We've made it. Thanks everyone who read this and stuck with me through these seven days! It was great seeing all the work and meeting so many new people that ship these two brainy kids.
I have more works on the way, so keep your eyes open. There are many ways to contact me, so don't be afraid to hit me with a request. Don't forget about askshikasaku, also.
Thank you again and enjoy!
Day vii: Respect
The Nara Estate was beautiful, as expected from one of the prominent clans in Konoha. Sakura bowed respectfully to Yoshino and followed her through rooms quietly, taking it all in as she was led to the porch in the back of the house where her once classmate would surely be. The bridge crossing over a koi pond caught her attention immediately, leaving her with little time to observe the bushes and trees and other decorative features. Shikamaru was sitting there with his back against a pillar, Asuma's lighter in his hand as he opened and closed the lid repeatedly.
Yoshino announced their presence as if he had been too deep in thought to notice their approach and left with a smile directed at her. Sakura waited until she was gone to finally look at Shikamaru and see that he was looking back at her inquisitively. "I came here to check on you after... You know."
He clicked his tongue. "Tche. I'm fine."
"You know I'm not leaving easily, so suck it up."
Shikamaru gave her a dry look, but at least pocketed the lighter and leaned away from the pillar. Sakura was unused to seeing him in civilian clothes. The dark outfit he wore was simple and light beneath her fingers as she used her chakra to check his vitals. Aside from breathing, he was very still beneath her palms, undoubtedly waiting for her to try to say something compassionate that he did not ask for.
He had been a bit distant ever since Asuma's death, keeping up a façade as if it had not affected him as deeply and turning away from any pitiful words or glances cast his way. She had not found him after the burial ceremony and had stuck by Ino to help her grieving friend in her hour of need. Sakura wondered if he blamed himself for it and, although she wanted to help him believe he was not at fault, she had no idea on how to approach the topic without making him get defensive.
On her way to the woods with Sai and Pakkun, she was reminded of a time when they were dispatched after Sasuke who had been going after Gaara and she had doubted Shimakaru's skills when he lingered behind to stall a group of Sound nin. Naruto had had so much faith in him, he believed so vehemently that he would be victorious, even without knowing him that well. Though she had been sure then, just a few days ago, that he was too smart to let himself get killed in a plan he devised himself and analyzed thoroughly, Sakura could not help but worry for her friend. At first, she had feared that she could lose another friend to revenge, but seeing him emerging from the Nara Forest victorious and wanting to reunite with their friends, she knew his loyalty to Konoha ran deeper than anything else.
Shikamaru breathed in deeply when instructed as she examined his ribs. Sakura had so much on her plate from the moment they returned with Naruto's broken arm that she could not find much time or chakra to spend on anyone else. She was glad to know now that he was truly fine as he had said. He had collapsed before due to exhaustion, true, but had come home with minor scratches, the main problem lying in his chakra reserves. The rest days Tsunade had given them would do wonders to him, allowing his body to replenish its store to the fullest. She had known that from the start, but came over anyway.
Sakura was not here to say pretty, comforting words or to try to tell him how to live his life after a loss. She had no experience in that. She had lost a teammate, but he was alive still, it could not compare. The kunoichi wondered, though, if he would like to know that she would be there to help him if he needed, even if to listen to him vent. Sakura doubted he would pour his feelings out to his teammates, so an outsider like her stood no chance.
Clearing her throat, she annunciated the results of her analysis as she rubbed her hands on her thighs. He gave her an I told you so look and held her gaze until she grew uncomfortable and looked away at the gardens. As much as she would like to stay, if only to appreciate the scenery, she did not want to intrude on his life. With a quick goodbye, she rose to her feet and wandered back the way she came from.
"Sakura." His voice made her stop and turn around to look at him. A simple glance at his expression let her know that he was grateful for her concern even if he did not voice it. "You're a good medic. I wouldn't trust anyone else with my life if it was on the line. Of course there's Tsunade, but you get the idea."
She did not recall ever smiling that widely at him or laughing at anything he said before this moment. "I do."
"Also, don't tell Ino. I don't think I could stand her nagging at me." She would not stand the level their rivalry would reach either, so she promised to stay quiet about that.
It was odd, really, intensely looking into the eyes of a person that was always around, but she had never interacted much. This could be the longest conversation they had up to date aside from briefing missions and words he wanted her to relay to Tsunade. Shikamaru was so smart, always at least ten steps ahead, always analyzing every possible outcome, and she admired that about him. His high intellect proved him an invaluable asset to Konoha.
She used to see him as a lazy boy that got in trouble with Iruka-sensei and was kicked out of the classroom. His grades and everything he did in the academy were average, thus not receiving as much attention as someone like Sasuke would, although she supposed no one could compare then. It was not until the Chuunin Exams that she got a real glimpse of what he hid beneath his aloofness, and before she knew it, he was promoted and entrusted with the task of leading a team to retrieve a runaway Sasuke. A heavy burden for someone so young. Even if the mission had been a failure, it never made her think any less of him. If anything, witnessing from so close as it affected him made her open her eyes.
Maybe they could learn something from one another.
"Leaving already?" They both turned to look at his mother approaching with a tray in her hands and a tea set arranged on top. "Why don't you stay for tea?"
Normally, Sakura would decline, but seeing as everything was already prepared, she could not think of anything to say that would get her out of there. Shikamaru was looking at her in silent amusement when she met his eyes. Yoshino took her silence as an agreement and opened the sliding door directly behind them to reveal a room with her son's favorite past time set in the center. Without any excuses to leave and spend the rest of her day off in her apartment, Sakura walked forward a couple of steps and waited as Shikamaru rose to his feet.
He placed a hand on her back and gave her a light push towards the room. "You're not bothering us." He murmured quietly to reassure her. "Besides, you seem enamored with our garden."
She should have known he would pick up on that. With a flush, she sat on one of the dark pads across from Yoshino and easily engaged in a conversation with her, unaware of his eyes observing her. She was a capable kunoichi, a spectacular medic, the Godaime's apprentice and a good friend. There were too many good traits about her: kind, compassionate, caring. She fought hard to be where she was now, without abilities that were passed down in a clan or the help of a tailed beast, and she would only get better. He believed she would be the perfect role model for civilian kids that wanted to be a ninja someday.
Being from the Nara Clan, he had stuck to the shadows most of his life. Sakura, on the other hand, tried her best to get out of her teammates' shadows and to stand up on her own. It was inspiring.
Shikamaru glanced down at his cup as they laughed about something he did not catch. They had come a long way. Perhaps something could grow out of this.