On Karin's wedding day, she had no sisters to tease her about what would happen later that night, no mother to fuss over her dress and makeup and to offer her advice for the future.
She had no father to cry over how quickly his baby daughter had grown up, and to dance with her and fiercely embrace her. In fact, she could barely remember the face of her father anymore, only that his hair and eyes were as deep a red as hers and his smile even brighter.
That morning should have been filled with the smiles and well-wishes of Sasuke's extended family, but Karin only knew them through long-faded photographs which Sasuke had shared with her, silently and with shaking, unsteady hands. Karin wondered if the deep red of her hair and the untainted pearl white of her simple dress would only remind Sasuke of the colors of the Uchiha clan symbol which he had worn all his life, tormenting him with the thought of all he had lost even on the very day he resolved to move forward and begin a new family with her at his side.
Karin hoped with a rising sense of dread that on this day the fragrance of flowers permeating the air did not remind him of funereal incense, of the scent of death, and of wreaths of crysanthemums placed thoughtfully on graves.
She was used to looking ahead, always forward and never behind. She had no second thoughts or lingering doubts to whether spending the rest of her life with Sasuke as his wife was a good decision. She only wondered whether he truly felt the same way about letting go of the past and creating a new future.
As she finally made her way to where he stood waiting, the spark in his dark eyes and the smile that she had so longed to see since the first day she had met him let her know she had nothing to fear. The grinning faces of friends that had become so dear to the two of them over the years reminded her that the two of them were not entirely without family or loved ones. Together they would both continue to heal as they created new memories like this.
It was faint, but she could sense him near. She races around each tree, rock and stream in the hopes of finding him there.
“He couldn’t be too much farther..” the young woman thinks to herself as she tries to keep her red hair from her vision. “I know he’s wounded in more was than one now…ah!” She spots him and speeds off.
He lays at the foot of a tree in a heavy wooded area, like he wanted to stay hidden. He notices her, but only watches her as she runs towards him.
“Sasuke! Here!” She lands close enough to him where the dust from her landing causes loose strands of his hair to flutter. She removes her cloak and lifts her sleeve up to her elbow, revealing her long history of human healing on her arm. “Here, bite me!”
He doesn’t have it in him to speak up, but with a hoarse pitch he does what he can. “…Karin…I…” he trails off.
She pauses in his silence and lowers her arm. She keeps her eyes locked onto him, taking a moment to be lost in her thoughts as many previous events cross her mind. “He has lost so much,” she thinks to herself, “his family, home, and in the end his brother.” She shakes away the sad thoughts to focus on the moment. Pushing up her glasses she grabs him. Despite how small she seems compared to him she takes him at the waist and lifts his body upward so he is sitting up with the tree to his back for support. The smell of the pine is refreshing and clean, the moss behind him is plush and soft. His gaze never leaves her face, and she doesn’t notice. She looks at him now at eye level as she sits on the ground with him, she raises her arm again to his face, “here.”
She doesn’t have to tell him that ‘this will heal you’ for he already knows. She has saved him more than once before, she has healed him many times previous. He knows what she is gesturing him to do. He leans toward her, but he pushes her arm down with his less-bloody hand and comes near her face. He whispers hoarsely in her ear, “thank you Karin… but not this time.”
Her heart sinks into her stomach worse than when she couldn’t find him. She refuses to think he would be so stupid. “You aren’t well,” she says in a firm, commanding voice. “You need to be healed, Sasuke, and you need rest.”
He makes a noise to what she thought sounded like a laugh under his breath. “I can’t..anymore.”
“I don’t know what in the Hell you’re talking about but you need to do this before you bleed out.” She knows in the pit of her stomach what is going to happen. Usually she can turn him around with her logic and sensible way of thinking. However this time she feels it is different, she can feel her chest start to hurt and her eyes burn as she holds back potentially unnecessary tears.
He leans back from her, letting his head slightly hit the tree as he still watches her. He can see it in her face that she understands but knows this may be a fight. She is a fiery one, like the rest of the Uzumaki.
“Because there is nothing left for me.”
She knew the answer before she asked as she already knows each answer to every question that she wants to scream at him. She starts to shake but tries to hold her composure, though for what even she can’t say.
She tries another tactic, “I never knew you to be THIS weak it’s pathetic really-”
She complies. The sorrow begins to settle in, like water slowly collecting on a concrete floor creeping under a doorway.
His voice still dry and quiet he continues, “you’ve been able to convice me to change my mind before, but you can’t this time. There is nothing to reason with. I just cannot anymore.”
