The life of a thief is never easy, even with a guild at your back. Sakura knew this when she joined, but it was another matter entirely to experience it. Then again, with no family to come home to, it was either this or the many brothels that lined the streets. She'd seen firsthand what that did to people, and it was not going to happen to her.
Sakura was sixteen when Kakuzu found her. This tan-skinned, green-eyed miser was a high-ranking member of the Thieves' Guild, and also the one that Sakura owed her life to. He'd seen her pick a pocket during her time on the streets, and he'd brushed past her, slipping a business card between her breasts as he walked by.
Clever girl. If you can pull that off again, I'll have work for you.
We are all shadows.
It didn't help that the nameless bastard had picked her pocket in the process and stolen the money she'd taken from her mark. Needless to say, Sakura had to track him down. With no money and no parents, she was just another Venice street rat. What did she have to lose?
Her search lasted the entirety of the day and landed her in the midst of the red light district in the western section of the city called San Polo. Tracking down the thief by description alone was difficult because she just didn't get a good look at him—and he had a mask covering the lower portion of his face.
But at long last, she found a brothel called the Red Moon. Though she loathed entering such establishments (and had been offered jobs more times than she'd care to admit), Sakura ignored the women at the entrance and strode inside.
The lighting was dim, and a thick smoke filled the air that gave it a musky sent. A few men and their courtesans sat around a hookah in one part of the main room. There were two women in wooden cages who danced slowly and sensuously to a strange sort of steady beat that seemed to have no source in the establishment.
A woman, dressed elegantly in dark blue silks that matched her exotic hair color, approached Sakura. She had a white paper flower in her hair and honey-colored eyes seemed to look right through her. "You're looking for someone," she said. "Not here for a job." Her face remained impassive, and she tilted her head slightly as she examined Sakura further. "…If you're looking for a lover, I'm afraid I can't help you. Our clientele is private."
"Uh, no," Sakura said. She shifted her stance a little, leaning her weight on the other leg. She felt a bit uncomfortable under the woman's stare. "The guy I'm looking for wears a mask. He has something of mine, and I just want to get it back. Or talk to him. He mentioned something about a job…"
The blue-haired woman raised a thin eyebrow. "I see. Well, I'm not sure if I can help you. Such things are often kept in the shadows."
The odd phrase struck a chord with Sakura, and she furrowed her brow. She thought back to the curious card the masked thief had left her. Looking up at the taller woman, she said, a bit unsure, "…We are all shadows."
A small smirk made its way onto the blue-haired woman's face. "Follow me."
Sakura hesitantly followed the woman down the hall behind her. The soft music continued even though they were out of the main room. "I'm not a prostitute," Sakura said. "Just throwing that out there now."
"I didn't think you were," the older woman replied with ease. They reached the end of the hall. She opened a door and motioned for Sakura to enter.
Sakura did so. She found herself in an office of sorts. There was a desk in the center of the room, and behind it sat the same man from before. The mask still covered the lower portion of his face.
His olive green eyes locked onto Sakura's. "The pickpocket."
"Speak for yourself," Sakura returned.
"I speak for both of us," he said. "What's your name?"
"Sakura." She heard the door close behind her and jumped. A quick glance showed the blue-haired woman from before was gone. Sakura switched her gaze back to the man at the desk.
"Um, no," Sakura said, frowning at the question. "You mentioned a job?"
"I mentioned work," he corrected. "If you have the stomach for it. My name is Kakuzu… and I represent a very unique set of individuals. From what I saw today, you have the potential to join us."
"You saw me cut someone's purse," Sakura said slowly. She tried to piece together the man's motives. "And then you stole that purse. So what, are you some kind of master pickpocket?"
He made a derisive snort, as if such a thing were beneath him. "Hardly, but I do have work for a rising thief like you. And if the state of your attire and family is anything to go by, you could probably use all the work you can get."
Sakura wasn't about to admit to anything, even if Kakuzu was right on the mark. "Why help me?"
"I'm not helping you," said Kakuzu. "I'm making an investment."
Three years later, and Sakura found herself completely immersed in the Thieves' Guild. The life was rough, but it suited her just fine. It was thrilling, and even though the Guild got a percentage of what she brought in, she had a roof over her head, food in her stomach, and money in her purse. In addition to that, being with the Guild brought out a confidence in her that she never had when she was younger. It made for a nice change.
