cognitive dissonance

we're all addicts here, in wonderland;; sasukarin, slight karinjuugo

(a/n) geez, I don't even ship half of this. Why am I writing it? Damn you, recent chapters, and the appearance of Darth Sasuke! D:

This took a while to get quite right. Reviews would be nice, just to make sure I did get it right.

Written for the prompt, "inspired by: songs: so cold," at mission insane on livejournal.

(disc.) not.


Cognitive dissonance, n. a conflict or anxiety resulting from the simultaneous acceptance of two contradictory ideas.

--

It just happened one night.

Sasuke was out on watch. Karin and the other two were by the campfire, sharpening their weapons and speaking only just above the screech of stone on blade.

"Do you ever," Suigetsu asked, taking a swig from his canteen before he continued, "get the feeling we're being used?"

Karin dropped the kunai she was working on, swearing in shock when it landed next to her foot. "Of course not!" she spluttered, in response to the question.

They looked to Juugo, the tie-breaker. He averted his gaze—which he usually did anyway; he didn't like eye contact—and said quietly, "We're all here of our own free will." Karin gave Suigetsu a triumphant look. He threw his arms up in an exaggerated shrug.

"Well, come on, it's fair to ask yourself once in a while, right?"

"It's fair to trust people, too," Karin said, bending down to pick up the kunai she'd dropped.

Suigetsu let the subject drop, wisely, and Sasuke was back within thirty minutes. It was Suigetsu's turn on watch, and he took it without even blinking at Sasuke or giving any hint of any dissatisfaction he may or may not have held.

The other three of them were supposed to go to sleep so that the next one with the watch would be fresh, but Karin had not bunked down for fifteen minutes before feeling someone shaking her shoulder and murmuring in a voice that made her very skin tingle, "Come with me." She rolled over, and Sasuke was right there.

He put a finger to her lips, which practically made her entire face melt, she was sure. "Get up and follow me," he said, pitched perfectly for only her to hear.

Karin was absolutely certain this was not happening. She got up and fell in step behind Sasuke, as they snuck deeper into the woods. He stopped suddenly, and she stopped as well; waiting, wondering.

He looked over his shoulder at her, as if checking to make sure she was still there.

"Do you know where we are?" he asked.

Karin shook her head no. "Where?" she asked.

"Nowhere," Sasuke said, turning around. "You'd follow me out somewhere you're not familiar, because I asked you to?"

"Of course," Karin said, squinting in the crescent-moon dark. Sasuke was—

right there, next to her, startling her so much that she opened her mouth to yelp in reflex, but couldn't because his lips his lips his lips are kissing me, trapping the sound in her mouth. They broke apart, and she could feel her heart going like a hummingbird's wings, beating so fast it may as well have been thrumming with excitement and confusion.

He whispered in her ear, "Do you trust me?"

Karin whispered back, "Of course."

--

For a time, she was happy. Just happy to be alive. Happy that he would hold her when she asked, kiss her without holding back, touch her without flinching, as many tended to do after seeing the bite marks indelibly scored into her skin. Happy that this much happiness could exist.

Happy that dreams did come true

When the others weren't there to see, he'd come. No words were exchanged after that first time. He'd take her by the shoulders and press his mouth to hers hungrily, never with violence but with passion, so intensely that it sometimes seemed they were sharing breath. She'd gasp and clutch him, her fingernails digging into his back, sometimes scratching hard enough to draw blood for the few seconds before her chakra healed them over just as they were while his mouth moved from her mouth to her neck to her collarbones to her shoulders. His hands would roam all over her back, pressing her tightly but gently to him.

But nothing would ever happen.

His mouth would move to her shoulders and stop there. His hands would wrap around the small of her back and stray no further. They stayed, frustratingly, clothed, and just when she thought she would go mad with desire, he'd be gone, and she'd be left panting and gasping and hurting with want.

And then he'd come back the next night. And they'd do it again.

There was no way that Juugo and Suigetsu weren't aware of what was going on, but they weren't saying anything. As they drew closer to Konoha by the day, Sasuke began to come to her less and less, staying more often on watch, staying up whole nights, his eyes bloodshot in the morning and alight with a fevered gleam.

Karin tried to pretend that it didn't matter.

It mattered.

It mattered so much.

It mattered when he dug his fingers into her hair, breathing all over her; when she clamped her teeth down on the nape of his neck, the now-bare spot that had once held his Curse Seal; when she fell asleep in his warm arms and woke up freezing and alone; when she eventually realized that deep down, nothing had really changed at all. It mattered.

What does it say of our dreams, that we regret them when they come true?

--

One night, she stopped. Stopped kissing, stopped responding, just stopped.

He noticed, and waited for her to say something.

She gently pushed him back to a normal conversational distance. She asked what she should have been asking all along.

"Why?"

His eyes impassive, he said nothing for a time. "Do you trust me?" he asked, just like he did that very first night.

There was no question.

"No."

A soft and amused smirk crossing his face, he leaned in, and whispered, "Good."

And he took her in his arms.

Oh.

Oh, god.

She tensed and pushed away, but he was inexorable and did she want this yes no yes I don't know his lips her skin his black obsidian eyes and

she was suddenly alone again, clutching herself and nothing had happened, but really, everything had happened. No more had physically taken place than had happened on any other night; nothing had changed but pure realization and the horror in understanding why.

