Insidious

Facedown across a table in the darkest corner of a disreputable cantina slumped a man who wanted to disappear. This bar was a particularly good place to make the attempt. Primarily an unsung hangout, but attracting its share of ruffians as well, it was an after-hours dive boasting bottomless shadows in almost every corner. The air hung in dense, aromatic sheets that moved only when staggering beings passed through them. The music was wildly hybridized, like the bartenders, who glowered sullenly as they wiped grease-smeared glasses and spread pools of liquor in thin layers across the bar top.

An empty tankard of ale rested near the slumped man's shoulder. His face was determinedly hidden from view, as if the only conscious desire he had left in him was to keep it that way. When he came up for a drink, which had happened with decreasing frequency in recent hours, he kept his face carefully averted from the bar's patrons. Greasy hair protruded from what had once been a rigorously maintained queue. His robes were ill fitting and stained, the black garments tattered, their hititate around his arm faded and worn.

No one in the bar knew who the man was or what he had done. No one remembered who had brought him to this desolate patch of earth. They didn't care. They just wanted to be left alone to drink until their next shift came around. No one asked. No one bothered to notice that he seemed to mutter something to himself every few cycles, perhaps that too, was irrelevant in his mind.

The man who wanted to disappear had turned his back on the world, but it hadn't turned its back on him. Despite his very best efforts, he had been noticed. Inevitably so. A man with his injuries was rare enough, but one who could still pour a glass of brandy without spilling a drop...?

Word had spread, and that word was trouble.

A woman with stark, scarlet hair entered the bar. She peered into the corners of this darkened den, studying every face and figure that she found there. All eyes turned to her for a moment, then someone with an upturned nose and a prominent belly raised his glass in a toast to the local regent. The rest of his table purred loudly in agreement. Now the focus on the bespectacled woman was forgotten; attention returned to frothing mugs, smoking pipes, and the clock.

Satisfied that no one was paying her any mind any longer, she turned her gaze to the southernmost corner of the bar. Her target was sitting exactly where she had expected him to be, showing no signs of alarm. She looked around the bar, making sure that attention had really, truly drifted away from her. She huffed softly and closed the rest of the distance between her and the man who remained slumped over his empty glass of ale.

She paused, expectantly.

Then she kicked the table, startling him awake.

The fallen man lifted his head with a jerk, revealing a disheveled shadow of warrior he had once been. His cheeks were hollow and thick with stuble. Dirty bandages, wrapped around his head, his his eye sockets from view.

"Oi, are you Uzumaki Naruto?" She inquired of him.

His voice was slurred.

"I've paid for this table. So whoever you are, get lost."

"I knew it." The sound of a chair, being scraped across the floor, reached his ears. "You are him, after all." Whomever they were, they'd just pulled up a seat. Lovely. His brow tightened in consternation, and he pulled a face. Silence greeted him. For a moment, he dared to hope that she, whomever she was, had given up and left him to his drink. It was a fleeting hope, and one he'd hoped to indulge.

"My name is Karin." She began slowly. "And I-no, The Five Nations, need your help."

No such luck.

"Karin, was it?"

He pulled another face and gestured to his bandages.

"Do you see these?" He asked, dabbing at the rotten strips of fabric. "I'm no shinobi now. Not after this. I don't know who you are, and, quite frankly, I don't much care. What you think, the person you're looking for, well, you just missed him. He's dead. Gone. Buried. Six feet under. Sleeping with the fishes. Walking with the angels" He beckoned an obvious gesture that he hoped conveyed the proper sentiment of dismissal. "Now that that's settled, skeddadle. Beat it. Get lost. Try someone else, gaki."

"G-Gaki?" A vein throbbed in her forehead.

Feisty, this one.

"Shall I rephrase it for you, miss Kusagakure nin?" The words were edged with malice. "No, wait, don't tell me." The corners of his lips pulled down. "You're shocked. How did I know that you're from Iwa?" He didn't let her interrupt. "Perhaps it was the accent that gave you away? No?" He chuckled bitterly, rich with sarcasm that might have narrowed his eyes, had they been visible. "Maybe its the smell? Or the chakra, perhaps. By the way, how is Orochimaru doing, anyway?"

For a moment there was silence.

He could feel her gaze boring into him, demanding answers. He gave none.

At last, she broke the impasse.

"H-How did you know all of that?"

He smiled; it was little more than a pained grimace.

"I'm blind, girl. Not stupid."

"So you're still a shinobi, then."

The response of that soot-soaked, greasy mug, was to scowl.

"Tell me, can a shinobi, do this?"

