Guilt of Innocence

By

Chosha Kurenai

Important note:

This is the Unbeta'd version of this chapter. If the chapter has been edited by a Beta, there will be a note proclaiming it Beta'd and who by in replacement of this notice.

Summery:

It is well known that Sasuke abandoned Konoha in his pursuit of power to join Orochimaru. However, this was only a cover story. In fact, Sasuke went there on Tsunade's orders to act as Konoha's Informant within Otogakure. One agreement and his path had changed forever…

Disclaimer:

I, Chosha Kurenai, hereby swear that ownership of Naruto and its entire related Media belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. Guilt of innocence is fanfiction only and is written purely for entertainment and is not meant as infringement on any rights belonging to neither artist nor companies who created them. Please support the official anime/manga releases.

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Chapter Twenty One

Second Alliance: The Southern Warden Karin

"You know, when I think of Orochimaru's bases, this really isn't the first thing I would have in mind…"

Team Kakashi, plus their new recruit, Suigetsu, were currently walking along the surface of the sea, the patting of their chakra-charged feet against the water's surface and the cry of the gulls in the azure blue sky, the sun bright and cheerful as it bounced off the surface of the water like a thousand diamonds strewn across the surface. Sasuke honestly hadn't thought about it before, his mind often on more important and darker subjects, but in the bright sunny day with his team around him having been chatting idly to each other along the way, Sasuke could see Sakura's point. The atmosphere seemed far too cheerful and bright to really be connected to the late Snake Sannin.

"What were you expecting?" Suigetsu asked, raising his brows. "Stormy skies, rough seas and a castle on a cliff?"

Sakura flushed slightly. "Well, no, not that exactly. It's just, I guess I was sort of expecting the kind of place we saw Sasuke-kun for the first time after he left Konoha on his mission. Barren…slightly darker aura…"

"Like a snake pit!" Naruto put in.

"When you two mentioned it was a prison as well, it just made me think there would be a more foreboding atmosphere than…well…this," Sakura finished, indicating the bright sparkling sea. "Silly thought really, I mean I suppose that it makes sense to be in a least obvious place, but…"

"The Snake face was a creep, dattebayo." Naruto ended for her bluntly.

"We're not actually at the base yet, so don't go feeling too disappointed yet," Sasuke said blandly as they continued. "If you consider it, having a base in the middle of the sea means anyone who might have managed the impossible and somehow fought there way out from their imprisonment, which is unlikely as it is, then they'd have all this sea to cross in an already weakened state. Even if they had immense amounts of chakra, look around. Where would they be able to truly hide? Not only can you not hide without almost drowning, there is also no place to rest either. They likely wouldn't reach land before either running out of chakra or would collapsing from sheer exhaustion, especially once the guards or any other Orochimaru loyalist started tracking them down."

Naruto shivered, looking around at the wide expanse of sea they had been crossing for most of the day as if the image Suigetsu had painted of what the team were expected had suddenly morphed out from the almost relaxing landscape, eyes darkening a little. "Ugh…when you pit it like that…"

"That's horrible…" Sakura murmured, clenching her fists slightly.

"Orochimaru wasn't a 'nice' guy," Sasuke shot back bluntly. Honestly, he wasn't feeling in the best of moods, considering he was willingly going back to places that he thought he was going to leave behind forever. He just hoped that Tsunade damned appreciated this.

"If you have any other cheerful images of any of the bases, I'd get rid of them if I were you," Suigetsu shrugged as he pulled a water bottle out and put the straw to his lips. "Otherwise you'll just end up getting a lot of shocks there. I might have been stuck in a tank all the time, but even I know not to expect anything good from any of the bases. Like you said, it is Orochimaru we're talking about after all."

"If it hadn't already been explained to me I'd ask why we're getting Karin then," Sakura frowned. "Even though I know, it still makes me wonder if it'll be worth it, especially since she's the warden of this prison of Orochimaru's."

"Well, since even Sasuke isn't fully aware of where Juugo is in the last destination, I suppose that there isn't all that much choice, if the northern base is as dangerous as he's been suggesting and it would give us an advantage." Kakashi said from his position trailing behind the group. "Still, it would be a shame if we come all this way and not get the person we're looking for."

