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When Karin enters the Chuunin Exams, she doesn’t expect to pass. The inter-village examinations show off combat skills more than anything, and she’s not exactly a star there. When she gets promoted to chuunin (and she will get promoted), it will be in the much quieter internal examinations of Hidden Grass.

To outside appearances, she’s only there to take up the third slot on her team. And if she happens to gather intel on foreign shinobi, all the better.

(There’s a silver-haired Leaf genin ahead of them in the registration line who is definitely not a genin. He’s either an undercover proctor or something suspicious is going on. She stores that bit of knowledge away to report to Grass.)

They’re all herded into a room together and that’s when she starts having problems. The little redhead from Sand has murderous chakra like a hurricane and when she’s assigned a seat two rows behind him she feels like it’s cutting into her. And worse, one of the her fellow Grass genin has chakra so terrifying she can barely breathe as they pass by her. She’s never spoken to them personally before but it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

Should she say something? She shouldn’t. The Leaf must already know. They must.

Her head is swimming and she tries not to vomit while she reads over the questions. They don’t cover anything from her lessons in Grass, but she thinks she could answer the first one if only she could concentrate.

Around her, everyone is silently executing jutsus and it’s so distracting she wonders if they’re even trying to be subtle. And in front of her the Sand-nin is like a furnace of malice and she wants to run but the Grass-nin is by the door, and–

She breathes. Concentrates on shutting down her senses. She can do this. She’s been training to function in overwhelming situations.

She can’t do it. There’s too much going on. There’s a blonde girl who Karin swears just transferred her entire chakra network to another girl– how is she not dead– and that guy has no chakra– and that one is somehow buzzing – and–and–

There’s some yelling and she passes without doing a thing. Something about accepting missions with limited information. She sees dark spots as one of her teammates grabs her arm and drags her out of the classroom.

 

--

 

“We need to stay away from the Sand team,” Karin says, and her teammates both turn green so even they’ve noticed. “And I think there’s something seriously wrong with that other Grass team.”

“What, really?” one of her teammates says, unimpressed. He turns and pushes himself up onto his tiptoes so he can stare shamelessly at the Grass-nin from across the crowd. “It’s just Shiore and them.”

“There’s something wrong,” Karin insists. “They’re– they’re not –”

“Karin, are you sure you’re okay?” her other teammate asks. “You had a panic attack over a paper test.”

“I’m fine ,” Karin spits back. She bites the inside of her cheek and doesn’t push it. If she can’t handle being around a crowd of genin, she’ll never be a proper kunoichi. Her teammates are here to prove to the hidden villages that they can be chuunin; she’s here to prove to Grass that she can handle aggressive foreign chakra.

And she can . She can.

 

--

 

The second part of the Chuunin Exam takes longer that the first to go sour for Karin, but when the shit does hit the fan, it makes her panic attack feel like slap on the wrist.

They enter the forest feeling confident. The Hidden Grass is named for the open prairies in the West of the country, but the East has forests almost identical to the one surrounding Konoha. Plus, it is exceedingly difficult to hide from Karin. Maybe even impossible, their sensei has mused, barring some bloodline limit Grass doesn’t know about.

So when they enter, Karin does her job and steers them away from all the other teams, and they set up camp and make a plan.

Karin has felt chakra since birth. She’s always felt it, from people and animals and plants, as a vague sensation at the back of her mind. When she and her mother took refuge in Grass five years ago, the village set her to work honing that vague feeling into a practical skill. Now, when her teammates finally shut up and let her concentrate, she can feel every person in the Forest of Death.

(She’s going to be the best sensor Grass has ever seen. She’s going to the best sensor, the most useful sensor, because the alternative is unacceptable.)

There don’t seem to be any proctors in the forest, which seems strange to her, but she brushes it off. She locks onto the dangerous people first– the Sand-nin and the Grass-nin and the suspicious silver-haired Leaf-nin– because it’s better to return as a failure than not at all.

(Probably. She’s not actually sure about that anymore, but probably .)

(She wants to live , dammit.)

