Summary: Chaos stirs as Uchiha Sasuke switches places at the worst possible time.
The average genjutsu subtly slips into the target's mind, dancing on the fine line between effective and perceptible. The Tsukuyomi needs no such subtlety. It invades. It conquers.
"Itachi!" It came out more like a strangled wail than a scream. "What did you do?!"
His senses had turned on him, howling in his brain. The iron tang of blood stained his mouth, and his feet failed to register any solid ground, and he knew with absolute certainty that his was heart beating in his chest so hard and fast that it might rip itself free. Sasuke's mind was in the middle of running through dozens of scenarios for Itachi's possible motivations when the darkness fled and he found himself sprawled on the ground, nose jammed uncomfortably in the dirt. Stark relief swept through him like a breath of fresh air.
"Foolish little brother."
Itachi materialized before him. He didn't step out of the shadows, the shadows made him: a black specter with glowing red eyes.
Relief gave way to mind-numbing panic. Sasuke froze before slowly raising his head. His brother stood directly in front of him in an empty street of the Uchiha Compound. His eyes narrowed: there was absolutely no way that this wasn't a genjutsu. The ghostly moonlight was impossible unless Itachi had suddenly discovered how to travel through time.
He got up warily, watching his brother's every movement as he stood. Slowly, the corner of Itachi's mouth twitched up in a mockery of a smile, and Sasuke shivered at the sight of it. He'd seen his brother smile plenty of times before, but never like that. Never like a man who'd long since embraced his own insanity. A chill crept up his spine.
"How curious," Itachi said, taking one step forward, the unnerving smile still twisting his lips. Sasuke's eyes widened and he took a step back. "It's as though you truly don't remember." Another step forward, another step back. "I wonder, what could have made you forget? Especially now, right when we were to have our final duel." Sasuke bumped into a wall, and in the momentary distraction Itachi's hands clamped around his throat with the speed of a hawk snagging a mouse.
"What made you forget, Sasuke?"
Sasuke clawed at his brother's hand, and black spots swam in his vision as Itachi bodily lifted him off the ground. He tried to fight back, tried to really fight back, but he couldn't. It was like his body simply refused to obey. His kicks were as ineffectual as a child's, his fingernails failed to even break the skin of Itachi's hands, and his fists may as well have been gentle breezes for all the good they did. Itachi was no longer smiling. Somehow that was even more terrifying than the smile itself.
Itachi's grip tightened, and his voice grew harder. "What made you forget?"
The fingers were tightening, squeezing, but Sasuke still managed to hiss, "Forget what?!"
Itachi blinked then relaxed his grip, allowing Sasuke to drop to the ground and gasp for air. "Playing the fool to the end?" he said more than asked, tilting his head a few degrees. "In that case, I will just show you over and over again so that you'll never be able to forget. This time you won't be waking up in a mere week."
An icy wind howled and the world turned in on itself, twisting and churning until the sky was red and wrong, and Sasuke was staring at his mother walking home with a familiar-looking child. Was that him? How was this even—
"Burn this into your mind, Sasuke," Itachi whispered into his ear.
Sasuke turned swiftly, backpedaling as he did, but skidded to a stop when he saw his brother staring back at him. Itachi was different. The bags were gone from under his eyes, the lines running down his face were shallower, his skin was smoother, and he was suddenly four inches shorter. Most important of all, he was dressed in his full ANBU Captain's uniform, the scarred armor strapped over his chest and limbs.
Sasuke opened his mouth to say something, what exactly he wasn't quite sure. The words died in his throat when his brother vanished and their mother screamed.
A dango stall was systematically pulverized as Itachi leapt clear of some sort of a lightning jutsu. Sasuke wasn't phased, immediately rushing through the hand-signs for another attack.
A gout of chakra-laced fire proceeded to blast through the northern sector of the market district. As clay tiles fell to the stone cobbles of the street and windows shattered, spilling shards of glass in and out of burning buildings, Itachi simply shunshin'd out of the way and looked at the growing fire in a way that almost seemed like dismay. Sasuke couldn't be certain, but he thought he'd heard his brother muttering something about outstanding property-damage reparations for Konoha. He growled as he alighted on one of the rooftops that wasn't on fire. Was Itachi mocking him?
