A/N: I'm very very lost with this manga right now. Bear with me if a few things are out of order. I have gone and used the Naruto wiki to make sure I know a bit more about where exactly everyone is right now, as well as more details on characteristics.
Submergence - Chapter 4
Kisame couldn't help but grin at himself. That was pretty brilliant, if I may say so myself. When Sakura had returned with her note pad, he had leaned over and tore the top sheet off, making a scene of swallowing it. She had left, frustrated, and now that dusk had long since fallen, everyone had called it a day. What they hadn't figured out, though, was that the paper was still in his mouth. Of course not, they expected I would eat it. Sorry, but I'm not going down that easily. He just couldn't help himself. Yes, poor me, poor Kisame, poor protector of Konan, poor sufferer of Madara. Too bad you fell for it. Alone in the darkness, he waited an hour after everyone left, only the night guard behind. He spit the paper out carefully, trying not to get it any wetter than it already was. A quick bite on his arm bled, his tongue licking the crimson substance and drawing a seal on the paper.
It had been a long time since he had tried to concentrate chakra on his tongue, but he knew he could. Yes, Sakura had done a nice job of sealing his chakra below the neck, but above he was still quite functional. He knew she couldn't seal off his chakra entirely without killing him. Biting carefully, he licked the paper and stuck it to his chains. I ought to go on a rampage just for having to go to so much trouble. A rampage wouldn't be such a good idea within the village, he was grossly outnumbered, but the thought was still nice. Well, I'd spare the girl, though. She was tolerable. Chakra formed slowly at the tip of what was left of his tongue, the seal dispelling the jutsu that held his chakra captive.
"Finally." With his chakra restored, he used his enhanced strength to yank the chains apart as quietly and quickly as he could. "Nice knowing you." He created two clones, one to look like him, and one to look like the chains. The broken chains came along, evidence hidden. The back window, he had noticed, was in a blind corner, and a few hand seals later, he formed a basic cloaking genjutsu. With that done, he slipped off into the dusky darkness, back into the life of a wandering nin. Time to regroup and find Madara.
"Sakura, you mean to tell me that Sasuke killed his brother for nothing?" Ino couldn't believe her ears. How much had she missed out on?
Sakura sighed heavily, seated across the table at the restaurant. "Basically. Itachi protected this place on the council's direct orders. Although I can understand that, it's still so unsettling to think of how much else they could be hiding. We can't do anything about what has already been done, but Madara still needs to be taken care of. I don't know how to do it. I just wish we had someone around here that knows Madara but is willing to talk to us."
Ino took a bite, talking with food in her mouth. Only around her friends was she so sloppy. "What about that red haired girl you brought back after Sasuke killed Danzo? Where is she?"
"Oh! Ino, you're a genius!"
She puffed up playfully. "Why yes, yes I am."
"Seriously though, she might be able to help us. She's being held in one of the temporary buildings. We're not keeping her as a prisoner, exactly. Strangely enough, she's just as done with Sasuke as we are, and she seemed willing to help, as long as she benefits from it."
"Yeah, she worked with Orochimaru." She shuddered dramatically. "What a creep. He wouldn't have given her much luxury, for sure. You know, there are plenty of attractive guys around Konoha, and she would easily find a job here as a ninja. Maybe she would be willing to help, if only to gain her freedom. From what I saw of her, she doesn't seem to mind following orders for the right benefits. We just have to make her an offer she can't refuse."
"That's a good idea! I better get going, then. There's still an hour or so before I need to get to bed." She reached into her pocket, digging around for her money. "That's weird... have you seen my coin purse?"
"Not that I remember. Did you leave it in the interrogation room?"
"I haven't been anywhere else today. Well, if I'm going there anyway, I'll go find Karin and see if she would be willing to talk to Kisame about Madara. I don't have any other ideas anyway. I'll pay you back for the food."
"That's fine, just don't forget!"
"You know I never do." She waved briefly, heading towards another end of the developed half of the village. Karin had been brought to Konoha, tired and fed up, into a small temporary apartment. Although she was hardly prevented from leaving, exactly, she didn't have anywhere to go. Suigetsu and Juugo had not been seen recently. Where else did she really have? Sakura herself had taken her back, sharing a couple stories here and there on the trip. Both were fed up with Sasuke. Yes, they still cared, but at some point, enough was enough. The temporary apartments ahead were small but cozy, and she checked the tenant list before finding the right apartment. Knocking softly, she waited.
