The dull, steady throbbing on the back of my head woke me from unconsciousness. My eyelids fluttered as I lifted my head. The ground was cool and hard. Strangely smooth, too. Carefully, my fingertips slid across it, twitching at the sudden realization of where I was. Firmly I clenched them into fists and braced myself. Swaying, my body came to a stop, and I looked at myself in the mirror. Hair, which almost reached my shoulders, stood wildly off my head.

Dark circles stood out under my eyes, while countless scratches and cuts adorned my face, which I had probably caught in the fight against Dosu or afterwards, when Gaara ... or his demon, had held me. The wound on my neck was neatly bandaged. Neither blood nor pus could be seen through the thick bandage.

The pain that welled up in me because of Kankuros betrayal was pressing and stabbing. At the same time, my hand felt the back of my head, on which a small bump appeared. Dull pain shot up as my fingertips touched it and I growled angrily. He had knocked me down. How dare he? And most of all ... why? I had been so weak earlier, so how could I have stopped him, not at all?

Now that I had involuntarily found some peace, I still felt as if the Kyuubi had sat on me, but still. The power was coming back. I could feel it. Firmly, my fingers gripped the pendant around my neck. I had to move. Right now, and hoped I wasn't too late.

My hands slid to the kunai as soon as the noise of battle reached my ears. Footsteps and the sound of clashing blades grew loud in the hallway, and I peeked around the corner. An oto-nin was harassing Izumo. The chunin seemed to be slightly battered. The moment the enemy turned his back on me, I threw the knife. Up to the hilt it bored into his back, and he went down with a gasp. Izumo stared at the motionless man and looked around. I broke away from the shadows and nodded to him as I passed before he could say a word.

But the grateful look in his eyes was enough for me.

On the way to the tribune, I secretly collected all kinds of kunai and shuriken from the pockets of my opponents. Only to use them up again afterwards. I used as little chakra as possible, not knowing how long this fight would last. Carefully my eyes searched the stadium for the others. But I could not discover anywhere even a single Genin. Where were they all?

My gaze wandered to the tribune of the Hokage and froze. Clouds of smoke stretched over it. Dirt and filth were stirred up. In the middle of it all were Hiruzen Sarutobi and Orochimaru, the leader of the Otos. Not much I could make out through all the dust, but what I saw was enough for me to take a different path. Straight toward the bleachers opposite. In the middle of my run, a hand grabbed me hard by the shoulder and yanked me back relentlessly. Another grabbed my hip and broke my fall. Staggering, I came to a halt and found myself facing a glittering Sharingan.

„Where have you been little one?", Kakashi ruled me.

Taken off guard, I looked towards the Jonin and unintentionally ran my hand over the increasingly thick bump on the back of my head.

„Kankuro knocked me down," I muttered, and he paused.

„After he confessed to me that Sunas and Otos had allied to destroy Konoha. He seemed like ... he regretted it ... and I wanted to believe him, but now ... after he knocked me down ... I don't know," I said uncertainly and Kakashi nodded quickly.

„I see what you mean, but I think it will have to wait until the fight is over. You're probably wondering where the others are. The two Sunas fled with a battered Gaara. Genma sent Sasuke after him in pursuit, and then I sent Shikamaru, Naruto, and Sakura as well."

Abruptly, I stopped and looked around in panic. They were gone? Gaara after them? Did they even know what was coming for them? What if the demon broke out again?

„I have to go after them," I pressed out and Kakashi nodded.

„That's what I was planning to do. However, you won't go alone," the gray-haired man said and I noticed how a big shadow fell over me.

Shikamaru:

Annoying. I couldn't and wouldn't describe this situation any other way. Why me of all people? My chakra wasn't exactly available in quantities and on top of that I was much too unmotivated for the upcoming fight. Besides, we wouldn't be able to fight Gaara and the others at all, if you looked at the scene in the hallway.

In addition, we didn't even know if we would catch up with the Sunas at all, since we also had eight pursuers breathing down our necks. Not very promising. Which is why I had to do something about it.

So, I motioned the others to pause for a moment. Naruto's eyes lit up impatiently. Man, the guy was unstoppable. An inner fire had spread in him and once he had set his mind on something, there was no stopping him. Not even the Hokage could stop him. So much stubbornness was too annoying. Besides, it made one unnecessarily upset.

