Written for glassysands at Livejournal. You owe me hell for this.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Elseways, I'd be tapping Juugo. And Suigetsu. Yummy.
Karin sighed, her pointer finger lazily twirling a strand of her dark magenta hair as she scoped her surroundings once again.
It had been a good four hours since Team Hebi scattered from their motel room and throughout the town they had currently selected as a safe place to spend the night. Sasuke's orders were simple, easily clarified: Disperse, socialize, use any means possible to sniff out possible informants who might possess valueable data concerning the current whereabouts of the notorious Akatsuki. Namely one member who went by the name Uchiha Itachi.
Sure, sure. Easier said than done, of course.
Tracking specific individuals was a no-brainer for her. Weeding out any inmates mid-escape attempt back at her assigned base was almost a religious routine when she still occupied her post, seeing how she knew practically all of them by face and name. Scouting out people of anonymous reputations was a different ballpark completely. There was no shortcut to it, no hand sign that directed her to whatever entity suited her needs. Finding informants meant socializing. Finding infromants meant blending in, remaining incognito. Neither of the two were strong points for her, considering her warped attitude --and shade of hair color--, so finding informants meant having to keep her weaknesses fortified and having to stay on her toes, lest anyone around her happened to be sniffing her out.
Cons aside, finding informants meant scouring bars.
The insides of which Karin had not been blessed with seeing for years.
Granted, she was no alcoholic, though she was hardly moderate in her intake when the going got tough. The years spent among the barren, dirty corridors and moldy holding cells on that godforsaken island had taken a toll on Karin's drinking, to the point where she --remorsefully-- gave up the habit altogether. Sasuke had plans, the likes of which would most likely keep her and her two other comrades occupied for a while, so tonight was reasonably the best night to spoil herself rotten under the quise of scouting and celebrate her liberation from Orochimaru's orders.
And of course, to keep her mind occupied on things other than the monthly visitor that was making her sides scream in agony.
To say that the bittersweet tang of rum sliding down her throat was like rain after centuries of drought was a most immeasurable understatement.
With a content sigh, she lifted the palm of her hand upwards to let her chin rest upon it while her other hand kept her half-full glass affectionately close. By some small fraction, her cramping seemed to be dulling down, or at least the growing fuzz in her brain was making her less aware of it. Her cheeks were tinged with a soft pink hue and there was a comfortable warmth washing over her limbs, and it was in this moment while she wobbled to and fro on her unsteady wooden barstool that Karin decided there probably wouldn't be any harm in disappointing Sasuke just this once and returning to the motel empty-handed.
Not that she wouldn't regret it later, Karin mentally stated, she just couldn't bring herself to fret and worry right this moment. Later would be another moment. Tomorrow would be another day. Another moment and another day to make up for her fruitless efforts to her current savior. Life got rather dull when you saw the same walls, the same rooms, the same people and dealt with the same issues day after day, month after month. A yearning for a new purpose, a new pursuit was what egged her to accept Sasuke's proposal --like she was going to say no to that 'carved-by-angels' face of his-- and was what kept her attached to him like a lapdog to its master. It was Sasuke that had pulled her out of that monotonous hell of a guardian post. And it was Sasuke who she felt indebted to pay back for that tenfold.
Karin swallowed down her last gulp of rum quickly, spots in her vision while she pulled out a few small coins in her back pocket and stacked them neatly on the countertop. The legs of the stool she occupied creaked against the stone floor as she stood and made her way out.
"...finally going after him...?"
Karin slowed her steps minutely as she walked past an occupied alleyway, a man and a woman conversing in the distance, the latter speaking.
It was only when she heard the man's voice joining in that Karin halted in her tracks.
"...this should be just fine. In fact, I don't think my comrades are going to bring back any information this valueable..."
His voice was low and echoing, rising from the depths of his being. Underneath the silkiness of his vocation lay a slight rasp that testified to his adolescense, his last vestiges of childhood.
The piercing spikes on the back of his head were undeniable.
The woman spoke, and although the shadows kept both her and the Uchiha's appearances protected, the devious grin in her voice was easy to pick up.
"Good thing I'm here then, huh?"
"If anything else turns up, will you make sure to let me know first?"
"Anything for an Uchiha."
The rum in Karin's system boiled.
Anything for an Uchiha...?!
Watching the silhouettes in the alley closely, she watched as the woman --slightly taller than the young man standing before her-- reached up to his face and pinched his cheek.
