The hospital is clean and bright and the walls are blindingly white and Karin doesn't trust anyone.

In her defense, she is a missing-nin. In her defense, she has mobilized against Konoha. In her defense, she has just been run through by the sharpest blade in the world by the coldest boy in the world who no longer held her heart in his hands.

They do not restrain her, these Konoha shinobi. It is strange and she is suspicious. Instead, she is assigned to a rather comfortable hospital room, the bed a little stiff but a welcome reprieve from so many nights lying on the grass beneath the stars, rocks digging in her back and anxiety digging in her heart because she doesn't know where she's going. The sheets are clean and smell fresh, a little thin for her tastes but she knows she isn't in a position to complain.

Strangely, that's all she feels like doing. Complaining. Maybe screaming.

The medics here cleaned her up pretty well. She supposes it's all thanks to that girl with the pink hair, Sasuke-kun's (no, stupid, it's not Sasuke-kun, he was never Sasuke-kun) former teammate. She healed up the scorched hole in the middle of her chest and had done so through a haze of tears that Karin recognized: the tears a girl cries when she loves a boy who's too far gone to even know he's lost.

Karin touches her chest gingerly, and there is a light pink scar she hopes will fade. She doesn't need physical evidence of the fact that Sasuke-kun literally ripped her heart from her chest, or at least tried his hardest to. The memory of her skin sizzling, the surreal feeling of her organs incinerating within her, the smell of her own scorched flesh, all of it threatens to drown her and Karin doesn't know why they're keeping her alive.

There is a knock at the door. Two successive raps, soft and unimposing, and the knocker doesn't wait for her to give permission. Karin doesn't know if she should be offended, because it's not like she can yell at a Konoha shinobi in Konoha, but she doesn't know what the point of knocking is in the first place if you're not even going to wait to be given permission to enter, and the thought is so distracting that it's only when the visitor speaks that she even realizes she isn't alone in the blinding white room.

"Hello, Karin-san."

Karin looks over through glasses that were broken when she came to Konoha but were fixed during her hospitalization and sees the girl with pink hair. She owes this girl her life, she realizes, but still. She's a girl, and as far as girls go, she's very very pretty. Feminine and soft-looking and with a friendly smile. And Karin doesn't like girls very much, especially not the pretty kind because Karin is competitive and she doesn't have good self-esteem. So she recoils, and she doesn't return the pink-haired girl's greeting.

The girl with pink hair doesn't look affronted and Karin wonders vaguely why she even cares if she offends her. And then the girl with pink hair introduces herself.

"My name's Sakura. I healed you before and I'll be your attending physician. It's nice to meet you."

Sakura offers her hand to Karin with a sweet smile that doesn't reach her eyes, but Karin sees that it's not from a lack of trying. She studies her warily, like a cornered mouse, and doesn't accept Sakura's hand, but Sakura doesn't look at all upset. Which again doesn't faze her, and Karin wonders at this girl.

Even though Karin's recovering and her chakra is low and she's not actively trying, she can easily read Sakura's chakra and, to her amazement, it is warm and bright and peaceful just like everyone else in Konoha's is. After so many months of traveling with Suigetsu, whose chakra throbbed violently, and Juugo's, whose chakra erupted chaotically, and Sas- Uchiha's, whose chakra was a constant, overwhelming storm of pure aggression, it is odd and disarmingly comforting to be surrounded by so many docile chakra signatures. Everyone is nice, even her interrogators. Even the shinobi guards posted outside her room, the room of a dangerous missing-nin.

Even this girl who saved her life and who has the energy to smile, even though she loves the boy Karin loved. Loved, she thinks, harsh and emphatic, because no way will she ever forgive him this betrayal.

Even though, not two weeks ago, they would have been bitter enemies, competitors over the heart Karin was now convinced Uchiha Sasuke did not possess.

