Another chapter is here!

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Jiraiya, or rather a clone of the original, knew he was going to hate being the one to bring them the bad news when Naruto just woke up. On the way there, he could just picture how the kids would look when he told them. And his imagination just so happened to prove on-point as Naruto looked betrayed.

The boy opened and closed his mouth twice before he asked, "Why? Was it because I left my mission?"

"Of course not. It's just not safe for you, Karin, or anyone else marked to leave too far from the village after what happened," Jiraiya explained. "So until we can remove them, both of you and the Uchiha-boy will need to remain off missions that leave you where we can't reach easily. I know it's not fair after you've just become a Chuunin and we're working on dealing with the immediate situation, so just give us a little time."

"Did you at least find out why they were after Karin then?" Naruto asked.

The clone of the Toad Sage nodded. They'd already managed to gleam why the Sound Four, as they called themselves, were after Anko Mitarashi and Karin. They wanted to revive Orochimaru somehow and that was tied into the Cursed Seals they possessed.

In all honesty, learning that had made Jiraiya want to leave out in search of them right away. He thought he had found closure with the death of Orochimaru, and that he had corrected the mistake of letting his old teammate live so he could commit more horrors in the name of science and his mad ambition. For him to come back now would make everything amount to nothing.

But Tsunade had been the one to stop him by pointing out that it was meaningless to do so alone and the Old Man backed her. It was likely that anyone who had a Cursed Seal could be used in whatever revival ritual they had. Aside from the surviving members of the group that attacked Naruto and Karin, there was no telling how many people had been marked. It was likely that Kabuto chose the two from their village simply out of spite and Orochimaru could have easily been revived without their knowledge.

That only left them two reasonable ways to be rid of Orochimaru once and for all. The first was that they found some way to kill every portion of his soul at once, but none of them knew anything like that. Soul manipulation was an obscure field of techniques for a reason, and even the Third Hokage—who knew techniques for every element—only knew of two personally that influenced the souls, and only one that he could use at the cost of his own life.

The second was that they killed off the people who had the knowledge of the revival method. Such knowledge would be guarded jealously, that much they could gleam from their captive's memories, so the only ones likely to have it were those high-up in the ranks. That meant the only way to be rid of them for good would be killing Orochimaru a second time, making sure that Kabuto followed, and torching all evidence of such a method existing.

To that end, they'd already taken measures to do the second. "Karin-chan, you don't have your Mind's Eye on right now, do you?"

Her hair swayed slighty as she shook her head. "Not at the moment. I was told to use it moderately in the village by Anko-san until what happened. I figured the least I could do was keep to what she was teaching me before then."

"Right… well, I'm a Shadow Clone. The original me is currently out looking for her with a team to act on the information we have from that Sound kunoichi you captured. I was left behind specifically to check up on the two of you and to clear the air on something that's been a longtime coming, in the event that something happens the original during the mission."

He reached behind his back into a pouch and then pulled out a framed photo of Kushina and Minato, one of few in existence that survived to this day because he kept it with him. It was handed off from the original, not a Shadow Clone-made copy. As Naruto couldn't raise his arms at the moment, he handed it to Karin instead. "That's both of his parents together."

She took a look at it and her mouth dropped in shock. Even if she wasn't born in the village, she had seen the face on the mountain and in history books for her citizenship. So there was no way she wouldn't recognize him before she turned it over to Naruto.

Just the same, Naruto's cerulean eyes rose in disbelief as they fell onto the picture. "That's…" He looked over to the clone, questioning whether or not it was some kind of deception. "That's the Fourth Hokage."

"Minato Namikaze," Jiraiya's clone said. "The only student of mine that survived long enough to become something great. And with him is his wife, the former host of the Nine-Tailed Fox. Those are your parents, Naruto. I'm sorry it took this long for me to tell you."

There were no words for a moment as Naruto stared at the photo, lost in thought.