He put the thought to the side as he hurled a brace of shuriken in a curving trajectory. Itachi didn't bother to block them, seeing as they weren't even aimed at him, but his eyes widened when the ninja wire attached to them tightened and sent them whipping around his body. Once the shuriken had looped around Itachi three times, effectively immobilizing him, Sasuke snarling face turned scarily blank.
A second later his hand was crackling with lightning and bursting through his brother's back.
Itachi twitched, blood dribbling from his mouth before he sagged and dissolved into a murder of crows. Sasuke pulled his hand free and stared at the hollowing body in silence, watching as the ninja wire went slack once it no longer had anything to bind. Of course it wouldn't be that easy.
In a single fluid motion, he turned, drew his snake sword, and slammed the flat of the blade straight into the kunai that Itachi brought up in a block. He pushed harder, testing his brother's strength, but was met with an equal resistance.
"Sasuke," Itachi said. The shinobi in question did nothing but push back even harder. All of a sudden, Itachi relaxed his grip on his kunai, allowing Sasuke to rip right through his guard. Sasuke very quickly realized that he was off balance. This was right around the same time that Itachi's knee collided just below his sternum with a sickening crack.
Most would have doubled over, gasping for breath while fighting the pain away. Sasuke merely grunted and shrugged off Itachi's attack like it was nothing, moving immediately to slice through his brother's side with a terrifying power behind his blade. Itachi calmly deflected the strike with the flat of his kunai, then almost contemptuously shoved his brother away with a palm-strike to the chest hard enough to force him land on a different roof.
Sasuke recovered flawlessly, rolling to his feet and using the momentum to propel himself up into the air towards his brother where he spat out even more fireballs. Itachi's sharingan flared to life and he slipped through each and every incoming missile, moving through the flames like a ghost. Sasuke landed on the same roof his brother was on, then immediately began sprinting towards him, sword at the ready.
"Sasuke," Itachi said again, "listen to me." Sasuke swung the sword straight through him, cleaving him from his shoulder to his hip. Itachi stared at his brother in complete shock, blood squirting from the slash across his torso before he dissolved into crows yet again, the birds cawing harshly as they ripped themselves free from his body.
The wind blew, fanning the fire that was quickly roaring out of control, and possibly for the first time that day Sasuke noticed the almost constant screaming as people tried to stop it from spreading. Inconsequential. Far louder were the screams of his dead kinsmen, all of them pleading to be avenged so they could rest in peace.
"Tell me, is there a reason you attacked me in the middle of a heavily-populated city? Is this another of your efforts to prove your own strength like an ignorant child?" Sasuke turned. He and Itachi were suddenly standing in the empty street. There were panicked cries in the air, but there was no fire, no smoke, nothing. Even the dango stall was somehow whole again.
"Can you hear them?" Sasuke asked. Itachi tilted his head, almost as if in bemusement. Sasuke's fists were shaking. "I can hear them. Every scream, every moan, every last, desperate gasp for air. I can hear them like they're being killed right in front of me."
Itachi blinked, then frowned. "Sasuke, I am unaware of what you are referring to."
Sasuke chuckled, and Itachi faltered at the sound. That wasn't Sasuke's usual laugh. It was quieter . . . darker.
"The Tsukuyomi is an incredible genjutsu."
Itachi went rigid, and his breath hitched. How did Sasuke even know about that jutsu?
"However," Sasuke continued, seemingly dismissive of his brother's shock, "it won't work on me anymore. I'm too strong for you now. My eyes have changed. I have changed."
In the back of Sasuke's mind a white snake chuckled in triumph, and its power released in a wave of ink and fire. Itachi could only stare numbly as his brother's body transformed until all that was left was a grey-skinned monster with mismatched wings and blood-red eyes.
Ice flooded his veins. "Sasuke . . ." 'Is that really you?'
Sasuke blurred, and Itachi barely managed to dodge as his brother's lightning-cloaked hand speared through where he'd been only a second before.
"It's over, Itachi."
The air hummed with power.
"Sasuke, what are you doing?! Why are you just standing there?! Run!"
I can't just leave you here!
"You should do what she says, Sasuke. It is becoming dangerous to be here."
Why are you doing this?!
"Sasuke, please run! Please! Itachi, you don't have to do this! You don't have to kill him!"
Brother, please! Not our mother!
"Goodbye, mother. Convey my greetings to father for me."
