A/N: Ha! I bet you thought I had forgotten about this fic, eh? Well you were right! I did! So there you go. And the problem with dropping such a young fiction for too long is that, if you are old and forgetful like me, you forget where you were going with it! HO NO!

- - - - -

She was a little let down. The games were going well, but any attempt Sakura made at being friends outside of the game Shikamaru just turned down. No lunches or dinners, no nothing. Just the game, and then he pulled out another damned cigarette and left her. Every time she watched him go, his slow gait taking him away from her home. She liked the idea of them being friends. She liked the idea of helping people, and Shikamaru needed help, even if he wouldn't admit to it. He could pretend all he wanted, but she sensed his loneliness…she just wanted to help. After all, helping people heal was her job, and she never saw a job she couldn't at least try.

But he wasn't having any of it.

Today had been the same. He had come over, taking time to finish a cigarette outside before stepping in to sit down and play. The smell used to irritate her and she would nag him about the bad habit. She knew why he has picked it up but she also knew that continuing to smoke meant his refusal to heal. Still, the smell was a part of the daily ritual, and one she enjoyed. Things had been calm in Konoha, and most of the ninja were home, helping around the village, training new groups. Kakashi was helping Kurenai with a new group—she was just now ready to begin being a sensei again. Naruto and his perverted sensei had left again, scouting for information on Itachi. How she had longed to go with them…but she stayed for the game. It was important for her to improve. But slow times meant little need for her at the hospital, and with Naruto gone and Kakashi busy, she needed the daily visits as much as Shikamaru.

He had come in, sitting down. She had smelled the lingering smoke, closing her eyes before bringing tea over and sitting across from him. To her credit, the games had become long enough that the tea was necessary. It took him over twenty moves to beat her. It meant her defensive strategies were getting better. But she was not to a point where she was even trying to counter—she just tried to not lose as long as possible. Today she had tried to counter and lost in ten moves, a serious set back for her.

"Damnit, Sakura." His voice was harsh, his disapproval dripping in his tone. It had surprised her…usually she was the one upset.


"What exactly was that move?" Shikamaru had been glaring at her, clearly disappointed. That look and the tone of his voice stung her.

"I…I was trying something new. Offense. I didn't—"

"Stupid." He interrupted her. He hates to be interrupted, so why is he cutting me off? Why is he being so mean?

Shikamaru had gotten up and started to put his vest back on, getting ready to leave.

"Wait, we can play again. I'm…I'm sorry, for whatever it is I did. But we have time, and I made tea, and—"

"No. One game a day, that is the rule. Think about that tonight so you have a better plan for tomorrow's game. A much better plan."

And with that, he had left, her face watching him go, brow knit in confusion.

- - - - - -

Shikamaru, you are stupid, stupid, stupid.

It was probably a good thing that she had decided to move offensively. While their games had gotten longer, she was inevitably just teaching herself how to run away as long as possible. Of course she would want to try to get him. He wasn't mad at her at all, but he had certainly been an ass to her. Just because they had become sort of friends didn't know she could read his mind, didn't know that he had already been high strung when he came over. She couldn't have known that he had needed the time at her apartment. Time to hide, to unwind, to think. But when the game ended so quickly, it had caught him by surprise. If he had stayed after…it would have opened the door to her for a closer friendship. So he was mad because he had wanted to stay at her place and couldn't if he was to keep his distance.


Earlier, before their Shogi date, there had been an incident with Temari that had left him unnerved. As a strategist, there was nothing more Shikamaru hated than to feel out of control. That morning Temari had been in control, had almost made him lose himself, and that was not something he could have recovered from before heading over to Sakura's.

- - - - - -

A knock at his door.

He went to open it, surprised to find the Sand village's ambassador leaning in the doorframe. She looked windswept and beautiful…and sly. Like a cat about to get cream.

He rolled his eyes. "Eh, what are you doing here, Temari?"

She reached her hand out, a finger lightly grazing his bare chest. He had forgotten he was just in his workout pants, he muscled torso exposed. Her touch made goose bumps on his skin and he was suddenly very aware of the feeling of being cornered.

"No hello, you naughty boy? How rude. You were supposed to meet me at the gate this morning. I came to see why you weren't there and I find you lounging around…not even dressed."

She would have continued to run her finger over his flesh had he not step back, turning and entering his apartment, trying to regain his composure.

"You are mistaken, Temari. I am no longer your Konoha escort and you know that. Ibisu should have met you at the gate, not I. Was he not there?"

