The night was darkness, moonless, empty. Listless clouds drifted in and out of the dark, obscuring even the shining stars.
It was the perfect night for a ninja.
Shadows flitted, flickers of movement in the empty night.
"Naruto. Naruto, do you read?"
The blonde's mouth creased slightly. "I read you, Kakashi. What's your position?" his voice was low and tense.
"I'm in position, and in sight of the building." The Copy Ninja replied quietly. "Awaiting your orders." Though both Naruto and Kakashi were jounin, it was the blonde who had been given (read: forced the Gondaime) tactical command of the operation.
"Sakura here." The pink haired kunoichi's voice had become a woman's, and her emerald eyes were hard with battle-wear. "I'm at the back."
"Alright then. Let's go to work." Uzumaki Naruto's face had long ago lost any sense of cheer, and the lines were premature. The joy, the compassion, all of it had long ago been slain by the fires of war.
His feet barely touched the ground, the grass, browned and dying, barely bent beneath him as the jounin raced through the open ground, knowing that this was a critical moment.
Nothing happened however, and the moonless darkness shrouded Naruto in its veil.
With naught a whisper, he hurtled through the night, and only a small, dying creak of the ancient, rotting wood listed through the night.
"I'm going in. Radio silence for the remainder of this operation." Naruto ordered softly, his lips barely moving.
Two clicks, one from Kakashi, one from Sakura, flickered through his radio, and then... dead silence. With a slow movement, he removed his headset. He didn't want any distractions.
Controlling his movements, he carefully opened the door. The darkness welcomed him in, and Naruto gladly went in.
His sapphire eyes darted from shadow to shadow, careful not to miss a single detail, taking in the broken chairs, the cracked floor, the single, exit-less room.
The jounin's lips curled in something not quite like disgust. "He's playing games with me." His voice was irritated, and he closed his eyes.
The genjutsu around him was strong, but facing the prospect of Uchiha Itachi hunting him down had forced Naruto to learn how to repel illusions, or at the least, overcome them.
Within moments, he felt it recede, and the caster's will left the room. It felt almost like he was alone.
The outline of a dirtied, sullied door appeared, as well as a single, broken glass window. Naruto sucked in a breath as the dimmed starlight illuminated the entrance in darkened light. "Oh, that fucker."
Written in crimson, a mocking missive, were the words: Lucky again, dead last.
The stench of acrid, metallic blood had been hidden by the genjutsu, but no longer, and the odor wafted into his nose.
He felt his anger begin to rise, and the Kyuubi stirred, but, wanting to keep some dogs sleeping, Naruto kept control. Pushing the door open, heedless of the blood and the knowledge that this was, in all actuality, a trap, he stepped into a long, shadowed hallway.
On the walls, another missive, etched in death.
This way, my dearest friend. There was even a crooked, bloody arrow pointing the way, and had obviously been done messily, with tears of blood running down the walls.
"Yeah, yeah. Scare tactics, bastard?" Naruto rolled his eyes, stepping through the darkness, deeper and deeper, farther into the labyrinth of shadows.
Warmer. Again, written in blood, even messier than before, with random splatters of vermilion dancing across the walls.
The shadows were spinning and weaving, veiling and unveiling him with their dance.
Closer. The redness was everywhere, with only a few spots of rotting wood still visible through the blanket of death.
The silence was wearing at him, teeth slowly grinding away at his soul.
In here. The door was completely drenched in blood red, and the stench of it was overwhelming, filling his senses with its acrid odor. The rusted, vermilion covered doorknob was darkness against shadows.
Despite his anger, despite his determination, Naruto felt unease creeping into his gut.
It unnerved him.
Irrationality gripped him, as it usually did when he was younger, innocent, and believed in tomorrow. He didn't want to open this door.
His fists clenched until his knuckles bulged, bone white against his skin, his teeth gritted against each other, and he realized he was shaking.
"God damn it, Naruto! It's a fucking door and some blood! Get over yourself!" The Kyuubi vessel scowled at himself, hating this weakness.
Still, he didn't open the door.
