So I was very tired of reading the "Sakura gets kidnapped by Team Hebi and feels inferior to Karin" stories. They are in fact, starting to get under my skin. 'Cause you know, killed Sasori of the Red Sands. Hokage's apprentice. The Copy Ninja's Student. Friend of Naruto Uzumaki… Sakura has long since gotten over her issues with herself. (Except for the bits Sasuke still tramples on.) She has enough spine and stubbornness to turn Karin into a stain on the ground.
So once I got over my soap box, I decided to play with the idea… what happened if Jugo and Karin survived long enough to reach Konoha?
So that's what we got.
I apologize in advance. Sai has no tact.
Disclaimer: I do not own any Naruto characters. Or else I would rule the world.
Perfect in weakness
I'm only perfect in just your strength alone
Perfect in weakness
I'm only running in just your strength alone
I tried to kill you
You tried to save me
You save me
You save me
You save me
You save me
Perfect by FlyLeaf
She didn't know why she had bothered to think she had gotten over him.
Watching him now, she felt like every kind the fool. He was standing with what remained of Team Hebi (She hated that. Hated that they were here and a part of him as much as she had once hated Sai.) and her insides were tying themselves into knots. He had been back for months – Itachi was dead, Sound was gone and why wasn't everything all right now? – and she felt for the first time that her damn blinders had come off.
It wasn't so much that he had started wearing real clothes and not that ridiculous outfit he had owned at Sound. Sakura didn't care if open shirts showed off the pale expanse of his chest and the hard line of his abs. There were some fashion statements that should never, ever be made. But now… dressed in a sleeveless black shirt and pants that hugged the thin line of his waist before tapering down…
Sakura set her drink down onto the counter with a thud. Alcohol was not wisely mixed with this situation. She could feel Naruto at her side and she knew he was watching them with the same mixture of loathing and frustration that she was. Some part of her was quietly reminding her that he didn't understand Sai. That this was a silent, petty way of getting even with them for their replacement. By waving their own in front of them.
Except that would suggest that he had enough emotional depth to feel things such as jealousy and anger and even more importantly, that he would feel it towards them. She and Naruto weren't asking for miracles. They didn't want perfection and unity and mindless devotion. They wanted sweat and blood and tears and bonds dammit.
But she remembered how damn hard it was getting those things from him the first time. But some quiet, stubborn part reminded her that she had been weak and useless. Now she could break his bones as easily as she could mend them and ohgodhewassobeautiful.
"Damn him." Naruto breathed next to her.
Sakura dragged her eyes away from Sasuke and looked at Naruto. His eyes were narrowed and it was hard to tell in this light, but she almost thought there were sparks of red behind his eyes. Reaching out she smacked him behind the head.
He didn't move his eyes. "I like Jugo. You know, the guy is fairly decent under all that crazy. Not at all like that other guy, Suigetsu or whatever he called himself. Good thing he went and got himself killed. But that redheaded bitch of his…" his voice trailed off on a growl.
Sakura crossed her arms and refused to look. "Tsunade thinks the partial seal on Jugo will hold until they can finish examining the earth seal. They are pretty sure once they understand how Orochimaru reverse engineered his genes that they can lock down his rages. Until then he might be a little moody but he isn't going to try to slaughter citizens."
Naruto finally turned to look at her. Some of the temper was buried under sudden affectionate amusement. "Hiding behind information isn't going to change the fact that you want to kick her ass."
Sakura gave him a grim smile. "Yes."
Naruto leaned back, his eyes narrowing a little more. "She does it to annoy you."
"The redhead. She brushes up against him and acts like she knows him better than she does to piss you off." Naruto's smile was sharp. "Thinks you're competition. As if he cares about her."
Sakura's brows tucked together. "Huh?"
Some of the tension was easing out of Naruto's shoulders and he leaned back against the bar. "Yeah. Little bitch thinks if she pisses you off enough you might back off."
Sakura really, really wished she could finish her drink. Naruto always made more sense layered in alcohol. She would have to, if Sasuke hadn't been across the room. "I don't think I've had a conversation with her outside "does this hurt" and "if you run, I'll break your legs and enjoy it."
