disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: more les&sonya&eleni. and lady gaga.
notes: WHAT AM I DOING.
notes2: "Plot twist—he's been date-raped!"

chapter title: a girl on her knees
summary: SasuSaku / Steampunk AU — In a city called Nighttown, an adventure clanks to life. "Look at them. They're like ants."

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"Look at them all."

It was raining. It had been raining for weeks and weeks. It didn't look like it was ever going to stop.

"Hn?"

A girl and a boy sat on the edge of a sky-scraper. They sat in the rain's shadow of the building's spire, dry but not warm. The girl's legs hung over the edge, and she swung them back and forth, precarious and about to fall.

"Them. Look at them. They're like ants."

She was looking down at the ground, stories and stories below. The streets looked like dark glass, the rain slicking it down. The dull din of mechanical carriages echoed up towards them.

"Hn."

"They run around all the time. They never stop moving. Do they even ever sleep? And there's so many of them. They're so insignificant."

"Dissimilar."

"Same difference. They all follow the rules, no questions asked. And so much of the time, those rules don't even apply, not in real life. They're all deluding themselves."

"Hn."

"Well, they are. There're thousands of them." She stopped, and snorted. "And they're all gonna die. It's kind of a pity."

"So are we."

She looked at him, eyes green and slit, a strange little smile playing on her lips. "Of course we are, Sasuke-kun. Everyone dies."

"Hn."

"C'mon," she said. "Water's rising, and we have a blimp to catch."

She stood up, and walked away from the edge of the high-rise. One of her mismatched stockings caught on the scratchy edge of the cement and tore, ripping a long tear in the flimsy candy-cane-striped nylon. The girl stared down at it, dismayed; it was one of her favourites. She sighed. There was nothing to be done about it; they did have a blimp to catch.

"Sakura," the boy said.

The girl called Sakura smiled at him, pushed her brown satin top hat with the peacock feathers sewn in back on her head, and reached a leather-gloved hand down to help him up.

"Let's go," she said, with eyes older then her seventeen years.

Sasuke watched her tug her green felt coat around her, brown canvas shorts at odds with her top hat and her satin smock, striped the colour of sand and sky, and her feminine boots, leather and gold, laced up to her calves, and the red silk ribbon tied around her throat hanging next to an intricate cog-key. He wondered what in Queen Victoria's good name a lady like her was doing here.

She was half-way inside when she turned, coat whipping around her as she moved, ribbons flying, and raised an eyebrow at him. "Aren't you coming? The blimp won't wait."

Sasuke straightened the black tie around his neck, and pulled a silver pocket watch from his vest pocket. He studied the glass back for a moment, watched as the machinery tick-tick-ticked away the seconds, the minutes, the years.

He'd have to wind it, soon.

Sakura, all pink hair, top hat, coat, boots, red ribbon, and green eyes were all still waiting for him.

Sasuke put the pocket watch away without looking at the time, and followed Sakura inside.

The dress was black and crimson, hiked up and ruffled, printed with grey fleur-de-lis, and buttoned high at the throat, bell-sleeves dripping red lace. Sasuke watched quietly, as a maid fastened Sakura into the dress, tugging furiously at the red whale-bone corset's lacings.

"That looks painful," he said.

Sakura ignored him. She stared straight ahead and allowed the maid to lace up the last of the stitchings. "Well," she murmured, pressing a hand to her tiny waist "I can't breathe, so at the very least, it's tight enough. This'll keep them quiet."

The maid fluttered around the room. Sasuke fixed her with a cold-eyed glare, but it was Sakura, whose voice, cold as ice, politely cut through the room. "Thank you, Nishie, that will be all."

The girl froze, before curtsying meekly, and leaving the room.

Sasuke watched the tension go out of Sakura's shoulders as the door closed, and a minute sigh of relief escaped her. "That's my family, for you," she said.

"Hn?"

Sakura shook her head, hair in perfect pink ringlets, pinned up in a perfect pink up-do, curls falling about her face. There was a bitter look on her face, and Sasuke wondered, again, what in the Queen's name she was doing there.

"We'll be landing, soon," was all she said.

The whirr-whirr-whirr of the blimp's engines buzzed through Sasuke, bees wings on a summer's day.