She mentally tags the dangerous people, holding them in the back of her mind so she’s always aware of their movements. She can probably keep tabs on them from this distance for about a day before she starts getting headaches. Then she goes about sorting through the weaker chakra signals. These are smaller and less distinct, so it takes more concentration and she growls in irritation when one of her teammates starts drumming his fingers on the boulder they’re seated on.

There are a handful of weaker teams that are far enough away from the dangerous ones that would make safe targets. She relies their locations to her teammates.

“Let’s just go for whoever’s closest.”

Karin lets them take over the planning. They’re both older than her and have run more missions. She’s just there to make sure they don’t run right into someone they can’t beat, and to help them find satisfactory victims.

Right before they move out to execute their ambush, Karin is handed their scroll.

“You’re not engaging in combat, so you’re safer,” is the explanation.

 

--

 

At twelve years old, Karin is already the best sensor in Grass. She can pinpoint the exact location of people kilometers away. She can gauge the quantity and quality of chakra at an incredible range. She swears she can sometimes even read people’s moods from their chakra, even though sensei says that’s impossible. She is not limited by sight or sound or smell or touch or taste.

But she cannot predict an enemy’s jutsu. Maybe one day, when she’s more familiar with different types of ninja and their jutsu, she will. But for now, all she can do reliably is determine the location and depth of someone’s chakra reserves.

She cannot predict the enemy will also have a competent sensor.

They chase them for an hour before the explosive tags go off. Karin is knocked out of the trees and one of her teammates burns his leg so badly he won’t be able to go on.

“Karin!” he yells at her, howling in pain, and she knows what he wants but she doesn’t want to give it to him.

They’ve been led into this trap so easily she feels stupid for thinking the other team didn’t know they were following.

“No,” she tells her teammate hoarsely.

“You fucked up this badly, and you won’t even help?” her uninjured teammate snaps at her.

(Karin watched her mother’s last drop of chakra leave her body for the sake of helping .)

“No,” she repeats.

Her teammate makes a grab for her, but she ducks away and runs. He only pursues for a minute before going back to tend to their fallen teammate.

When she plays it over in her mind later, Karin tells herself she had meant to go back. She wanted to help her team. She wanted to show how good a kunoichi she was. She was going to go back .

She runs until she realizes she can’t feel her teammates’ chakra anymore.

 

--

 

Karin doesn’t know what it means. (She knows exactly what it means.)

Maybe they’re being blocked somehow. Maybe she just needs to calm down and try harder and she’ll find them.

She can’t calm down. She loses the mental tags she put on people earlier. She runs rashly through the undergrowth, not bothering to be even slightly stealthy. She’s been running longer and harder than she ever has before and she can’t breathe, the soft chakra from the trees and animals and shinobi kilometers away suddenly feel like pins and needles against her subconscious, and she can’t think, can’t breathe, can’t sense

She runs right into a giant bear.

It swats her away like a fly, and she barely manages to protect her face from slamming into a tree. Her glasses are knocked off and she falls to the ground.

She can’t even sense if there are people where she’d left her teammates. She can sense– everything, everything at once – and she can’t tell what’s up and down and instead of doing anything useful about the bear she just screams.

And then– and then– a sea of orange crashes into the bear. The orange sea yells something at the bear, which runs away, and then it yells at Karin.

Karin manages to replace her glasses on her face, despite her shaking hands.

The sea of orange poofs away and comes into focus as one kid with a ton of chakra. Just– just an outrageous amount.

“So?” the kid says. “Earth or Heaven?”

Karin stares down at her hands. One of them is still clutching the Earth scroll, knuckles white and her fingernails digging into the paper.

“Huh?” she says.

“It’s really rude to ignore the person who saves you, y’know!” the orange kid yells at her. “The least you could do is give me your scroll! And if your team’s hiding to attack me, I’ll fight them too!”

“Earth,” she says, but the word gets stuck in her throat. Maybe if she gives him what he wants he’ll leave her alone.

