I lay on my back, staring up at the sky in contemplation. The air was sweet and warm; each whimsical brush carrying with it the music of peace and life. The sky was a blushing intermingling of whites, blues, and reds, all swirling together in a dance of farewells.
Sometimes I wished all farewells could be as beautiful as this.
I sighed and shook my head as if the motion would unhinge the bittersweet thoughts that plagued my mind.
Everything about him, from the sound of his name to the intensity of his eyes, left me in such scattered turmoil I hardly knew what to do. I couldn’t even recall when it started. It was almost like a sunrise.
When Sasuke left, he took what little remained of my heart with him. For a time I felt dead inside, as if all the warmth left inside me was lost. Shikamaru showed me it never left. At first, it was gradual, small flecks of color hidden in passing nods of acknowledgment, and I hardly even noticed. But over the years those nods turned into greetings, which over time evolved into conversations, and then eventually laughter. Real laughter, not fake puffs of sound so short and polite they could be considered as nothing but a courtesy, but real gut-wrenching bellows that brought tears to my eyes and a smirk to his lips.
Everything about him was cast in warmth, and it coaxed from me what I thought I’d lost, the ability to love without pain. He had, in more ways than one, become my light. Once I came to realize that, it was only a matter of time before I began to fall for him, and how could I not? Not only was Shikamaru intelligent, but also fiercely loyal towards those he cared about. He was undeniably handsome, and while quiet and reserved, held more passion in his eyes than most contained in their entire body…just thinking about them made me blush. At first, I had only ever seen them as dull reflections to his eternal boredom and laziness, but after really spending time with him I began to notice how, when he talked about things he was passionate about, his eyes would burn with a fire as mesmerizing as they were dangerous. They engulfed me in such heat I could not -- would not -- look away.
Every time he looked at me my heart would race, desire pooling in my stomach and creating such a feeling of longing inside me that I hardly knew what to do. It was probably why I was lying there among the trees, rather than being in the village with my friends. Lately, so as to figure out what to do about this whole mess, I’d been avoiding him. He hadn’t said anything about it, but I knew it was only a matter of time.
Ino, of course, thought I was being a blockhead and told me to just kiss him already. But I couldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t want to, because believe me, I wanted to. It’s just…I looked back on the way I followed Sasuke around; the way I basically threw myself at him was more than humiliating.
I drove Sasuke away; I wasn’t about to do the same with Shikamaru.
I sighed again in frustration, throwing both my arms over my eyes. Kami, this was hopeless…
The sound of his voice came from right beside my ear. I screamed in shock and sprang to my feet so fast I lost my balance and fell flat on my ass. I could feel the pounding pulse in my throat increase with embarrassment as my face turned beet red. How the hell did he sneak up on me like that?!
Shikamaru’s roaring laughter only made my face heat up more. I quickly looked away. My heart finally settled from the shock, but it didn’t exactly stop racing. It was a rare sight to see Shikamaru laugh like that, after all. Usually, his laughter was contained to light chuckles and snarky smirks, his eyes shimmering in amusement. Kami, did I love his laugh. I loved the way it lit up his face and took over his entire body.
He was so close, so achingly close. He must have been lying on his stomach next to me when he spoke, judging by the heat of his breath on my ear. I didn’t know what was more embarrassing: my reaction to him, or the fact that he had gotten so close without me even realizing it.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding all day?” Shikamaru chuckled once he calmed down. He rolled over to lay on his back before turning to me, lifting his eyebrow and smirking in amusement. He patted the space next to him before locking his hands behind his head and turned towards the still-fading skyline. “Can’t say I disapprove,” he continued. “Although your technique for watching sunsets could be better – they’re a lot more enjoyable when your arms aren’t covering your eyes.”
I snorted in reply before moving to lie down beside him, not taking my eyes off his face the entire time. He must have felt my stare because he turned towards me, his face now serious.
“Long time no see, huh Sakura?” And there it was: the question. I turned away from him, casting my eyes towards the sky once more. Most of the soft yellows and blues had hardened to reds and purples, the landscape blackening with shadow.
“How long were you watching me for?” I counteracted, not ready to explain my reasons for avoiding him. He sighed, probably from frustration. Quickly shifting my eyes towards him I saw him turn back to the sky, looking pained. I hastily looked away. Coward, I thought to myself.
“Just a few minutes,” he answered, tone light and thoughtful, but I could hear the twinge of sorrow hidden beneath it all. “I thought you were just ignoring me. Of course, I wasn’t expecting you to actually freak out like that when I said your name. The look on your face was priceless though, totally worth the effort.”
“Troublesome,” I said under my breath, completely mortified. I couldn’t believe I didn’t notice Shikamaru watching me for that long! How lame could I get!?
Shikamaru’s snort of amusement told me he heard my last comment.
“Pfft, first you’re cloud watching, now you’re copying my speech? If I rub off on you any more, the Hokage will have my head.” I could only blush. Considering how much time we spent together, it was only logical for us to influence one another, but it was horribly embarrassing to think of how much Shikamaru had influenced me in particular.
“Yeah, probably,” I agreed. We fell silent after that. It wasn’t a comfortable one though; I could practically feel the gears turning in Shikamaru’s head, as if contemplating his next move.
“So…” he started hesitantly, “you must have been thinking pretty seriously to not even notice your surroundings.”
“Not really,” I lied.
Tell him you love him, my inner demanded. What’s the worst that could happen? I ignored her.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he tried again. I could feel his eyes on me, scrutinizing my every move as if he could pull out all the answers with just a look. He wasn’t that far off with his logic. There was very little I could deny him when he looked at me that way.
