:: ::

Something about that tiny, tear-shaped scar spoke her heart as clearly as the act of its placement did for one who created the mark. It was bitter irony that the scar was from an injury that had only barely missed her heart, while at the same time, it felt to hit its mark, slicing the faint beating in her chest so cleanly in two.

She stared at the fading imperfection, from time to time, knowing that if it could speak to describe itself, which words it would choose; emptiness, betrayal, hatred, loneliness, disgust.

But, when it came down to it, a scar upon the skin of any shinobi was just that; a scar. Scars had no words to speak, and their individuality eventually began to blend together as more marks were added. Ninjas were just human pincushions, covered in holes that they couldn't tell apart, and couldn't remember the cause.

(A scar should have been the very symbol of what it meant to be a shinobi; Without a name, or face, or memory connected with their image. Just one little nothing in a crowd of other unimportant nothings.)

And, as any good shinobi should do, Karin decided that she would forget the cause of her scars. She would forget the feelings of hurt that she felt so much deeper than the surface of her skin and she would forget the needless emotions that she dwelled on so foolishly in the past. She was strong and persistent, and her failures wouldn't get her down.

She was happy now, happy and still alive, despite that man's best efforts to bury her like useless garbage. If she ever saw him again, she would be more than pleased to smile in his face and let out a triumphant, 'screw you.'

With a soft, smiling face, the young kunoichi walked the dusty streets of Konoha, admiring how dutiful and determined the people of this town were in building their walls back up, prevailing despite all odds. In the back of her mind, she felt herself so similar to this village, building her own walls back up after coming so close to utter destruction.

They had welcomed her here, maybe not exactly with open arms, but they had given her a chance, which was all she could ever ask for. Sure, they had very little to offer her at the moment, but Karin was grateful, at this point, just to still be breathing the sweet air of life.

Clad modestly in a loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirt that trailed down to the middle of her thighs, and comfortable shinobi pants that cut off just below her knee, she found that she fit in among the busy Konoha people, wandering the city streets, just looking to pick up a few groceries. (She hadn't quite decided what she wanted for dinner, though she was sure that she wanted something she had never tried before; Dinner needed to be something exciting, since entertainment in Konoha was minimal, currently.)

The red-haired kunoichi browsed the aisles of the makeshift Konoha market; apparently, fresh food was somewhat scarce in Konoha as well, but that was okay, because they would get back on their feet soon. Karin just shrugged, a pleasant smile on her face as she lifted a tomato into her hand, and scrutinized it carefully, the ruby red of its skin reminding her of blood, of the puddle of blood she could recall laying so helplessly in.

Quickly, the crimson fruit was placed back where it came from, and the kunoichi decided that she might like something green, or possibly yellow, instead. She liked the thought of cooking up something that had a strong, lovely fragrance, something that would fill her small apartment with the delectable scent of tenderness, which every woman put into her meals. Maybe filling the air of her small space with something nice would help give the tightly enclosed shelter more character? Maybe..

After about twenty minutes, Karin had gathered everything she needed for the entire week in a basket which she carried with her arm tucked neatly beneath the handles. She greeted the vendor politely, all smiles and small talk. However, her mood turned bitter all too quickly as she realized that she wouldn't have enough money to make her full purchase.

With blushing cheeks, and vehement apologies, she asked the vendor to remove some of the items from her bag, the skin of her face becoming warm as she surely held up the line.

She wondered, were people thinking, 'There's that girl who worked for Orochimaru. There's that girl who works for Konoha's traitors. Why is she here? She doesn't belong here.'?

She didn't know, but regardless, she paid for what she could afford, and scampered off as quickly as possible, her shoes kicking up the golden dust of the streets as she fled in embarrassment.

Technically, she wasn't a shinobi of Konoha, so she wasn't very highly trusted as of yet. However, the kind leaders of Konoha did realize that they had to offer her some means to make a living while they kept her here and her keen sensory powers were very useful. She was allowed to accompany some squads on missions, where her talents could be made use of, and she was given errands to run here and there. It was just enough to feed her, which was all she needed. As long as she didn't betray Konoha, or try to escape, she knew they would eventually come to trust her as one of their own; that thought satisfied her.

For now, the young girl absolutely strived to buy herself that sense of trust. Honestly, there weren't many people here that she related to, but she socialized where she could. She recognized a few faces from her minor missions, and knew some people casually. She didn't want to admit it, but.. She was rather desperate for any kind of company. She didn't have any friends.. She didn't have any companions.. Hell, she didn't even have any associates, or teammates. Yes, she was lonely, but time would fix that, and she knew it.

