Warning: Multiple character death, angsty feelings (plus an implication that certain people share a biting fetish), all that good stuff. You've been warned.
Summary: After Sasuke's betrayal, Karin finds herself living peacefully in Konoha. But when Suigetsu and Jūgo finally track her down, the reunion does not go at all how she expected.
The Broken Bond
A Naruto Oneshot by
Nate Grey (xman0123-at-aol-dot-com)
Karin entered Konoha in unusual fashion: draped across the back of the man who would one day become Rokudaime Hokage. Not that it mattered much to her: despite how civil Team Kakashi and the other Leaf-nin had been towards Karin as a prisoner (she wasn't all that imposing, having to be carried the whole way), she still fully expected to be executed simply for having traveled with Uchiha Sasuke.
But the newly recovered Godaime Hokage had an odd sense of humor about Karin's punishment: she sentenced the former Sound-nin to "life imprisonment" in Konoha, and appointed Kakashi to be her warden. That essentially meant that Naruto, Sakura, and Sai were her wardens, as Kakashi had a habit of vanishing when there was work unrelated to an actual mission. So Karin ended up moving into Sakura's apartment, despite protests from both: Sakura would've preferred Ino (who had coolled considerably on the topic of Sasuke, but at least was not so dead-set against him as Karin now was; probably because Sasuke had never tried to kill Ino), and Karin actually volunteered to live with Naruto (though Sakura punched him in the head for even considering the idea). Later, Karin would wonder why she'd chosen Naruto, as opposed to Sai, who was at least quieter and a bit creepy (which she was honestly used to). The only thing she could come up with was that Naruto reminded her of Suigetsu: he was loud, often wrong, and used his power more than he did his brain.
Curiously, she liked him right away.
Sakura, on the other hand, took some getting used to. Despite their both almost being killed by Sasuke, they had little else (or perhaps just too much) in common. All they ever did for the first few months was fight.
And then, out of sheer desparation, Karin demanded to live with virtually anyone else.
Tsunade personally escorted Karin to the Hyūga compound, and amazingly enough, it did not turn out to be as awful an arrangement as the Hokage had hoped.
The Hyūga were a highly suspicious lot, and the only one that ever trusted Karin was Hinata. Everyone else glared at her, both behind her back and to her face, and told her that one false move would result in a slow, tortourous death.
Karin felt like she'd come home again.
Her natural gift for chakra sensory was, in its own way, a Byakugan that required no eyes, so it was fun to needlessly worry the Hyūga by pretending she could see everything that they could. In the first week, she made a point to learn all the guards' names (and respective chakra signatures), and then casually announced them before they could enter a room. Only Neji figured out her game when she couldn't correctly guess the color of his underwear three days in a row (although the satisfaction of knowing he'd been forced to wear a purple pair, and that she'd still gotten the first two days right, stayed with Karin a long time).
The years slipped by without Karin really noticing.
One day, she looked up and realized that she'd spent nearly the last ten years of her life in service to Konoha. Officially, she was still on probation, and the smallest incident of wrongdoing could have her thrown into prison.
Unofficially, Karin went gambling with Tsunade twice a month, got drunk with Anko (who was supposed to be watching her) every chance they got, had fallen into something of an on-again off-again affair with Inuzuka Kiba (he was the only one she knew that found biting and being bitten in return highly arousing, or at least he was the only one confident enough to admit it to her), and secretly nursed a desire to deflower Naruto (not just because he was Hokage now, although that was an added benefit). She was allowed strictly supervised contact with with critically injured ANBU, and recieved the same pay as any other ANBU field medic, although it was usually delivered in person by Morino Ibiki, who was under orders to both randomly search Karin's apartment and interview her at any time for suspicion of treachery. But the truth was, Karin had stopped harboring such thoughts within the first year. She was actually happy in Konoha, and could freely admit that now. She had friends, not just people she'd been thrown together with, but people who she cared about and who cared about her in return. It was all very odd, even now, but still very nice. She wouldn't have left it behind, not even under pain of death.
Occasionally, Karin would hear about Suigetsu and Jūgo. She was surprised to learn that, not only were they still together, but that they'd made quite a name for themselves. They were commonly known as the Bloodbath Brothers these days, and had, for no reason that anyone could guess at, begun a bloodly campaign of violence and murder that took them through nearly every ninja village. Suigetsu had accomplished his goal of acquiring Samehada at some point and vastly improved his swordsmanship in the process, while Jūgo only seemed to grow more aggressive with every battle. Even with the few reports of them that made their way to Karin, she knew, or at least believed, that they would come to kill her eventually. She knew things about them that almost no one else did, and it was only a matter of time. Honestly, she was amazed that they hadn't found her yet; Jūgo's rapport with animals had always made him nearly as a good a tracker as Karin herself. It was entirely possible that without Sasuke around, Jūgo was rarely calm enough for animals to approach him, but that only begged the question of why he hadn't simply overpowered Suigetsu and killed him. Either Suigetsu was insanely strong now, or he had somehow become the one person that could calm Jūgo's rages. Neither option was all that reassuring to Karin, because it still meant that at least Jūgo would find her eventually.