"Oh, I can't wait for Carnevale," said Ino as she waved her fan toward her face. The summer heat was humid and sticky, a sign that rain was coming, but it didn't seem to dampen her spirits.
"Me too," Sakura admitted.
Ino was Sakura's favorite of the girls who worked at the brothel. While Konan, the blue-haired woman with eyes like liquid gold, was a high-ranking member of the Thieves' Guild, she was also the one in charge of the brothel. Ino may look like a beautiful flower, what with her blonde hair and pretty teal eyes, but Sakura knew for a fact she was as deadly as nightshade.
Heh… nothing was ever completely what it seemed to be in this city.
"Parties and masks and all the booze you could ask for," Ino said, sounding wistful. "Of course, it's one of my busiest times. Still, I bet Konan will let me work the streets once in a while. Maybe I'll get lucky and get hired to walk around on some rich man's arm. Then I can actually enjoy the festival."
Sakura frowned. "Doesn't that bother you?" she asked. "That you're stuck doing… your job?"
Ino tilted her head. "Not really. I make even more money than you do. Of course, if you'd just—"
"No, not in a million years, not even if you paid me a hundred million florins," Sakura said, cutting off that.
The blonde gave a casual shrug of her shoulders. "This life isn't for everyone. I don't think I could do what Sasori does, for example."
Sasori was an assassin that specialized in poisons. One that Sakura had worked with once. And only once. He'd tried to kill her, and she'd fended him off until his partner Deidara arrived and said Sakura wasn't the target. Sasori had seemed a bit miffed at the time that he'd been interrupted, and it left Sakura wondering if he'd known all along she wasn't his target.
Why a guild of thieves needed an assassin was beyond her, but whatever.
"Neither could I," Sakura quietly agreed. She reached up her arms and stretched, watching idly while Ino cooed at passersby. "Any sign of him yet?"
"If you mean our mark, then no, but I did see Sasori walk by a while ago," Ino said. She glanced back at Sakura with a sly grin and asked, "Interested?"
Sakura felt her cheeks heat up, and she looked away. "No. Definitely no. Not unless I—no. I meant our mark, Pig-face."
Ino rolled her eyes. "I'm sure he'll see that massive forehead of yours and stroll right over to us." Her teal eyes locked with a man who was walking by, so she arched her back a little and smoldered at him. The man's eyes widened, and he tripped over his own feet. He scrambled up and scurried off, and Ino giggled ruthlessly at his expense.
Sakura's blush faded, and she chuckled a little while shaking her head. "You're terrible."
"I know," Ino said, still smirking. She caught sight of a young man around their age, and her eyebrows rose. "Hey, your target is from the Inuzuka family, right?"
"That's right," Sakura said. She sat up straight, suddenly on high alert. Her eyes roamed over the crowds of people, and she spotted him.
Kiba Inuzuka, heir to the Inuzuka family. It was easy to find him because of the family sigil on his clothing but also because members of the Inuzuka family tended to paint tribal markings on their faces. Kiba's came in the form of two triangles on his cheeks. He had a tendency to carry a lot of his family's money on him and wander into the more unsavory parts of the city (like this one). Konan passed the word onto Sakura, and Sakura promised to bring back everything he carried.
Sakura stood up with agile grace and casually strolled toward him. She kept her gaze over his shoulder, as if looking at something past him. As expected, Kiba paid her no heed and instead continued to look around at the various prostitutes trying to lure him over to them.
Right as Sakura brushed past Kiba, she slipped her hands into his jacket and withdrew a bag full of florins. She turned and giggled shamefully while apologizing. "Oh, I'm so clumsy! Sorry about that, sir."
Kiba grinned at her and said, "Oh, hey, no problem. Hey, are you one of the girls working here? 'Cause—" while he prattled on, Sakura's eyes honed in on an ornamental dagger he carried at his waist.
It was tempting. Not part of the job, but so, so tempting.
Sakura switched her eyes back to Kiba's face. She giggled again and playfully pushed his shoulder a little in a flirting gesture. "Oh, don't be silly. I'm just out for a stroll. But if I was, would you be interested?"
