Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, it belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. I only own the plot.

Operation: Hunt Shikamaru Down!- Chapter 20

Chouji approached Training Field 21-C. Different from his typical appearance, his signature bag of chips was missing. He walked quickly, trying to reach his destination.

Training Field 21-C was a genin training field, known for its numerous trees. It was a place where genin could work out their teamwork, in regards to information gathering, concealing, etc. It was essentially a forest really. However, it offered a quietness that could not be compared for several reasons. First, it was situated at the end of the other training field, far away from the city center of Konoha. Second, there was a law that stated no harming of any property whatsoever there (that meant people basically couldn't practice any jutsu or weaponry, since they were all destructive), rarely anyone would go unless they were ordered to.

Chouji looked up to the ancient oak tree where Shikamaru had situated himself, cross-legged, on one of its thick branches while his back rested against the trunk.

Chouji, after being the best friend of Shikamaru for all these years, knew the handful of places where Shikamaru would go well. This was one of Shikamaru's typical relaxation spot. His friend hadn't came to this place as much as he'd used to even though it had always been his favourite. It just didn't measure up to the risk of being discovered by Temari.

Temari…who knew that the wind-user would affect Shikamaru so?

Chouji recalled himself rushing to the hospital three weeks ago, after being informed that his friend was there, fearing for the worse. Imagine his surprise when he found out that Shikamaru wasn't at the emergency room, but rather, it was Temari.

He caught a glimpse of Shikamaru inside one of the five meeting room, at the side of the three emergency rooms. Usually, the meeting rooms were used to give the relatives of the patient some privacy with the doctor as the person disclose the most updated information about the patient's wellbeing. Other times, it was used by shinobi for a quick debriefing.

The rooms were placed in a standard fashion, Chouji knew because he had been all of the rooms before. They would consist of a lovebird sofa pushed to the far end of the room, opposite from the door. A desk with a wheeled chair behind it would be in the middle of the room. There usually would be a few foldable chairs leaning against a wall, just in case many people showed up. A large glass window was situated for the room, with two metal grey-coloured binds to block any prying eyes. The binds were usually "opened" and the door wide open when no one was occupying the room.

The room was also made to be extremely soundproof.

Hokage-sama was facing Shikamaru as he was sitting on one of the foldable chairs, his arm being wrapped in bandages by a general nurse next to him, whose face Chouji didn't see since it was out of his line of vision. However, Temari's two brothers, Kankurou and Gaara were there in the room. He recognized their clothes.

It was all Chouji could see before the nurse left the room, closing the door behind her as the blinds of the room were turned shut, blocking his view completely from what was going on inside.

They probably wanted a personal report of what had happened.

Chouji calmed down then, finding that his friend was fine.

With nothing better to do, he lodged against white walls as he waited for Shikamaru to come out.

There were several times in his life that something like this happened. When he was a kid, his father and mother, along with some adults, would enter the meeting room while he waited outside.

Sometimes, they would come out relieved.

Other times, they would come out, face sad and crying.

Personally, he hated to be here. It always felt claustrophobic. His heart would felt heavy, pounding heavily in his chest. He wanted to shout, to scream for the time to past sooner, just anything; anything to get the waiting over with. He just hated to be left hanging, especially when someone he cared about could possibly be dead.

He had waited exactly half an hour before the door opened; another half an hour before Shikamaru was free to go.

Shikamaru didn't say a word about the incident.

Chouji got only bits and pieces of the story later on. All he found out was that apparently Shikamaru got up early that morning, being up and about by six (which was extremely rare thing for Shikamaru to do when he wasn't on mission). After talking with the guards, Temari and her two brothers, he volunteered to escort Temari out of the Fire Country.

He supposed he would have expected no less from a shinobi village, where everyone had the ability to acquire information despite things were being covered up. He heard most of the information at one of tea shops, where traders and businessmen were talking along the tables. The traders and shop owners had seen what happened, used to being awake in early morning to set up and stock up their shops. They weren't afraid to spread the info, proud that they were the one that had the most updated information as to what was, the most popular topic in Konoha.

They all knew that Shikamaru was released from the hospital with light wounds while Temari remained in one of the hospital rooms that were guarded by two Jounin at all times.

It was the middle part that had left people speculating. No one knew what was going on.
They knew Shikamaru and Temari were ambushed. Yet, they wondered if the two platoons of ANBU that were dispatched not long after their exit had anything to do with them. If they were, then people wondered what foes the two were facing that needed the two platoons to go and rescue them.