„What's wrong Shikamaru?" asked Naruto impatiently.

I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. This was going to be fun explaining my plan to him.

„So, we have eight pursuers breathing down our necks. That means if we were to catch up with Gaara and company, we'd have to deal with an additional eight men, which of course we don't want. Meaning, in plain English..."

„Someone has to throw them off the scent," Sakura concluded, and I nodded in agreement.

„Right. That will be me."

Naruto raised to protest, but I interrupted his rebellion.

„Listen. You guys want to end this too, right? And we can only do that if we stick together and believe in each other's abilities. With me, in this case, you could say I'm an A- at running away -"

„Nope you're the second best," Naruto interrupted me excitedly, giving me a distinct look.

Oh man. This guy was cracking me up. Of course, I knew she was better at running away than I was. Still. There I tried to make an impression once and there was always someone who meant to ruin the situation. Actually, it shouldn't surprise me with Naruto. Geez... What I would give for my bed now. Or a place by the lake, looking up at the sky at the clouds ... as they dreamily slowly ...

„Shikamaru."

Driven by the wind...

„Shikamaru!"

... sailed along... and ...

„My gosh. SHIKAMARU NARA!"

Upset, Naruto looked at me, and all at once I began to feel angry with myself. This was the most inappropriate time ever to be dreaming.

I grimaced. Some other time, then. All I had to do was survive what was coming. Should be somehow feasible.

Attentively I sat in the bush and waited for the pursuers to run into my trap. Naruto, Sakura and Pakkun had made themselves out of the dust, while I was bait and trap at the same time. I had to have everything under control now. One wrong step. One detail not thought through and it would be over.

And then they were there. Emerged in the clearing, looked around disoriented. Perfect for my jutsu. Focused, I let the shadow speed toward them, splitting it and trapping each one in place. Tears of sweat ran down my forehead from exertion, for this jutsu demanded quite a bit of chakra from me. In addition, I didn't have much left after the fight against Temari.

Slowly, I started to move and made myself known to the attackers.

„I can't believe we were fooled by a child," the one in front said and began to laugh. Firmly, I clenched my teeth to keep from making a biting comment.

"But you already know you're at quite a disadvantage boy. There aren't seven of us."

I froze. Damn. In fact, I had forgotten to count. Because here in front of me were not eight, but seven. That meant that the last one...

And my chakra was also on the verge of complete exhaustion. Best proof for it, my hands, which had begun to tremble before effort. What a bummer. I couldn't do it anymore. That was it.

Then I let go. Shakily, the shadows wandered back and joined mine.

„Good decision boy," said the leader and drew his kunai. Abruptly, I took a step back and frantically let my eyes wander for a place to hide.

A black-feathered arrow whizzed through the air and drilled directly into the chest of the ninja, who collapsed with a gasp. Three more fell hit by the black long projectiles. The remaining three were just a disoriented bunch, looking around overwhelmed for the invisible attacker.

Invisible. Wait a minute.

A dark large shadow sprang up from the undergrowth and attacked the remaining three ninjas with well-aimed punches, causing them to drift into other stages due to the abnormal force. Within seconds, they were incapacitated.

One of the ninja under his arm, Asuma turned to me and looked at me with a proud look.

„You did a great job Shikamaru," he said, and I couldn't even bring myself to nod, I was so exhausted.

„It's a good thing Tora agreed to go with me to find you."

I looked up as the skinny girl appeared next to my sensei. The bandage around her neck stood out from the dark clothing. Her eyes seemed tired, yet determined. At the same time, she seemed sad but angry.

„I will go after you. They don't know what they'll spark if they confront Gaara," Tora murmured softly. „Mostly, but also because I still have something to discuss with Kankuro."

Dark anger glowed in her bright eyes, coupled with an edge of disappointment.

What had this guy done?

Tora caught my gaze and recognized the shaky hands clenched into fists.

„Later, I'll explain everything to you. I promise. But for now, I have to see about catching up."

Then she was gone, leaving us behind.

„Come on," Asuma said. „Let's get you to the hospital first."

Bah. Hospital. How annoying.