Disclaimer: I don't own the Naruto characters
AN: This oneshot is set in a darker future with Team Taka on the run from the Raikage's bounty hunters. Karin is the focus in this oneshot, so if you have a problem with her or SasuKarin, I suggest you stop reading now. The title is inspired by Marilyn Manson's "Long, Hard Road Out Of Hell". All right then, enjoy ^^
Long, Hard Road...
She's a pretty girl. Her face isn't exactly spectacular, but her hair looks soft, her figure is definitely above average, even visible under her kimono. She moves with elegance through the room, holding a tablet with glasses and bringing them to the tavern's tables. Karin isn't interested in women, but she recognizes beauty in her own sex when she sees it – especially if it tries so obviously to raise Sasuke's attention.
The girl comes to their table and smiles at Sasuke. Unfortunately for her, he doesn't even look up – no surprise there. Karin, on the other hand, is completely aware of her actions. Her arms crossed before her stomach, she glares at the girl, delivering her message unmistakably – "Hand's off!" The girl blushes, puts down their cups and tea, then she quickly leaves the table without looking at Sasuke again. It's only a small triumph and Karin loses interest in it as soon as she looks at Sasuke. It's obvious that he didn't even notice anything – probably not even the girl's existence. He still looks at the door – or maybe, the door just happens to be in his line of sight and he stares at nothing. The longer Karin thinks about it, the more likely this explanation sounds.
He hasn't said a single word since he suggested – or rather ordered – a break at a tavern. Karin isn't sure why. They fought bounty hunters in the afternoon, but they weren't injured and aren't exhausted from the fight. The most obvious explanation is of course that he is scared – scared that the incident might repeat itself, and the same might happen to her. But it's ridiculous. They were attacked before – even at night – and until two months ago Sasuke hadn't cared about it. Of course, all attacks before that one had been ridiculous. Ridiculous and without consequences.
Karin shakes her head to get rid of those thoughts. Uchiha Sasuke is not scared. And maybe, if she tells herself often enough, she will be able to believe it, and maybe she will be able to sleep again and not reach for a kunai as soon as she senses an unknown chakra signature…
Sasuke still hasn't moved and Karin is running out of patience. The last weeks were hard, she knows, and she's sure that he blames himself for their situation, but that doesn't mean that she needs to take care of everything. She's on the run, too! How much easier things would be if she just left Sasuke to fend for himself… She could go into hiding. Sure, Kumogakure's bounty hunters are looking for all members of Taka, but it isn't exactly a secret that Sasuke is their main target.
At this thought she sighs and relaxes her arms, letting her hands rest on her abdomen.
Too bad this isn't an option anymore.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Sasuke!" Karin's voice is only a hiss, but she has learned the hard way that they just can't afford raising suspicion. But at least the sound of her voice is aggressive enough to bring Sasuke back to reality.
"What?" he asks. His voice hasn't changed since she has known him – still calm, unimpressed, emotionless…
Karin rolls her eyes and without another word she starts to pour tea into their cups. A part of her wants to scream, throw the cups against the wall or punch him. But that's how she treated Suigetsu whenever he said or done something idiotic or insulting, and yes, maybe Sasuke's behaviour during the last few days was idiotic, but he is still Sasuke – her leader – and she can't help but treat him with a certain respect.
"Drink." Karin instructs him.
He raises an eyebrow as he hears the commanding tone of her voice, but Karin doesn't care. If he doesn't like how she talks to him, he can pay more attention instead of letting himself be haunted by ghosts of their past. Also, she has noticed by now that it helps her to keep some order – or at least an illusion of it.
"Ho long will we stay?" Karin asks, trying to start a conversation.
"We'll leave at dawn." Sasuke replies and sips from his tea. "We should be rested by then. It will probably be three days until we reach the next village, so try to gather enough strength for that."
Karin rolls her eyes again. As if she hadn't expected that… she hasn't slept every night for weeks, and she knows she can't do this much longer, but right now, she's still strong enough.