The redhead appeared, looking a bit flustered. "Huh? Oh, it's you. What do you want?"
"I... well, I have a little proposition for you. It's about Sasuke."
She peered suspiciously down the corridor, her voice a hushed whisper. "No ANBU? No investigators?"
"Just me. Why? Have the ANBU been here recently?"
"I think they were ANBU, they had the same masks. Come on. Get in, we can't talk out here." She stepped aside, letting Sakura in and forming a chakra seal over the door. When Sakura eyed her curiously, she only shook her head. "The people here are such snoops. I swear they're watching my every move, not that I blame them. I'm not innocent."
"Sasuke was using you. If anyone understands that, it's me. Are you sure nobody can hear us?"
"I used to use that seal all the time on the island to drown out the prisoners. It works."
She grimaced slightly at the mention of the past. "Well... this isn't exactly about Sasuke. This is about Madara. I need your help. We all do."
Karin paced, growing suspicious. "We? What do you want to know? What do you need? Who all is in this little scheme of yours? I just want to be left alone, what are you trying to get me into?"
She held her hands up defensively. "I'm not trying to cause you any problems. If anything, you can help me solve a few. Like I said, I have a small proposition, and this might just involve Sasuke. We captured the Akatsuki nin Hoshigaki Kisame, and he knows about Madara. He isn't saying as much as we would like. Most of it have been things that we somewhat suspected already or already figured out, but I know he knows all kinds of things. You remember him, he was the one who fought Suigetsu when Sasuke went to confront Itachi."
Karin made a face. "Oh, him. If you need to know about Madara, I can tell you a few things. But what is this proposition? What's in this for me?"
"Well, if you cooperate, I'll talk with Tsunade. Face it, you don't have anywhere to go now. I know you're a good ninja, but I don't think you would do well on your own. So far, you're only here in relative freedom because you've been very helpful, but eventually that might change. You'll need a job, a permanent place to live. If you're willing to help me, I'll do whatever I can to make sure you get that."
Her eyes were dim as she considered the suggestion. "I could just leave right now."
"Oh, sure, leave now and get killed by hunters. You know as well as I do that you can't outrun hunters forever. I couldn't either. That's no kind of life. I know you still care about Sasuke." At Karin's glare, she continued. "I know. He has gone too far, but I still care too. We both know that Madara is trying to manipulate him. This might be our last chance."
She sighed heavily, turning to look out the window. "I'm done with him. There are other ninjas out there that are attractive and less dangerous. Madara, though..." Her eyes burned darkly when she turned around. "I want him dead. If this ends up with him dead, I'll do whatever it takes."
"I hate the thought of ending any life, but he has made it necessary. I do this to protect my village. Whatever reason you do this for, I will talk to Tsunade. I'll make sure from then on, you will have a fair life. You'll have to work, but it's worth it." Just then, she thought of what they had talked about earlier. "What did the ANBU want from you anyway?" Karin's ambitions had been unclear from the very beginning, but she thought that Ibiki had already found out everything.
"Mostly things about Danzo, since I was there when Sasuke killed him. It was strange, though, they didn't ask me about his techniques or anything like that. You would think that would be the first thing they would ask me, but they didn't. They asked me more about Sasuke, actually."
"That doesn't make any sense... Well, maybe it does, I guess. Sasuke got a lot of new techniques recently, and he is still considered an enemy and Danzo is dead. I know it's a little late, but do you think you would mind going to talk to Kisame now?"
She shook her head. "It's still somewhat early. I've never been much of an early riser anyway. If Madara will be your target, now is better than later. I'll help you." Her lips thinned, her expression disbelieving. "I hate to say it, but I'm going to trust you on this. You still feel like you should be my enemy, but I really do have nothing left, and my reputation would make me completely unwelcome everywhere I go. Don't let me down."
"I promise I'll put a good word in for you, but you need to earn it. The more you do against Madara, the more I can say for you. Come on. I'll show you where Kisame is." She stepped outside, waiting for Karin to lock up before heading outside. The stars were nearly out, but lanterns lit the sidewalks. It was still early for some, and not quite time for bed for others. Although the night life was hardly what it used to be, there was still enough to do to keep people out at this hour. A few ninjas looked on curiously, but they both ignored the glances, making haste for the interrogation building. The night guard let them in with little incident, used to the occasional late night. However, once they got inside, Karin uttered a loud huff.