Uchiha Mikoto slumped to the ground, her clothes quickly staining red as blood gushed from her gaping throat.
Sasuke could only watch in numb silence while his younger self screamed his horror.
"Brother, why?! Why would you do this?!" It went on for almost a minute, Itachi passively enduring the wailing of his younger brother before Sasuke finally broke down sobbing over the body of their mother, clutching to her dress like a lifeline.
And suddenly, Sasuke was his younger self. He could feel the coarseness of his mother's dress in his fists, the horrifying warmth of her blood pooling beneath him, the way the broken sobs shook his small frame, and every bit of loss and crushing sadness, somehow knowing that it would never end.
Something brush against his cheek: something cold and clammy. He opened his eyes, and a block of ice dropped into his stomach.
His mother was sitting up again, staring at him, her loving expression clashing horribly with the bloody slash through her throat. He couldn't stop himself from shaking, from scrambling away from her touch. Pure fear crept up his throat.
"M-mother?" he whispered.
She smiled serenely, and the hair on Sasuke's neck stood on end. "Oh, Sasuke, my little boy." She reached for him, and he flinched away. Mikoto's expression filled with pain and hurt. "Why didn't you save me? Don't you love me?"
His jaw moved up and down.
Tears welled in his eyes.
Almost as if to protect itself, his mind shut down.
The air was alive with lightning as countless bolts of electricity seemed to explode from Sasuke's body, some of them catching the power lines which in turn snapped and began to writhe dangerously. Itachi dodged them all, shifting and ducking out of the way with preternatural grace and speed. He blurred into existence right behind his younger brother.
"Sasuke, is this the power you supposedly stole from Orochimaru?" Itachi took a step forward, his now-red eyes rapidly scanning the way muscles bulged unnaturally under leathery grey skin. "It is tainted. Corrosive." Itachi's lips curled in disgust. "It still bears his scent."
Sasuke whirled around, demonic features twisted in a hellish snarl. "Don't you dare lecture me! With this kind of power I can avenge the Uchiha!" He lashed out with a backfist then jabbed with an elbow. Itachi smoothly blocked both attacks before brutally striking his brother in the kidneys and forcing him away.
The elder brother cocked his head. "Avenge the Uchiha," he repeated. "Sasuke, you're making no sense. Why would our clan need to be avenged?" He paused, examining his brother with piercing eyes. "It's that form, isn't it? It is twisting your judg—"
Sasuke didn't wait for him to finish, unleashing a giant fireball easily twice the size of anything he'd produced before, effortlessly demolishing an entire building through the force of the technique alone. Itachi vanished, reappearing a dozen yards away. 'How strange. He seems even angrier now.'
He filed the observation away when his brother landed lithely in front of him and blurred into an attack, sword cutting through the air and crackling with lightning. Even as Itachi drew his kunai, he knew that the sword wasn't something that could be parried. He instead stepped into Sasuke's guard, easily dodging the reflexive slash and making a blitz attack of his own at his brother's arm.
He was aiming to cripple, to subdue. He wasn't expecting Sasuke to actually block. As he jerked away from the numbing current of the sword after being forced to drop his kunai from the electric jolt that ran through his arm, Sasuke seized the opportunity to kick him square in the chest, hard enough to launch him off his feet and propelling him a few yards away.
'He shouldn't have been able to do that from that angle. The Sasuke I know isn't that fast.' Itachi's gaze sharpened even as the appendages on Sasuke's back flexed in challenge. 'That form truly is monstrous.'
The older Uchiha twisted in midair and settled on the roof of one of the buildings that wasn't currently burning to the ground, fixing his younger brother with a red-eyed stare. "What lies did Orochimaru feed you, Sasuke? How else has he twisted your mind?" 'How else has he corrupted you?'
This time the fireballs were shaped like dragons, roaring towards their target. Itachi dodged with ease. The town wasn't so lucky. The fire was spreading fast, eating through the wooden buildings with a dismaying speed. Itachi was groaning inside. This was causing far too much damage already, and there would doubtless be more if this dragged on any longer. "Sasuke," he said, "I can no longer afford to indulge you like this. From now on I'll be fighting without restraint."
Sasuke's response came in the form of more fire, the heat searing the air between them.