Karin, on the other hand, pursed her lips and then turned to Jiraya's clone. "Wait, what do you mean she was the last host? The history books state that the attack was a natural disaster. For her to be a former host would mean that it was in the village the entire time."

"The Nine-Tailed Fox was first sealed into Mito Uzumaki sometime after the village was founded, and she carried it inside of her even after her husband and his brother died, well into Sensei's reign. But, as long-lived as members of your clan are, she couldn't live forever. And on her death, the Nine-Tailed Fox would break free."

"So they needed someone suitable to become the next host." Naruto said softly, slowly coming out of his shock as he looked back up to clone of the Toad Sage. His eyes were glistening now. "And that was my… my mother?"

"Her chakra had a quality to it that made it heavily potent against that of the fox. So Mito asked that she be brought over from Whirlpool alone. That's probably one of the reasons that she made it out when most of the other Uzumaki didn't when the village was destroyed."

Karin's expression faltered at that and a note of sympathy could be heard in her voice as she asked, "Was her family there when it happened?"

"Yeah, they were. And by then Mito was dead, she housed the Nine-Tailed Fox, and shortly after there was a kidnapping attempt on her by Cloud." Those factors bode ill for any Jinchuuriki's mental state, so the Third Hokage had her under watch after that for a while. "If not for her relationship with Minato, I don't think she would have been able to hold it together as well as she did."

"They were together back then?" Naruto asked.

"Technically, they met when she was enrolled in the old Academy. Your father was also a student at the time, a prodigy. She didn't think much of him then, while he thought her hair was beautiful. But that changed when she was kidnapped. She tore out strands of her hair one at a time, leaving a trail for someone to follow, and your father was the only one who noticed them. That day he saved her was the day their relationship changed, and twelve years ago you were ready to be born when—"

"Something went wrong," Naruto finished. "It got out when I was born."

"There was foul-play," he said, before Naruto assumed he was the cause. "The day you were about to be born, they took her somewhere safe to give birth with a few guards and midwives, including the Sensei's wife. Minato was there to ensure that the seal didn't break. But something happened, the Nine-Tailed Fox got free, and when it was over we found all the people who were supposed to be guarding them murdered efficiently and without any sign of resistance—an assassination."

He had suspicions that it was less personal towards Minato and more an act against the village as a whole. For one thing, most of the enemies he made would have openly proclaimed they were responsible rather than allowing it to pass as a natural disaster. Yet, no army marched in to follow up and finish the job, and their spies picked up nothing about it in rival villages.

"Regardless, Minato made a lot of enemies," he continued. "We couldn't risk them learning of you, his son, while you weren't able to defend yourself. So we kept who you were a secret, and kept the whole truth from you until now. Believe me when I say that all of us who knew wanted to tell you when we felt you were ready."

Naruto closed his eyes as a pair of crystalline tears ran down his cheeks. It had been too much for him to take in right now. His throat shifted as he tried to swallow the emotions that refused to be bottled up, but the tears still continued to fall.

Karin set down the photo she'd been holding up for him and instead wrapped her arms around Naruto. Guiding him forward, she pulled him close to her heart and kept him like that without saying anything. Not even as he started to cry into her chest.

Now Jiraiya's clone felt like he was intruding, so he gave them some final parting words. "I've left some things behind at Naruto's place for you both to practice with while I'm gone. When I get back, whenever that is, I'll talk to you both."

Naruto, still within Karin's hold, bobbed his head. Feeling that there was little else to say, Jiraiya's clone allowed himself to disperse. The memories flowed straight to the original in the midst of his journey with a team handpicked by the Hokage as they raced towards the hidden base in hopes of stopping Orochimaru's resurrection or putting him down once and for all.

[-oOo-]

Karin's heart felt heavy as she remained by Naruto's side while he cried. She couldn't blame him. Not when she looked at things from his perspective. He was raised as an orphan with only a handful of people that he could trust while growing up, no doubt wondering who his parents were or if they loved him.

Then he met her and found out he had a clan that was wiped out. He learned that his mother died the day he was born from the Hokage. Now he learned that his father was the Fourth Hokage, a great hero who died during that same incident.

