Note: A plot bunny attacked me at around midnight and I just had to write this. XD Spoilers up to chapter 352 of the manga, just so you know. Reviews would be love!
"I hope you evaporate, you spiky-toothed son of a bitch!"
Juugo lifted his head slightly from off his crossed arms, glancing over his shoulder as Karin stormed away from a snickering Suigetsu, looking absolutely furious. Sasuke watched the spectacle impassively before turning back to tend the small fire he had going.
Crickets chirped in the surrounding bushes and thatch, and Juugo curled his bare toes over the dead, matted grass as he bowed his head once more, resting his chin on his crossed arms. An owl hooted from the birch towering next to him, and grey streaks of cloud drifted over the smattering of stars. He closed his eyes and exhaled, letting his tense shoulders relax.
Suigetsu said something else to Karin, his words drowned out by the chirping crickets and crackling of burning wood. Karin shouted something profane in return until Sasuke calmly told her to shut up. Then there was silence.
Juugo had almost begun drifting off until the grass next to him crackled with the weight of someone sitting down, and he immediately snapped his eyes open, turning his head in surprise.
Karin sat next to him, scowling heavily as she mimicked his posture and crossed her arms, resting them on her knees.
Fear and uncertainty pressed down on him almost immediately, along with the confusion of wondering why she was sitting so close.
She turned her head abruptly to look at him, still glaring.
"What are you looking at?"
"Oh. Uh…nothing," he said hesitantly, averting his eyes, shifting his body slightly to turn away from her. "Sorry."
She was silent for a few seconds, and then sighed in resignation.
"Forget it. It's not your fault. It's that asshole Suigetsu, is what it is."
Juugo burrowed his face deeper into his crossed arms, wide eyes gazing up at the hooting owl as he fervently wished she'd leave him alone. She was too close. He shuddered at the memory of what he'd done to the last person who'd come too near. The bloodstains were still embedded in his clothes.
"Hey, at least say something," she said suddenly, sounding miffed. "I feel like I'm talking to myself."
He chanced a glance at her, moving his eyes to gaze at her over the crook of his arm. She stared at him, looking almost exasperated, but her expression softened slightly when he averted his eyes once more.
"Hey, don't be afraid. I don't bite."
"I…" he hesitated, voice muffled against the cool flesh of his bare arms. "It's not that. It's just…you shouldn't get too close to me."
"Oh," she said falteringly, suddenly comprehending. "Well…it's okay, you know. Sasuke-kun said he'd make sure to keep you under control."
Juugo glanced askance at her once more, eyes wary.
"I almost killed you earlier." He paused, as if embarrassed as he lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry about that."
She made an offhand gesture, laughing nervously as she straightened her glasses and crossed her legs, arms settling into her lap.
"That? No big deal. I'm fine, aren't I?"
He nodded, exhaling and closing his eyes in relief. "I'm…glad."
Silence followed once more, this time comfortably. Wood split with a loud crack behind him, echoing in the quiet dark. A cricket chirped to the left of him, and the owl left its perch soundlessly, tracking a field mouse through the brush.
The back of his neck prickled, and when he opened his eyes again, he found Karin staring at him contemplatively. Suddenly self-conscious, he averted his gaze, eyes straying to the lily pads in the pond to his left.
"You know," Karin suddenly said with deliberate loudness. "I don't know why they locked up a sweet guy like you, Juugo. You're a gentleman compared to some people I know."
Back near the fire, Suigetsu rolled his eyes.
Despite recognizing her obvious intent to irritate the Mist nin, Juugo couldn't help but blush, and he only burrowed his face deeper into his crossed arms.
"I think I'll stick with you from now on," Karin continued, obscenely loud in the otherwise silent landscape. "You make better company than Suigetsu, that's for sure—even if you're prone to going batshit."
Sasuke sighed and Suigetsu flipped her off. Juugo reddened even more.
A moment of blissful silence followed, and just as Juugo thought she'd tired herself out, she turned her attention to Sasuke.
"And you know," she added with deliberate thoughtfulness. "I think some people can get a lesson in respecting the fairer sex from you. You're a wonderful listener, unlike some people."
Sasuke made no comment.
"A total sweetheart," Karin added.
"And absolutely adorable."
"My kind of guy."
Juugo lifted his head and stared at her in alarm, face practically glowing in the dark.
"Karin-san," he managed to whisper, voice half-strangled. "Please stop."
Her lips curved into a self-satisfied smirk, dark eyes glittering as she turned back around in a huff.
"That'll show them," she muttered darkly under her breath.
Juugo stared at her, wide-eyed before turning away to look at the pond again, face burning with embarrassment.
"Hey," she said after a moment's silence, sounding half-amused. "Don't be so embarrassed. It's mostly true, you know."
He made a muffled sound against his arms, staring with deliberate fixedness at the lily pads.
"Shy?" she said in disbelief. "A freakishly strong guy like you? That's…"
Juugo slowly, hesitantly, moved his head to meet her gaze, waiting for the ridicule, his eyes wide.
"…really adorable," she finished with a grin.
The way she smiled then, teasingly and genuinely set his face aflame, and suddenly afraid of the way his skin grew hot and heart rate doubled, he moved to stand and get away.
He stumbled back in alarm when she was suddenly in front of him, barring his way, eyebrow raised and arms crossed.
"Hey, leaving like that without saying anything is rude," she said, sounding annoyed as she pushed her glasses up. "And here I was saying you were a gentleman."
"N-No," he stammered, taking a step back. "I just…I don't want to hurt you."
"I already told you," she said with narrowed eyes, hands on her hips as she advanced a step. "Sasuke-kun will—"
"What if he can't?" Juugo interrupted, sounding frightened as he unconsciously backed up another step. "What if I…"
He trailed off, finding his back against the birch tree and Karin standing directly in front of him, staring up at him with narrowed eyes.
"I can take care of myself," she replied, tone resolute as he stared down at her, wide-eyed. "There's a reason why Orochimaru made me a prison guard. I'm not a helpless little girl."
Juugo swallowed hard as she poked him in the chest.
"And besides," she added a-matter-of-factly. "If you do lose it and come at me, I'll just kick you in the 'nads."
Juugo stared at her, appalled.
"That should work," she added as an afterthought. "If anything got a prisoner down for the count, it was a good shot in the pills."
Back near the fire, Sasuke and Suigetsu winced simultaneously and crossed their legs.
"So," she continued calmly, tilting her head to the side appraisingly. "Have we come to an understanding, Juju?"
Suigetsu made a gagging gesture at the nickname.
Juugo only managed to nod dumbly in response.
"Great," Karin said brightly, giving him another one of those genuine, teasing smiles. "Goodnight."
Then she turned and walked back towards the fire, deliberately kicking up a spray of dirt over Suigetsu's pants before settling down next to Sasuke.
Wide-eyed and stunned, Juugo eventually retreated back to his spot near the pond, rubbing his chest where Karin had poked him. The spot ached, somewhere below the surface of the skin. It didn't exactly hurt. It felt…strange.
He curled his toes once more over the matted, dead grass, raising his knees and crossing his arms over them. His eyes roved to the birch tree, chin settling against the crook of his elbow as he caught sight of the returned owl, complacent and silent on a branch. He breathed, inhaling the smoky effluence of burning wood.
A total sweetheart.
The corner of his mouth twitched.
He raised his head slightly.
My kind of guy.
Furtively, he glanced back over his left shoulder.
She sat near the fire, the flames casting a flickering, orange glow over her reclined form. She caught his eye. And winked.
Juugo turned his head back towards the tree, face blazing.
And the crickets kept on chirping.