Title: Failing Twilight
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Rating: T/PG-13
Warnings: Death, blood and gore, coarse language, adult themes, spoilers
Chapter WC: 4,269
Total WC: 67,810
First Written: June 2, 2010
Last Edited: June 3, 2010
Posted: June 3, 2010
Summary: Naruto had learnt from a young age that life could get hectic, but all this chaos with Biju, daimyos, and psychotic missing-nin was going a bit too far. Now just throw in a fourth Great Shinobi War and you've got one pissed off seal master. AU story. No pairings.

This chapter is currently unedited.

Failing Twilight

Chapter 13
The Message

Naruto's mind raced at a thousand miles an hour. His thoughts buzzed and his heart pounded in his chest. It felt like someone had reached into his throat and was pulling his very air from his lungs, making it impossible to breathe.

No. Nononononononono.

His foot collided with another branch and then pushed off with enough force to send him flying to the next tree. He sped through the treetops as quickly as he could, following Kakashi with Sasuke at his side. The other two were just as grimfaced as he was and Naruto wondered if they felt like him-like they were overflowing with emotions, with fear and guilt and dear god how had this happened?

Sakura was gone, whisked away. The sun was already starting to rise and still they were no closer to finding her.

"The bandits were supposed to have been cleared out of this area recently," Kakashi said, glancing over his shoulder. He was completely expressionless. It sent a shiver down Naruto's spine; he'd never seen the man this enraged before. "Either we were given false intel or something happened here recently. Either way it's not good."

"They had no reason to attack us," Naruto added. "We have nothing they could have wanted; they had more to lose than to gain by attacking us."

"And lose they did," Sasuke said with grim satisfaction. He was staring straight ahead, refusing to look at his teammate and his sensei.

A small smile lifted the corner of Naruto's mouth. "Indeed. But... Why would they take Sakura?" he asked thoughtfully. It was the question that had been racing through his mind the whole night, repeating over and over.

"Leverage?" Sasuke offered.

"Doesn't seem like much use; they're already all dead."

Abruptly Kakashi stopped on a wide branch and the two Genin had to pull up short to stop themselves from overshooting the tree. "A shinobi took her," Kakashi said once they'd landed beside him. He crouched down and lightly brushed his fingers against a spot on the branch were the wood had splintered-and recently too, from the looks of it. "This kind of damage is only caused by using too much chakra while tree jumping."

Naruto shifted uneasily. "But why?" he repeated.

Kakashi looked up, and Naruto almost took a step back when he saw that the man's eyes were burning with raw rage. "At this point it doesn't matter. We will find her and we will kill them, regardless of who they are. No one hurts my teammates."

As the small group picked up their pace again, now assured that they were moving in the right direction, Naruto and Sasuke shared a shaky glance that for once wasn't filled with animosity. Neither of them had known that their teacher could be so terrifying.

She could feel a cold hand on her chin, lifting up her head. Sakura shuddered, so terrified she couldn't breathe. A soft laugh blew across her face and she shook again. Even his breath was cold-too, too cold. Cold like this room, cold like the goosebumbs rising on her skin, cold like the icy fingers wrapped around her heart, threatening to rip it from her chest. Finally the hand on her chin pulled away, but instead of being relieved, she found her fear was only increasing. Thanks to a blindfold she couldn't see anything and the blood pounding in her ears drowned out almost all other sounds.

He could be anywhere now. He could be gone or he could be standing near her, waiting. For what? God, she didn't know. She didn't know, didn't know anything, didn't want to. She wanted to get out, she wanted to get away-away, away, away. Anywhere not here.

Sakura flinched as gravel crunched beneath his foot as he turned. "Terrified little lamb," he hummed. "With fear so sweet, ah..." He breathed in deeply and then laughed loudly when a sob slipped out of her lips. The sound echoed off the walls and she whimpered, again unable to keep the sound in.

"You do know how creepy that sounded right?" another voice asked dryly.

This one was a woman, Sakura thought. A door creaked somewhere near the voice. Or at least she thought it was near it. She couldn't tell anymore; all the sounds seemed to blend into one, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. She felt completely lost, in way she never had before. She had no idea what was happening or what was going to happen.

The man just laughed again. "You should not be here," he said. Despite his words, he sounded more amused than angry.

"Eh." The tone of voice and the sound of shifting material made Sakura assume the woman had shrugged. "Not like it really matters." Again there was a shifting of clothing, as though some sort of motion was being made. "In any case, I thought you might want to know that they're nearly here."