She stepped in behind him, leaning her fan against the wall. "That man? He was there. But I had requested you. It has been a long time, Nara."

The name sent shivers down Shikamaru's spine. After the Gaara rescue mission, Temari had come to regroup in Konoha. It had been hard on her to almost lose her brother. Before Shikamaru had left on that mission, his last one with Asuma, he had been of great comfort to Temari. In many ways. When they had been together intimately, she had always called him by his surname. She had claimed it helped her stay detached.

Detached? Then why had she come back

He kept his back to her, his head began to hurt. Absentmindedly his hand rubbed his temple.

"It…has been a long time. Why are you here, Temari?" He turned and looked at her. Their eyes locked. He couldn't tell what he saw there, but it looked too close to amusement for him to feel more at ease. Even with their history, women always made him uncomfortable.

"Nara, you know why I am here. I know it has been a while but…I was hoping to see you. All of you."

His mouth hardened at her bluntness. But he couldn't blame her entirely. He had always hated these games she played, her coyness, but she was a real woman. Much more woman than Ino had been. Temari only played games after she already caught her prey, but she was mature enough to know what she wanted and to get it. That had appealed to him, because it made the whole thing so much simpler. Less troublesome. They had been a good match, for a while.

But after the mission with Asuma, "a while" came to an end. He didn't want any kind of relationship, even if it was just sex. It was too much work.If there was one thing Nara Shikamaru hated, it was work. Especially work involving women. He had helped Kurenai as much as possible, but watching her pain and how it made his worse exponentially …he didn't think he could handle being in her place, losing the person he loved. It was a better strategy to not love at all.

"That isn't going to happen, Temari."

She came over to him and he didn't move away. Her hands smoothed over the skin of his shoulders, his chest, his stomach. "I can help you make it happen, if you want…" and her hands began to dip into the top of his pants.

Quickly he moved her hands away and took a step back.


"No? Look, you need this as much as I do. Probably more so." Again, the bluntness.

"I don't need it and I am not interested."

Instead of backing off, she sat down and stared at him, her face thoughtful.

"Is there someone else?"

He wasn't sure why, but a flash of pink hair had flashed through his mind.

He sighed. This was getting worse by the minute. "There is no one else."

"Because if there was—"

"There isn't."

"—I would respect your distance."

That caught him by surprise, and Shikamaru looked at Temari. "Why?"

"Nara, we just had sex to make me feel better. I like to believe it made you feel better, too. But if you were actually seeing someone, I would back off."

"And if I'm not?"

"Then come to bed already."

With that, she had stood up and, in one fluid moment, taken off her Kimono. Statuesque, beautiful and completely naked, she walked back to his bed. She was so much of a woman that even when stepping over the clutter in his apartment, she was graceful.

Shikamaru sighed, looked at the clock, pulled on a shirt and shoes and left Temari waiting for him.

He walked to his Shogi date, angry and pensive.

- - - - - - -

He had been sitting in the café across from his apartment all afternoon, but he could tell she was still in his apartment. Temari was more patient than Ino or his mother. She wouldn't scramble to come find him, because she had the patience to wait him out. He saw her figure dipping and moving around his place.

She is probably cleaning up, making herself at home.

She had stayed with him before, but not for the past few visits. Why was she doing this?

Sighing, he realized he wasn't up to seeing her yet. She had really shaken him. She was right—he could use it. He didn't need it, but seeing Temari naked, her commanding voice telling him to come to bed-- he was tempted to do just that.

So why aren't you?

Because. Because of the relationship, the stickiness, the trouble.

She said she just wanted sex. You want sex. There shouldn't be a problem.

That flash of pink hair. That was the problem. And it frustrated him, because it was not a problem he could figure out. Why had Sakura crossed his mind (however briefly) while Temari had been interrogating him? He searched himself and couldn't find any concrete feelings for the pink haired kunoichi. It was just her soothing presence, probably, since he felt anything but soothed with Temari.

Thinking it through, he decided to decide about Temari the next day. He was too confused to go up there now, where he would probably just end up going to bed with her. He would go to an inn, or Chouji's, and sleep on it.

As he exited the café, though, he found himself going by the ramen shop. Ramen? He didn't really like it. But he peeked inside, just in case…

In case of what? In case she was there with Naruto.

She wasn't.

"Um, can I help you with something?"

Amane, the proprietor's daughter, was standing behind the counter looking at him quizzically.