“Whaaaat!” He yells, or maybe this volume is just ‘talking’ for him. “We’ve already got one.” His eyes narrow at her, suddenly suspicious. “Unless you’re lying to me!”

Wordlessly, Karin hold up the scroll. It says EARTH across it, clear as day, but the kid still seems suspicious.

“How do I know,” he says, slowly but still loudly, “that isn’t a– a whatsit called– a genjutsu?”

She stares at him. He glares back.

“You could try to release it,” she suggests, awkwardly. He doesn’t seem very smart.

“What’s that mean?” he asks, his glower getting more and more comical.

“What’s that– are you serious ?” she counters. “You entered the chunin exams and you don’t even know how to release a genjutsu?”

“Hey! Don’t make fun!” he yells back. “I’m Uzumaki Naruto and I’m the hero who saved you from a bear! You can’t make fun of your hero, y’know!”

Karin feels surreally light-headed. She can’t believe this is happening right now. “I’m not making fun, I’m stating facts–” she bites out, and then what he actually said catches up with her poor reeling brain. “ What did you say your name is?”

“Uzumaki Naruto!” he yells at her. Yells , like he doesn’t care who knows. “And don’t you forget it cuz I’m gonna be Hokage, y’know!”

“Uzumaki?” she repeats.

“And when I’m Hokage, you can tell everyone about how I saved you, I bet it’ll make you really popular–”

“UZUMAKI?” she screeches over his inane rambling. He shuts up. “Are you sure?”

“What– yes, obviously I’m sure!” He puts his hands on his hips and cocks his head incredulously. “It’s my name, y’know. Nevermind the genjutsu, you’re probably not smart enough to do one anyway.”

He turns walks away into the underbrush.

Karin stares after him, open-mouth. Grass said– her mother said there were no more of them. She’d– she’d known as absolute fact that she had no more family, not after her mother died.

( Killed , she reminds herself. She can work for Grass, be a good kunoichi for Grass as long as it keeps her safe, but she will never let herself forget what they did.)

Maybe it’s a coincidence. Civilians don’t care much for respecting ninja clans– maybe there’s a civilian family running around that happens to have the same name, and their kid happened to become a shinobi.

Except the Leaf would definitely care about someone being named Uzumaki. They wouldn’t let a random no one flounce around with that name.

And he’d had so much chakra. So much. She’d missed that particular clan trait, but they were supposed to be chakra monsters, weren’t they?

It added up, even if he was loud and orange and annoying.

“Wait!” Karin calls, and runs after him.

 

--

 

She follows him back to his team. They’re not far away and she’d known they were there, even if her frazzled mind hadn’t registered it. She can feel the world slowing down around her, and the thrum of chakra is still overbearing but she no longer feels like she’s drowning.

The moment she comes into view, a pretty-faced, dark-haired boy chucks two kunai at her. His speed and precision are amazing, and the only reason she mostly dodges and only gets nicked on the shoulder is because she knew it was coming.

“Wait–” she says, and the orange one– Naruto– Uzumaki Naruto– is already stomping over to her.

“Calm down, bastard!” he says to the pretty-faced boy. “That’s the girl I saved– super heroically, Sakura-chan, you should have seen me– she’s probably just here to thank me properly–”

Uzumaki ,” Karin grinds out between her teeth, just to get him to stop talking. “Who are your parents?”

Naruto stops halfway between her and his team, looking like she just kicked him. He’s devastated for a quarter of a moment– she can taste it in his chakra– and then he shoves it all aside for anger.

“You’re really rude, y’know!”

A pink-haired girl who’d been mostly hiding behind the pretty-faced boy suddenly darts out and grabs Naruto by the back of his jacket. The back of his jacket which, now that Karin thinks about it, had the Uzumaki crest on it

“Where’s your team?” the girl asks, her voice hard as she pulls Naruto back towards the pretty-faced boy.

how could she have missed such an obvious

“If we both have the same scroll,” the girl continues, “then there’s no point in talking anymore. You should leave.”

“I’m Uzumaki Karin,” Karin blurts out.

The other three go still at once.

