A/N: Final challenge from an old whiteknuckle meme, requested by haruno. Fandom: Naruto; title: "Lost in Carrot Soup"; line: "Well, if you really think this'll work . . ."; pairing: ShikaSaku. She said she wasn't sure if this fic was even possible to write. amused So you know I couldn't resist, babes . . .

Seriously though: dude, fics that turn out like this one are why I LOVE memes. hearts it big-time

"Lost in Carrot Soup"

"Well, if you really think this'll work . . ." Sakura said doubtfully, eyeing the cookbook open on the counter in front of her.

"He's got a cold, right?" Shikamaru replied with a sigh. "Soup is for colds. And everyone makes chicken soup. So if you want to stand out from the other girls, make something different."

"You really ARE a genius, aren't you." She gave him an admiring look, eyes already starry with the thought of Sasuke's impending gratitude- surely he'd go out with her now! He might even let her have his first kiss with a girl (damn Naruto for getting the first one period . . .).

Inner Sakura was so busy fantasizing that Outer Sakura didn't even notice when Shikamaru grudgingly started chopping carrots- the sooner the soup was done, the sooner he could get back to cloud-watching. Sakura had more or less kidnapped him as soon as she'd found out Sasuke was sick, figuring that if she denied Ino of Shikamaru's super-genius IQ she'd come out on top in the situation. Somehow this had ended in Sakura dragging him to her apartment and taping an exploding note on all of the exits, just in case. They could get out the hard way later, she figured. Or she could just invite Naruto over to set off the notes himself. He was a resilient guy, after all.

Shikamaru was tossing the last of the ingredients into the pot by the time Sakura finally woke up from a rather detailed daydream involving Sasuke wearing a lace-up poet's shirt and tight leather pants as he rode bareback over a sandy beach towards her. She'd just been mentally designing her thin white dress and plotting a small, timely tidal wave when Shikamaru hissed in irritation as the boiling water spat at him.

Sakura blinked and looked over to him, surprised out of her fantasy by the rude intrusion of reality. "Run it under cold water," she advised distractedly.

Shikamaru just sighed, picking up the ladle to stir the soup with his uninjured hand and sucking on the small burn. "It doesn't matter. It's fine."

"If you say so." Sakura shrugged, leaning back against the counter and then suddenly starting as a realization came to her. "Oh! What if Sasuke-kun asks if I made the soup myself?!" she cried in distress.

"Lie," Shikamaru suggested flatly, though he seriously doubted Sasuke would even bother to ask. "You're a woman, after all." Sakura gave this due consideration, completely missing the insulting undertones. Shikamaru sampled the soup and made a face. Too garlicky for his tastes. Then again, Sasuke might like a lot of garlic (assuming that Sasuke liked anything), so what did it matter? At least it was almost done.

To pass the last minute or two while it heated up, he ran down a mental list of the people who'd made soup or something like it for the Uchiha today. Ino had been recruiting Chouji to help her make leek soup when he'd last seen her (she had also received the benefits of Shikamaru-advice, despite Sakura- interference), Naruto had picked up chicken ramen at the Ichiraku (he wondered, did that technically count?), Kiba and Shino had nearly walked into him with Hinata's covered bowl of some complicated assortment of medicinal herbs stewed together (she'd been too shy to go herself but had wanted to know if her new medicine worked), Gai and Lee, accompanied by an exasperated Tenten and bored Neji, had been yelling something up at Sasuke's window about "the beautiful and lively liquid of youth" (that he didn't even want to ASK about), and he'd seen Kakashi leaving a suspicious-looking brown package on Sasuke's doorstep as he passed (although, frankly, he rather doubted that had anything to do with soup, unless it involved food fetishes).

So, in a nutshell, Sasuke had a cold and the whole damn world was fussing over him. Shikamaru might have found a quiet, sadistic amusement in it, but he knew that if he'd been in the other's shoes he'd have run for the hills.

And the soup was about to boil over, whoops.

Shikamaru snatched it off the stove quickly and turned off the burner, giving Sakura a meaningful look.

"What?" she asked blankly.

"A bowl . . .?" Shikamaru suggested dryly, and Sakura yelped in dismay and scrambled to find one.

"Ahhhh, we don't have ANYTHING nice enough for Sasuke-kun!" she wailed a minute later from her place on the floor, surrounded by what, to Shikamaru, looked like several dozen perfectly functional bowls. Knowing Sasuke, the other wouldn't even notice the damn thing anyway except as something that kept the soup from slopping all over him.

Deciding that explaining this to Sakura would be impossible, Shikamaru settled for slipping his foot under the nearest vessel of appropriate size and flipping it into the air, catching and filling it smoothly, then setting it on the counter and going off to look for something to cover it with, lest Sakura spill it on the way to Sasuke's.

Sakura started in surprise when he leaned down and presented her with the neatly wrapped bowl- she hadn't been paying attention again- and looked up at him, blinking stupidly. "Thank you," she said sheepishly. Shikamaru was almost impressed- it had only taken her two hours to remember that phrase.

"Yeah, whatever," he said dismissively, straightening up and putting on a bored face. "Need anything else, or can I get back to my bench?"

Sakura smiled at him and got to her feet, cradling the soup as if it were something precious. It was a gift for someone she cared about, Shikamaru reminded himself. Not a gift FROM someone she cared about. Not that.

Sakura deactivated the exploding note over the front door. "Thanks," she said again, smile widening, and he just shrugged. "It means a lot to me, you know?" Another shrug in reply.

She gave him a peck on the cheek as he passed. It was platonic. It was friendly.

It was a damn sight more than he'd have gotten from her this morning.

Shikamaru privately hoped that Sasuke came down with the flu next week.

ende

. : carrots are good for seeing in the dark : .