Title: Hero
Winter Ashby (rosweldrmr)
Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with Naruto or the GOD known as Masashi Kishimoto-sama.
Rating: K
Time Line: Tail end of the Shikamaru Arc in the manga (chapter 339/340ish)
Summary: Shikamaru reminds Sakura of someone she's tried to forget, because he's an avenger now. But he's also different, because he turns to Sakura in a moment of weakness and she sees him for the first time for what he really is. A Hero. (Sakura & Shikamaru)
Authors Notes: Finally! A freakin' ShikaSaku! And it's only taken me, what, six months to do it? I'm pathetic. But at least I got it done. I hope you all enjoy more Sakura-Ships! I love to branch out.

Thanks to pineped for getting the Shika-x-Saku deviant club off the ground. Hopefully I'll get off my lazy ass and do some more fanart soon. Thanks to Sandlewood and Three AM for getting me into this ship. AND you should ALL thank Fallacy AKA KorinaCaffeine for BETA'ing this monstrosity. It was even WORSE before, if you can imagine that.

"Shikamaru!" Sakura's voice rang out through the trees just before the explosion that rocked the woods. She'd seen him, smoking a cigarette and speaking to a man wrapped in explosive tags and sinking into the earth. Then there was a huge explosion and a cloud of dust erupted into the air. The trees snapped and the earth shook. Sakura could feel the blast send ripples through her body. Sakura was frantic, trying to move through the billowing cloud of dust. The gunpowder burned her nose and lungs. She closed her eyes so the dirt wouldn't scratch her pupils and barreled forwards into the heart of the explosion.

It only took a few seconds, but to Sakura, it felt much longer. But finally, her lungs burning, she choked and coughed as the air cleared and her feet hit the hard ground. She whipped her head around, trying to find any sign of Shikamaru. Through the cloud of dust settling on her shoulders and hair, she could see him just a few feet in front of her. She nearly wept with relief.

"Yo," Shikamaru commented as Sakura landed in a small cloud of dust, Sai just on her heals. "Are you supposed to be my backup?" he asked in a monotonous voice, with a chill of unrest running through him.

"Yes. Kakashi said you were fighting a member of Akatsuki by yourself." She couldn't help herself, she looked around. Surely she'd see the man he'd been fighting; the disappearance of chakra didn't really mean that he'd won. He couldn't have fought all by himself and succeeded. This was the Akatsuki, after all, the same two men who'd killed Asuma-sensei.

"You're a little late." He turned his back to Sakura and Sai

"You're even more skilled that I was lead to believe," Sai swooned next to her, and Sakura was suddenly very protective of her history with Shikamaru. Sai didn't know the first thing about him, or what they'd all been through. He had no right to praise Shikamaru like that.

"That was really foolish of you." Sakura put her hands on her hips and watched his back.

"Yeah," Shikamaru laughed, but to Sakura it sounded like tears. "This was just something I had to do by myself."

"But you could've gotten yourself killed!" She stepped closer to him. She wanted him to turn around now.

"I know." Still, Shikamaru wouldn't face her. "Forgive me, just this once." But his voice was so soft that Sakura was sure he wasn't really talking to her. Who could he have meant? The forest, the deer, or maybe it was Asuma's memory that he begged for forgiveness. Or was it Ino and Chouji, who he'd left behind to fulfill his own revenge? Sakura wanted to be angry at him for behaving like Sasuke.

But it was the way he'd asked for forgiveness that made her hold back. He wasn't Sasuke. He wouldn't abandon his village and forsake his friends. Even defiant and proud, Shikamaru would never be Sasuke. And just for a second, Sakura took that time to indulge in a shameful moment of self-pity. It was wrong to compare Shikamaru to Sasuke. They really were nothing alike.

Sakura walked up behind him and rested her palm flat against his shoulder blade. She could feel him tense under the flack jacket and she leaned in so she could whisper over his shoulder, "You're forgiven."

Again, he laughed, but it sounded like a sobbing bark and leaned into her touch. "Troublesome."

It was all he said; it was all he needed to say. Sakura knew what he meant. Grief, anger, vengeance, jealousy, hate, duty, love, honor, ninpou – all of it was just troublesome. Life was troublesome; losing someone was troublesome; being helpless was troublesome. And Sakura agreed.

"Sai, go and help Naruto. He's probably jumped in before thinking like he always does. Tell them we'll be right there. I just want to examine Shikamaru quickly." She begged, pleaded, prayed that Sai would just do as he was told and not ask questions. She didn't want him to read too much into it. She didn't want him to think about why she'd sent him on alone. It was dangerous, and against protocol. But she hoped anyway.

"But I –"

"Just do it!" Shikamaru ordered and Sai blinked once but showed no sign of either obeying or not. He took a moment, to deliberate. But Sai knew who was higher ranked, and merely narrowed his eyes before he dispersed into a cloud of dirt and leaves.

Then, to Sakura's horror, Shikamaru fell apart. He turned to look at her, tears streaming down his face, and dropped to his knees. He hugged her around the waist and buried his face into her stomach.

"Shika…" Sakura couldn't bring herself to move. She just stood with her hands hanging in the air, too startled to even embrace him back or turn away.

"Don't… don't tell them. Don't let Ino know I cried, or Chouji. I'm supposed to be strong." Sakura couldn't help but feel her own heart break. What would she do if she lost Kakashi, or even Yamato now? She'd lost Sasuke, sure,but that was different. He chose to leave them behind because he was obsessed with gaining power. He was an avenger than he was a Konoha Shinobi. What happened with Asuma was different. He was stolen from Shikamaru, Ino and Chouji. He was stolen from the hidden leaf, and from Kurenai. Sakura's heart broke for them. But the only thing she could do was lean over a little and lay her hands on his head.