"You take care of yourself, crumbum."
Forget the rum. All of the blood in Karin's body was stirring.
Without even thinking, she stormed back into the bar, finding that her previous seat was blissfully vacant. All the while she muttered tersely to herself.
"'Won't bring back information this valueable'... who does that jerk think he is, cavorting around behind our backs and..."
Huffing, she pulled up to the bar to find the bartender smiling back at her.
Even though she was already glaring, her eyes narrowed impossibly further.
"Another rum," she muttered briskly. "And keep it coming 'til I say."
Sasuke made his way easily down the eerily silent street, the motel his squad was staying at slowly coming into view. Tonight had been a rather productive and fortunate one for him. It turned out that of all people to be in this city at the time had been Naoto, a former investigator and data informant for the Uchiha clan. Before his older brother's unexplained onslaught, the elders had kept her in high demand as a spy and a trusted informant, noting that of any shinobi outside the clan itself, Naoto was second to none in information gathering. He had encountered her himself a few times in his childhood, which made her no less than ecstatic to bump into him after all this time. For years, she had been trying to pick up countless leads on the annoyingly elusive Uchiha prodigy that had made a slaughterhouse out of his own home. Quite of few of those mentioned leads turned out to pinpoint-acurate and very up-to-date, which Sasuke would have willingly bid for any day of the week.
"So, you're finally going after him...?" she inquired after he had pulled her into a side alley adjacent to a bar and listened to her detailed analysis.
"I've done my waiting," Sasuke replied tonelessly, giving only a spare second to register the whizzing flashes and images in his head that stemmed from that day that had molded his fate, was still molding it.
"He took away some respectable clients, Sasuke. If you weren't so hellbent on hunting him down, I would've skinned him already."
"Considering the work he made of his own people, I don't know if you could have done that, Naoto. No offense."
She waved her hands in a pacifying gesture. "None taken."
"Everything you've just told me... all of this should be fine. I don't think my comrades are going to bring back any information this valueable."
"Good thing I'm here then, huh?" Sasuke couldn't help but note with some slight perturbedness that her lips were quirked up flirtatiously. It appeared there was no stopping the female population from throwing even the slightest advances his way, not even the part of the population that had him beat by a good five inches in height and by two decades in age and experience.
"If anything else turns up, will you make sure to let me know first?"
Despite the sharp edge in Sasuke's voice, Naoto's smile only widened. "Anything for an Uchiha."
Then, much to his aggravation, she had reached out and pinched his cheek. It didn't tickle.
"You take care of yourself, crumbum." She left him with a wink before shimmering out of sight and leaving the irritated Uchiha alone in the alley to rub at his reddened cheek.
Sasuke snapped out of his reverie to find that he was already in front of the motel, Suigetsu and Juugo leaning against the worn doorway.
"As luck would have, I did. I'll explain more in the morning," he replied quietly. Even though there really wasn't a point to him asking, any information was good information until proven otherwise. "Did you?"
Suigetsu frowned and shrugged his shoulders. "Nope, just old news. Juugo didn't dig up much of anything either."
Sasuke nodded slightly in response. "Right. Where's Karin?"
"Still out, I suppose. Knowing her, if she hasn't picked up any leads, she'll just get frustrated and come back soon. I don't know about you, Wonderboy, but I'm really in the mood to crash where I stand," Suigetsu stated with a between deep yawns.
"Alright, let's head in. Just in case, I'll wait for Karin."
Wordlessly, the three stepped inside, blissfully unaware of the malcontent figure waiting in the shadows, downing a swallow of rum from a bottle while she sat.
Just had he said he would, Suigetsu wasted no time in heading for his bead, fast asleep before his head even touched the pillow. Juugo, looking rather worn from his efforts himself, followed suit, although he still went through the procedure of putting on sleepwear and other such pre-bedtime niceties before hitting the sack.
And that had been two hours ago, Sasuke noted tiredly from where he sat in the room's makeshift sitting area. So, care to explain what's taking you so damn long, Karin?
Not for the first time, he sighed and rubbed his temples.
Normally, whenever an order was given, Karin was the one who obeyed it with the most calculated precision and zeal. While he was hoping for any hints to his brother's whereabouts by whatever means, he had also made it clear to get back to the motel as soon as was humanly possible. Word was spreading about his triumph over Orochimaru, the most sinister amongst the Legendary Sannin, which meant staying in one place for long was not an option. He'd thought Karin of all people would know that by heart.