His grin widened to show a rather sharp set of canines. "Definitely."
"Too bad I'm not on the menu, then," she said. Sakura made a dramatic show of turning to walk away from him, and in the process, she snatched the dagger and hid it in her long sleeve while Kiba was distracted by the flash of cleavage and sway of her hips and didn't notice it missing.
"Tease!" Kiba scolded, still grinning as Sakura continued walking.
She didn't bother turning around. Her objective was fulfilled, but seeing as Kiba would probably be lingering around in the red light district a while, she was better off making herself scarce for a couple of hours. One good thing about being a pretty girl was that she was often underestimated. When Kiba figured out he'd been robbed, Sakura would probably be the last person he'd suspect. She'd seen it before enough times to know it to be true.
Sakura was a good thief, but she often ran into trouble. The source of that trouble wasn't any lack of skill on her part, but rather a lack of humility. Her ability left her with a certain pride that often times got in the way of better judgment. Such judgment led her to try to swipe Kiba Inuzuka's dagger, but this time it paid off, for now she had the dagger and Kiba was none the wiser.
Strolling down the streets of Venice was a rather boring way to pass the time for someone who'd lived there her whole life. The smell of dirty water and fish was pervasive, and the noise of the townsfolk was everywhere. It was a busy city, especially at this time of year. Many people were busy hanging streamers and decorative banners for Carnevale.
Sakura walked over to the edge of the canal and lifted up the ends of her long white dress. The tight red corset around it would have left weaker girls breathless, but local women were used to it. She sat down on the edge of the canal and slipped off her shoes. Then, she dipped her feet into the cool water.
While her toes made little splashes, she decided to examine the dagger she'd stolen off of Kiba earlier. It had its own specially made hilt with the crest of the Inuzuka family. That would make fencing the item difficult. Sakura wondered if she could convince one of her guildmates to sand it down or something.
She drew the dagger from the little sheath and turned it over in her hands a few times. The blade was sharp and pristine, but it was also clean and sparkling, which left her thinking it was more for show than battle. It probably hadn't cut much more than a wax seal—not that Kiba Inuzuka looked like he did much reading.
Still, if worse came to worse and she couldn't fence it because the dagger was too hot of an item, she supposed she could pop off the gems and maybe melt down some of the gold filigree. Or just keep it. It was an impressive score either way.
Little did she realize, the light glimmered off the shiny blade and shone into the eyes of a passing guard in full armor. He turned and raised the visor of his helm to better see her. "You there—girl. What is it you have there?"
On instinct, Sakura sheathed the dagger and held it behind her back. "Nothing," she said. "Just my father's old knife."
The guard made a derisive snort and said, "Your father, eh? I don't believe that for a second. Hand it over."
This was bad. Sakura got to her feet and held onto the sheathed dagger tightly. She lowered it to her side rather than behind her back, but she made no move toward the guard. "It's mine."
The guard was losing his patience. "Don't lie to me girl, or there will be hell to pay." He walked toward her at a frighteningly slow pace. His steel boots made clangs on the paved stone ground. "Hand over the dagger now."
"No," Sakura said stubbornly. For a moment, she debated throwing the dagger into the canal. There was a chance she'd never see it again, but at least she'd be able to escape the guard. Then again, if she held onto the dagger, she was pretty sure she'd be able to outrun the guard, especially since he was wearing such heavy armor.
The guard narrowed his eyes at her. He rested one hand on the hilt of his sword. "Give it here, then. If it's not stolen, then you don't have anything to worry about. But if I find out you stole that dagger—"
"I didn't steal it!" Sakura snapped.
"Then give it to me!" the guard demanded.
The guard drew his sword and took another step toward her. Sakura took a step back. "I knew it," said the guard. "You stole it, didn't you? Do you know the penalty for thievery?"
Sakura's eyes darted around for an escape route. She didn't know the streets of Dosoduro quite as well as she knew the San Polo district, but she was pretty certain she could get away from him. The problem was getting around his sword arm without turning her back on him. And if he did manage to catch her, she really didn't like the idea of him using that sword to cut off one of her hands.
She took another step backward, and her back hit something warm. Sakura nearly jumped out of her skin, especially when she felt the stranger place a hand covered by a black glove on her shoulder. She heard his voice, and it froze her body in place.
