Many, many times, Sakura thinks she could cry herself a river and drown in it.

She sat in the tub naked as the water rose past her stomach and up to her breasts. Her hair fell behind her shoulders, curling into the water below he. Her legs were spread out lazily, one half bent and the other laid out before her, invisible through the soap suds that rose up on the water's surface. Every inch of skin was clear and unmarred by scars except for the long, vicious line going down her ribs.

Her body was the picture of relaxation, but her face told a sadder story.

Sakura grit her teeth hard enough to shatter them under the forcing, heaving out long, painful breaths. Her face was splotchy and red, stained with tears that had past and tears that still fell. She hiccuped a few times, holding onto the bathtub's edge as hard as she dared. The tears would not stop, every single second of all the moments when she hated this life and hated what she must do and hated the boy she has tethered herself to so willingly.

Sakura's chest heaved, a hiccup shifting into a sob too loud,making her bite down on one of her hands and let the sobs wrack her too frail frame. Her whole body twisted and seized up in pain, the need for a proper breath of air burning at her skin with heat.

She squeezed her eyes shut and bit down on her hand. The familiarity was not lost on her.

Many, many times, Sakura wants to cry herself a river and let herself drown in it.

Two sharp knocks at the door. Sakura jerks into silence. A pause. "Sakura."

Her entire body breaks out into goosebumps at the sound of Sasuke's voice, strung taut and hot as she willed away the choking of her throat. "Yes, Sasuke-kun?"

"Are you okay?"

She scowled for a moment at the painful burst of affection in her chest. "You should be laying down right now."

For a second, there is nothing but the sound of water pouring in the still-rising tub, before she hears his footsteps again. Her body relaxes again, a feline uncoiling muscles and stretching them out. Sakura wipes away the tear stains on her face with the back of her hand, closing her eyes, before submerging her head under the water.




Sakura stumbles out the bathroom a good thirty minutes later, with wet hair that trailed down her back and wrinkled toes. The weapons pouches she carries on in her left hand seem heavier when she saw Sasuke surrounded by Hebi, already speaking, and wondering why hadn't she heard the other members return to the suite. They do not turn to her just yet.

Sakura is pleased to see Karin is already shouting at Sasuke, clenched fists and all.

"You're in no condition to be even thinking of that!" the redhead snapped, hands already at her hips.

"I second that," Sakura said, pulling their attention to her. She gives a sugary sweet smile to Sasuke, who's laid out on the futon looking better than he had when they came. "Because it's probably about Itachi."

Suigetsu sighed aloud, distinctly melancholy. "You couldn't have walked out in a towel, Princess?"

Everyone turns to glare at him - except for Juugo, who is sitting on the window sill shirtless and entertaining a small bluejay on the ridge of his finger. "I will kill you in your sleep," Sakura hissed, tossing down her weapons' pouches and clenching her fists.

"As if, yeah."

Sasuke gave out a bark of a laugh. "I'd watch. And give pointers."

"And I'd pull back her hair when she throws up after getting to close enough to smell your noxious fucking fumes," Karin replied with a smirk, tossing her own hair back with a flick of her neck. Suigetsu barked out a laugh,giving her a feral grin.

"Whatever. Call off your hounds, Sakura," the Mist nin said with a roll of his eyes and a dismissive wave. "Anyways - ya slimy bastards - I heard plenty about Akatsuki as a whole, but nothing specific on Uchiha Itachi."

Karin gave Sakura a helpless kind of look, and she returned it. Because men.

"They're after specific people. People with special kinds of chakra," Suigetsu finished. Sakura perked up in question, reaching down for her weapons pouches to strap them to her thighs just underneath her skirt, staring at Sasuke as the confusion pulled at his face.

"Special chakra?" Sasuke questioned.

"From what the animals tell me, Akatsuki have several bases from which they operate from," Juugo added, the small little bluejay flapping and chirping towards his shoulder. "They say that they feel strange, unpleasant chakra radiating from those places."

"Strange, unpleasant chakra? Spot on," Sakura muttered.

"Hmm, woulda never have guessed a bunch of stupid animals could sense chakra," Suigetsu said, stretching out and giving Karin a sidelong glance. "Then again, stupid chakra describes Karin pretty well, so I guess it makes sense."

Sakura hadn't even finished rolling her eyes by the time Karin had her foot through his head. "You stupid asshole!" she shrieked, splashing water everywhere. Sasuke looked on impassively, wiping water away from his cheek, and Juugo began to scowl.

"I am fed up with your shit talking!"

"C'mon, ack! Cut it out now!"