“You’re lying,” the dark-haired boy proclaims just as Karin feels Naruto’s chakra hitch and curl.

“I’m not ,” Karin argues back. She’s a good liar, but she doesn’t know how to convey sincerity. “Listen, just tell me who your parents are– my mom is Uzumaki Kasumi–”

“Stop,” Naruto demands.

Karin does. Grass wouldn’t like this. Telling her family history to these random Leaf genin will get her severely punished if anyone ever finds out. She needs to calm down and think this through logically. But she wants to. She wants to so much .

“I thought I was the last one,” she says, so quietly she can barely hear the words herself.

The pretty-faced boy jerks. His eyes are red.

“Huh?” Naruto says, and the girl cries, “Sasuke-kun!”

Something rips at the corner of Karin’s mind and she spins around, her face caving into such obvious horror that it stops whatever drama is happening with the other team.

“We have to run,” she says. “It’s coming.”

Naruto looks like she just announced she was his grandmother. “‘It’s coming’? What the hell –”

And then they feel it too.

 

--

 

Karin feels oddly vindicated that the Grass-nin with the terrifying chakra turns out to be an S-class criminal.

His chakra is so mean and vicious and potent that even the other three buckle at the knees. Karin herself blacks out, but a tiny part of her– a tiny, safe part in her mind– whispers, I told you so .

When she wakes, the forest is smashed but quiet, and the the pink-haired girl is fluttering frantically around her unconscious teammates.

Karin watches her through half-closed eyes. Sakura, she thinks Naruto called her. And the pretty boy is Sasuke.

Sakura carefully moves both boys somewhere out of Karin’s sight, and after she doesn’t come back for a while, Karin realizes she’s been abandoned.

This leaves Karin with a dilemma. She can follow her possible long-lost cousin, or she can pretend this never happened.

The latter is the more practical option. She’s shaken and mentally exhausted, but she’s physically unharmed and good enough to hide from the other teams and wait out the end of  the test. She’ll be reprimanded for returning to Grass sans teammates, but her report on Orochi-freaking-maru invading the the exam will probably get her out of any punishment.

(No one has to know she refused to heal her teammates and left them to die.)

Grass is her home, she tells herself. They took her and her mother in and protected them.

(Until they didn’t.)

Naruto, though….

Karin groans in frustration, balling grass in her fists. Naruto, though .

 

--

 

Sakura leaps in front of her teammates and blocks the entrance to the cave with her body and her kunai.

“What do you even want from us?” she snaps.

“I told you,” Karin snaps right back. “The orange one is family.”

Sakura stays put and fumes visibly.

“Look,” Karin sighs. “My teammates are dead. I’m not a fighter, so the exam is over for me. But I am a great sensor. Like, really great.”

Sakura looks shocked at Karin’s casual mention of death– too shocked for a proper kunoichi– but as she continues, the pink-haired girl starts gnawing her bottom lip in thought.

“What are you saying?” Sakura asks slowly. Karin thinks she already knows what she’s saying.

“Think of it as an alliance,” Karin says. “Your team protects me so I don’t die, and I keep you out of trouble.”

Sakura stares her down for an uncomfortable amount of time, then relaxes.

“Okay,” she says. “But I’m making all the calls.”

Karin shrugs. “Just as long as they’re not stupid.”

She settles down into a corner of the cave and watches Sakura administer first-aid. No one asks her to let them bite her.

 

--

 

“Something’s wrong with his chakra,” Karin observes, suddenly, as Sakura places a damp cloth over Sasuke’s forehead.

“It’s just Naruto,” Sakura snaps back immediately, defensively.

“What? No, Sasuke.” Sakura blushes and her eyes go wide like she said something she definitely should not have, and Karin files that away to examine later.

“What do you mean, wrong?” Sakura asks.

“I don’t know,” Karin says. “I wasn’t sure before, but– it’s normal for chakra to fluctuate when injured, but not this much. He might die.”

Sakura pales. It’s kind of funny.

 

--

 

“We have to move,” Karin announces.