The man hummed softly. "Pity. I was hoping we would have a bit more time; she is a fantastic specimen." Sakura shuddered again. "Ah well, what is life without the unknown variables?"

He took a few steps away before suddenly stopping and turning again. Sakura's breath caught in her throat as she waited for him to move, sure that he would come back over to her. Instead, there was the sound of coins clinking to together followed by a thud. Though she couldn't be sure, Sakura thought it sounded like a bag of coins hitting a table. Of course, it could also be a bad of shuriken, or lord knew what else. She didn't want to think too hard on it.

"You can have your fun now," the man said to someone else. "Just be sure to be quick about it and leave no traces when you depart. Oh, and be sure not to kill her. If you botch it up, I will cut you half and leave you die. Doesn't sound too bad? Most of the vital organs are in the upper half of the body; it would take you at least a few minutes to die completely. In the mean time you'd even be able to squirm around on the floor in a pool of your own blood and contemplate your mistakes."

Several people gulped and a chorus of "Yes, Sir." rang out. Sakura started shaking, but for a different reason-she hadn't realized there were so many people in the room. How many? She thought frantically. She couldn't tell. Couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't breathe. Where were they? What were they going to do?

A door creaked again, then closed with a loud thud that rang with a sort of finality that made Sakura's heart stop for a moment. She whimpered again when footsteps began to close in and sobbed when the first cold blade touched her skin.

Cold. So very cold.

When they found a small, dilapidated cabin, a spark that felt like a bolt of lightning ran through Naruto, setting his veins on fire. He used his chakra to put on an extra burst of chakra so that he landed right in front of the door. He slammed it open and rushed inside with Kakashi and Sasuke right on his heels.

Naruto pivoted on one foot, looking for something-anything-but seeing only cobwebs and rotting wood. "Nothing?" he growled. "But there's nothing else in the area-"

But Kakashi was already on the other side of the room, pulling up a trapdoor. "Basement," he said, then dropped down inside.

Just as Naruto reached the trapdoor himself, Sasuke moved in front of him and leapt down. The blond growled, but said nothing as he too dropped into the basement. The walls here were made of cold stone that formed a narrow hallway with three doors. The first two rooms were empty, although they were dust-free, as though someone had been there recently.

When he stepped into the last room, Naruto's heart leapt up into his throat and stayed there. Sakura was lying on the stone floor, surrounded by her own blood. She looked like-like nothing Naruto had seen before. It was so bad that he could hardly recognize her, covered in blood and bruises as she was. There was a long, straight cut running down her arm that was still oozing blood and her hair was a dark color, matted with drying blood.

"Sakura," Naruto breathed, feeling bile rise up in his throat. Sasuke looked just as shocked and disturbed. "Sakura!"

Kakashi was already by her side, carefully turning her onto her back and checking her vital signs. "She's alive," he announced, his voice still hard and clinical despite the relief that was apparent in the way his shoulders dropped slightly. "But she's in a bad condition; we need to get her to a medic, and soon."

"Should we take her back to Konoha or to a nearby village?" Sasuke asked anxiously. Naruto glanced over at him, surprised-he'd never seen the dark haired boy show so much emotion.

"Neither; we can't move her now, not without making her wounds worse. I already sent one of my ninken summons back Konohagakure, so a team should already be on their way," Kakashi answered. He took several rolls of bandages out of one of his pockets and used them to do a makeshift job on her worst wounds. Naruto and Sasuke watched anxiously over his should

"Dammit," Sasuke growled. "Dammit."

Grimacing, Naruto sat back on his heels. "This is bad," he said quietly.

"No shit, moron." Naruto snorted, but didn't reply. "None of this makes sense," Sasuke continued agitatedly. "None of it."

Naruto opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when he saw that Sasuke was staring up at the wall. He followed the boy's gaze and once again felt his heart stop. He'd had complete tunnel vision when they'd first come in, focusing only on Sakura, but now he could see that on the wall behind her was a single sentence, written roughly with still-dripping blood.

Can't put up a fight yet?

"No," Naruto breathed out, unable to believe his eyes. He knew those words. They were a taunt from an encountered from so very long ago. One that had been burned into his mind despite his young age-or perhaps because of it. "It can't be-!"

"Naruto?" Kakashi asked sharply. "You know something?"

The young Genin hardly heard him. "Him. It was him. Uchiha Madara. He-!" He choked, bile rising up in his throat again. Oh god, it was his fault. It was because of him that Sakura had- "No!"

"What?" Sasuke snarled. "What are you talking about?"

