Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
A/N: Apologies for grammatical/spelling errors. This was written for a prompt on a ygallery community for Shikamaru's birthday.
Shadows kept him company.
He hadn't seen another person in nearly three weeks and then it was only from a distance. Hidden in the forest, shadow blending into shadow, he watched.
He had survived this long alone; he would continue to do so.
Trust was not something easily given out here. Too easily trust was manipulated. He had learned that early on. He would not make the same mistake twice. No, he would keep his trust close to his heart, hidden, just like he kept living amongst the shadows of the ruined world.
It was nearing six months to the day the world ended with a bang.
"Not with a whimper," he added, mumbling to himself. Carefully maneuvering around the taut strings he had rigged as an alarm, he moved further into the building currently called home.
That word had changed often in the past months. Always moving, always walking, home never remained the same. It flitted from derelict shack to tree canopy to a tent among the barren wilderness.
He couldn't remember what his home used to be; it seemed so long ago. Not that it mattered.
It was the past. Home was gone.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
Three days later, he reached the outskirts of what used to be a city. No building was higher than six stories, maybe seven, now. Rubble and vehicles and possessions still littered the streets, everything dropped and abandoned in a single moment.
He rarely saw bodies anymore, only the remains of the stubborn bastards who elected to stay behind.
Wrong—who refused to give in.
Most people had fled before the destruction and were smart for doing so.
"Dumbasses," he muttered, thinking of where those people ended up fleeing to, the opposite direction of where he was headed.
Yes, he was the smart one, moving toward the then-destruction and away from safe havens if only to get to sanctuary on the other side. It didn't matter now that he walked through the former city. He could declare himself king and rule a vast empire of one. But that's not what he wanted…
Sleep and peace and forget.
Sleep away the days once he no longer had to walk, live in peace and quiet, and forget what had happened before.
That was all he wanted.
So he walked.
It is easy to kill a nameless thing.
It has no identity, no feelings, no soul. You feel no remorse. But give it a name and you give it meaning.
Give it life.
"Who are you?" demanded the voice, empty and cold.
He had gotten careless. Now, he would die for it.
Having seen no other person in over a month, he assumed they had all sought refuge in the warmer regions. He was wrong. That morning he woke to a shadowed form haloed in the blinding sunlight looming behind him and the feel of steel sharp against his neck.
"Shikamaru," he croaked, voice coarse after weeks of disuse. "My name is Shikamaru."
Inch by inch, the knife fell away.
There were two of them.
A young man and young woman close to his own age.
They were equally as haggard as him, their clothes and shoes bearing signs of distant travel. The girl, shorter than the boy, had hair cut in a messy bob as if she had chopped it off herself in a fit of frustration, though her demeanor spoke the contrary, as the world would have to end before she would never do such a thing.
The boy was the reverse, long hair like Shikamaru's own but his was tied back regally at his nape. Shikamaru almost felt foolish for his own curt up-do, quick and simple. Shrugging the feeling off, he focused on the tension in the other boy and wondered why the boy had let him live.
Shikamaru was not sure if he would have done the same.
Nevertheless, all feelings of self-consciousness and apprehension disappeared when he looked into their pale eyes. Grim lines sprouted from the corners and creased their foreheads, spinning the tale of a lifetime lived far beyond their actual years, a life tired and unforgiving.
A life he currently lived.
The trio formed an uneasy alliance but an alliance all the same.
After having lived so long alone, it was difficult for Shikamaru to grasp the idea of companionship. He was hesitant to reveal anything about himself, the fear constant in the back of his mind that once more, he would be left. Alone and unwanted.
Yet, slowly he let the fear go, as he learned more and more of his traveling companions and they of him.
Neji, the young man, was the oldest of the trio. Shikamaru could tell by the way he walked, his gate steady yet cautious, that he, too, had grown up more quickly than his liking. When he looked at his cousin Hinata, a quiet waif-like girl, Shikamaru could see the fear in his eyes of losing her.
Soon, Shikamaru felt that fear grow inside him, too, a fear of losing both of them to whatever lay ahead.
Quelling the feeling as best he could, he walked on.
He was no longer alone.
The cousins had walked for nearly as long as Shikamaru but had come from the west searching for supplies and settlements though not necessarily people, equally as wary of how such devastation changed people drastically.
Neji did not question Shikamaru's choice in direction the first day, merely followed suit and soon overtook leading the group. Shikamaru never argued at the change, content to let the older boy shoulder the responsibility of finding their next home wherever it would be.
Both knew where it was they walked toward without speaking a word, the destination implicit with merely a look between them.
It was Hinata who asked the obvious, "Where are we going?"
"North," the two young men answered at the same time and paused, looking at each other.