She looks down at the blood staining his shirt, she wants to ignore what he may ask of her. She starts to shake her head slowly before he even asks.
“Karin I need you…for one last thing.”
She shakes her head more, “no.”
Each time he says her name it pulls at her soul. “No! I won’t!”
“I…,” her voice starts to crack as she thinks of her mother, “I… can’t… I am meant to heal…”
“You have killed before.”
“Yes! I have killed in self defense! Not like this!” A moment of silence passes before she speaks up again. “There is still a future for you.”
“I don’t see one for me as I don’t have much time left.” The wind blows gently as the leaves rustle in the nearby bushes.
She knows how much time is left for him. She knows she cannot force him to bite her or be healed. She is a fool in love who respects him too much. She exhales and drops her shoulders. Accepting there is nothing she can do. She swallows hard but the pain remains.
“Stop telling me…what to..do.” She paces her words so she doesn’t slip up and let a tear out and sits next to him against the tree. “You want me to leave you here alone to sit in your shame as some kind of repent. And for what? You have done nothing wrong. I don’t give a damn if you want to hear it or not…I’m telling you anyway! They are the ones who should be suffering for what they have done NOT…y..you…” her voice breaks as she turns to look at him. She feels empty, weak and helpless.
His head is tilted at an angle as he looks at her with a small smile. The one she has waited for after all of these years.
“Why…” an accidental tear falls down her face though she quickly wipes it away, “why…are you… smiling?”
With what he is able, he moves closer to her and leans his head on her shoulder coughing a bit. He speaks breathlessly, “bec…because…you’re…always… right…” he swallows weakly.
After a few minutes pass in silence, Karin looks off into the distance and takes a deep breath, “I’ll bury you with your brother. That is the final thing I will do for you.”
She can hear him struggling to breathe. The thought never crossed his mind as his eyes open slightly more, the dark marks under his eyes are getting worse. His head still on her shoulder, unable to move. “…thank…you…Karin,” is all he is able to say before his final breath.
She feels him fade away as a crow caws somewhere in the far distance.
She had him.
Here, breathing roughly, in her arms, against her skin, between her thighs.
Karin exhaled a satisfied breath as she lay in bed waiting for the boy above her, the man she'd been wanting for so long (for too long), to make the first decisive move.
He growled against her neck, nipping at the ivory flesh there till it was an angry red, and she moaned softly with the deft ministrations of his tongue and teeth. He ground against her, pulsing, aching, tearing at crimson garments till she was bare and sweating and flush before his eyes.
He teased, which she found amusingly uncharacteristic. He would touch tickle spots, explore forbidden caverns, prod at what he knew were pleasure points.
When he took her passed a high she'd never before felt, bodies pressed, hearts palpitating, fingers moving and nails biting everywhere, he'd prepare himself.
And they'd move together.
First a gentle rocking that passion and adrenaline would help escalate into something harsher, rougher, faster.
And she'd lose herself in him.
The damp ebony bangs that worked into spikes at the back. The structured jaw, the shapely nose, and the pale skin taut with youth. A lean, smooth body and dark eyes she swore were voids that took her every time she so happened to glance his way.
One of the key factors in lovesickness, she supposed, sighing as his eager hand roved silk skin.
She even felt inanely honored that he'd let her be in such close proximity.
After all, this was Uchiha Sasuke. The gorgeous, indifferent, Avenger-boy she'd come to worship.
And the moment, that moment, this moment when the pace was overwhelming and her muscles were contracting and she was raggedly huffing breath and puffing his name all at the same time and he was finally, finally ascending into that point of no return; that moment was theirs alone.
It was when he responded to her call that the dream would shatter.
And the notion that he was here because he cared would fade into something unfamiliarly painful.
Karin was in love.
She wasn't an idiot.
She could remember it vividly. That cool March afternoon, crisp with the arrival of Spring. She'd dreamily claimed that love was in the air and then had skipped over to her beloved Sasuke, latching greedily onto his arm (and staunchly ignoring Suigetsu's overly-rude scoff).
'Sasuke, it's spring! This is the perfect season to substantiate our love, ne?' She'd meant it jokingly of course what with Sasuke being Sasuke (and Sasuke, meaning antisocial tendencies).
He sent her a deadpan glance, gaze hovering over her form. And all of a sudden, something like twilight flickered behind his eyes. Gingerly, fingers reached out and she stood frozen as he plucked a cherry blossom from her hair. Looking determinedly into her surprised orbs, he nodded.