"Madara?" Kakashi repeated, most of his attention still on helping Sakura. "The Uchiha Madara who died half a century ago?"

"Died?" Naruto laughed, nearly hysterical. He didn't even notice that he was shaking. "I don't know. I don't know! That was his name. I- I met him was I was young. Years and years ago, back when I had just started the Academy." He stopped and swallowed slowly, looking over at Sasuke. "It was on the night of the Massacre."

Sasuke paled sheet white, but looked as though he didn't know what to think of Naruto's words. "Are you trying to tell me that my long-dead ancestor killed my family?" he demanded.

"I don't know!" Naruto roughly ran a shaking hand through his hair, still staring at the wall. "I don't know," he repeated. "But he was there, and he had this weird Sharingan and now these words- It's him. It's Him." He looked up Kakashi, scared out of his mind. "I have to talk to Sandaime-sama."

"Yeah, you really do."

"It's all been taken care of, Orochimaru-sama."

Orochimaru glanced up from the scroll he'd been reading. Two cloaked figures were standing before him. The man who'd spoken smiled and light glinted off his glasses.

"And they found her?"

"Yes sir. I also took care of the men we 'hired'. They...won't be speaking anytime soon."

The second cloaked person chuckled. "That's one way of putting it," the woman said.

Orochimaru ignored their extra conversation. "I assume then that the message has been successfully relayed?"

"Of course," the young man said with a nod. "I daresay that Uzumaki will be quite shaken up. Although...I can't profess to understand what the message meant."

"And you shouldn't." When Orochimaru said nothing else and simply returned to his scroll, the two figures bowed and took their leave.

"Go find your teammates Kabuto-kun," the woman said. "We need to get back to Konoha before they realize we've taken too long on a simple mission."

"Yes, sensei."

Naruto stood alone in front of a vending machine. He stared blankly through the glass, reading the names of the snacks without actually taking anything in. The hospital stuff bustled around him, paying him no attention even though he'd been there for more than fifteen minutes without moving.

There was a pair of blue eyes staring back at him in the glass. They were his own, he knew. And yet somehow didn't. They looked so strange. So blue and dark and old. He could swear that they'd darkened as he'd grown. They'd been a lighter shade when he'd been younger. Everything had been. So light and carefree. It was all about exploring, discovering. All about having fun. When had that faded away? When he'd started at the Academy? When he'd gotten a job?

No, it was when he'd met Madara. That was when it'd stopped being a game. That was when the ugly truth of his existence had reared its head and he'd found himself having enemies who wanted his head simply for existing. That was when being a shinobi had stopped being a dream job and become a tool-a means for survival.

And what had it come to? His teammate lying in a hospital bed, covered in bandages? His other teammate silently brood in a corner? Her parents sobbing at her bedside?

It was his fault.

He knew it was. The Sandaime told him it wasn't. Told him that he couldn't control the actions of another. Kakashi said the same. Ibiki had nodded in silent agreement. But Sakura's parents hadn't said anything. Hadn't said a word to him since they'd gotten back three days ago. And it stung worse than he'd expected, but less than he knew he deserved.

There was another face in the glass now, staring at him over his shoulder. Dark eyes. Darker than his.


"...Sasuke." Naruto stared back at his teammate through the glass, unwilling to turn around and face reality. It was so much easier to look at everything through the glass, as though it was all just a dream. "I-"

Naruto searched for words and found none. Sasuke was silent as well and despite all of his experience, Naruto couldn't read anything on his face. That was one thing that had always bothered him about Sasuke; he was always so blank.

Sasuke opened his mouth and then hesitated. He tore his gaze away from Naruto and stared down the hallway instead. He leaned back against the wall with his hands in his pockets, slouching. "I don't know what to do," he said finally. The words came out grudgingly; forced.

"...About what?"

"Everything. Just... everything. About Sakura. I never meant for-"

Naruto nodded grimly. "I know," he replied. It said everything that needed to be said between them and they were both unwilling to say more on the subject. "It's my fault anyway." Naruto looked away as well. "I know Kakashi keeps saying that it's not, but that doesn't change what happened. Madara... He was trying to get to me. Sakura... This never would have happened to her if she wasn't on my team."

Sasuke's head dropped so that his hair was hiding his face and Naruto could tell that he was clenching his fists. "This isn't right," Sasuke said lowly. "None of it. There isn't supposed to be another Uchiha, especially not him. It- it was all clear-cut, before. There was my brother and I, and I knew what I had to do. Now there's him and you and Sakura and-"

Sasuke mouth clicked shut. His jaw clenched for a minute before his finally looked up and Naruto was struck with how lost he looked, as though the entire world had turned on its head.