He held up a hand and pressed his thumb and index finger together. For a moment, nothing happened. But only for a moment. Then Karin gasped. No one paid her any heed whatsoever The bar patrons had long since turned their attention away from the enigmatic pair, the bespectacled woman in a black cloak and the filthy blond haired man who looked as though he might kick the bucket at any moment.

As such-aside from some small killing intent-they missed what happened thus.

Then a different force gripped Karin, one no less powerful than the first, but aimed at her, not anything else. It gripped Karin cruelly about the throat and lifted her so her feet barely touched the ground from where she sat. She gawped openly, unable to understand what was happening, unable to comprehend, and desperately conflicted as to how to do so. The force gripped her even more tightly, closing his windpipe. Karin choked, kicking out and finding nothing but the chair beneath her now. Forced to cease the assault, her verbal tirade silence, her hands pulled at her throat, but there was nothing there to grip, and no way to fight it.

'W-What is this?'

The man who had slumped himself did not honor her with a response, not at first.

Then he smiled; lacking any humour at all.

"This little ability of mine," He began slowly, his voice lacking the alchoholic slur, casting off his drunken mannerisms, "Is what got me kicked out of my village when I was only just a boy. This, was what gave some overzealous friend of mine, the idea to blind me. Can you understand that, Karin? Can you understand how horrific it is to be blind, to be unable to see, to use the sight that you so daily take advantage of?" Karin could barely even see him now, so she did empathize with him, in a sense. Black spots were crowding out her vision as her oxygen-starved optic nerve began to falter.

She understood but felt no relief when the man's terrible grip loosened and she fell the centimeter or so that she had been raised off her chair. Cool air rushed into her lungs. She coughed as though retching, feeling pain all along her windpipe. Over the sound of hacking and wheezing, her mind reeled. What kind of jutsu had he used? There wasn't even the slightest inkling of chakra behind it. How was that possible? How could it be, that she couldn't feel any chakra from him, even now?

Karin hadn't the strength to speak. Three thoughts echoed against the empty void in her mind as the last vestiges of the stranglehold flung themselves to the winds. The first was that this individual, this nukenin, this Uzumaki Naruto, was so much more that meets the eye. The second, was that she was beginng to understand the anomaly of which he spoke of; possessing little to no chakra, and failing utterly at nearly all jutsu during his academy days.

The third, was that she was completely and utterly terrified of him.

Was this some kind of kekkai genkai? No, it was more than that. It had to be. Now that she trained her sixth sense upon him, she did sense some chakra in him-likely the only reason he perform some, if any, jutsu-but it was a cold, bitter lake of ice to her senses, a complete and utter contrast to the void that she sensed within his coils. This second prescense, this other, trapped within him, could use chakra. But he, at least in theory, could not.

She'd have time to hypothesize later.

And then, she was free. Choking, gasping, wheezing for breath. Unable to speak for lack of oxygen, she rasped out a desperate plea for mercy. Instead, she found her chin turned upward, beckoned by a single digit blade that burned brighter than the sun itself. Her vocal cords were red raw. She could not find it anywhere in her to applaud the excessive use of forse, nor could she find it in herself to condemn him for nearly strangling her with what appeared to be two fingers.

All she saw, in the rigid set of his jawline, was a great and cleansing hatred. Though his eyes were darkened and dimmed beyond filthy bandages, she sensed somehow that it was not just his eyes that were staring back at her. It was as if his very being was radiating some sort of force, and that force was exerting a pull, and that pull was somehow drawing her in, leaving her competely and utterly fascinated.

This, then, was the man that she had been sent to retrieve? This almighty being that had nearly snuffed out her life with only a finger? This man, who, under all that dirt and grime, was probably no older than she? Really she was only doing this as a favor to him; not because she cared about the fate of some poor, despondent old drunkard. Only, Uzumaki Naruto didn't look even slightly intoxicated anymore. She couldn't even smell the sake on his breath, and she'd been certain of it until a moment ago. Had her master truly been childhood friends with this...irregularity?

'Just who or what are you, Uzumaki Naruto?'

"That depends." Lacking any sort of slur, he answered her unspoken question. "Who's asking?"

'Did he just-

...read your mind?" The one-time shinobi had steepled his hands together and laid his head in them. The scowl dripped from his face like water, replaced by an expression of which she couldn't quite discern. He folded his arms. Karin couldn't help it. She flinched. Naruto arched an eyebrow, but said nothing. He stole one last sip from his ale. Years of despondency and destitude seemed to slide off his shoulders in that instant, and he straightened in his seat.

"Yes." He began softly. "Yes, I did."