Well, at least he thought so up until now.
"I swear, when that woman comes in, she is as dead as dead can be," Sasuke murmured to himself in the dark.
"Izzat so?" resounded a heavily-slurred voice from the slightly open doorway. "I wazzn' aware you c-... cared enough to kill me fer bein' late..."
Turning his head up, Sasuke was greeted with the sight of a rather disheveled Karin. Her face was flushed, cheeks nearly glowing red in the darkness of the room, and her usually kempt red hair was splayed about in a disarray. Thanks to his sharpened sense of insight, it was almost impossible to not notice the sudden inebriated twist her ankle took before Karin straightened back up and pinned her smoky gaze on the Uchiha sitting before her.
He glared back icily. "Karin, you better have a good reason for showing up here like th-"
"Kariiiin!," she interupted mockingly, her voice jumping up an octave with every word. " You better have a good reasonfor showing up...! L-listen, you," she snapped, waggily pointing a finger at all three Sasukes in her line of sight. "Don't you 'Karin' me, boy, 'nless you gotta bone ta pick wid meeee..." She stumbled a little bit on the last word, hands clutching her sides. The alcohol in her system kicked into overdrive before settling back down.
If she hadn't been three sheets to the wind at the moment, she would have noticed the bewildered look that had plastered itself on Sasuke's face before he shook it off.
"Karin, you're drunk. Go to bed."
She gasped dramatically before replying. "WELL! The Uchiha Wonder has reached another genius epipher-... epireal-... epiphany, ladies and gentleman! We'll have to make today a n-national holiday, how 'bout dat?"
Growling low in his throat, Sasuke made to stand up from his chair as he braced himself on the table in front of him. "Karin, stop that and go to be- oof!"
He wasn't expecting Karin to be pushing him back into his chair, and as a result, he nearly toppled over it.
"Not 'til y'answer some questionsss... and yer answers better be worth m'time," Karin drawled out inches away from his face, the rum on her breath all too evident for Sasuke to ignore.
Crossing his arms, he stared back, wishing for this whole ordeal to end quickly. And hopefully, without any injury on anyone's part. "What?"
"Who was dat woman y'were talking to?"
Blinking, Sasuke tried to form up an explanation as to how Karin knew what he had been doing.
The bar. She was probably at the bar next door...
"She was a reliable source I came across. Now, will you please-"
"WRONG!" Without warning, Karin slammed her hand against the table, the din resulting making Sasuke jump slightly. "Who was dat woman, huh?!"
He gaped slightly before answering again. "For the love of- She's an ex-informant for the Uchiha clan! She had a few solid leads on where-!"
"THAT'S NOT WHAT I'M TRYIN' TA IMPLY, YOU LITTLE SHITHEAD." At the sound of the directed insult, Sasuke immediately tensed, mind scrambling over what to do next.
Before Sasuke could choke out a reply, he was hanging in midair, Karin's fingers gripped tightly around the scruff of his collar, holding him centimeters away from her face.
"Let's b'more direct, hmmmm?" Still holding him up with one hand, she kept her other hand on the table, slapping the wooden countertop to emphasize every syllable of her next question.
"WHO. WAS SHE. TO YOU?!"
Of all the questions he had ever been confronted with, this had to be by far the most irrational. Still, that didn't lessen how visibly confused and befuddled the Uchiha was at the moment.
"My God-... I haven't seen her since I was a kid, happy?! This is the first time in years that we've crossed paths. She doesn't mean anything!"
Inquisitively, she looked him over as he finished speaking, as if his face spoke louder than his voice did. Techinically, it did, seeing how disoriented Sasuke appeared while he hung above the seat of his chair by his collar --which he greatly feared was going to garner a tear if she didn't relent her grip on him soon. He only had one extra tunic in his bag, and damnit, he was going to milk this one out for all the wear and tear it could handle.
Sniffing, Karin unfurled her fingers, letting Sasuke drop loosely onto the chair, stunned silent.
