This piece contains spoilers for the Naruto manga! You have been WARNED!

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Setting: Takes place two or three years after Asuma's death.

Prologue: The End


Although the entire village was gathered at the gates, there was nothing but silence. The smaller children stood toward the back of the crowd, kept quiet only by the thick tension that rolled sluggishly through the air. In theory there should have been someone fidgeting with their head protector or shifting their weight from one leg to the next. At least one child should have let out nothing less than a few grumbles and nothing more than a moaning complaint. Someone should have coughed or let loose a few sighs.

But no one did.

Shikamaru filed these facts away as his dark, calculating eyes swept over the large gathering of ninja. He was still trying to think of a way out, trying to find some means of escape in what he knew was a hopeless situation. There were times when he felt cursed with such a gifted mind; this happened to be one of them. No one wanted the ability to accurately predict a horrible fate when the chances of his being wrong were as slim as Naruto giving up ramen. It only provided a sense of hopelessness, a sense of helplessness. In truth, he still one of them and this shed a sliver of light on situation at hand.

Then Tsunade removed herself from the crowd and Shikamaru fell back into darkness.

If the sorrow reflected in her hazel eyes was meant to be comforting, it was lost in the shortening distance between chuunin and Hokage. Tsunade stopped before Shikamaru, pausing a short moment; whether this was to gather her words or to banish regret, he would never know. But as she lifted her gaze to meet his, all pain had vanished to be replaced by a glazed and distant look Shikamaru could only reflect. It did not occur to him until later that he might not have appeared as nearly upset as he felt with such a blank expression.

"Shikamaru Nara," Tsunade barked. He straightened himself, holding his head high. He would leave with his head held high, if nothing else. "You have been charged with two accounts of espionage and three accounts of attempted murder. By the will of the Council and the power vested in me, I declare that you are hereby banished from Konoha Village." She paused to allow her words to sink in and her face hardened. "Should you return, you will be killed on sight. Is that understood?"

"Yes."

Tsunade removed a kunai, holding it before her as if she were about to slice open his head. Fear flashed across Shikamaru's eyes before she seized his left arm. She raised the kunai high before bringing it down across the metal plate of what had once been intended to be his forehead protector. Opening his eyes that had fallen shut in his surprise, he glanced down to see a thick groove cut through the leaf symbol.

As his arm fell limply to his side, he took a step back, daring a glance at the crowd once more. His parents were to his right; his father looked angry, his mother upset. They didn't really believe the charges held against him, did they? Naruto and Sakura came next, the latter on the verge of tears much like his mother; Shikamaru had complete confidence that they were on his side. Same as Shino, Kiba and Neji; even Lee and Tenten looked upset that he would no longer be one of them.

A sharp pain pierced his heart as he gaze fell on Ino and Chouji. So soon after Asuma's death and they were already losing one more; they didn't deserve this. No one deserved this. Unable to look at them any longer, he tore his eyes away and focused again on Tsunade. If he had to leave, he wanted the memories of his friends to be happy ones.

"Run, Shikamaru," Tsunade whispered, looking to their feet. The kunai was embedded in the ground, a sign that the ceremony of sorts was over.

"What?" For once the genius didn't have a clue.

"I said run and never come back." Her head whipped up, face contorted into an expression of anger and sadness one could not begin to explain. "You will die if you return. Run!"

Shikamaru promptly turned and stalked away toward the gates. They seemed so distant now, as if he'd never reach them. He paused in his slow stride, turning and risking one last glance at the assembled village. A thousand eyes stared back at him, some pitying, some desperate; most were angry and murderous. Suppressing a shudder he turned back to the gate.

And then he ran.

He ran until he had reached the gates and even then he did not stop. The former ninja dashed through the gates and into the world beyond, stumbling over roots and bushes. Branches scratched at his body and more than once he was sent colliding to the ground, a wave of mud rising up to greet him each and every time. Undaunted, he gathered himself up and sped off again. It was as if all common sense had deserted him; for now he was nothing but lost and confused.

When at last he did stop, he clutched his side, leaning against tree trunk, its bark rough and hard as he slid down to sink in the mud. He was in pain, muscles sore and limp. His various scratches stung in the fresh onslaught of rain and his breathing came in sharp, ragged intakes. There was a stitch in his side and overall Shikamaru felt extremely miserable. There was no telling how long he had run; it felt like years, though perhaps it had only been hours.

Either way, it seemed the end of his life had come at last and his personal hell had only just begun.

Tears streamed from his eyes, mingling with the rain and mud already streaking his face. He cried for being punished so wrongly, for being exiled when it was not fair for him to be. He cried while cursing the bastard that had caused all his pain and grief and again because it was not right for his friends and family to suffer so harshly. He cried for what seemed to be a life that had lost direction and for knowing that soon he would fade from Konoha history as if he had never existed.

Shikamaru curled into a ball and squeezed his eyes shut. Sobs sent shudders down his spine. He cried himself asleep, overwhelmed in despair and agony. Never before had he felt such loss and never before had he felt so very much alone.