"He killed Asuma!" the people goes on with their accusation even after the one accused has already left the graveyard.
From the distance, Shikamaru can still hear their uproar, their words pricking him more than the things they had thrown at him.
He has replayed in his mind the fight over and over, looking for ways that will change the outcome although he knows that such exercise is futile. The fight was with an enemy neither he nor Asuma imagined.
While his feet take him farther and farther away, his hands remain fisted inside his pockets. Shikamaru grits his teeth that he tastes blood in his mouth. Memories come tumbling back and always with them, bitter regret and cold anger—towards himself.
Because in the fight, he was the one that botched things up. Worst…in order to survive he had to betray Asuma and the people of Konoha.
The day of the fight
Asuma, with shuriken, attacked first the enemy shinobi, Hidan. Hidan, however, quickly deflected the moving star shaped weapons by throwing his three bladed scythe towards them. The clank of metal on metal resounded as the blades clashed.
It was that moment while the enemy was distracted that Shikamaru, who had already thrown a handful of dirt, had unleashed his invisible shadow thread jutsu. The unseen shadow then coiled around Hidan, stopping the enemy's movements.
"What the—" Hidan swore as he felt an unseen restraining jutsu tightening around his body, then his breath whooshed out between his gaping lips for suddenly two trench knives blazing with blue halo impaled him as Asuma came closer for the kill. One of the knives went through Hidan's heart and exited through his back, while the other knife cut through several ribs before it punctured his lung. Blood bubbled in his chest before that red liquid gushed to the ground.
Seeing the red wetting his robe and soaking the earth, Hidan laughed at Asuma's face near his own then without warning, with a sudden burst of chakra, he pushed the invisible coil from around him.
With most of the dirt falling back to the ground, Shikamaru's jutsu had weakened but not it seemed, Hidan.
"Watch out!" Shikamaru warned as the enemy shinobi took the opportunity to attack Asuma whose knives were still embedded on his target's amazingly still functioning body.
Hidan's scythe flew as soon as he was freed from the invisible jutsu. Shikamaru knew he had no time to kick at the ground. There was no time to produce the suspended particles needed for his invisible shadow thread jutsu, not if he wanted to save his companion quickly.
The scythe swung and its lower blade could have easily decapitated Asuma's head if not for the fact that Shikamaru was again holding Hidan prisoner but this time with his very visible shadow neck binding technique. Only the tip of the middle one of Hidan's three curve blades grazed Asuma's cheek, drawing blood.
Hidan smirked. For an instant, something had made him oblivious to the black shadow hand spiraling around his body but then his smirk quickly disappeared. "Not again," he grunted, struggling against the black hand holding him in a tight manacle.
Simultaneously, Asuma stared at the now visible black shadow hand that wrapped around Hidan's body aiming for his neck. "You can manipulate the shadow," he remarked in a voice tinged with ungoverned shock and disbelief.
"Tch." Shikamaru avoided looking at his sensei and squeezed his grip on Hidan.
"I have to admit, this one is more impressive," Hidan said, sounding amused despite the constriction in his throat.
"It's impressive, alright," snapped Shikamaru, still not daring to glance at Asuma.
Hidan, picking up on the tense atmosphere, glanced toward Asuma then at Kamaru. "I have to give it to your father, the kazekage, he trained you well," he jeered.
"What do you mean by that?!" Shikamaru rasped, "If you're implying that—"
"I'm not implying anything. It's already too obvious that you befriended that Konoha jounin, to get information from him," drawled Hidan, not bothering to fight anymore the shadow holding him. "You still haven't got the intel the Kazekage needed so you still have to pretend to be on his side."
"That's not true," Shikamaru snarled, his eyes sharpening on Hidan.
"Come on!" Hidan mocked, "The Kazekage told me the truth about you."
Noticing how the boy's shoulders tensed upon his words, Hidan continued with glee, "You use your laziness as a facade but the truth is you're a schemer. So why don't you tell your friend over there that he is just another victim of one of your mind games. That you haven't really been honest with him about everything. That the foe he should be wary of is, not me, but you."
"Shut up!" Shikamaru shouted, his concentration focused on the foul mouthed nin before him and less on his jutsu.
Feeling the change in the grip holding him, Hidan knowingly taunted, "Your jutsu—it has a bloodline limit. Funny that no one in your family, other than you, have it."
With those words out, Shikamaru couldn't help it, he finally swiveled his attention towards Asuma, whose indrawn breath filled the silence after Hidan's words were out. "I—the Nara's—"
Shikamaru didn't finish what he was about to say for as soon as his attention was transferred to Asuma, Hidan felt the shadow's grip further weaken. Recognizing his chance for escape had come, the enemy then concentrated his chakra and pushed with mighty heave the shadow that had him in its grip, interrupting Shikamaru's explanation.