"There you are," he said, the tone distinctly masculine. "Out playing with your dagger again? You'll attract the wrong sort of attention that way."
Sakura realized the stranger was covering for her. Even with her heart pounding, she took the opportunity. She plastered a fake smile onto her face and giggled into her free hand, the one that wasn't holding onto the dagger for dear life.
"Oh, you know me," she said. "It's just so pretty—I couldn't resist."
She took this opportunity to eye the newcomer, but to her dismay, his face was covered by a mask. That was typical of Carnevale, but the festival wouldn't even be official for another two days. The orange mask depicted a pattern like purple fire, unlike the usual Venetian masks she saw. The man had short, unruly black hair, but the lighting wouldn't allow her to see the color of his eyes, only that they were dark.
"I'm sure," the Masked Man said in a tone that made it seem like dealing with Sakura was a hassle he'd have to deal with before. His head turned in the direction of the guard, and he said, "Is there something I can help you with?"
The guard staggered a bit and managed a hasty salute with his sword still in hand. "Oh, I—um—" he quickly sheathed the sword and tried his salute again. "Lord Uchiha, sir, please forgive me. I thought the dagger was stolen."
Uchiha? Sakura's green eyes snapped back toward the stranger, and sure enough, she saw the crest of the Uchiha family on his clothing. The Uchiha family was one of the most prestigious. They were in charge of the city guard as well, which was likely why this guard was all but bending over for Sakura's timely rescuer.
"I appreciate your dedication, but not everyone is an enemy," the Masked Man said calmly. "You can relax and resume your duties."
"Yes, sir!" The guard scurried off, and Sakura watched him leave with an expression of irritated distaste. Oh well—at least he was gone. That was one potentially bad situation well-avoided.
"Thank you," Sakura said. She pulled herself out of the man's personal space and turned to thank him face-to-face. Granted, that was a little difficult while he wore a mask, but maybe he'd take it off for politeness. "Really, I appreciate you stepping in when you did."
Her rescuer lowered his gloved hands to his sides and regarded Sakura, though his expression was indiscernible with that fire-patterned mask over his face. "It was no trouble… but if you don't mind me asking, who did you steal that from?"
Sakura's cheeks heated up a bit. "I didn't steal it!" she said automatically.
There was a pause, and Sakura was positive he was making a very skeptical face at her behind that stupid mask. "…Right. It wasn't an Uchiha was it?"
"Why?" Sakura asked. "Going to change your mind and turn me in?"
He must have sensed the slight animosity, for he held up both of his hands partway in a motion of surrender. "No, nothing like that. Just warning you that most people in my family are far more likely to hold a grudge. I'd keep that hidden, if I were you."
"It's mine," Sakura said.
"Of course. You certainly look like someone who would own a dagger like that."
Sakura's eyes narrowed at him. "Is there something wrong with the way I look?"
The Masked Man lowered his arms again and made an amused sound in the back of his throat. "There's no winning with you, is there? Very well, forgive my intrusion." He bent down at the waist in a bow that seemed more like a teasing gesture. "Farewell, my lady."
While Sakura obviously wasn't a noble lady by any means, she couldn't help but feel a little… flattered. Compliments like that were hard to come by, even if they were just in passing. "Wait," she said quickly. She mulled over her words for a moment, unsure. "…May I see your face?"
The quick, blunt refusal made Sakura stagger on her feet. She straightened back up and gaped at the Masked Man. "Seriously? You know Carnevale isn't for a couple more days, right?"
He gave a simple shrug. "I like masks."
No one likes masks. The only other person Sakura knew who wore a mask all the time was Kakuzu, and that was to conceal the stitches around his mouth. So this guy was probably hiding something, too. That being the case, she supposed it would be very rude of her to make him feel uncomfortable, especially since he did rescue her (not that she needed it).
"Okay," she said. "I guess that's fair. But can I know the name of my rescuer? I'm Sakura."
"…You can call me Tobi," he said carefully.
Sakura frowned. "That's not even your real name, is it?"
"No," he cheerfully replied.
She scowled at him. "If you're not going to take me seriously, then you can just leave."
His shoulders shook a little with his soft chuckle. "Sorry. You're very easy to rile up… Sakura."
