Title: Reality's Illusion
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Warnings: Violence, death, language, and spoilers.
Chapter WC: 3,343
Story WC: 15,385
First Written: February 21, 2009
Last Edited: April 29, 2009
Posted: April 29, 2009
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.]
Dream of Eternity
Ichirou wasn't sure what to think about the meeting between Shitsumei and Naruto. The two seemed to be instantly drawn to each other, despite knowing nothing about the other. It took Ichirou a moment to realize that he was holding his breath as he watched them interact and he quickly breathed out.
Sarutobi gave him a curious glance, but Ichirou only shook his head. "You planned this, didn't you?" the Yamanaka asked after a moment.
"Of course," Sarutobi replied with a small smile. "I wanted to see what would happen when they met. Needless to say, I wasn't quite expecting this."
Ichirou made a small sound in the back of his throat. His gaze drifted back over to the identical blonds. "What are we going to do?" he asked, though he wasn't entirely sure just what he was referring to.
Sarutobi didn't answer. He continued to stare at Naruto and Shitsumei, a thoughtful look on his face. Ichirou frowned, wondering what was going on in the older shinobi's mind—and if he really wanted to know.
Shitsumei left the ramen shop with Ichirou a half an hour later. Though his face was currently hidden beneath his mask, the younger blond had a small, content smile on his face, something which was completely unheard of for him. His eyes were lighter than Ichirou had ever seen them and he seemed to almost glide over the ground.
"You seem pretty happy," Ichirou ventured after a few minutes.
"I suppose," Shitsumei said with a shrug. "That boy…He was the one you mentioned earlier, wasn't he? The boy who's connected to the Yondaime Hokage?"
"Hmm…" Shitsumei's pace slowed down a bit. "He's…interesting. Like—Like…
"Like what?" Ichirou asked curiously.
Shitsumei shrugged again. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "He's like a sun, in a way. His presence is blinding and eclipses everything else around us."
Ichirou blinked slowly. "…That doesn't make any sense."
The masked man didn't reply. He was staring at the ground now, lost in thought. Ichirou found himself staring at the mask on Shitsumei's face, tracing the blue designs with his gaze. It was surprisingly fitting, he thought, though he wasn't sure why.
"No, he's a whirlpool," Shitsumei said suddenly. Snapping out of his thoughts, Ichirou sent Shitsumei an inquiring glance, but the blond was still focused on the ground. "He will draw everything around him to him, regardless of how hard they struggle. One day he'll be the storm that will shape the world."
All of Ichirou's muscles seized up for a moment, as though an icy hand had gripped his heart. It took him a second to realize that he wasn't breathing and as soon as he did he took in a half-choked gasp of air.
"You—you sound so sure about that," he managed to force out after second. "Why?"
Shitsumei blinked and glanced up, broken from whatever pseudo-trance he'd been in. He shrugged. "He has a lot of…energy."
"You mean chakra?"
"No. Energy. He—He..." Shitsumei broke off, struggling to find the word he was looking for. For a moment Ichirou was strongly reminded of his niece and the similar struggle she'd had when she'd first met Shitsumei. "He's alive."
"…That doesn't make any sense."
Shitsumei just stared at him motionlessly and Ichirou was forced to awkwardly look away after only a few seconds. The younger blond's gaze was always hard to meet; it was intense and vacant simultaneously, leaving the onlooker feeling dazed, as though they'd looked into the sun for too long. At the same time however, one couldn't not look at Shitsumei. Though he didn't seem to notice it, he drew attention to himself wherever he went. People were just instantly drawn to him, like—like—
…Like a whirlpool.
Ichirou and Shitsumei didn't talk much for the rest of the day, even after they'd returned home. Not that they ever talked much anyway, but Shitsumei had become much more solemn than usual. It was as though Naruto was some sort of a drug to him; while meeting the boy he'd become filled with energy and life, but soon afterwards had crashed and once again become a mere husk of a person.
Honestly, it annoyed Ichirou. While intriguing, Shitsumei was also incredibly frustrating. Living with him wasn't exactly eventfully, but felt like a rollercoaster ride regardless. Ichirou was sure he was going to have a stroke from all this stress one day.
By the time night had fallen and Ichirou had just finished washing his dinner dishes, he suddenly realized that he hadn't seen Shitsumei for several hours. Drying his hands on a dish towel while frowning, he focused his senses for a moment so that he could home in on Shitsumei's chakra signature. To his surprise he found that the younger man was sitting up on the roof. Ichirou's frown deepened; what was he doing outside?