"And you know what?" Sasuke continued. There was a bitter edge to his voice now. "Once again, it all revolves around you. Even my family. Even my own fucking dream."

Naruto looked away, understanding all too well the raw pain in Sasuke's eyes. "I don't want any of it," he said softly. "Madara, he... He's after me for a reason. And it's for that very reason that I have to get stronger. I- I can't allow something like this to happen again. I have to be able to fight back."

"And what's 'the reason'? Why on Earth could cause someone to come after you?"

Naruto stared hard at Sasuke, torn about how to answer. "...Can I trust you?"

Sasuke stared back. This entire situation must have really shaken him up, because he was seriously considering Naruto's question and what it meant. The young Uchiha shifted from foot to foot for a minute before finally making his decision.


A small smile came onto Naruto's face. "Then come with me."

Ino was crying by her shoulder. Sobbing hysterically and uttering apology after apology, as though it was her fault that Sakura was lying there in the hospital bed. Sakura took it silently, nodding in all the right places and smiling when she could. Or at least attempting to smile, as the searching looks Ino gave her told her that she wasn't quite succeeding.

It was another hour before her old friend finally left. Sakura hated to think that she was getting sick of the blond girl's presence... Only she didn't hate to think so. She didn't feel either way, really. She just felt...empty. Like she was a passenger in her own body, watching apathetically as the world passed her by.

Her parents were outside as well now, leaving her alone. Alone in the deafening silence. She sat up in bed, just to make some sort of noise. But it still didn't leave. That ever-present stillness; the feeling that everything was missing.

The door creaked open and Sakura stared at it. She felt as though she should have jumped at the sound-felt some sort of fear-but still there was nothing. Then Naruto stuck his head through the opening and she felt something stir; something that she couldn't recognize. The blond shuffled inside, looking anywhere but at Sakura. And then, to her great surprise, Sasuke followed him inside.

"Hey," Naruto said nervously. He still didn't manage to meet her gaze. How odd, Sakura thought. "Sorry I haven't come to see you sooner. You were in the operating room and then there were debriefings and-" He gulped. "Well, just...sorry."

Sakura stared at him, puzzled. "...Why?" she asked. Naruto froze looking like a deer in headlights, so Sakura amended her question. "Why are you sorry?"

"This is..." Naruto shuffled nervously while staring at his feet. He cleared his throat and tried again, this time in a stronger voice. As he did so he finally lifted his head to meet Sakura's inquiring gaze. "I just thought you should know why all of this happened. It's the least you deserve. All of this...it's my fault. I don't know how much you've been told yet, but the man who organized the ambush was named Uchiha Madara and he... And he did what he did to get to me. To leave a message, for whatever sick reasons he has. As for the reason why he's after me..." He paused to glance over at Sasuke before continuing. "Well, once upon a time there was a demon known as the Kyuubi no Kitsune..."

Sakura listened to his story in stony silence. It would have been completely preposterous if it didn't explain everything. The Kyuubi... Their textbooks had never said specifically how it had been defeated. She'd always wondered about that, wondered how they could go into such detail on the Yondaime Hokage, then skip over something so monumental.

Lifting up his shirt, Naruto showed them the seal. It was like a work of art, Sakura noticed distractedly. The lines almost seem to dance across his skin, twisting and twining in a myriad of different directions. And that black ink was all that stood between the world and the Kyuubi. Nothing more than a seal... And Naruto.

After Naruto had finished, a tense, unsettling silence fell over the room. Naruto looked like he was torn between bolting from the room and holding his head up high, stubbornly determined to stay. Sasuke's eyes were closed and his expression was unreadable. Sakura felt a faint tug on her heart before the feeling faded away. She stared down at her bandaged hands lying in her lap. Two of her fingers, the two that had been broken, were in braces and she could see a dark bruise peeking out from the bandages on her wrist.

"So..." Her voice was nearly inaudible, but her teammates nearly jumped at the sudden sound in the silence. Would have jumped, had they not been shinobi. Her fingers dug tightly into the blankets. "They...came after me...just to get to you?"

