AN: Welcome to Syndicate… a fanfiction that has caused me more grief than usual, because I lost a good quarter of it before I could back it up. Of course, it's given me time to rethink some characters and polish things up, so I hope you enjoy!
By Tanya Lilac
Chapter One – It Always Has to End Like This
17:30 October 29. Roppongi, Tokyo.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
It was the sound straight out of her nightmares. A dripping tap, drops of water falling into a stainless steel sink. A maddeningly slow descent into mind-numbing insanity – it was, by all means, a brilliant torture device. Tenten's nose wrinkled as she made her way through the warehouse, haunted and chilled by the smell of metal and blood. Her heels clicked against the concrete floors, and her companion, a slender blonde, whispered in her ear and giggled the entire way as her eyes cast around for escape routes. Tenten smiled and said something back – she was on autopilot – and, with a heavy heart, she realised that the person they were looking for was probably in the room they were heading towards. The blonde could sense it too, and her grip on Tenten's arm tensed.
"Ooh, what's in there?" She asked, batting her eyelashes at one of the guards as they walked past yet another cold room. Abattoirs never failed to put her on edge, despite what she did for a living. She didn't string up the people she killed by their legs and slice them in half.
"Pigs," he grunted. He had a thick neck and a tattoo. His head was shaved and he leered at her with beady eyes. "But don't you go fillin' your heads with those kinds of nasty stuff, okay?"
"Is your job … dangerous?" Ino cooed, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "Because… that's like, hot."
"No way!" Tenten replied, rolling her eyes. "You did not, just-"
"I so did." Ino said, seriously. "It so is."
"Ladies, we're here," their escort announced. He opened the door with his right hand, and Tenten noticed his fingers were thick and stumpy… but adorned with gold rings. He was a hitter, then. Preferred to punch men and backhand women and children, from the looks of it.
The sight that greeted them beyond the locked door, guarded by three other men, was what they had feared the most. Asuma, Ino's mentor and former cell leader, was tied to a chair, beaten, bruised and bloody. His face was swollen and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. Most likely, his captors had pulled out his teeth. Ino and Tenten gave each other a significant look. His assailant was wrapping up his knuckles in bandages on the other side of the room, and he turned at their approach with a broad grin as if he sold ice cream for a living. Tenten sucked in a deep breath as the heavy door shut behind them. The room was soundproof, and with good reason.
"What took you two so long?" He chuckled. "I was beginning to think you'd never come."
"Well, better late than never, Ryosuke-sama," Ino replied, latching herself onto his arm and running a hand down his chest. Tenten followed suit, her arm going around his shoulders to stroke the back of his neck. "What do you want to do tonight, my love?"
They'd been hanging around Ryosuke for the past three months, now – after the first week, they'd learned like (like the women had before them) to not acknowledge the presence of victims. They 'deserved' their treatment.
"I don't know, love."Ryosuke replied smoothly. "Do you want to try something fun?"
Tenten ran her lips across his neck as she guided his hands to her breasts, ignoring the blood on his bruised knuckles. "Like what, love? My kind of fun?"
"Yeah, love. Your kind of fun." They both heard the change in his voice and refrained from looking at one another. Something wasn't quite right, here. "Have you ever held a gun before?"
Ino laughed. "Don't be silly, love. Why would I need a gun?" Her eyes slid, for a moment, over to Asuma. He was breathing shallowly, but he had already lost a lot of blood.
Ryosuke grinned, noting the way that the blonde had looked to the captive. It was a rookie mistake, and had confirmed all of his suspicions. "A little bird told me about your real job and I have to say… I don't like girls who lie to me."
"What do you mean, my love?" Tenten asked, pouting. "We-"
"I don't like girls who lie," he repeated forcefully, pulling out his gun. Tenten stared at him down the barrel, and he watched as she transformed completely. Her eyes turned as cold as steel and her expression became a smooth, expressionless mask that she had crafted over the past six years. Ryosuke grinned. "There she is." Ino's hand slipped beneath the hem of her dress, but Ryosuke pulled his second gun out, cocking his head. "Just try, love. I dare you."
Ino took three calming breaths.
"We're going to do this like Spain," a voice whispered in her ear. Shadow, as per usual, was leading their joint team. "In three... two... one."
The blonde grabbed his wrist and Tenten ducked as Ryosuke fired the gun. She swept her leg out and he fell to his knees, Ino holding him up by his hand, even as she cried out. The blonde wrested the gun from his grasp and Tenten removed the gun from her holster and pointed it at his forehead.
"Drop it. Keep your hands in sight." She commanded. "Do not think for an instant I will hesitate to blow your fucking brains out if you even blink suspiciously."
