disclaimer: the characters are disclaimed.
dedication: les, for always looking everything over & telling me that no, i do not, in fact, suck zebra penis.
notes: Suigetsu/Sasuke/Kiba. get over it, it works. i dare you to tell me it does not. also, where the hell have i been?

chapter title: a girl wearing brass goggles
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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The tinker's workshop was a cluttered mess of paper, metal, streaks of engine gunk along the doorknob, along the walls. Brass cogs, small and large, were scattered across the floor. It was like the inner workings of the Steam Empire had been shredded and torn, upended and dumped out carelessly on the ground, left to rot and rust.

"Who's there?" came a muffled voice, from somewhere deeper inside. It was low, male, pitching a little back and forth.

"Hi, Daddy," Sakura told the empty workroom, smiling a little.

"Sakura?" and a head stuck itself out of a door that Sasuke hadn't seen before. It was a man, bright red hair and full beard tempered with brass goggles pushed high on his forehead, and blue eyes that winked like freshly minted gears, beneath bushy red brows. He was wearing a pair of thick leather gloves, a thick leather apron, a very, very dirty white-streaked-brown-and-grey shirt and a pair of equally dirty pants; they'd likely been brown, once, but they'd gone grey from lack of washing and engine oil.

Sakura, back in her mismatched clothes and top hat, rocked back on the balls of her feet, and grinned. "Yes, Daddy."

"Does your mother know you're here?" the man asked. There was a jolly sort of grin on his grease-streaked face.

"Well… yes, and no."

The tinker laughed, deep in his chest, and swept Sakura up in a bear hug, gloves dirty against her green felt coat.

"My little girl," the man whispered into her hair.

"I miss you, too, Daddy," Sakura murmured in reply, face pressed against her father's chest. Sasuke thought he heard a sob, but when Sakura pulled away, she was the same as ever; dry-eyed and enigmatic.

Sasuke stood at the door with Karin. She raised an eyebrow, so much like her sister that Sasuke nearly choked, and she tilted her head towards the door.

Sasuke shot a glance back at Sakura, and went.

"They always did love her best," Karin said with a wry smile, tossing crimson hair back, as the door to the tinker's shop closed behind them. "Come along, I want you to meet someone. Or, a couple'a people, actually."

Sasuke nodded.

Nighttown, even in the daytime, was a murky mixture of red-coloured smoke, hanging leather, and the gush of steam. The sun hung low in the sky, early morning's weak light filtering through the haze of the smog. Voices called out from the obscurity of smoke and steam, other people thick, darkly moving shapes, laughter bubbling up and spilling, like the dark gold of expensive champagne.

Sasuke followed the red swish of Sakura's sister's hair through the narrow streets. She would disappear for a second, only to reappear a second later, ten feet ahead of him. There were pearls wound through her hair.

"Through here!" Karin called. She'd disappeared down a tiny cobbled street—Sasuke followed her down, through the slight gap between the rickety scraps-built-on-scraps buildings, and then through a shoddy scrap-metal door.

It led into a very large room—Sasuke had never seen its ilk, before. The ceiling was vaulted and so high that the roof itself was not discernable, hung in gloomy shadows that grew from the golden-light orbs that lined the walls. The floor beneath his boots was rusted metal, the colour of dry blood. In the center of the room stood war-mechs—several of them. They rose out of the ground, goliaths of burnished metal, standing tall and immobile in the dim room.

Sasuke blinked.

Karin stood three feet ahead of him, her hands on her bustle-clad hips. The pearls wound into her hair winked at him. Sasuke felt dazed.

"Oi!" she yelled up into the darkness. "Suigetsu! Kiba! Naruto! You lazy clods, where are you?"

Three heads popped out of one of the war-mechs, all wearing goggles over their eyes. One of them was wearing a black gas mask. They blinked down owlishly at Sasuke and Sakura's sister, for a moment, before one of them—the one with sunny hair, restricted by the leather band that held his spectacles in place—pulled his goggles up his forehead, smiled widely and started yelling.

"So you've come back! How've ya been, Miss Haruno?"

Karin grinned coyly up at them. "I've been whimsy. How is a certain Miss Hyuuga? I hear you're secretly courting her."

