Two weeks after the fire in the forest, Maria was about to get out of the hospital. Shikamaru was a frequent visitor and came to see her every day.
Maria, who was doing exercises for the nurse, seemed fully recovered. She was bending over forwards and backwards and they found out that she was very flexible. From out of nowhere she jumped backwards onto her hands and flipped herself over onto her feet again. The nurse started lecturing her, saying that she could have done herself more damage and lots of other things that the girl just brushed off. She picked up a bag and went behind a curtain to get changed into her usual clothes and out of the hospital gowns. The nurse checked her over once more and confirmed that she could leave. That got a wide smile.
"Where did that come from?" Shikamaru asked her as they were walking out. "The flip, I mean."
Maria shrugged. "I felt like it. Where's Yarraman and Bess?" Shikamaru sighed. Of course she'd want to know where the horses were. He led the way to the stables where they were being kept.
Once there, Maria whistled softly and a sharp neigh came from one of the stalls, accompanied by a cute little whinny. Maria ran over the stall and sat herself on the gate. She rubbed the stallion's neck and face and cuddled the little filly. Even though they were gleaming from being recently washed, she gave them both a rub down with an ointment produced from her bag, which the horses seemed to enjoy. Afterwards, she simply jumped - literally - onto his back and unlatched the gate. Yarraman walked out and Bess followed suit.
"Where are you going?" Shikamaru asked.
"Back to the forest. I -" she hesitated. "I need to see what's left. Tell whoever wants to know where I went." Shikamaru nodded, and the trio cantered away.
As Maria rocked back and forth on the stallion's back, she only thought of the little place she called home. As far as she knew, that was gone. They cantered through the village and into the woods and down the hill and over the river and galloped through the forests she was so familiar with. They passed the same trees and same rocks, jumped over the same logs.
When they reached the place where the hut had been, there was only a pile of ash. Burnt wood and ash. Ninja were surrounding it, pulling things away and salvaging what was left. They turned their heads at Maria's approach. They looked at her sadly as she slid off Yarraman's back and walked towards the ash. A few tears escaped her as she stopped and stood where the door was. Something nudged her left palm. She looked down and saw the bay filly looking up at her. She nickered softly. Her eyes told Maria that everything would be alright. Maria smiled sadly and patted the foal. She then looked up and looked at the closest person.
"Is there anything left?" she asked him.
He shook his head. "No. At least, not that we know of."
"Hey, over here!" came another voice. Another ninja stood up, a case in his hands. It was a little melted but otherwise intact. Maria's eyes widened as he walked over. She took it with shaking hands as he handed it to her. She crouched onto one knee, set the case on the ground and flicked open two two latches.
Inside was a beautiful wooden guitar, with beautifully carved roses. Maria smiled and ran her hands along the line of roses. She looked up at the man who had given it to her. "Thank you," she told him. "Thank you very much."
Shikamaru sat in his room at his house. He was just looking out the window at the clouds as they passed. It was pouring rain and Maria was out in it. He sighed and turned away. He leant back on the sill on his elbows and stared at the ceiling. He remembered that maria had gratefully accepted their offer to stay with him for the time being. Shikaku had called Maria Shikamaru's "Damsel in distress", which both children blushed at. Shikamaru had scratched the back of his head in embarrassment and Maria had just laughed.
Shikamaru was pulled out of his daydream from the sound of pounding hooves outside. He turned and saw a golden horse and a bay foal come to a halt outside. Maria swung herself off Yarraman, who neighed and proceeded to a nearby paddock with Bess following, and ran towards the door. Shikamaru went to meet her. A second later Maria slid the door closed behind her and looked down at herself. Despite being out in the rain she was barely wet. She pulled her hood off and shook her hair. It was still out of its braid. She ran a hand through it and smiled at Shikamaru, who was leaning against the door frame watching her. He looked at her and shook his head the fact that she barely had a drop of water on her.
"When you're riding a horse like Yarraman around, the rain just isn't fast enough." Maria joked. She took a case off her back that Shikamaru hadn't noticed until then. She pushed a little water off it and smiled again. She obviously liked whatever was in it.
"What that?" Shikamaru asked.
"My guitar." Maria replied.
Shikamaru was taken aback. "I didn't know you played."
Maria gave him a mysterious look. "You never asked."
Shikamaru gestured to his room. "Come in?" he asked. Maria smiled and walked in. he room was fairly bare but she seemed to like it. Well, what do you expect from a girl that's lived in a wooden hut all her life? Shikamaru closed the door after himself. "Will you play?" He asked Maria, who turned and nodded. She sat down on the floor and unlatched the case. She took out a beautiful guitar. Shikamaru admired the carved roses along the front, along with the good handiwork of stringing it.
Maria adjusted some of the strings and took a deep breath and exhaled softly. She brought her hands to the strings and began to play.