'Naruto' and 'Naruto Shippuden' are the property of Masashi Kishimoto and TV Tokyo.


Self-Combustion

MetaMirage


1


Karin was born with dirt beneath her fingernails. Her mother's work in pottery her first love and true passion. Together they would mould bowls, flatten plates and carve intricate patterns into ornamental vases. With a handful of soft, palpable clay her ten year old life couldn't be better.

Sketching was important to realise design so on the day Karin accidentally dropped her workbook into the fireplace her mother rushed to the tragedy. Karin stared in shock, bursting into primal fascination at the devouring flames. Pages peeled to nothingness. Hours of line work crisped to ash.

"Sweetheart?" her mother broke in. "You can still save it."

Karin was lost. All is fragile against fire. All is erased.

She shook her head, entranced. Fire is unstoppable consumption. "Let it burn."


At sixteen nothing could be worse. The world was being torn apart by human conflict, bloodshed and war. Soldiers fought for slavery, killed for oppression and died for dictatorship. Amidst the chaos something more than a man had risen up and she found herself at the heart of his regime. Lord Orochimaru, the leader of a rebellion she forgot the purpose for. Was his movement heroically fighting against a government goose stepping people into an unjust war? Or was he knee deep in a cesspool of civilian attacks, dead child soldiers and inhumane experimentation? Karin begged to differentiate until it pitted her like a cyst. This was not the pensive darkness of her dorm however. This was training.

"Get down! Get down!"

Her shouts resulted in 16 recruits hitting the ground. She was particularly pleased with the girl that took cover in a shell crater. Not so much with the thirteen year old caught in barbed wire. He ripped up his uniform, crying out at lacerated flesh. Karin resisted the urge to scowl. His clumsiness had no business on the battlefield. Instead she barked at everyone to surround him.

As a drill sergeant she armed squads with the tools of survival. Her eyes fell to the shark-teeth mountain's ringing the base and the stretch of tunnels comprising the Youth Armed Sanctuary. When Lord Orochimaru started the YAS he claimed it was to offer a refuge from war. Then why were they trained like soldiers? Why were they sent out to fight? Her mind reeled at the role she played, her depth and reason.

At the sound of whimpering she was returned to the thin, pale child stuck in the wire. Delicate as an ashen moth caught in a web, gossamer wings brushing impossible freedom. It would be kinder to let him bleed out.


The rally before her mission shook the core of the mountain. Lord Orochimaru was back and she joined in with the joyous, hysterical screaming of his subordinates. Her arms felt weightless, salute boundless. Everybody's outstretched fingertips ached to reach their adorned hero. Suddenly she recognised their fanatical desperation as cult like. The idea terrified her until she was knocked. The insidious thought was culled by the shouting around her. Saviour. Paragon. Saint.

Karin screamed louder.


A simple sabotage had become a scattered fiasco. Velvet tread set east, Karin tasked herself with finding her missing squad. The sunrise aided her as she surveyed the area. With a cliff top vantage, dense foliage for cover and source of nearby running water it was the ideal hiding place. In the overgrowth she caught a glimpse of what might've been a raven's feathered wing, only to discover it was the back of a head. It was one of hers, a boy named Sasuke. She coughed politely.

Instantly a blade was pressed against her throat. Recognition flashed in his cold eyes but he still lowered his aim to her chest before sheathing the weapon.

"Head or heart," she muttered. Sometimes she couldn't decide herself. "It's all so messy."

He regarded her to the point she felt less human and more like the fascinating subject of an agar plate. Impossibly, his look became more intense when she beckoned him. "The others are waiting."


The discord in the group erupted when they approached. Karin rolled her eyes as 'can't hold it together', 'playing favourites' and 'Uchiha' made its round in seeping venom. She would take no part in their babbling witch hunt against the superiors. Blaming Sasuke for the botched sabotage, although she agreed his promotion to captain was premature, went against orders. Lord Orochimaru would only care about their inability to secure enemy supplies, not pointless politics. She felt a headache coming on.

