Title: Reality's Illusion
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Rating: T/PG-13
Warnings: Violence, death, language, and spoilers.
Chapter WC: 2,921
Story WC: 2,921
First Written: February 5, 2009
Last Edited: February 6, 2009
Posted: February 6, 2009
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. This work has not been endorsed by Kishimoto Masashi, Shueisha, Viz Media, Shōnen Jump, Studio Pierrot, Aniplex, or any of the others holding copyright or license to the Naruto manga, anime, movies, and products. No connection is implied or should be inferred. Other names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. Any similarities, without satirical intent, to copyrighted characters, or individuals living or dead, are purely coincidental. This is not a commercial work. The author receives no financial gain from its production or distribution. It is available without charge.
Summary: [The dead do not walk, but the broken do not die, so where does that leave him?] When a blue eyed man with whisker-like scars and no memory shows up four years after the Yondaime's death Sarutobi doesn't know what to think. [Time travel. No pairings.]

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Reality's Illusion

Chapter 1
Falling into Existence

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The sand whipped against his skin, causing a sharp stinging sensation with each impact. His feet sunk into the ground with each step as the sand shifted beneath his weight, forcing him to shift accordingly. Each step was a struggle, a battle against the winds that threatened to throw him back to whence he came.

It took hours for the sandstorm settled down. It left in its wake an unsettling stillness that smothered the land. Dune after dune was all he could see for miles. No movement. No sign of life.

He trudged on regardless.

The sky above was a pure blue, free of clouds. The sun beat down on the land with warmth that seemed to be growing every second and was quickly encroaching on unbearably hot.

It didn't bother him. He was more than used to the desert. And besides, pain was only temporary.

Walking through the desert seemed like a dream to him sometimes. Like his body wasn't really there, only his mind. Or maybe it was the other way around. He wasn't even sure how long he'd been walking. It seemed like it had been an eternity, and maybe it had. In a way he felt as though he'd always been here, slowly making his way through the desert.

But he'd known green lands once. Or at least he thought he had. He could remember lush forests, rough mountains, and clear rivers that rushed into the sea, but those memories were hazy, like a dream. Maybe it had only been a dream. Did such places even exist beyond the boundaries of imagination?

He walked on, paying no attention to the sun as it rose and fell countless times. He never felt exhaustion, though he had a feeling that he should have. He didn't allow his mind to rest on such thoughts for long though. He was too detached.

Detached from this reality.

Or from this dream. He wasn't sure which it was yet.

But even if his mind didn't notice it, his body slowly began wearing down. It happened in slow increments until, without warning, his mind was blanketed with darkness and his body fell limply into the scorching sands.

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Hochu Otsuka had always led a simple life. His parents had been merchants in a large town on the eastern edge of the Land of Wind called Arata. They hadn't been rich and in fact had struggled to stay above poverty for most of their lives.

Otsuka had followed in their footsteps and become a merchant himself after their untimely deaths when he was 20. Fortunately, Arata did a lot of trading with the Land of Fire, so plenty of merchants were needed in the large town. Otsuka made only a meager living, but he was content.

The one aspect of his profession that Otsuka highly disliked was the annual trip he had to make between Arata and Sunagakure in order to record his transactions at the capital. He had never been a very athletic sort of person and age had only made his bones ache all the more, so he never looked forward to the harsh trip. To top it off, Otsuka often had to make the trip alone because he rarely had the money to hire shinobi to escort him along the hidden roads that crisscrossed the Land of Wind.

It was a good thing that no one grew up in the Land of Wind without learning the ways of nature or he'd never be able to make the trek.

On one such trip returning from Sunagakure, Otsuka came across a rather odd sight: A man lying face down in the sand. Otsuka rushed over to his side and breathed out a sigh of relief when he found that the man was alive and apparently unharmed. It looked as though he was only sleeping, although Otsuka had certainly never seen anyone sleep in the desert before, let alone in such a manner.

With a grunt, Otsuka managed to turn the man over so that he was lying on his back. The man was relatively young, the merchant noted; only his in mid twenties. What really struck Otsuka however was the man's blond hair. Blonde wasn't too uncommon in these parts, but he'd never seen anyone with such a shockingly bright yellow coloring before.

Another curious thing about the man was the three parallel scars that lined each of his cheeks. They were faded with age, but still quite distinguishable. Otsuka frowned, wondering how he could have gotten such marks. His clothes were made of a coarse, dark material that he'd seen on shinobi before though, so perhaps that explained it.

With a sigh, Otsuka stooped down and slung the unconscious man's arm around his shoulder and pulled him up. He staggered under the man's bulk—for though the blond was not tall, his frame was lined with wiry muscles—but managed to right himself after a few moments. Then, step by step, he began a halting walk forward.

Otsuka could not just leave the man lying in the desert in good conscience. In fact, it never really occurred to him to leave him behind. As such, he never once complained as the day faded into night and a journey that should have been over hours before dragged on and on.

Finally, just as the stars were coming out, the short, tan colored buildings of Arata came into view. Otsuka smiled in relief. His body was screaming for him to put down his burden; he wasn't used to such strain, especially not for so long.