"If I r'call, you ssssaid that whatever information we got wasn' gonna measure up ta what dat old chick gave you. But y'listen here, slick. It doesn' friggin' matter whatever info we did or didn' get. At least I had the deshensy --hic-- decency to get what had ta get done done. Have y'heard me say no to an order at all yet? NO. And lemme tell you, I've gone through mo' hell in five minutes than you mos'likely dealt wid in five days. I had to deal wid dat stupid sword-swingin' twat callin' me a bitch 'n' a psycho day 'n' night, and Juugo's tried ta smother me in my sleep. Twice. And you... you of all people... I've been workin' my ass to the friggin' bone since you two talked me outta my post and into yer little ragtag team! I'm in mourning for my overworked ass! I haven' had a drop of rum, hell a drop of anything fer years, and it'sss jus'about gratin' my nerves!"
Grabbing his tunic once again, she pulled him unbearably closer to make sure he could never forget what she was about to bellow next.
"AND MAY I MENTION, I'VE HAD AN ABSORBANT, DILDO-LIKE CONTRAPTION LODGED B'TWEEN MY LEGS THIS WHOLE TIME AND MY SIDES ARE ACHIN' SO MUCH I COULD DIE? AND HAVE I COMPLAINED ONCE YET, Y'STUPID, UNGRATEFUL TURD? NEVER!"
During her whole rant, Sasuke's face had undergone a plethora of expressions, ranging from blank to mildy scared to --as he was right now-- absolutely mortified.
So. Karin was --for the time being-- drunk, rampaging, and PMSing. Fucking terrific.
By the time this night was over, he was probably going to be in dire need of whatever rum Karin was running on.
"D'spite it all, I'm overjoyed to b- to be here! And how am I rewarded fer my willing loyatiesss? With any thanks from your end? Noooooo, God forbid! I'm trusting you with my life here, Sasuke! I dun' have a clue in Hell what end you're leadin' us to, but I'm followin' you anyway! And I'm thanked for that by findin' you struttin' and g-g-galavanting like some stud prize horse?!"
"Wha...?" was all Sasuke managed to weasel out in the midst of Karin's ruthless tirade. Stud prize horse...?
"Y'know damn well 'what'! Prancin' and galloping wid other women like some s-... s-..." Karin steadied her tongue before she all but shrieked out her next accusation. "LIKE SOME SORT OF SUGAR DADDY!!"
If there had ever been a moment where the Uchiha Sasuke was utterly disconcerted, perplexed, taken aback, horrified, and white as a ghost all in the same breath, that moment was it.
A clatter from the other side of the door that margined the sitting area from the beds informed Sasuke that Suigetsu --and possibly Juugo-- had been listening in on everything, and by all accounts was trying to keep a fit of snorts and cackles at bay.
Things only progressed from bad to worse when he noticed that Karin's figure shook violently, lips quivering and her grip on his tunic growing lax.
The desperation on his face was nothing short of priceless when it all clicked.
Oh fuck, ANYTHING but that... Please God, someone, give me ANYTHING other than Karin cr-
Before he wrap up his mental prayer, her hands were on the back of his skull, shoving his head forward and squishing his face against her sternum. Her own face had furrowed itself into his inky locks, eyes bawling and nose leaking into his spikes.
"I'm sorry... I'm so- Oh shit, Sasuke, I'm so sorry...!" Karin howled, her sobs making her already impeded speech all the more intelligible.
Through it all, Sasuke had been pulling off a very accurate portrayal of a fish out of water: eyes wide and unblinking, mouth opening and closing in intervals due to shock, and his entire body wriggling slightly in an attempt to escape Karin's embrace, though her steady hold on him held sway.
Sighing in resignation, he stilled himself and reached up and patted her shoulder reassuringly, lost as to how he was going to keep her pacifyed otherwise. "There, there... um, just breathe... or something... and um, sit on the table. Yes, er, breathe in..."
Shakily, Karin complied and sucked in a quick breath or two through her teeth while situating herself on the edge of the table, still clutching Sasuke close --much to his discomfort.
For the longest moment, there was nothing to be had between he and the wayward kunoichi who had him in her grasp. Nothing to say, only to take in. The dark blue overcast of shadows on the furniture, on the walls, on themselves. The faint swishing and floating of the worn and gritty linen curtains over the lopsided windowsill. The enveloping, pristine scent of detergent and... and something else, something that hit the core of him.
Something that smelled like home.
Karin was too preoccupied with wrapping up her sniffles and whines to feel the tremble that washed over the young man in the circle of her arms.
"I'm sorry..." she whispered wetly, breaking the silent spell that had woven itself around them. "I really am, it's just..." Before she spoke again, she set her gaze downwards towards his face, a small smile forming as she reached up and gently pinched his cheek.