"I won't tell, Shikamaru-kun." She ran her fingers over his pulled-back hair, and tangled in his tall pony-tail. "You are strong. You killed him. It's over now." Even if she didn't fully understand what happened or who he was fighting against, she knew that there was no worse enemy than what dwelled in a person's own heart. It was what drove Sasuke to become a monster. It was what made Kakashi stand alone in front of that memorial stone. It was what made Naruto try even harder, and what made Sakura still cry at night, especially now that she'd just moved out of her parents' house and into a tiny apartment at the edge of town. So she cooed encouraging things into the air between them, and hoped that it would be enough.

Eventually, Shikamaru stopped crying and her legs begin to feel heavy with the pressure of having to support both of them, and not just physically. Shikamaru was strong, she knew this. But she feared what he would become if he turned in on himself. She'd seen the toll that a quest for vengeance could take. And even if the battle was over, Asuma wouldn't be coming back. What happened when he realized that going out on his own, leaving his teammates, killing a man wasn't enough? What would he do if when she let go, he discovered his quest didn't have an end, because there's no end to grief. She worried that he could lose himself to this, like Sasuke had done. And she didn't want to lose him, not like that. So she stooped, through the ring his arms made and kneeled in the dirt with him.

"Look at me." She spoke with confidence that betrayed the girlish tickle in her stomach that came with being close to a handsome man's face. But she pushed that aside and waited for their eyes to meet.

Shikamaru did so with that certain slacker-charm and nonchalant, half-hearted interest that he was so good at showing.

"You are a hero."

He nodded, though she doubted he believed her.

"Ino and Chouji are strong enough for the three of you."

He nodded, and looked like he believed that a little more.

"You are a powerful shinobi and a true friend."

He didn't nod this time, but looked right at Sakura, like he could see through her.

"I shouldn't have gone off on my own. What if I…" he didn't finish and Sakura's heart shattered into a million pieces for him.

"Then I would've had to etch 'Troublesome' on your gravestone." She smiled, and he snorted a little. It was a sorry excuse for a laugh, but Sakura took what she could get. "Come on, hero, it's time to get back and see what a mess Naruto's made." But even as she said so, she knew Naruto would be in more trouble that she cared to think about. Sakura was uneasy with leaving Naruto and Kakashi alone for so long during a battle. She wanted to make sure Ino, Chouji, and Yamato were alright as well.

Shikamaru must have sensed the anxiety in her voice, because as he stood, dusted off his pants, and dried his face he spoke to her. "Naruto is stronger than you give him credit for." He might have sounded like the same-old Shikamaru, drawling tones and bored voice, but his face was flushed deep red. Sakura found it unbelievable endearing that he could blush after he'd just killed a man. Though, she didn't understand why.

"I suppose." Sakura nodded and didn't mention the fact that he was beet red. She was happy for the change of subject anyway. "He's so troublesome." Sakura teased and poked Shikamaru in the ribs.

"You got that right." Shikamaru turned in the direction that Sakura had just come only a few minutes before.

"We can catch up to Sai. He's really slow," she lied and glanced through the trees. "Because he's too busy spying on other people and not listening to orders!" she bellowed into the woods, and a branch shook. "Honestly, I don't know what was worse, Sasuke or him.

Shikamaru laughed this time, really laughed. "You know, Sakura," he spoke again, without looking at her, "for a girl, you're not too troublesome."

Sakura chuckled. Only Shikamaru could say something like that and make it seem like a compliment. "You're only saying that because I can kick your ass." She teased and lightly punched him in the arm as they sprang to the branches and began running through the trees.

"What?" He scoffed and played along.

Sakura ignored the fact that she'd just seen him cry and let him hold her waist. She tried to pretend that she wasn't flirting or having a good time. She tried to remind herself that she shouldn't think Shikamaru was handsome or brilliant. But all that just faded away as they brushed through the leaves together, the calm before the storm.

She'd have to think of an excuse to visit him when the got back to Kohona, just to 'make sure that he was alright.' She needed to make sure that he didn't allow his own fears and doubts hollow him from the inside out. She liked him too much to see him deteriorate into the shell of a man she used to know. She would make sure that he was okay, because doing so reminded her that sometimes she let the monster inside herself take over too. It was just a matter of fighting it.

Sakura didn't cry that night when they got back to the village, tattered and weather-worn. She didn't cry the next night either, after she'd found Shikamaru in a bar and kept him company until deep into the dawning morning. And she didn't cry the next night when he showed up at her apartment, a housewarming plant in his hand and a bottle of sake in the other, because that night, she didn't sleep alone.

P.S. If you didn't already know it, Sai is a FLAMING HOMOSEXUAL (which is awesome) and he's obsessed with Naruto's penis. Also, when he first meets Shikamaru, it's completely obvious that he wants him. Which I thought made for an interesting rivalry (instead of the usual Ino or Temari, cause Ino is totally in love with Chouji and Temari is gone too often) So there! That's my justification, and I'm sticking to it!

P.P.S. Any OOCness and/or grammar/spelling mistakes that were made are mine ALONE. KorinaCaffeine did an amazing job and spent a lot of time trying to make this better. So, thank you immensely. It was more than I deserved.