Sasuke had almost been sure that Kakashi would have teased him again about the make believe relationship or whatever else his perverted mind had dreamt up, but thankfully, he didn't. Obviously he had picked up on Sasuke's less than happy mood and decided to take pity on the Uchiha for once. He was glad, because Sasuke wasn't sure how well his temper would have held. While it wasn't explosive any more, or at least as it usually was, he could give off enough killing intent to make the atmosphere chokingly thick and, honestly, they didn't really need to see how much it bothered him to be coming back here. He'd spent the last few weeks making it seem like he had been unaffected by his time in Oto amongst his team mates, even if the occasional blip was shown, such as when he had tricked Suigetsu and Naruto into that wager. He didn't need them to see the more terrifying side to him if they didn't need to, or the fact that Sasuke hadn't come home without being at least cracked and tarnished after his three years spying.

Besides, it wasn't their fault he had come to despise the bases, with the bad associations and having watched people suffer torture, their hellish screams ringing in his ears as he was forced to become unmoving to them lest he be driven mad by them.

"Hey, hey, I think I see some land up ahead," Naruto interrupted his thoughts, pointing ahead.

Wrenching himself away from those thoughts, Sasuke focused fully on where he was going, since he had been merely walking towards the base on instinct and unconscious memory. Indeed, Naruto was right. The jutting rocks of the tiny island that made up the Southern base was becoming an increasingly growing spot on the horizon.

"That's the place," Sasuke said finally. "The Southern Base. We should be there soon."

"Joy," Suigetsu drawled sarcastically.

"Karin probably already knows we're here too," Sasuke added dully.

"Huh? Did you send her a message too?" Sakura asked, confused.

"No," Sasuke said, eyes watching the gradually growing island as they approached it. "As I said, she's a skilled sensor."

"But….from this far away?" Sakura blinked stunned. After all, the island was so tiny still.

"From this far away, Karin would be able to pinpoint the exact number of people, and if she met any of us before, will recognise our chakra also," Sasuke explained. He knew he had praised her tracking ability, but he had never actually got into full detail of exactly how pinpoint her senses could be, he realised. "In other words, she knows from at least this far away that Suigetsu and I are arriving with three others. She might have already picked us up before this."

"That certainly makes any chance of a surprise visit impossible," Kakashi murmured with a frown even as the two thirds of Team seven tensed at Sasuke's words. "I would assume that is why Orochimaru chose this Karin as a warden here, she could also prevent rescue attempts as well as sense if a 'subject' has managed to leave the island."

"But….but then, what if she's set a trap for us already?" Sakura asked, concern radiating off her in waves. Well, it had certainly broken the relaxed atmosphere from before.

"She wouldn't have," Sasuke said finally.

"How can you be so sure?" Sakura insisted.

"I've worked with her before," Sasuke said finally with a shrug. "It's not within her nature to do that if there is nothing she'll be able to get from it, especially since word must have reached here by now of Orochimaru's demise. I'm assuming the only reason she's even still here is simply because there is a lack of anywhere else to go."

"Worked with her?" Naruto said tensely, glancing discretely at Suigetsu. "Not on…"

"Not on any form of experiment," Sasuke said calmly. He could practically see Naruto deflate in relief at that. "However, I did have to stop some escaped prisoners on Orochimaru's orders before and Karin was assigned to help me locate them. That's why I have a first hand view of Karin's ability." Catching the looks on some of their faces, he continued to explain before they got any weird ideas in their heads. "Since I was undercover at the time, I didn't have the option to refuse the order. If I had, it would have become obvious that I wasn't as loyal as I might have portrayed myself to be, or at least that I wasn't fully working under the pretence that he assumed I was there for. He was already on my case more often than not because I wasn't 'giving up on Konoha weakness'."

"Weakness? What weakness?" Naruto bristled. "Konoha isn't weak!"

"I'm aware of that, Naruto," Sasuke said before Naruto could start ranting. "I did my best to limit any deaths that I could. He threw waves of ninja at me and I wouldn't kill them unless I was absolutely forced to. He was often saying that I should let go of that 'weakness' otherwise my ambition would not be fulfilled. I would rather listen to a repetitive scolding than bloody my hands just to please Orochimaru of all people." He added, almost spitting out the man's name. Just thinking about even slipping towards Orochimaru's ideals made him feel sick.