Shikamaru realized what Hidan was trying to do, he rushed to rectify the situation but with his concentration shot for a split second, it seemed that that amount of time was enough in order for the enemy to get out of his jutsu.
Freed at last, Hidan jeered triumphantly at Asuma. "See, your so called teammate let me go."
"I didn't!" growled Shikamaru. "Don't listen to him, Asuma!"
"You're the one listening to his taunts, Kamaru," reprimanded Asuma. "Now, pull yourself together," he ordered as he met the gaze of his student, his own look said later.
Shikamaru sighed in relief. There were no accusation in his sensei's eyes. Instead the older man's clear gaze spoke of dawning understanding.
Hidan didn't miss the exchange. "Are you two gonna hug now? 'Cause if you are, don't let me stop you, sickening bastards."
"Asshole!" Asuma bit out as his attention went back to the enemy's wounds. He knew he hit Hidan's vital organs but still the other shinobi remained standing as if unharmed.
Asuma quickly moved, lengthening the distance between him and Hidan while shortening the gap between him and Kamaru.
Now, standing in front of Kamaro, Asuma muttered, "That guy is immortal. We're quite at a disadvantage."
"We need to plan our next move," replied Shikamaru.
While the two were busy murmuring to each other, Hidan, with his blood already poured on the ground, had started drawing a circular diagram with the red ink. Next, he drew a triangle inside the circle.
"What's he doing?" Shikamaru asked.
Asuma shrugged. Then squaring his shoulders, he stated. "I'll attack while you distract him. Think you can handle that, Kamaru?"
"I will remove his head from his body," Asuma avowed.
Shikamaru's shadow tried to catch Hidan from a safe distance while Asuma, with his two trench knives, went in attack.
The trench knives and the scythe continued their duel but this time the scythe's wielder had to watch out for Kamaru's shadow. The shadow tendrils appeared stronger, lifting from the ground as they approached Hidan, making him retreat in his fight with Asuma.
Pissed, Hidan swerved and headed towards Kamaru. He knew if he got caught by that jutsu again, he would be headless—even for an immortal like him—that would be bad.
"I guess I'll take care of small fries first," Hidan announced his intention. With his scythe embedded in the ground, he dragged it as he swiftly ran towards Kamaru.
"I'm your opponent," Asuma shouted, running towards Hidan.
Hidan grinned as he jumped backwards, facing his real target and waiting for his approach. As if mocking, his tongue licked the tip of the second blade of his scythe.
Angered further, Asuma growled, "Burning ash," then he blew a cloud of gray smoke towards Hidan.
Hidan moved but not towards Asuma. He moved towards his bloody doodle on the ground.
Asuma ignited the ash and the gray smoke gave way to a huge explosive fire. So huge, that the orange ball of fire reached several meters towards the sky and covered a wide diameter of ground.
Shikamaru had his eyes trained on Hidan. The area where the enemy stood suddenly became ablaze with fire and the surroundings became hot. So hot that Shikamaru put his arm up to shield his eyes from the explosion.
When Shikamaru put down his arm, he then noticed Asuma. Although the older nin remained standing, he appeared to be badly burned.
Shikamaru only had his eyes covered for a while. There was no way that Hidan could have directly attacked Asuma in that time.
"What happened?" Shikamaru asked, running towards his sensei.
Asuma's injury was extensive, his flesh was weeping from the burns he sustained but still he remained standing upright while Hidan—a transformed Hidan—laughed maniacally. The enemy's laughter sounded much darker than his changed appearance. His body and face were now covered with black and drawn on it in white were bones.
Hidan now appeared like an appalling skeleton that breathe. And when he took a shorter blade and pierced his own leg, it was Asuma who groaned in pain as his own leg was stabbed too.
Shikamaru's heart lurched as he finally recognized that he and Asuma were in deep deep shit that getting out of the situation alive had now seemed impossible.
Except maybe if he gives what Hidan wanted, then maybe...
But Shikamaru was wrong in thinking that. And Asuma still died in his arms.
The people of Konoha are right, he is the reason Asuma now lies inside a coffin.
Temari…Even in a crowd, he sees her, unmoving, probably agreeing with the others.
His feet falter. Then his feet resume their movements, faster and faster, until he is running, running farther away from Asuma's grave.
~4 26, 6 21,22 14AF P 7 17 14~
A/N: Whew, I'm back. Finally.
Thanks guys for waiting.