They say nothing else until the girl from before brings their meal. Even then their communication consists of Karin saying "Itadakimasu." and Sasuke nodding. Karin remembers the rare occasions when their team rested in an inn. It always was chaotic, always a mess – and never this quiet. That might be the thing she misses most – it had always been so loud… alive…
The meal is okay. Stew – boring, but nourishing. Also, her hunger has increased terribly. It's another thing she should have expected, but the extent surprises her. While eating, Karin notices how her tension declines. It seems so normal to sit in this room – surrounded by people – and just have dinner. She also notices that Sasuke seems tenser with every second. He must have been exhausted, and only now that his strength returns he can concentrate on the danger they're in even now. While he eats, his eyes move around suspiciously, searching for familiar faces or just anyone who might have noticed them. He's become paranoid, and a part of Karin feels sad. She also notices a twitch in his eyelids, a sure sign for his exhaustion. As he drops his spoon into his now empty bowl, Karin takes his hand. His eyes snap up to her, as if he expects a warning, but she shakes her head and Sasuke understands her intention. He nods slightly, they rise from their table and go up to their room.
They always take a single room when they rest at an inn to be less suspicious. It's what people expect when they see two young people travelling together. That way they seem to be a harmless young couple running away from home, stupid youths who won't fulfil their parents' wishes. It's inconspicuous. It's easier to defend.
It makes other things easier too, and something tells her that these things will also happen tonight.
It's in the middle of the night and the moon stands high, but Karin still can't sleep. She knows they'll leave at dawn and she'll need all her strength, but she just can't fall asleep. She has tried a meditative trance, but she just can't concentrate. She has rested her head against Sasuke's bare chest, hoping that his pulse and regular breathing might help her fall asleep. She strokes his hair. Probably he wouldn't let her if he was awake. His eyes would narrow and she would draw back her hand, although he wouldn't say a word. Sometimes it's better if he isn't conscious…
He has fallen asleep quickly, just as usual. The first time, it has surprised Karin. She remembers that night very well… they had arrived at a small village, exhausted and completely wet from running through the rain for three days. Karin had led them to this village against Sasuke's clear instructions. She knew they wouldn't be able to run much longer if they didn't rest for one night at least. They ate quickly, retreated to their room – Sasuke let her have the bed and lay on the floor – and pretended to be able to sleep. Karin really tried but as soon as she closed her eyes she was back in that cave, heard the voices of Kumogakure's bounty hunters, the screams, the blood, Juugo's head… At some point she couldn't take it anymore. She had to think of something else. She needed someone to keep her from losing her mind. She needed Sasuke.
That night, she pulled him into her bed. After that night, they never discussed who would sleep in the bed.
Sighing, Karin turns around so she lies on her back. Her life is not what she expected it to be. And sometimes she thinks it's already over. One of her hands lazily strokes over her flat, bare stomach, while she looks up at the ceiling. She remembers their time as Hebi, then Taka. They had felt so invincible… and before Karin notices or can stop it, tears stream down her face.
Karin has always hated tears. They were a sign of weakness… and now she can only think of how Juugo would look at her surprised and gently put a hand onto her head… or how Suigetsu would start mocking her until she got angry and forgot to cry… or how Sasuke would nearly glare at her and ask, why she was crying…
Of course, she never cried in front of them. No, Karin had known all along that she could definitely not show weakness. She wasn't some little girl but a member of their team.
And now, she can see it in front of her. For a second, she's there again, in that small, abandoned cave that had seemed so safe. And she feels the kumonin's blade at her throat again. She can see Juugo shouting and jumping at him, and Sasuke jumps forward, pulling her away before he draws his sword and attacks. And during the fight she senses that other chakra… Kumo's Jinchuuriki… and she knows they're in way more trouble than she thought. It's too late to run, and as soon as Killerbee gets involved, Taka's chances disappear. Again, Karin can't see how it happens. She hears Juugo's scream, and Sasuke calling out for him, and then she sees his head rolling in front of her feet, like a ball…
…and she screams.
Back then she cried without noticing. She did notice, however, Suigetsu shouting at her to get Sasuke the hell out of there, he would stop them…
The memories of their escape are blurry, but she knows that they were on the run for days. They haven't been able to have a real rest since then. Only now Karin realizes that they have never properly mourned their deceased friends. Well, this moment is probably good enough as any other, and so she lets her tears fall.
She feels Sasuke moving and gives him enough space to sit up.
"You're crying." he states quietly and Karin nearly laughs about the absurdity. Of course she's crying! What does he expect from her?
But he doesn't ask questions. He only pulls her closer and just holds her. This is a precious moment – for once, Sasuke allows her to get close to him not only physically, and although she has slept with him several times, this is the first time, she feels… intimacy between them.