“We can’t move,” Sakura snaps. “They’re still conked out.”

“We have to,” Karin repeats. “Unless you think you can take an entire team by yourself?”

Sakura lets out a frustrated cry and tugs at her hair.

“You said you were making all the calls,” Karin reminds her.

“I know ,” Sakura hisses back. “I know. But– I know I can’t carry one of them and move fast enough to escape, so I doubt you could either–”

Karin is offended. Sakura is completely right, but she’s still offended.

“So we have to stay. Maybe we can disguise the cave–”

Karin snorts and Sakura stomps her foot in frustration.

“I set up traps!” she yells.

Karin knows. She watched her.

“I’m leaving, with or without you,” Karin says. She wants to talk to Naruto– find out if they’re really related– but staying is pointless if they’re both going to die. “The agreement is that you protect me, which you’re obviously not going to do, so–”

“ALRIGHT,” Sakura screams. “We’ll move. Just– just help me .”

Karin automatically goes for Naruto– he’s smaller and she’s more invested in his well-being– and Sakura doesn’t say anything as she quickly packs up. Before she mimics Karin and hauls Sasuke onto her back, Sakura makes three bunshin and transforms two of them to look like her teammates. Her execution is disgustingly textbook and uses what might be the most precise amount of chakra Karin’s ever seen.

“Huh,” Karin says as Sakura turns to her, grim faced.

“What?” the other girl grits out.

Karin sniffs. “Your forehead is huge.”

Sakura seethes.

 

--

 

The team that was approaching them loiters at the cave a few minutes, but not as long as Sakura had probably hoped.

Her plan hadn’t been awful. She’d left three clones to hide out in the cave with some equipment they’d left behind, then had them look like they were injured but not unaware. Regular bunshin were usually only good for decoys in battle because they had no shadow and were easily spotted by anyone with the time to take a second look, but the darkness of the cave hid that fact. Most teams looking to attack them would linger and observe for a time before realizing the rouse or deciding to attack.

This team, however, had immediately barged into the cave without hesitation. The loitering was probably them trying to pick up their trail.

“They’re really bloodthirsty,” Karin tells Sakura matter-of-factly. “And they’re probably going to find our trail soon.”

Sakura grimaces. “Can you direct us to better terrain?” she asks.

“Doesn’t work like that,” Karin answers. The team has found their trail. She’s considering dropping Naruto and going off on her own. If she’s smart, Sakura will follow.

“Can you maneuver us so another team gets in their way?”

Karin frowns. That’s… not terrible. “Yes,” she says, and doesn’t leave her long-lost cousin for dead.

 

--

 

Again, Karin cannot predict when other teams will have annoying abilities. Like another sensor. Or youth .

She had tried to hook them around so the pursuing team would change course and run into another team of reasonable strength. She’s not sure how, exactly, they’re being tracked, so she’s debating what type of route they need to guarantee interception, when the new team suddenly turns and heads straight for them.

“Crap!” she yells, stopping so quickly Sakura shoots ahead of her. “They found us!”

“What?” Sakura calls back, three trees ahead. She’s panting and her pretty hair is plastered to her with sweat.

“The other team! Now they’re after us too!” she slips Naruto off her shoulder and drops him onto the branch next to her. This new team is fast . “I quit, I’m out of here, good luck with–”

“KARIN!” Sakura yells, outraged, and then someone yells “SAKURA!” and the world stops making sense.

The good news is: the new team knows Sakura. The bad news is: eyebrows .

“It seems your youthful teammates have encountered a bit of trouble!” The newcomer– who is dressed in bright spandex and answers to Rock Lee– announces as he lands with unnecessary pizzazz in a tree between Karin and Sakura. “It is my duty as a fellow shinobi of the Hidden Leaf Village to offer you my assistance!”

He pauses, then stares at Karin with his eyelashes and his eyebrows.

“Who is your friend?”

Karin cannot believe this is a real person standing in front of her.

“She’s–” Sakura breathes out, exasperated and clutching Sasuke to herself harder than she should be. “We have an alliance–”

“An alliance with a kunoichi from an unallied village!” Eyebrows crows. “What a fantastic sentiment of youth!”

