Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.
One Quick Game
"So the point of the game isn't just to get your pieces in the right position, it's to use your opponents own pieces against him, corner him, and score a checkmate." Shikamaru hadn't bothered to look up at his opponent as he explained all the relevant rules from memory. Instead his eyes scanned over his pieces, as he delicately placed each on the board, planning his strategy out well beforehand.
Temari raised an eyebrow, "I've played before you know… You didn't have to give me a treatise on the game…"
Shikamaru froze for a moment in placing his last piece, "You've played before? Hmph, guess I don't need to take it easy on you then." He grinned a bit, still not looking up, and continued placing the rest of his side.
Temari smirked and began placing hers, "What a weirdo…"
"Sorry about that…" Shikamaru started, still rubbing his eyes a bit. The dark lines under his eyes seemed to have lightened a bit though, his cocky, lazy grin slowly warming the rest of his face. "It's been…"
"Don't worry about it," Temari muttered, "I won't tell your friends you're such a crybaby…"
Shikamaru's head snapped up in time to catch Temari grinning, mockingly. "Heh, thanks."
The two of them walked wordlessly down the hall and out the front of the hospital. The sun had finally returned to Konoha after a long rainy night, and the first signs of daily life were beginning to perk up around the town. Shikamaru squinted a bit as his eyes adjusted to the sun, suddenly realizing just how long he had been inside.
"Is it morning already? Jeez, sorry about that… Time just kinda…" Shikamaru frowned, he'd somehow lost an entire night watching over his friend.
"Stop worrying," Temari growled, "If I'd cared I would have just gone back to my hotel…"
"Well, thanks for staying at any rate..." Shikamaru felt his stomach growl a bit, the first time in days he'd felt the pangs of hunger. "Want to go grab some breakfast? It's a bit early but…"
"Sure!" Temari grinned evilly, "Your treat, of course, for making me wait so long!"
Shikamaru stared dumbfounded at her for a moment. Her grin unsettled him… But it was cute, in an unsettling sort of way.
"Check." Shikamaru intoned. He was starting to lose interest in his opponent already, having fairly quickly established himself on the board. "I thought you said you'd played before?"
Temari reddened a bit, "I told you I'd played before… Once or twice… Or something…"
Shikamaru laughed a bit, causing her to redden even more.
"Shut up and move, dammit!" She shouted, slamming a piece down, nearly crushing the board in the process.
Shikamaru laughed, and shook his head. To get so exacerbated at a time like this… It should be pretty easy to…
He looked at the board, then back up at Temari again. She was smiling? He looked back down at the board again, as she intoned, "Check."
Chouji jumped, his eyes seeing past his friend to the Sand Nin standing just behind him. That was the fan one, wasn't it! What the hell was she doing here!
"Shi… Shi…" Chouji choked for words, his mouth half full of potato chips.
Shikamaru waved his hand once, "Its okay Chouji, they're with us now. She saved me… The three of them saved all of us… Is something wrong with your memory or something? I thought I'd told you all about this already…"
Chouji calmed a bit, and swallowed his food. "Oh, I that's, right… I guess…" He cautiously eyed Temari, appearing to be half expecting her to suddenly attack. "Well, thanks for saving us and all…"
Temari smirked, "No worries. It's the duty of the strong to protect the weak."
She laughed heartily and Shikamaru shook his head sadly. "You'll have to excuse her awful sense of humor. I think it's a genetic problem or something."
Chouji snorted a laugh as Temari's cut short.
"Ooh, is that so?"
Shikamaru just laughed harder. "See what I mean? No sense of humor at all."
"Well, if that's the case then you…"
As the two began squabbling Chouji took another mouthful of chips. He could hardly believe his eyes watching Shikamaru square off against the Sand Nin. It was like the two had known each other for years or something… How long had he been out after all?
"Well I'd hate to be that log…"
The two stared at each other for a minute then both cracked incredulous grins.
"Oy, Chouji, I'm going to go get a drink, you need anything?"
Chouji crinkled up the cellophane chip bag and nodded, "At least three more. Barbeque if they have it, if not rippled."
Shikamaru nodded, "Back in a minute."