Itachi almost sighed as he somersaulted out of the way. "Have I ever told you the definition of insanity?" He ducked out of the way of another two fireballs. These two were harder to avoid, though, as they appeared to home into his chakra signature or something of that nature. Itachi merely baited them before jumping out of the way at the last second, allowing the flames to spill over the wooden rooftops as he dropped to the ground. "Repeating the same action over and over, yet expecting a different outcome than all the times before."
Sasuke ignored the jab and blurred through more hand-seals before expelling another gout of fire. Itachi was almost embarrassed. Not only was his brother attacking him with the same techniques over and over again, he was missing. This was a disgrace.
He'd have to use a water jutsu to put the fire out after he was done subduing his little brother.
He was about to blur into his own attack, but stopped short when Sasuke's eyes flickered up. Itachi looked up as well, but saw nothing but plumes of black smoke against a front of clouds, the black steadily devouring the white.
"It's finally enough."
Itachi couldn't help his curiosity. "What's finally enough?"
Sasuke's skin appeared to be ablaze for a moment until the surface shifted, flames of the curse seal receding to their source. His skin-tone returned to its normal hue while his hair became dark again. 'He has more than enough to keep going, so why?' Itachi wondered. 'Is he trying to conserve that chakra?'
"The air. It's finally hot enough."
Itachi's brow twitched, and the barest signs of confusion forced their way to the surface. "Hot enough? What for?"
Sasuke cracked his neck, then looked back to his brother. "The rising heat from the fires feeds into the atmosphere. The air temperature increases rapidly, and an ascending air current is formed."
Itachi's confusion grew. "An ascending air current? What do you intend to do with that?"
The sky rattled with thunder, and it began to rain. The fires slowly died down, and Itachi relaxed almost imperceptibly as he realized that was one less thing he had to worry about.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when the air erupted with lightning, countless bolts of electricity striking home around them. His sharingan went on overdrive, tracking each and every bolt. With a sudden flash of comprehension, he realized that he was being herded. Trapped.
"I'll use it to make your death a reality."
Itachi's eyes snapped up to see Sasuke staring down at him from a distant roof, hand brimming with lightning chakra and raised up towards the heavens. Sasuke stared, and in his eyes Itachi saw nothing but a terrible coldness. "This jutsu guides the lightning down from the heavens. All I have to do is direct its power right at you."
Something cold settled in the pit of Itachi's stomach. "To harness the power of a storm. You truly mean to kill me, don't you?"
Sasuke tilted his head, as though in bemusement. "Was that ever in doubt? Come!" He opened his palm and a bolt of energy shot straight up, disappearing into the storm. Then the clouds parted, and an enormous dragon-like beast forced its way through with an earsplitting roar.
Itachi eyes widened to the size of saucers as he gasped. "You tamed a creature like that?" The beast writhed in the sky, its body flickering with bottomless power.
Sasuke snarled, his voice consumed with hate. "Vanish with the thunder clap! Kirin!" The lightning-bearing hand came slashing down.
There was a split second when the world seemed to stand still. Then the beast lunged, and everything went white.
"Pathetic. To think that you who presume to be a shinobi would be brought low by something so trivial."
A seven-year-old Sasuke continued mumbling to himself, running desperately through the clan compound away from his brother. Itachi easily followed him, predatory grace in every movement.
"I must say, though, I'm disappointed. Years and years of waiting for your strength to grow, only to amount to this."
Sasuke rounded a corner, slipping out of sight. Itachi hissed in annoyance before blurring into existence right in front of his brother. "What is it that you keep babbling?"
The child before him merely looked down and rubbed at his eyes, sobs shaking his shoulders. "Not . . . not real! None of it's real!"
Itachi scoffed. "One's reality might be another's illusion. We all live trapped in our own fantasies." He tilted his head, red eyes spinning. "However, it seems you're trapped in your own hell."
"Didn't you hear me, Itachi?" Itachi nearly flinched—that was not the voice of a child. Sasuke looked up, and his sharingan whirled. "None of this is real." His form shifted and grew until he was a teenager once more. He raised his hand and looked his elder brother dead in the eye. "I've had enough." He snapped his fingers, and the world shattered, little fragments of reality tumbling away.
Within moments Itachi was on his throne in the fortress again, clutching at eyes that leaked blood while gritting his teeth against obvious pain. Across from him Sasuke stumbled and nearly fell, struggling to regain control of his own body. The younger Uchiha panted, red eyes darting around to verify his surroundings.