Sakura’s face reflects Karin’s feelings exactly, in that she looks like she wants to hurl herself screaming from the treetops.

“I’m Karin?” Karin squeaks out. This guy has almost no malice coming from him, but he has more chakra and muscle than she cares to anger.

“Allying with a Grass-nin is a foolish idea,” a voice carries out. Karin knew he was there– and knows there’s another shinobi circling around to surround them– but she turns her face to look at him for appearance’s sake.

He’s a Hyuuga. Her sensei had mentioned them: “the greatest of Konoha’s sensors,” or whatever. This one has malice in his chakra, and he’ll be hard to run from, even with her sensing abilities.

She changes tactics. If she can’t run from this disaster, she’ll have to use it to escape the other one that is only minutes away.

“I have good reason to trust her,” Sakura defends, her voice high and reedy.

“And that reason is,” Karin cuts in, voice unapologetic, “that I’m the only thing keeping your buddies from being killed by the team following us, or did your fancy Hyuuga eyes not notice?”

The Hyuuga sneers at her, starts on what she’s sure is a cutting insult, then clicks his mouth shut.

“She’s right,” he says, frowning in concentration. “They just entered my Byakugan’s range. Tenten.”

The other shinobi that had circled around reveals herself to be a brunette in a pink shirt.

“You and Lee take Naruto and Sasuke– it would be disgraceful to let them die in the Village by enemy hands,” the Hyuuga commands. “Met at our campsite. Sakura, go with them. I’ll hold them off.”

Karin clears her throat and he glares microscopically at her. “I don’t care what someone like you does.”

Karin has been called worse. She doesn’t like these new Leaf-nin, but right now her best shot at her life-long goal of “not dying “is following their plans. She helps Tenten get Sasuke onto her back and, adjusting her glasses, suggests they go that way .

“But Sakura–” Eyebrows, now with Sasuke over his shoulder, is saying.

“Karin said they’re strong,” Sakura answers. “We can’t leave Neji here alone.”

“Then I shall stay to fight while you take your dear teammate–”

“No,” Sakura says firmly. “I can’t run much longer with him on my back.”

“But–”

“LEE!” Tenten yells, and then the Hyuuga also yells at him, and they both zip away with Karin on their heels. Sakura joins the Hyuuga.

 

--

 

Karin fully expects Sakura to die, but strangely, she doesn’t.

Tenten and Lee are fast, even with Naruto and Sasuke on their backs, and Karin struggles to keep up with them. She convinces them not to run as fast as they can into the silver-haired Leaf-nin, and after some zig-zagging they stop next to a small creek in a mostly ninja-free part of the forest.

“They’re coming back,” Karin informs them.

Lee barrages her with a bunch of questions about their wellbeing and if they “fought valiantly” and things that don’t make sense to her.

“They’re both low on chakra,” Karin reports after she’s counted to ten in her head twice. “Sakura’s is almost dangerously low, but they’re moving at an even pace. Kind of slow. Don’t know if they’re injured or Leaf-nin just suck.”

Eyebrows is gregariously offended, but Tenten grins at her and says, “Holy crap, I think your range is even better than Neji’s.”

Karin considers pointing out that even she, a genin from a tiny village like Grass, knows the Byakugan has a shitty range, but before she can, Sasuke decides to start glowing purple.

 

--

 

Karin can’t even feel stupid she didn’t notice his chakra going haywire because there was barely any warning.

Sasuke’s chakra had been oscillating bizarrely for hours. There was no pattern, and she was a bit confused about how he hadn’t literally burned up from it, but they’d run halfway across the forest and there had been no change from her original observations to Sakura.

Then like flicking a switch, his chakra had just gone dark. Malicious. Evil.

And he was glowing purple.

“What the hell!” Tenten yelps as he stands. The weird bruise on his neck has expanded over half his face.

“Sasuke, my rival–” Lee starts, and then Sasuke kicks him in the face.