"Did you want something to eat?"

He was hungry, but ramen?


He left there with a giant to go bag in his hands. His feet were carrying him, his mind shut off and the guilt giving his body direction.

Halfway to his destination, it started raining. Shikamaru was too lazy to move out of it. He maintained his pace, getting thoroughly soaked in the process.

Finally, her door was there.

It was still trouble, but this seemed like the smaller trouble out of the two for the night.

He hoped.

Sighing, he reached out and knocked.

- - - - - - -

Nothing could have been more of a surprise than the sight that greeted her. It was late, and she had been worried that there was an emergency at the hospital. But instead of a messenger telling her to come quick, there was a very wet and disheveled Shikamaru at her door carrying a large bag.

She just stared at him.

Great, she is probably mad at me still from this afternoon. What was I thinking?

Shikamaru started to turn to go. He heard a laugh that caught him off guard.

"Shika, what the hell are you doing here? Come in, you are soaked!" Before he could turn away completely, she grabbed his shoulders and ushered him into her apartment. She grabbed the bag and, smelling the food, began to take it into the kitchen, calling directions to him as she went.

"Take off your shoes in the hallway, please, and stand there. I'll bring a towel."

He did as he was told; embarrassed as his shoes sloshed the water they had in them all over her floor. She came back holding a large towel out to him.

"Here, dry off a bit."

She sat near by and watched as he tried his best to sop up the water in his pants, his shirt, and his hair, which seemed to have most of it. His hair tie must have come out when he had been drying his hair, because as he bent down to try and mop up the floor, his long hair came tumbling forward, obscuring his vision. The towel was so soaked he was just pushing water around, and his clothing and hair were still dripping.

Her laugh came again. It sounded like bells to his ears, and he looked up. Her eyes were merry and she struggled to maintain a straight face.

"If you could just see yourself!" She couldn't keep her face straight after that and doubled over with laughter. He turned bright red, realizing what she was probably seeing—long, crazy hair, soaking clothes…he must look like a fool. Sheesh.

"I…I brought you some dinner. Sakura, I'm—"

But she held up her hand, signaling for him to shut up.

"You can apologize later. First, you need a shower, or you are going to get sick from being cold."

His face flushed—she had called him out on needing to apologize. But he did feel very cold and when Haruno Sakura told you to shut up, you did just that.

"Follow me, and try not to drip too much on the carpet."

He followed her up small hardwood stairs to the loft above. Her apartment was not large, and instead of a complete upstairs, it just had a small loft. In fact, one could see up there a little standing below, half of her bedroom exposed. Her bedroom was small and simple. Bed, dresser, rug on the floor, a large window. He looked at the window, awed and a little jealous. It cut out from the wall, a small window seat built in—the perfect nook for staring at the clouds and daydreaming.

"Shika? The bathroom is this way." He flushed, embarrassed for being caught looking around the room. She went into her small bathroom and he followed. He felt awkward—it was a small space, and she was standing close to him.

"I'm sorry, I don't actually have a shower, only a bathtub, but there is plenty of hot water and towels in the cabinet next to the sink. While you run a bath—a hot one to get you warm—I'll try and find some dry clothes for you."

"Sakura, this really isn't necessary, and I have to be going really…"

"Spare me, Shikamaru. It is raining even harder outside. If you have to go, it will be after this storm eases up a bit."

She walked out and closed the door behind him, leaving him alone.

He looked in her mirror. He looked ridiculous. Sighing, he started running a bath and stripping off his wet clothes.

- - - - - -

Once Sakura heard the bathwater start, she smiled a little. She wasn't sure what Shikamaru was doing at her home, but she was glad he had come. He probably didn't realize, but it was getting close to the anniversary of the day Sasuke left Konoha.

Didn't realize? Of course he does, stupid! He was in charge of the squad sent to bring Sasuke back! He, and so many of her friends, had almost died on that mission.

Remembering, she went to her closet. She opened the door and pulled down a small box from the top shelf. Carrying it with her, she sat on the bed. Opening the lid, his smell drifted out, forcing her to close her eyes against the tears threatening to come. Gingerly she pulled out the pair of pants, his essence surrounding her. Holding them out before her, she inspected closely. They would fit. She folded the pants and set them on the bed. She started to pull out the matching shirt, but realized that not only was Shikamaru too big for it, but also she…she couldn't let anyone wear it. The fan stitched into the back was too painful for her to even look at. Those tears she had been fighting began to fall down her face.