The weapon clattered to the floor and she resisted the temptation to look. Ino was watching her back, after all.
"Hand behind your back, and on your feet." Smirking, Ryosuke complied. The blonde swiftly cuffed his wrists together and pulled him to his feet.
"You'll never leave this building alive."
Tenten punched him, and Ino's steely grip prevented him from falling. "I like my odds."
"I didn't mean you," he smirked, spitting blood onto the floor. "I was talking about the old man there. You lost your chance."
Ino let go of him, and before he had the chance to do anything, Tenten knocked him unconscious with a punch to his solar plexus. The blonde rushed over to her former teacher, swearing as she saw the newly acquired bullet wound. Sneaky bastard. Ino cut Asuma free from the chair and laced his arm around her back as she tried to help him stand.
"Come on, Asuma-sensei! I need a bit of help from you here!"
He chuckled weakly, making no effort to stand. "There's no point, Ino."
"It's Platinum," Ino snapped, ignoring the hot prickling at the corners of her eyes. "And don't talk like that. Some spy you turned out to be!"
"There's not much we can do, Platinum," Shadow said. "A team is on the way. Your priority now is ensuring your own life."
"When I get my hands on you, Shadow, I will fucking-"
"Platinum. This is a direct order." His voice was taut, and she knew it was a difficult decision. She handed Asuma her gun. There wasn't much else she could say, and he simply pulled her close, weakly. "You've done well, Ino."
"Thanks... for everything, Asuma-sensei."
"We need to leave," Tenten said, picking up Ryosuke's guns and looking at the door. Asuma lifted his arm and Ino stood, unshed tears gathering in her eyes.
"Good luck," Asuma said quietly. They both turned back and nodded, before opening the door. That image of him, sitting in a steel chair in a darkened room... would never leave her.
They stumbled out, Ino in hysterics, Tenten shutting the door behind them, sniffing. The guards were almost unsympathetic.
"He said... he said he didn't want us anymore," Ino said, falling into the arms of the first. Tenten clung to the second guard.
"What are we going to do now?"
"Hey, now, miss, er-" Awkward consolations were cut short as they were both knocked out. Gunshots from the other side of the corridor signalled the end of their ruse. Tenten swore and Ino grabbed her arm as they sprinted down the corridor, footsteps echoing behind them.
"It always has to end like this, right?" Tenten grinned, trying to take the other girl's mind away from her teacher. "Come on, you can tell your friend that you can run faster in heels."
"She'll say something about the time when she jumped out of a helicopter in heeled boots." Ino sighed, and Tenten glanced over and found that her mind was already going through the motions. Compartmentalisation now, break down later. If you survive. Ino caught her look, and gave a small smile, wiping away her tears.
They broke out of the warehouse, and began to run down the alleyway, lost in the sounds of the city awakening at night.
"Come on, everyone's done that," Tenten grinned. Her mind was already tallying how many bullets she had left. She'd brought a magazine, so she had fifteen shots. Would she have the time to use them, though? "Left ahead?" She turned to look at Ino, who was frowning.
"Yeah," she replied distractedly.
"Prodigy is here," a second voice crackled in Tenten's ear – Maple – sounding sombre. It was a phrase she secretly loved and hated to hear. "You're five hundred metres from being in range."
Shots were fired from behind them and Ino yanked Tenten around the corner, the brunette pivoting on one foot and firing three times. In the split second before she turned around again, she saw one fall, and smirked. They had called her the best for a reason. "We've got five more on our tail," she said breathlessly to her companion. "Thanks for that, by the way."
Ino grinned. "No worries. Your boyfriend's here, isn't he?"
Tenten rolled her eyes. "Focus, Ino."
The blonde opened her mouth, but Tenten interrupted her breathlessly. "He's not my boyfriend," she added quickly.
"That's good. You're still meeting your date tonight, right?" The slight hitch of her breath signalled she was close to breaking point. The mission had not failed yet. It had been an arrest, not an extraction – Asuma had never been the object here.
"Yeah. If I make it on time," Tenten smiled.
"You are in range, Dragon." A third voice said, quietly. It sent chills down her spine.
"Okay..." Ino sighed. "What now?"
Tenten's mouth set in a grim line. They turned sharp to the right, and found themselves in a dead end. Ino swore quietly. "I hate these kinds of traps," she muttered.
"It's fine. There's only five. We're armed and we've got our guardian angel watching. Focus. Don't hesitate. They'll be ready for anything."
A loud catcall echoed down the alleyway and bounced eerily off the walls. It was followed by loud whistles and laughter.
Ino raised Ryosuke's gun and shot down the first person who came into range, silencing the pack as he fell to the ground.