Sakura was still tying the straps of her weapons pouch onto her right thigh when she saw the curse marks spread over Juugo's face. She paused for a moment, squinting, before slipping out a few poisoned senbon and standing. She stood, clenching the thin needles between her knuckles very hard.

"Juugo?" she asked, voice cutting through the shouting. "Are you okay?"

"I...wanna...kill someone...," he ground out, looking up to stare at her with too-bright eyes. Karin and Suigetsu paused immediately, staring at the boy in question with apprehensive eyes.

He was screaming, beginning to charge, but Suigetsu and Karin were already at him, one holding him down by the waist, and the other holding him back with an arm around the neck. She mentally sighed, slipping her senbon back into the pouch at her thigh. Why did that idiot have to be covering the artery she wanted to hit?

"Shit, he's freaking out again!" Suigetsu shouted.

"Sasuke, hurry!" Karin hissed, shoving Juugo back when he gave a strong jolt forward.

Sasuke's eyes slipped from black to blood red, the spinning tomoe holding onto Juugo's own gaze. "Settle down, Juugo," he murmured, staring him down until the curse marks receded and he gasped for air, falling onto the floor.

The orange haired boy stammered out an apology, Sakura watched Sasuke's eyes close, his head loll forward, the deep sounds of sleep pulling at her ears. She rolled her eyes and walked towards him, shifting his body back onto the futon as he continued to breathe deeply.

"He overused his eyes with his fight against the Akatsuki," she muttered, scowling at his unconscious form petulantly, before standing once more. Her half-wet hair fell over him in a thick pink curtain, hiding his face from the rest of their team and as Sakura pressed a glowing green hand over his eyes and let her chakra sink into his skin like she's done a thousand times before, she sees the chakra build up and strain on his optic nerves that makes her click her tongue in disapproval.

The three of them were standing by the time she pulled away from him, standing onto her feet and tossing her hair back over her shoulder. "Juugo, Suigetsu, you watch him. I'll go out and get supplies with Karin," Sakura decided, walking back to the entrance of the bathroom to grab her boots. "And if he tries to get up, feel free to knock him out again."




Karin and Sakura did a little bit more than get supplies - the amount of money the Elder Cat had given to Sasuke was almost ridiculous. So they bought more clothes, food to last a week's worth of travel for all of them, more hair bands for Sakura, a few new perfumes because why the fuck not.

Sakura loved Karin, had always admired her even though they were the same age and there was nothing about her life that Sakura would like to emulate some day. But the way she walked brought attention into a room, pulled focus onto her with sharp eyes and sharper smiles. The way she moved was deliberate and controlled, with so much grace that belonged somewhere more elegant. Her body was carved away and drained for years and years and years and it warped her into a warrior of a woman, a kunoichi in mind if not in body.

There was nothing about Karin that Sakura did not love. There was an age to her that was much more than just sixteen, just a girl with a lot of teeth marks along her skin. Her trips to the Southern Hideout weren't often, but they were important.

It kept her sane - they could be shinobi, but they could be young girls, shopping and teasing and walking down a street like the end of the world wasn't weighing down on their shoulders.

It was a bright, sunny day, so she was going to pretend - even for a little while - that it was a good one.

"You think Sasuke will be mad?" Sakura asked, carrying the bag in one hand as she pointed to a small little restaurant to the side of the road. "We kinda spent a lot."

Karin shook her head, and pointed to another. "I hope. I love irritating him."

Sakura fell a little bit more in love with the redhead.

After a few minutes, they decided on a little tea house that smelled better than all the restaurants combined. It made Sakura feel normal, human, as she stepped inside with her braid tossed onto her left shoulder and taking a seat at one of the little tables. There were few people, paying them no mind as they made sat down. She felt as delicate as the furniture, even though she new she could rip the ground under this little town apart. It was just her and an old friend ready to stuff their faces with sweets.

"So. You and Sasuke," Karin prompted almost immediately, looking through the little menu with feigned interest.

Sakura sighed. Of course. "Me and Sasuke."

"Remember the first time we met and you said he would never be interested in you in that way?"she said in an almost conspiratorially, like a thirteen year old girl who's ruined body siphons chakra into others for them to heal who can still talk about boys like she has the time - the taste of Karin's skin is still in the memory of her tongue from that first time.

Sakura snorted a bit, kicking her under the table, but all Karin did was snicker. "Hmm. Can't quite recall that...I do remember Suigetsu commenting on your killer legs at the hideout the other day while you were putting on your boots," she said, cocking a brow at her.