Naruto's smile widened. "I know. That's what makes it so great."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "You're not drunk already, are you?"
"Not yet." Naruto said cheerfully. His eyes glittered. "Let's go over there and say 'hi'."
Sakura straightened on the bar. "That's not a good idea."
Naruto jumped off his stool. "You can either come or I can drag you. The mixed signals that will send might be fun."
Sakura glared but slid off her stool anyway. "When did you become such a bastard?"
Throwing an arm around her shoulders to guide her through the crowd, Naruto laughed. "Now come on, Sakura-chan. It's just a little tough love."
"Remember this conversation next time we're in the field and I'm setting your bones, okay?"
"I thought you at least liked Jugo?" Naruto asked as they worked through the crowd.
"I do. I mean, besides 'the crazy'." She shrugged. "But that's not why I don't want to go over there and you know it!" She angled her head so her words were hidden behind her hair. Even without the sharingan Sasuke could read lips and his vision was sharper than she was comfortable with.
But she already knew it was too late and dragging her feet would send mixed signals. Plus, it would give Karin the upper hand and both she and Naruto knew it. Sliding her arm around his waist (two can play this game, Sasuke-kun) she smiled and shoved her hair out of her face with her free hand.
The only one who smiled at their arrival was Jugo. Karin had a sour expression on her face and Sasuke was as perfectly blank as always. They had never let that bother them before and they weren't going to now.
"Oi, bastard, why you hiding over here?" Naruto demanded as he yanked two chairs away from someone's table. Sliding into one of them backwards he rested his chin on the top and smirked. "Scared?"
Sakura rolled her eyes and settled herself into the other chair with a little more caution. The skirt she was wearing demanded caution and she wished once again, that she had worn her bike shorts under it.
"Yes, that must be it Naruto."
Jugo grinned. "Of course we're hidin'. You Konoha-nin are crazy. Especially the women. Or it might just be Sasuke…"
"It's Sasuke." Naruto and Sakura chorused.
Sasuke's eyes narrowed just a little. "You're both drunk."
"Not really," Sakura said lazily. "Naruto burns it up too fast to get really drunk and I have only had two."
Karin eyes gleamed. "Figure you'd be a lightweight, pinkie."
Naruto's smile didn't waver. "That's why she has us." He tilted his head towards Sasuke. "Assuming she actually is drunk." The silent 'unlike you bitch' hung in his voice like an edge.
Rolling her eyes at the staring match going on between Naruto and Karin, and ignoring the way Sasuke wasn't watching them, she turned her eyes to Jugo. Reaching up she tapped her own neck. "How is that doing?"
"Itches," Jugo said with a shrug. "Your Hokage thinks that the permanent one will react a little better. They're still working out the kinks."
Sakura nodded. "If it gets too bad, come by the hospital okay?"
Satisfied she turned back to the table to find everyone watching her. "What?"
"Can't leave work at home, can you." Naruto said affectionately.
Sakura rolled her eyes. "It's called conversation Naruto. You noticed I didn't offer to look at it right now."
"Why is that, pinkie?" Karin sneered.
Sakura laced her fingers together until they were white knuckled under the table, but she smiled at Karin anyway. "'Cause I try not to mix alcohol with healing. Even Tsunade-sensei will only perform a procedure stone cold sober."
Was it her imagination or was Sasuke looking a little ruffled? Biting her tongue to keep from staring at him – cataloguing, memorizing, learning – she turned to Naruto instead.
"I'm going to go look for Sai."
There. That was a flinch. Hoping her expression hadn't changed – damn eyes saw too much – she almost growled at Naruto's cheerfully knowing look.
"Yeah. He might be harassing some poor civilian who doesn't know how to get rid of him."
"Instead of those of us who try to get rid of him and fail miserably?" Sakura questioned as she stood.
"Damn cockroach," Naruto agreed with a smile. "I'll find another chair if you promise to bring me a refill?"
"You'll find another chair unless you want to be sitting on the floor." Sakura warned him.
Naruto grin turned lecherous. "You can always sit on someone's lap."