For some reason, the way he said her name made a lump rise in her throat. She swallowed it down and shifted a little on her feet, unsure of what else to say. "Well… thanks again."
Sakura hastily returned to the Red Moon brothel and found Ino waiting for her. Ino's long blonde hair was down and beautifully curled at the ends rather than her usual straight style. She was actually from one of the prestigious families of Venice, the Yamanaka family, but for some reason, she was here. Sakura didn't pry into Ino's past. It was an unspoken rule that if a Guild member didn't offer, you didn't ask.
"There you are," Ino said. "What happened with dog boy?" The crest of the Inuzuka family was a dog, and the family was pretty well known as dog breeders. Even the Pope's pet dog was a gift from the Inuzuka's kennels.
Sakura reached into her dress and withdrew the purse of florins she'd cut off of Kiba Inuzuka earlier. "Hardly a challenge," she said. "Are you working?"
"Not for the rest of the night," Ino replied. "I'll walk with you to give that to Kakuzu."
Kakuzu was not only a professional thief in the Guild but also the financial manager. Any loot was turned in to him. A cut went to the guild and the rest went to the thief. Every member was expected to reach a certain quota every month, too, to retain membership. And membership, naturally, had many perks. One of those perks was access to Thieves' Guild fences. Hopefully Kiba Inuzuka's dagger wouldn't be too hot to sell to one of them.
They walked down the long hallway to the room at the end, which was Kakuzu's office. The Red Moon was one of the larger brothels in San Polo, and quite popular. As it was also the secret headquarters of the Thieves' Guild, there were a few hidden places underneath the brothel itself that held residency for some members as well as a meeting room, storage, and other such things. It was where the reclusive leader, Pein, spent most of his time.
Sakura knocked on the door. At Kakuzu's confirmation, she and Ino headed inside. Sakura smiled at her favorite miser as she dropped the bag of florins on his desk. "There you go, everything off of Kiba Inuzuka, as promised. Oh, and this, too." She placed the ornate dagger down next to the purse.
Kakuzu was a very no-nonsense man with few facial expressions apart from stoic and irritated. Getting him to look happy was next to impossible, but the closest Sakura had ever managed was a nice bit of pleased approval. She liked to think she was one of the only people Kakuzu graced with that expression, and when she saw it, she always felt like she really earned it.
"Oh?" he said, his voice hardly muffled by the mask over the lower portion of his face. "And what's this?"
Kakuzu picked up the dagger and examined it closely while Sakura spoke, "I couldn't resist. It was shiny."
He made a brief amused sound in the back of his throat and unsheathed the dagger. His inspection was a lot quicker and more methodical than Sakura's roaming gaze by the canals had been. Kakuzu sheathed the blade and set it down on the desk. He tapped the Inuzuka crest near the guard with his index finger. "Fencing it with that is going to be a nuisance."
Sakura's shoulders slumped a little. "Well, yeah, but it's still really nice. I mean, we must have someone who will buy it."
"Perhaps," Kakuzu agreed. "I'll look into it." He reached for the cut purse and spilled out the coins from inside. Sakura watched as Kakuzu split apart the prize and shoved some of the florins toward her. "This should tide you over for now. I'll let you know if I find a fence for the dagger."
Ino sounded unsure when she said, "I don't know, Kakuzu. It might be too hot. We'll probably have to hold onto it for a while. Especially if that dog boy reports it stolen."
Kakuzu considered that. "Did he get a good look at you?"
Sakura bit her lip and averted her gaze. "Yeah, he did." She switched her eyes back to Kakuzu and spoke quickly. "But I don't think he'd suspect me. He completely underestimated me."
"Don't assume," Kakuzu said. "You're underestimating him if you think he wouldn't suspect you." Sakura looked worried, and Kakuzu continued, "I'm not saying he does. He's probably an idiot. But don't let your pride cloud your judgment. You can never be too careful."
Ino giggled at him. "Being careful is probably how you've lasted so long in this business, isn't it, old man?"
Kakuzu's eyes narrowed. "Watch it, brat."
She laughed melodically once more and said, "You know I'm only teasing."
"I'll be careful, Kakuzu," Sakura quickly intervened.
He nodded, apparently satisfied. "See that you do."