Sasuke watched the colour drain from the blond man's face. Karin continued to grin like a cat that'd been at the cream, a satisfied smile on her lips.

"Don't worry, Naruto," she said. "I won't tell."

He—Naruto—breathed an audible sigh of relief. Sasuke chuckled to himself.

The other two figures pulled their gear off—two more men. From beneath the goggles appeared a dark-haired boy, grinning like a fool. From the gas-mask, a boy with hair so pale it looked white, regarding them coolly from above. Sasuke thought neither of them could have been much older then he himself was.

Karin, her hands still on her hips, called "Get down here! There's someone you ought to meet!"

The boys all grumbled, the grating of rusted gears, but they clambered down the hand-rungs that lined the war-mech's shining iron side. They landed on the floor with three loud thuds, thick, well-worn leather boots clunking dully against the metal floor. They stood before Sasuke and Karin in grease-stained, resplendent working-clothes, sepia-coloured in the small relief the light-orbs gave.

Sasuke stared at them, cool. The blond one squinted at him, blue eyes narrowed and suspicious. "Who is this, Karin? He doesn't look your type—"

The blond man's words were cut off by a low, rumbling growl, from the pale-haired man.

Karin rolled her eyes. "Oh, please," she said. "He's my sister's new toy. This one might even last, I think!"

The dark-brown one looked surprised. "Your sister is back?"

Karin fluffed her hair, and shot the speaker a withering look. Her voice was acidic as she said "No, Kiba, she just sent me her newest cog-and-sprocket man, boxed and wrapped like a present, you utter moron."

The man didn't even look offended. He just shrugged his shoulders, a wrench in his hand, a good-natured grin on his lips. The clink of gears against gears in his pockets was audible as he moved.

"Anyway," Karin continued, as if he was nothing more then a minor annoyance that she'd simply brushed off without a second thought (which, now that Sasuke thought about it, was probably correct, in Karin's eyes. She and Sakura were scarily alike in many respects, he thought).

"I need a crew."

The statement was met with dubious stares.

"For what? What could you possible need with the lowly likes of us, Lady Haruno?" the very pale one sneered.

Karin stared at him for a very long minute, her jaw clenched. Sasuke saw a flash of Karin's blue-green earrings, and wondered at the wound-spring tension that had sprung up between them. He said nothing, and stood quietly.

"I don't want to—no; this has nothing to do with anything. We need a crew for an airship."

"An airship."

"That's what I said, isn't it?"

Sasuke watched the exchange; didn't say a word. There was a long silence, where nothing made a sound, save for the distant roar of far-away mechanics gushing steam.

The blond boy shrugged. "Not like we got anything else to do."

Karin smiled, and brushed her hair away from her neck. "So we got ourselves a deal, boys?"

The pale one stared at her a moment more, and then exhaled through his teeth, a hiss of anger. "Yea'. Lady Haruno, ya do."

Sakura's sister raised her chin an inch. The determined tilt to her jaw reminded Sasuke so painfully of Sakura that he couldn't breathe, for a moment.

"Good." It was the only word that escaped her mouth. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and whipped around.

The crimson mass danced behind her, barely flashing them all a smile as she turned her head and grinned at them all. "Watch him, won't you? I don't want him getting into any trouble while I'm gone. I'm going to find Sakura. I'll be back."

And with that, she turned away, and almost skipped out of the warehouse.

The door closed with a metallic screeeeech behind her, and Sasuke was left in darkness.

"So."

Sasuke stared at the three other men from beneath level brows. The blond one was squinting at him, again.

"So," he said again.

Sasuke stared straight back at him. He could feel the ticking of his pocket-watch like the beating of a tiny, mechanical heart at his side. It was coldly comforting, in a way. "So," he replied.

"So," Naruto repeated. "What are your intentions with Sakura?"

Had Sasuke been anyone but Sasuke, he would have choked on his spittle. Intentions? Sakura? Sakura, with her satin top hat and silk smock? Sakura, with her bottle-green eyes and swirls of pink hair? Sakura, with her ticking clocks and her key necklaces? That Sakura?

No, intentions were not what he had in mind.

Sakura was far too transient for simple things like intentions.

He made a sound low in his throat. "Nothing," he said at last. "Nothing at all."