Sakura patted him on the head. "Try it and I'll break your scrawny neck."
"My neck isn't scrawny!"
Sakura smirked. "It'd be like breaking a pencil."
"That's because you cheat!" Naruto growled as she sauntered away. He paused to admire the way she moved in her heels before stealing a glance at Sasuke. He was pretending not to notice but Naruto knew his peripheral vision was excellent. And he knew he wasn't the only one to appreciate Sakura's legs. Ha!
Even better, the expression on Karin's face told him she knew it too. Gleefully he turned his smile onto the unsuspecting redhead. "So. Karin. You know he's taken, right?"
Sai was ridiculously hard to find in crowds. He didn't have Sasuke's height (or frigid aura) to distinguish him from the room so she had to track him with chakra threads. He was standing next to a crowd of people, his smile in place and an air of the faintly puzzled hovering around him.
"Ugly, these women seem to be having sex with their clothes on. In public."
"It's called dancing… or well, what they are attempting to do is dance."
Sai turned. "Would you care to dance like that?"
"Um, no. Not really. Actually, it would depend on the amount of alcohol and who I was dancing with." She shrugged.
"Naruto has expressed an extreme interest on 'girl on girl action.'" Sai pointed out. "Would you consider doing this with Ino?"
Sakura blinked several times. "… right. We're sitting over there. You should come join us."
Sai tilted his head. "This is one of those subjects that are off limits?"
"This is one of those subjects that would take a lot more alcohol than what I have in me to answer," Sakura corrected. "However, next time Ino is drunk you can ask her."
Sai nodded and stepped next to her as they maneuvered through the crowd. "Sasuke is here, I take it?"
Sakura blinked at him. "How?"
"Normally you're a lot closer to being drunk." He pointed out. "The only time you bother to remain sober on nights like tonight is when he is around. Plus, he doesn't bother to hide his presence from the underlings."
"Let's not mention that to him, okay?"
She glared at him. "Because he doesn't need to know."
Sai considered that. "This has to do with what Naruto calls your "brain to mouth" filter, doesn't it?"
"Yes." Sakura was starting to feel a little cranky. "Now, I promise to answer your questions as long as you leave Sasuke out of them, okay?"
He smiled. "Yes."
"Sakura-chan! You were supposed to bring more sake!"
"I never agreed to such a thing," Sakura pointed as she reclaimed her chair. "I said I was bringing Sai, not feeding your wild ways."
Naruto grinned. "Everyone, this is Sai. Sai, this is everyone."
Sai studied the table before his eyes landed on Karin. "You're the redheaded bitch who no one likes. How are you?"
Karin sputtered and Sakura had to dig her nails into her palms to keep from howling. When Karin continued to make incoherent noises, Sai turned his attention to Jugo.
"Have I said something?"
Jugo grinned. "No. I think your doing great."
"Sai! We talked about this!" Naruto didn't bother to hide his grin. "You ask them how they are doing before you make such declarations."
Sai tilted his head. "I was unaware of her name. You called her "everyone". The books I have read have stated that it is important to socially recognize how you are familiar with someone through acknowledgement. She has red hair and appears to be a bitch."
Sakura finally felt in control enough not to giggle when talked. "Her name is Karin."
Sai tilted his head. "I suppose I can call her that. Perhaps in the future you should do the introductions, Ugly, instead of Dickless."
Karin caught her bearings. "Ugly?" her smile was edged.
"Yes." Sai studied her. "You are not worth a nickname."
Oh gods, they needed to be saved from themselves. Sakura wondered if it was possible to strain a lung from containing her laughter. Stubbornly looking away from Naruto's smirking face she locked eyes with Sasuke instead.
To her shock, there was a flicker of amusement there. It killed her laughter as she gaped at him and he stared back, clearly unconcerned by the fact that she was watching him watch her. Realizing that she was gawking, she pulled her eyes away.
"So Sai," Jugo said once it was clear that Naruto was laughing too hard to fill in the void of conversation. "How do you know these two?"
"I was Uchiha's replacement." Sai said. "However, since Ugly and Dickless have been teaching me how to engage socially, Hokage-sama feels it is in my best interest to stay with them. I am impartial to this decision."