Luckily, she didn't get too lost in her thoughts before she could hear the bathtub draining. Had she been sitting there the whole time!? She crammed the shirt back into box and rushed to put it back in the closet. Closing the door, she thought quickly—she didn't have a shirt big enough for him, she knew. Grabbing a small blanket that had been draped on her window seat, she began to fold it when she heard the door open.

She turned quickly. There was Shikamaru; towel tied around his waist, rivulets from his hair down his much muscled torso, look of surprise in his eyes. Gasping and blushing, she turned away quickly.

Shikamaru was shocked to see Sakura still in the room, but it actually amused him to see her turn away so quickly. The bath had helped him more than he could have known it would. He only had a shower, and it was a very relaxing change to soak in the hot water. It had also given him time to collect himself and he felt, at least under the circumstances, much more like the Shikamaru he wanted to be. Calm, collected, aloof. In the hot water, he allowed himself to admit why he had come to Sakura's. He had been a dick that afternoon and as her comrade and, he admitted, her friend, he needed to make amends. Also, her place was the best place for him to think, he realized. If he could eat dinner at the serene apartment he could go to Chouji's or even his parents for the night without being such a mess. He still wasn't entirely comfortable opening the door of friendship to Sakura, but they could play a game and he would just be careful to stay a few steps ahead of her, warding off any bit of closeness.

Of course, there she was blushing and apologizing for catching him in a towel and it struck him as pretty amusing. Feeling more in control, he remembered her teasing him before about being cute enough to lose sleep over. Time for a little payback.

"Sakura? Why are you turned away?" He was able to keep any hint of jest out of his voice.

"Shikamaru, I'm sorry, I lost track of time, I didn't mean to spy, I'll just go—"

"It is no big deal, Sakura. I'm sure that as a medical ninja you are used to seeing men's bodies, right?"

"Well, yes, but this is different, because…"

"Because I am handsome enough to lose sleep over?"

When she heard that, her face turned a dark shade of red, but a little anger was mixed in with her shame. She looked at him, hand on her hip.

"Look here, buddy, don't you be getting any ideas—"

He allowed himself to crack a small grin, and she realized he had just been joking.

She thrust the blanket into his arms, almost causing him to lose the towel.

"I don't have a shirt for you, use this, there are some pants on the bed."

She went into the bathroom and collected his wet clothes, going down the stairs before he could protest.

It had felt good to joke around with her, but he did wonder why she had still been upstairs. Surely it hadn't taken her that long to find clothes for him?

He went to the bed and saw the folded navy pants. When he held them out, he realized they were men's pants, though just a bit small for him. He could fit in them, but they weren't as loose as he liked and the cuffs came above his ankles—they were a shorter man's pants. He wondered whose they could be. Naruto's? Kakashi's? He was a little taller than Naruto, so it would make sense. And Sakura was his teammate…lots of teammates were closer than just friends. He wondered as he pulled them on.

Drying his hair as much as possible, he finger combed it into submission. He wore it very long now, almost as long as Neji, though he still pulled it back usually. Having his hair tie broke meant that couldn't happen, and all Sakura had were girly head bands. It still was wavy, but it usually only got into his trademark poof because he slept on it wet so often. Wrapping the blanket around his shoulders, Shikamaru headed downstairs.

He found Sakura in the kitchen, getting the dinner he had brought ready. She had put everything on a try and was carrying it towards the living room.

"Are we eating in there?"

"Yes, I thought we could start a game while we ate. We don't have to finish tonight, and I won't try any offensive moves this time."

He blushed, realizing she was scolding him for his attitude earlier that afternoon.

"Sakura, I am sorry. I was out of line. I had…things on my mind. You should start thinking offensively, and I am actually impressed you started that on your own."

"I know, I just wanted to hear you say you were wrong."

He started to get mad, but she changed the subject before he could contest.

"I didn't realize you ate ramen, Nara Shikamaru!"

"Eh," he shrugged, "I don't. But I knew you always ate it with Naruto. I assumed you liked it."

"Sort of, but I'm actually burnt out on it now."

They both looked at the ramen, and then at each other. Shikamaru sighed heavily and made Sakura laugh.

"I have some other food. Sit here and set up the board while I get us some not ramen dinner." She laughed as she carried the tray back into the kitchen.

