chapter title: there's a shark in the water
summary: it's been seven years since the Akatsuki took over, but in the dark underbelly of Konoha's criminal underworld, a silent war still rages. As the heirs of the cities leaders are picked off one by one in a bloody rebellion, Uchiha Sasuke returns with vengeance in his heart for the one who killed his family.
dedication: finishing university, hurrah hurrah.
dead end street
He sat on the bar with a glass of whisky in his hand, trying to ignore the way everyone was staring at him – or pretending not to stare at him rather unsuccessfully. Instead he focused on tiny details the way Shisui had taught him to; the broken clock above the customer entrance, the tacky shine on the table tops which spoke of years of spilled drinks, the closed shutters which made the room dark even in daytime.
The pixie girl who brought Sasuke here disappeared after helping Naruto into a chair, but others had arrived to take her place, their eyes wide and curious.
"Here," Shikamaru topped up Sasuke's drink, expression inscrutable. It was possible to see traces of the lazy child he'd known in this man's face now that Sasuke knew who he was. He was recognising other faces too; the boy with the tattooed face was Kiba all grown up – his older sister Hana had been friends with Itachi; the blonde woman with weariness in the lines of her shoulders was the best doctor in the city once, the granddaughter of some famous politician from long before he was born.
They were faces he'd half-forgotten in his long years away, faces from what seemed like a thousand years ago, right up until he turned around to see Naruto standing behind him.
"I thought you were dead," the boy in question murmured now, eyes burning blue and quietly intense in a way which jarred against his memories. "Sasuke, I – I thought –"
"I wasn't," he said, shortly. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen Naruto before everything went to hell – before both their worlds collapsed in on themselves, their family's dead in the ground and riddled with the bullets of so many guns.
His hand tightened around the glass, knuckles bone white and straining against the skin.
"Where were you?" Naruto asked, still milk-pale and half-dead judging by the half-moon shadows under his eyes, the way he sat slumped in his seat to spare one side of his torso any unnecessary pain.
We've been fighting for seven years, the strange girl had told him, blood staining her pretty white teeth, the corner of her mouth. It didn't look like the fight was going well.
"Here and there," he said, shrugging. It went against the grain, to tell the entire truth. "Kumo, for a while. Oto, more recently."
Kiba let out a low whistle, a frown tugging his eyebrows close together. "Fucking hell. You went near Sound Corp?"
I killed the lieutenant, he thought, and where once he might have been smug it now meant nothing at all. He'd killed too many people to take pride in it.
"Orochimaru had information we needed."
Too late he realised his mistake. Sasuke measured the words on his tongue, rolled them around the way he would the hard mints his mother had always liked.
The day Akatsuki falls will come a lot sooner if I can get them to trust me.
"Shisui," he said at last. "Shisui got me out – got us out."
"Two survivors," the older woman surmised, a hard glint in her eyes. "Why didn't you come to us, boy? We would have taken you in, kept you safe."
Anger thrummed in his veins, a mutinous tide. Sasuke fixed her with a level glare, because didn't she understand? His parents were dead; Itachi was dead, even Shisui, who'd only ever run the other way, was dead.
"No one in this city is safe. You're a deluded fool if you think you are."
His words were met with an uncomfortable and lingering silence; he noted the way everyone avoided looking at Naruto's injuries, the palpable feeling of absence in the room.
"Then why," his blond, once-upon-a-time-best-friend asked, "did you come back, Sasuke?"
He downed the rest of his drink in one go and relished the pleasant burn at the back of his throat, the slick feeling of it sliding down.
"They killed my family," he said. "They killed everyone, Naruto – even got Shisui two months back. And if I'm next I'm sure as fuck not going down without taking as many of those bastards down with me as I can."
"They do that," Shikamaru muttered, rolling a cigarette between his hands as carefully as if he was holding fine bone china. "Kill your family, I mean. It's a point of pride with them."
"I was tracking the Puppet Master," Sasuke continued, like the other guy hadn't spoken. "Turned out to be a dead end, but I was pointed here, to Konoha. She told me to find someone."
It all made sense now, how easily Kushina had steered him in the right direction. She'd given him a name which led to a revelation which could shatter the world, had shattered his world, just for a moment.
I know who you are, pretty boy, she'd told him coolly, her aim steady and never faltering. How clever, how very neat her intentions were. Had she known where this journey would take him?
"Who?" Tsunade demanded – yes, that was her name, he remembered now. "Who told you to come here?"
He licked his lips, tasted mingled whisky and blood saturated there. "She said her name was Kushina."
"Kushina?" Naruto and Tsunade exchanged startled looks, as if he'd resurrected some errant ghost with nothing more than a name. Even Shikamaru looked faintly uneasy.
"The name means something to you."