With a sigh, Karin brushed her long, red hair back from over her shoulder, carrying her small bag of groceries with one arm as she did so. She was on her way back to her apartment to put away her groceries, just absently considering that she had plenty of time to do something else before she made dinner for herself, and she was wondering where she could go to possibly meet some new people.

Then, Karin's attention was suddenly captured when she noticed that some of the people along the street had stopped walking and that they were chattering to anyone standing near them, as if it didn't matter whether they knew one another or not. The sounds of questioning voices, all turning to whoever for information met Karin's ears, and she slowed herself to a stop, wondering what was going on.

The quivering, chaotic vibes of apprehensive, shocked and curious chakra all tingled beneath the girl's skin, all at once, and Karin knew, without question, that something was happening to draw everyone's attention. For a moment it frightened her, and caused her to fret that Konoha might suddenly be attacked again and that she would end up in the crossfire. (As if she hadn't already been in the crossfire of matters one too many times.)

'I guess they captured a missing nin, it looks like they are headed toward the detainment facility.'

Listening carefully, Karin tried to gather information on what was going on.

'Who could it be? There are so many ANBU, it must be somebody incredibly dangerous..'

With her arms wrapped tightly around her grocery bag, Karin approached the back end of the gathering crowd, trying to stand on her tip-toes in order to see. The most she could make out were the tops of heads, all belonging to Konoha's elite, masked ANBU soldiers.

'Do they really have the resources to keep anybody so dangerous restrained right now?'

As rude as it seemed to gawk at any prisoner, Karin couldn't help the curiosity that was building in her mind; she sighed in annoyance as she made to push her way through the slight crowd, hoping to end up at the front, if only to see what was going on. (She could remember all of the Konoha people giving her stares when they carried her in half-dead. She really resented it, because even when she worked Orochimaru's prison, she wasn't rude enough to stand around staring at people.)

'Well, if they are any threat to the village, or what little is left, I hope they execute them quickly.'

Finally, the young kunoichi had gotten past a crowd of other people, finding that the middle of the street was completely clear, the path meant for the hoard of approaching ANBU, as they headed toward the detainment facility, where their supposed prisoner would likely be questioned. (She knew this all-too-well.)

Watchful, reddish eyes peered in the direction of the ANBU as they finally grew near enough for her to observe them. There were so many, she could hardly even ascertain that there was a prisoner among them; but there was an intense feeling striking her more perceptive side, her sensory abilities telling her doubtlessly that there -was- a prisoner and his chakra was all too familiar. (Though it was only the dullest flicker, the smallest drop at the bottom of a dried-out well.)

'Can't be,' she thought. 'Impossible.'

Then, as the immense assembly of masked shinobi bypassed the young kunoichi, she indeed managed to lay her framed eyes on the prisoner. Most of the ANBU had actually walked ahead to break up the crowd, and the ones following behind stood at a distance from one another, making the image of the prisoner suddenly all-too-clear.

Karin, after the group passed, walked slowly out onto the dusty road, where the footprints from the ANBU's sandals lingered, along with one great big track through the dirt, from where they had been dragging their prisoner along. She watched the group as it continued along, her disbelieving stare following the chasm created in the dirt, until her pinkish-red eyes set upon the near-lifeless prisoner.

She stared, and stared, but just couldn't fathom the harsh reality before her.

There, in the clutches of the ANBU soldiers, was Sasuke. Somehow, Karin had never believed that they would ever be able to capture him. Sasuke was too proud and determined, and way too strong to ever be taken alive. (And he was alive; Karin could feel the life still within him.) The kunoichi had tried not to think on this topic, however, not wanting to trouble her own heart with thoughts of Sasuke; this was probably why it struck her now, like a bolt of unpredictable lightning.

From the looks of him, he obviously didn't come quietly, or without a fight; his face was untouched enough to remain recognizable, with only minor bruises, though his countenance was streaked with blood from his eyes and down his chin. (It gave Karin a chill, because he honestly looked very much the same as he did when last she saw him.) The Uchiha's clothes were torn, and stained with various blotches of crimson, from both his own injuries, as well as from others, assumably.

Karin couldn't tell from the distance she stood at whether there was anything further done to her once-leader. She could imagine that the missing-nin had been battered terribly before being dragged here, but nothing was very certain, aside from the fact that Sasuke's chakra was thoroughly depleted. (He had either done this to himself with high-level jutsu, or the ANBU had somehow done it to him in order to disable him.)