"Oh, is that why you didn't want me to kill anyone back at Tenzen's place then?" Suigetsu raised a brow before chuckling. "Heh, you really are just too nice, Sasuke."

"Either way," Sasuke continued, ignoring Suigetsu's words. "I'd at least suggest you mentally prepare yourselves somewhat. Just because I doubt Karin has a trap set up for us doesn't mean that there wont be things that will no doubt upset you either way."

"Yeah, this sun and everything?" Naruto pointed out with a sigh, looking up at the unfairly pure blue sky. "Not so cheerful any more."

Finally, the island startled to come into full view. The base seemed to be made out of what looked like the jagged top of an underwater volcano that had been turned into an island long ago, the stone jagged and claw like, tearing up through the earth towards the sky. Indeed, close up it didn't fit in with that lighter atmosphere that had surrounded them on their sea expedition as they finally reached the stone and gravel of dry land. The tension had already grown as they moved further inland. Ironically, it was probably both Suigetsu and himself that appeared the most calm. Then again, the others were probably unsure what to expect and, with the Uchiha's declaration of Karin's full abilities now known to them, were probably even further pushed on guard. That wasn't to say that Suigetsu and himself weren't. Suigetsu was just the kind to like a fight, or at last didn't mind killing, while Sasuke himself had long learned to mask his emotions, even as he walked confidently towards the intimidating iron doors.

"There's hardly any security in this hide out," Suigetsu noted with a frown. "They should at least build a fence."

"It really feels to quiet…" Sakura murmured

"Maybe there are hidden traps?" Kakashi suggested. "Either that or maybe the guards left once the news reached here?"

"Even if Orochimaru was still around, there wouldn't have been a need," Sasuke said. "She has this place under control."

Still, even as he walked, it was hard to miss the almost fresh-dug piles of land dotted about and even without focusing on them, only seeing them out of the corner of his eye that they were graves. Probably little more than holes to toss in the bodies of failed experiments, but more likely the increase in amount was people who had tried to escape once word had reached there and were killed for their efforts.

Younger Sasuke would have at least gagged at the idea of corpses being so callously dealt with, body bags just tossed inside and covered in earth, but the sixteen year old hardened himself again, his face blanking as he had learned to, masking his thoughts and feelings, even as he felt the eyes of his team mates falling on the ground around them.

"W-what's with all the lumps in the ground…" Naruto asked hoarsely, though Sasuke was sure that he had some idea and was just begging for someone to prove him wrong.

"They're graves," Kakashi said grimly. "Obviously people who've died here, or were killed."

Sakura covered her mouth slightly, averting her eyes from the graves, obviously feeling as sick as Sasuke inwardly felt.

"There's more than usual," Sasuke said dully. "I'd say that if news reached here, anyone who tried to spread it, or attempted to rally prisoners to escape would have been silenced. Idiots."

Despite it all, despite the harsh, seemingly uncaring words, Sasuke felt more pity towards those people, so desperate for freedom. If they'd only waited just a little longer, or if their group had only come here sooner, then they'd have got their freedom instead of this.

Guilt really was such a familiar feeling by now, even though, logically, he knew there was nothing that could have been done, truly, to prevent the senseless deaths.

"That's sick, dattebayo…" Naruto managed, disgusted before rounding on the Uchiha. "And you, Sasuke! How can you talk about it so callously?"

"What exactly would you have me do, Naruto?" Sasuke said simply, looking over his shoulder to him, honestly wondering what his blonde friend expected of him. "This is how things are in 'Oto'. If I was affected every time a person was killed or silenced, I'd have thrown myself on my sword ages ago. Would you have preferred that?"

"No, but-!"

"Or perhaps you would prefer that I be driven insane by every scream, or every person who pleaded for their lives? And what would breaking down now or speaking pitying words do, exactly? They're dead. They're not coming back just because of a few shed tears or because I pity them or speak kindly."

Hell, for these people, reduced to specimens and experiments, being dead is probably merciful.