Chouji watched Temari's eyes follow Shikamaru out, then jumped as they darted to him. Barely managing to hide an "eep!" in surprise he tried to cover by jumping into a conversation.
"So… um… You're a good guy, er… girl… now right? You all are, I mean. Friends of Konoha… and stuff…" Chouji stammered.
"Well, to tell the truth, not really. We're just waiting for the right moment to attack, and then we're going to crush your puny village into dust." She smiled menacingly, her eyes as cold as ice. Chouji paled about six shades before Temari broke out into a grin, barely holding back fits of laughter. "I'm just kidding! Jeez, you guys are the ones without a sense of humor…"
Chouji felt his heart start beating again and he feebly reached for another bag. Temari looked confused, "Didn't you just send him for more?"
Chouji nodded, "Of course! After this one and the next one, I've only got one more. That's hardly enough to get me to supper!"
Temari felt her jaw drop a bit. How in the hell was this kid a ninja?
"So, what exactly happened out there while I was… You know… They didn't really tell me everything… Not even Shikamaru… Just that you all showed up, and that Sasuke left and…" Chouji's face darkened a little bit.
Temari frowned. He was ashamed. Someone had already told him what had happened, and he felt guilty for not being able to help his friend.
"There was nothing more you could have done… Don't worry so much about it. You did more than your share taking one of them down by yourself." She smiled a bit, "If it makes you feel better, you and that Neji guy were the only two who could handle one on your own. They were some pretty tough bastards… The important thing is no one died, right?"
Chouji nodded. "I should have been the one to help him, though. He's always the one looking out for me, you know. I thought that if I went I could…" His mind started drifting to those horrible moments of pain before the darkness. "I thought I wasn't going to make it out of the forest… I thought I'd never be able to prove that I was strong enough to help him out when he needed… That… I'd…."
"Stop it!" Temari nearly shouted. "Jeez, you Konoha Nins and the whining! No one blames you for anything, and no one thinks any less of you for what happened. Don't you get it? That guy knows how strong you are, or he'd never have let you put yourself out on the line like that. He trusted you to watch his back, so he could finish things! And he knows how good a friend you are, or he'd never have spent three nights pacing in that hallway out there without eating. You need to pull yourself together, and get healthy again soon, back to how you were before, or he's going to keep beating himself up for not staying behind to help you!"
Chouji stared at Temari for a moment, half in shock. As he sat there letting the information sink in she walked a little closer and patted him on the shoulder. "You're pretty lucky to have a friend like that… I kinda wish…"
She cut off quickly as the door slid open behind them. Shikamaru was carrying two plastic bags, one of which he quickly tossed over the foot of Chouji's bed.
"All they had was the low fat kind, that's okay right?" He intoned.
Chouji leapt to the foot of the bed tearing the plastic bag apart in rage. "LOW FAT! HOW DARE YOU! YOU KNOW THAT THOSE ARE FOR WAIFISH GIRLS AND…"
Chouji froze with the bag clenched tightly in his fist. Shikamaru shook his head, "If you're healthy enough to jump around like that, then why are you making everyone so worried… Heh, better not let Asuma-sensei see you move like that, he'll have you running with those damn tires again…"
Chouji caressed the bag gently, "You're a jerk Shikamaru, you know that? You could kill a guy joking around like that."
Shikamaru and Chouji broke out laughing while Temari shook her head incredulously.
"This entire village is insane…" Her head screamed.
"Well, we'd better get going soon…" Shikamaru complained. "I've got to write this stupid report for the Hokage. What a pain in the ass it is to be a chuunin…"
"What about you?" Chouji looked up at Temari. "How long are you going to be in Konoha?"
"Just a couple more days, probably. I think we're supposed to head back fairly soon. There's been talk about the council choosing a new Kazekage or something, and we should probably be there for that. Gaara and Kankuro are probably getting sick of this place too."
"Ah, well, if I don't see you before you leave, thanks again for helping us out and all. And thanks for today and stuff…"
Shikamaru looked a little confused, but Temari just shook her head. "Just remember what I said."