Sakura and Naruto rolled their eyes.
Jugo grinned. "Ah. That makes sense."
Sai shrugged. "I am unconcerned if it does or does not. Until Uchiha has been put back onto active status I am willing to keep his teammates from being killed."
Sakura spluttered. "Hey!"
"We're the ones keeping you alive, you little idiot." Naruto said, leaning forward to wave his fist. "If I distinctly remember…"
Sakura whapped them both. "If you distinctly remember the only reason either of you are here is because I am kick ass. I will win if you try to start another pissing contest."
Sai tilted his head. "You are not angry for my previous comments?"
Sakura blinked at him. "No… why?"
"I have been practicing," Was all he said.
"Subtleness. Shikamaru suggested that I learn how to insult someone without actually insulting them. Said it would make it easier and that I won't have to dodge as many fists that way."
Naruto gaped. "What? That's stupid! Better to be hit for a direct insult than something you didn't think you said!
Sakura looked heavenward. "I'll brain you, Naruto."
Naruto sulked for a moment before brightening. "Hey, the council is going to let you off soon, right, teme?"
Sasuke stared at Naruto. "My probation is for a year, dobe."
"Yeah, but you're totally going to be team seven again!"
Karin looked disgusted. "Yes, what an accomplishment."
Sakura and Naruto both twisted around and glared at her. Before any of them could fire off, Sasuke beat them to the punch.
She glared at him but didn't say anything else. Sakura wondered if she knew how close she had come to being killed. Naruto's muscles under her hand were tight. Shrugging, she removed her hand from where she had grabbed Naruto's knee.
"Right. Well, this is a barrel of laughs but I think someone needs to show Sai how to dance."
Sai tilted his head. "You wish to have sex with our clothes on?"
Naruto choked on air and Sakura could feel the change in the air around Sasuke. It was suddenly a lot colder at their table. "No, remember I said that wasn't dancing?"
Rolling her eyes she grabbed his hand and pulled. "Come on. This won't be too painful."
"I am not worried about pain, Ugly."
"Why do all the men in my life have to be idiots?"
Naruto was proud of himself. He waited until they were out of earshot before giving in to the urge to taunt Sasuke.
"You could cut in you know."
Sasuke glared at him.
"He has no tact. Bet he gropes her just to see what her reaction is. In that skirt, can't say I blame him, but Sakura won't kill him. Just inform him that his hands on her ass aren't socially acceptable. Then Sai will point out the couple behind them and…"
He yelped as his chair toppled.
Sasuke looked annoyed. "I don't care."
Karin looked pleased so Naruto rubbed his butt and glared at her. "Why you looking so happy, red? If I had said that about you he would have ignored me completely."
She narrowed her eyes. "You don't know that."
His smile was vicious. "Oh yes I do."
She narrowed her eyes behind her glasses. Sasuke stood suddenly, cutting off the argument. Naruto blinked at him.
"Hey where are you going?"
He didn't answer, just blended in with the crowd and disappeared.
"Man, Sakura is going to be pissed if he left."
Jugo looked thoughtful. "I think you're right. He is taken."
"What?" Karin snapped, turning.
"Sorry Karin, but the little pink haired medic gets under his skin."
Naruto's smile left his face and he leaned forward and met Karin's eyes. "If you try to screw it up between them, they won't find your body."
Karin narrowed her eyes. "I'm not afraid of you."
Naruto's smile was fanged. "You should be."
She glared at him. "I don't have to put up with this." Shoving her chair back she stalked off.
Naruto watched her go with narrowed eyes before turning back to Jugo. "Ever been piss drunk?"
"It's been a while."
Grinning, he waved a waiter over. "Wanna give it go?"
"Sure." He hesitated. "She's going to try something."
"Yes." Naruto said with a shrug. "Sakura can handle her. But if she does something to ruin it between them, I'll kill her."
Jugo looked thoughtful before nodding. "I can get behind that."
Naruto tilted his head. "I thought you two were teammates?"
Jugo snorted. "So? Not everyone believes the way you leaf nin do, Naruto. I really can't say I give a damn."
