Warning: This fic is about the extremely complicated relationship that sprouts between Itachi and Naruto when Naruto joins Akatsuki in the hopes of getting Sasuke back. The romance, if it ever should appear, is not going to be traditional or even particularly romantic. There might (just might, mind you) be a character death in the future and the only guarantee I can give you is that it won't be Naruto and everything will be fine in the end. There will be hints of both Itachi/Naruto and NaruSasu and I use both translations of Akatsuki (dawn and red moon, though it uses the kanji for dawn) because I don't think it was a mistake that it can mean both considering the Tsukuyomi. This is a divergent timeline that picks up around chapter 312 in the manga, when Naruto was learning the wind jutsu but before he learned the wind shuriken.
Sunrise, Sunset: Part One
A Repetition of Failure
That night Naruto could still see Sasuke when he closed his eyes. He could see Sasuke staring at him with those Sharingan eyes, Sasuke not pulling away when Orochimaru touched his arm, Sasuke's deadened stare. Every single motion that Sasuke had ever made was burned into his retina.
He didn't have enough power to get Sasuke back. Even having gained his new skills with wind chakra, he was still lacking something. He still was nowhere near Sasuke's level, not really. It was just another of a long list of failed attacks and it wasn't getting any easier. Tsunade had already mentioned that she was being pressured to stop trying to get Sasuke to return. She couldn't risk the lives of the ninja she cared for when it was this hopeless.
Sasuke had left to get power and he had most assuredly gotten it. Naruto couldn't keep up. He had the chakra, he had the ability, but somehow Sasuke was always one step ahead. They were the same level, but Sasuke was just a little bit faster, smarter, better. He had all of Orochimaru's organization watching out for him and Naruto didn't have anyone. He was used to it. It made him stronger.
The ceiling of the hospital was getting so familiar. It was white, but there were small stains and kunai marks just above the bed where Naruto had thrown things when he was bored. He was starting to think they reserved this bed just for him and his mistakes.
Blue eyes traced over the little shuriken point marks that proudly spelled out his name, UZUMAKI NARUTO, on the ceiling. He was so tired, but he couldn't sleep. He was a failure again, the dead last, the loser. It had never sounded more mocking than when repeated in Naruto's head late at night in this bed. Collapsing after training like this was something that he was sure Sasuke himself had never done. He had even managed to beat himself up practically into a bloodied pulp, blackening one eye and nearly breaking his arm.
Sasuke would never come back. If he did he would probably be killed on the spot, Uchiha bloodline be damned. What had Sai proved if not that? Sai might not be like that now, but there were so many other people that were just waiting to kill Sasuke if he should ever return. Naruto could recognize Sasuke's face in his mind's eye when he remembered that almost fond smile. "Loser," Sasuke had said before his fight with Gaara, but he had been smiling. The power that had ripped through him at the Valley of the End forced him to his knees when the battle had been finished. He had sat there, leaning over Naruto as if memorizing every inch of his face for when he left. He had been so close, yet so far, and Naruto had been unable to move anymore. He had just laid there like a lump, barely conscious, as Sasuke's breath ghosted over his cheek.
"I think he's awake, Itachi."
Naruto froze suddenly, turning his gaze from the ceiling to the left of the bed. He couldn't feel a chakra signature. It was like they weren't even there.
Kisame was grinning down at him. It was not a particularly pleasant sight when one had as many sharp teeth as Kisame did. Beside him was Itachi, face impassive. His dark red eyes watched Naruto without his expression changing a wit as Naruto struggled to sit up.
His face shape was a bit rounder than Sasuke's and he was a great deal prettier than his brother was, yet when Naruto looked at him he saw the resemblance even more now than when he had first seen Itachi. It was Sasuke staring out of that face at fifteen years old, revealing nothing as he looked down at Naruto and forced him back to Konoha with his tail between his legs.
It was safer to look at Kisame than Itachi, pointed teeth aside, so Naruto did. "What do you guys want," he sneered, looking between the two of them with equal contempt.
"He isn't scared stiff by us this time, Itachi-san," Kisame said, that frightening smile still on his face. "The first time he met us he couldn't even say a word.
"Yes." Itachi was still looking at Naruto, studying the teenager's pained movements when he tried to move. It was obvious that whatever he had been doing previously had been difficult, especially considering how quickly the blonde must be able to heal due to the Nine-Tailed Fox.
Naruto steeled himself to look in Itachi's eyes. He didn't want to do it; Sharingan eyes were even more powerful when their gaze was met directly. It was hard to judge what he was feeling without looking at them, though. They were the only part of his face that showed any emotion at all.
It was surprising when there was no sudden invasion into his mind, just the quiet, self-assured statement, "You are coming with us."
Naruto blinked. His chakra was nearly depleted because of all of his training. He knew that he couldn't fight them, not right now. He stared at them as they stood there, black cloaks flaring around them in a way that made them look dark and forbidding. Everything they did was calculated to impress, every motion an intimidation. They had probably expected to scare him out of a sound sleep, appearing in the middle of the night like wraiths in a mist, and they were extremely confident they could get what they wanted.
They were S-Ranked criminals that shinobi were supposed to kill on sight, powerful beyond belief and most of them were stronger than Orochimaru, even. Stronger than Sasuke?
They were... stronger than Sasuke and his mentor.
He had promised Sakura. He had sworn an oath to her. He would bring Sasuke back, no matter what, and make their team whole once again.
He remembered saying he would be Hokage one day, promising it, and it was still what he wanted most in the world. 'I want to be the next Hokage! Then everyone in the village will have to stop disrespecting me and start treating me like I'm somebody!'
A bandaged hand reached up to touch the pendant around his neck. It had once belonged to the First Hokage, a man whom surely would not approve of Naruto going anywhere with Akatsuki when he was still able to kill himself to get out of it.
His vow to be the next Hokage. The Oath of Pain he had sworn when he had said he would never let Sasuke show him up again. His promise to Sakura. He was tied up by his oaths like they were wire, crisscrossing and conflicting until he wasn't sure which was which and he could cut a single one in case that would make the entire web tighten around his throat.
'There's still someone I have to kill. I don't want to die...'
Sasuke's vows. Naruto's vows. What did it all amount to?
Blue eyes closed, breaking off the contact with the Sharingan. Naruto reached out to pick up one of the blank scrolls that were stacked messily on the bedside table, writing on it in messy, hurried handwriting: Sorry. It looks like dawn approaches faster than you think.
"All right," he growled, setting the scroll back down, "but if you expect me to move very fast, I'm going to need help."
Kisame looked confused and smug at the same time, but Itachi was, as always, unreadable.