He didn't stop yet however. He carried the blond haired man straight to the hospital, which fortunately was open 24/7. A nurse helped him ease the unconscious man onto a gurney, took his story and made note of where the man had been found, and then wheeled him away.

Otsuka would wonder for the following weeks just who that man had been, but before long the incident passed from his mind. It didn't matter anyway; he never saw the man again.

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Hatake Kakashi had not been having a good day. Well, week, really, but he didn't want to think that far back.

It was supposed to have been a simple mission—or at least as simple as ANBU missions could get. And indeed it had been simple; just a political mission between Konohagakure and Sunagakure for which he hadn't even brought his ANBU mask, to ensure the strength of their relatively new treaty. It had gone smoothly at first, but had ended with an altercation that had left him with a twisted ankle.

To be honest, his pride had taken a worse blow than his body. Things like this weren't supposed to happen to shinobi, let alone ANBU, and never mind that he'd been a part of ANBU for less than a year. Shinobi were supposed to be graceful warriors, capable of speeding over miles and miles of land without ever once hesitating.

Of course, what they often forgot was that they were human too, with bodies just as fragile and easily damaged as a civilian's.

As such, that afternoon Kakashi found himself in the hospital in a border town called Arata. He'd passed through the small city on his way into the Land of Wind and would have gone straight by it again had it not been for his ankle. Normally he would have ignored a basic injury like this, but he wanted to get back home as soon as possible—it'd been a simple mission, dammit—so he wanted to get some pain medication to hold him over.

Things never went smoothly. Kakashi should have realized this by now. What should have been a basic transaction consisting of money and pain pills ended up with him following a nurse up to the third floor of the hospital as she went to retrieve more medication from a storage closest.

They just had to run out of stock on the bottom floor the day that he stopped by.

Kakashi held back a sigh of exasperation and leaned back against the nearest wall as he watched the nurse disappear into the storage closest. The young ANBU let his gaze rove around the hallway as he waited. After a moment, his eyes fell on a man who was sitting in a chair at the end of the hall, staring out a window.

Though Kakashi spent a few moments staring at the man, he didn't really register in the young ANBU's mind. He was just another patient, probably one who was waiting to be released. A shinobi too, Kakashi thought as his eyes picked up the little signs that accompanied a seasoned warrior.

Then the man's head turns toward him and Kakashi's world froze.

For a moment Kakashi was sure that he was looking at Namikaze Minato, as impossible as it seemed. Then his mind reevaluated that thought as he took note of the whisker-like scars on the blond man's cheeks. But that wasn't possible either. He'd only ever seen those marks on one other person: A little four year old boy back in Konohagakure. What was the chance that there would be two people in the world with the same whisker marks, bright blond hair, and blue eyes that belonged to a man now four years dead?

Zero, Kakashi decided with a narrowing of his eyes.

"Here you go, shinobi-san," the nurse said brightly.

Kakashi tensed momentarily. He'd been so caught up in his study of the Minato/Naruto look-alike that he hadn't even heard her approach. He silently berated himself for the potentially lethal lapse in observation, but didn't take his eyes off the blond, even as he took the bottle in the woman's hand.

"What's his name?" the ANBU casually asked the nurse.

"Hmm?" The woman followed his line of sight to the patient next to the window. "Oh, him? That's Shitsumei."

"'Name unknown'?" Kakashi questioned sharply. "He has amnesia?" His voice was a little harsher than he'd meant and his eyes cut abruptly over to the nurse, but it couldn't be helped.

The nurse nodded, completely oblivious to Kakashi's unease. "Yes," she replied. "A man brought him in three days ago. He'd found him unconscious in the desert. I think the heat must have gotten to him, but," the nurse lowered her voice conspiratorially, "the doctors can't find anything wrong with him! According to them he was perfectly healthy even when he was brought in. They can't find any reason for him to have lost his memory."

The young nurse met Kakashi's eyes and suddenly seemed to realize that she was talking to a shinobi and not one of her coworkers. She flushed and straightened instantly and began tugging at the hem of her smock self-consciously.

"Anyway," the woman said hurriedly, "He's only here because no one's sure of what to do with him yet. No one has reported anyone who looks like him missing. He'll probably be handed over to the police in a few days and they'll figure out what to do from there."

Kakashi attempted to give the woman a smile to calm her nerves, but was pretty sure that he failed miserably. "Thanks for your help," he said and they both glanced down at the bottle in his hand, glad to break the tense atmosphere. "I'll be able to find my way out from here."

The nurse nodded and hurriedly walked back toward the elevator, more than happy to get away. Kakashi watched as she left and then turned his attention back onto the disturbingly familiar blue eyed man.

The man, Shitsumei, glanced up as Kakashi approached despite the ANBU's silent footsteps, reaffirming his suspicion that he might be a shinobi. Kakashi was, however, surprised to notice that the man didn't look the least concerned, even as he stopped beside him. In fact, the man's gaze looked rather...empty...to Kakashi. It was as though the man was looking through him instead of at him. Like he wasn't entirely there.