Naruto swallowed, raising a trembling hand to his eyes. "Kushina was my mother's name, Sasuke. Don't you remember?"
He hadn't, to be honest – but then, there was a part of Sasuke that wasn't entirely certain he could trust his memories anymore. His brain did funny things sometimes, blocked out whole events, made him forget names and places, made him lose time.
Trauma, Shisui had muttered, when he finally started noticing. Sasuke didn't feel like sharing that piece of information though, so he just shrugged like he didn't care.
"She wasn't old enough to be your mother," he said, picturing the girl's bruised throat, the peculiar look she'd given him in that split second after Kabuto's body collapsed onto her. "Doubt she knew of you at all."
"What makes you say that?"
"Cos it wasn't your name she gave me. She told me to find someone called Haruno Sakura. Know who that is?"
The pixie girl with her ridiculous hair had come back, moving so silently that Sasuke hadn't even noticed her. Deep down under all the confusion and frustration he felt, he was reluctantly impressed; not many people could sneak up on him these days.
Her expression was odd; like he was inadvertently telling a joke he didn't know the punchline of and she was laughing at his expense.
"You know where I can find her."
"Yup," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "That girl has been lying at the bottom of the canal these past seven years. Or so the story goes."
Sasuke took a moment to really look at her then, this tiny girl who'd fought against an Akatsuki man as ruthlessly as any trained killer. He considered the fact that she was the one unfamiliar face in this room of ghosts, yet she was the one that led him here.
"Of course," he sighed, fighting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. "It's you, isn't it?"
Haruno Sakura grinned at him, showing off all her pretty white teeth. It wasn't a nice smile at all, reminded him of a tigress deciding whether or not to rip someone's throat out.
"Bingo," she said.
The lights in the club were neon pink and blue and green, washing over the faces of the crowd with every pulse of the music. Ino swayed her hips in time to the beat, slow and sensual.
Her breasts were covered by her hair, which fell in waves to her waist, a silk waterfall men itched to run their fingers through.
Look at me, she willed them, opening her mouth a little as she dipped slowly to the floor, wearing nothing but six inch heels, sheer white thigh-high stockings and a glitter crusted bikini. Subtlety wasn't exactly in the job description. The clients here wanted to be seduced and they paid well for the privilege twice over.
They could keep their money; it was their secrets Ino wanted.
She surveyed the room carefully as she twirled in her caged podium, pressing herself up against the bars. Slowly, she drew her hands up her thighs, over her hips and rocked to the beat. Men cheered for her and for the other three girls in their cages, but it was the woman who watched her silently with hooded eyes that Ino was performing for.
The Puppet Master owned this club, though he didn't manage it; she'd only seen him once in all the time she'd worked here, a shadowy silhouette watching from his private booth. The woman sat in that booth now, martini glass held in her hand, expression unreadable – when usually it was unoccupied.
I bet you have a lot of secrets I want, she thought, locking eyes with her and drawing her hand further up over her ribcage to the soft valley between her breasts and rubbing her fingers in small circles, dancing closer and closer to her right nipple each time but never quite touching, never quite getting there.
The woman raised the glass to her lips and it caught the flashing lights as Ino bit down on her bottom lip, deaf to the wolf-whistles and the shouts to take her top off. Her other hand dipped to the junction between her thighs and she drew her forefinger up the satiny material to flirt with the bikini line.
Look at me, she thought again, still staring straight into the woman's eyes. Want me. Want me. Want me.
The glass came down empty. Her quarry gestured for the bodyguard at her side to bend his ear, never removing her gaze from Ino's figure. But Ino looked away, turning sultry pouts to the men sat at their tables by the stage, girls in their laps trailing delicate hands down their chests.
When the song ended, the burly bodyguard – ginger and with intimidating facial piercings through the bridge of his nose – appeared by her cage.
"Well, hello stranger," she said, leaning up against the bars and straightening his tie. "You wanna come have some fun with me?"
He grunted and gestured for her to follow him. Even as she swung gracefully out of her cage and off the podium, she knew where she was headed.
The mystery woman in the Puppet Master's booth looked up as Ino approached, watching with hooded eyes. Like her bodyguard, she had multiple piercings – though nothing as severe – and her hair was a shocking shade of blue, pulled up away from her face in a severe updo.
"You are lovely."
"Glad you think so," Ino replied, tossing her hair over her shoulder to reveal the curves of her breasts as she leaned forward. "I was watching you, up there. A beautiful woman like you, in a place like this – have to admit, I kinda hoped you were watching me back."
Her expression didn't change, but she gestured for Ino to join her in the booth. The music was still loud, sending vibrations through her chest and she thought of Kiba, his hands on her hips, the feel of his body mashing against hers.
"Can I get you a drink?" the woman asked, watching Ino with hooded eyes.