This time, it did tickle.
"It's just you're too adorable for your own good, kiddo... You really-" The tears were starting up again, and it took all of Sasuke's will power not to bury his face into his palm. "You're just so precious..." she finished in a tone that was almost... motherly.
A muffled chortle resounded from the other side of the door. So, Suigetsu hadn't lost any interest in the conversation so far. And things were looking up to be a lot more intriquing, it seemed.
While Sasuke was no fan of the female half of the human race, he did know enough about them to keep himself prepared. He knew that women were weird creatures. He knew that women only got weirder during their 'time-of-the-month.' And,--as Sasuke was witnessing firsthand right now--when a woman on her period was three sheets to the wind and already displayed severe bipolar tendencies beforehand, that called for a killer combo that turned a woman from a hormonal pile of mush to an untamed, unpredictable --and potentially lethal-- animal.
So doubtless, it only made sense that Sasuke honestly felt he would be much more comfortable shitting blood than in the arms of said unpredicatable animal. But alas, here he was. And no blood appeared to be seeping out of any open cavity yet, unmentionable or otherwise.
So for the time being, all he could do was take comfort in the fact Karin was far more bearable when she was lethargic and weepy as opposed to unbalanced and sanguinary like she was minutes ago.
"Yeah... you really are precious. It's... it's weird sometimes. Not just you. Juugo. And Smartass too. Sometimes, it's so random, but I feel like I need to keep the three of you bundled up and cozy... like I need to keep you safe. I guess-" She gave herself pause to let out a near inaudible chuckle. "I guess it's just the maternal side of me, y'know? You know, right Sasuke?" she nudged softly.
Since he couldn't come up with any other alternatives of insured survival, Sasuke concluded that the best thing he could do right now was just nod and agree. "Uh, sure. Sure, sure I know..."
More snickers came from the door, and Sasuke figured now was as good a time as any to try his hand at glaring through solid objects.
"But I want you to know something."
To her surprise --and to Sasuke's-- he tilted his head up, ears open.
"I guess... I got mad 'cause I feel like I'm supposed to keep an eye on you all. I'm supposed to be a little bit of a mother. And I got mad 'cause... 'cause I think any mother wants their kid to depend on them, right? Them. No one else. That's why I yelled at you, okay?" The hand that wasn't holding his head was busy rubbing his shoulderblades, his neck. "I want you to depend on me, Sasuke. That's why I do so much for you. That's why I follow you around. Because I want you to have a purpose for me..."
Slowly, but surely, Sasuke nodded.
"Alright." His voice was frighteningly quiet. "Alright."
She smiled. "Good."
And passed out on the tabletop.
Sasuke stared ahead bewildered, everything around him quiet, save for Karin's heavy snores.
Unsure of any other course of action to take, he rubbed his aching temples. Then, with all the stealth of an exceptional shinobi as himself, he stood up cautiously from the chair and gingerly draped Karin's unconcious form over his shoulder.
The door opened before he could get to it.
Suigetsu --damn him, damn him, damn him-- had what was possibly the widest smirk that had ever adorned the Mist nin's face.
"Well, that was entertaining."
Sasuke sneered back.
"For you, maybe." Women. Honestly.
Juugo peeked out from his spot behind Suigetsu, his face etched with concern. "Will she be okay?"
"Yeah, but I think we're going to have to let her sleep off her hangover before we head anywhere," Sasuke answered as he dumped Karin unceremoniously onto her bed.
Suigetsu looked her over, giggling as he spoke. "I don't know about you, but I'd much rather stay an orphan than subjugate myself to a crazy-ass mom like her."
"Hmm." And with that, Sasuke headed back towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Juugo inquired quietly.
Sasuke's eye seemed to twitch when he looked back over his shoulder. "To get some aspirin." He turned on his heel and was about to turn the doorknob when Suigetsu decided to be typical Suigetsu and try to grab the last laugh.
"Don't be out too late, Sugar Daddy."
Sasuke's fingers tightened fitfully around the brass knob, nearly indenting the metal before wrenching the door open and slamming it shut behind him.
Suigetsu's cackles only sped up at the sound of Sasuke's feet hitting the pavement at break-neck speed towards the nearest convenience store.
There you have it, folks. Karin: Sasuke's libido-driven fangirl by day, his eccentric surrogate mother by night.
Reviews would be love.