Naruto grinned. "I can get behind that."
"Sai, if your hand grabs my ass one more time I'm going to break it off."
"So there is a limit to how much a woman will stand to be groped?"
"Sai, there is a limit to how much a woman will stand when it comes to stupid, period. Your hand on my ass is what I consider stupid. Most people have to get some sort of permission for these things."
"They ask permission?"
Sakura wondered why she had thought this was a good idea. "A boyfriend or significant other has a certain amount of unspoken permission. A friend like Naruto can get off with a warning depending on said female's mood. A complete stranger will get their hands broken."
Sai pondered this. "So where do individuals like me fit in?"
"You're my friend. So I'll forgive you this once for the slip. After that you keep your hand in appropriate places or I'll break your fingers. Individually."
Sai considered this. "I suppose I can understand that."
Sakura smiled brightly at him. "Try it again and you will be living it."
"The music is ending. Is this where the dancing ends?"
"Yes. Normally. Or we can keep going, but I think you've used up all your free points." Her eyes swung back to the table and her heart sank into her stomach. Naruto and Jugo were working on a pitcher of something between them. Karin and Sasuke were gone. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she turned her eyes back to Sai.
"I think I am going to get another drink."
"Don't give me that smile."
"I shall join the others. Try not to drown your sorrows too deeply, Ugly. I hate holding your hair while you puke."
"Then let Naruto do it."
"He dropped your head against the toilet once. I hate cleaning up blood even more than puke."
"Right right. Go away. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
Sai nodded and walked away. Raking her fingers through her hair, Sakura walked over to the bar. Halfway there a flicker of red caught her attention. Turning her head she blinked at the sight of Karin glaring at her.
Well, if she was going to need a drink she might as well earn it.
Shifting her pace she walked to where the sullen woman was leaning against the wall.
"What are you doing over here?"
Karin's eyes narrowed. "Don't pretend you care, pinkie."
Sakura shrugged. "Okay. I don't. But if you start something I'm going to have to clean it up and I really don't feel like it."
Karin sneered. "You act like you're all big and bad. He doesn't love you."
Sakura tilted her head. "Is that supposed to hurt?"
Karin's eyes narrowed. "You're the one who chased him like a panting whore for years."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "He's my teammate, Karin. I suppose you can understand some of that, although knowing Sasuke he was probably too frigid to actually inspire warm, fuzzy feelings. Also, you seem to be a bit of an idiot so I doubt you could beat anything out of him besides contempt."
Karin looked furious. "You weren't any better. He called you weak. All the time."
Sakura smiled lazily. "Oh, I was. But I had Naruto and I got better. You haven't done anything to improve yourself. If Sasuke understands anything it's drive, Karin; you don't have any."
Karin's eyes burned at her. "Sasuke. Isn't. Yours."
Sakura lifted a brow. "I wasn't under the impression that he belonged to anyone."
This was starting to be fun. There was a certain amount of enjoyment in pushing the redhead's buttons. Especially since it was over all the things she had realized weeks ago. Karin had long since lost the ability to hurt her. Sasuke would always be too beautiful and to close to her heart not to hurt, but he wasn't going out of his way to deliberately stomp on her feelings. Instead he almost seemed to be attempting to find a way to talk. It clearly made him uncomfortable without Naruto around but she could work with that. He was home.
Too bad he had to bring this particular pest with him.
Karin sneered. "Don't talk like you know him. You and that blonde piece of trash don't know anything. You cannot possibly begin to understand things you had no part in. Sound shaped him. You're both idealistic fools if you think he is some good, happy person on the inside and that he could ever care for two people like you!"
Sakura growled. Karin looked startled as Sakura stalked forward and slammed a fist next to her ear. Glaring up at the taller woman, she bared her teeth.
"Listen up, Red 'cause I'm going to only say this once. You can damn well think what you want about me. I don't care. You can snivel around after Sasuke like a damn puppy for as long as he tolerates it. It's really no skin off my fucking nose to watch you set yourself up for heartache. But if you ever, ever insult Naruto again in my presence I am going to break you. When I'm finished, you'll be a gibbering hulk of nothing, assuming anyone thinks it's worth the trouble of putting you back together again."