The warehouse was very silent for a moment. And then one of the others let out a laugh, moved out of the darkness, and stuck out his hand. "'M Kiba. 'S'good to meet'ya."

Yes, Sasuke had gotten that from Karin's rant about boxes and sprockets. He was not inclined to shaking hands; he never had been.

But generally, it was the accepted protocol when it came to other people.

So Sasuke reached out, and grasped the gloved-with-thick-leather hand. An understanding passed between the two men.

It was the proverbial ice-breaker.

"Let's get down to the wharf," he said. "Gotta get the hell outta here, I ain't seen sunshine in a week."

Naruto clapped Sasuke on the back, and led the way to the rusted iron doors.

He pushed them open, and white-gray light filtered in.

Sasuke was momentarily blinded, his eyes unadjusted to the brightness after even such a short period in the dark.

He plunged forward, anyway.

Sakura was the kind of girl that people did things like that, you know.

Outside in the smoky light of Nighttown's daytime, Sasuke got his first proper look at the three men who were to be his companions. The clank and clatter of the outside world made intelligible speech impossible.

Sasuke hung back, and allowed the other men to take the lead, as they slipped out of the warehouse, and into Nighttown's market. He shot a glance to his left, his gaze flicking across the machines that lined the stalls of the market. Metallic screeching came from the clockwork menagerie just up the cobbled street, even as a dull iron tea-bot chuff-chuff-chuffed away.

Nighttown was alive with clattering and clanking; the world was in constant motion, constant noise, constant change. Nothing stayed the same for more than a half-minute.

So this was Sakura's universe.

It did rather explain a lot about her.

All Sasuke could see of Naruto was the back of his very blond head. The man was much like a summer's day in Konoha—sickeningly warm and happy, made up of bright primary colours. From what he had seen of the other man, Naruto had a personality to match his summery looks.

Sasuke had to fight not to sneer.

Kiba seemed to disappear into the background—he had a fascinating habit of blending into the proverbial woodwork. Sasuke had never seen anything like it. Perhaps it was the dark hair and darker eyes. Perhaps it was the tattoos, dark red inked triangles on his cheekbones. Perhaps it was the clothes, even; Kiba was wearing much the same clothing as the tinker had been, save for the fact that Kiba's white shirt and dark pants were considerably dirtier; covered in war-mech grease and grind. He seemed to be able to fade away entirely, should he wish it.

However, Sasuke could see that despite his own apparent invisibility, Kiba's dark gazed missed nothing.

Perhaps, then, there was some potential in him.

And the last one. He walked a half-step in front of Sasuke, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his patched coat. Tall and decidedly spindly in build, Suigetsu's hair was white, chopped raggedly to his jaw; Sasuke had been mistaken in the warehouse. There was a strange cast to his eyes—they were iced lilac, and oddly angry.

Sasuke, on his part, thought it better to not comment.

"So how'd'ya meet Sakura?"

Sasuke shot a sharp glance in the white-haired man's direction. "Why does it matter?"

"Doesn't."

But Sasuke had a niggling feeling that it did. "In a hat shop."

Suigetsu snorted. "She was buyin' a top hat, innit'a right?"

Sasuke decided that, once again, it was better not to reply to that. Of course, that was likely right—

The hat shop was completely empty.

Sasuke was standing at the register, sleeves pulled up to his elbows, buttoned into a dark pinstriped vest, waiting for something to happen.

The bell that hung next to the door jingled merrily as a girl danced into the hat shop. She looked like a breath of fresh air—colourful and bright in her striped smock, fingers chapped from the cold, boots clicking against the dark, marbled floor. She stood there, with her hands on her hips, and looked around.

She pushed the brim of her satin top hat up, and looked at him, chin tilted, questioning.

"Aren't you bored?" she asked.

He didn't even know her name. Sasuke had no answers for a girl with no name.

"You're as bored as I am. I can see it, you know," she told him, as she jumped up on the counter. "You're different."

"Get off the counter." Sasuke said, monotone. He paused, and then "Please."

"Hah!" she laughed, and looked at him over her shoulder. "If you want."

She slid off the counter. Her eyes were very green. "I'm Sakura, and you're bored. Do you want to go an adventure?"

Sasuke just stared at her. "Hn."

She smiled, and grabbed his coat on her way out.

