Part One

Her weariness was evident by the way gentle lines fanned out from the edges of her mouth, no doubt formed from too many hours of pursing her lips into a thin, harsh line. Her forehead, too, had its fair share of creases, more apparent right now, considering she was glaring at him through bright, slitted green eyes.

It was likely a good thing for his personal well being that Nara Shikamaru had been exposed to females for nearly all of his life, though he had been mostly unwilling. He knew how dangerous they could be, and he also knew it took very little to set their tempers off into righteous spirals that would suck a man in and crush him mercilessly. He stoutly refused to ever let that happen to him, at least, at this stage in his life. The only woman he would ever allow to trap him in the sticky web of her guilt would be his wife, and since he hadn't met her yet, he certainly wouldn't bow to any other woman just because she could look intimidating if she wanted to.

On the other hand, Haruno Sakura was looking a little bit scary at the moment.

If he hadn't been depending entirely on her healing prowess, he would have turned tail and run straight for a warm rock and a sunny field. As things stood, he was going to have to suffer her ire as well as at least a half an hour of scolding before she let him be.

She reminded him a lot of his mother, and consequently, of Ino. She was a little more tame than the both of them, however, and Shikamaru generally felt more at ease around her than he did the other two, a fact that had many people raising their eyebrows toward him and Sakura as of late. It was said that men often looked to women like their mothers when it came time to marry.

Shikamaru heartily laughed in their faces. If he had wanted to be saddled with a loud, obnoxious, overbearing woman for the rest of his life, he would have proposed to Ino long ago and been done with it. No, he was looking for something quite different when it came to that delicate subject, and though he found Sakura to be an intelligent, pleasant woman for the most part, he did not want to marry her. He was also certain that he would be the last man on earth that she would want to marry.

The very thought of raising grumpy, lazy, pink-haired children almost made him smile.

The mirth was quickly snatched from him by a pair of cold hands as they slapped salve onto a wound that split his eyebrow cleanly in two. Hissing, not at all bothering to 'be a man' and hide it, he looked up at Sakura through sulky eyes and demanded, "Do you have to be so rough?"

Her response was to pinch his cheek and stretch it, holding it at a painful angle for three seconds, before releasing her grip and turning back to her medical supplies.

Certain he could be heard in the hall, he nevertheless exclaimed, "Are you a medical-nin or not?! Woman. You can't just beat on your patients."

She didn't bother to turn around as she replied in a honey-sweet voice, "No one would notice. You obviously don't bother to take care of your body on missions."

Rolling his eyes heavenward, he sighed deeply and prepared himself for the onslaught. He would get one when he went home as well, he knew, because Ino would be waiting for him, having been alerted by some secret psychic link with Sakura that he was home and, yes, he was more in the dog house than Kiba ever thought about being. Sometimes it was really troublesome having so many obnoxious women in his life.

"Don't you roll your eyes at me, Nara Shikamaru. You know very well it's true, and you are in serious trouble. Ino-buta is going to let you have it when you get home, too. She came by this morning. I don't pity you at all."

No, scratch that. It was always troublesome.

Lips turning downward at the corners, he felt his lower lip slide out into the beginning of a very serious pout. He had never asked any of these women for their concern and he had certainly never welcomed their loud mouths. Like his father, he seemed to be eternally plagued by loud, bossy women.

However, unlike his father, he had no intentions of marrying any of them. None at all.

Shouldings hunching inward, he stubbornly avoided looking at Sakura, instead gazing in mild disgust at the piles of gauze and wraps that were piled carelessly on a tray to her right. She might have, in some twisted way, been entitled to being slight annoyed with him; he had, after all, gone against her implicit instructions to do what he did best and be a lazy slob for a week. But then, Godaime had given him a mission, and wasn't it his job to go mucking out over the hills and into God only knew where whenever she snapped her fingers?

Being female and therefore, by default, unreasonable, Sakura hadn't been able to quite grasp that concept. The fact of the matter was, though, he'd been getting tired of being clucked at. It if wasn't his mother very tenderly asking if his ribs were feeling better that day as she thrust a mucking shovel into his hands, it was Ino stopping by "just because" to slap him on the back where she knew damn well he'd taken a kunai. And then getting all overbearing and indignant when he cursed and swatted at her.

She knew his wounds weren't healed. She just liked reminding him of the fact. And then she always ran off and tattled on him, which had Sakura busting down his bedroom door at whatever odd hour she got off work, looking pissed off and slightly deranged in her crumpled work clothes as she swung a medical bag at him.