Lee blocks, skidding back from the force. “Now Sasuke-kun,” he chides.

“Where’s Sakura?” Sasuke demands, his eyes wide and enraged and unfocused. “Did you hurt her?”

“Sakura’s with Neji,” Tenten says slowly, soothingly. “She’s coming back now. Karin says she’s fine.”

“Karin…” Sasuke turns his glare to her, and his chakra feels like it’s pressing all the life out of her.

Fuck it , Karin decides. An annoying maybe-cousin isn’t worth this circus. She was wrong to think random Leaf-nin might be a better safety net than Grass. She turns and runs.

Sasuke follows.

He would have caught her immediately, except Tenten tackles him, yelling for Eyebrows’ assistance. Instead, Sasuke grabs a handful of Karin’s hair and she’s yanked down with him and Tenten.

“YOU’RE A LIAR,” Sasuke bellows, and Karin doesn’t know if he means about Sakura or Naruto or anything she’s ever said.

“Sasuke,” Tenten snarls, wrestling with him, “What’s wrong with y– oof .”

He hurls Tenten off of him, Karin’s long red hairs between his fingers. Karin rolls away from him, forearms protecting her face. Eyebrows is on top of him the moment his teammate is out of the way, trying to put him in a hold without hurting him.

Sasuke is flooding with dark chakra, though, and he rips his arms free of Eyebrows through sheer willpower. Karin throws herself into the cover of a bush while Sasuke and Eyebrows square off, Sasuke’s face impossibly madmadmad–

“Oi, bastard, what’s all that noise?”

Naruto is sitting up in bed, looking sleepy and pissed.

Sasuke hesitates. Tenten is squatted in the branch above Karin, readying projectiles to back her teammate up with.

“They hurt Sakura,” Sasuke says. He looks… lost. The weird purple glow is fading.

“What!” Naruto is on his feet. “Brushy Brows, what the hell!”

“I would never, Naruto-kun!” Eyebrows calls back, crossing his heart. “Sasuke-kun has misinterpreted the situation!”

Sasuke takes a deep, shuddering breath, and the glow fades. The chakra oscillation stops, and Karin watches in awe as he returns to normal in less than a minute. Above her, Tenten doesn’t relax.

“Where is Sakura?” Naruto asks. “And why are you guys here? And where are we?”

Eyebrows starts to explain, does a horrible job of it, and when Sasuke doesn’t rip his head off, Tenten shakes her head and hops down to tell the story properly.

Karin stays in her bush. She feels safer here. Approaching the Leaf-nin had been a horrible idea, and she needs to escape.

“How dare you attack my cousin!” Naruto shouts, and Karin twitches.

“Your cousin ?” Tenten repeats.

“Yeah!” Naruto answers, and he sounds so happy Karin almost feels bad for him.

He appears before her and rudely drags her out of the bush.

“Everyone, meet Uzumaki Karin, my cousin!”

There’s a pause as everyone gawks at her.

“Well, we don’t know yet,” Naruto clarifies. “We haven’t quite worked out how we’re related. But she’s probably too young to be my auntie, and she’s probably too old to be my niece, and…”

He rambles on. Sasuke just just sits back down and stares into space, while Tenten and Eyebrows pay too much attention to Karin for her to slip away.

 

--

 

When Sakura and the Hyuuga show up, her hair has been all chopped off and his is still perfect. Hyuuga sums up the fight in clipped tones– according to him, Sakura had “gotten in the way,” even though she’d confronted one enemy who’d tried splitting off to pursue the rest of the team. She’d also won, which, in Karin’s opinion, usually didn’t count as “getting in the way.”

Sakura looks understandably exhausted, and Tenten leads her away from the group to breathe and even out her impromptu haircut.

Karin feels a pang of envy over it, even as she’s working out the best way to flee form a group of people that includes a guy who can literally see through the back of his head, someone who can run faster on his hands than she can on her feet, and a previously unknown relative that’s overly invested in her health and wellness.

“Karin-chan, do you want some of my ration bar?” Naruto asks.