Ichirou quietly unlatched the kitchen window and pulled it open. It took him only a few seconds and a small amount of chakra to slip outside and dart up the wall. In no time at all he'd landed lightly beside his housemate.
Shitsumei was sitting in the center of the roof with one knee pulled up to his chest. An arm was slung casually across the knee so that his hand dangled before him. As was usual when he was sitting, he was motionless and unblinking while staring up at the night sky.
Hesitant, Ichirou stayed in his crouched position on the roof. Now more than ever, Shitsumei looked like some sort of ethereal being. For perhaps the hundredth time since he'd first met the odd, blue eyed man, Ichirou had the feeling that he just didn't belong here, among them.
"The stars look so lonely, don't you think?" Shitsumei abruptly asked. His voice didn't cut through the silent night air like one would expect, but instead threaded its way through it like a whisper in the wind.
Ichirou had to shoot a hand out to balance himself on the roof before he toppled over. He momentarily scowled at himself, annoyed by how easily Shitsumei was able to catch him—and, indeed, anyone—off guard.
"Lonely?" Ichirou repeated. "What…What do you mean?" He glanced up at the sky, where, thanks to the lack of clouds that night, thousands of shining points of light beamed down on them.
Shitsumei tilted his head to the side minutely, considering the question. "They look lonely and cold," he repeated. "They get to be up there, watching everything, but they're never a part of it. They see everything, but are nothing. They're separate. Alone."
A shiver ran down Ichirou's spine, though for the life of him he wasn't sure why.
Shitsumei didn't particularly care how long he'd been sitting outside, the cold wind didn't bother him and his muscles never cramped up from staying in one position for so long. He had no reason to move, no reason to stop staring up at the stars that had managed to catch his attention. It had been a while since Ichirou had gone back inside he knew, and even if he wasn't aware of just how long it'd been, he was content to stay where he was for the time being.
Eventually Shitsumei noticed two new chakra signatures on the other side of the house, but he paid them no mind. No doubt they were more ANBU, new additions to the two who were already watching him from the trees in the backyard. To the blond's confusion, however, the newcomers didn't join them outside, but instead slipped into the house. Shitsumei turned to glance down at the house, his curiosity caught.
What were the ANBU doing?
Silently, Shitsumei stood and trotted over to the edge of the roof. Channeling a bit of chakra into his fingers so that he'd stick, he gripped the edge of the roof and swung into the window below. He made no sound as he landed on all fours on the hardwood floor of the upstairs hallway.
(He hissed in pain as his feet slammed into the ground. One of his legs gave out beneath him, unable to support his weight any longer; he feared that it might be shattered. He pushed himself back up regardless, determined to press on)
The newcomers were almost directly below him, in the living room. Shitsumei ghosted down the stairs, sticking to shadows to avoid being seen. The newcomers hadn't noticed him yet, but he hadn't expected them to; the ANBU never seemed to, unless they were specifically told to. They were standing at the entrance to the hallway where Ichirou's room was, glancing about with sharp eyes that foretold professional experience.
Against his will, a tug pulled at the corner of Shitsumei's mouth. These men…weren't ANBU. They wore no masks and though they did have hitai-ate, the silver plates had strange, rock-like designs on them with a scratch through them. On top of that, Shitsumei could tell from a single glance that they had hostile intent.
Curious and confused, Shitsumei inched forward until he was standing behind one of the shinobi. "Who are you?" he asked.
(Who are you? His was voice slurred and his eyes glassy, clearly indicating delirium. The other man just sighed and slung one of his limp arms over his shoulder while ignoring his loud protests)
Instantaneously the man tensed up and whirled around, slashing out with a kunai. Shitsumei didn't even blink at the metal blade that sliced deeply into the flesh of his cheek—after all, the cut was gone before it could even start to bleed.
The intruding shinobi hesitated for a brief moment, as though confused as to how he'd missed. It was all the time Shitsumei needed for his hand to snap out and grasp the man by the neck, unconsciously channeling chakra into his arm as he did so to augment his muscles. At the same time, however, the second shinobi struck from behind, stabbing a kunai into his unprotected shoulder.
Again Shitsumei didn't blink, not even registering the pain. With his free hand he reached back and pulled the short blade from his flesh. It fell to the floor with a quiet clatter, spending drops of blood splattering across the wood. The shinobi snarled in wordless anger, though Shitsumei could clearly see fear in his eyes. He was like a wild animal: Panicked but determined.