Still, Karin convinced herself that she was safe. There had not been a major invasion of Konoha since Pain, and most villagers attributed that to Naruto's reign (although Kakashi had plenty to do with it, he mostly ignored such slights so long as he was well supplied with adult literature). Naruto had even managed to defeat Sasuke, or at least Sasuke had not been heard from since he and Naruto had last fought (and no matter how many times Naruto was asked, he refused to confirm Sasuke's death, stating only that no Uchiha was a threat to Konoha any longer). No matter what happened, Karin felt she was protected, so long as Naruto was Hokage. There didn't seem to be anyone that could defeat him, and he only grew stronger when his friends were threatened. Naruto had personally assured Karin that if any Sound-nin ever came after, he would deal with them in such a way that it was made clear that she was not to be targeted, by them or anyone else. At times it was difficult for Karin to believe that the loud, cocky, smiling boy that had once been Sasuke's rival could ever do such a thing, but Naruto was a man now, and beyond that, he was Hokage. He would not hesitate to kill and destroy, if it meant protecting his village and the people within it.
The worst day of Karin's life was not unlike any other. She was summoned to an underground room to heal a large group of ANBU who had clearly seen better days. They were all thoroughly exhausted, slightly hurt in some cases, and seriously wounded in many others. But if she was expected to treat them, Karin knew that they all had one thing in common: they were going to return to battle immediately, and some, if not all of them, were going to die.
In such cases, she was tempted to ask what was going on. It was odd to see so many ANBU hurt at once. But by now, Karin knew better than to ask. Either it really wasn't a matter for her to be concerned about, or she simply lacked the proper security clearance. Naruto was often rather forcoming with information with her, despite protests from several advisors, but then he was like that with most people. Karin had learned that this, too, was one of Naruto's many ways of controlling the situation: by giving someone plenty of information, they had no idea how much he'd actually held back. So if she hadn't been informed along the way, it was probably nothing she needed to worry about. That, or Naruto was again pulling his 'big brother' act and trying to protect Karin by keeping her in the dark. It was sweet but annoying, since no one without a good head on their shoulders would have survived for long around Orochimaru or Sasuke.
Karin tried not to think about such things as she worked on the wounded ANBU, and was then promptly dismissed with no explanation (not that she had expected one). But she began to suspect that Naruto had been wrong this one time, and that the current situation had plenty to do with her, when she stepped out of the room, turned a corner, and ran straight into Suigetsu.
She didn't recognize him at first. He was a head taller than her now, and there were deep claw marks all over his face, as if he'd been mauled by some animal years ago. Aside from that, he'd bulked up quite a bit, resulting in wiry but definite muscle tone everywhere she could see.
"Karin," he breathed, his electric blue eyes widening in shock.
For an instant, she forgot how to breathe. He had found her, and now her life was over.
Suigetsu let out a bark of laughter, and then, with no warning, he grabbed Karin's arm, tossed her over his shoulder, and began to run.
It sunk in at once that he wasn't intending to kill her, as there would be no need to move her if that were the case. Perhaps he was wanting to be somewhere more private before he tortured her, but he wasn't going to kill her, at least not intentionally.
From somewhere above them, there was a muffled explosion, and Suigetsu grimaced. "I told that idiot to take it easy until we found you. They must have done something to piss him off."
"You're the idiot for leaving him alone!" Karin snapped without thinking.
He barely spared her a glance. "For your information, he's been a lot better lately. Well, he stays calmer longer, but it's also harder to calm him down if anyone mentions you."
Karin paled, suddenly wishing that Suigetsu had killed her. As cruel as he could be, she had never known him to toy with someone when he could kill them in one move. He was both lazy and efficient that way. But if Jūgo was in one of his worse moods, pounding someone into a bloody paste was probably the least he would do.