He wondered what Nauto was seeing in Sasuke's eye that made him blench and quieten. Was it maybe Sasuke's words, or had he perhaps seen the self loathing that he had been forced to witness these things on a daily basis and not be able to even lift a finger to prevent it? Maybe he saw Sasuke' disgust in the situation, or maybe he saw nothing at all and that was what cowed him so?

"That's not fair Sasuke," Naruto croaked finally, closing his eyes and looking away, his fists clenched at his side shaking slightly, though whether the protest was to his rationalisation, or to the situation as a whole, he couldn't say. "That's not fair."

"Its not," the Uchiha agreed, looking back towards the foreboding metal doors, heart clenching with familiar sorrow at the waste of life even behind his apathetic expression. "It never is."

"Sasuke-kun…" Sakura murmured from somewhere behind, her voice sorrowful, though he wasn't sure if it was for the truth he had revealed, or the insight into Sasuke's three years that he had avoided telling them.

He inwardly grimaced. He hadn't wanted them to see that side of things. Damn this mission. He was sure that once it was ok to do so, at least one of them would pull him aside to 'talk about it'. It honestly wasn't a 'talk' that he wanted to do. It wasn't like he had no one to 'talk to' in Oto about it – after all, he had the mission scroll (that had been a hard habit to break once he was back but there was no way he'd be caught dead with a diary of all things).

He shook of his thoughts, however, in order to give the great doors before him a look. As he had been suspecting, the door appeared as though it was locked from the inside, with no obvious keys.

"There's two ways we can do this," Sasuke said. "Either Sakura can smash it down, or Suigetsu can cut through it."

"Why me?" Suigetsu asked petulantly, pointing at the Kusanagi sheathed at his waist. "You have one too."

Seriously, I'm not going to go on a conversation comparing the size and usage of our swords… Sasuke inwardly grimaced. Even in his head, it either sounded extremely childish, or it would be twisted in a completely different way. They had at lease two perverts travelling with them and who knew what Sakura would think about that. The last thing they needed was to get in a full out argument here. But even thinking on how that thought sounded, even in his head, he was sure it didn't take much to make it sound just plain wrong.

Yes, definitely need Tsunade to run that CAT scan, I think.

"If you're going to complain, Suigetsu, then back off," Sakura said, already pulling on her gloved as she pushed forwards. Obviously beating up an inanimate object seemed like a very good tension breaker. Suigetsu hopped out of the way after Sakura pushed passed, looking a mix of surprised and confused. Then again, Suigetsu didn't know about the monstrous strength that Tsunade had taught to her student. Getting into stance, Sakura took a deep breath before chakra began to swirl around her fist. Without warning she swung her energy-covered fist and it connected with the metal. There was a pause then-

BOOM!

The chakra charged fist smashed through the metal, warping the doors and breaking the barricades, sending the gates flying from their hinges and crashing into the corridor that now opened before them. While Suigetsu let out a started, "Holy Shi-!" Naruto seemed to have at least got his energy back after the depressing conversation from before and whooped "Go, Sakura-chan!"

It was nice to see that strength used against other things instead of with the purpose to smash into him, he couldn't help but think, though thankfully for Sasuke, Yamato had got in the way before she could unleash it on him. Still, actually watching her strength in action was impressive, to see the doors that had locked so many people inside busted open as if they were nothing more than tissue-paper. Thinking on it now, he was extremely glad that neither Sakura or her teacher had directly struck Sasuke with those fists, because as strong as he was he most certainly wasn't immune to broken bones.

Sasuke idly reached over and shoved Suigetsu's jaw back up. He was going to be catching flies soon if he continued with that gaping expression.

"Nice work," Kakashi noted approvingly, before he moved a little closer to the front. From the corner of his eye, he could see Kakashi's one visible eye harden a little. Was this the first time that Kakashi had seen one of the bases that Sasuke had been forced to live and work in for the last three years? He guessed so and Sasuke was more than certain neither that Kakashi, nor the other members of team seven were going to be happy with what they would find. He could only hope that if there was an explosion of protests over this that it wouldn't be directed at him.

"Stay close and don't wander off," Sasuke ordered, especially to Naruto. The last thing they needed was to get separated here. With that, he stepped inside, the others following him close behind, the tension coming off them in waves.