Seeing him like this hurt her because she didn't want him to be in pain when he was right in front of her. Especially when there was nothing else she could think to do to make things slightly more bearable for him. All she could do was hug him and offer a shoulder for him to cry on, just like the day he learned of his mother.

"I didn't know…" Naruto said softly. "I couldn't even imagine that someone like that was my father. Not even when I looked at his statue or at a picture in front of me. What kind of son am I not to even know that much?"

Karin licked her lips in thought, weighing her words before she said anything. "There's…no way you could have known, Naruto. They didn't want you to know, to keep you safe."

"But if I had known, I… I would have tried so much harder to live up to who they were," he said, his voice cracking. "I would have tried to make them proud of me."

"I'm sure they are," Karin insisted. "How could they not be? Look at everything you've done to protect the village. Look at how you risked your life to save me. Do you think that your father wouldn't have approved after what he did to save your mother?"

Just thinking about how he appeared that night still made her heart swell with warm emotions. Even when she recalled just how terrifying it was, and how he had gotten hurt. She could only imagine that was at least somewhat close to how Naruto's mother felt for his father when he saved her.

"I just wish that I could have known them…" Naruto pulled his head away from her chest, still looking down, and then took a deep breath. "That we could have been a family together, you know?"

"I know, Naruto," Karin said as she laid him back down on the bed before rising to her feet. She then set the picture aside for him. "For now though, just rest for a bit. I'll go tell Shizune-san you're awake. She's supposed to be the one looking after you now. "

"Thanks," Naruto said somewhat somberly as he turned his head towards the picture.

Karin stepped out of the room, shut the door gently behind her, and then activated her Mind's Eye. Her perspective of the world shifted, thousands of unique signatures popping into existence within the scope of her range. She narrowed it down to the one she was searching for and found it accompanied by two other signatures, one of whom she was intimately familiar with a floor up. Turning it off and making her way to the room, Karin was about to knock on the door…

"YOU ARE TRULY A MIRACLE WORKER!"

That was when a yell loud enough to be heard down the hallway penetrated the door. Karin held a hand to her heart and willed it to calm down. It startled her to the point that she nearly jumped out of her skin.

"Lee, this is a hospital," another person, Sakura, said in a stern tone. "You have to keep your voice down."

"My apologies," Lee replied to her chastising. "I just couldn't contain the youthful energy coursing through my body upon hearing that the surgery was a success."

"Just keep it in mind for the future," a third voice said. It was Shizune, and she was close to the door from the sound of it. "And remember what I said. If I catch word that you're trying to push your body before it's fully healed, I'll be disappointed."

"Though it pains me to be out of practice, I will keep my word," Lee promised. "I will merely have to do double—no, triple the amount of training to make up for the lost time once I am back in fighting condition!"

"I'd recommend easing back into it a little slower than that, but as long as you wait untilyou've recovered…" The door opened and Shizune paused upon seeing Karin. "Oh, Miss Uzumaki. Is everything all right?"

"Naruto's woken up, but he can't move," she said. "I told him that I would come find you."

"I'll go see him now then," Shizune said.

Karin stepped out of the way and watched the doctor go the way that she came. Then she turned her attention back to Sakura. The pink-haired kunoichi was wearing more casual clothing than the outfit that Karin had gotten used to seeing her wear.

"It's been a while since I've seen you," Sakura said, looking her up and down. The hospital clothes Karin swapped into after they were through with the examination gown and bandages that she wore around her arms to hide the marks probably gave the impression that she was hurt more than she really was. "Did something happen to you and Naruto?"

"It's a long story…" Karin rubbed her shoulder in a somewhat nervous manner. There was something on her chest that she wanted to get out, but Naruto had his own problems now and she really didn't know a lot of people that she'd be comfortable talking about it with. "If you're not busy, can we talk somewhere? I have something I want to ask you."