With an angry roar, he demolished the door. As shards of wood and a miasma of dust swirled around his form, he stepped through.
"WHERE ARE YOU!" he screamed, fists clenched as though they were strangling an invisible foe, teeth bared ferally, ready to tear and shred.
The final message wasn't in words.
"No... oh God no." Naruto whispered, stepping backwards, blinking slowly, his breaths becoming harsh and frantic. "That's impossible!"
Sakura's emerald eyes were lightless, listless as they stared at him, demanding retribution, demanding that he explain why this girl, this woman he had loved so much was dead. A vicious hole, the telltale mark of the Chidori was blown into her breast, bleeding raggedly, frantically.
Kakashi's single eye was covered in a thick, slimy trail of oozing crimson. The Sharingan eye had been cut out, leaving an empty, hollow shell where it had once dwelled. It had been cut out.
"This is just another genjutsu. This can't be real!" Naruto shrieked, stepping backwards, eyes wide and filled with horror. His breath was coming in rapidly, frantically.
With an insane desperation, he spun around, eyes scanning the room frantically, feverently for "SASUKE! WHERE ARE YOU, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!"
"No need to shout, dead last." The Uchiha survivor's slow, deep drawl was darkness's avatar.
"This trick won't work on me!" Naruto roared, unable to find his ex-teammate, his pseudo-brother, his greatest foe. "Cut it out!"
"Who says it's a trick?" Sasuke said mockingly, his voice blacker than the night outside. "Whose to say I didn't kill them both when the three of you split up to surround the house?"
"I heard them!" Naruto screamed, and fumbled in his pocket for the headset. "I heard their voices!"
"Clones can do that too, and a Henge jutsu is academy level." Sasuke replied smoothly, still nothing but a voice in the darkness.
"This is all just a genjutsu. It's not real." Naruto chanted, but he didn't (or couldn't) close his eyes.
"Isn't it?" Sasuke's voice echoed around him, one large miasma of darkness and sound. "Whose to say? You stepped into my trap, Naruto. What's real, and what's not is defined by me."
"Enough head games!" the Kyuubi vessel roared, refusing to look at Kakashi and Sakura (because they weren't real, damn it). "Show yourself!"
Uchiha Sasuke appeared, smiling like thinning shadows. His clothes were now as dark as the night, his hair, though, was shot with streaks of death-like white. He was rail thin, like a walking, living, breathing skeleton. "Its been a while, hasn't it?"
"Get rid of this damn illusion!" Naruto demanded, not deeming to respond to such a flippant statement.
Sasuke didn't respond, choosing to continue smiling like waiting death. "Its been so long. Don't you want to catch up?" he asked, still smiling.
"ARGH!" Naruto snarled, and hurled himself forward, his fist becoming claw as it tore through the shadowed night. His eyes slitted, raged and hateful.
The former number one rookie didn't flinch.
The demon vessel's claws went straight through Sasuke, through the shadows.
"What the Hell?" his voice was angry, filled with hatred.
Sasuke reappeared, still smiling, untouched, unaffected. "That was stupid, as always, dead last." He said disdainfully, arching a single, regal eyebrow. "What did you think that would accomplish?"
"I'LL KILL YOU!" Naruto roared, tearing through the air, and the Rasengan swirled to life in his palm, spinning orb of wind at the ready. "RASENGAN!"
Sasuke didn't move, and the Rasengan tore through him... and he faded away again.
"If this is all you're going to do when you come to visit, I'll have to ask you to leave." The familiar smirk stretched onto Sasuke's features as, once again, he materialized in the darkness.
"Stop playing games, damn you!" Naruto shrieked, full of roaring hatred, spittle forming and flying from his mouth.
Sasuke shook his head, the ivory streaked shadow of his hair whipping about slowly. "That temper of yours... really, you'd think you'd have calmed down after all these years." He chided, smirking wider.
Naruto was about to swing again, but he paused, an a Jiraiya-like voice rang out in his head. Idiot! He's not real! Use your head, dumbass!
