Even after the final blows had rained down on him, and the dull rumble from up above told him that his makeshift grave was full again, it was long, dark hours before Hidan's panicked breathing slowly began to return to normal. At first he had lain stunned - his body had never sustained this much damage before - and barely registered the extra sets of footsteps and strange voices from up above. But after they'd gone and left him alone in dark silence, he noticed the lack of them. He still couldn't quite believe it. How could this have happened. To him? It was unthinkable.

Despite everything, he was, however, still alive. His head was whole, but, oh, what pain there was where hard rocks had rained down on him, first bruising his temple and cheekbone, then pain everywhere at once, until he could no longer tell which part of his scattered body it was coming from.

'Kakuzu will find me,' he told himself forlornly, and for some time he comforted himself with this, imagining how Kakuzu would reproach him for letting his guard down, how he would tease him for being bested by some fucking child prodigy, but at the same time be sewing him back together, calming his fears, large cool hands soothing his torn and fevered flesh.

But after only God knew how long down there in the dark, it began to dawn on him that Kakuzu wasn't coming. After all, hadn't he said himself that Kakuzu had probably finished as well, back when he thought he'd got rid of that fucking shithead Shikamaru for good? Back when, it suddenly swam into his mind, he himself had stabbed Kakuzu in the heart. In the darkness, blood rushed to his face in shame and misery. Maybe, after that, Kakuzu wouldn't want to find him. Maybe he'd see him as a liability, which, indeed, he'd become, or maybe - and the thought struck him like a blow to his own heart - maybe, because he'd let himself be so foolishly tricked, Kakuzu had been defeated and killed. Hidan shivered and licked his parched lips, trying not to think. But what else was there to do?

But no, no. Kakuzu had plenty more hearts after that one. And he was just too good, they'd never beat Kakuzu hand to hand. That Kakashi, while dangerous, had obviously lacked stamina. And the kids were worse than useless. Kakashi had several times exhausted himself needlessly defending them... and yet. The vague, confused memory of those extra footsteps above him swam back. Back-up? Had back-up arrived again. Just like last time... fucking Leader, he thought irrelevantly. If he hadn't called us back then, this would never have happened. We'd've slaughtered them easily. Oh, Jashin-sama, he prayed desperately, have I displeased you? Have I held back from righteously bloody slaughter too many times? I promised you deaths that I couldn't deliver. Oh my God, please forgive me. Remember how I served you at the Fire Temple. Remember how faithful a follower I have been...

And slowly, slowly, in the cold dark, under the damp heavy earth, over the course of long hours that turned into days and maybe weeks, the pieces of Hidan began to draw back together.

He spent his waking hours hallucinating and any sleep he got was plagued by horrifying dreams. The clayish earth pressed unbearably on his eyelids, the unbelievable pain of his severed limbs burned like alternating ice and fire. He could taste blood and earth in his mouth and his throat felt swollen and horribly dry. Fragmented memories chased each other through his fevered brain, each more horrible and shameful than the last. 'You talk too much,' he heard the hated Shikamaru say, over and over, and Kakuzu warning him, 'Don't let your guard down, you'll die.' And he began to toss and turn under the pressing earth, not yet registering what this meant, and at no point wishing, like he'd so often claimed, that he really could die. Nothing was further from his mind.

Tossing and turning, his hand clenching into a fist, Hidan suddenly realised that he could move. Somehow, his torso had reformed, and one arm was reattached. With panicked urgency he scrabbled and tore at the rocks and clay around him until he found the rest of his scattered body parts. He had no sense of how long it took to find them all, and afterwards he lay gasping and panting in the dark, exhausted, clutching them to him. Then all he could do was lay his battered limbs in the right places, trying to bind them with torn fibres of his cloak, propping then up with compacted clay. Kakuzu, he thought wretchedly, Kakuzu, if only you were here. He heard Kakuzu's voice in his mind, roughly telling him to sit still, stop complaining. He could almost feel one large strong hand between his shoulderblades, the other making sure his head was positioned just right, and his dry eyes began to sting. Slowly he blinked the tears away. What good would that do him? He just had to wait.

Passing the time with muttered prayers to Jashin and unsystematically tearing at the rocks and earth above him, tearing his fingertips as well in the process, Hidan finally found himself whole again.

And once whole, it really wasn't so very much of a struggle for him to get out of the hole, though it still took hours. The rocks and earth were only loosely compacted - he was lucky it hadn't rained much in this area. Still, he was panicked and desperate, he'd been struck by a blinding claustrophobic frenzy as soon as he was able to move the whole of his body, and he'd torn his hands and arms to shreds in his hurry. And he'd forgotten that the hole wasn't supposed to be the only thing keeping him in. As he reached the surface he'd been confronted with the freakiest looking reindeer thing which nearly scared him out of his wits.