"Or not," Tenten sighed. "I hate amateurs. They're on guard now."
The man on the left reacted quickly, cocking his gun. He took aim briefly, and three shots were fired rapidly. Ino and Tenten threw themselves out of the way, finding shelter behind a dumpster, and Tenten grunted as her blood dripped onto the pavement. A second body fell to the ground, a bullet in his chest and between his eyes.
"Almost, but not quite," she muttered, blood trickling down the side of her face. The call had been close enough, for one day. "I'm going to have one hell of a time covering this up."
"You're excited about this date?" Ino asked. The men weren't wasting bullets – they had apparently learned their lesson. Tenten discarded the magazine – one bullet wasn't much use if she'd need to waste time reloading.
Ino sighed and cocked her gun. "We're going to have to let them close in on us, aren't we?"
The brunette grinned. "You tell me."
The blonde peeked around the edge – there was about twenty centimetres of space between the wall and the bin and saw they were approaching. "Kneecap shot?"
"I was thinking more of a 'painful incapacitation'. That works, but aiming for the neck is a bit more satisfying."
"Would you two stop bickering and do something?" Shadow shouted. They could hear him trying to pull out his hair.
"They're almost professionals."
"They happen to be really close," he retorted tersely.
Tenten picked up an empty beer bottle and grinned at Ino. She handed it to the blonde and picked up an empty tin. Ino held up three fingers, silently counting down. Three, two, one – they tossed it over their heads and, as their would-be assailants were distracted by broken glass and clattering metal, Tenten and Ino slid out from behind their makeshift fortress and fired three shots each. The two on the left fell quickly, and a well aimed bullet from Ino knocked the man on the right to the ground, clutching his ruined leg.
"Fucking bitch!" He roared furiously. Ino fired a warning shot as they approached them wearily.
"Watch the language, boy. I would have thought that the first was more than enough of a warning," she said coldly. Gone was the bubbly young woman – she was all business now. Sadly, Tenten knew exactly what was going through the blonde's mind – the same thing was running through hers.
"A name," Tenten commanded.
"In your dreams, slut."
Tenten straddled his waist and Ino cocked her gun. The brunette drew a knife from beneath the hem of her sequined dress and leaned down, cutting open his shirt to reveal his chest and stomach. He stopped trying to struggle.
"I can either run this knife through you, and show you whatever organ you'd like, or you can give me a name. Any name."
"Fuck off, like I'll say anything."
"Let me tell you a name I know," Ino said, over Tenten's shoulder. "Tachibana Haruna."
He paled. "Leave her out of this."
"Aww, what a sweet boy," Tenten crooned, running the blade over his skin. "You love your mother a lot, don't you, Tachibana-kun?"
"Shall we kill her first?"
"You can't do that! You're with an agency!"
"Who says we are?" Tenten asked, grinning coldly. "We killed four of your comrades. If we were with an agency, the emphasis would have been on pacification, not death. I don't know if I can handle five men with bullets in their kneecaps."
"One is more than enough right now," Ino muttered. "I'm losing patience, Mama's Boy. A name or your spleen's going to be the latest addition to the dumpster over there. Are you going to risk us killing your beloved okaa-sama?"
Tachibana said nothing, he just screwed his eyes shut and breathed heavily through his nose.
"Oh! My hand slipped," Tenten said, feigning surprise. Her knife cut easily through his skin, leaving a long bloody gash down his pale chest. His eyes flew open.
"Bitch!" Tachibana roared, but was slammed back against the ground as Ino shot him in the shoulder.
"I recall asking you about your language."
He was sobbing now, and Tenten was sure he was entering shock. She frowned and turned back to face Ino. "Was that really necessary? You could have kicked his knee or something."
The blonde shrugged apathetically. Tenten sighed and reached up and pulled the clip out of her hair, her tresses sticking to her clammy skin. "This is morphine," she said to him, slowly and clearly. "You are in a world of pain right now, but as my friend has demonstrated, we can most definitely broaden your horizons. Give us a name and not only will you get this morphine here, we'll get you to a hospital, no questions asked."
He blinked up at her, sniffing, and, stuttered though clenched teeth, "I... I don't know... All we knew w-was that orders... were from S-Sendai."
"Good boy," Ino said curtly.
"Good work, Platinum, Dragon." Shadow replied, sighing. "We're sending in your pick up team – ETA ten minutes."
Tenten injected Tachibana with the sedative and he sighed, his head falling back onto the concrete, his eyes unfocussed.
"We need to get him to a medical facility."
It was not Shadow who objected this time. "Dragon, you do not have the authority –"
"That's what I promised him, Prodigy," Tenten snapped. "If you like, I can take it up with you in person."