Not thinking that Sasuke was even conscious, it came as an immense surprise to the young woman when she was able to make out the slightest shift of the Uchiha's head, raising, and that his endless abyssal eyes were staring right in her very direction, noticing her. (This was the same moment that Karin thought that Sasuke looked perfectly capable of walking on his own, yet she came to realize that he wasn't being dragged as a method of shaming him; he simply chose to speak his stubborn unwillingness to return to Konoha by refusing to walk, himself.)

Karin swallowed nervously, momentarily trembling in fear of those terrifying and deadly eyes. However, she realized almost instantly that no malicious intent was reflected from within her old leader's gaze, nor hatred or disgust; he looked at her, his stare faintly expressing simple recognition, awareness, acknowledgment for the fact that he knew the face in which he was presently looking at. His visage did not speak any silent message at all; there was no plea for help, nor aid of any kind, nor was he hoping for sympathy. He was not apologetic, he showed no regret for his actions against Karin, though he also did not gleam with pride for what he had done, either.

That one single act that the avenger had committed, which had nearly taken away Karin's very life, had never been meant as anything personal, and that much was clear in the way he looked at her now. He had not despised or discarded her, but he spoke a clear message; his fight was more important than one single life. This fight was worth more than Karin and it was as simple as that.

And while everyone else in Konoha just shrugged off this occurrence, Karin stayed still, there in the street, engulfed in some grand epiphany; she was not happy. She was not happy at all. She wasn't satisfied with the minuscule space where she lived, nor the plain clothes she wore to conform, nor the slave-wages that she was paid for her hard work. She was lonely, bored, and bitterly unhappy; she had been living, believing in her very own pretenses.

Karin now realized the cold truth of this nation; She was living here, a prisoner, a slave, and so was everybody else. Everybody in this loathsome city was born into a system of slavery that they could not escape without being sentenced to death, and that was what Sasuke's eyes were telling her. And how ironic it was; Sasuke had been brought here as a fugitive, but while people stopped and stared, thinking, 'Oh look, the ANBU have a prisoner', he was glaring back at all of them, probably sarcastically thinking the exact same.

Everyone living within the fortifying walls of Konoha lived here, as prisoners.

Seeing this only now, Karin's eyes shined at the corners with tears that gathered there. The kunoichi remained poised while she clung to whatever strength she still held within herself, refusing to shed these tears, even if it turned out that they weren't for Sasuke. (No, these were selfish tears. These tears were out of Karin's own self-pity, as she discovered that she was in no better a position than her old leader, as he was dragged away. And Karin now felt so completely stupid, knowing that she discarded her own stubbornness, instead of continuing to fight until the end, all because she never realized what she had even been fighting for, at all. Even worse, it was possible that the very information she relinquished to Konoha could have led to Sasuke's capture.)

Overcome with guilt and grief, Karin quietly whispered the words, "I understand now," her eyes still locked with Sasuke's own.

Unable to respond with anything else, yet having read the words as they left Karin's lips, Sasuke softly nodded his head to the girl, before finally averting his gaze.

The kunoichi's overwhelmed mind, for the moment, fell into silence. Her slight frame still remained standing stock-still in the street, as her eyes watched Sasuke eventually vanish into the distance. Without even realizing her own movement, however, the woman's frail hand lifted to the collar of her shirt, resting there.

'It's not too late.', a voice in the back of the kunoichi's mind whispered, almost as if it were another consciousness altogether. This rekindled the spiral of thought in Karin's head, causing her to think back, back to the moment when she was being tightly encased in Danzo's cowardly grasp, and she had pleadingly gazed at Sasuke, begging him to save her.

'Karin..Don't move.', Sasuke had said. At the time, she fell still, and calmed, knowing that Sasuke would save her flawlessly, just as he had in the past. That was before she found her chest impaled.

'Don't move.' ...But, what if Sasuke had intended to do exactly that, but he had also intended to do so without killing her? What if his last words to her had been his way of stilling her, so that he could be sure of his aim, sure that he wouldn't strike her in anything vital?

What if.

What if he had intended for her to be taken here? For her to see exactly why he was fighting, so that she could understand; What if he placed her here, intentionally, as his backup resource, should he be captured, hoping that she would realize this, and act accordingly?

What if.

What if she was just overthinking this whole thing? Would anything truly justify her helping the man that had nearly killed her? What if she did it because she wanted to fight back? What if she did it for herself, and not him?

Her hand remained fisted in the material atop her collarbones, tugging at it habitually, knowing that if she could somehow get to Sasuke, she could help him by restoring his chakra, and he could escape. (It was highly likely that she would be captured, however.)(And, how troublesome, there was no zipper in the front of this shirt.)

All that was left was for her to decide; What he worth it? No, was this fight worth it?

Yes or no?




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