All too soon, Karin and Suigetsu emerged into sunlight, and he put her down without being asked. The reason for this became instantly clear: Jūgo was laughing his head off, and with a partially transformed arm that greatly resembled a jackhammer, had just sent Sakura flying straight into a building. There were probably only ten or so people in all of Konoha that could've survived a direct hit from Jūgo in that state, but fortunately, Sakura was one of them. Unfortunately, like Jūgo, the damage was more likely to make her angrier and more determined to defeat him, so it was best for everyone involved if they didn't stay here much longer.
It was this thought that made Karin pause. Already she was thinking of going with them, not because they would force her to, but because it would make things simpler. Once they had all calmed down (Jūgo especially), she could explain... what? That she was happy here, and that she had no intention of joining them again? It wasn't likely that they would just accept that, as they had to have gone through considerable trouble to get to her.
Jūgo's wild laughter cut off abruptly, and when Karin saw why, her heart stopped.
He was looking at her.
Karin had an overwhelming urge to run, for all the good it would do. But before she could even begin to move, Jūgo had closed the distance between them, his abnormally huge hand trembling as it reached for her.
She closed her eyes tightly and waited to be crushed to death, but it never happened. Instead, powerful but gentle arms carefully folded around her, and a chin came to rest lightly on top of her head. It took several moments for Karin to realize what was happening.
Jūgo was hugging her.
Not trying to squash the life out of her with a bear hug, but merely embracing her. Then something wet landed on her forehead, and the sight that awaited her eyes when she looked up was even more shocking.
Jūgo was crying. Not bawling or sniffling, simply gazing at her as tears flowed freely down his smiling face.
"Would you two wrap this up so we can get out of here?" Suigetsu demanded loudly.
Out of reflex, Karin turned to tell him she wasn't going anywhere until she was ready. But she couldn't: he was looking away now, but it was obvious from the way he was rapidly blinking that Jūgo wasn't the only one that had been moved to tears.
They had actually missed her.
The very idea was almost laughable. They had never even liked each other (at least, she had never liked them). Suigetsu had always been a jerk, and while Jūgo was useful and even protective, his rages made being close to him risky. They had only been together because of Sasuke, and without him, there was no point. Actually, if Sasuke had been there now, it only would've made Karin more determined to keep away from them. People trying to kill her generally had that effect on her.
"You idiots, why did you come?" Karin demanded, feeling both frustrated and strangely touched.
Suigetsu and Jūgo exchanged confused glances, as if they hadn't expected that reaction.
"Don't be stupid," Suigetsu said, frowning at her. "We came to get you. Why else would we be here?"
"Honestly? After all I've heard, I figured you came to kill me! What's all this 'Bloodbath Brothers' crap?"
Suigetsu scowled. "WE didn't come up with the name. We just didn't know where you were, so we had to look everywhere. And most of the time, we got ambushed before we could ask if anyone had seen you, which kept pissing Jūgo off, so... you know how that goes."
"He hasn't killed you," Karin pointed out.
"Well, why would he? I'm the only one that's stuck with him all this time."
"But now we've found you, Karin," Jūgo said, practically beaming down at her. "We can all-"
"Who said I was going with you?" Karin interrupted sharply. "In case you lunkheads haven't noticed, it's been almost ten years since we even saw each other! I've moved on, and I'm not about to take off with you two just because you suddenly show up and-" Her eyes widened as she suddenly noticed what should have been obvious all along, since Jūgo had been transformed: bodies littering the street, most of them either dead or close enough where there would be no difference soon enough.
It was the worst possible outcome. Naruto was a man now, but in some very important aspects, he was still a child, and this was true when it came to what he saw as his village. There were no trials for anyone found guilty of killing a villager or ninja of Konoha, no matter where the perpatrator hailed from: Naruto simply killed them, without mercy or regard for any law but his own. It was a brutal but effective system: murder rates had plummeted in the Land of Fire (at least, those of Konoha's people had) during Naruto's reign, and no outside village that wanted their ninja back dared to send them anywhere near Konoha.
All of this meant three things.
First, that Jūgo was as good as dead when Naruto found him.
Second, that Suigetsu was probably dead as well, assuming that he had killed anyone during their little invasion. Naruto was one of the few people that would bother to make that distinction, but only because he wanted to be sure that those he killed actually deserved to die. But Karin feared that Suigetsu would have killed, if only to keep his enemies from getting back up and getting in his way again.
Third, it would be quite obvious why Suigetsu and Jūgo had come to Konoha. And Karin could think of no way to convince anyone that she'd completely broken ties with them. No matter what, the best she could hope for herself now was life in prison.
Not surprisingly, their collective doom came in the form of a single, golden bolt of lightning that shot up from the Hokage Tower, hung high above the village for an instant, and then descended upon them, or more specifically, upon Suigetsu, in the form of a golden Rasengan being shoved into his chest.