The base wasn't quite the same as some of the others Sasuke had been to, the walls more of a granite-like stone than the almost orange walls and swirls that had been in some of the others, but at the same time, it was still labyrinth-like to help prevent the prisoners, or anyone breaking into the place from finding the exit before they were spotted. As it was, from all the base hoping that he had done, he had become well versed in their patterns and structures, habit rising up on his mind from where he had shoved it away since returning to Konoha as he walked through the reluctantly familiar hallways. It was very dully lit, only a thin string of stark uncovered bulbs lining the centre of the ceiling every so often, some occasionally flickering, barely lighting the hallways much more than leaving them in a perpetual state of twilight.

Soon, they had got in deep enough that Sasuke could see the bars of some of the cells of prisoners up ahead. Inwardly, he wondered just how the others would react. Of course, they would release the prisoners, but it would be best to do so while Karin's attention wasn't on the prisoners themselves. If they were going to convince her to join them, they would need all the advantages that they could get. Still, as they passed, out of the corner of his eye he could still see them no matter how much he appeared to ignore them. Hunched, desolate figures in clothes barely more than grey rags, skin dirty and pale from being out of daylight for so long, hair matted with grime and maybe something more. Very few seemed to have the heart to do anything other that sit curled up or sleep. There was the occasional quiet murmur, however, from those brave enough to not be completely broken from their captivities.

He could hear a gasp from behind him and knew that the others were probably upset. Kakashi, at least would probably be as calm looking as ever even if his eye was tight, while he knew Suigetsu wouldn't pay all that much mind to it at the moment. Being an experiment himself, he was either going to be dismissive or extremely sympathetic. Sasuke though forced himself to mentally blank what was going on there for now. They'd been waiting for years. A few more minutes wouldn't change anything.

Still, passing by had caused the most liveliness that Sasuke had ever noted, even if he had been mentally blanking what he was seeing in his peripheral it didn't block his ears from he sudden murmurs of his name:

"That's Uchiha Sasuke!"

He could hear the prisoners actually moving to the bars from all the shuffling.

"What's he doing in a place like this?"

"Its been quite a while since he was here with Orochimaru…"

"Yeah, why didn't he come with Orochimaru? I don't recognise those people with him…"

"Does that mean that-?"

"Maybe the rumours really are true!"

At least his presence was useful for something, Sasuke couldn't help but think dully. Even if it was to increase the rumour mill. Still, the voices finally faded to the point they were inaudible to him other than a faint mumble, and finally, even that became too quiet to hear.

"All those people…" Sakura murmured.

"Why can't we just let them all out?" Naruto practically pleaded, he seemed to be barely holding himself back from grabbing Sasuke and shaking him.

"We will soon," Sasuke assured him. "Now quiet."

"What do you-!"

"Quiet," Kakashi ordered.

The sound of footsteps did soon quieten them even if Kakashi's order hadn't, making the others tense. These were certainly not ones they were making after all. However, Sasuke already had an idea as to who it was. There wouldn't be that many people around after all that would just be able to wander around free. Finally, from around the corner, the person stepped into the half-light.

A young woman, not much older than the rest of the group (except for Kakashi, who was indeed the oldest of them all) stood before them, not at all that impressed by there numbers if her stance was any indication. She wore black ninja sandals and black leg, skin-tight leg covers that reached up to her thighs and short shorts. She wore a grey, long sleeved top that was similar to almost all the prison guards or interrogators that Sasuke had ever met, except that hers was open somewhat at the bottom, revealing her naval. Her hair was red, though its colour bleached a little by the dull lightning, making its bright red a more of a dull brownish colour, one side as jagged cut as Sasuke's appeared, while the other side smooth as it reached down her back, while her crimson eyes looked unimpressed behind her oval glasses.

"So it's you, after all…Sasuke," she said coolly, not even glancing at the others in the room. "Since you're here with these Konoha ninja, it must mean that the rumours are true."

"That's mean," Suigetsu drawled. "I'm here too."

"So? What brings you here?" Karin asked, completely blanking Suigetsu, whose eyebrow ticked slightly.

"You're Karin, right?" Sakura said, obviously deciding to at least try to be friendly even if she had been disapproving of what she learned about Karin prior to this. Probably only because she was used to Tsunade and probably knew she'd be pissed off if Karin was completely put off by her attitude.