He wisely decided to remain silent on the topic of, 'threatening a superior'.
She pulled out a pair of hand cuffs and chained his hands together, ignoring his whimper of pain as she rolled him onto his side.
"Shut up, you'll live," Ino said. She checked the pulse of his nearest accomplice and moved on when she found nothing. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a tiny movement from the man closest to Tenten and tried to move, a gun in hand. She shouted, and a final shot resounded in the alleyway, echoing off the walls.
Tenten blinked, surprised, and looked down at her hands, splattered with blood. Her eyes stared unseeingly at the crimson stained walls.
"Dragon, do you read me?" Maple was shouting in her ear, and she winced. "Get out of there, now. Meet Prodigy at rendezvous point five-five-three in three minutes. Platinum, Shadow's coming to get you at point six-zero-one. ETA four minutes."
Ino pulled the long coat off a thug's body and wrapped it around Tenten's shoulders, hiding the bloodstains and covering her hair. No one said a thing about the unrecogniseable corpse that had tried to kill them with their backs turned.
"Come on, we're leaving."
Tenten gathered her wits and stood, and twisted her hair before tucking it beneath the collar of the jacket. Ino gave her a tiny, relieved smile as they began to run down the alley again, losing themselves in the maze of the backstreets of Tokyo.
Soon, they had to part ways, after a brief farewell – Tenten didn't know when she'd be working with Ino next, and no one ever talked to each other outside of work. She turned and watched the blonde racing down the laneway, and waved, before she walked in the other direction, wiping her hands on the coat lining before buttoning up the jacket. Tenten scrounged around in the pockets and, upon finding an old rubber band, tied her hair in a bun.
She quickly took stock of her bearings and continued down the laneway, her pace quickening as she heard the roar of a motorbike engine. A sleek, black motorbike came into view and the rider stopped, placing a foot on the ground, and procured a backpack. He tossed it to her, and Tenten grinned and opened the bag, quickly finding a pair of leather pants inside.
"Seems like you remembered everything today, Prodigy." Tenten said, unzipping the sides of the pants where seams normally existed. She pulled them on and zipped them up, thanking whoever had invented these – it was so much easier than trying to pull on jeans over high heels. She tucked her bloodstained dress into the waistband and pulled on a helmet and a pair of gloves. The brunette threw the bag into a nearby garbage bin and sat behind him on the bike, her arms wrapping themselves gingerly around his waist.
"I won't bite, Tenten," he replied drily and her arms tightened around him.
With a promising roar and the screech of tires, the motorbike tore down the alleyway and, after a sharp left turn, arrived at the main road, entering the oncoming traffic with practiced ease.
"That was a good shot."
He ignored her praise. "It shouldn't have been necessary. The technicians will not be pleased."
They slipped past the yellow light, weaving lightly through traffic.
"How was the clean up?"
"Unconscious, but in custody."
"Protocol, Dragon," he said forcefully. She wasn't taken aback – she'd grown used to his curtness and strict adherence to protocol. It had started a few years ago, after his transgression when they'd been recruits. He'd attacked a comrade with killing intent – it was almost behind him, now, but... these kinds of things were indelible, especially in their world, where no one ever forgives and forgets.
"This is Prodigy, requesting clearance to return to headquarters."
Tenten sighed, sensing their conversation was over. A cool, female voice responded, crystal clear, after a long pause – they were checking if they were being followed.
"Permission granted, Prodigy. Approach entrance twenty-three."
They were in a bustling business district, where no one looked twice at passing motorists – they were always coming and going. The pair pulled into an underground carpark, entering a code at the boom gate that would grant them access to a mezzanine level that would take them to their headquarters.
They parked the bike in the brightly lit car park, and several mechanics and recruits rushed over to collect their things.
"You've stained it for sure, this time," a young man said, frowning. Tenten took off her helmet and shook out her hair, grimacing as it settled on her shoulders, some strands sticky with sweat and blood.
"Deal with it, Konohamaru. We've got so many of them. Remember, just a few more months, and then you'll be returning from missions like these, and some other unfortunate recruit will be whinging about blood-stained helmets."
"This is blood?" he echoed, recoiling. Tenten grinned, slapping her companion on the shoulder.
"Courtesy of our favourite Prodigy," she laughed.
The said agent stopped and took off his helmet. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair, ruffling it into its customary meticulously messy spikes. He sighed, and looked down at her with onyx eyes that held casual bemusement.
"Like I said, Tenten," Uchiha Sasuke said, tossing Konohamaru his helmet and gloves, "If you'd done a proper job, our friends in the Pit here wouldn't need to worry about washing blood out of a state of the art motorbike helmet."