But Sakura's chakra remains calm, not at all hostile, not at all suspicious. She checks Karin's chart professionally before moving to the sink and washing her hands. Karin watches as the little doctor turns her back and scrubs diligently beneath her fingernails, the backs of her hands all the way up to the wrists, the water hot enough to steam. Sakura turns her back to Karin and apparently trusts her not to attack her, and again Karin is amazed.

What must it be like, to live in a village like Konoha? Where movements are guided by compassion, not fear, where ulterior motives are left to the missing-nin villains and everyone trusts and everyone loves and everyone smiles when they're sad?

She has never known such a life. Part of her scorns the idea as fanciful, fantastical, fictional, because romance is for storybooks and there is no such thing as a happy ending.

But another part of her desperately wants to believe that happy endings are more than just stories that haven't finished yet.

Sakura dries her hands on a clean paper towel before placing a stethoscope in her ears and approaching Karin slowly and deliberately, so as not to frighten or unnerve her. Karin wonders why she is being treated so delicately when proper protocol demands that she, along with her traitorous teammates, be arrested, interrogated, and executed because they are the bad guys, no matter how much Karin never wanted to be a bad guy, no matter how much it seemed like the world wanted to make her one.

Instead she is pampered almost. Treated with respect and kindness to the point of absurdity. She does not protest when Sakura places the stethoscope gingerly to her chest and asks her, in a sweet, lilting voice, to please breathe deeply.

Karin obeys, not taking her eyes off of Sakura and feeling ill-prepared and inadequate by comparison. Here is a girl who is her age, who is pretty and smart and very very kind, who is everything Karin feels she might have been able to become if her life hadn't been one chaotic series of misfortunes and mistakes. Sakura helps people. Sakura heals people. Sakura healed her and she's trying to help her now and who is Karin to scorn that?

"Your lungs sound good," Sakura informs her after a few more moments have passed, and Karin nods stiffly. She is not used to making conversation with females. After so much time attacking any woman who so much as looked at Sasuke, she has found that she's forgotten how to socialize with anyone but her teammates. She wonders if that's normal and she wonders if Sakura notices. "If you don't mind, I'd like to take a look at your chest and see how that's progressing? Is there any soreness, any tenderness?"

Karin doesn't protest when Sakura opens the front of her hospital gown to examine the wound Sasuke left.

"A little," she mutters, and Sakura nods before her little hands, clean and bloodless and I wish I had hands like hers, healing hands, helping hands, hands that couldn't kill Sasuke, raise towards the little scar on Karin's chest. Mint green chakra hums to life and Karin doesn't shy away from it because it is the warmest, brightest, gentlest chakra she has ever encountered. It does not dazzle like Sasuke's or burn like the Uzumaki boy's. It shines on its own, in a sweeter, a softer way, and Karin loves Sakura's chakra.

It's cool when she touches the wound, and what lingering ache plagued her earlier gradually dissipates into nothingness. A pleasant numbness has taken its place, and Sakura smiles in satisfaction at her success, and Karin, lulled perhaps into a false sense of security, blurts out, "You were Sasuke's teammate."

Sakura does not look surprised at the outburst. In fact it looks like she's expected it all along, if her sigh of resignation is any indication. Karin eyes her nervously before Sakura leans back against the physician's counter with a defeated smile.

"I was," she says. "I am," she corrects.

"He tried to kill you." Karin doesn't say it to be mean but her voice comes out harsh anyway, it always has. She is harder than she intends to be, all sharp edges while Sakura is smooth lines, but it's always been like that. To keep herself alive all this time, she's needed to be hard and she wishes it wasn't the case but it is. It was. Maybe it can be different? No time to think on that now, because Sakura, with her calm and warm chakra, is replying.

"I know that. I tried to kill him, too. I know you must hate me for not hating him...after what he did to you...it was reprehensible, Karin-san, please know that. But if you've been Sasuke-kun's teammate all this time, you have to know that that...that person we saw that day...that's not Sasuke-kun."

Karin is amazed once more.