"But how?" Karin couldn't contain her curiousity any longer. "No jutsu could possibly-

"How familair are you with the Sith?" Naruto asked, leaning forward. His sightless eyes seemed to probe her somehow. It was disconcerting. A blind man shouldn't be able to do things such as this. And yet her superiors honestly wanted to recruit him, this one-time resident of Konoha? That village had been wiped off the face of the map years ago, thanks in part to petty squabbles and power struggles.

"And what, pray tell, are the sith?" Karin found her curiousity aroused at this.

Naruto frowned.

"Would you believe me if I told you there are other worlds, beyond our own?" Naruto sounded wistful all of a sudden. "Pardon me. I'm being too broad. Picture this, if you will; Entire dimensions, unexplored realms, just waiting to make contact with one another. What might happen if, say, those realms were to meet? What if an artifact was left by a denizen of one such realm?" He paused, staring at her expectantly. How he managed to pull that off without eyes, she'd never know.

"I'm afraid that'd be a bit of a stretch."

"It's no stretch." Naruto shook his head. "By chance, I happened upon such an artifact in my youth." He flicked a finger, and Karin felt her throat twinge in painful memory. "I gained this ability and many others when I stumbled upon something." He must have known she'd been holding her breath, for he exhaled his. "In the Scroll of Sealing. To this very day, I regret opening that scroll," and here his words took on a more hateful edge, "but in the end, it opened my eyes. The secrets contained within that item were sufficient enough for me to learn what it was that I had been blessed with, and what others had not."

"And what did you learn?"

"I've learned that peace is nothing but a lie," Naruto quoted." There is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me." He paused, his tone modulating downward from the darkened glee to which it had risen. He needed several seconds to calm himself before speaking again.

"That, is the code of the Sith."

"You seemed...quite taken on it." Karin admitted.

"I did, didn't I?" Naruto's tone turned wistful, his blind eyes seemingly staring off into space for a moment.

"..."

"Very well." Naruto inhaled deeply, drinking deep of the pungent aroma in the bar. "Let us barter then, miss Karin."

"I beg your pardon?" Karin blinked.

"How much time do you have?" Naruto asked suddenly. "I'd like to barter. I'll share some of my knowledge with you, and in turn, you will tell me what it is that you want from me, without fault, and without fail." He didn't phrase the last part as question, Karin realized with a shudder. It was as simple as: you will tell me what I wish to know now, or I will kill you where you stand. And he would, she wondered at the absurdity of it all.

"Have you the time?" Naruto asked of her once more.

"A bit." Karin conceded. Technically she shouldn't feel guilty about lying. Which she wasn't. She'd been given strict instructions. Return with Uzumaki Naruto, or don't bother coming back at all. If a long-winded tale was the worst of what she would have to weather, if it would secure his loyalty then she soldier through it. She would endure it, like any other shinobi would, and she would see her mission fufilled.

"Wonderful." Naruto smiled at that, the first true smile she'd ever seen from him. His teeth were pearly white she saw, despite his disheveled state. It made her wonder if all of this had been just an act for her benefit. She'd been sent to recover what her superirors thought to be the "sage of Konoha", win his loyalty somehow, and return from her mission. All in the course of one month. She really hadn't the time to sit chatting with her potential contact. She needed to debrief him, convince him, and get him moving before another recruiter came to snatch him up, forcibly or otherwise.

War was coming, and here she was, sharing a drink with a man who could just as easily strangle her without laying so much as a hand on her. He'd walk out the door as if not a thing had happened, and they'd all be none the wiser. Her master would send someone else in her stead, and she, Karin, would be chalked up as yet another casualty of the war that was yet to come.

Naruto pressed both elbows into the table, and swept a grease-soaked palm through his hair. Karin felt her vision dim for a moment. When her gaze refocused, she found that she was staring at a very different version of Uzumaki Naruto; because he was no longer the shit-faced drunk that he'd appeared to be mere moments before. Gone were his sweaty and stained robes, restored to pristine blackened glory, and a strange hilt was clamped to a waist high belt that adjourned his waist. Likewise, the bandage on his eyes remained, but they had been thoroughly cleaned, his skin and visage having reclaimed healthy, chiseled proportions.

'An illusion?' Karin wondered at it, trying to wonder when it was that she had first been deceived. Had it been from the moment she'd walked in?

She glanced about, wondering how it was that she had failed to notice. None of the bar patrons seemed to be fazed in the slightest. Granted, most were to absorbed in drinks or drunken orgies to even consider the possibility of what lay in their mids, but still. Karin couldn't help but to sulk. She'd long since prized herself for being able to see though even the most powerful genjutsu.

To be fooled in such a manner...

...it was humiliating.

He finishes running his fingers through his hair and smirks darkly.

"It all began on the last day of the academy...

A/N: MWAHAHAHA! Naruto as a sith! Beware Naruto-verse! BEWARE!