A hand fisted in the back of her shirt and lifted her away from the pale redhead. Sakura swore and scrambled for footing. Twisting as best she could, she lifted her head to see who was holding her. Her eyes narrowed even further when she realized who it was.
"Hey! Asshole! Put me down!"
"Karin." Sasuke's voice was frozen. "Leave."
Karin looked stubborn. "She started it."
Sakura reached around and yanked on Sasuke's hold on her shirt. He was exposing a great deal of her spine to the general public but didn't seem to notice or care. "I'll finish it to as soon as I get loose. Sasuke!"
Sasuke stared down at his former teammate. Karin finally swallowed and walked away. Sakura glared at her retreating back before kicking the back of Sasuke's calf. "I'm going to break my no-chakra-when-drinking-rule in about three seconds if you don't let me the fuck go!"
Instead of doing as she asked he began walking towards a side door. His hold on her shirt hadn't lessoned and she was awkwardly pulled along.
"I swear to all that's holy, Uchiha!"
"You want to have this conversation where everyone can hear it?" The words 'where Naruto can point' were clear in his voice and she swore at him.
"We aren't having a conversation. I was having one with Karin."
Sakura lifted a brow and scanned her figure with his dark eyes. Flushing she went to punch him in the ribs. He stepped back, twisting her around so that her front was pressed up against his chest and her nose was somewhere below his collarbones. He smelled like soap and the smoke of the bar.
She froze when his head lowered so that his mouth was hovering above her ear. "Are you going to behave?"
Sakura swallowed. This close and she could feel the steady rhythm of his breathing as his body shifted against hers. His heart was beating steadily against her shoulder and his hands were warm against her sides.
"You started it." She pointed out, working very hard to keep her voice even.
"Hn." And then his arm was around her waist and she was being escorted out the door into the humid air outside. By the time she had collected her wits to remember she was mad at him – Karin was his fault, after all – he had shut the door behind him and was scanning the alley for any lingering presences. Obviously satisfied, he turned the depth of his attention back to her.
She really was such a fool for thinking she was over him.
"I'll handle Karin, Sakura."
She clenched her fingers into fists. "If she insults Naruto again there won't be enough for you to 'handle' Sasuke."
He tilted head. She didn't know it was an acknowledgement of her statement or him studying her reaction. Glaring at him defiantly, she waited for him to say something. Finally he just shrugged.
"Do as you wish."
"You are such an asshole."
The edges of his lips twitched. She wondered if that classified as a smile.
Tossing her hands into the air she shook her head. "Fine. Whatever. I'm going back inside."
He stepped in front of the door, blocking it.
She glared up and him and wished, really wished, that he hadn't grown to be so tall. Both he and Naruto towered over her and some days it made her feel very small. Like right now. "What do you want, Sasuke."
"I didn't bring Karin with me."
Her brows snapped together. "What?"
He shifted his weight so he was looking down instead of over her. The angle of his body was curved towards hers – instead of the stiff, uncaring posture he normally wore. Swallowing, it would be so easy to just to stare at him all night; she made herself hold his gaze impassively.
"Karin. I didn't want her here."
What could have been amusement flickered through his eyes as he continued to watch her. Sakura was a little lost for words. She was tired of reading into everything he did or didn't say. Squaring her shoulders she locked her hands behind her back.
"I'm through reading into things, Sasuke. If you want that to mean something to me, you have to give me more than that."
Instead of stiffening and turning away, his expression relaxed. It wasn't soft and it wasn't open, but it was smoother somehow. As if he wasn't willing to let her in (yet, oh please just be a yet) but he didn't want to shut her out completely.
Her heart hammered in her chest.
Sakura licked her lips. "Okay."
He didn't move. Suddenly feeling nervous and shy, she averted her eyes. "We should go back in."
She shot him an annoyed glance. "That means moving, Sasuke."
The edges of his lips deepened in what might have been a smile and then he was opening the door. Just as she passed him he leaned down. His voice was soft and almost – almost! – warm.
"You're still annoying."