"We should head back..." someone squeaked out and her stomach dropped. She told herself it was because she didn't want to let Lord Orochimaru down and not because she feared punishment. They were ordered to return with GK-10 pellets at any cost. She looked in the direction of the cart they were supposed to bring to the academy, assessing the situation. They were caught between two waring nations, Kirigakure and Sunagakure. Kirigakure guarded the mountain passage home while Sunagakure combed the area for the stolen cache before her. With no cover and the sheer size of the hoard it seemed impossible. What would Lord Orochimaru do?

"We have to take what we can and burn the rest," she concluded. Lord Orochimaru would rather destroy the supplies than risk them falling back into enemy hands. Many began to nod until she was cut off.

"No," Sasuke contradicted, "that will draw attention. The enemy will spot the smoke a mile out."

"Don't you think I know that?" she snapped back. She clung to Lord Orochimaru's words 'the sacrifice of few for the good of many'. They would run. Luck would decide the rest.

"Besides," he said casually drawing a hooked blade from his pack. They all froze in terror at the sweeping curve of the blade. The cache was full of them and any soldier caught by Kiri with these traditional Suna knives was killed heinously. She shivered at the memory of a blinded dead soldier, his nose sawed off and mouth cut open like a baited fish. His lobbed off fingers circling him like a grotesque halo in the dying light of a trench. His fate was suddenly all too real.

"So how else do we get rid of it, captain?" was spoken up.

Sasuke gave them a lazy look. "We improvise."


Sasuke is raving delusional. He had to be to pull off what happened next. They pushed the cart into a nearby village. One they knew the Suna made sweeps through. Karin studied dilapidated tin rooves, shanty walls and grotty dirt roads and had to remind herself the village was YAS liberated. The market stalls were pitifully stocked and the few people whom dared the open walked quickly and hunched over. Thin rags hid their sallow faces, starved bones jutting from thin wrists.

Sasuke climbed on the cart and shouted into broad daylight. "Free knives!"

It was like a rooster's crow on the sorry excuse for a market place. People poked dirty faces out of windows and dashed out of doorways. At first they were hesitant, circling the cart en masse. Mistrust had been bore into them but ravenous hunger crystallized in each pair of sunken eyes. In such troubled times there was always use for a good, sharp blade.

"You heard him!" one of the squad took over by handing a blade to a little girl whom ran it back to her mother. It would fetch a decent price on the black market. "It's all free!"

Soon there was a swarm. The villagers took everything, even striped away the cart wheels and rolled them off. The knives were put to good use by hacking at the wooden frame and splintering it down into firewood. All the evidence was gone. But Sasuke wasn't done yet. Curious villagers surrounded him when he jumped on a stall.

"I need a favour."


"You're an institution," Karin said sullenly. Sasuke rolled his shoulders back, continuing to stretch.

"Aren't all great men?"

He was no older than seventeen. She shook her head at his deadpan expression, "You're hardly a man."

"I'll be nothing more than a dog in a minute," he replied coolly. "Hunted and chased down for sport."

She shifted uncomfortably. Sasuke belonged to a bloodline that many countries considered disease ridden and highly contagious. They were persecuted to the cellular level, hailed as parasites whose beliefs and culture must be firmly stamped out in the interest of preventing plague. In particular, Suna had a policy to eradicate Uchiha on sight. The policy was not embraced by Oto so Karin refused to give it more thought. She was glad the dark cloak of night would soon descend. "Stick to the rocky ledge, there will be plenty of cover," she suggested.

Again he gave her that intense look. "That was already my plan."

She spotted the Suna soldiers just shy of the village outskirts and slinked into the shadow of a wall. It was a small group. She deduced they had been split up to search for the cache. The soldiers were startled by roaring villagers who spat racial slurs at Sasuke between rock throwing. It was exactly what he had asked of them. He cast a terrified look at the soldiers before sprinting away when they charged him.


Karin stepped carefully over the corpses and readjusted the pack of precious GK-10 pellets on her back. Sasuke had succeeded in drawing the Suna soldiers into the Kiri forces and opened the passage home when the two sides annihilated each other. A risky plan, one she was sure cost his life. She hunted dead faces for his, unsure of what she was really looking for until a hollow feeling crept into her body. She ran briskly into the barren mountain pass.

Karin was in a world that never stopped moving. It was suicide to want to stand still.