"I'd love one," she murmured, brushing her lips against the shell of her ear. "But you didn't really ask me over here for a drink, did you?"
Silence. Then she felt a hand sliding slowly up her bare thigh and lips against her jaw.
"No. I didn't."
Ino spread her legs a little so the hand could brush the junction of her thighs and cup her there, fingers stroking delicately over the thin material covering her.
"What's your name sweetheart?"
"Hana," Ino breathed, tilting her head back to expose the long line of her throat. Lips pressed against her pulse point and bit down there, not quite hard enough to draw blood. Fingers continued to stroke her gently through the costume and she felt a coil stir in her belly.
The bodyguard stood behind them, impassive as Ino gasped and a finger slipped beneath the material of her bikini.
She was careful not to smirk as she leaned forward and kissed Konan thoroughly, biting down on the woman's bottom lip and sucking her tongue into her mouth. It was easy, really, to look at people and tell what they wanted in bed. Ino could make herself whatever their fantasies required, she could make herself their perfect lay and leave them wanting more.
"I want you to fuck me," she whispered, spreading her legs more. "Please."
She didn't normally move this fast to secure an informant, but clearly Konan was no small fry. You may not tell me anything worthwhile tonight, but I can wait. In a few weeks you'll be spilling anything I ask of you.
She thought of Hinata, somewhere in the city – frightened and hurt and alone, and felt her stomach lurch. They didn't have weeks. For all she knew, they didn't even have days.
"So wet, already," Konan murmured. "You were practically begging for it earlier, I watched you dancing and touching yourself for me. You want me inside you."
"Y-yes. Please. I want you."
"Close the curtains, Pein," the woman ordered and as he moved to do so, Ino felt another hand on her shoulder pushing her back against the plush leather as the coil in her belly tightened.
The warehouse was dark and smelled of blood. Kakashi looked to the tiny pathologist on his left and quirked an eyebrow at her.
"Anything?" he asked.
Tenten grinned up at him, tilting her head like a curious bird. "Fucking painful way to die, bro. It's a miracle his head didn't come off."
Yes, he thought, examining the corpse. Not Sakura's style at all. He'd trained her to be clean and efficient – this was, well, it was brutal and sloppy as hell.
"I wasn't talking about cause of death," was all he said in reply. "I want to know where he's been."
She shrugged and got to her feet. "I'll need to examine the body more closely. In my lab."
Barely refraining from pinching the bridge of his nose, Kakashi let out a long, pained sigh. "You know I can't allow that."
This body couldn't go through the official channels; if Tenten took it to her lab, questions would be asked and paperwork would be drawn up and police would come sniffing around the warehouse. He wasn't going to relocate his prized arsenal of weapons just because of one Akatsuki lackey.
"Fine, fine," she flapped her hand at him patronizingly. "Where do you expect me to do this then? I need my fucking equipment, you know. There are tests I have to do, stuff I can't just cook up in your run of the mill kitchen."
This whole thing was turning out to be a headache. He could have done without it to be honest.
"Get the samples you need and perform the necessary tests. Off the record, of course."
"Of course," she echoed, a faintly amused smirk playing around her mouth. "Tsunade doesn't pay me enough for this shit."
"We'll keep it on ice for as long as we can, but then I'm dumping it in the canal."
The brunette sniffed imperiously, rolling up her sleeves to reveal a set of impressive tattoos. "That's so overdone, Kakashi. Honestly, you'd think in your profession you'd have some more original ideas for disposing of a body."
Did she just call me an amateur? he wondered, raising both eyebrows at her this time, mildly insulted.
"I suppose you think you could do better."
She laughed, the sound silver bright like the reflection of the moon in rippling water. Definitely mocking him, he thought.
"Oh, I can think of a few," she said.
Sakura scrubbed at the blood on her face with trembling hands, trying to ignore her pale reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her side still ached where she'd slammed into the warehouse floor; the fall hadn't helped her injured leg at all.
'She told me to find someone called Haruno Sakura' Uchiha Sasuke's voice replayed in her head for the second time since she'd entered the bathroom and she scrubbed harder, pressure building in her eyes – though whether it was fear or anger, she didn't know.
As far as the world knew, Haruno Sakura was eight years dead. What was the point, then, in this mysterious Kushina passing on a supposedly dead girl's name?
It was too much – first Hidan seeing her, then the tail this morning, now some unknown person passing along her name…it felt like she'd been treading water for eight long years and the sharks were finally starting to close in.
She hadn't been scared like this for a long time – not for herself, anyway. There had been terror for her friends, for those she loved, yes, but her position was relatively secure, had been secure right up until Naruto decided to go tear up Akatsuki property looking for his missing girlfriend.
And the world hasn't stopped spinning since, she thought, leaning on the sink and trying to regain control over the fear sprouting in her veins like some parasitic plant.