Karin could only sit there, sprawled because her knees had given out, gasping and aching and wanting and hating herself for all three. Memories battered at her like wild animals against the bars of cages—

a needle, dripping—

the one inmate who stared at her too much, too much, and—

she'd sink her teeth into her own arm until the blood oozed out in fat dark droplets just to see—

pretty soon, any scrap of favor he threw her way became precious, because being favored by Orochimaru-sama meant that they knew you were off limits—

and once Kabuto-sensei left her on a drip for forty-eight hours and she lay hazy and starving and dying of thirst and paralyzed with fatigue and could only watch the clear liquid seep into her body drop by drop by drop—

the first time she saw those volcanic glass eyes, she went to her room that night and bit herself hard for letting herself think how sad it would be to watch those eyes shatter in the end; because they all do, no one comes of his own free will—

because we're all addicts here, in wonderland—

—and suddenly warm arms were around her, warm and big and not Sasuke's. It took Karin a moment to recognize Juugo. She pushed away and tried to swallow the half-formed tears threatening to spill over, tried to pull herself together and shove down the hurt. She wasn't doing well at all.

Juugo looked into her eyes and said two words.

"I know."

Karin dissolved, then, sobbing uncontrollably into the front of his shirt, gripping the material and pressing her face into his chest so she didn't have to see him. She cried because she didn't know how else to say that she had always hated herself for staying with Orochimaru at first, when she still could have escaped if she really wanted to, until she couldn't leave, not because she was not capable but because she just couldn't. Because she loved him, in a way. Because she hated him. Because somehow, he knew how to make you need him.

And this was the same.

It was exactly the same.

She'd lied and told herself, no, this was real, he was real, Sasuke was real and he could care and she could fix him and everything would work out because she loved him and he needed her, but really, she needed him and she hated needing him and hated him for making her need him and everything was happening again.

"You don't," she choked out between sobs. "You don't."

Juugo put his hand to the back of her head, cradling her against him. "You think I don't know how hard it is, to have to depend on someone?" he asked, softly and bitterly.

And Karin thought of Juugo and his cell and I heard he came to Orochimaru of his own free will and his spot where he slept, always way off to the left of the camp and you are Kimimaro's reincarnation and the times the curse would shoot through his skin like wildfire (boy or girl boy or girl) and she would have to pin one of his iron, twitching arms down while Sasuke stared at him with molten eyes and stroked his face gently and talked him down like a herder to a wild horse and how Juugo would especially not talk to any of them for a while afterward, the hot naked shame and potential guilt visible in his face, and she thought maybe.

Maybe Juugo does know.

Their hug was not needful or desperate, like the long frantic minutes of heady physical contact she and Sasuke would share, but just there; silent and solid, acknowledging each other's existence and their camaraderie in quiet despair.

--

Karin remembered an old story from the south base.

Once, Kabuto-sensei had these lab rats. He kept them all in cages with two levers. One dispensed food. The other dispensed small doses of water laced with a chemical compound he was testing that was supposed to induce a feeling of euphoria. The levers were designed so that only one could be pulled at any one time. So that they'd have to choose.

The rats starved to death.

--

It was hard, to try not to need someone. Love and hate both come out to the same thing: need, and need is just another form of control.

"I need you," Sasuke said to her one night, when Karin had shaken her head and refused to play along.

"You need my abilities," she said, crossing her arms and ignoring the cold, automatic anticipation running up and down her spine. "But do you really need me?"

He was silent for a moment. "You could have left anytime," he said. "But you stayed. You decided you need my body—" to illustrate this, he ran his hand along her cheek, and she tried not to but shivered at his touch all the same, and he smiled without mirth, hard and angrily bitter "—but do you really need me?"

"I—" She couldn't deny it. It was true; she did want his touch, his voice, his breath. But she could have named any number of people in Otogakure who were just as attractive as Sasuke and far more easily dealt with. "I do," she said, averting her gaze to the ground. "I do—and not just because of...of this." She reached out and splayed her fingers against his chest. "It's because...you...were different. You gave us..." Tears began to form at the corners of her eyes. "You gave us hope, Sasuke."

He veritably flinched at the word. "Hope? For what?" he practically spat, his eyes smoldering. His reaction was strangely interesting; what, she wondered, is that all about?

"We hoped...that things could be different now. That you were different. You didn't just kill. You didn't just despair, like the rest of us. You could choose to be...different. Right. But..." Her fists clenched. "But it doesn't matter. People don't change. Free will is a farce. We don't choose based on what we want, or what could change things—we choose because we need. And you..."

She took a deep breath. "You need something to control. Hate... Love... It's all the same to you."

Sasuke chuckled at that. She didn't see what was so funny. "Maybe I just can't see the difference," he said softly, almost as if he weren't even talking to her. "Maybe there is no difference. If there's one thing I've learned, Karin, it's that the line between love and hate is perforated at best." He looked at her. "So, which is it for you?"

Karin was silent.

"I... I don't know," she whispered.

Neither of them said anything, until Sasuke leaned in, and whispered to her, hesitantly, haltingly, "Do you want to find out?"

--

It was cold, and when it was over, she felt more empty than when she'd started.

--

He asked her, later, which it was. Love, or hate.

She said, both.

He said, him too.

--

Because we're all addicts here, in wonderland.

.owari.