He knows he should stop. He knows that things are progressing far too quickly, far too needily for the both of them, but his body seems to have taken on a mind of its own. Her lips are sweet, far too sweet, on his own, her fingers gently touching his cheek, his neck, his hands. Their fingers intertwine, almost as though made for each other, mocking them, laughing at their desperate need. His fingers tremble as he places their entwined hands softly upon her stomach, her slowly burgeoning belly, almost begging her to stop, but things have progressed too far for them to stop now, and he knows it. Rationality holds no meaning in the face of this pain. Like a moth to the flame, he is entranced.

Shaking fingers peel away the barriers shielding the two from one another. They look upon each other's naked forms. His shy smile causes her cheeks to warm, brightening in colour. They stand out brightly against her otherwise pale, alabaster skin. He is nervous, apprehensive, pained as much as she. She knows this, which is why she allows him as much time as he needs.

Finally, with deliberateness tenderness, he takes her lips for his own. Arms wrap around each other, hugging, cuddling, holding close. They can feel the other's heartbeats against their chest, beating an erratic rhythm.

He begins to lower them to the floor. She doesn't resist, her lips continuing their frantic assault against his. Her back meets the floor and suddenly he is towering over her, his eyes apprehensive. She silences his fears with a kiss, so soft, so tender, so heartbreaking it brings tears to their eyes. "I want you," she whispers in his ear, her lips barely touching his closing eyes. "Please, I need you."

He can't bear to hear her beg, so with patient restraint, he and she join bodies. The first gasp as the two become one sends shivers down his spine. He has never been with anybody like this before, and it terrifies him. She takes his face in her palms and forces him to look in her eyes, crimson meeting black. He sees her hair, loose, splayed behind her head like a writhing halo; the sweat beading on her forehead, her neck; the rise of her breasts as she breathes. He is ever-aware of the swell of her belly, making sure to never press his weight upon it.

"Please," she says, almost pleadingly, "move with me." His eyes are searching, asking her if this is alright. She claims his lips once more and lifts her hips. In that one delicious moment, he understands. She needs to feel, to remember, to forget. He responds, lowering himself to meet her halfway. Rhythm and tempo; both are maintained as they share their pain. Never do their eyes move, both looking at the other intensely.

Hands, riddled by sweat, join, never letting go. Their breaths become more strained, heady, and they know they are reaching their limit. He kisses her more forcefully, and she responds in kind. He shouts her name as he breaches the point of no return, while she screams another, the name of the one they have both just lost.

She seems to realise as her eyes suddenly fly open, an apology contained within them. He quiets it with his lips, gently touching them to her own. His arms wind around her back, and he holds her as close as he possibly can. She closes her suddenly watering eyes, fits her head to his chest, sighs and slowly falls to sleep.

Even as she rests, her eyes continue to tear, and he feels his heart ache even more. He wants so desperately to remove this pain from her heart, but how can he do so when his own is so troubled? He knows now. He knows he won't ever be able to resist her again. If she asked it of him, he would die for her, because they are now bonded.

His hand settles on her breast, over her heart. He feels it beneath his palm, thrumming with life and hurt. He fits himself to her back, wraps the thin sheet around their cooling bodies and stares at her silently crying form. "I will always look after you," he says earnestly, for he truly means it. He presses his lips to her temple, then her closed, crying eyes, then finally leaves a lingering gentle kiss on her cheek. "Both of you."

He knows it will never bring him back to them, but if this can help her in any way, he will gladly do it again, because he now understands. She is his comfort, his peace of mind, his support as much as he is hers. Perhaps one day, she will be able to manage without him, but for now, he will do everything he can. He promised, after all, to look after her.

She seems to sense his words, for she replies sleepily through her tears, "Thank you, Shikamaru."

He nestles his head in her hair, allowing himself to remember its scent; honeysuckle and jasmine. "You're welcome, Kurenai-sensei," he replies as he closes his eyes and tries to wash away the pain nestled in his heart and mind.