"What's this supposed to be?" She made a quick seal, unleashing her special ability to see chakra. Almost as soon as she had begun, she made a sound of disapproval. "Looks like your prisoner already had plans. He's gone. This thing is just a clone."
"What?" Sakura rushed over to the scene, checking the chains holding the clone. "But the chains..."
"It's a clone too, he transformed it into the chains. This is a pretty good clone and transformation job, but it doesn't have the same reading as an original body."
"That's right, you can see chakra. Can you tell where he went?"
"Of course. He didn't bother to hide his chakra trail, because he probably doesn't know a thing about me, plus nobody else has my ability. True, you have sensors around here, but by the time you noticed he was gone in the morning, his trail would be cold. It looks like he hid his scent and probably used genjutsu to evade sight, but yeah, I can find him. The trail is still fresh."
"But how... how did he get out? These chains seal chakra! How did he get out if only his head was free?"
"A good question." She circled the scene, not touching anything. "Did he ever take any paper?"
"Paper?" Her eyes widened, remembering the incident earlier. "He tore a piece of my notes and he ate them. I thought he ate them, anyway."
"He's skilled enough to pull it off. He probably made a seal with it."
"Damn it!" She wanted to punch something, but she knew better than to do it here. "How could I have been so dumb! He said those things to put me off... to make me think he was willing to help us! How could I have done this?"
"It's not your fault, Sakura. He's Akatsuki. They are all S-rank ninjas with years of experience behind them, and as we speak he's getting away! If we want to have any chance of finding him again, we have to leave now."
"What about these clones? What about telling Tsunade?"
"Leave them. If they're shadow clones, and knowing him they probably are, we can't destroy them or he will know we found him out. We have to chase him now before he knows, so we don't have any time to tell anyone."
Sakura's fists tightened out of pent up rage. "Damn it... I hate the thought of us going alone, but you're right. The longer we wait, the further away he gets. Let me stop by my tent first, though, I have supplies there. We won't get very far without those." She didn't wait for an answer, leaving the building as casually as she could to make sure the night guard didn't catch on. Once out of sight, though, the two ran headlong to her tent, where she stuffed as many supplies into her pack as she could, along with a few packs of dried food. Karin waited outside for her to change out of civilian clothing. Casual garb hadn't been Karin's taste at any point, so she had been ready. Sakura, though, changed with admirable speed into something easier to fight in, her plain black tank, shorts and slitted skirt, all black, including her tall boots and long gloves. A deep crimson, extra long forehead protector was the only kind she had that was a dark color, so she packed that as well, hastily putting it on her forehead before rushing out. This might lead to a battle, and she was going to take it seriously.
In the beginning, Sakura's skills had been primarily genjutsu, and she still practiced them along with her medical training. Now, casting a genjutsu over both of them for camouflage was hardly difficult, and they managed to escape the village with little effort. The barrier previously around the area had been destroyed when Pain unleashed his attack, and now worked to their benefit. Her plan was only to track Kisame and find out where he was going, not to fight. If she caught him vulnerable, she would try to knock him out, but that seemed unlikely. As they ran, she mixed up a few of the various substances she typically carried on hand, blending together a strong tranquilizer. Make that extra strong, someone of his height and muscle density could take a serious hit and still not go down.
Karin constantly scoped the landscape ahead, tracing Kisame's trail but not too closely. She wanted to hide their trail to prevent hunters from coming after them too. This was technically an unsanctioned mission, and anything could happen. Fortunately, Karin was very skilled at covering up just about anything, so maybe she really could have survived on her own. Still, that wasn't what Sakura would call living, always on the run, always watching behind. Strange that she had left so easily on this mission that would include exactly that. This was for the village, for information on Akatsuki. This was to save Naruto, too.
The stars shone in earnest now, showing the direction as they ran. From time to time, Karin changed direction abruptly, the trail ahead of them trying to be equally inconspicuous. A few times, she stopped to get her bearings, making marks on a piece of paper. When Sakura asked what she was doing, she only showed her the paper bearing a crude map. "I'm making this up so if he goes to the base, we will know later where it is. I'm not the best map maker in the world, but I can at least judge distance and direction well enough. This should be a decent guide later."