Very often, he was scared witless, and simply did whatever she said. It wasn't wise to argue with the women when she was pushing on twenty hours up, four down as far as sleep went.

As he eyed her broodily, he wondered how it was that they'd fallen into a routine where she found it perfectly acceptable to shove her way into his life and start making troublesome scenes in his home. It had been somewhere around the time that she and Ino had become fast friends again, he suspected. With her own team scattered, Sakura had simply been taken under Ino's wing once again, and pulled into the circle of her friends.

Shikamaru hadn't been very concerned about it in the beginning. With another female around, Ino had less time to terrorize Chouji and him, likely caused by her lack of any proper attention span. The girls would put their heads together, groaning about carbs and weight gain, while he and Chouji steadily worked their way through plates of barbecue and blissfully ignored the majority of the dire predictions tossed their way.

If he had a bit of a stomach pooch, it was his business, wasn't it?

Feeling a deeper scowl settle onto his face as he remembered that particular conversation and the subsequent harassment, he eyed Sakura moodily. She had donned a fresh pair of gloves and was getting one of her little instruments of torture ready, somehow managing to look competent and somewhat sadistic, even though he knew her back was killing her. Her shoulders were much too tense for her to be as serene as she was letting on.

Somehow, the thought that she was as stressed out by this whole situation as he was didn't border on comforting.

When she turned, forehead creased and looking annoyed, his expression became defensive. "What?"

She sighed and crooked her finger. "All right, off with the shirt."

Looking down at his stomach, where the pooch did indeed exist, his expression became entirely petulant. "They're fine, Sakura. They'll just fall out on their own. Or something."

A vein in her forehead began to throb dangerously, but he didn't have the benefit of seeing that. Ridiculously, he was feeling too self conscious about his smidge of body fat. "Nara Shikamaru, those stitches will not fall out. They'll fester and get infected and then I'll have to do even more work because you live to be a pain in my ass and contribute to the many hours of unpaid overtime I suffer simply because you're alive."

He looked up and muttered childishly, "If you'd let me die in peace then you wouldn't have unpaid overtime."

Gritting her teeth, Sakura set her tool aside and took one menacing step. He lifted his hands, admitting defeat, and grudgingly removed his jounin vest. The long wound marring his side had actually been doing better until he'd gone on the most recent mission and torn the stitches to hell and back. He'd hoped to escape without her noticing, but as they always were concerning women, his hopes were futile.

He hesitated at the edge of his turtleneck, and she finally grew impatient enough to reach down and grab it, beginning the process of yanking it over his head for him. He yelped, and a struggle that bystanders would have found comical had there been any ensued, wherein he fought to keep his shirt on.

"Oh, for God's sake, I'm not going to -- Oh, Shikamaru."

The fact that it felt like someone was jabbing a hot poker in his side probably had some form of relation to the way her tone had suddenly become entirely disapproving. Stilling, knowing the worst was yet to come, he kept his head ducked and held his breath.

To his surprise, silence reigned.

When he cautiously peered over his mostly lifted shirt, he was shocked and horrified to find her on the verge of tears.

Forgetting his damnable stomach fat, he removed his shirt the rest of the way and set it aside, anxious for anything to occupy his hands and mind. He was not good with sentimental women. He wasn't good with women period, but when they started crying he didn't know what to do. To be fair, women like Ino and Sakura were entirely unpredictable, and they would just as soon punch you as hug you when they got to blubbering, so he had good reason to be cautious.

When he glanced over again, ignoring the pain in his side in favor of the more pressing evil, he was relieved to see that she'd turned away and was busy with something else as well. The silence dragged on, and he relaxed his posture, wincing when the movement sent fresh pain lancing up his side.

Well, some good could still come of this.

Dropping his gaze to his stomach, he wrinkled his nose. There it was. The damn pooch. Cautiously, he lifted a finger and poked it. Yep, it was real.

"What are you doing?"

Her voice was unnaturally subdued, so he stopped prodding his stomach and looked up. Deciding the question didn't warrant an answer, as she was already advancing on his wound, he simply straightened and looked away.

For some reason, watching his flesh be sewn up or unlaced always made him a little queasy.

It hurt, but he expected that. He felt each little prick as she carefully removed the remains of his stitches, and since no one could see, he didn't fight all that hard to keep his eyes from watering. It was just Sakura, after all. It wasn't like she was going to run out in the streets and scream that Shikamaru was a crybaby at the top of her lungs.