Her squad was decorated and invited to a private breakfast with Lord Orochimaru. For many it was the first time seeing their leader in such an intimate setting. She could almost forgive the gaping, frantic whispers but the girl who complemented his eyelashes was pure humiliation. Lord Orochimaru maintained regal dignity throughout their little nuances. His pale skin flawless, eyes keen and appearance immaculate as always. She stared at him, not from her usual admiration, but to facilitate avoidance.

Sasuke had somehow survived and haunted her peripheral.

"Of course all this could have been avoided if you simply burnt the supplies!" Lord Orochimaru reminded. "Enemy attention would have been regrettable but the sacrifice of few for the good of many."

Basically the loss of a few people was inconsequential in the scheme of things. Blood for oil, flesh for soil. She stirred a turnip in her watery broth mindlessly. They had been called to banquet but ate as they would in the crowded dining hall pews. She respected Lord Orochimaru's will but it was difficult to ignore the smell of egg and bacon wafting from his plate. She starved for the runny yellow yolk and grease soaked dish.

"That's not how I run my operation," Sasuke replied smoothly.

She spent the rest of the morning trying to figure out why, after that, she had left feeling full.


She struggled to write a single word of her essay: Describe our glorious leader Lord Orochimaru. She leaned back on the long wooden bench, a luxury of being alone in the mess hall. Ordinarily such an essay was a simple assignment for her. Now she rummaged through dog-eared pages, past reports and loose leaf paper. The highlighted passages of Lord Orochimaru's conquests used to speak so much to her. Now they may as well be foreign prose.

For inspiration she found herself meditating on the speech he gave about her squad's unusual victory. How he dotted on Sasuke and referred to him as a 'slow burn' stood out. He spoke of an ionizing hatred deep within the boy that (with his coaching) would reach the state of an out of control inferno against their oppressors. Karin reflected on this. How could a boy with coal black eyes and soot coloured hair be anything but? Sasuke was the aftermath of an unruly blaze. She believed he crawled out of the ashes, unfettered but missing parts of himself.

She recalled the mission. How Sasuke took control, used great innovation, intelligence, strength and made personal sacrifices. He went against the odds. 'That's not how I run my operation' pierced at her once more and reconciled with the darkness that has been clouding her mind.

Soon she was filling the page not with traits that described Lord Orochimaru, but Sasuke.

He was running a different operation. One for the first time in years, she could stand for.


The YAS was an adjustment but Sasuke had survived worse conditions. He picked up on the routine of daily chores and training quickly. His past in woodwork had set him a comfortable position in the repairs team and he naturally flourished in guerrilla combat. Sasuke did not find difficulty with squeezing through tight tunnels or constantly breathing stifled air but with study. Classes were more like mass, a zealot inference of events. He had stumbled upon some hapless religion centred on the hero worship of Orochimaru. He used the mind numbing lectures to visualise his own goals and how to achieve them.

In such time of reflection Karin became a necessity. Since their first meeting on the GK-10 mission he had been impressed with her. He listened for any mention of her and slowly built up a scarce profile until a direct line of questioning was needed.

One night he hung around the joining hall in his free time before bed. The girls and boys dormitories were heavily segregated; guards' constantly patrolling the girl's sleeping quarters to keep them safe from the opposite sex. Sasuke lamented such double standards because the boys were not awarded such treatment. On his second night he had found a girl in his bed cooing that his hair was the 'exact shade' of Orochimaru's. It had only got worse from there.

He searched the uniforms until he spotted a girl named Kin. Kin had her nose in everyone's business and probably had more personal information on her peers than the records archive. Sasuke believed such pooling of knowledge would be a worthy achievement if it were not used exclusively for gossip. He stretched before distancing himself from the pack of boys that made a habit of prowling the hall. It earned him a rumbled jeer as he casually leaned against the girl's wall to search out Kin.

She raised an eyebrow at him before stalking over with her long ponytail swinging. "What do you think you're doing?"

He held out a single cigarette. Sasuke had grown to learn the value of everything and well traded cigarettes equalled a meal ticket. "Asking a question."

She looked him up and down and finally decided on being impressed with his relaxed attitude. She accepted the cigarette, leaning in when he lit the tip.

"What do you know about Karin?"

She took a long drag. "Which one?"