Fine, his gaze resonated as he turned to walk away.
When the initial shock had deteriorated, all remaining was a sensation that made her want to burst in elation and that left her ridiculously giddy for the next several days.
Though it wasn't any rendition of a love proclamation, his quiet admittance must have meant that her persistence coupled with her general attractiveness had finally gotten to him.
She'd thought that maybe he was finally giving her a chance.
Which was probably why her heart ached as it did now.
Why hadn't she seen it the first time?
He'd snuck into her room as stealthily as ever; surprising even her when he so suddenly whispered her name in the night. She made to hug him, only to be withheld. Before any type of foreplay could begin, he calmly admitted to having certain 'preferences'. Being hopelessly enamored with the man, she immediately promised that his wish was her command.
When she first transformed, she thought that maybe he was just generally drawn to the personification of Spring. People had their kinks.
Cropped, bubble-gum strands (pink everywhere, he ordered). The brightest teal eyes he'd ever seen (she didn't quite know just what shade was his 'brightest', but her second try had been deemed satisfactory). A simple red dress with a mysterious white circle in the skirt. (perhaps, she tried to reason, red simply suited this character he wanted her to portray).
Anything for her Sasuke.
Even when he first breathed that word in the midst of climax, she again brushed it off as his fantasy with Spring.
After they finished, the Uchiha took a minute to calm his breaths before jumping out of bed to hurriedly dress himself. She pouted at the lack of after-sex pillow talk and traditional cuddling, but it was only natural, she assumed, that he'd be much too uncomfortable to trek into such unfamiliar territory yet.
At least, she remembered, smiling, he had turned to her and mumbled a short "thank you" before exiting.
It was the second time that aroused suspicion.
There had been no previous mention of another similar escapade. One random night, he'd simply knocked on her door, feeling needy. And as expected, she had accepted him with open arms.
Again, he asked for her to transform into that Spring persona.
"Again, Sasuke?" she teased, ignorantly, "What is it with you and this season, Mr. Avenger-kun?" She lightly pulled at the collar of his shirt in invitation, "Why don't you try me au natural-?"
Quickly, he grabbed the wrist that had been tugging at him Voice hard, he whispered, "Please."
Karin only nodded, brows knitting with an emotion she couldn't identify.
It was August when he'd come to her the third time.
And just as prior, he needed his Spring.
She obeyed with a fixed smile that didn't reach her eyes.
In the throes of passion, he grunted, rather corrected in her ear, "-kun. Use the suffix." And as he reached his peak, calling out 'cherry blossom', she finally concluded that there was another.
That this 'Sakura' was not at all a figment of imagination but a real person, a woman who held such power over him that even in her absence he'd go so far as to have another alter their appearance in her likeness.
Why else would Sasuke, the impatient, broody mess of a boy, have her transform each and every time? It wasn't a simple matter of fulfilling his desires nor was it a culmination of what she thought had been their budding relationship. The girl's mere manifestation provided something for the Uchiha that Karin's entire presence couldn't hope to offer.
Why else would Sasuke, the murderous traitor of his own village, become so demonstrative in his mannerisms? He would always be on top, elbows propped so as not to crush her. He would always commence with some form of kissing and touching because he wanted her nice and wet and ready each and every time. He would always move slow in the beginning because he feared that too sudden shifts would break her.
With this person Sasuke was unendingly careful.
This young woman with cotton candy hair and emerald eyes. With the coy smile and the hair layers and the crimson dress.
The night she'd finally figured it all out, she promptly cried herself to sleep. Because with the realization that this 'Sakura' girl was the only one the Uchiha would ever want, came the dreaded truth: Sasuke would never look at her with the same adoration. She had only been an available, a willing, a warm body used to substantiate his fantasies about a woman she could never be.
She was a substitu—no, wait, she barely even constituted a substitute because when, in the middle of the night, he opened hazed eyes, he only saw her. Her face that met with numbers of his soft caresses, her body that had endured countless midnights. Her eyes, green and dark with the passion of the persona beneath the transformation. Her carnation locks, in disarray as her head shook between the zones of pleasure and pain. And her mouth, full and red and the only one meant for his kisses.
As Karin turned back to the standard jet black hair and the boring brown eyes, she sat up in bed, watching idly as Sasuke picked up his clothes in that same unnatural rush. And she wondered, brows furrowing, about why she allowed him to treat her this way.
She'd always known herself to be strong-willed and independent. So why did she always let him take advantage of her? Use her body when he needed to, and then dispose of her like some unfeeling rag doll? Similarly demeaning questions would roll around in her brain for hours after he'd dash out.