If she didn't clamp down on it, that fear would dig its roots in deep and that was the last thing she could afford; Sakura was not a liability.
She wouldn't allow herself to look like one, either, so she splashed cold water over her face and carefully reapplied her make up; mascara to her eyelashes, liner to the lids, a dark red lipstick to make her feel bold. Most importantly, she applied concealer to remove the shadows under her eyes. By the time she was done, Sakura could almost believe there was nothing she need fear.
Thank you, Ino, for teaching me the value of war paint.
"Yeah." She was proud of how normal her voice sounded; the handle turned and Shikamaru opened the bathroom door.
"Sai find anything?" he asked, and she noticed he was still wearing the clothes he'd cleaned her wounds up the previous night. She would make him sleep before they opened tonight if she had to knock him out herself.
"Not while I was there. He will, though."
Shikamaru just shook his head, leaned it against the hardwood door and sighed. "If he can't – "
His arm was hot against the palm of her hand, even through the material of his shirt. She knew the fear that lived inside his heart, knew because she felt it too.
"Nothing is going to happen to Ino. We won't let it."
Ino was the hand that held hers in the dark hours after midnight, two lonely, angry girls with nothing to lose and no one to love but themselves. Ino was the ghost of a smile over ice cream sundaes on a Saturday afternoon.
Ino was childhood, or what was left of it – a sister that never was, not on paper.
"We can't protect everyone. This is a war, Sakura."
Anger thrummed in her bones, a steady hum like the roar of her bike between her thighs before she pushed the choke in.
"You think I don't know that? Karin is dead, okay, Naruto almost died two days ago, Hinata is – Hinata is missing."
"You don't have to tell me that."
"Clearly I do," she said. "Yeah, Shikamaru, I know this is a war and I know what that means. But I'm not going to let Ino be one of the casualties, I'm not going to let her become collateral fucking damage."
His eyes were dark and sad and terribly resigned. "We're all collateral damage."
She thought of the carousel that day at the fairground, of the particular burn a cigarette could leave on the skin, the thick and metallic smell of blood and how it must look splattered against the walls of her old home.
It made a sick sort of sense, she thought, choosing orphans to be soldiers. Orphans of the fallen regime, the golden era, the lost glory days – children with a reason to die for a cause.
And now they know I'm still alive.
Sakura knew she should tell him. Tell someone.
The words wouldn't come – but as if reading her mind, Shikamaru straightened and asked, "That tail you had…did he know who you were?"
A beat of silence passed. "I don't think so," she said, a lie that tasted sweeter and lighter than air. "I've been dead for seven years, Shikamaru, it's not like they'd be out looking for me, is it? And even if he could have identified me, Uchiha took care of that problem."
His eyes were dark and unreadable. She couldn't tell if he believed her or not; she had no idea whether she believed herself.
"Don't tell Tsunade," she begged. "Please."
Unable to look him in the eyes anymore, she stepped out into the hall, into the dark, shivering though the night was warm. The Legendary Sucker was closed for the evening while Tsunade and Kakashi regrouped and considered their options.
She could go down to the basement and listen to Kiba whinge about the scratches on the bike. She could go and keep Naruto company, confined as he was to bed rest. She could stare at the phone and wait for a call that may not come.
None of those options particularly appealed; instead she took the stairs to her room, each step as silent as she could make it and thought about the pack of cigarettes she kept under her pillow and the untraceable phone which lay hidden beneath the floorboards under her rickety bed.
"It only has one number," he'd said. She'd never called it, not once in seven years.
The game, she thought, has changed. Hinata was missing; Uchiha Sasuke had resurrected himself from the dead. If Sai and Ino failed in their attempts, she would have to use it – a weapon not even Tsunade knew she had.
But first, I'm going to see about creating a new cover. Or five.
The sharks might be closing in, but she'd worked too damn hard to stay alive all these years to just tread water and wait patiently for the end.
The blindfold made her scalp itch, but it was better to focus on a minor discomfort than the screaming agony they'd made of her fingers. Even groggy with pain and whatever sedative they'd hooked her up to, Hinata could feel the wrongness there, how the bones ground against each other in directions fingers weren't supposed to bend.
By her best estimate it had been forty-two hours since she was snatched off the street on her way home from class. Forty-two hours in a dark, damp space with her hands tied behind her back and no idea where she was except that it was bad. Absently, she realised that she was crying through the blindfold.
He'll come for me, she told herself muzzily, head lolling back despite her best efforts to cling to consciousness. He'll come for me. He'll come for me.
It was the only hope she had.
notes: long overdue, but dissertation and finals and all that shit happened
notes2: DID YOU READ THAT LATEST CHAPTER THO. that. that is my ship in a nutshell. ladies, I think we're canon.
notes3: i have never written anything so smutty oh my god, my face is still red