In fact, there was a whole herd of them, and they might have succeeded in keeping Hidan down, had it not been for sudden sounds of disturbance in the distance that sent the lot of them bounding away. Hidan crouched shivering and blinking in the daylight which seemed blindingly bright after so long underground. There was a cool wind, and he was butt naked, covered in blood and dirt. What a fucking joke, he thought wretchedly. The immortal Hidan, one of the infamous zombie twins, reduced to this. Adrenaline ebbing away, he felt suddenly awful, dizzy and weak, for after all, he hadn't eaten or drunk anything for days, maybe weeks. He crawled a little way until he reached the edge of the clearing and there he collapsed panting in a patch of dewy grass.

He knew he couldn't rest for long. It was some lucky chance that had called - or scared - the deer away, and at any moment they might be back. He rubbed his hands and face on the clean grass and stretched, trying to ease the stiffness in his abused limbs, then crawled a little further. He found a little stream and drank deeply before splashing the water on his face, then over his chest and shoulders. He hated being dirty, especially when it made him sticky and stiff as well. Blood was caked thickly around his jawline, and his hair was full of mud and blood combined. He rinsed it through and slicked it back with water from the stream, catching sight of his reflection as he did so. Same handsome face, though thinner than before and a little dark around the eyes. Hidan smiled weakly at himself, and for a moment thought he saw a familiar masked face appear over his shoulder. But no, there was nothing - his heartbeat slowed again - he realised he was just getting confused, seeing things again, probably through pain, fatigue and lack of food.

As soon as he felt a little rested he pushed on more quickly, making for the place where he and Kakuzu had been ambushed all those days ago. He wasn't sure what he hoped to find there, given that the battle must be long over by now, but he couldn't think where else to go, and that place dominated his mind. When he found it, however, the place had changed almost beyond recognition. That huge crater in the ground! What the hell happened? Hidan asked himself. Other than that, there was no sign that a battle had recently taken place. Only - a glint of red and black caught Hidan's eye over into the bushes on the far side of the clearing - was that an Akatsuki cloak? He crossed over to it, and yes, it was. Kakuzu's cloak - they'd left it there.

Hidan knelt and picked it up, then buried his face in it as a wave of despair washed over him. Kakuzu wouldn't have left his cloak behind. Dead or as a prisoner, the Konoha ninjas had taken him away. A faint scent of Kakuzu still clung to the cloak, and Hidan inhaled deeply. Sure, he'd been a cranky, short-tempered heathen bastard, but they'd been together a while and, damn it, Hidan missed him so badly. He just couldn't deny to himself that Kakuzu had always been looking out for him. Why, when he'd always affected to find Hidan an irritating encumbrance? Hidan chuckled miserably into the cloak. He'd known Kakuzu hadn't really meant it. He remembered Kakuzu suddenly appearing out of nowhere in front of him as he'd been about to be skewered with that raikiri, and the dull thump of his foot connecting with Hatake Kakashi's chest. Kakuzu collecting his forehead protector for him before they left to seal the three-tails. Swinging by his hair as just a head from Kakuzu's hand, as Kakuzu... Hidan forcefully stopped his train of thought as the cloak under his face began to get strangely damp.

Wiping the back of his hand across his eyes, Hidan stood up and slipped the cloak on. It was a little big for him, but it felt good to be warm again. He found some soldier pills in one of the pockets and ate one. He caught sight of Kakuzu's discarded headgear lying on the ground and stuffed it in the other pocket, where his hand encountered something cold and hard. Something round - he drew it out. It was the Jashin symbol from his rosary - Kakuzu must have picked it up for him and forgotten it. Absurdly touched, and hugely relieved to have it back, Hidan pressed it to his lips, murmuring incoherent and barely intelligible prayers.

It was getting towards late afternoon by the time Hidan finally moved on, now making very definitely for Konoha. He had no clear plan of action, but he did have a strange feeling that something was happening, and as he drew nearer he could smell smoke on the air and hear far off rumblings and crashings. And by dusk, looking down on the village, he could see why. Destroyed. Totally destroyed. It was unbelievable. Apart from the very outskirts, everything was gone. Not much was happening now, though in the centre he thought he could see some movement. Obviously some people had managed to find shelter from whatever disaster had happened here.

He descended unnoticed into the village and began to comb through the crumbling buildings. And at last he found it - one wall entirely broken down and the second storey caved in, but the research facility was still standing.