Disclaimer: see part 1.

Of Sand and of Leaf

Part 8

A Parting of Ways

By Random1377

Temari tried to stifle a yawn as she and her brothers paused at the edge of a small wood. She hated to admit that she was tired – especially in front of those two – but it had taken so much out of her to contain her usual energy and try to be a demure woman that she was verging on exhausted.

For all the good it did me, she thought, following as her brothers started down the path between the trees, scanning the darkened foliage for any sign that they were not alone. …jerk.

"I don't know what you wanted with that guy anyway," Kankuro said lazily, breaking the silence that had fallen since leaving the Hidden Leaf, "he's a loser. You can do way better than him."

Temari shrugged, giving Gaara a sideways glance. "Doesn't matter," she said quietly, "it's over now."

"He rejected you then?" Gaara said bluntly.

"Uh huh," Temari confirmed, her voice neutral. "Guess I'm not the kind of girl he likes."

Gaara nodded slowly. "Then… Kankuro is right. He is a loser."

Temari grinned. "…thanks, guys."

Shrugging indifferently, Kankuro muttered, "I just didn't want you to disgrace our village by getting involved with such a weak dumbass. What was his problem, anyway? You were too good for him?"

Biting her lip, Temari said, "I'm just not his kind of woman. Nothing I can do about it, I guess."

"Well, forget him," Kankuro said easily, "he's a punk."

Temari blew out an exasperated breath. "I wish it was that easy," she said angrily, "as pathetic as it sounds, I still kinda want to see him again."

Without breaking stride, Gaara said, "Well you still can… he's been following us for the past two miles."

Going stiff, Temari's eyes shot up to the trees surrounding the path. "He's not THAT good at stealth," she said, trying to pick the chuunin out of the shadows, "I would have noticed."

"You've been distracted," Gaara pointed out, "and he's been very careful."

"Kankuro, did you know?" Temari asked uncertainly, still unable to find Shikamaru in the tree cover.

"Eh, yeah," Kankuro yawned, "just didn't care. It's not like he's a threat… if he wants to bumble around in the shadows – whatever."

Gaara stopped. "You should resolve this," he said plainly, "it's clearly still bothering you."

"I'm fine," Temari said, keeping her voice level, "let's go."

"Very well."

They continued deeper into the forest, all three of them keeping track of the Leaf nin's movement's until the growing tension proved too much for Temari to take.

"Alright," she said grumpily, raising her voice as she came to a halt. "Come out, for God's sake – we all know you're here!"

She waited expectantly until one of the shadows moved, leaping agilely onto the path in front of her. "I wasn't trying to be that subtle," Shikamaru said, bowing politely.

The three Sand nins glanced at one another as if to say 'right, sure,' but said nothing as the chuunin brushed a few stray leaves off of his flak vest, giving the task his undivided attention and staring down as if nothing else in the world mattered.

"Well?" Temari said expectantly, finally losing her patience. "What do you want?"

Slowly, Shikamaru raised his head. "You still owe me two days," he said calmly.

The Sand nin looked incredulous. "You're kidding, right?" she snorted. "I'm pretty sure that agreement was off when you told me how you really felt. Is there anything else you want to waste my time on? Or was that it?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "No," he said coolly, "that was it… but I still want my two days. We had a deal."

"Gaara, Kankuro," Temari called, ignoring Shikamaru entirely; "I'm done. We're leaving."

As she turned to go, however, she felt her body freeze. Shadow Bind, she thought, gritting her teeth, that little prick!!

"Will you listen?"

Temari tried to shrug, but Shikamaru's hold was absolute. "Doesn't look like I have a choice, does it?" she said bitterly.

Abruptly, her body was hers once more, allowing her to turn to face the chuunin. "Will you listen…?" he repeated softly.

"You have my attention," Temari said neutrally, "but if you bind me like that again… I'll kill you."

Shikamaru nodded, choosing his words carefully before beginning.

"I don't like you as a weak woman," he said slowly, "it doesn't suit you. In my mind, you'll always be strong and confident – a woman that never takes no for an answer, and would kill anyone that would question her loyalties. When I saw you in that kimono… it just looked so WRONG, and I…"

Temari frowned as he trailed off. "Go on," she murmured.

Bowing formally, Shikamaru said, "I apologize for what I said to you… and I want you to come back with me and give me a chance to make up for it."

"Mmm no," Temari replied immediately, turning away from him and waving over her shoulder. "See ya 'round, Shiki-san."

As she started to walk away, Shikamaru sighed. "Yare, yare," he said lightly, "if I had known it would have be so easy to get rid of you, I would have just said I didn't want you the first day." Shrugging slightly as the Sand nin's back went rigid, he added, "I could have saved us both four days of irritation, huh? Wasted time, I guess – a learning experience, my dad would say… I have to admit I'm relieved, though…"

Unable to resist the leading silence, Temari muttered, "And why's that?"

Shikamaru's voice was soft and cold as he made his reply.

"You showed me that I was wrong – I don't like weak women… so it's good that you're leaving."