But the sky was cloudy, the air too thick with smog to breathe, outside the blimp window.

Sakura walked to a chair, mahogany and intricately carved. She was unsteady on her feet, slow, methodical, one-step-two-step-three-step-four, a bizarre waltz of extremes. Sakura, Sasuke thought, was a marriage of all the left-over scraps in the world.

He wondered what would become of her.

The descent to Yorugakure began.

It was grimier then Konoha.

Kerosene lamps lit the landing pad as the blimp set down. Sakura stood at the window and looked out, through warped glass and delicately wrought copper-iron frames, to the city beyond. She pushed the window open, and sensation assaulted Sasuke.

The air smelled of sea salt and death. Towers belched black smoke, columns of shadows against the cloudy, gloomy sky. In shades of grey that Sasuke did not recognize, they were lost amid the darkening curtain of night time. The city was a haze of purple and black, bruises marring pale skin. The buildings of the city's center jutted out of the ground, sharp, virulent crags. A mechanical heart played a steady, monotone rhythm, th-thump-th -thump, in the distance.

"Welcome to Nighttown," Sakura said, softly. "Welcome."

She was wearing a black silk top hat on top of those perfect pink curls. Sasuke didn't know where it had come from.

He offered her his arm. She grinned at him, shiver-slip, and they descended from the blimp, Sakura's wrist tucked into the crook of Sasuke's arm.

"You won't like my family," she said. Her head was bowed. There was a red brass poppy on her hat that looked like blood.

"Hn?"

"They're a lot like yours."

Sasuke snorted.

"Except a little more sane."

"Hn."

The path off the landing pad was lit with more brass lamps, streaked up the sides with soot. Sakura and Sasuke walked down the path that led away from the landing pad. Her heels click-click-clicked against the cobbled stones, the only sound for miles, resounding like the hiss-tick-tick of the innards of the gigantic clocks that overlooked most cities, nowadays.

The mecha-carriage glinted dully in the dim light. Sasuke opened the carriage door, and helped Sakura up the step, and into the carriage, before slipping in, himself.

Sakura smiled at him, razorblade sharp, peppermint swirls of cold against his skin. "Don't worry. The driver knows me. He knows where to go."

Sasuke nodded, face impassive.

The machine's gears clankered to life, hissing and spitting steam as the mecha-carriage rattled away, on the cobbled street. Sasuke watched as Sakura folded her hands in her lap and leant back against the faded elegance of the dark grey seats.

"Sasuke-kun," Sakura said. Her gaze was very far away.

"Hn?"

"Just… be ready, okay?"

Sasuke jerked his head once in acknowledgment.

All was quiet, then, save for the clanking and groaning of the mecha-carriage as they trundled along.

The night passed, and they headed towards Nighttown.

"So you've come back."

"It's nice to see you too, Karin."

The house was a gothic romance come to life. The two girls stared at each other across the threshold, mirror images of each other, ringlets, dresses, cog-keys at their throats.

Sasuke stood behind Sakura, hands tucked into his airship blazer's pockets. He could feel the tension between the two of them, the girl with the long crimson curls, and his own clockwork wild-child.

The red-head girl tilted her head, just a little, and Sasuke saw a flash of iridescent blue-green—peacock feathers hung from the girl's ears. "They thought you were never going to be back, did you know? They made a bet about it. Father looses, I guess."

Sakura smiled. "Daddy always looses. I need to speak with them, the both of them."

"So you're not staying."

"No. I won't stay here, I've made that clear, Karin."

The red-head folded her arms, long fingers. "Then I'm coming with you. If you go, I'm coming with you."

Sakura lifted an eyebrow. "Oh?"

The other girl—Karin?—lifted one in return.

They looked at each other for a few more seconds. Sakura broke the tense silence. "Only if you bring my goggles."

"Fair. I want my mask, too."

"Done."

The two girls nodded at each other, and then the red-head-curls girl moved out of the doorframe. Sakura looked over her shoulder, at Sasuke, and grinned.

For a minute, he thought he saw destruction and fire, explosions, a smoking brass-and-silver gun held high in the air; but then, it was just Sakura, again, and the vision was gone as if it had never been.