The red haired kunoichi just cocked her head a moment, the glare of her glasses hiding the crimson eyes for a moment. "What's it to you?" she said coolly.

Sasuke saw Sakura's eyebrow twitch out of the corner of his eye and Kakashi's hand move to her shoulder to restrain her in case she did lose her temper.

"We, but mostly Sasuke here, wish to talk to you about something," Kakashi said once he was sure that Sakura was calm. "Do you have anywhere we can go to talk?"

"Preferably with somewhere we can sit down," Suigetsu said. "It's been so long since I've walked…"

Karin looked over at Kakashi for a long moment and Sasuke had a feeling she was staring more at the man's chakra than at the Jonin himself. He was almost wondering what she could sense. Sure, Sasuke could see chakra coloured with his Sharingan, but human chakra always looked like blue fire to him unless it was Bijuu chakra, like when Naruto tapped into the Kyuubi's. The chakra he saw (minus Bijuu chakra) didn't show a person's personality, or whatever other things that Karin could sense. It made him wonder what she 'saw' of them. Finally, she looked away once more, turning her attention back to Sasuke (and completely blanking Suigetsu in the process, much to the Houzuki's chagrin, though whether it was on purpose or not the Uchiha wasn't sure. His money was on the former, however)

"What do you want to talk about?"

"Kakashi-sensei did say to go to a room to talk about this, 'ttebayo," Naruto shot back, obviously getting annoyed with being ignored as Suigetsu seemed to be. Honestly, those two seemed almost too similar for their own good in a way, even if what they believed was different.

"Hmph.." Karin snorted, but she did actually look over at Naruto, her eyes flickered sith something like interest for a moment before she stiffened a little. Had she, maybe, sensed the Kyuubi inside Naruto as well?

Enough of this… "Karin, take us inside." Sasuke ordered, breaking Karin from whatever she had been looking at in Naruto's chakra.

Her eyes flickered back to him for a long moment, before she closed them. "Fine," she said finally, turning around and leading them into one of the rooms that wasn't a prison cell, mainly used for whoever was normally guarding this place. However, Sasuke had a distinct feeling that Karin was probably the only guard that had stuck around since the rumours started.

So far so good…Sasuke thought, managing to stop himself from sighing as Karin lead the way. He could only hope that the discussion wouldn't last too long. He didn't want to have to remain here any longer than necessary. Though he had to wonder if he would be able to convince her at all. Time to plan for phase two.

To Be Continued…

Translation List:

(If there are words used that don't appear here, the word has been translated in previous chapters)

Chosha's Notes:

So, we're finally meeting Karin. I'm thinking that Next chapter might be done from a few different view points (not of the same scene, of course, but a check in with a few mindsets since Sasuke had revealed a few points about his changes in himself in how he had to adapt and survive in Oto. If nothing else, I can imagine that people in the group will be realising just how much Sasuke really gave up that he would have to pretty much lock himself away in order to stay sane in such an environment, because despite the light hearted moments the team have been sharing since they reunited, and Sasuke's slipped almost easily back into how he was, it's got to be disconcerting for the others to think just how their friend might have coped and what he might have been forced to do under his act as a spy.

I actually wasn't really planning for the semi-dark moment that happened while discussing the 'graves', but when I got to it I realised it would make more sense. It would seem horrific to Naruto and Sakura, both of whom seem to have at least some form of respect and honour for the dead and the living. Saske had been in a place where the most deprived things had occurred, of course its going to appear shocking to their friends and I felt it would give them some insight to the character.

Not to mention I put time into Suigetsu's arc, so I thought I'd at least offer a few revelations of how Sasuke's mind works in this arc too. After all, its not just gathering allies, but reconnecting the team as a team also.

Either way, its likely only going to be one more Karin chapter, unless I split the thoughts as in interlude, then we'll be moving on to get Juugo and the plot can move on a little more. ^_^

Next time on Guilt of Innocence:

Sasuke: Time to plan for phase two if Karin is going to be convinced.

Naruto: We can't let these people suffer here too! Next Episode: Convincing the Inconvincible.

Sasuke: Well, are you coming….Karin.

Until Next Time,

Ja ne!

Chosha Kurenai xXx