Another chapter is here!
Another Note: I have decided to not post the review here from now on. Too much space.
Karin's leg still felt sore when morning came. The snake had disappeared sometime after she had passed out. Her team had left her behind without much trouble not even an hour ago, heading back to their village. The Jounin had made it clear that she was responsible for her own actions and, if caught, they would claim she was acting of her own accord and leave her to her fate.
She already knew that, of course. From this point on, she would have no contact with them or Orochimaru to avoid suspicion on any level. Kabuto would handle the reports being sent to the Hidden Grass and would only contact her on his own accord or Orochimaru's orders, meaning she was on her own for all intents and purposes.
Now she walked down the streets of the Hidden Leaf while dressed in a pair of shorts, sandals, and a long-sleeved red shirt. The scroll with all the information compiled on Naruto Uzumaki, which was stored safely away from prying eyes, had stated he often visited a local Ramen vendor for his meals. That was where she was heading.
It would be the best place to tell him about them being born of the same clan. The people there were the only ones who he had emotional ties to without being shinobi, making it a safe place where he could escape from the cloak-and-dagger nature of their work. It was a place where the revelation would have the most impact.
The smell of ramen broth coming from the opposite end of an alley told her she was close. It also caused a pang of hunger to bubble up in her stomach. She hadn't eaten since last night, and it was well after Noon at this point.
"Welcome to Ramen Ichiraku," said an older girl in greeting as Karin passed through the entrance. She was at least close to being an adult, dressed in a white apron with a matching bandana in her long, dark brown hair. "What can I get you?"
"I'm looking for Naruto," Karin said. "Naruto Uzumaki. Do you know if he'll come in today?"
Her eyes seemed to rise in surprise at that, quickly settling into a cautious gaze. "Oh. And why exactly do you want to know that?"
"Well, the first reason is that I wanted to thank him for saving me in the Second Exam." She pulled out her Ninja ID, showing her last name. "The second is that I think we're from the same clan."
Ayame stared at the card for a moment, scrutinizing it. Then she handed it back and held up a finger. "Give me a second."
She went back into the kitchen. Not ten seconds later a large man came out, middle-aged with crow's feet around his eyes and gray-hair. Ayame lurked behind him as he approached Karin.
"So, you're saying you're part of the same clan as the boy?" He stared hard at her, rubbing his chin in thought. "Is that red hair a trait?"
"I believe so," she said. "My mother had the same hair color, but I can't say if it's the same for everyone. I'd been looking for other clan members since I became an orphan after… bad things happened. I ran into Naruto in the forest, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him with the exams going on."
"Hm. Well, take a seat and wait for him to show up." Teuchi turned to go back into the kitchen. "Ayame, make the girl something to eat while she does."
Ayame did so, setting the steaming hot bowl in front of her. "Here, on the house."
"Knowing Naruto, he'll be here shortly." Ayame leaned onto the counter with her elbows and perched her head in her hands. She wore a friendly smile. "In the meantime, tell me how he saved you."
Karin gave her the details, and then answered some questions on what it was like living in the Hidden Grass. Not as bright as the Hidden Leaf, but it had its own nocturnal charm with plants that shone in the dark by expelling light in a soft glow. When the spores were scattered it was a beautiful sight, like it stardust falling from above.
While she did that, she expanded her sensory powers in anticipation. It was slow-going, waiting for him to show up. But Ayame was kind and talkative, making the time seem to pass quicker. It wasn't until Karin finished a second bowl that she picked up his chakra and turned her head towards the entrance.
Naruto popped in with his eyes closed and a big grin on his face. "I smell something good! Serve me up some of that, Ayame-nee, Teuchi-san!"
"You little charmer." Ayame walked over and pinched his cheek playfully. "Saving damsels-in-distress and sweeping them off their feet is all in a day's work now, huh?"
Karin's cheeks reddened from embarrassment with the way she said that. But it was true, as much as she wished otherwise. He had come in and swept her off her feet to rescue her from danger almost literally.
"Eh?" His voice was almost comical as he tried speaking while she tugged at his cheek. "What're yoush talkin' abowt?"
The older girl released him and gestured to Karin, who wiped her mouth with a napkin and cleared her throat. "Hello again, Naruto."
He pointed to her in recognition. "Ah, you're that girl from the forest."
She nodded once. "I'm glad you remember me, and that you made it through the forest safely."
"Really?" He tilted his head in confusion. "I mean, you threatened me after I helped you get away from the bear."
"I'm sorry about that," she said. "The bear you saved me from had been sent to attack me by my teammates, in order to lure someone into helping me. I didn't want you to have to fight them, so I drove you away before they could hurt you. It wouldn't have been fair, given you had saved me despite us being from different villages."
"Okay, but… that was a really dumb plan though," Naruto said. She didn't disagree. "I mean, you could have really gotten hurt. What if I hadn't helped?"