Sakura, bright and warm and a healer and a helper and everything every girl wanted to be since the dawn of time, is making excuses for Sasuke. She is defending him, calling herself his teammate, even after everythiing he has done to her, to her friends, to the world. She is standing by him. She calls him Sasuke-kun and doesn't trip over the word. She apologizes to Karin on his behalf, when it was Sasuke's hand who drove into her chest with the intent to kill her end her just another obstacle, and Sakura's hands who dragged her kicking and screaming back from the welcoming arms of death.

And Karin looks at this too-pretty girl with her too-pretty eyes and her too-pretty smile and all she can think of is that this girl is good, and this girl deserves good things, and this girl is someone she thinks she could like someday.

And she remembers that she is not the only one that Sasuke hurt. She remembers the way Sakura cried that day as she healed her. She remembers the way Sasuke grabbed her by the throat with every intention in the world of spilling her blood and stomping out her bright chakra in his hellish rage.

And her hands clench into fists as Sakura concludes her examination and quietly excuses herself. Because when she sees how Sasuke hurt that pretty girl with the pretty heart, she finds herself hating him for an entirely different reason.

xoxoxo

Karin finds herself at a bar, alone and isolated and on probation, whatever that means. Proving herself to Konoha.

The war is over. It's nice now in Konoha, except for all the funerals.

So many shinobi and kunoichi and civilians even, their lives lost in the battle against Madara and Kabuto and evil. They are the victors, proud victors and Madara and Kabuto are deaddeaddead, but it doesn't feel like victory attending six funerals a day for the honorable dead.

So Karin, acting kunoichi of Konoha, with a headband and everything, sits at the bar by herself and tries to drink away her problems.

It never works, she knows that. It does not do for a lady to lose herself so completely in alcohol because alcohol numbs temporarily but it's only temporary. Soon her problems come back and they come back harder than before. Soon the pleasant haze of numbness slides away and in its place are dreams and nightmares and sadness and where am I going next.

Still, it's a nice bar, she reasons. She's dressing differently lately, no more slutty tops and short shorts. It's nice not to worry so much about her appearance because everyone in Konoha is so friendly, and she doesn't need to resort to her looks to relate to people. She is accepted almost instantly and she is amazed, because don't they know that she is a criminal? Don't they know that her hands are stained with blood, that she was once their enemy?

"It's because of the war, you know." Karin didn't ask a question but it's answered nonetheless, and she looks up, surprised to see Sakura collapse onto the barstool beside her and order a drink that looks too big and too strong for a pretty little thing like her. Sakura is tired. Bags are under her eyes and her hair is thrown into a messy, lazy ponytail and there's just no fairness in the world because she is still so pretty.

"What is?" she asks glumly, staring into her drink and wondering why it can't fill itself automatically.

"Everyone wants to start over," Sakura continues. She sips long and languidly from her glass and Karin knows she is not the only one to numb herself with liquor and denial. "So much death, so much pain, so much heartache and no one has enough energy to be suspicious of you. Everyone's willing to move on, to put this behind them. Are you, Karin-san?"

Sakura is blunt, apparently. And this is refreshing to Karin, because she is not blunt to be mean, she is blunt so her words won't be misinterpreted. After so many weeks of rehabilitation and recuperation and kissing everyone's ass, it's nice to hear the naked truth.

"Yeah," she sighs. "Yeah, I really am."

"Glad to hear it," Sakura says with a tired smile. "So we're friends now."

"You can just decide that?" Karin's voice isn't scornful. She's genuinely confused. She supposes that Suigetsu and Juugo are friends, or at least friendly, after all they've been through together. Maybe Sasuke at one point would have been considered a friend. But she has never had a female friend before, never in her entire life, and is this how female friendships start?

"Why not? Cheers to rebuilding and recovering and what-fucking-ever I just want to drink."

Karin clinks her glass to Sakura's and drinks to that.

They could definitely become good friends, she thinks, as the alcohol blazes a trail down her throat and warms something suspiciously close to her heart.

xoxoxo

Weeks turn to months and Sasuke's still in jail and Suigetsu and Juugo are away on a mission and Karin is interning at the hospital and she has friends.