"Come on," she said. "Let's go bully my daddy into giving us an airship."

"Sakura."

"Hello, mother."

Sakura's mother, Sasuke thought, looked absolutely nothing like her daughter. There was a cold sort of beauty about the woman who was Sakura's mother. She was all white hair and sharp yellow eyes belied a face unlined by age, a small body laced into a dress that broke ribs, fushia in colour. There was a monocle on her left eyes, and a brass cog broach pinned on the woman's breast. She sat on the divan, striped blue and white, and surveyed the room with pursed lips.

"What do you want, this time, girl?" she asked.

"Right down to business, aren't we?" Sakura asked in return, mocking in a simple, forced-innocence way.

"This is the first time you have been home, my dear, in more then a year and a half. This is not a visit for pleasure—you have yet to introduce me to the young man standing behind you—and, as such, I must assume you want something."

The average temperature in the room dropped ten degrees. Sakura stared at the woman. Sasuke could feel the ice of blatant dislike rolling off her constrained body in waves.

"An airship, mother," Sakura said. "I need an airship."

"You're running away, then," said Sakura's mother. It was a statement, not a question.

Sakura bristled. "Think what you will, mother."

"I always do, Sakura dear. Now, if you want this airship—"

"And I do," Sakura said, immediate.

"—then that will be it. We will wash our hands of you. No second… chances." The words were accompanied with such a nasty glare that Sasuke was surprised that Sakura simply didn't combust where she stood.

Sakura nodded once, a calm motion, completely prepared. "I expected no less," she said.

Sakura's mother stared at her for a moment longer.

"Warf nine," she said, at last. Sakura's mother did not look at Sakura, nor at Sasuke; she stared at her lap, concentrated on her hands, perfectly folded, pale and bloodless against the fushia of her gown. "Warf nine, the Hispaniola. You will need a crew."

"…Thank you, mother," Sakura said, suddenly gentle. She took a single step forwards, leaned down, and pressed her lips against the woman's cheek.

"Get out," Sakura's mother murmured, sounding tired and fragile.

Sakura nodded, again. She took that single step back, turned towards Sasuke, a wild look of glee on her features. She grabbed her skirts, and hurried out of the room, jerking her head in a motion to indicate that Sasuke follow her.

"Young man, wait, please. I wish to speak to you. Alone," she stressed. "Sakura, you may wait outside."

Sasuke stood in front of the mother of the girl who'd just closed the door, bristling. But the woman did nothing but look at him, for a moment. She sighed. It sounded sad.

"Look after her, won't you?" she asked, simply.

"Yes, ma'am," Sasuke replied, stoic and calm.

"Good. Get out of my sight."

And Sasuke went.

"What'd she want?"

Sakura's formal speech patterns disappeared as soon as she was out of her mother's presence. She grinned at him, tearing pins from her hair left and right, pink curls escaping the tight confines they'd been put up in.

Sasuke shrugged. "Hn."

She grinned at him, and reach up to brush his hair out of his eyes. "I don't know how you see at all," she said, ever the conversationalist.

He shrugged, again, but didn't force her away.

Sakura was different. It was allowed.

She was still wearing that dress.

Sakura's red-head sister—Karin—was waiting at the front door, a leather sack slung low over her shoulder, a hand on her bustle-clad hip, looking comfortable in a leather corset. "Did she cave?"

Sakura grinned. "Of course."

Karin tossed red curls, and laughed. Sasuke saw that flash of blue-green. "Of course. So what do we need?"

"A crew. Got any ideas?"

A strange smile spread across Karin's face. "You're going to hate me."

"Don't worry, I already do."

"Then I have someone in mind." She paused, and looked back at Sasuke. "Who's he?"

Sakura looked back at him, too, and smiled a very different smile then Sasuke had seen before. This smile was… soft, around the edges. "He's Sasuke."

"Sasuke?"

"Yes," Sakura said, with that same smile. "Sasuke."

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tbc.
notes3: NO REALLY. WHAT AM I DOING.
notes4: dear brain: i thought we agreed: NO MORE MULTI-CHAPS. clearly, no one listens to me.
notes5: i really like writing steampunk, wow.
notes6: PLEASE REVIEW, i'd love feedback on this.