"It doesn't matter anymore," she told him. "They're gone now. No one from the Hidden Grass passed the Second Exam, so everyone packed up and left this morning. I stayed behind because I wanted to thank you, and…."
"Go on," Ayame said gently at the hesitation in her voice, while Naruto just looked puzzled. "You've waited for over an hour now. Just say it while you can."
"Let me introduce myself properly." She held one hand to her chest and extended the other for him to see the card. "My name is Karin… Karin Uzumaki, of the Uzumaki Clan."
There was a very lengthy pause after that, with his expressions shifting constantly as his eyes seesawed from her card to her face. It took him almost a minute to get the words out. "There's an Uzumaki Clan?"
"I thought you would know," Karin said. "It's fairly common knowledge that the First Hokage married Mito Uzumaki, symbolizing an alliance back when the Hidden Leaf was first formed. Just about every village's formation has been recorded, after all."
A smile of embarrassment formed on his face and he shifted his eyes off to the side. "I was never good at history… I probably missed that lesson if they covered it in the Academy."
"Told you," Ayame said in a singsong tone, even as he looked pensive at the information. "Are you going to stand there all day, Naruto?"
"Can I sit next to you and eat while we talk?" Naruto asked Karin, scratching his cheek at the awkwardness. "That hospital food wasn't doing it for me."
"Sure." She waited for him to take a seat and place an order. He seemed bothered by the news, a shift in his day he wasn't expecting. It was better to let him start the next dialogue.
"So," he started with, "I know that a lot of clan members look the same… I mean, the Hyuuga all have the same eyes and Kiba's family has those markings. But we don't look too much alike, do we?"
"I know my mother and father had red hair similar to mine," Karin said. "I was surprised you didn't at hearing your name. If you didn't dye it, then I would have to guess one of your parents wasn't an Uzumaki and their dominant genes gave you blonde hair."
"I wouldn't know," he said. "I never knew my parents."
"Sorry," she told him, a small, sad smile forming on her face as she looked down. "I know what it's like to be an orphan myself. My father was gone before I was born, and my mother died during an attack on the small village we lived in a few years ago."
"I'm sorry for you loss," Naruto told her.
"When you told me your last name, I… I didn't know what to think." Her fingers grew restless and entwined themselves in her hair. It was surprising how easily the words came out. They weren't false or an act, but how she truly felt. "I wanted to speak with you, to meet you outside the forest and talk about… well, anything. I thought since the Hidden Leaf and our home-village were close, you'd know more."
She reached up and traced the embossed spiral symbol of the Hidden Leaf on his headband. "Mother told me that the Uzumaki Clan had been scattered, at least those that survived. She told me that the spiral, like on your back and your village's emblem, is the symbol of the Hidden Whirlpool, a sign of how close the villages were before it fell."
Naruto looked upset now, staring down into his ramen that reflected his eyes. "I didn't even know that much… You must think I really should have, if that was the case."
"Not at all." Karin kept her voice gentle. While it was true she wished he did know more, that was no reason to have him beat himself up about it. "How could I blame someone who wasn't even born during that time for not knowing anything? Besides, you saved me. I can't thank you enough for that."
"Umm, you're welcome?" He rubbed the back of his head nervously. Then his face scrunched up before settling into a smile. "Now that I think about it, I bet the Old Man would know more about this stuff. He knows just about everything."
Karin opened her mouth to ask who that was, but another voice beat her to it. "I'll be sure to ask him that after I tell him about how you disobeyed orders, Naruto."
"Uh-oh," Naruto said, almost whimpering. Karin could hear him gulp before he turned his head glacially in fear. "Ka-Kakashi-sensei... what bring you here?"
"Oh, well, you know." He set a hand on Naruto's shoulder and gave him a smile expressed through how his eye closed. "Imagine, to my surprise, when I came to visit my student in the Hospital and learned he's left through the window of his room… which he was ordered not to leave until he received further notice."
"He's not in trouble, is he?" Karin asked, somewhat worried for a number of reasons. She knew who this man was from the scroll. Even before then, he had reputation and Orochimaru had him on the list of those not to take lightly.
"Probably nothing more than a scolding and being tied down to his bed, Miss…."
"Karin," she said. "Karin Uzumaki."
"She says we're from the same clan," Naruto helpfully added.
"Ah, interesting," he said, looking at her. "But that's a matter for a later time. You'll be here for a while, yes?"
"Until the end of the Chuunin Exams," Karin admitted, looking at Naruto. She couldn't stop him from being dragged back. "I'm staying at the Petal Fall Inn. I'll come visit you in the Hospital, if you're willing to put me on the visitor's list."
"No need," Kakashi said, before Naruto could get his own words out, lifting the Genin out of his seat and onto his shoulder. It was exactly like how Naruto had done her. "He'll be released tomorrow and no doubt here, dining on the delicious, delicious ramen they sell. My compliments to both you and your father, Ayame-chan."
The older girl blushed. "T-Thanks."