Sakura nodded approvingly. "That's a very good skill you have."
"I had to learn it when Orochimaru brought me in. I used to be a tracker before he put me in charge of the prison compound. I would make a rough draft, and Kabuto would later plot it out."
"Kabuto? I wonder where he is right now."
"I honestly couldn't tell you, I haven't seen him recently. I already told your interrogator Ibiki everything he could possibly find interesting. Alright. Let's keep moving." She dashed ahead, Sakura at her heels. The chakra trail steadily grew stronger as they ran, telling them that Kisame was running at a slower pace. That made sense; he was still suffering from disease and from being confined for days without food. At one point, Karin called a sudden halt, and crept low to the bushes. "He's in that cave, I can sense him. Do you see it?"
She slipped under a different bush, pushing her chakra levels down. Even though Karin was the only sensor type she knew of, there were other sensors in the world and Kisame was very in tune with chakra. He might have a natural sense for it, if not being a sensor himself. "Yes, I see the cave. How should we do this?"
"He's been going slower than we are, which might mean he's injured."
"Right, he hasn't eaten through his imprisonment and he caught a serious infection. I wasn't able to completely heal it, so he's still recovering. We might be able to exploit that. While we were running, I made a tranquilizer strong enough to knock even him out, but I have to get close enough to either get a senbon or a syringe into him."
"I'm better as a long ranged observer. It would be better if we did this through stealth. I have trained long and hard under Orochimaru, I'm not weak anymore. After all, a woman's determination really can move the mightiest stones. I've heard what you can do. Think about this hard, and let's come up with a plan."
She took a long look at Karin, suddenly reminded of herself. So she used to be thought of as weak and useless too, did she? "Neither of us are weak now. We'll come up with something." Her eyes scanned the cave ahead, a defensible small cave with a narrow entrance. No doubt he would have set up the usual traps outside. A kunai launcher could barely be seen up in the trees, and who knew what else he had had the time to set up. There had to be a way to get close to him. "I think I have an idea."
If it was one thing Kisame knew, it was that he was incredibly hungry. The night was still young, and nobody would know he was even gone until morning at least. He hid his chakra and cloaked his movements, searching the landscape for food. Not far from his camp, a very tasty deer wandered into his path. His mouth watered just thinking about all of that tasty meat right in front of him, but he stalked the thing carefully. It wandered around, nibbling at a bit of grass as it went, pausing. Closer he crept, waiting for the right moment to strike. When it reached up to take a bite of a leaf, he found the weak spot, throwing his kunai straight into the deer's heart. "Shit..." The deer vanished in a puff of smoke, a transformed shadow clone.
Sakura appeared out of seemingly nowhere, a chakra enhanced punch aimed straight for his head. He ducked at the last second, his speed and perception dimmed by hunger. She knew how weak he was right now, she knew very well how hunger affected the brain, especially days of it. Her speed was her greatest ally right now, enhanced even further by her chakra. Kisame dropped to the ground, chakra surging as she came forth, catching her with a burst of water and knocking her aside. Karin had stayed behind to observe Kisame's tactics, scoping out any small weakness and keeping herself hidden. With any luck, it would be well into the battle before Kisame knew she hadn't come alone.
The two exchanged blows, Sakura keeping her distance as much as possible. Without Samehada, he didn't have any way of stealing her chakra. However, he was still Akatsuki, he still had far more experience, techniques and tricks. His chakra was immense even in his weak state, but she knew he couldn't hold up the pace he was setting. Her careful moderation of her limited chakra would outdo his reckless expenditure. She dodged blow after blow, her evasion training coming in handy. After a while, she yanked out a scroll, unsealing a short sword, finally on the offense. Kisame was formidable, his strength exceeding hers, but her lithe agility allowed her to evade most of his punches and kicks. He finally landed a solid kick, knocking the air out of her. A water clone sprouted behind her, kicking her into a nearby tree.
