something', the police found an illegal gambling parlour in the back, rats living in the kitchen, and so many people in a brawl that they spilled out of the restaurant and out over a whole block.
Evidently, that concern showed on her face because Kiba ribbed her and grinned.
"Hey, you're not worried right? Trust me, they're just being uptight about—holy shit."
They had rounded the corner, and whatever Kiba had expected, it hadn't been roadblocks with an entire squad of the Konoha Police force swarming around the garage.
Sakura regretted her decision to tag along.
"It's all evidence, you see," the stern-faced officer said mechanically, "and nothing can leave the grounds until we've checked up on them all."
"The bikes," Kiba repeated slack-jawed, "All the bikes?"
Sakura almost felt like pointing out that yes, in a garage that was a crime scene, of course they would need to examine all the bikes. Kiba was enough of a shock that she felt it would be a bit like kicking a puppy if she did so. Even then, she could pick up on the look the officer was giving them: that of course a tattooed teenager like Kiba was a customer here, and what else could he be? A druggie, a criminal, an associate of Yamamoto's? If she didn't clear them out of there fast, they'd be sitting him down in a windowless room asking him all about his business transactions with the garage and exactly how he could afford that Kawasaki at his age.
"Look," she started, clasping her hands together and smiling sweetly, "officer, my friend dropped off his bike only Saturday, and Yamamoto-san wasn't even around to pick it up. I'm sure—I'm sure whatever happened here has nothing to do with his bike, and we really, really need it to get to school in the morning, especially because Kiba lives so far away..."
The officer did not look convinced. The expression he gave them suggested that he wanted them gone.
"You can even ask his assistant to prove it," she added quickly. "Surely we could prove that it's not involved in anything—"
"Yamamoto's assistant?" the office interrupted, looking at Kiba as though he had seen him for the first time. "You saw his assistant two nights ago?"
"Well—yeah, there was someone who picked up the motorbike—"
"We'll need you to make a statement," the officer continued, pulling up the tape and ushering Kiba through. To Sakura, he added, "Miss, we'll need you to stay outside,"
She raised her hands in deference, "I have no problems with that."
Kiba was pulled aside to somewhere just outside her hearing range, which left Sakura pacing the police perimeter in search of anything to pique her curiosity on what had happened at the garage. A forensic officer looked dismissively her way, as if she was one of those busybodies that hung around crime scenes for lack of anything else better to do. She took offense to that: there were many other better things to do, and coming around to places like this was in the name of friendship. Kiba was getting off easy – if it had been Naruto she was doing this for, he'd be shouting her a bowl of ramen by the time this was over.
There was the usual crime scene paraphernalia and personnel around her, as if straight out of a television show. Photographers and crime scene numbers on every square inch of the ground behind the yellow police tape. She couldn't even begin to wonder what was happening inside the garage if this was how it looked outside.
One of the photographers stepped aside to photograph the next piece of evidence, and left crime scene marker number 14 in Sakura's range of sight. In addition to being numerologically unlucky (good heavens – she sounded like Ino now), it stood beside a spray of blood and glass fragments.
Someone got decked in the face with a bottle, she figured, then looked over to where Kiba was being grilled about exactly when he left the bike at the garage on Saturday evening.
She looked back at the glass.
Something about Saturday rose up in her mind. The stranger asking her where to find the Yamamoto garage. As part of Yamamoto's clientele (the ones that actually needed mechanical repairs, at least) was concerned, he wasn't out of the ordinary: biker jacket, cocky attitude, maniacal laughter.
And the mad gleam in his eyes, hidden behind that pair of painfully expensive-looking sunglasses.
She looked back at the crime marker 14. Red sunglasses. Oxblood red, like a bloodstain. It'd look no different from a distance. She swallowed hard at the thought.
"Hey," she called out to the closest official-looking police person behind the tape, "that thing over there, by number fourteen. What is it exactly?"
"Evidence," the man replied shortly, with the barest of glances in her direction.
Sakura felt that politeness would only go so far in situations like these. She leaned against the police tape as far as she could reach and added, "Someone asked me directions to the garage on the weekend. He was wearing red sunglasses."
It got his attention as fast as mentioning Yamamoto's assistant had gotten that last officer on Kiba's back.
"He came up to me near the statues at the shopping centre," she explained as the man stopped to find pens and notebooks, "and he wanted to know how to get to a place with a red Kawasaki bike."
"I'm guessing… blond, leather bomber jacket, some sorta of street punk look about him?" the cop said after he ducked under the police tape.
Sakura felt ice settling in her stomach. "He didn't look like a criminal when I saw him," she said, almost asking how they had such an accurate description already, "but that was him."
"Congrats," the officer muttered as he started scribbling, "guess he found the place."
Kiba offered to walk her home for her troubles. With a dark cloud of paranoia hanging over her head, Sakura accepted, but whatever happened at the garage left them walking most of the way in brooding silence.
"I don't think Yamamoto's assistant is showing up soon," Kiba said slowly when they were a block away from Sakura's apartment.
Sakura side-stepped an empty takeaway box and dodged the rat that came scurrying out of it.
"What about your bike?" she asked.
"Evidence," he said shortly. "I'm not getting it back any time soon."
"You'll have to use public transport like the rest of us plebians," Sakura said lightly. She glanced around her – there was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was getting dark and she'd rather Kiba gone and home than staying any longer to commiserate the temporary loss of his bike. "Speaking of public transport…"
"I know how to get home. Two buses, right?" Kiba said, nudging her in the side. "Jeesh, talk about trying to get rid of me so soon."
But he grinned half-heartedly, which was better than nothing.
"You got me," she said, hands held up in surrender. "We don't take too kindly to Inuzukas in this part of town,"
Kiba's smile fell. "I wish you'd get out of here, Sakura."
She swallowed and looked aside. "Yeah. Me too."
There weren't any sketchy criminal garages where she used to live. No shadowy alleyways or men who hunkered after her either. And definitely no blond street punks (wearing expensive glasses that no street punk could really afford) looking for street directions to places like these.
But she didn't live in a place like that anymore, and there seemed little point in reminiscing about it, so she swung her head around and gave Kiba her cheeriest grin. "But hey. I'm coping fine. I get that scholarship, and I'm outta here for good."
"You'll need to beat Shikamaru," he added. "No one's going to beat Shikamaru."
"I'm about ten times more focused than Shikamaru," she retorted, "so like hell I'm not going to beat him."
They bickered until they got to the bus stop, then continued until the bus came, and she let Kiba have the last word as he bellowed out of the window of the departing bus. She checked her watch, frowned at the time, and started home. Trudged up seven flights of stairs, and then collapsed face down on the sofa. There was homework to do and dinner to cook, and she wanted to step into the shower and wash the day away.
Instead she rolled over on her back and stared at the cracks in the ceiling, trying not to think about the scholarship she was gunning for, or the home in her part of Konoha she couldn't go back to, and how two days ago she had given directions to someone who was most likely a murderer and pointed him straight to the Yamamoto garage.