"Wait, my Ramen—" Naruto's words were cut off as he and Kakashi vanished in a textbook-perfect Body Flicker. Even as Karin extended her range she could feel that he was already outside of it. The man was fast.
"Naruto's a sweet boy, but not really a conversationalist when you catch him off-guard," Ayame told her as she took his bowl and packed it into a box. "I'll go deliver this to his room at the Hospital. Do you want me to tell him anything?"
"Umm." Karin bit the inside of her lip as she tried to think of what to say. "Tell him I'll see him tomorrow, around the same time?"
"You got it." Ayame gave her a wink and then left out with the box while it was still warm.
Karin gave her thanks to the chef and promised to come again before leaving, deep in thought about everything. She didn't expect to find Kakashi in her room when she got back, leaning against a wall near the window. That… honestly shouldn't have been a surprise; Naruto was too valuable to their village as the Jinchuuriki for anything less.
"You've gone through my things, haven't you?" Karin asked. It was the first thing they taught you to do when rooting out spies and finding hidden caches.
"Of course," Kakashi said without shame. He had no need to hide what he'd done. He lived in this village, she was a guest. "No offense, but you are a kunoichi from another village. Even if the Hidden Grass isn't hostile, precautions should be taken—especially in light of what transpired during the Exams."
She was fairly sure he meant those dead Genin from her village that Orochimaru had replaced. "I'm not allowed to talk about that, even if you know."
"I have no idea what you're referring to," he lied, doing the same. Plausible deniability was a wonderful thing. "But, on the matter of Naruto, you understand we're wary about someone with clan ties suddenly appearing after he's slated to head to the Finals."
"Are you here to tell me I can't see him again?"
"Far be it for me to deny him the chance to bond with a long-lost clan member." He stood straight off the wall now. "I'm just informing you that you will be watched as a target of interest. If, at any point, you pry into secrets that you shouldn't, you'll be detained as a spy. You know the standard conduct expected when it comes to extended stays in foreign villages, correct?"
"I understand," she told him. "I'll be good."
He nodded his head once in acceptance. "I'll take my leave then."
Then he leapt out the window. Her sensory power caught him walking around to the side of the building, into the alley, and then disappearing. It must've been a Shadow Clone.
Karin sighed. She was grateful that the seal on her foot also served as a storage seal for Naruto's information. That would have been execution-worthy.
She spent a few minutes looking around to see if he left behind any sort of bug, more out of habit than necessity. It wouldn't be hard for someone experienced to have the room watched without her noticing visually. Her Mind's Eye was a different story, allowing her to sense the Anbu officer that lurked just outside her room now.
And she planned to keep that a secret for that very reason.
The original Kakashi, sitting the Hokage's office, received the information from his clone right about then. "The warning has been delivered. No signs of anything in her room to suggest she's a spy."
"Good," Sarutobi said, tapping his pipe as he stood at the window and looked out at the village. "I would have hated to have to tell Naruto that she was a spy after he just learned about his clan. That will already be enough of an unpleasant conversation tomorrow."
"So, is she a spitfire like Kushina?" asked the third person in the room, Jiraiya. The Toad Sage had been ordered to return the moment they noticed Orochimaru's presence, and he'd done so quickly and dutifully through judicious use of the ability to be reverse-summoned.
"Not at a glance," Kakashi said. "Then again, Hidden Grass shinobi were always hard to read. They're diplomatic in their roots, after all… at least with us."
"Priorities, gentlemen," Sarutobi said. "Orochimaru has gone to ground and I doubt we'll find him. I have nearly the entirety of ANBU searching for him, but in the meantime we need to deal with those seals he placed on Naruto and Sasuke Uchiha."
"I'll take care of that seal he placed on Naruto the moment I'm out of here," Jiraiya told him. "From the sound of it, it was the Five Pronged Seal that's messing with his chakra flow. Fixing that won't take five minutes, but he'll need a day or so for the flow to readjust. As for the Uchiha boy, the seal Kakashi placed was the best we could do right now. If I had the chance to investigate it through an autopsy I might be able to do something, but until then he'll have to manage."
"Next is the Chuunin Exams." The Hokage turned towards his desk and extinguished the contents of his pipe. "Kakashi, you train the Uchiha so he doesn't get killed. You have the Sharingan and can help him."
"Understood," Kakashi stated. "But what of my other two students?"
"Miss Haruno can make do by mingling and learning from her peers or her parents. My priority at the moment is the two boys that Orochimaru targeted. Speaking of Naruto, Jiraiya, you came in undetected, correct?"
"Good. Disguise yourself and prepare to train him, I'll leave how to your discretion." As an afterthought, he added, "No gathering 'inspiration' either, it's too much of a giveaway to your presence."
He sighed, but agreed. "Understood."
"That just leaves me then." He took a deep breath, no doubt feeling his years if Kakashi had to guess. "I'll make arrangements to have my schedule cleared for an hour or so to talk to Naruto about his mother and her clan. Let's hope he's ready to hear it."