And she always berated herself, even when her subconscious knew the answer.
She was so hopelessly in love that she'd turn into whatever woman if it meant sharing his body heat during those lonely nights and receiving those sincere thank yous that she knew were meant for her and no one else.
It didn't matter how often or how long or how much she'd hate herself the next morning. Because as long as Sasuke kept coming, deepdown she knew that she'd keep on taking him.
At the very least, Karin thought sardonically, laying back into her pillows, 'Sakura' was an anonymous entity the likes of whom she'd never before encountered.
The obscurity made it easier to pretend.
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
That was the thought running through mind of the once Rookie of the year, and former member of Konoha's famed Rookie Nine. One he had led the way, with the highest grades, and the best scores, all the attention and all the praise were heaped upon his name. He could do no wrong as far as the teachers, and other students were concerned. If he spoke people listened, where he walked people followed or got out of his way.
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
But all of that was gone now. Now he walked alone on the streets of Konohagakure, sweeping them clean with a broom, one of a dozen or so nameless individuals who had been tasked with doing so. He had of course made it a point to learn all of their names his first week on the job. Atonement he told himself for forgetting those closest to him in the first place. For walking away from those that had always stood by him unconditionally.
That failure more then any other twisted in his heart like a serrated knife. Once he could have had it all. The entire village laid at his feet, any woman in his bed, any treasure at his disposal. But now he awoke each morning alone. A cold empty bed and a blank featureless room his only shelter against the bitter cold. Was this how Naruto had felt each day? Waking up to nothing save an empty bed in a small room and a cup of instant ramen. And yet look where he stood now, no longer the loser, no longer "dead last".
Oh how the mighty have fallen indeed.
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies eyes
"How had it come to this?" He lamented silently. One minute you're the most dangerous man in Konoha, a possessor of the Sharingan, the most coveted bloodline outside of the Byakugan itself. Feared and respected as the prodigy of the Uchiha clan one of Konoha's most noble clans. Your enemies quaking in fear at your name let alone the crimson flash of the Copy Wheel Eye.
Listen as the crowd would sing
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the King!"
May as well blame it on Itachi, he laughed inwardly.
"Was this what you were trying to protect me from Big brother? Was this the lesson in humility and duty that you were trying to teach me?" He though bitterly
"I'm sorry big brother. I failed you it seems. I didn't listen, and I let the cheers for the new Uchiha prodigy go to my head."
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
"I had it all in my hands; but I let the rage and darkness consume me." He thought as a tear rolled down his cheek. Tears, once an unthinkable occurrence, but now a regular happening as the shame of his conscience could not allow him to escape his just rewards. He had held himself above everything to pursue his vengeance, and then discovered that all he thought was important was not, and all he thought was superfluous wasn't.
He moved forward sweeping some debris from the festival held last night into his dust pan before moving on to a new street to begin his mundane task anew. The festival to celebrate the defeat of the Kyuubi had been renamed and had new meaning now.
For now it was known as the "Festival of Heroes"; a celebration of two of Konoha's finest The Yondaime Hokage who had saved the village by sealing away the Kyuubi, and the newborn son of Minato Namikaze whom he had sealed the demon fox into. The young man whose exploits were now legendary, and who had risen from his humble beginnings to a position to bring peace and prosperity to the world, and to the village he had fought so long and hard for.
His best friend, and brother in all but blood, except for the blood they had spilt between them; Uzumaki, Naruto.
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
Once thought of as a pariah, a loser and a clown. Someone whose only claim to fame would be his eventual expulsion from the village if many had their way. He had risen far above everyone, in both expectation, and power, even himself. Sasuke could only shake his head at the irony of the world.
Everything he had taken for granted, everything that had been the foundation of his life was found to be nothing more then a house built on sand. Naruto was a loser, he Sasuke was a genius. Naruto was weak, he Sasuke was strong. Naruto would never get the girl; he Sasuke could have any woman he wanted, especially the roseate haired woman who had fawned over him when they were kids. A foundation of sand that had started to crumble when he left Konoha to go to Orochimaru, and had finally come crashing down entirely when at the culmination of his revenge his brother had died of natural causes instead of by his hand.
I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
But as the universe is wont to do with people everything had been turned upside down. Naruto had become the genius, and he the loser. Naruto had become the strongest shinobi—and quite frankly had always been so if he were to be honest-, and he had become the weaker his chakra now sealed as part of his punishment for a period of no less then a year. And lastly it was Naruto who was walking around with all the girls fawning after him, and Naruto whose persistence had finally—and rightly—won the heart of their pink haired teammate.