Kakashi suppressed a shiver and shoved down such absurd thoughts. He stared hard at Shitsumei for several long minutes. The blond never said anything to him or even paid much attention to him. As a matter of fact, after a cursory glance Shitsumei turned back to the window and seemed to ignore his presence completely.

"What's your name?" Kakashi asked finally. It was a question he technically already knew the answer to, but it was the best place to start.

The blond glanced at him once more and this time, didn't turn away. Now that he had those eerie blank eyes on him though, Kakashi wasn't so sure that that was a good thing. He suppressed another shiver and reminded himself that he was a shinobi, an ANBU, no matter how much this man made him feel like a little boy again.

"They call me Shitsumei here," he said finally.

"But that's not your real name, is it?"

A perplexed look flashed across Shitsumei's face, gone as quickly as it had come. "No. It's not."

Kakashi realized that he wasn't going to get anything more than that from Shitsumei. The man was a strange one, to be sure. He continued to stare at Shitsumei, silently debating an idea in his mind. In a few seconds he had come to a decision.

"I used to know someone who looked just like you," the ANBU commented with faux nonchalance. Shitsumei cocked his head to the side, looking like he was really paying attention for the first time in their conversation. Kakashi took that as a good sign and continued. "If I didn't know better I'd say you were twins. Why don't you return with me to my village, Konohagakure? Perhaps I can help you to get your memories back."

"Konohagakure..."

Shitsumei said it as though he was testing out the word. His voice was gravelly as though from lack of use, Kakashi noticed. He tucked away the observation in his head, adding it to the pile of growing questions surrounding this nameless man.

The corner of Shitsumei's mouth quirked upward as though a smile was fighting to break through, but his face fell back into deadpan only moments later. Kakashi could have sworn that he'd seen a spark of life in the man's eyes, if only for an instant.

Shitsumei never actually agreed aloud to go with Kakashi. He didn't need to.

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Konohagakure. The name rolled off Shitsumei's tongue with surprising ease. He repeated it over and over in his mind, marveling at the warm feeling that it brought him, though he didn't know why.

Shitsumei had always felt as though he was looking at the world through a haze. (But how long was "always"?) Every now and then however something would stand out with startling clarity against everything else. This silver haired man was one of those things. The young man's face was almost painfully sharp compared to the rest of the world and when he looked at him it was as though the rest of the world faded back into nonexistence.

There was something important about this man tugging at the back of Shitsumei's mind. But Shitsumei wasn't one to dwell on things, so he didn't and the sensation quickly passed.

Shitsumei followed the silver haired man from the hospital without a second thought. It never even occurred to him to stay; he had no reason to. He also leapt from the hospital window and onto the outside rooftops after the man without thinking about it. It felt natural for him to do so, as though he'd done it his entire life.

But he couldn't remember having ever done so before (There was only the desert, stretching on into eternity) so he didn't let his thoughts linger on it.

As they left the large town and moved into more and more forested regions, Shitsumei could often feel his companion (But they hadn't always been teammates, once he'd been only a little boy—but he'd never been a child and had never met this man before) staring at him. He barely noticed the attention; he was too busy gazing at the forest around them.

He never could have guessed that there were so many trees. Each and every one was different, just as each and every leaf was different. It was fascinating to see.

After a day of traveling at high speeds through the treetops, the silver haired man began to slow. Shitsumei turned to him with a frown, incomprehension written across his face. He couldn't understand why the man had slowed down. He hadn't said anything since they'd left the hospital (He'd never liked hospitals. Though they tried to cover it up with disinfectants, there'd always been a scent of death lingering around the buildings that made him itch to get out) so he assumed they weren't at their destination yet.

"Are you alright?" Shitsumei asked (His voice was rough and raspy and he wondered if there'd ever been a time when it hadn't been). The other man shot him a confused look, so he expounded: "You're slowing down."

"We've been running for over two days straight without resting," the one-eyed man answered dryly. "I'm bound to get tired." He paused as though realizing something and shot Shitsumei an unreadable look. "Aren't you?"

"Tired?" He would have thought the answer would have been obvious. "Of course not."

The man said nothing else for the rest of the trip and Shitsumei wondered if he'd said something wrong.

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Sunagakure –Hidden in the Sand/Hidden Sand
Shinobi – ninja
Konohagakure – Hidden in the Leaves/Hidden Leaf
Shitsumei – name unknown

A/N: Eh heh, I'm supposed to be working on Failing Twilight, I know, but this story just fell into my lap. Literally. I didn't even know what I was writing until I completed the first scene. I had no idea what it was about or even which character it was—my mind kept leaping between Naruto, Cloud (FFVII), and Allen (DGM). Before long however, I started getting a bunch of different ideas for plots and eventually settled on Naruto. And it's just grown from there.

Anyway, I've seen time travel stories done too many ways to count, but I've never seen an idea quite like this before, so it should prove to be interesting. This story won't be my main priority though—Failing Twilight will take precedence among my Naruto works. I'll update this story as often as I can, but only when inspiration strikes me.

Please let me know what you think!

--S.R.

"You have to accept the past to change the future." - Anonymous