Temari was on him in an instant, whirling around and springing at him so fast he did not even have time to blink. "Weak?" she hissed, shoving him up against a tree and tearing a kunai out of her hip holster. "I'm weak?? You condescending little SHIT! I was nice – and I'm not nice. I listened to you – and I don't listen to anyone! I dressed up in a goddamned KIMONO and made a fool of myself – and I DON'T MAKE A FOOL OF MYSELF! How DARE you call me weak!! I did everything I could to make you see me – everything!"

His eyes never leaving hers even as she pressed her kunai up to his throat, Shikamaru whispered, "Everything but see through a childish temper tantrum. If you can't even see my fear when it's laid bare in front of you, how can you even HOPE to make me see-"

"Oi," Kankuro's voice interjected suddenly. "If you're gonna kill him, kill him… if not, stop fooling around and come eat. We left before dinner. I'm hungry."

Temari glanced around, finding Gaara and Kankuro watching the proceedings with identical expressions of faint amusement. "What's so damn funny?" she demanded, glaring from one to the other.

Gaara shrugged. "Nothing," he said softly, "it's just that…"

"…he really knows how to get you going," Kankuro said, finishing the thought as his younger brother trailed off. "I've seen you pissed off before, but damn – cutting a guy's throat just because he called you weak? That's like, something Gaara would do." He paled suddenly, realizing what he had just said. "Er, something Gaara WOULD have done," he said quickly.

The youngest of the Sand nins stepped forward, ignoring his brother's nervous glance as he walked up to Temari. "Sister," he said calmly, folding his arms and glancing up into the branches overhead, "what is it you want?"

Temari clenched her eyes closed. "I don't know anymore…" she admitted quietly, easing her kunai away from Shikamaru's throat. "I thought I'd found what I was looking for… but I'm not sure anymore."

"Then I'm definitely glad you're leaving," Shikamaru said softly, "if you're that easy to sway, you're not what I'M looking for,"

"Shut up," Temari said tiredly, "you're making me sick. You crush me like that and throw me away, and somehow that's my fault?? You-"

Shikamaru reached up, gently putting a finger over her lips. "People who care for each other often cause one another the most pain," he said simply, "moving past it, growing from it, apologizing for it, letting it make you stronger – that's what being in a relationship is. If you can't even accept an apology for something I've done wrong, then there's no way you're ready to be in a relationship with me."

Looking her straight in the eyes, he drove home his point with four simple words.

"You're still a child."

Temari looked sick as the chuunin pushed away from the tree, bowing to Gaara and Kankuro.

"Sorry to keep you from your dinner," he said smoothly, "I won't inconvenience you anymore."

As he turned to leave, Temari called out to him. "There's… probably enough for you to stay," she said, her cheeks flushing with shame as she kept her eyes on the ground. "If you wanted to, I mean."

Shikamaru nodded. "Are you just being polite to a visitor from another village?" he asked, smiling faintly as she finally lifted her chin. "Or are you actually inviting me?"

"Kankuro," Gaara said quietly, "let's get the fire ready."

"Did I miss something?" the puppeteer mumbled, scratching his head as his younger brother led him away, "I know I missed something…"

Temari and Shikamaru considering each other for several minutes, studying one another's face in complete silence as they tried to determine what the next step would be. After some time, Temari averted her eyes, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she mumbled, "This is never going to be easy for us, is it?"

"Nope," Shikamaru confirmed levelly. "Never."

"Don't go babbling on about the best things in life being difficult," Temari groaned, "please – I'm not up for it."

Shikamaru shrugged. "I wasn't going to," he said calmly, "that's too cliché. And I don't know if us being together would be one of the best things in life… or one of the worst."

"Gee, thanks," Temari said dryly.

"But I'm willing to give it a try."

Nodding slowly, Temari stepped closer to him, her eyes lidded and serious as she whispered, "Good, even after everything you said, I REALLY… want to know you…"

"Know me?" Shikamaru blurted, completely misunderstanding her intentions. "Like… KNOW me, know me??"

"No," Temari laughed softly, shaking her head from side to side, "I know it's too early for that kind of stuff. I want to know… you…"

Shikamaru shifted uncomfortably. "I still haven't figured out why," he admitted slowly, "I thought maybe it was BECAUSE I beat you in the chuunin exams, or because we fought together against that Sound nin… but that just doesn't seem like the whole story, and I can't… what, why are you laughing?"

Temari was covering her mouth with her hand, shaking her head as she replied with a muffled, "It's nothing."

"Grr," Shikamaru growled, "just tell me – I hate it when people do that."

"It's just that…" Temari's eyes were dancing with mischief as she gathered the correct words. "It's just that all this time I've been 'waging war' on you… I thought it would be so easy for you to understand that I never bothered to explain why."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "You still haven't," he said dryly.