As Temari turned to leave Chouji waved his arm to catch his friend's attention. Shikamaru gave him a puzzled look. Chouji, making sure Temari's back was turned gave Shikamaru a sly grin and mouthed two words. "Lovu. Lovu." Shikamaru turned crimson and snatched the bag of chips out of Chouji's hand smashing it as ruthlessly as he could. Chouji let out a heart wrenching cry as he could only watch the massacre. Temari spun around and stared at the scene briefly before shaking her head sadly and walking out of the room.
"Nice move. I didn't expect a novice like you to be able to pull off something that tricky… I'll have to keep my guard up after all…" Shikamaru smiled with his lazy grin, but was slightly panicked underneath. She had caught him completely off guard, which was just something that did not happen in Shogi.
"Looks like you're just not paying attention," Temari said in a mocking tone, "I thought you were a virtuoso at this or something? Ino sure seemed to think you were unbeatable…"
Shikmaru's hand froze above his King. "When did you talk to Ino?" He asked. He had introduced them briefly, but didn't remember them talking for an extended period of time.
"When you were meeting with your Hokage."
Shikamaru took his eyes off the board to see if she was kidding, with her stupid, cocky grin. Temari was sitting across from him, resting her chin on her right hand, staring at the board with a slightly bored expression on her face. "Are you moving or not? If you give up, that means you'll have surrendered to me twice now? That'd be pretty embarrassing for the 'Shogi Master of Konoha' wouldn't it?"
Shikamaru grumbled to himself as he put his hands together to think. What sort of troublesome stuff did Ino tell her about him? It couldn't be anything good, that was for sure. He sometimes thought Ino actually enjoyed torturing him like she did. Girls are evil…
"Oy! Temari-san!" Temari heard a somewhat familiar voice call out from behind. She turned to see a beautiful young woman running up to, her arms full of flowers.
"Ino, right?" Temari quickly recalled their brief meeting from the other day. This girl was a member of Shikamaru's squad. Was she the one with the mind power? She tried to recall back to the chuunin exam, but couldn't quite remember. It seemed like an eternity had passed since those days when so much had changed so quickly, it was a little scary.
"Yep! What are you doing out here this early? No way Shikmaru's with you, is there? I don't think he knows there's an 8 AM." Ino laughed in any easygoing way, a far contrast from her grumpy teammate.
Temari smirked, "Heh, nah, he's off meeting with your Hokage, actually. He seemed pretty mad about it… I tried telling him that in some villages there are few honors higher, but he just shrugged saying it was 'too troublesome' to meet with that 'unreasonable woman'. You'd think he was being sent to see a doctor or something…"
Ino laughed, "He's always been like that… At least as long as I've known him." Ino trailed off a bit, "Are you heading this way? I'll walk with you a bit."
Temari nodded, it'd be useful to have some company, or at the least a guide. Konoha was a lot bigger than the Sand capital, and without Shikamaru to show her around she found herself frequently getting lost in the twisting streets. It made sense that a village as weird as this one would have roads that didn't make any sense either…
"How long have you two known each other?" Temari asked.
"Heh, since we were kids actually." Ino smiled a bit, "Our fathers were in the same squad back when they were younger. Chouji's dad too, actually. I think that's part of the reason why the Academy stuck the three of us together in the end. Our fathers probably had a direct hand in it too…"
Temari smiled too, "Must be rough having a couple slackers like that on your team?"
Ino laughed, "I thought so too, at first. I'd have much rather been with…" She paused for a moment, seeming to weigh her words carefully. "Well, with any number of other people actually. But you know, I haven't regretted it a day since." She sighed a bit, "Besides, it's better for them that I'm around. Otherwise Chouji'd spend entire days eating, and Shikamaru would just waste all of his time playing Shogi with Asuma-sensei, or staring off into space…"
"He plays Shogi? Well, I guess that makes sense. He's probably pretty good at it, eh?"
Ino sighed, "You have no idea. He's a fanatic. Asuma-sensei hasn't beaten him once. He seems proud of it too! He goes around telling the other Jounin that his student is the 'Shogi Master of Konoha' or something dumb like that… Those three are so troublesome sometimes…" Ino seemed to catch herself on that last sentence and shook her head realizing what she'd just said.