For the first time she feels that he suffers from their loss as much as she does. She had never expected their team to be something real… something meaningful…
And as much as she hurts… Sasuke must be devastated. After losing his family, after trying so hard to never lose someone important again… and now two more have died because of him.
This might be the first time since that night two months ago that Karin and Sasuke realize what has happened. And it's a thought that scares Karin. They survive on the run. But she starts to realize that this might not be enough, and they won't be able to hide from the truth much longer.
She doesn't know how long she has lied in Sasuke's arms, only that at some point her tears stop and her eyes fall shut. Maybe she will sleep tonight after all. And before she falls asleep, she hears Sasuke's voice.
"Karin… I'm sorry."
Tonight, Karin has a dream.
She is standing on a meadow outside a small forest. It's idyllic, quiet… but there are four graves disturbing the picture. Only the last one has a tombstone, but there's no inscription on it, only the Uchiha crest. Karin can see her own glasses on the grave beside it, Suigetsu's sword on the third, and a Juin carved into the last one's earth.
Karin walks towards the future, and it's her own grave – and Sasuke's. She knows that as well as the fact that she can still turn around. But it's hard when she isn't sure if there's some place she can return to – and even harder when she knows that Sasuke will continue on this path. And to live, although everyone she ever cared for, are dead? Again? It seems wrong to Karin…
The sky turns darker with every step she takes. Rain starts falling and soon lightning breaks through the clouds. Karin is completely wet within seconds, but she continues on her way. She has nearly arrived at her grave when she feels a hand on her arm.
She immediately turns around, sure to see Sasuke. But instead, she comes face to face with – herself.
Well, a younger version of herself – and Karin has to admit, a more attractive one. Her hair is shorter and softer, she wears all black shinobi garb, but no glasses. Karin guesses those are lying on the grave. Before Karin can look at them again, the other girl starts talking.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Karin's eyes narrow when she hears the tone of her voice. Nobody talks to her like this, not even herself – at least not some weird dream version of her.
"Let me go." Karin hisses, but the other girl doesn't care.
"Do you want to die?" she asks, still angry.
Karin wants to shout at her, but something stops her. Instead, she looks back at the graves and the future in front of her… or rather, what's left of it. When she turns to her reflection, the storm gets weaker and she sees the sun coming forth.
For a second, Karin loses her courage. It's so much easier to turn around and leave… but can she? Instead, she protectively crosses her arms above her stomach and looks straight into the other girl's eyes. Her voice is completely calm when she talks again.
"I will not leave him".
The other girl snorts. "And here I thought he had also chosen you for your brains."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Karin asks.
"Well, obviously you're acting like an idiot." the other girl explains. "If you go on like this, you will die. So will he. If you keep running, you're both dead. But if you could only find a place to return to… a place where they'll protect you… then you actually have a chance." She hesitates, then she puts her hands on Karin's shoulders. "You've lost enough. If you don't turn away now… then they've died for nothing."
Karin wants to scream, but she holds back. "That place doesn't exist." she replies as calm as possible.
Her reflection rolls her eyes. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."
Of course Karin should know better than to lie to herself in a dream."
"Sasuke won't return there…" she admits. "He's suffered too much at that place…"
"Then make him" the girl replies mercilessly. "And if you can't… then leave him."
Karin gasps. "What?"
"No matter how he decides, you can't run away anymore." the other one explains and nearly sounds desperate. "Please…"
Karin shakes her head. "You don't understand – I can't leave him."
"Of course you can." the other one replies. "I understand what he means to you, but…" She hesitates and Karin sees tears in her eyes. "You can live without him. I can live without him! What I can't do is to live without you."
The girl hugs her before she steps backwards. For a second, Karin can see the pattern in her eyes and the sign on the forehead protector around her arm… and then, the girl has disappeared.
When Karin awakes this morning, she feels more relaxed then ever before. For the first time in two months she knows who she is and what she wants. She knows where she has come from, where she is going, what she has sacrificed and what she has lost. She has no patience left for illusions. For weeks, she hasn't been able to think clearly. And she's had enough. She knows Sasuke blames himself for what happened. She also knows that she is all he has left and he needs to protect her. Well, he'll need a better strategy now – there's someone else she has to look after, and if Sasuke isn't ready, Karin has to do it alone.
Sasuke wakes up a bit later and looks at her slightly confused. Karin is completely dressed and stands at the window. She looks at him with a determination that he hasn't seen for a long time. Something has changed, but he doesn't know what.