Shikamaru sat down, enjoying again the relaxation he felt in this apartment. He had been right to come here. His fingers began to set up the board quickly. He hadn't realized that there was a fire place and that Sakura must have set up a quick fire while he had been getting dressed. The blanket was making it hard to move around, and he began to feel toasty as well. It was embarrassing to sit bare-chested in her house, but it was necessary. He shrugged off the blanket. After all, while he had only been joking, he really did not have anything Sakura hadn't seen before in the hospital.

She came back in carrying the tray, raised her eyebrows for a moment at him, then sat down without spilling a thing.

"I had some noodles, tofu and onions. It isn't much, but…"

"It isn't ramen, so it I am happy." In fact, it was delicious. Shikamaru was so lazy he never cooked. But Sakura apparently was comfortable in the kitchen. And she seemed to like what he liked—simple dishes, nothing too troublesome.

She handed him a glass and poured something hot into it.

"What is this?"

"Sake." He rolled his eyes. While no where near as bad as her mentor, Sakura had developed quite a taste for the alcohol.

"Thank you. I can't have too much, I have to leave after this game."

"We need to make it a long game, then."

His mind stopped. Is she coming on to me? It sounded like…a proposition. Could he not get away from women today?

"I just washed your clothes and set them out to dry, so we need to make it a long game so that they have time to dry all the way and for the rain to ease up."


She made the first move. She was trying a new strategy, it seemed.

The game began. She was going slowly. In between moves, they both ate a few bites in silence, the crackle of the fire the only sound. She refilled their glasses.

"That is it for me on the sake, Sakura."


Several moves later, she filled his glass again and he didn't protest. He liked the warm feeling the alcohol burned through his body, and it made his mind more at ease. The silence and the sake made it easy for him to think about Temari. He was going to have to kick her out. She would probably already know this because he wasn't returning tonight. He thought they could salvage a tentative friendship if he chose his words carefully with the Sand ninja.

His eyes wandered down to the pants, his ankles poking out. The sake made him feel more comfortable asking, and the flush on Sakura's cheeks from the drinks made him hopeful she would answer. He was curious about how deep her feelings were for Naruto when she had come to him originally for help about Sasuke.


Of course. He couldn't believe he hadn't forgotten about what time it was. The navy on Naruto? Sheesh, he was getting slow. Clearly the pants he was wearing were Uchiha Sasuke's. Why would Sakura be so at ease with him hanging out so late at night when he had been so mean earlier? This must have been a hard day for her, and he felt like even more of an asshole for his actions earlier that afternoon. He realized that his subconscious remembrance of that day was probably what made Temari's approach even more unwanted. He remembered Sakura crying at the gate, Naruto's promise to bring Sasuke back…

Sasuke. How could she still be in love with him? Yet she obviously was.

"I'm glad you had some men's pants on hand, Sakura."

She looked up, suspicion in her eyes. She studied his face. Sakura looked at those brown eyes, calm as always. Shikamaru's hair was drying in waves, smoother than she would have thought. Usually he had that ridiculous ponytail, but down…it was actually quite lovely. She looked at his calm face, and came to an understanding.

"Just ask what you really want to ask Shikamaru. We are already in one game—"she pointed at the Shogi board. "I don't want to start another."

While he was taken aback, Shikamaru was also impressed. She had figured out where he was going based on very little information. He wasn't sure the Sakura from a couple of weeks ago could have come to this conclusion as quickly. He wondered if it was because her mind was getting sharper or if she knew him well enough now to read him. Probably a little bit of both, and that idea was simultaneously comforting and discomforting.

"Why do you have Sasuke's pants? How do I fit in them? When he left, he was only thirteen."

She looked at him, sadness taking over her features. She looked down at the board, moved one of her pieces, and then looked back at him, composed.

"You are half right. They are Sasuke's pants, but I think they were probably Itachi's first. I wondered why they were so big, but the style is more Itachi's. I imagine that…that maybe Sasuke wore them occasionally, alone, after his brother…you know."

"Yes. That makes sense. I was half right, and you answered half of my question." He reached down and countered her move. "Why is it that you have them?"

She stared at the board, her face quiet and pensive. He could see that she was trying to detach herself from the emotions using the game. It probably wasn't healthy for her, she probably needed to cry, but he was glad. This situation was tense enough already, and he hated crying girls.