Sasuke didn't even know her last name. Frustrated he tried to summon up something distinctive but Karin was like trying to catch steam between fingers. "Red head with glasses and-"

"The hot one!"

He shot a dark look at the ears dropping crowd of boys. Kin had done likewise and managed to send them stumbling back, although still leering.

"She's a captain and does the drills for the new meat to get them ready for serious training," Kin said evenly before adding slyly. "Why? You interested in her?"

"Anything else?" Sasuke continued. Kin shrugged before bemoaning how nice her cigarette was. She was good. Sighing he offered up another cigarette but insisted that was the last one. She snatched it away as her memory suddenly cleared.

"She keeps to herself so all I can tell you is that she's good at what she does. She's in group 1b if you want to track her schedule but remember she's a complete hard ass that would eat a pretty boy like you up."

It had hardly been worth a second cigarette but Sasuke commended the fact Karin seemed careful enough to conceal any information that was not observational. Exchange done Sasuke headed back. Another boy followed his example, cockily strutting up to the guards. Kin smiled sweetly at him before bashing him over the head with her baton.


When called for her evaluation Karin doesn't expect Sasuke. He leaned coolly against the wall just left of the panel. Reason became apparent after her critique ('Impeccable as always Karin') when Officer Tawanaka cleared his throat.

"Sasuke Uchiha requests to be your partner."

Oh. That was interesting. Partnerships were official business. It opened the pool to 'special missions' and high profile cases. Becoming a permanent fixture in a team also meant prolonged time away from the academy and her drill duties. She had been with the YAS for five years. Countless people had requested her. Each time she said 'no'.

"I don't want to be his partner."

This time was no different.

A small smile played across her superiors face. They had been here many times before. "As long as Sasuke outranks you, it's not about what you want."

It was a nudge she hadn't experienced before. Something bigger loomed, a powerful force spurring on. She waited diligently for her dismissal and brushed past Sasuke on her way out. He gave nothing away, expression donned with his usual apathy. The tunnel thinned out and she drew her hand along the smooth, reinforced stone. Ripple patterns were detailed throughout and although narrow these quarters were much finer than the rest. Well maybe not the medical wing which had elegant columns and tiled floors.

"If you aren't interested I will find someone else."

A smile tugged at her lips. It had been almost two months since she had seen Sasuke but it hadn't stopped her thinking about him. He would come to her inconveniently during drills, study and chores or scandalously on a restless night. He remained an enigma. All she could comprehend was admiration.

She turned. "Oh I'm interested."

His brow knotted in confusion. "You changed your tune."

She felt light headed placing a hand on his shoulder, looking up at him through her lashes. "Such a big fuss to make us exclusive..." she murmured flirtatiously. Slowly she traced her hand down his chest and hard stomach. "If you wanted me, you could have asked."

Now he understood, grabbing her by the wrist. It could hurt. "That's not it." His calloused hand pushed her away but his words drew her in. "I need you."

She stalked down the hall. "Then come and get me."


Three months later Karin was wading through marshland. Boots sunk into the swamp, each step arduous in humid heat. Panting, she hoisted herself up against a willow tree and clung to the trunk, counting on cascading branches to stay hidden in her exhaustion. She was being chased. Ironically by the person she had been ordered to track. One of Lord Orochimaru's top brass in the medical core had deserted and such betrayal would not be tolerated. She straddled destitution when the terrible sound of sloshing water invaded her oasis. He had found her and he would kill her.

"The hunter has become the hunted," he sneered and for once she let terror permeate. He may be a man of science but those large hands were capable of chocking the life out of her. The scalpel he wielded swiping a precise cut to her jugular any second. Panic stricken she pulled a blade from her holster, locking eyes with her pursuer.

"Do it," she urged in a violent hiss. Adrenaline ruled her. "Now!"


MetaMirage: Hi everyone, it's really sad this has to be said but here we go. I like Karin. She deserves to be fleshed out as opposed to caricatured into the irredeemably heinous bitch monster that some paint her in fanfiction. If you must send hate messages that bash characters, so be it. Just know that it won't change my opinion on what I consider an awesome character or make me change the pairing. Okay now that's over I hope everyone else enjoyed the first chapter. Let me know if you want to read more =)