A smile crept onto Shikamaru's face before he could do anything to stop it. At the same moment, he saw the corner of Neji's lips quirk upward and then both were laughing for the first time in months. An amused giggle filled the air as Hinata joined the chorus, and the three continued laughing.
For a moment they felt the happiness they thought they had forgotten.
"You've never seen the snow?"
Shikamaru was actually shocked. At least they had heard of snow but to never see it? He could not imagine such a thing. It was impossible, but then again, this world had proven that few things were.
Hinata replied, "We lived too far south. It hadn't snowed there since my father was a child."
"Hmm, that seems right," Shikamaru hummed before a question occurred to him. "Why didn't you stay? I mean, why travel all this way? Everyone went south, it seems. Safer, right?"
"Not if you were there," Neji replied from his position by the fire. He added several large sticks, building the flames higher to provide enough warmth for the night.
"It was chaos," Hinata continued. "Everyone thought to go there because it was safe and that's what made it dangerous. Neji said it would be easy to leave since everyone was coming toward us, said it would be safe where people least expected you to go. It took us a bit longer to get this far, but we made it and met you. Now, we're safe."
"You were smart," Shikamaru said, looking at Neji. He didn't voice that those were the very same reasons why he traveled in this direction. The very reasons why his friends thought he was crazy and suicidal to go north and left him months ago to turn around.
"I can't wait to see snow," Hinata said, a small smile gracing her lips.
"Me, too," Shikamaru replied.
The shadows from the fire danced on the ground before them.
They walked forever.
The more time that passed, the more difficult it became to keep track of.
Shikamaru looked at the world around him and the changing seasons, but he could never be sure. The world had changed too much.
Still, they continued on knowing they must, passing cities and towns, sometimes not for days in between.
Hinata's voice grew dejected, her resolve faltered, and she questioned why? Why could they not soon stop? The boys would catch her when she fell, Neji promising her that home lay just around the corner and Shikamaru keeping her hope alive and painting a picture in her mind of what lay waiting for her. It was the three of them, together, against the world.
They staggered on, knowing their new lives, safe from the rest of the world, were within reach.
It was not to be.
It was a warm, autumn day when they met their end.
The storm arose quickly, blowing in from the east as if had followed their very path. There were no towns, no houses, only the dense, dark forest around them. Following the path of a small creek, they climbed higher in the valley seeking an escape. Thunder echoed around them but there was no lightning.
It was not thunder at all but water.
Waves cascaded down the valley, overwhelming the creek the three were walking alongside.
In an instant, they were swept away.
Through sheer strength of will and luck, Shikamaru and Neji were able to find one another in the water, hands clinging to each other and the tree the current drove them into, never letting go.
They screamed Hinata's name and finally found her in the rain. The water had carried her further downstream. Why did she not return their shouts?
They saw her eyes, knowing and sad.
She didn't struggle as the water washed over her.
It was silent when they walked.
Each knew what the other was thinking but didn't dare voice it. They couldn't.
So they walked.
Walked in the same direction they did the day they first met, knowing exactly where to go without having to speak even then.
They didn't look at each other anymore.
Neji preferred to grieve alone and Shikamaru, the coward he knew himself to be, hid from the eyes that reminded him of Hinata.
He needed to think, to feel, to be.
So he left.
Atop a grassy knoll in an empty field, Shikamaru sat gazing at the clouds.
He left three days ago but he had not walked far. Instead, he had found this quiet place and started thinking.
Who was to blame for this ruined world he lived in?
Why didn't he turn around and follow his friends so many months ago?
Why hadn't he given up when opportunity arose and forced Neji's knife into his throat?
Why had ever allied himself with him and Hinata?
When had he started thinking of her as a sister?
Why did he see Hinata's eyes when he looked at the clouds?
What was the feeling he felt the moment he left Neji?
Why did he still feel it?
What do I do now?
"What is it like?" a voice roused Shikamaru from his thoughts.
Slowly, he turned his head and looked up meeting Neji's questioning gaze.
He had followed him here.
For once, the defenses were dropped and Shikamaru could see Neji for everything that he was: tired and lost and hoping in vain that things would get better even when he knew they wouldn't, everything that was reflected in Shikamaru's own being.
"What is snow like?" he asked, voice wavering only a little as he sat down next to Shikamaru. "She always wanted to see it."
Shikamaru let himself smile almost timid before he wrapped an arm around the older boy, tugging Neji next to him. Each relished in the warmth and comfort the other brought.
"Her eyes," he whispered as Neji embraced him tight, resting their foreheads together. "It's like her eyes. Pale and soft and filled with light."
Two young men walked across the world.
They let the silence speak everything they already felt. It didn't need saying.
Shadow blended into shadow behind them as they searched for a safe place to stop, to live, to call home.
Together they walked and existed outside from the world.
**The title is the translation of the Italian "Fuori dal mondo," a classical piece that was partial inspiration for whatever this thing turned out to be.