Karin waited for the signal, for the moment to strike. This plan was insane, in her opinion, but nothing else had sounded better. Surprisingly, Sakura was holding her own fairly well, being able to dodge the brunt of his attacks and wear him down. Despite his obvious difficulties, he launched several types of complicated ninjutsu after her, catching her off guard more than once. Kisame tried to capture her in the water prison technique, but Sakura had remembered how, so long ago, Zabuza had looked when he tried the same attack. She dodged, evading and catching the one small opening left on his side, kicking him with all of her strength. Karin watched this go on, certain that he had broken a few ribs with that, if not more.
Sakura couldn't take much more of this. Though she had worn Kisame down tremendously, she knew she couldn't win if she kept this up. She held her fist high in the air. That was the signal. With one last mighty blow, she launched a chakra enhanced punch straight into the ground near Kisame. He dodged, of course, but that was what she expected. With that jump, he placed himself right into Karin's path. Distracted by Sakura's headlong attack, he never heard or sensed Karin come from behind to stab his shoulder with a kunai.
He turned around, looking at the kunoichi behind him with confusion. "Ah, it's you again. Now you have betrayed Madara as well."
She glared down at him, the tranquilizer from the kunai slowly taking effect. "I was never with Madara. I was with Sasuke. Orochimaru found Akatsuki a threat to him. I'm here for my own reasons." Kisame could no longer stand, the high dose of tranquilizer knocking him out cold.
Sakura came to his side immediately, redoing the paralyzation jutsu. "That was too close." She was out of breath, bleeding from dozens of wounds, most of them ruptured bruises since he had only been capable of hand to hand combat. Once Kisame was out and contained, she set to healing the major cuts and organ damage.
Karin quietly came closer, taking Sakura's pack and helping her bandage the leftover wounds. When Sakura looked up with a silent question, she only shook her head. "Just paying back the favor. You're the only experienced medic, I don't know as much about healing as you. It wouldn't be good if you were too weak to continue."
"Thank you." She finished the last of the bandaging, leaving most of her injuries to heal on their own and conserving her remaining chakra. They both concealed the scene, hiding all evidence of battle. "Do you want to go back to Konoha now or wait until morning?"
She grimaced at Sakura's condition. "Do you think going back now is a good idea?"
"No, but the longer we're out here, the more likely we are to be noticed by hunters." She tried to pick up Kisame, but his weight was too much for her. Her chakra was too low to enhance her strength. "I can't pick him up."
"I'll get him." Karin used her own chakra to slightly enhance her strength, hefting Kisame over her shoulders. "Some of the prisoners back on the island were even bigger than this guy, and guess who had to tote them around? I should be able to keep pace with you."
Sakura was still feeling weak, blood lost and energy drained. "If you can't, I would worry." She let out a small laugh, wearily running ahead.
The trip back to Konoha took much longer than they expected, with Sakura as injured as she was. Still, they managed to at least cover their trail and remain out of sight, arriving in Konoha just as the sun began to rise. They didn't bother to conceal themselves once within the village limits, too tired and worn to care who saw them. Sakura collapsed the moment she entered the village gate, the ninjas on duty quickly attending to her. Others were shocked to see Karin carrying Kisame over her shoulders, but once the clones were discovered, everything was better explained. Karin filled in a few details before dropping Kisame off at the interrogation room unceremoniously, not one for long talks. Yamato was immediately brought to the situation along with a few others she couldn't remember the names of, resealing the chains and adding other precautions.
Yamato, finally free, rushed up to Karin. "What happened? Are you two alright?"
She nodded, tired of explaining the incident to so many people. "We're fine, she's just exhausted. Kisame escaped, so we went after him."
His brow raised curiously. "Why did you help her?"
Her silence lengthened, her frown widening. "Madara is the one that turned Sasuke down the path he took. If this will help you kill that man, then I will be satisfied. Konoha has opposed Orochimaru, but we now both oppose Akatsuki."
"Ah, yes, as they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
"Maybe. I have nothing left. Orochimaru is dead. Kabuto's loyalties were never clear, and I would never follow him. If I can be useful, then use me, I don't care anymore. Naruto is an interesting person, and I want to see where this goes. I have my own reasons for doing what I do, but I won't harm anyone."
"We won't use you so callously, but we will appreciate your willingness. Konoha is a different place from what you might have expected."
She looked around, her eyes following the scenery as people woke for the morning duties. "I can already tell that. I wonder if Naruto will stop Madara after all."
"We'll have to wait and see."