"You're doing it again."

The sound of her voice shattered the solitude he had gathered around himself.

Shikamaru gazed ahead.

"You're distancing yourself from us, aren't you?" The shrill undertones of accusation and concern cut through the still morning.

He doesn't dignify these words with an answer. He knows she knows. They have had this conversation many times before. Why listen now?

But he had detected some a foreign presence within the carelessly worded phrase. He inclined his head towards hers with a raised brow.

Her hands trembled as they clutched at the ground beneath her legs. She needed support. Clumps of grass would have to do.

"You're so selfish," she hissed.

At this he is startled. How could the protection he offered her be so crudely received?

"What are you talking about?" He attempts to keep his tone casual, but she has aroused his curiosity with these baseless accusations.

Her delicate nostrils flare with indignation.

"You're building walls around your heart," she states, almost too calmly within the stillness of the morning. "And yet, there are no openings."

She pulls his rough hand towards her own.

"How do you expect me to help you if I can't see through them?"

He raises his eyes towards the sky.

She doesn't understand

She will never understand

I will never allow her to understand

Though sometimes, he really wishes she could.

"I won't let you."

Her quiet declaration echoes through his mind, like a bell. Like her laugh.

"You can't force me to abandon you!"

Tears are dripping across her cheeks.

Silence.

He is begging. His eyes are pleading 'Don't make me carry more than I already am.'

'Understand'

'Please'

Her eyes fill with recognition, then resigned acceptance.

She smiles, even as a tear falls.

She knows.

And he knows she knows.

She understands.

It was the first time she had stopped thinking in a very long time. She listened. Then she saw

For an indescribably small expanse of time, his heart had spoken to her.

Those walls are not meant to be seen through.

There was a door.

She walked through.