Her unique talents are appreciated by everyone at the Konoha Hospital and it's so so good to be needed, to be necessary, to be appreciated for what and who she is and what she can do and what she wants to do, which is help. Sakura is her superior and Karin knows she will never be able to match her skill but she wants to be like Sakura. Sakura who smiles and heals and cracks boulders and bends mountains to her will. So she takes direction and learns medicine and healing and she will never be used again.

Sakura is her closest friend in Konoha and the more she learns about her, the more she hates Sasuke for hurting her. But she doesn't want to think about Sasuke anymore. So she hangs out with Sakura at work and after work too and there she meets Ino, Sakura's best friend and also Hinata, another friend, and a lot of really, really cute boys who accept her as one of them almost immediately.

She has girlfriends. An idea she would have once dismissed as ludicrous and now she realizes she was missing something necessary. Friendship is more beautiful than she could have dreamed, friendship built on both commonalities and differences, the need for companionship and the capacity to love someone and accept their love, rather than a business agreement built on mutual need. And that's all Karin's friendships ever were, before Sakura and the others.

Konoha is being rebuilt little by little. And Karin wears her headband with pride because she has a village now, and her teammates are coming back and she even has a cousin in Naruto which means she has family and it's a good family, there's more to Karin than just nothing no one chakra sensor Orochimaru Orochimaru Orochimaru.

And she is learning how to be a friend, how to be a kunoichi, a true comrade. She wants to protect these people like they protected her. She wants to keep them from harm and keep them safe so they can all go drinking together and so she has someone to wave to on the way to the hospital and so she can tease and flirt and laugh and argue with people she'd been missing her whole life without even realizing it. And she loves them, and it is a selfless love, one that boggles her mind and blows her away because she is capable of it. And she feels her chakra changing, and she feels it warming and brightening and she is home here in Konoha.

xoxoxo

The day Sasuke is released from prison, Sakura is crying at the bar.

Karin has not seen her cry since the day they met. The sight makes no sense to her, because Sakura is supposed to smile. She is a healer and a helper and a friend, the first real friend Karin ever had, and she is meant to smile and be happy and pretty and Karin's snarky friend.

Instead, she sits at the bar and looks tiny and frail with her arms wrapped around herself and her shoulders shaking with sobs and Karin wants to kill whoever made her this way.

"What happened?" she demands without any further ado, and Sakura looks up through bleary red eyes and a red nose and tears streaming down splotchy red cheeks.

"S-Sasuke-kun's out of pri-prison," she sobs. "He...he came and...he..."

"What did he do, Sakura?" Karin snarls in a voice unrecognizable to anyone, and the bartender looks a little afraid as he shies away from two of his best customers.

"He...he said he was sorry," Sakura wails. "And he kissed me, Karin!"

Karin doesn't need to hear another word.

She finds Sasuke almost instantly. His chakra is stormy but not violent like before. It's conflicted because he's frustrated with something and she hates that she can pick that out so easily, but she needs to monitor his chakra from now on, now that he's free, just in case he flies off the handle again and tries to hurt her friends.

He is standing on a red bridge overlooking the water. His back is to her, proudly displaying an uchiwa fan across his broad shoulders as his black hair moves back and forth in the wind, but for the first time, Karin finds herself immune to his disarming good looks.

"Uchiha," she snaps.

Sasuke turns and he's even more handsome than she remembers, with dark eyes that regard her warily but not hatefully, like before. His jaw is chiseled and strong. She would have once fawned over such a good-looking sight but now she is pissed, she is in Mother Hen mode and she is going to kick his ass across Konoha.

"Karin," he returns, his voice a smooth baritone. "I..."

"Save it, asshole," she hisses. "What's this I hear about you kissing Sakura?"