Karin didn't even flinch. "Well, I remember. Like I remember Sasuke walking in on you half dressed and you not saying a single word about it."

"It's nothing he hasn't seen before," Sakura hissed in a low voice, flushing red at the memory of Sasuke's hands against her chest.

"Whoa, there. Let's not get into details."

Karin cackled as Sakura groaned, hands covering her face. "I hate you so much," she muttered, putting her hands in her lap as she heard the waitress walk up towards them. They ordered easily - Karin giving Sakura a raised brow at the amount of food she wanted - before watching her leave.

"Why did you come with us, Karin?" Sakura asked suddenly, trying to keep the redhead from embarrassing her anymore.

Karin blinked, setting down her menu on the table and leaning back into her seat. She felt her cross her legs under the table. "Are you asking that because you're curious, or because you don't want me asking anything else?" she said.

"Both, actually."


"Did you expect anything less?"

Karin snorted, rolling her eyes. "I guess not. But I said it before, didn't I?" she said, pulling off her glasses and using the edge of her shirt to wipe them of imaginary dirt. Her red eyes shone and flashed with intelligence. "Those three would be lost without me. You can't handle three boys that stupid all on your own. And the quicker that we can find him, the quicker you can go home."

Sakura scoffed. "Very true. But that's pretty damn considerate," she said. There had to be something else. "What about you? What are you going to do with Orochimaru gone?"

"No clue. But I'm not inclined to just let Otogakure rot away, to be honest." Karin slipped back on her glasses and gave Sakura a piercing look. Her lips curled into a smirk. "Who knows? You might be looking at the next- fuck."

The pink haired girl watched her friend in question, the way her eyes flashed with an almost horrific anger, nails digging into the table and shoulders stiffening up painfully. Sakura watched her relax; the furrow in her brow falling away, the grimace of her lips pulling away, her legs uncrossing under the table and settling onto the ground as she stood.

"They're closer than I thought they would be. Masking their chakra, probably. They're coming at us full speed now," Karin said, her head cocked to the side as she scoped. Sakura, much less gracefully, stumbled out of her seat and shoved her seat in at the table. She grabbed their purchases and Karin's hand before exited the tea house in a frenzy, disregarding the looks they got at their hastiness. "The sheer volume of the chakra is incredible. And there's several of them."

Sakura burst open the door of the tea house and half shrieked into the empty street. "We didn't even leave a trail for them to follow!" she snapped, looking around the emptied road frantically. "Which way are they coming in?"

"The way we did. The village gates."

"Fuck," Sakura muttered, running a hand over their face.

"One of them can't be human. A dog, maybe. You did say they were using summons, right?" Karin said, still utterly collected. "How did you and Sasuke leave the battle scene?"

"We slid inside Manda's mouth," Sakura muttered, shivering in revulsion at the feeling that she had endured twice already. "And then Suigetsu summoned us before you and Juugo caught up."

"Fucking disgusting," Karin said with a curled lip, crossing her arms over her chest. "Either way, they were and are tracking us by scent. And they must have some incredible trackers for them to find your scent at such a far distance."

"They're too close. We need time," Sakura hissed, shoving the shopping back into Karin's chest and forming a seal. An Earth clone formed, shifting to life and the likeness of herself. She barked out orders quickly. "Hold them up for as long as you can. Make sure they don't figure out you're a clone."

The clone Sakura gave her a sharp nod, before sprinting off into the rooftops towards the village gates. The real Sakura began sprinting back to the hotel, Karin hot on her heels.

"This really isn't my day," she moaned, watching through the back of her mind as the clone whipped through trees and forestry with expertise. "Forget going home. We're gonna be dragged back to Konoha at this rate."

"And I thought I was supposed to be the pessimistic one," Karin snapped, speeding along beside her.

"Then I really don't wanna know what you're thinking."




A/N: Writing Karin without her Sasuke-thirst is fun because I get so much more out of her character wise? Every thing else is just weighed down by it (i refer to her love for sasuke as sasuke-thirst because it was used as comedic relief SO MUCH until he decided to FUCKING STAB HER and then it was like ok wow more than thirst which is so fucked up all the injustice kishi has done to herr oh my goooddddd). And I just like the idea of Sakura and Karin being friends, with Karin acting like a big sister. I like it a lot. Remember to review and tell me what you think!

What did y'all think about 686? AND THE COVER SPREAD. SASUSAKU WESTERN AU. I'M STILL SO PUMPED. The cover spread kinda made up for the lack of SasuSaku in the chapter, but not Obito deciding to die when I just got over my hatred for him. Like. Wow. I was attached you guys.