Karin twitches. “I have my own bar,” she says. “And just ‘Karin’ is fine. Preferable, actually.”

“Karin,” Naruto repeats, “Cousin Karin.”

The warmth she gets in her chest makes her want to punch him in his sappy face.

“So,” Naruto says, “You were telling me about your mom–”

You tell me about your parents first,” Karin counters.

Naruto goes strangely quiet, fidgeting with the wrapper of his protein bar. “I don’t have any,” he says. “I’ve tried looking them up– went to the library and everything– but there’s no records and no one will talk about them, not even the old man, or Iruka-sensei, and they’re like the closest I have to family, y’know–”  

Karin doesn’t know who those people are. “So you don’t know where your name is from,” she summarizes.

Naruto shrugs. “My dad?”

“What about your jacket?” Karin persists.

“Isn’t it awesome?” Naruto’s eyes brighten. “Cuz y’know, I’m gonna need a trademark when I’m all famous, y’know, when I’m Hokage–”

“Yes, I know, you’re going to be Hokage,” Karin snaps. “The jacket.”

Naruto scratches his cheek sheepily. “Sorry, Iruka-sensei says I need to focus more on what other people say in conversation. Uh, yeah, my awesome, super cool jacket! I found it in a second-hand store, and really liked it because, y’know, orange. And! And check this out.”

He turns around, showing off the red spiral on the back.

“Uzumaki!” he chirps, and Karin’s heart thuds. “Spirals! Isn’t that cool? It’s like how those big ninja families all have clothes with the same symbols on them–”

Karin’s heart stops. She clenches her jaw. “So you don’t know,” she says, her voice cracked and high over Naruto’s rambling, “what it means ?”

Karin has never been allowed to wear it, for safety. She’s been taught to give her name as Karin of the Grass, because the Uzumaki spiral is a target. And here’s Naruto, shouting his name at everyone he meets, framing her clan symbol in revoltingly bright orange–

“It’s… a spiral?” Naruto says. “Uzumaki… spiral… c’mon, Karin, it’s a pun .”

Karin stands up and stomps to the other side of the campground. Sasuke looks up from where he’s being fussed over by Sakura, and Karin turns and puts Tenten and Lee between him and herself.

“Are you okay?” Tenten asks.

“I’m fine,” Karin says. She feels like her skin is boiling.

 

--

 

They camp together, and Karin manages an uneasy, half-conscious snooze while Hyuuga takes first lookout.

Naruto snores, because of course he does. He is the least subtle ninja to walk this earth.

He can’t be her family. He just can’t. The name has to be a coincidence, somehow– the Leaf was allies with Whirlpool. They took in refugees after its destruction. The wife of their first Hokage was one of the most famous Uzumaki to ever live. If they still had anyone from her clan, they’d be prized as highly as Hyuuga or Uchiha here.

He’s just… so unlike what she expected, and she can’t rationalize his blabbering about orange , and she had a panic attack over a paper test, and she left her team for dead and she was too stupid to run from a bear and she’s been attacked so many times and Karin can’t deal with this right now .

Hyuuga probably notices her shaking and digging her nails into her arms, but he doesn’t say anything. She does her breathing exercises, and she’s fine. She’s fine.

She has info on promising Leaf genin now. The episode with the last Uchiha and the purple glow will especially interest Grass. She’ll be praised. She doesn’t even have to mention Naruto. She’ll be safe.

She’ll be fine.

 

--

 

The shifts in chakra when Tenten relieves the Hyuuga wake Karin. Karin waits for the Hyuuga to fall asleep, then gets up and flashes the hand-sign for ‘bathroom break’ at Tenten. Tenten cocks her head in confusion, and Karin realizes that Leaf Standard Hand-Signs must be different from Grass, so she crossing her hands over her crotch and mimes having to pee. Tenten nods.

It’s virtually impossible to escape from the Hyuuga, but under Tenten’s watch, Karin slips into the night. With luck, she’ll never have to deal with this nonsense again.


Naruto’s chakra signature is the first she burns into her mind permanently.