He flinches. "I'm sorry about before," he murmurs. "But I was never interested in you. Even before I left, I was-"

Karin supposes that hearing proof that her interest in Sasuke before was always one-sided should be painful, but it isn't. She has a good idea why.

She has moved on.

But that doesn't mean he's off the hook.

"What happened before, I'm not gonna hold against you," she spits acidly, and his eyes widen slightly in surprise. "You were lost and I couldn't save you and thank God for Naruto and Sakura. They wouldn't let you give up on yourself like I gave up on you. But that's not why I'm here. I'm not interested in rehashing the past, I'm gonna let you know what's gonna happen next."

Sasuke doesn't rise to the bait. He regards her calmly, patiently, and Karin is so so glad that Naruto is his friend because this boy, this calm, arrogant and gentle boy must be the Sasuke that everyone knew existed.

"You will never hurt her again, never in your stupid life," Karin snarls. "She deserves so much better than you, and everyone in the world knows it so you better learn it yourself. She is beautiful and smart and good, she's just good and if I find out you hurt her there won't be enough left of you to bury! I'll see to it that you choke on your own blood, Uchiha!"

Sasuke exhales sharply through his nose. He clearly did not expect this from her. He shoves his hands in his pockets and sighs.

"I'm not going to hurt her anymore."

"I know you're not," Karin shoots back, not done yet. "And you're gonna remember her birthday because it's March 28 and it matters. And you're never gonna buy her cherry blossoms because her favorite flowers are cosmos and she deserves them. And you're never going to leave her again, you understand me? Because fuck Naruto and his promises, if you leave her again, I'll find you myself and kill you."

Sasuke smirks, but it isn't nasty. It is almost resigned.

"Aa."

xoxoxo

Everyone's home for the night and as they sit around the crowded bar and it's noisy and loud and not remotely peaceful, Karin is happy.

Sakura and Sasuke sit beside one another. He is saying something softly to her that makes her giggle and his hand rests lightly on her knee. Never overtly affectionate with one another, but PDA is not their style.

(Plus Karin has seen enough marks on both of them to know that behind closed doors, they're the most affectionate couple in Konoha at the moment.) She smirks in approval at the understated diamond ring on Sakura's left ring finger and reminds herself to check on the bridesmaid dresses at the boutique first thing in the morning.

It seems Sasuke's keeping his promise.

Further along the bar, Ino sits with Shikamaru, flirting shamelessly while he smokes and smokes and ignores everyone's warnings that that stuff will give you cancer. And Karin thinks they're good together in a weird way. Shikamaru needs someone to keep him in line and Ino needs someone to keep in line who will also keep her in line sort of.

Then there's Kiba, who flirts with all the girls even though they're all spoken for. And he's with Shino, quiet and forgettable, and Chouji, eating and eating and not even coming up for air. And then there's Sai, who's calling Sakura 'ugly' and Sasuke 'traitor', but who looks weirdly like Sasuke and makes Karin think that maybe the Uchiha Clan isn't down to just one survivor at all.

And there's also Hyuuga Neji and his cousin Hinata, holding hands with Karin's cousin Naruto while Neji looks on in disapproval, even while Tenten's arms are looped around his neck and Lee is running circles around the bar, since someone let him drink.

And Juugo chuckles as he drinks beside her; he hasn't had a single outburst since coming to Konoha a year ago, thanks to Tsunade and Sakura and Shizune-sempai and Karin, who can help now and who is important now and who heals and heals just like Sakura can. And then there's Suigetsu, who calls her a name while his arm's draped around her shoulders, and she snaps back before he whispers something wicked in her ear that makes her flush and anticipate going home tonight in all the best ways.

And this is her home now, she realizes, looking up at the stars that shine so brightly above this peaceful village. The moonlight catches off the metal plate in her headband that recognizes her as a kunoichi of the life. And she sits with her friends, with her boyfriend, with people she would kill and die for, and Karin is happy.

And it isn't an ending at all.

xoxoxo

note.. I like Karin. And I hope you like this story. Let me know! xoxo Daisy