"Troublesome woman." Shikamaru muttered to no one in particular.

He sighed.

What women do for love…

Sasuke had been gone for six years now, but the moment a report that he had been seen near Konoha had been brought up, his former teammate Sakura had dropped everything and disappeared to search for him. Tsunade had dispatched Shikamaru's team to bring back her apprentice.

So Konoha's number one strategist and tactician is off on a mission to…bring back a lost girl. Why couldn't Kiba have done it?

Luckily, Naruto was away on a mission. Shikamaru had a sneaking suspicion that he would have had to bring back Naruto as well if the kyuubi container had gotten word of Sasuke's reappearance.

A loud squeal cut through his thoughts.

"Shikamaruuuuuuuuu!"

Ino's high pitched voice emanated from the wireless headset in Shikamaru's ear. The Jonin cursed and ripped it out, holding it at arm's length. Ino continued.

"Did you find Sakura yet?!"

"Not yet." Shikamaru groaned into the mouthpiece, then quickly returned the headset to its comfortable position (for his ears at least) at the end of his arm.

"Let's find her quick Shikamaru! I want you to help me go shopping!"

Shikamaru switched off the headset and corrected himself.

"Troublesome women."

I don't even know what Ino sees in me…she just randomly started coming on to me the past few months. Has she really given up on Sasuke? Or maybe she was just jealous of Temari? I have enough trouble avoiding that Sand kunoichi…between the two of them, I'm not going to get any peace, am I?

A strange odor derailed his train of thought…something…coppery and metallic almost…

His face paled as he found the source. Sakura was sitting against a tree, a pool of her own blood beneath her. She was clutching a massive wound in her side, her skin deathly pale. Her hand was coated in red.

Shikamaru was at the pink-haired kunoichi's side in a flash.

"Sakura!" he yelled.

Her eyes slowly opened. A pair of green pupils blinked at him. The two orbs were clouded over with pain and…grief?

"Sasuke?" she whispered.

Shikamaru rested his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. Sakura's skin was ice cold.

"No…not Sasuke. A friend."

Sakura's eyes had closed already. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of her mouth.

Shikamaru switched his headset back on, fingers trembling.

"Ino! Choji! I need you at my position RIGHT NOW!"

---

The door to the darkened hospital room creaked open, and a pineapple shaped head poked through.

Sleeping. Oh well.

Shikamaru carefully slid into the room and closed the door behind him. The only light visible was from that of the moon shining through the window. He sighed and looked down at the vase in his hand. A few sprigs of cherry blossoms rested in the clear glass.

"I brought you flowers…well, cherry blossoms actually…since your name…"

He stopped. He sounded foolish.

"Eh. You're not even awake…I guess it doesn't matter."

The Jonin padded over to the table besides the hospital bed and set the vase down on it. He silently pulled up a chair and sat down, resting his elbows on his knees and his face on his hands.

"You know…for someone so intelligent, you're pretty unobservant."

Shikamaru watched the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest as she slumbered.

"Always chasing after that Sasuke…always Sasuke this, Sasuke that…trying to change your whole persona just for that one guy. You never really paid attention to everyone who appreciated you for who you are."

He listened a while to the ticking of the clock.

"Naruto found Hinata…they're happy together now. Getting married pretty soon. They're so different, yet they fit together so perfectly…"

He mused on that thought for a while.

"Heck, even Lee moved on. I, for one, thought that he would always be devoted to you…but now he and Tenten are a couple."

Another few moments of silence, punctuated by the ticking of the clock.

"Feh. I guess all of us 'smart' people are the same…we've got enormous IQs but never any common sense."

He watched her sleeping form for another few minutes.

"Always chasing after our hopes and dreams, always chasing after people who we know will never acknowledge us. People think I'm lucky and successful…I'm a Jonin, I'm in the Hokage's inner circle, and I've got two beautiful blonde girls falling all over me."

Shikamaru sighed.

"But I never really wanted that. All I ever wanted was to get married to a woman who understands me, have two kids, and then retire. I didn't want to become a big-shot ninja… all I want to do is watch clouds and play shogi."

He watched the vase of cherry blossoms. One blossom had somehow worked its way free of the branch and was now fluttering freely in the air.

"I just wanted to follow my feelings, but I never could express it to her. Genius level IQ…what good is it when I can't even talk to the only woman who I feel could understand me? Even now…I can only approach her when she's sleeping and can't hear me. Am I that afraid of rejection?"

The blossom was now drifting slowly downwards, its shadow following its every move. Shikamaru smiled at the irony.

"I'm just your shadow…always tracing your steps, following you, while you hover in the air, never noticing the penumbra beneath you."

Another sigh.

"I guess I'll never be the Sasuke you're always searching for."

The cherry blossom lay on the floor, in unity with its shadow. The Jonin smiled ruefully at the scene.

"Feh. Lucky…"

He stood up slowly.

"Well, I guess I should get going. I've babbled on long enough."

A whisper caught his attention as he prepared to leave the room.

"You know…Shikamaru-kun…for someone so intelligent, you're pretty unobservant."

She…wasn't sleeping? She's a medic-nin, I should've known…

"You may not be the Sasuke I've been searching for…"

Shikamaru's heart fell.

"But you're the Shikamaru that I've discovered."

A delicate hand made its way out from under the covers and grasped his, their fingers intertwining. Shikamaru's blush could have lit up the room. The corners of Sakura's mouth rose into a grin.

A cherry blossom danced across the floor, its moonlit shadow dancing with it.