As the bells of Konoha tolled announcing the morning and the rising dawn, Sasuke took a moment to take in the sunrise that was slowly spreading out over the village its music like a choir singing the praises of the coming day.
His teammates once considered the weakest of shinobi, now stood as shining examples to the world of what hard work, and courage could do over the remnants of an ancient bloodline, and a powerful name. They were each others sword and shield each protecting the other with a ferocity that was unmatched even by a pack of lions protecting their cubs.
For some reason I can not explain
Once you know there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world
He had actually taken a while to allow him self to acknowledge them in that fashion. Even a month after he had come back to Konoha; his team Hawk essential in the rescue of the village from the Sound forces invading it. Even after he had followed Sakura as the roseate haired medic-nin had personally led the mission to rescue Naruto who had been captured by Akatsuki, even as he had fought side by side with the reunited team 7 against Pain and his 7 clones. He had not allowed himself to see the truth. Why should he?
But in the end he had finally been forced to do so. Seeing Sakura kneeling there on the forested ground near the Rain village, holding a near lifeless Naruto in her arms as she kissed him long and lovingly before holding him close as if he'd float away if she let him go. It had finally been driven through to him just how far they had come, and just how far he had fallen.
His own confession to Naruto following Kakshi's and all of the others present in that moment had helped him relieve some of the awful guilt he'd felt. In that moment he'd acknowledged Naruto as his truest friend and brother, and the only one worthy of the title. Still he had much more to acknowledge to him; things that it might take many years to be honest to himself about much less his friend.
It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
One of the first things he'd had to acknowledge to himself was his own complicity in the events that had nearly led to Naruto's death. Orochimaru may have placed the cursed seal upon him, but the seal was not what caused him to leave. No that was his own choice; he made the choice to seek the Snake Sannin out for power. Just as Orochimaru had said he would.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People could not believe what I'd become
And so he had. Bonds had been broken that day. The look on Naruto's face when he had activated the second level of the cursed seal had been seared forever into his memory, as had the memory of Naruto impaled upon his arm, and then laying lifeless with a broken neck before slipping into the water. Also branded upon his memories were the image of Naruto in the grip of the demon fox's cloak his normally expressive sapphire eyes a blazing a crimson red that burned into his very soul.
for my head on a silver plate
just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be King?
Yet in spite of the memories that had been brought up in the fight with Naruto, he had prevailed. No. No that wasn't correct either he had failed. The Dead last, loser of the class had beaten him. Naruto had him dead to rights as Chidori, and Rasengan clashed for power high above the falls the cursed seal had failed and he had faltered. Naruto's last punch had slashed across his headband, and the sheer shock had awoken him from the demonic rage that had him in its grip. At the last moment, he had closed off the Chidori slamming a last desperate punch into Naruto's already battered ribs. The final blow non-fatal but enough to render him unconscious, and he was forced to stand over him defeated, and lost, knowing now that he had severed all bonds, and had chosen a path of damnation.
But worse than the guilt was the fact that in the aftermath he had known what Orochimaru was planning. Had known he was simply being used as a tool of a madman. And in spite of that he simply hadn't cared. As long as he obtained his revenge nothing else mattered.
Who was the genius now?
I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
The sound of footsteps nearby signaled that the villagers were beginning their daily routines. Sasuke continued his own as he was now busily cleaning and replacing the bags in the garbage bins that lined the streets. He had to admit there was something almost relaxing about the mundanaity of the task. Lift the full bag out and place it in the cart. Place a clean bag in the bin and replace the top. Simple and easy, a new beginning made. Something he hoped for with all his heart and the reason he had returned to Konoha in the first place.
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
(Ohhhh Ohhh Ohhh)
He knew that he would be in trouble but he was astounded at the feverish defense that Naruto and Sakura had put up for him. They had defied the council and even the Hokage at one point. No one had ever honestly stood up for him like that, not even back before his betrayal. But here now so long after it his teammates stood up for him with a passion that left him stunned.
So his sentence was commuted thanks to them. He was sentenced to a year of having his chakra sealed, and demoted to trainee. He would be unable to do missions until such time as not one but three Jounin cleared him, and the Hokage and the council itself certified him fit to resume his duties as a genin. He nearly snorted at the thought. He who was clearly at the level of an elite Jounin or even Anbu forced to do nothing but D-rank missions until he could properly become a Chunin. It was absurd.
