Just a Simple Game

The clouds were particularly troublesome today. That one – the one that just whisked by was sickeningly reminiscent of those forsaken kage hats.

He sighed. At least it had no color and no marked allegiance. Still, it had that pronounced and unmistakable triangular-rhombic shape.

The leaves of the tree he was beneath rustled again, and the grass tickled his hands – the only unexposed skin he had, aside from his face – which were nestled comfortably beneath his dark hair. His eyes glanced to the side and appraised the board beside him. He'd been playing Asuma again – Asuma's movements, that is. That man was already dead, hopefully in a place where wars didn't exist.

He brought one hand out to the wooden field – to the side that preserved his equally wooden soldiers – and positioned a piece to attack one of Asuma's.

Naturally, he outsmarted the man. That was how it was meant to be; how it was supposed to be. Asuma couldn't beat him, no matter what – it was impossible.

Shikamaru slid the defeated piece off of the board and into the graveyard stationed on the tender grass, and Asuma suddenly took initiave. Their hands – one of them attached to the face with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth – moved a piece, in a feeble attempt to trick their foe.

He almost laughed. Asuma could never get him, indeed. That look he had just envisioned his teacher giving – priceless.

Absolutely priceless.

Shikamaru's hand stopped its next move and was retracted back beneath the fastened hair of his head. He looked up to the clouds again, annoyed by the picture-less sight. They were wisps of what were known as clouds, mostly transparent little trails of smoke that didn't form any thoughts in his angry mind.

"Why can't wars be solved with just a simple game of shogi?" he asked with muted rage, eyes dancing to the graveyard of fallen wooden soldiers. He glared at them in contempt – that was what was wrong with this horrible world.

Shikamaru looked back at the sky, and the leaves whistled from a decidedly violent passerby breeze. It was always like this. There was always some sort of emptiness lingering in the sky ever since the world had been introduced to war again.

Briefly, he wondered how wonderful the clouds looked when lives hadn't been stained by war, when blood didn't seep into the earth for no reason. All disputes could be solved simply: through shogi.

His arm was free again, and pieces were moving freely around the desolate, monochromatic field. Wood scraped against wood as warriors were felled by two contending minds.

It wasn't as if he hadn't tried to play himself. He did. He just couldn't win when he did.

He would often stop somewhere midway for just a simple reason. It wasn't frustration at not being able to outsmart himself; in fact, it was the opposite:

If he couldn't win, he couldn't lose.

Shikamaru's hand froze once more and returned beneath his head once more. The board was nearly empty; few pieces remained, and Asuma was doing fairly well.

It wouldn't be enough for him to win, naturally. He'd be finished in a few more well-executed moves.

Shikamaru sighed, for the sky was still devoid of real clouds. "Why can't war be a simple game of shogi?" he asked out loud. He stared up into the verdant green leaves of the tree and the robust bark of the jutting branches. He sighed once more and momentarily shut his eyes. "Can you truly do it, Naruto? Can you make a peaceful world where all of us can just lie on grass and watch the clouds? Can you do the impossible and bring the real sky – the happy one – back?"

He received no response, aside from the bout of wind that assaulted his face.

And once it stopped, all was quiet. The grass, like the leaves, didn't stir. The false clouds didn't travel across the sky. So silent, so lifeless.

Like the result of those hopeless wars.

It was then that his ears were messaged. The body that had been resting atop a branch came down. His sharp eyes gazed at Shikamaru's recumbent form, but his mouth said nothing. He walked a few steps and stared down at the battlefield and its respective graveyard. He leaned over, gingerly plucking a dead soldier from the pile. He rose and turned to Shikamaru.

"Because when a game of shogi ends, pieces can be set out all over again. Nothing is changed."

With that, he bent down and placed the piece – Asuma's piece – on the board, in an empty square. He never turned around again; his blue eyes didn't regard Shikamaru's form again. He was gone as swiftly as he came, the only proof that he was ever there was the revived man on Asuma's side.

Shikamaru looked at the board again. Those words made sense. It was still a damn shame. If only everything could be solved by shogi.

It was finally time to end things, he decided. There was no more reason to toy with Asuma. He'd win the game and try to salvage what was left of this fruitless day.

So his eyes analyzed the positions. He already had a plan mapped out. It was simple. But...

Something was strange. The stage was altered. He was trapped. He furiously looked over and was at a loss – he couldn't move his pieces. He couldn't do anything.

Asuma had won.


And Shikamaru's eyes instantly flashed at the piece that Naruto brought back.

A small, wistful smile formed on Shikamaru's lips and unfalling tears were in his eyes. He looked toward the direction that he had gone, and the winds picked up once more – to dry his moistened eyes.

He was their beacon.

Because he took the impossible, and he made it come true.

AN: Yeah, yeah. I got AnK to work on, but this was probably inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu. But I just had to write something. So, I took like an hour, and I enjoyed writing this. Dreariness with a sense of hope. Wonderful.

Just in case you didn't catch that bit, it was impossible for Asuma to win. That happening brought back Shikamaru's hope.