Itachi just glared. "You . . ."
Sasuke's head snapped up, and he instantly raised a kunai in warning. He wavered when Itachi broke down into a coughing fit, the wet hacks echoing throughout the throne room, but he never lowered his weapon.
Blood dribbled down Itachi's chin. He drew in a wheezing breath, then fixed Sasuke with a stare so enraged that the teen wondered what he'd done wrong. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"What?" Sasuke asked, now truly and utterly confused. First his brother attacked him, then trapped him in a genjutsu, and now he had the nerve to pretend not to know who he was? "Do you know how insane you sound right now? Mother's going to love hearing about this."
Itachi's glare could have set him ablaze. "What have you done with my brother?"
Sasuke froze. "You . . . you actually think—"
"You are not my brother. Where is he?" Itachi's voice was a deadly hiss, and his face was absolutely murderous. Sasuke blanched as he took a hasty step back. He whitened further when Itachi rose from the throne and took his own unsteady steps towards him. "What have you done with him?"
"Itachi, I am your brother!" Sasuke was panicking now, backpedaling to put more distance between them—Itachi was actually going to kill him.
The elder Uchiha continued to stumble forward. "You are not him. You lack sorrow. You lack hate. It's not that you've forgotten, but that you were never there." He coughed and blood sprayed from his mouth, staining the stone floors red. "The Sasuke I know would fight to the very end. He was no coward. He always—" Itachi coughed again, and this time he didn't stop. He fell to his hands and knees, his entire frame shaking. Despite his instinctive desire to help his brother, Sasuke stayed back, having gained a healthy amount of caution over the past few hours.
"Itachi, let me bring you home. I don't know what's wrong with you, but it looks bad."
The older man ignored him, continuing to cough his lungs bloody all over the stone floor.
"Itachi, you need help," Sasuke pleaded, his voice slightly more strained. He didn't risk moving any closer, though. As crippled as his brother seemed at the moment, he could still strike with the speed of a swooping hawk.
The coughing got even worse, getting louder to the point that Sasuke could barely hear himself think. Then Itachi collapsed on his stomach, seemingly dead to the world.
"Itachi!" Self-preservation be damned. Sasuke ran to his brother, turning him over and checking for a pulse. He sagged in relief when he felt it—weak and erratic, but still there.
Itachi's eyes flickered open, and Sasuke wondered if they had always been so glassy. "S-Sasuke . . ."
"Don't move. It won't be good for you." What was he going to do? The Hidden Leaf village was four days away, and the nearest village was at least six hours away when traveling at breakneck speeds. He couldn't just leave his brother like this.
"Sasuke . . ."
"I'm here, Itachi."
"No, you're not . . . you're not my brother."
A lump lodged itself in Sasuke's throat. He tried to convince himself it wasn't there. "You don't even know what you're saying, Itachi. Just rest for now. Help will—," Sasuke hesitated before gritting his teeth. "Help is on its way," he lied.
"What did you do to my brother?" Itachi's face twisted into a snarl, but it was clear that he was losing energy quickly. "If you've done anything to him, I will kill you."
Sasuke felt like he'd just been stabbed in the gut. He swallowed, then took a deep, shaky breath. "Your brother is safe," he whispered. "We haven't done anything to him."
Itachi was clearly unconvinced, but he didn't have the time to say anything as he began to convulse, blood suddenly spraying from his mouth with congested coughs. Sasuke's eyes widened as he panicked. "Itachi?! Itachi!" He didn't know what to do! His brother was dying right in front of him and he didn't know what to do! "ITACHI!"
Then Itachi went still and Sasuke froze as well, too afraid to move.
There was a gasp for air, and one final whisper.
Itachi died with his face twisted in pain.
Sasuke simply sat there for the longest time, not knowing what else to do.
In the dim light of the throne room, his eyes gleamed a new red.
Author's Note: Canon!Itachi was terminally ill, remember? His death was an inevitability. Poor RtN!Sasuke was unlucky enough to witness it and ended up awakening the Mangekyō. As for Canon!Sasuke and RtN!Itachi, you'll see what happens to them soon enough.
Anyway, now who do you think is stronger? Canon!Sasuke or RtN!Sasuke?