Some say it was Orichimaru, while others said it was the Akatsuki.

Chouji was curious about what had happened as well, but even more so, on the change of behavour of his friend.

At the first week that Temari had been hospitalized, Shikamaru had reverted back to his typical habits, sitting on the roof of buildings to do some cloud-watching, playing shogi with Asuma-sensai, eating BBQ with him, being bossed around by his mother to do house chores while4 saying 'che' and 'troublesome' the whole time

However, whenever he was free, Shikamaru would be by Temari's side, along with Temari's brothers. If not, then he would retreat back to the training areas. Instead of cloud-watching, Chouji would find him meditating against a tree, like now.

Well…meditation might be a wrong choice of word. The gut feeling Chouji got was that Shikamaru was training…because sometimes when the wind blew, the way the light of the sun that penetrated between the branches and leaves along with their shadows as they shifted along with the wind …felt…

He just felt something unnatural.

Chouji's instinct went into overdrive. He had to consciously suppress his flight or flight response because he knew Shikamaru would never hurt him.

…Even though Chouji had never seen Shikamaru like this.

Come to think of it, he hadn't seen Shikamaru complain about training ever since the Retrieval mission that ended almost in disaster two years ago. Sure he protested about being chased around by Temari and stuff…but Chouji wondered how much was it was 'real'.

Real meaning that Temari and Shikamaru actually hated each other as they appeared to be; that Temari actually wanted to kill/ beat up Shikamaru for the reason she had said (about wanting to defeat him once and for all after the Chuunin exam) or that Shikamaru actually wanted to get rid of that woman once and for all.

Being smart as they were, Chouji was sure that they could get their way around each other, if they put enough effort into it…especially Shikamaru, since he was the smartest man Chouji had ever encountered…

Not to mention, outside of the rivalry or the 'hunting march' period, they were nice, if not civil, with one another.

Chouji often wondered if this was some weird dating style of Temari and Shikamaru. But at least Temari's brothers approved of him...since they left Shikamaru with the responsibility of taking care of their sister as they disappeared a week ago.

"Shikamaru." He called out. The said man opened one eye and gave a lazy wave.

"Go see her or she's going to kill you, slowly." Chouji told him, remembered to emphasize the last word.

Shikamaru stretched and yawned as he stood up. He leaped off the tree and started walking in the direction of the hospital.

Well, he supposed it was time. He was going to talk to her anyway.

Opening a bag of sour cream and onion flavoured chips, Chouji followed him.

Well…she never said she would kill him too if he tagged along.

"Temari's finally stabilized." Tsunade announced to Gaara, Kankurou, and him, a day after Temari had been in the hospital.

Shikamaru had raised an eyebrow when he was summoned by the Hokage just outside of his house. Even more so when he found out what she want to disclosed to him about. He was worried about Temari, but he wasn't a relative after all.

Not that he hadn't pulled a few strings to get an update on her condition already.

Therefore, when Tsunade-sama made the announcement. Shikamaru stood in front of her desk calmly, waiting for her to continue. Maybe he could find something new.

"The thing that is on her body is not a curse-seal. However, it's designed for a worse purpose." The medic continued. "To destroy the person's soul..."

The teenagers in front of her stared at her for a moment. Tsunade sighed slightly before continuing.

"The good news is that Shikamaru had stopped the process from finishing completely. This left her mind still intact. However, the seal feeds on chakra to work, and once that happens, the seal will continue to feed on her.

"I have managed to suppress her chakra level to the minimum needed level with medicine. But it will not be a long term solution because her body will adapt."

"But a slight..." Kankurou started.

Immediately, Shikamaru knew what Kankurou was going to ask. Shinobi weren't meant to live without chakra, nobody was. Chakra was the energy of life after all. It was just that shinobi have a higher of level running about in their system constantly and they could manipulate it better, hence they could do jutsu.

"We are finding solutions right now to take care of the problem. But no matter what, it would be impossible for Temari to be a shinobi anymore."

Everyone around the village knew what was happening between Shikamaru and Temari, it was a ninja village after all. People were separated in what their opinion was in regards to this 'couple'.

Some thought that they were in love with each other very much. Otherwise, why would Temari chase after Shikamaru and bet him up like those kids in elementary who were trying to get their crushes' attention. Also, why would Shikamaru tolerate her to be around anyway, if he wish, he could probably find a way to talk to Tsunade-sama about it and get her to 'take care of Temari', so to speak.