Sobering, Temari took his hands in hers and met his gaze head on. "I think I'm falling in love with you," she said without a trace of humor in her voice. "You're one of the smartest people I know, you're very handsome, and I think under that smokescreen of 'I don't give a damn' you throw out, you're really thoughtful and kindhearted. I don't think… people NEED a reason to be in love, Shikamaru, but if you have to have one it's that you are you. Nothing more, nothing less. If you need more than that, you'll need to give me some time to come up with it…"

Tentatively, she put her hands on his shoulders, leaning forward and giving him every opportunity to pull back or shove her away. When he did neither… Temari kissed him – and unlike the other two liberated (she hated to use the word stolen) kisses, this one was deep, lingering, intensely personal, and best of all, reciprocated.

After several moments, she pulled back, finally confessing to him the secret she had been holding for nearly a week. "We were ordered to come back five days ago… back to the Hidden Sand." She stared into his eyes. "I can… stay, if you ask me to – I've already talked to my sensei about it. She said if I'm invited, I can stay as long as I like… but if not, I must be across the borders of the Leaf by… well, three days ago. I've already pushed the limits of the treaty pretty far, but since we were there as emissaries, it's been overlooked until now."

"Oh," Shikamaru said awkwardly, averting his eyes. "So umm-"

"You don't HAVE to invite me to stay," Temari interrupted softly, "I just thought that… since it seems like things might actually work out between us, you should know what it would take to have me here past tonight."

"I see…"

Slowly, Temari smiled. "Think it over, Shikamaru-kun," she said seriously, "I know I'm a little more… aggressive than you'd like, but I think we have the potential to have something good going here." Her smile widened suddenly. "I know I'VE had a lot of fun so far."

In spite of himself, Shikamaru returned her smile. "I know you have," he chuckled, his smile fading. "Temari of the Sand," he said formally, reciting the ancient invitation as best he could remember it, "I hereby give you the right of invitation into my clan. Please accept, and let my home be as your home."

"Shikamaru of the Leaf," Temari replied seriously, "I accept your invitation." She grinned broadly. "Though I THINK you meant to say village, not clan. You're not asking me to marry you, are you?"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Yare, yare," he muttered, "I need to watch my mouth – one slip of the tongue with you and I'll end up supporting five screaming kids."

"It wouldn't be the tongue that slipped," Temari said dryly, "and no way am I having that many kids."

Relaxing slightly, Shikamaru went on as if she had not spoken. "Maybe even six – and a dog. We can get Kiba's family to give us one of theirs – they breed the rest on the whole continent."

"No way!" Temari declared, shaking her head vehemently. "If we get married – and damn it, that's looking like a pretty big IF at this rate – you'll get one kid, or maybe two… if you're lucky." She made a sour face. "I'm not the motherly type."

"…you can say that again."




Grinning broadly, Shikamaru held out his hand. "We'll work it all out later," he said evenly, "if there IS a later. I've got ten bucks that says we don't last two weeks."

"Way to be positive," Temari said acidly, "I'm going to enjoy taking your money."

"I don't part with money."

"Well don't like, TRY to mess things up," the Sand nin complained, taking his hand and heading towards the fire, where her brothers were starting to cook dinner.

Shikamaru shrugged. "No guarantees," he said airily, "I've already made you mad enough to want to kill me after just one comment – imagine how you'll feel a week from now."

After considering this for a long moment, Temari smiled. "I'm pretty sure I'll still feel the same," she said quietly, "I don't fall in love every day – it's too hard. So I'll just work on not killing you."

"Gee, thanks."

Temari threw her head back and laughed, catching both of her brothers off guard as she stepped into the circle of firelight with Shikamaru. The two Sand nins exchanged a meaningful glance, trying to remember the last time their sister had EVER laughed – let alone so honestly.

They nodded to each other, deciding in that instant that while neither of them knew Shikamaru all that well, they would do their best to be nice to him.

After all, anyone that could bring a smile to the stern, serious face of Temari of the Sand could not be all that bad… and based on the brilliance of the smile she was giving him, it was definitely time for a parting of ways. Assured that their sister was in good hands, they relaxed, sharing the warmth of their fire with the young chuunin and trying to deiced how best to tell their sensei that Temari would not be coming home for some time.

The End

Author's Notes: you weren't looking for an angst ending, were you? This IS posted as a romance, ya know. Ah well, hopefully it wasn't too sappy. I really tried to make it low-key and at least moderately realistic, since people don't usually go from casual acquaintances to full-on, head-over-heels LOVERS. Yeah, it happens… but usually it's a slow process. I'm rambling again. Time to wrap things up. I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I think maybe I'll do another Naruto fic some day. Who knows? Maybe it'll even have Naruto in it for more than 2 pages.

Anything's possible.

Advance read on this story was done by Six String Samurai – my main source for Naruto lore and fact. Thanks man. It's been fun. Now just wait for my Naruto/Sasuke/Chouji/Kiba all-male super yaoi love square! …just don't hold your breath while you're waiting.

Feedback is always welcome on any site with reviewing capabilities, or by e-mailing me directly at random1377(at-symbol)yahoo(dot)com.