In only a second, the shinobi ran through a series of hand seals. Shitsumei's skin prickled at the feeling of building energy and in a flash he was gone from his spot and had reappeared behind the shinobi. He motioned to swiftly chop the man's neck, but the man slipped beneath his attack and began to counterattack with a blow to Shitsumei's solar plexus. The blond completely ignored the blow in favor of grabbing the man's face in one lightning fast motion.
Without even thinking about what he was doing, Shitsumei began to channel chakra through his fingertips. Instantly the man started to scream while thrashing violently in his grip. Shitsumei watched curiously as the skin that he was touching began to blister and peel away. It took a few minutes for the man to finally go limp. Shitsumei knew without having to check that he was still alive—just unconscious—and dropped him to the floor.
"What the fuck?!"
Shitsumei glanced up to find Ichirou standing in the hallway, staring flabbergasted at the scene before him. He was spluttering, but seemed to be unable to come up with anything to say. His gaze seemed to be glued to Shitsumei's arm in particular and the younger blond glanced down to find that he was still holding onto the first shinobi by the neck. He was surprised to see multiple kunai and shuriken sticking out of his arm, where the man had apparently been stabbing him repeatedly in an attempt to get out of his grip.
"Monster! Monster!" the man sobbed hysterically. He'd given up on struggling now, but the terror certainly hadn't left his eyes.
(He gripped his head tightly while screaming wordlessly. Even as he tried to hold it at bay the red chakra just kept coming and coming, washing over him in wave after wave of burning pain—)
Abruptly Shitsumei let go of the man. He fell to the floor in an ungracious heap and immediately tried to crawl away from the silent blond. He didn't get more than a few feet however before Ichirou appeared by his side and knocked him out with a swift blow to the temple.
Ichirou glanced up at Shitsumei from his crouched position, but made no move to get up. His lips were thinned tightly and he looked like he wasn't sure whether to start demanding answers or just gape at him.
Shitsumei glanced over the two unconscious intruders with a disinterested air. "They attacked," he said in reply to the unasked question. "They are…not from Konoha, yes?"
"Yeah…" Ichirou said slowly, casting a fleeting look at their scratched hitai-ate. He sighed deeply. "Sorry about this, Shitsumei; they were probably after me."
The blue eyed man cocked his head to the side curiously. "Why?"
Ichirou smiled wearily. "I made a lot of enemies in the last war," he replied. "From the looks of it, these two are from Iwagakure originally, but are missing-nin now. They probably had some sort of a grudge against me and decided to try to get revenge now that they have no ties to their village. Of course, they could also always be loyal shinobi who were labeled as missing-nin solely for the sake of this assassination mission. "
"It's not the first time that this has happened."
A small chuckle slipped out between Ichirou's lips. "No, it's not," he said. "I…When I was younger, I was a very bitter man. And quite arrogant too. Coupled together, well…A lot has changed since then. Anyway, we should probably call the ANBU now; they'll be able to take care of the cleanup. Though I do have to wonder how these two slipped through their guard in the first place. Either they were lazy or these two were a lot more skilled than they appear…"
"I don't like this."
Sarutobi resisted the prevalent urge to rub his temple. "Yes, I realize that, Koharu," he said forcefully. He was beginning to wish that he was anywhere else at the moment, but this was an issue that had to be taken care of.
The Sandaime Hokage was seated a table with Utatane Koharu and Mitokado Homura, his old teammates. They were two of the people that he trusted the most, even if they didn't always see eye to eye.
"You can't say that this boy isn't highly suspicious," Homura said in a hoarse voice.
"Of course not," Sarutobi said patiently. "Everything about Shitsumei is odd and suspicious, but that doesn't change the circumstances. And, as I've said before, we have already verified that he's lost his memory."
"That means little," Koharu replied. "It could be a jutsu designed to wipe his memory for a set period of time so that he can get into the village without suspicion."
"All Shitsumei's done since arriving is draw suspicion and attention. Would it not be better for a potential assassin or spy to be someone who wouldn't be noticed easily?"
"Not if the point is to get you interested in said person so that they can get closer to you," Koharu retorted. "Don't forget, Hiruzen, that you're not just a shinobi—you're also our Hokage. We cannot afford to place you in danger, especially not just to satisfy your own curiosity."
"I am the Hokage for a reason, Koharu," Sarutobi said sharply. "I am hardly helpless and I most certainly do not let my guard down. The danger that Shitsumei presents certainly is a valid issue, however I believe that the opportunity that we have in him is much more important."
"But to use him as a shinobi?" Homura interjected. "He could so easily turn traitor on us."