And yet it was no more then an appropriate punishment he had earned for himself. That was what he had talked to Karin about not to long ago; the need for him to stop fooling himself about his own superiority, the need to accept and even embrace his own humility. That was why in the end he had told the council he would accept any punishment they saw fit to give him, and so here he stood now a street cleaner instead of a shinobi. A hard life no doubt, but a simple one with a goal he could respect, and a humility that he could understand. The simple task of keeping the village clean, of making sure it stayed free of debris and filth so everyone could live here safely. The task humbled him especially as he watched his coworkers go about their jobs without complaint, some going even so far as to joke about it. He would not join in the humor but he would smirk knowingly and nod in agreement when one of them would talk to him.
A simple life and one made easier by the nature of acceptance. The more he accepted it the easier it became.
Hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
He was interrupted in his introspection by a raised voice that caused him to dip his head in amusement. Naruto as loud as ever calling to him, his Sakura-chan ever at his side; his teammates and friends waving at him as they came down the street. He was glad to see them truly glad. Humble or not he needed a break and so he accepted their offer of breakfast at a local restaurant. He couldn't help but smirk and again try his best to hide a chuckle as Naruto groused about not being able to have Ramen, and Sakura berated him about his bad dietary habits.
Shaking his head he waved at the supervisor to indicate he was leaving with his friends. Kochi-san nodded back and turned back to his other charges. He and the supervisor had, had a long chat at the beginning and had come to an understanding. He liked the feisty old man with his many anecdotes about Konoha life. He had learned very rapidly to listen to them and had indeed gained much wisdom from them. He had also learned that the simple nature of his task enabled him to focus on training himself, in many ways. It had surprised him just how much people spoke about when they assumed you weren't listening. If they overlooked you because of your occupation it became even easier to do so.
Wonder of wonders. Yes he still had a long way to go but he was going in the right direction that much was certain, and with the guidance and help of his friends-now engaged in an impromptu kissing contest with each other-he would grow more and more. As they approached the restaurant he heard a familiar voice calling them over. Karin.
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
(Oooooh Oooooh Oooooh)
Though she had no standing in Konoha at the time, she had also stood up for him as loudly as anyone. She had changed in their time together he'd noted. She no longer fangirled after him like she used to; something had changed in her after the near disaster with the Hachibi—How that failure still galled him—She had taken a more constructive route to know him by backing off and devoting her time to becoming a part of Konoha's medical and scientific research corps. This left her very busy and they very rarely had time to see each other. With Juugo under the care of the Inuzuka, and Suigetsu off traveling and freelancing he and Karin were the only ones left from Team Hawk that had any real contact anymore.
He had not pushed Karin away like he used to however he had not encouraged her either. He had simply allowed her to take her own path. It seems that that path though led her to him more often than not. As he sat next to her though he noted with interest the small but noticeable blush on her face.
Maybe, just maybe he had one more possibility of redemption. He was well aware that Sakura was never his, and never could have been. But He and Karin had—well he didn't exactly know what—something. There was a spark, something that had slowly grown over the years. It had reached a peak when during the fight with Killerbee, he had without hesitation, or even a second thought put her in his blind spot to protect her.
He trusted her; that was all there was to it. He had trusted her and he knew she trusted him. Maybe just maybe something could grow from that. But not immediately; no it would take time and patience. He still found himself somewhat awkward around her and around women in general. A lifetime's isolation and focus on revenge above all things would do that for you.
But if he was patient, and if he allowed her closer a little at a time, then maybe just maybe; maybe he could rebuild his kingdom with a stronger foundation this time around.
He surprised everyone—Karin most especially-when he reached over and gave her hand a hesitant squeeze, a small gesture to be sure, but one with a simple message to him.
She blushed and returned his squeeze with one of her own, and a smile which she quickly hid before berating his two teammates for their chuckling by telling them to mind their own business. He did note though however how Sakura and Naruto's hands never left each other even when they were eating they stayed within reach; A simple gesture of trust and affection.
He truly hoped one day he could learn that as well, to be so open with another. With them as teachers he was pretty confident he would. Yes now he would learn the lessons the right way. Slowly and steadily he would master the lessons as he should have. As Naruto his friend and brother had done. Then, and only then would he be able to reclaim his throne, this time though he would make it a kingdom dedicated to the right ideals. To protecting those precious to him—He glanced at Naruto and Sakura as she fed him some egg and rice—All of his precious people—he gave Karin a sideways glance—Yes this time he would protect them all.
"Long live life" He thought