If Suigetsu had seen the attack coming, he could have easily dissolved into his liquid state and absorbed the blow. But there was no time to react, only enough time for him to look shocked as his life came to an abrupt and violent end.
Naruto spun around as Suigetsu fell, feeding more chakra into the Rasengan in preparation for his next challenge: the rushing, howling form of Jūgo, already misshapen by the curse marks rapidly spreading across his body. To Jūgo's credit, the first blow barely even slowed him down. But to Naruto's, Jūgo's punch did not take his head off, although it did convince the Hokage that trading them would be a supremely bad idea. Karin suspected that while it would be easy for Naruto to have his punches connect with equal force to Jūgo's, doing so would tax his body well past the breaking point, and there were less harmful ways for him to stop the berserker.
They exchanged attacks for almost five minutes, but Naruto was clearly ahead on points. Jūgo was barely slowing down, but that didn't matter: Naruto plunged Rasengan after Rasengan into his foe's body, and while the damage appeared to heal almost instantly, Jūgo was losing more and more blood each time. Eventually, Jūgo would fall, and they both had to know that. But Karin knew that Jūgo would not stop, even if he was in his right mind: Suigetsu was dead, and so long as Karin still lived, Jūgo would fight for her freedom.
The problem was, Karin already felt free, and it was the thought of leaving the village with Jūgo that felt like a prison. She had a life here, and she honestly liked it.
Suddenly, there was an earthshaking roar, and Jūgo crashed to the ground directly in front of Karin, a smoking crater in his chest. It began to heal at once, but at a far slower rate than was normal for him. Karin bit her lip, knowing that this was the moment where she had to delcare her loyalties.
Fully aware of Naruto's gaze on her, she knelt down and gently seized Jūgo's head. "Stop," she whispered. "Just stop. It's enough, Jūgo."
His eyes rolled wildly for a moment, before settling on his face. If there was madness in them, Karin couldn't see it just then. "Don't worry, Karin," he gasped, blood spilling from his mouth. "I'll save you. I'll take you away from here. I promised Suigetsu. I'll protect you, no matter what."
"I know you will," Karin sighed, and then she drew the kunai, gently but swiftly, across the soft flesh of his throat.
It was only effective because Jūgo would never have expected it of her, otherwise his neck would have been harder than steel.
Karin could not move as she watched the light leave his eyes, filled with relief and warmth even as they dimmed. She didn't have to guess at their meaning. Jūgo had always been content to fight for any cause, so long as it mattered to someone important to him. He was, at his core, merely a weapon asking to be pointed at a target, and even if that supplied him with a purpose, it was still an empty and weary existence for any soul.
There was only one thought in Karin's head at that moment. She had been so convinced that there was no bond between the three of them without Sasuke, so why was it that now, at the very end, she could feel it breaking inside of her?
"Karin," said a soft voice above her, and she looked up to see Naruto staring down at her, an unreadable expression on his face.
"It's my fault," Karin murmured, lowering her head. "I'll take any punishment you see fit, Naruto-kun. They came for me. I'm sorry."
"I'm the one that should apologize to you, Karin," Naruto disagreed, reaching down and pulling her to her feet.
"For what?" she asked in shock.
"You had to watch one of your friends die, and kill the other one yourself."
"No. They weren't... my friends," Karin protested, her voice hollow.
"Of course they weren't," Naruto agreed, but his smile was sad, and the hand he caressed her cheek with was warm and full of sympathy.
"They weren't," Karin insisted, tears spilling down her face. "They were just two idiots that Sasuke chose. They were nothing to me!"
"I know," he said in that same, disbelieving tone as he drew Karin into his arms and held her tightly. "I know."
And he did know, Karin realized at once. Sasuke had always said that Naruto never understood the pain of losing his family, because he'd never known them. But nothing quite explained the way that Naruto had never given up on Sasuke, would have done anything to bring Sasuke home, except for the idea that he was fighting to save the only brother he had ever known.
Now, here at the end, Karin understood that she'd just buried her own brothers, and Naruto understood it, too.
Originally there was a final scene where Naruto's been keeping Sasuke locked up in a chamber beneath the Hokage Tower: blind, and with the majority of his chakra sealed away, but just as emo as ever, if not more. But it wouldn't come out right, and I think it's because this story was meant to be more about Karin, and she's done with Sasuke (as I stated before, trying to kill people sometimes does that to them). If that scene makes the story more complete to you, then by all means feel free to add it in your head. If, however, you think Naruto either killed Sasuke or had to watch him die and simply can't accept it, that could work, too.