Naruto gulped audibly. "Y-yeah. I'm really sorry Sakura! I had no idea that something like this could happen-" He cut himself off and breathed in deeply. "I-"

"I couldn't do anything," Sakura said abruptly. She looked up at the other two Genin, solidly meeting their gazes. "I was so terrified... So scared I felt like my heart was going to jump right out of my chest. But I couldn't do anything. I'm supposed to be kunoichi-" She laughed suddenly and the boys exchanged an uneasy glance. "I saw a kunoichi when I was young," Sakura continued with dark humor. "She was so beautiful and graceful. I'd never seen anything like it. I wanted to be just like her, to be so... I never really got it, you know. Even after everything we went through in the Academy, after everything I read, after I learned how best to cut a jugular. It was still like a game, like one of those action movies on TV. I... I've never even broken a bone before, you know.

"And now..." She drifted into silence for a moment. When she spoke again her voice was even softer. "They used me. Like some tool; a means to an end. And I couldn't do anything about it. I hate feeling like that. So, so-!"

"Empty?" Sasuke offered quietly. His teammates stared at him in surprise. "Hollow, like you're just a shade of a person, watching everything pass by?"

Sakura swallowed thickly and shifted her gaze away. "Yeah..."

"I..." Sasuke hesitated, then turned his back on them. "When I was six years old, my brother killed my family. The entire Uchiha Clan. I was the only one he left alive. I saw him standing there. Holding a bloody sword while standing over my parents' bodies. And there was nothing I could do. I tried. I tried to help them, but he was a goddammed ANBU and I-" He ground to a halt, clenching his jaw so tightly that his teeth ground audibly.

Sakura stared dumbly at his back. She had never known. Well, she'd known about the Uchiha Massacre, of course, but she'd never actually heard Sasuke talk about it. He never spoke about his feelings. That was part of what had made him so cool; he had such a tragic past, but he never let it bother him. Or at least, that was how it had seemed. Now Sakura realized that the opposite was true-he was completely ruled by his past.

And she also realized that this was his way apologizing-something he'd never do directly.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Sasuke just shook his head. "But now, with Madara," he continued, acting as though he hadn't heard her-Sakura smiled at that-and still not facing them, "I'm not sure what happened. I've never thought too hard about it. But now I want to know what happened. Itachi was there, he killed them. But what about Madara? He shouldn't even be alive, let alone to have been there. And these Akatsuki..." His fists clenched tighter. "I'll kill them," he declared viciously. "If it'll get me to Itachi, I'll kill them all."

"Then I get Madara," Sakura said firmly.

"Eh?" Naruto gave her a startled look. "But-"

"He's responsible for this," she continued, refusing to budge an inch. "You can't take that away from me. He's mine."

Naruto opened his mouth to reply, only to close it. Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, he doubled over laughing.

"Oi!" Sakura protested.

"Sorry," Naruto managed between breaths. "It's just that this is all so serious and gloomy. It's like one of those old martial arts films with the revenge speeches and declarations of hatred. And it's just..." He smothered the last of his laughter. "Sorry," he repeated while scratching the back of his head sheepishly. "I guess I might be a little bit hysterical after everything that's happened. And it's weird, you know. To have everything out in the open like this. But...it doesn't really change anything, right?"

Sakura smiled. "No, Naruto. It changes everything."

Ninken - Ninja dog (Kakashi's summons)

A/N: Wow, it's been a while. The delay was mainly caused by a massive amount of business. For those of you who don't read Atra Regnum, I'm and editor for the English translation of a novel called 1/2 Prince, so that's taking up a lot of my time. Plus I'm now also working the project for a 1/2 Prince RPG game. You can find more information about both projects on my profile, including links.

I'm both honored and humbled to have received a nomination for the Naruto FanFiction Awards 2010, especially with the recent lack of updates. It was actually the nomination that made me look back at the story and realize just how long it'd been since I last updated. I've since completely reread the story-as well as the 8+ pages of notes I have-and reminded myself why I loved writing this story in the first place. There's a lot of different stuff I'd like to go back and change now, but I won't-I'm going to continue moving forward writing this story, using what I currently have as a base to expand off of. For those of you interested in voting, here's the link: forum . fanfiction . net / topic / 57460 / 25623528 / 1 /

And finally, about this chapter. The majority of the angsty-ness is done with, although things with Team 7 are going to be far from smooth-sailing from here on out and they're not quit going to get along yet. All three of the Genin are going to have some changing to do before they grow up to be the people they're going to be, although Sakura is well on her way now. Due to what she's gone through, she's going to be different than she was in the manga-and most fics, I daresay-although she won't change completely until she's a little bit older.

Above all else, thanks for patience! The next chapter should definitely be out a lot sooner. As for my other stories, Reality's Illusion is next on my list, followed by Searching for Disaster and Anthem of the Angels (although AotA will probably be up first since I've already got the next chapter done).