“Nothing worth repeating,” I replied softly. He made me so nervous that I began slowly pulling blades of grass from the ground, just so I could do something with my hands. I’m sure he didn’t miss the motion. “I was just thinking about the past…how things are just so different now. That’s all, nothing important, really.”
Stop being a coward! Tell him!
I don’t want to push him away! I argued.
You’re already doing it by hiding like this. Tell him.
I could tell from the look on his face that he didn’t buy it. Time stretched on with neither of us saying a word. The last glimmers of light trickled away into darkness. The moon took the sun’s place, lighting up the night sky with billions of scattered stars. The wind was no longer as warm, and I shivered with the cool air.
I was still pulling at grass when Shikamaru’s hand closed over mine, halting my fidgeting. I stiffened with surprise, immediately whipping my head to look at our intertwined fingers before slowly lifting my eyes to meet his. He was no longer lying beside me, but instead hovered over me in a half crouch, his face mere inches from mine. Goosebumps sprouted all over my body, and I knew it had nothing to do with the cooling temperature. I could feel my pulse increase as my heart beat faster and faster. I tried to look away from him but couldn’t. He looked so pained, so uncertain, a stark contrast to his usual bravado.
“Did I do something? Is that it?” he asked, his eyes searching mine. Shame flooded my heart. Of course, he would think that, with the way I’ve been avoiding him.
“No, of course not!” I denied immediately. I tried to move away from him to face him better, but he wouldn’t allow me to budge. If anything, his grip tightened even further.
“Then why have you been avoiding me?” he demanded.
“Yes, you have.”
“Shikamaru, please, I—”
“Have I said something to anger you? Did I hurt you in some way?”
“Then why?” Shikamaru exploded, his anger replacing the pain. “You’ve been avoiding me for days now. You refuse to look me in the eye, and you won’t talk to me. Cut the crap and tell me what I’ve done so I can fix it.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I could feel the traitorous tears dancing along the edges of my eyes, just waiting to fall. What had I done? I just wanted space to think, and without even realizing it, I was hurting him. I had to fix this, but before I could explain, I felt his right palm gently cupping my cheek, his thumb carefully sweeping away the tears that had only just begun to fall. I froze, unable to move, unable to speak. He was so close, so very, very close.
“Is it Sasuke?” he asked, no longer angry.
“What?” I shrieked, finally finding my voice. I immediately pushed Shikamaru away so I could sit up straight. He didn’t fight me this time, but instead shifted further from me. He stared at me for a moment before breaking eye contact, running his hand over his forehead and sighing in discontent.
“You’re still in love with him.” It wasn’t a question. I could feel my heart sink into my stomach at his words. He was wrong, I didn’t love Sasuke anymore, and I hadn’t for a long time. But how could I make him believe me?
I had to tell him.
Yes, TELL HIM, my inner voice cheered. I tried to gather my courage but I was scared, so very scared of being rejected once more.
“You’re wrong!” I told him, putting as much conviction into my voice as I could. “I don’t love him anymore.”
“Sakura, you don’t have to lie to me, I get it.”
“No, you don’t!” I insisted, jumping to my feet. Shikamaru mirrored my stance, but this time it was me who moved closer. I had to tell him. I needed to tell him.
“I don’t love him, I—”
“YO, SAKURA! SHIKAMARU! THERE YOU GUYS ARE!” Naruto’s voice cut in between us, effectively stopping me in my tracks. Shikamaru never looked away from me though; instead he patiently waited for me to finish. But I couldn’t. Not with Naruto here.
I hung my head in defeat, turning towards the oncoming ninja in orange. He wasn’t alone, Ino and Sai trailing behind him. Putting on a fake smile, I walked towards them. Shikamaru followed shortly behind me, but unlike me, he did little to hide his aggravation.
“Naruto. Sai. Ino-pig.”
“Billboard brow,” Ino cheerfully shot back without missing a beat.
“We’ve been looking all over for you guys!” Naruto chimed in. “We were about to head to Ichiraku for ramen. Wanna join?”
“I’ll pass,” Shikamaru responded. I couldn’t help but wince at the sharpness in his tone. “The Hokage gave me a bunch of reports to look over…such a bother. Anyway, you know how she is with deadlines.” Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Shikamaru turned to leave, but not before giving me a meaningful look. “We’ll talk later,” was all he said before nodding to the others and walking away. Naruto seemed to miss the tension between us, but from the looks Sai and Ino shared, they did not.
“Okay…well how about you, Sakura? You’re free, right?” I hesitated a moment, not sure if I felt like company.
“I think I’ll pass as well. I have an early shift at the hospital tomorrow and should probably get some sleep.”
“But Sakura, you’re always busy! We hardly get to see each other! Come on, it’s just for a little while, can’t you come?”
“I don’t know…” I trailed off. He was right, of course. By avoiding Shikamaru, I had inadvertently avoided just about everyone else as well.
“An hour out with us isn’t going to kill you,” Ino insisted. “You really should join us.”
I sighed in defeat. “Okay, okay, I’ll come, but I can’t stay out too late, alright?”
“Yahoo!” Naruto whooped in excitement, jumping with his fist towards the sky. I couldn’t help but smirk in amusement at his childish antics. Ino moved around him, shaking her head with a roll of her eyes.
“Oh brother,” she sighed, but the smirk she wore held only mirth.
“We should probably head out now,” Sai responded, “before Ugly changes her mind.”
“Will you stop calling me that?” I angrily replied, but he only smiled.
At Sai’s words, Naruto shot forward, racing off in the direction of his favorite ramen shop and leaving the rest of us rushing to catch up.
We’ll talk later. Shikamaru’s words echoed in my head.
Next time, I thought with determination. Next time I’ll tell him how I feel. No more running. No more hiding.