Lifting a hand, he placed it over his eyes and sighed softly. When she began to stitch the wound anew, he hissed out a breath, but otherwise tolerated it.

He knew he was lucky that she took time after her shift to tend to his wounds. Any other medical nin could have, as they were mostly capable, but there was something comforting about having Sakura do it. For all she scolded and nagged, she tried to make the process as quick and painless as possible, and that way he didn't have to worry about Ino harassing some poor nine-to-fiver when she got wind of his return.

They had an unspoken agreement that they took care of one another in the ways that they could. Sakura took care of their bodies, they liked to think Shikamaru was responsible for their minds though he was far too lazy to attempt to improve anyone else's, and Ino roused their spirits. Chouji, bless him, was their glue. He also worked a bit with Sakura on the body business, what with the whole meals thing.

He felt a little bit guilty when he caught a glimpse of her face, and he didn't like it. She looked worried and strained, and he knew he was the cause of it, as he often was. Despite his ambitions to live a peaceable, greatly uneventful life, he always ended up getting in the worst scrapes.

"Listen, I--"

"Why do you--"

Abruptly, they both stopped talking, and Sakura prompted him. "What were you going to say?"

Gritting his teeth against a fresh pain, he grunted, a signal for her to speak first.

Her hands moved in quick, businesslike jerks that matched her tone. It was worrying. "Why do you have to do this? Every time."

Eying her like she'd gone daft, he stated, "I am a shinobi."

"That is not what I mean." Her eyes became stormy as she continued to sew his wound, and he saw streaks of red on the fingertips of her latex gloves. "Why do you disregard everything I tell you?"

With more patience than she rightfully deserved, he tried again. "I can't just say no when a mission comes up."

Her voice hummed with something he couldn't recognize. "You can say that you've been advised to take medical leave, Shikamaru. Which is just what I told you to do, but apparently, the genius knows what's best for his body and therefore doesn't need to listen to lowly-" Her voice sharpened as she tightened a stitch. "medical-" He actually whimpered at the next jerk. "nin."

Bewildered, he exclaimed, "Can't you be a little more gentle?"

"I'm finished anyway," she muttered, turning away and tossing her gloves with obvious temper. They hit the corner of the tray and dangled haphazardly.

As he digested her speech, Shikamaru thought he'd found the root of the problem. Her ego was wounded because he hadn't taken her advice and refused the mission that had come up. Well, that was too bad, because his specialty had been needed, and there weren't all that many people up for the job. But for the sake of their friendship, as well as his general health, he thought he should make up for it.

"Look, Sakura. It's not that I don't think you're competent."

With her back to him, she laughed thinly. "That's generous."

The woman simply would not be satisfied. "Woman, when have I ever treated you like I didn't trust your judgment?"

Her shoulders hunched inward, and she declined to comment. Thinking that he'd won, he continued, "There. No harm, no foul. Am I done here?"

Much to his dismay, she turned around and brandished a slip of paper. She looked entirely too satisfied.

Knowing he would regret it, Shikamaru warily asked, "What is that?"

"Oh, nothing really." She slipped it into Shikamaru's medical file and tucked that under her arm. "Just orders for you to be retired from active duty for three weeks."

He blanched. A three week vacation would have, under normal circumstances, been a blessing. But three weeks subscribed by Haruno Sakura meant endless supervision, general henpecking, and a great deal of discomfort coming from three different directions.

Trying for a reasonable tone, he asked, "Isn't that a bit dramatic?"

Reaching behind her head to undo the hairnet that she wore every day for hospital duty, she rolled her eyes. "You should be ecstatic. Three weeks to lie around and play Go while your body gets some well deserved R and R."

He watched her hair tumble around her shoulders and, as usual, ignored the odd tickle at the base of his stomach that it caused. Annoyance sharpened his tone. "We both know you, Ino, and Mom aren't going to let me get R and R."

Her smile became almost feral. "I said your body, dear. No one said you were going to get off scot-free after putting me through all this stress. Your first day of physical therapy is tomorrow, six o'clock sharp."

After a quick glance at the clock, he spluttered, "In six and a half hours?"

Reaching down, Sakura patted his cheek and smiled insincerely at him. "I'm game if you are. Well, whether you want to be or not, really. I'll come wake you up, so don't worry about setting your alarm and hitting the snooze."

When Sakura breezed out of the room, he sighed loudly and slouched. His stomach pooched out, and his side sang with pain at the motion, causing him to swear softly.