—because Sakura did love her top hats.

Naruto turned a sharp corner. The scent of burned oil invaded Sasuke's senses, and the roar of the sky-harbour thundered to life as the jetties came into view. They jutted out of the warehouses that housed the airships, ready to cast off into the dark gray sky.

Night came early, in Yoru.

But then, that was something of a given.

"C'mon," Suigetsu muttered, and strode down the warehouse-lined street after Kiba and Naruto. Sasuke followed the three of them, all the way to the end of the street.

All the way to a very grimy pub.

Sasuke was not impressed.

"Where are we—?"

"Every ship needs a captain, don'cha know?"

"Hn."

Naruto was already headed inside, Kiba and Suigetsu trudging after them, and Sasuke was swept up in the tide of their combined will. He ducked in through the pub's doorway, and found himself in a low-ceilinged establishment. Blue smoke billowed from a far corner where a circle of men sat, warily eyeing the intruders. The only other patron of the place sat in front of the hearth; a fire roared there, the crackle of wood and flame snapping. The golden glow hid the man in smoke and shadow.

And Sasuke, deadpan and not surprised, found himself heading towards the dark shape.

In the circle of the fire's glow, Sasuke got his first look at the man who would be their captain.

He was hunched over a pint of ale, wrapped up in a red cloak made some luxurious material. He sat there, entrenched in silence, and stared at the leaping flames. Sasuke could see the brass-and-gold pistol strapped to his side. The man's head was bent, and all Sasuke could see were wisps of red hair—he could see nothing of the man's face. It was hidden by the brim of the rather ostentatious tricorn he was wearing.

"Nice hat," Kiba chortled.

The captain said nothing, but moved the brim up, and looked up at them. Sasuke caught a flash of dark-rings around light irises, a colourless slash of a mouth, and a strange red symbol inked on his forehead.

His reply was a low, measured "Don't make me kill you, Inuzuka."

Sasuke knew right from then that he and this man would get along.

"So," he continued, quiet. "I see Inuzuka, Uzumaki, and Hozuki. Isn't this pleasant. And you—who are you?"

He directed this last question at Sasuke, who wasn't sure if he should speak at all. They surveyed each other for a moment, assessing. It was a bit like being weighed and measured, Sasuke thought, but returned the stare.

Naruto broke the silence, looking anxious. "Gaara, he's—"

"—Sakura's," Sasuke finished for him, almost smirking.

"Ah," the captain said. "Then she must be back. And if you're here… You need a captain."

Naruto and Kiba both shifted, and had Sasuke had a feeling that the captain was laughing at them all. Suigetsu remained absolutely silent.

Sasuke felt, suddenly, like he was standing on that rooftop, Sakura sitting on the edge of the building, waiting out the rain. It felt like the precipice, that wobbling moment before one fell into a vat of bubbling oil.

The captain stood up slowly. His fingers curled over the brim of the hat, and pulled it down across his eyes. "Which wharf?"

"Twelve," Naruto crowed, because the fact that their captain stood meant that Naruto had won.

"Dead last," Sasuke muttered through his teeth. It seemed strangely appropriate.

But no one heard the hissed admission save for the captain, and he merely snorted quietly. Naruto was still too busy crowing, tempered by Kiba thwacking him soundly across the back of the head with another wrench, fished from some hidden pocket of his coveralls.

Sasuke was thoroughly tempted to slam his head against the wall.

(But it's better than boredom, isn't it?, a tiny, honest part of his mind whispered. Anything is better than boredom.)

Naruto had finally stopped his crowing ("Oh, the cleverness of me—!"), and all five of them looked up at the sultry voice that broke through their midst.

The barmaid was blonde girl with hair hanging hiding one of a pair of Konoha's-sky-in-the-summer-blue eyes. She stood in front of them, hand on her hip. She said, half-smiling "You boys can order, or yeh can get out. This in'int that kind'o 'stablishment."

Suigetsu made a great show of turning his coat pockets out.

The barmaid did not look impressed.

"Out! Out! All o' yeh! Ge' out!" she ordered, narrowing her eyes. Her face scrunched up like a raisin, and she made shooing gestures to herd them towards the door. Kiba laughed, and snagged the girl around the waist; tugged her towards him. She flushed as she hit his chest.