"I've had enough." Karin says calmly.
Sasuke knows she is talking about the run, and he isn't even surprised. It was only a matter of time until she was through with it, though he has really hoped she'd give him more time. But he knows it's for the best. She won't be hunted on her own – on her own, she'll be safe, and he be damned if someone else has to die because of him. So he only nods upon her words. "I understand."
Karin sighs. "You understand nothing." she replies. "I can't do this anymore, Sasuke. I need a place where I can stay. A place where I don't have to expect to be killed in my sleep."
Sasuke reaches for his clothes without looking at her. "I have some money left, take it. You better stay in another village, they saw us together here."
He has just grabbed his shirt and Karin has enough. Without any warning, she steps onto his hand. "You will listen!"
A part of her wants to dance of joy when she sees him completely baffled for the first time since she knows him.
"We've been running around like crazy for two months, and we probably will do that until one of us drops dead. I can't do this anymore! We can't do this anymore! Can't you see?"
Sasuke forcefully pulls his hand back and glares t her. "Then find a place where you're safe!"
"We, Sasuke." she says.
He snorts and takes his shirt. "A place where they won't find me? There's no such thing."
"Yes, there is, and you know it." Karin's voice is as merciless as the girl's from her dream. "We could have been there months ago if only you could get a hold onto your pride and would use your head!"
Before Karin even realizes that she crossed a line, she feels the wall against her back and Sasuke's hand around her throat. She doesn't even try to scream, she only stares at him. She can't remember ever seeing him this angry. He never shouted at her, either.
"How dare you?"
He's gorgeous when he's angry – uncontrolled, full of fire and so damn alive – and he scares her, but she must be strong now.
Sasuke's voice is nearly breaking when he talks. "Pride? Do you actually think, this has anything to do with pride? I told you to leave! You could have been safe weeks ago! They haven't…"
He stops and his anger is replaced with disbelief. He tumbles backwards, lets go of her and falls down onto the back. He refuses to look into her eyes.
"Leave." he commands and this time she doesn't obey. Instead, she comes closer until she stands right in front of him and looks down on him.
"You thought we could survive alone. You… we overestimated ourselves. But we can't afford pride anymore." she says.
Sasuke shakes his head. "You should leave while you still can." he says in a dark voice. "I couldn't protect Juugo and Suigetsu – you neither. You want to be safe, so leave."
"I want you."
He looks at her in surprise, and she nearly laughs. She never said it directly, but she really had expected him to realize it by now.
"If being on the run forever is the only way to be with you, then I would stay by your side till the end… but I can't watch you running into your own death, and I can't let you take us with you."
"Us?" His eyes drop from her face to the hand she has above her abdomen.
Karin nods. "It's time to find a home." she whispers and hopes she doesn't sound too sentimental.
Sasuke hesitates. It's obvious he's fighting with himself. A part of him as accepted that he will lose his life on the run – and maybe he thinks, he deserves it. He knows that Karin will make sure she and their child will be safe, no matter what he decides. But maybe this is a second chance… a chance to make up for past mistakes…
And a way to revive Uchiha and finally settle down – a wish he hadn't even realized he had before he was on the run…
"Where?" he finally asks, still with hesitation in his voice. "We can't go to Konoha – not with about half the village wanting my head…"
"Oto." Karin says calmly. "No matter what Orochimaru put you through there… In Oto you're a hero for freeing them from him. If there is one place where they will protect us from Kumo, this is it."
His fingers clutch into the sheet and he avoids her eyes. He probably hasn't thought of Oto since he completed his team – certainly not as a place they could hide. And maybe, if he had thought about it before…
"Don't." Karin interrupts his thoughts before his guilt paralyzes him again. "This won't help us. We can't afford to look back."
He closes his eyes, breathes through and nods finally. "If we hurry, we can reach the border in four days."
Karin hasn't expected to be this relieved. Unable to say anything, she just gently strokes Sasuke's cheek. He shortly presses her hand before he opens his eyes again and stands up. "We're leaving in ten minutes. Go downstairs – we don't have enough food, get enough for a week."
Karin nods and leaves to run this errand. That's how they work, and she can hardly wait for their life to return to what it used to be. With a smile she touches her belly. They're not safe yet, but they have a chance. And Sasuke will be with her. Before she leaves the room, she turns around once more.
„Oh, and you can start thinking about a girls name." she says and grins.
For a second he stares at her, then a smile appears on his face. "I will."