Sarutobi nodded, not even attempting to deny it. "Yes, but so could every other shinobi in Konoha," he responded. "Considering the skill we've witnessed from him so far, it'd be an utter waste not to use his abilities to Konoha's advantage.
Koharu and Homura grudgingly nodded, but didn't look like they were ready to concede the argument quite yet.
"We don't even know what his skill level is yet though," Koharu pointed out.
"Then we'll test him."
"A spar?" Homura suggested.
The Sandaime considered the option for a moment before shaking his head. "To risky," he replied. "From what Yamanka Ichirou has said, Shitsumei works mainly on autopilot. We don't know if he'd be able to hold himself back in a spar. No, a simple mission might be better. Perhaps one to flush out some bandits?"
"I don't like this," Koharu said for what Sarutobi was sure what the tenth time.
"I know," he patiently answered. "But it's the best option at the moment. And of course, I'll send one of our more capable shinobi as his overseer. Perhaps an ANBU…" Slowly a smile spread over his face. "Actually, I believe I know the perfect shinobi for the job."
"I don't like this," Koharu repeated sullenly. Homura grunted in wordless agreement.
Sarutobi just shrugged. "For the better of Konoha, no?"
"Be careful," Koharu quipped, "You're starting to sound like Danzou."
Kakashi was starting to wonder if the heavens were conspiring against him. Sure, Shitsumei was an alright guy—and certainly interesting—but…Once already he'd spent several days traveling with him and he had no desire to repeat the experience.
But, of course, the Hokage didn't care about such things, so Kakashi was once again stuck with Shitsumei, this time to "secretly" judge what his level of skill was. Kakashi had no doubt that Shitsumei knew exactly why they were there. He also had no doubt that the older shinobi couldn't care less what they all thought of him.
It was the silence that got to Kakashi the most though as he leapt through the trees with the strange man. Sure, he was used to traveling in silence, but with Shitsumei it was different. He always felt like he was holding his breath, waiting for something. What that "something" was he had no idea, but such knowledge—and frustration—didn't chase the sensation away.
"We've found out about those two shinobi who attacked," Kakashi finally just, just to break that silence.
Shitsumei did nothing to show that he was listening, but Kakashi had no doubt in his mind that he was. The young ANBU cleared his throat awkwardly before continuing.
"They were in fact missing-nin; brothers who defected from Iwagakure together about two years ago," he said. "Uh, our Intel Department is working on getting more info out of them right now, but so far they've found that they wanted revenge on Ichirou-san because he apparently killed their squad during the war…Honestly, though, it sounds to me like there's a bit more than that to the story, since they went so far as to sneak into an enemy shinobi village just to try to kill him." He hesitated for a moment. "…They were Jounin, you know."
"And that's why you're all so curious," Shitsumei said abruptly and Kakashi barely managed to keep from stumbling in surprise. He cast a sidelong glance at Shitsumei and saw that the blond had a small, teasing smile on his face.
Kakashi honestly wasn't sure how to react to that. He'd never seen Shitsumei show any kind of emotion before, let alone smile. Granted, he hadn't seen him at all since he'd first brought him to Konohagakure some months ago, but the contrast still stuck out with startling clarity in his mind.
"Er, yeah," Kakashi answered with a cough. "I guess that's true. We know nothing about you, ya know?"
The smile faded back into Shitsumei's usual stoic expression. "Neither do I," he muttered, sounding surprisingly melancholy. "Neither do I…"
Hitai-ate – Forehead protector
Iwagakure – Hidden Stone
A/N: And thus the plot starts. Next chapter will hopefully come out a lot sooner; I've had a lot of different crap going on recently. Also, for this chapter, don't forget that Kakashi is around 18 at this time, so his personality is a little different than in canon. Well, right now at least.
Just as a side note, I use "hitai-ate" instead of "forehead protector" because the English term just feels so awkward to me. As such that's one of the few items that I call by its Japanese name instead of English. (Like "shuriken" instead of "throwing stars")
Oh, and a few people asked me where I got the quote (the Scottish tombstone epitaph) from. I actually found it in a psychology textbook, so I don't know where it's originally from. It's interesting to know that several people have seen it on tombstones though.
Thanks for all the reviews for the last chapter! And especially thanks to MegaB, for the errors that you pointed out.
"I slept for far too long and when I woke, the world was upside down...
And I was destined for hell, because I simply chose to disbelieve in heaven.
Perhaps I was just still asleep, somewhere out there, many years ago?
I entered a dream from which there was no waking." – Vitaly S. Alexius