It was a hot night. The muggy, sweltering kind that made sweat pool under the arms and around the neck.
The only place whose summers could top Fire Country's were Yugakure's, and that was only because the massive assortment of hot springs that made the village famous made the air impossibly muggy. Shikamaru wonders what he's done to deserve this.
The bar isn't as seedy as the other ones they've frequented. He supposes that could be a blessing. She had, had her heart set on visiting each one of the dives her shishou had in her exile. Something about needing to see more of the world before she settled and took on an apprentice of her own. Shikamaru asked her if that meant he was Shizune. She had patted his cheek at him, and asked why it took so long for him to figure it out.
There were plenty of solid medics back in Konoha. Hundreds at least, trained by Tsunade, and if not Tsunade, then Shizune. Their corps were stronger than ever, civilian doctors and medic nin alike.
And after Sasuke had left for the umpteenth time, Shikamaru had watched her watch him go. Naruto left not too long after that, insisting that this time, he wouldn't let Sasuke out of his sight. His near constant letters via his toad summons (and the kage of every village they passed through on Sasuke's ridiculous redemption journey) were the only things keeping the Rokudaime from dragging the both of them back to the village by their ears.
They don't know how lucky they are. The Godaime would've dragged them back by their balls if she could.
Sakura had waved Naruto goodbye, had turned on her heel and stomped right into the Nara compound. The others knew better than to stop her at that point. They knew the Woman who Punched God when they saw her.
She had found him, a wriggling two year old Mirai in his lap, trying to wrangle a shogi piece out of her impenetrable toddler fist. Sakura gave the girl a coo and a smile, and immediately Mirai gave up the piece so that she could hold Sakura's fingers.
"I deserve a road trip," Sakura had said. "I saved the world, too."
"Can you believe I've never really been anywhere?" she pressed, already knowing that he was listening, but holding onto his ear anyway. "I've only gone places for missions. I never just - traveled."
It's not hard to believe. Where would the time have been, between Akatsuki and the Fourth War and Kaguya?
"You're a jounin," Shikamaru said. "Request the leave and go. Nobody's gonna stop you."
Sakura nodded, and stayed another fifteen minutes to play with Mirai before she left to fill out the paperwork. She had returned to the Nara compound a week and a half later, notifying him that she had also filled out his paperwork for 'indefinite leave'.
"You know you can't fill out these papers for another person," he'd said.
Sakura looked at him like he didn't know she was both the Rokudaime's student and the Godaime's apprentice, and also the Woman who Punched God. Shikamaru rolled his eyes, signed off on the forms, and packed a bag.
She was an easy traveling companion. She wanted to take the scenic route everywhere. She liked to stop, to look at flowers, at waterfalls, valleys, and hills. She would watch the clouds with him, rubbing the petals of a wildflower between her fingers while he explained shogi strategies to her. She'd fall asleep in a bed of sweet green grass, her head pressed against his shoulder.
People recognized her. Mostly shinobi. Pink hair, green eyes, purple diamond; there was only one woman like her in the world. It allowed Shikamaru an ounce of anonymity. While she was busy making sure they got served first in restaurants, or given free sake and wine, he could ask a stranger where the nicest bookshops were, or where he could find a map of the countryside.
And he could watch her smile, and heal the scraped knee of a child. Could watch her graciously accept thanks for how hard she had worked in the war. Could watch her listen to the teary eyed testimonials of those related to people whose lives she had saved. Could watch her flex for little girls, about genin age, who wanted to grow up to be like Haruno Sakura, the Woman who Punched God.
He could also watch her gamble.
Sakura was an affectionate woman and a handsy drunk. She rarely got so inebriated that she was sloppy, preferring to speed up her liver's natural processes at double-time. It staved off the usual messiness that came with drinking and cut her hangover time in half. She always feigned to be more inebriated than she led on. Especially in backwater towns where people could've given a shit about the Godaime's apprentice, where people thought that pink hair and a couple of drinks made her an easy target, even with Shikamaru around.
He wonders exactly which rock these people have been living under.
Yuga wasn't hit as hard by the war as most other villages. Fire Country had been Madara's aim, and Kaguya - well, she hadn't really cared where she was as long as she got what she wanted in the end.
The village hidden in luxury hotels (as it was fondly called by pretty much everyone inside and out of Yuga) hadn't been a blip on their radar. So they didn't really need to know that a war hero was in their midst. Two, technically.
Idly, he watches the man across from Sakura size her up. He tosses a roll of bills on the table, the other men flanking him hemming and hawing as he does.
"Winner take all," he says.
Sakura hums, fingers drumming against the soft skin at Shikamaru's hip. She's had his arm around him since she started this little game, knocking back drinks and beating all the town's men in arm wrestling competitions ever since she challenged Shikamaru to one (loudly) when the night was still young.
He had backed down because he wasn't a big fan of getting all the hundred some bones in his hand shattered. Some stranger had called him a pansy, and the rest had devolved from there.
At first the matches were friendly, but then, someone had tossed down a couple of bills, and Sakura's eyes had turned greedy. Shikamaru had shivered. Somewhere in Konohagakure, Tsunade was obscenely proud of her second apprentice.
("She's taking money, Shizune," she murmured, grinning scratching TonTon behind the ears while Shizune watched on, confused. "She's taking money from men." )
Shikamaru wasn't sure what kind of game she was playing at, laying her hand on his hip, rubbing her fingers in little circles just so, so that the hem of his shirt rose a couple of centimeters every so often, until her hand had worked its way under the hem.
He doesn't notice it because he's a Nara or because it's summer and it's hot. He notices because every time she slams another man's hand into the table for a win, the fingers that touch his hot skin dig their nails just a bit in. They'll leave half moon indents. Bruises if she's not careful.
When she looks at him, cheeks flushed with the summer night, mouth a little wet from the shot she's just taken, he wonders how careful she's being. He can see in her eyes (too bright, too alert to be as drunk as she's playing at) that she wants something from him.
"What do you think?" she asks, jerking her head at the man opposite her, whose open palm is waiting to be driven through the cracked wooden table.
Shikamaru's eyes flick from the men back to Sakura. Her hand spasms a bit, and she lays her whole calloused palm against his hip under his shirt, two fingers just barely dipping below the waist of his pants. He wonders how many more arm wrestling matches she'll win before she gets bored and asks if she can take him to bed.
Shikamaru huffs around his cigarette, blowing smoke up instead of into her eyes.
"Sucker's bet," he replies.
Sakura smiles up at him and lays her elbow on the table, taking the other man's palm in her own. A waitress at the bar officiates the match, telling them when to begin. In the space it takes to blink, Sakura slams the man's hand down onto the table. The whole time, she never breaks eye contact with Shikamaru.
Her hand on his waist dips another two fingers below his waistline.
"Well aren't you just a lucky charm?" she purrs.
Shikamaru smirks at her, darting out one hand to pick up the rolls of cash they've just won. It's enough to make sure they sleep comfortable for the next couple of weeks at least.
"Nah," he says as she rises and tugs him closer.
He pockets the money and puts an arm around her shoulders, suppressing the urge to jump when her fingers begin to inch below the waist of his underwear. He feels the telltale tug of chakra that comes when one person side-alongs another for a shushin, and prepares himself to disappear into a mass of bright green leaves. They'll need to open the window when they get back, or the heat will be unbearable.
He slides his hand up to her neck, pushing his fingers past the high red collar of her qipao and further down to where her breasts begin to swell. He turns to press his mouth against her ear, taking in the summery scent of her; the spice of the sake on her breath, and her almond oil shampoo. He nips at her earlobe just to feel her jump.
"You're just a safe bet."