"Sure," Sakura replied. "Just let me get a message to Lee's teammates first. Normally his sensei would do it, but he and Kakashi-sensei aren't at the village right now. They're out on some assignment from the Hokage."

[-oOo-]

"I'm sorry to hear that you both went through all of that," Sakura said to Karin after hearing what she had to say, her voice somewhere between horror and amazement. The two had come outside, where the tables were set up for patients to eat and feel the autumn sun without leaving the grounds. There she had gotten her answer how Karin and Naruto had ended up in the hospital.

Sakura had been out with Kakashi and Sasuke. The former had been enlisted to aid in the hunt because of his summonings and his past experience in tracking as well. They had managed to catch their escapees rather easily, but it seemed as though Karin and Naruto had gone through much more.

"If Naruto hadn't showed up, I probably wouldn't be here right now. But because he had to fight against the bone-user alone, he ended up hurting himself and I had already exhausted my ability to heal through having him bite me. We only got away after that because the person who was watching over me sacrificed herself to buy us time."

"And you feel guilty because you couldn't do anything about it," Sakura guessed. "Everyone else was sacrificing themselves for you and all you could do was watch?"

Karin, eyes lost staring into her tea, nodded her head. "I'm… not a fighter, I'm a Sensor. I never intended to be on the front-lines. Yet, if anything, this has shown me that won't be enough anymore. Every single escapee targeted me, then those Sound shinobi, and then the bone-user, and it's only at the expense of the people around me and Byakko that I managed to stay alive."

"Trust me when I say I know the feeling." She could sympathize with the feeling that Karin was going through, especially since she had just visited Lee after hearing that his surgery was over. She hadn't forgotten how badly he'd been hurt attempting to save her in the Forest of Death.

Karin extended her hand, palm upwards, and a chain emerged. "I don't know much about the limits of what I can do, but I don't want to end up in a position to just watch it all happen in front of me again. Especially not to the person I fell in love with."

Sakura couldn't keep the surprise that blossomed on her face hidden at that. "Wait, I thought you and Naruto were just like family. But you actually love Naruto like that?"

"How can I not after everything that's happened to this point?" Karin asked with her tone warm and bright. "Despite everything he's been through in his life, he's still managed to remain sweet and friendly to just about anyone as long as they haven't crossed him. At the same time, he's brave and clever when he needs to be. He gave me trust and a home and promised not to ever abandon me. And he's done so much to try and keep it, even when it means putting his life on the line."

"… I guess when you put it like that, it does make sense." And it sounded like something out of a romance novel. "Does he feel the same way?"

"He hasn't really answered yet," Karin said. "But it's fine. I don't want to force my feelings onto him after all and he's been busy. And even if he doesn't, I think that I'd be okay as long as I could remain a part of his life."

Sakura wished she could say the same thing about Sasuke, but it felt like he was closing up more and more since that day she found him being carted into the hospital. Worse, it felt like there was nothing she could do to open him back up at this point. Sighing to herself, she said, "I don't know how much help I can be, but I'll give it a shot. Where do you want to start?"

"I guess with learning to use these chains I can make," Karin said. "They can seal chakra and they're pretty hard. Plus I can manipulate them at will, but if someone is fast enough they'll get around them."

"Maybe you could use them like a whip or flail?" Sakura suggested. "I might have to ask Tenten for advice. She's pretty handy with weapons of all kinds."

They'd really first interacted when she'd visited Lee in the hospital. It just so happened that when Tenten brought up that she was trying to expand on the versatility of her weapon's capabilities, rather than the number she used, Sakura had mentioned she'd heard in passing of a couple of external genjutsu that could be used to that effect. They'd been cordial ever since then, so she could probably get her to instruct Karin once or so.

"If you can, then I'd appreciate it," Karin said, retracting the chain into her palm seamlessly. Once it was gone, she reached over the table with her hand extended. "And thanks for listening to me."

"Don't mention it," Sakura replied, extending her own hand to shake with a slight smile. "Besides, I've actually missed hanging around with you like we did before the Finals. It'll be nice to catch up."