"When we came back from the second attempt to retrieve Sasuke, I realized that I still had feelings for him. I had done so well suppressing those feelings, to the point where I had convinced myself I just wanted him back as a teammate and a friend. But then he was there, and I touched him, and I could smell him. All of the emotions came tumbling back." She reached down and moved a piece. It was a good move, and Shikamaru was surprised. She had not taken the obvious route. "So when we came back, I went through this phase where I tried to do the things he did, see what he saw, to try and understand why…why things were the way they were." She paused, and Shikamaru didn't mind waiting. He understood all too well.

When his team came back without Asuma, he had begun smoking. He tried to learn to fight more with his fists, had even tried to fall in love with Kurenai and take care of her. None of it had worked, and he was stuck with Asuma's nasty habit of smoking but none of the humor, kindness or compassion his former sensei had possessed.

"One day—"She continued, "I broke into the Uchiha complex. I know it is off-limits, but I needed to see, you know? And I found his room. In it, I found those pants and a shirt and they smelled like him, and it was the smell that had brought it all back and made me remember. So I took them, and have had them."

Shikamaru understood what a big deal it was that she had let him wear them. After a shower, they were sure to absorb some of his own smell, traces of Sasuke slowly disappearing. He also had to admit it was curious that she had let him wear something so precious to her. He would have to think about this later.

He moved, his pieces falling into place for the final blow. He watched her and couldn't tell if her face of frustration was because she recognized the beginning of the end of the game, or because of what she had just told him.



"Thank you for your kindness tonight. I know today is not easy for you."

She just nodded. She moved a piece. It was a poor move and sped his plan up by several moves. He had a feeling it was on purpose, that she wanted the game over. But he wasn't ready. He made a silly move as well—on purpose. Her eyebrow raised at him, her eyes suspicious. She had better see how much she has improved, that she can even tell I made that move to drag this out.

"What are you doing, Shikamaru?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You were going to finish this game in the next three moves, I could tell. Now I am not sure what you are doing." She even knew how many moves it would have taken me. She was so intelligent it took him a moment to refocus. Well, she had been so honest with him, he might as well be honest with her.

"I am not ready to go home."

She smirked, trying to joke despite how sad she still felt. "Oh?"

He didn't play into her bait, though. Distance, Shikamaru. Remember, keep your distance. "I have an unwanted house guest who refuses to leave."



She managed to keep her face straight, she thought, but Sakura was surprised. She had always suspected the two were lovers a couple of years ago, mostly because Naruto had made so much fun of Shikamaru…but if Temari had been his lover, then…

"Temari is unwanted? I don't know, if I were you—" She was just trying to keep the tone light, but Shikamaru shook his head. This was, apparently, no joking matter for him.

"I came here tonight because I needed to figure out what to do with her."

Surprisingly for Sakura, the words hit her like punches, and she wasn't sure why. "I thought you came to make amends."

"That too."

"How am I any help about Temari?"

Shikamaru was not good with women. He did not see that Sakura was hurt by his intentions and could not understand that what he said could make or break her that moment.

"It isn't you. It is your apartment. Maybe it is the feng-sui, or the fact that no one ever knows I come here, but I am able to relax here and think."

Sakura felt very used. He wasn't coming here for her friendship. He was coming to hide. He wasn't telling anyone about helping her, he was escaping them. While she felt he probably felt a little sorry for earlier, she now realized that the whole day had been about another woman, and somehow that made her very uncomfortable.

"I…I am glad you feel comfortable here. I regret, then, that I need to ask you to leave."

Shikamaru looked at her, completely confused. Hadn't they just been talking? Had he not just complemented Sakura? "But our game isn't finished."

"You were going to win, even if you were trying to draw it out." She got up and carried the tray of empty food dishes back to the kitchen. She disappeared, leaving Shikamaru feeling bewildered.

See, you weren't keeping the distance. That is why you feel confused, that is why this feels bad.

She came back with his clothes which were still not dry.

"I'm going into the kitchen to clean up, you can change. I won't look." She thrust the damp clothes into his arms. She also went to the fire and poured a bucket of water onto the embers. Suddenly, to Shikamaru, the room felt cold, and it wasn't just the lack of fire or damp clothes he was holding.

She left, and he changed, cringing as he pulled on the stiff, damp clothes. He folded Sasuke's pants and set them where he had been sitting.

He got up and, just to avoid talking to her again, let himself out. It was still raining. He walked to Chouji's, berating himself the whole way.

You let your guard down.

This is why you stay away—you can't understand women, they are too much trouble

You don't do friendships, you don't do anything that might get you hurt.

She would have been too much effort.

Too much effort? For what? What was he really afraid of losing?


It had been a bad day.