Sasuke was something between fascinated and disgusted.

Naruto just seemed annoyed. "They'll be sayin' goodbye for an hour. Let's go."

"Hn," Sasuke muttered in reply, and turned towards the door.

Suigetsu snorted. "He'd be saying goodbye to half the girls in the city, if we let 'im."

Sasuke said nothing, and listened to the two men bite back and forth. The captain, too, was silent, and the four men emerged from the grimy pub into the dark purple of evening. The thick smog of the day had sunk away into the sky, leaving the air thin, clean, and clear.

"Wharf twelve?"

"Wharf twelve."

And so they went.

The warehouse that enclosed Wharf Twelve looked much as the others did; sheet-metal siding (the aluminum-copper smelt looked sickly green with age), and rusted, dark roofing; the doors were thick iron plates. The doors were smeared with white paint—the numbers, of course. Six, seven, eight, nine… the warehouses ran forever, to where the street curved, and they continued past where Sasuke could see.

Naruto stopped in his tracks, and looked at them, sheepish. "I gotta—I promised—"

Suigetsu snorted. "Go talk to yer li'l girlfriend. I'm sure she wants 'ta say goodbye. We'll wait at the wharf. Don' screw it up."

Naruto beamed like a ray of sunshine, and took off in the opposite direction. He was practically skipping. It was disgraceful, Sasuke thought.

But Suigetsu just shrugged. "He wants 'ta marry her. He can' just leave; least, naw withou' tellin' her first—Tinkerbell'd kill him when he got back if he did."

Sasuke inclined his head the barest amount.

Eighteen and a half paces more and they had reached Wharf Twelve.

The thick iron plate that served as the door was pushed out of the way; someone was clearly already there.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, and followed the captain into the interior of the warehouse. And there, Sasuke got his first look at The Hispaniola.

It's a beautiful craft, was his first thought. Where's Sakura?, was his second.

The hull was polished mahogany; it gleamed dully in the wharf's hanging lights. The sails were closed, but clean and unpatched. The masts nearly brushed the roof of the warehouse, and the rigging was tight and freshly tied; new rope, it looked like. This ship looked like it belonged in the King's fleet. And perhaps it did—that would explain rather a lot about Sakura, and Sakura's obviously-aristocratic family.

Sasuke looked up to where the ship's wheel was—

—and there was Sakura, standing at the helm, aeronaut's hat pulled down around her ears, strands of pale pink curling out from underneath it. She was giggling to herself, spinning and spinning the wheel until it was little more than a dark blur at the help.

She finally stopped, and looked down at them all. She pushed the hat up, stared at them, smiled with her teeth, and called "Come up! There's a ladder somewhere, I think—? Karin, where's the ladder, the boys are back!"

Sasuke watched the flash of red that was Karin's hair whipping around the ornate wood railing. A hiss passed her lips, and then she was gone.

Sasuke privately thought she must have caught sight of Suigetsu.

His private thinking was cut short as the thump of rope-ladder hitting jetty sounded. Sasuke looked at Suigetsu. He looked about as happy to be climbing that rope as not, and so Sasuke climbed up first.

Karin was waiting at the top to help on deck. She was biting her lip, and as she helped him over the rail, she whispered in his ear, desperate "Is he still down there?"

"Yes," Sasuke murmured in reply.

The girl let out a tiny whimper, and drew back. She shot him a wary look, before fleeing towards the door that led to the hull.

Sasuke ignored the cursing that echoed up from below, where Suigetsu and the captain were still stationed. They seemed to be having trouble getting up the rope ladder, but at that moment, Sasuke looked up.

And Sakura was grinning at him, rocking back and forth on the balls of her booted feet, hands tucked behind her back. She was just standing there, on the stairs up to the helm, grinning wider than the whole sky.

She rocked back, once more, before stepping down the last step and stretching her arms wide.

"So. What do you think?"

"Hn."

"Looks like an adventure, right?"

Sasuke's lips quirked into a smirk.

"Looks like an adventure."

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tbc.
notes2: props to whoever can guess what the airship is named after. :D
notes3: have just discovered dieselpunk. omfg, where has this been all my life.
notes4: reviews are greatly appreciated, so please leave some!