He tried to take a deep breath, failed, but still closed his eyes, trying to regain himself. The Kyuubi's instincts settled down, and his claws became hands again.
"Fine. Then lets talk. Why are you in this rat hole, Sasuke?" Naruto asked, trying his best to remain calm, with the dead bodies of those closest to him in the same room.
"Now that's a question. Waiting for you, of course." He smiled, and his voice contained something that would have been pleasant, if it were not filled with darkness.
It hit him then, suddenly and resolutely. Something was wrong here.
"You're not Sasuke." He said suddenly, staring this imposter, this doppelganger straight in the eyes.
Not-Sasuke laughed, laughed something that Sasuke would never have laughed (except once, in a place called the End). "Correct, but not." The voice hadn't lost its joviality, but now it was colder, darker.
"Orochimaru." Naruto spat, glaring balefully.
"Again, correct, but not, my dearest friend." The words were mocking and cold, and this Sasuke-but-not-Sasuke smiled on.
"You're making no sense." The Kyuubi vessel snarled, eyes beginning to slit and claws beginning to form, as his breath sounded more and more like an angry, vicious animal.
"Orochimaru did transfer his soul to this body..." the doppelganger said, pacing forth as though he were lecturing. "But Sasuke's will, for lack of a better term, happened to be strong, and unwilling to be sacrificed, not without seeing his brother dead. The result... was me."
The eyes flickered between obsidian black and glimmering gold. "Frankly, I'm not quite sure what I am." This Not-Sasuke said, shrugging nonchalantly. His eyes narrowed, and the smile became dangerously sharp. The Sharingan spun in his eyes, red and black, whirling and twirling.
"I do know, though, that I wanted to kill you. Whether its because the Kyuubi might hinder me, or that I need the Mangekyo Sharingan." Again, this Not-Sasuke shrugged. "Either way, you must die."
"And what about Sakura and Kakashi! Did you kill them!" Naruto demanded, claws/fists clenched and tight.
"You'll have to figure that out for yourself." The doppelganger replied, still smiling with laughter in his eyes. "Or, you would, if you had time to think." In a blur, his hand began crackling, and the air sang with birdsong.
"CHIDORI!" this Sasuke-imposter raced through the air, hand sparking with chakra.
Naruto's hand whipped backwards. "Rasengan!" he shouted, and the orb swirled into life again. A familiar moment, as they charged each other, the air whistling with bird song as the shadows swirled around them.
As Naruto's eyes met the Sharingan eyes of this doppelganger, something changed. For just a brief, brief moment, the familiar black eyes of Sasuke flickered into view.
And then the world exploded in a whirlwind of sound and black light.
"Naruto? Naruto! NARUTO!"
He jolted upwards, feeling objects shift off of him in a miasma of dust. He coughed loudly, sputtering out blood and spittle.
Sakura's emerald eyes, full of life stared him in the eyes, full of tender concern.
Kakashi's familiar spiked gray hair hovered over the horizon. "You alright?" he asked.
Naruto straightened, looking around wildly, his blonde locks flashing in and out of his vision. The dawn air was cold and bright, bitter to his eyes.
"You-you're both okay!" he exclaimed, overjoyed as he nearly tackled the two of them, arms wrapped tight around them.
The sunlight struck his face, warm and welcoming against the still cold morning.
"We should be saying that to you, you idiot!" Sakura remarked shrilly, glaring at him with crossed arms as she pulled away. "What the hell were you doing, using the Rasengan against the wall of a crumbling house!"
"I- I didn't! Sasuke! He was here!" Naruto shouted, standing up suddenly, looking around frantically. "Where is he!"
Kakashi frowned, and looked him in the eye seriously. "Naruto, what are you talking about?" he asked, looking at him in utter confusion.
"Didn't you guys see it? There was blood everywhere! And Sasuke was here! Only he wasn't Sasuke... but he wasn't really Orochimaru, either!" Naruto explained rapidly, looking at them with a wild gleam in his eyes.
Sakura looked at him seriously, straight in the eyes. "Naruto... there was nothing in the house."