Therefore, when something big happened to Temari...everyone watched.

And Shikamaru watched Temari, as she went through the different treatments and therapy as Tsunade and other medic-nin tested different ways to control her chakra.

During the first week, Temari was in so much pain that she had to continuously be injected with anesthetics as the seal acted up from time to time.
During the second week, the treatment she went through started making her sick as well.

And now, this was the third week...

Shikamaru couldn't really explain want he was feeling right now.

He was supposed to be glad in some ways, since he could reverse everything back to where he originally was, before Temari, before the Sound-nin, and before the Chuunin examination.

He went back to cloud-watching at one of the roofs, beneath the shades. He would lie on his back, with his hands behind him, supporting his head. He would have his eyes closed from time to time, enjoying the gentle gust that was uniquely Konoha's, one that was never too hot, cold, dry, etc. It was perfect, well as perfect as it could be, for him to relax and enjoy himself, clearing his mind of anything or anybody.

But his body would tense automatically at the slight disturbance in the air, at the sound of movement, of people passing by or talking. His body was honed to those cues, as if Temari would come out of nowhere...which reminded him that he had to visit her...who ended up yelling at him to get out of the room.

Shikamaru also went to play shogi with Asuma, but…

It didn't seem as practical anymore.

His mind would wonder off, instead of concentrating on the game. He wondered whether Temari had been sleeping properly, whether she had eaten yet (she haded hospital food to the point where she would rather starve to death than eat it), and most of all, if Tsunade had finally made progress.

Then, his hand would start to twitch, and he would have to excuse himself from the game because he couldn't sit still anymore, that he had to go to the hospital to visit her...who ended up kicking him out of the room.

While eating BBQ with Chouji and others, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from thinking about her, whether she was resting like she was suppose to do, whether she was eating or not... Having a good memory, he once again remembered how she hated hospital food. Trains of thought such as those would continuously looped in his brain until he couldn't take it anymore. To get his mind to shut up, he would order a few new plates after everyone was done, grill them to perfection (as much as he could anyway), ask the clerk for a Styrofoam box, pack food into the box, close it, and head to the hospital to give to the woman...who ended up dissing his hard work and throwing them all in the garbage in front of him.

He swore to god that woman had no appreciation in anything whatsoever, let her starve for all he cared.

Then every night, Shikamaru would sighed as he lie on his bed looking at the moon outside the window. Once again, he would remind himself that he thought he was smarter than this, that he should be able to get himself out of this predicament, that maybe it was time he find himself a girl friend.

One that wouldn't be constantly demanding his attention.
One that wouldn't be playing mind games with him as she chased him across the village.
One that she was predictable so she wouldn't go around declaring that she loves him out of nowhere.
Most of all, one who wouldn't try to push him away by using something like the anger tactic to stop him from burdening himself with worry and need to take care of her.

Stupid woman...

And in the very same night, he would conclude two facts about his life.

One, his life, before he knew it, had started revolving around a woman named Temari. And--

Two, Apparently, adaptability is a scary thing.

Hence...the cycle continued.

Shikamaru shook his head...as his thoughts went back to the present. Scratching the back of his neck, he entered the room.

Temari was currently eating a large plate of spaghetti that was place on a tall metal table over her bed, the typical ones with rollers on them.

Also in front of her were two bento boxes, one had two spring rolls and few chicken wings in it while the other one was a box of kimchi fried rice.

"Can you finish them?" Shikamaru paused before he continued. "Are you even allowed to eat those?"

Temari shrugged as she used her chopsticks to pick up a piece of spring roll. "Well, they didn't specify anything that I can't eat today, so I figure I might as well get everything while I still can. It really doesn't matter anyway, since I'm just going to puke it back out later today."

He pulled a metal chair up to her bed and took a seat. Leaning back and watching her eat for a moment, his heart felt heavy as he noticed the dark circles around her eyes and how thin she was getting. He hoped that the appointment with Tsunade this afternoon will be the last one, that the medic-nin can find something that actually works...because the backlashes were horrible. He had found her sitting on the floor of her bathroom, crying her eyes out once as the seals had been activated accidentally in one of the treatments.

Sighing quietly, Shikamaru decide to drop the bomb.

"I'm be heading to Suna."

This marks the end of the chapter. If things goes well, there should only be one more chapter left. I might write a sequel depending on the response I get from you guys. Anyway, we'll see.

Thanks a lot for reading. Please R&R? It really brightens my day to hear feedback from you guys.

Have a good Chinese New Year ;)