She and Temari both laughed a bit, "The three of you seem pretty close. It must be pretty nice to have such good friends."
"Yeah, we're kind of like a little dysfunctional family." Ino's voice became a little more serious. "Temari…"
Ino had paused a step behind, her brow furrowed, eyes looking straight down. Temari turned around, slightly confused.
"Uh, is something…"
"Thank you for saving my friends." Ino's voice quivered a bit, " I don't know what I would have done if he… if they hadn't been able to come back that day. When I first found out that they'd left without me, I was so angry. I felt like they'd just up and left me behind… I was determined to beat the crap out of both of them when they came back, but then when they brought Chouji in… And then I saw you helping Shikamaru… All I could do was…"
Ino wiped a tear away, and bowed. "Just, thank you."
Temari reddened a bit, and scratched the back of her head uncomfortably. "Its really not that big a deal, you know… Besides, I can't take any credit. They'd pretty much wrapped things up by the time we got there… We just helped them finish the job and get home in one piece…"
Ino shook her head, "You two are…" She paused again. "I'm glad you've been able to get him away from training and everything. Between Asuma-sensei and his Dad, not to mention his Chuunin duties, he hardly seems to have time to come around anymore. He always seems distant these days, like he's distracted or something. It's probably nothing, but, I guess I'm just a little jealous, actually."
Temari frowned a bit, "All he does is complain all day about having to drag me around town… Are you sure you should be jealous about that?"
Ino shook her head, and smiled again. She caught up to Temari and the two continued on down the road again. "Just a little bit." She turned serious again, " But don't think that's the end of it."
Temari stared at Ino for a moment confused. She'd never figure these Konoha people out…
Shikamaru opened his eyes again and looked down at the board. Two moves. He wondered if she even saw it yet. Probably not, considering her last two moves.
"Ah, you woke up finally. I was getting ready to leave. I figured by the time I came back next month you'd have figured out a decent move. Are you ready to give up finally?" Shikamaru let her laugh confidently.
Nope, she didn't see it. He placed a piece down on the board, and looked at her flatly. "Maybe… It is getting pretty troublesome playing such a noisy person. I'll end it on the next move."
Temari smiled, "You're pretty funny when you're confident. One might mistake you for being a man, if only for a moment." She looked down at the board again. Three moves left. She had him on the ropes, and his last move had left him wide open. He was a pretty tough player, but everyone has a weakness. She had figured that with a strong attack upfront he would panic and try to overcompensate with a desperate last minute counter attack. That'd leave him wide open if she could get the positioning right. It was just a matter of baiting him into attacking at the right place, with the right pieces. By looking at the board he had overextended himself, and he was heading right into her trap with left just a few token pieces behind to defend. Pretty sloppy for the 'King'…
She placed another piece, and grinned. "Looks like you're just about done, your majesty."
Shikamaru met her grin with his own lazy smile. "Looks like you missed it."
Temari's smile instantly disappeared as he placed his token and mumbled, "Checkmate."
"What the…" She stared at the board in disbelief for a moment, and it slowly made sense.
"Nice try though, your attack was pretty good." Shikamaru slouched back surveying the completed board. "It was too good, actually. You got so busy on the offensive side that you missed this guy here." He pointed to a piece off to the side. "That's the problem with that kind of attack, if you get too focused on one final move a half decent defense can recognize it, and stall it for a few turns. A slowly developing attack is a hundred times harder to defend against than a quick and targeted one. Patience always wins out in the end…"
Temari shook her head. "What a troublesome guy you are… Lecturing a beginner like myself after such a close game. Patience, eh? You're like an old man, you know that?"
Shikamaru raised an eyebrow, bristling slightly. He seemed about to retort when she cut him off.
"I should get going, your 'one quick game' took quite a while. I think I'd have won if we'd use a timer. I'll be sure to bring one next time." Temari got up and dusted herself off, then stretched. The game had lasted a few hours longer than she had expected.
Shikamaru stood up and stretched a bit as well, "Do what you like, and just remember that with a timer you're going to have to think fast too. Think you can keep up?"
Temari let out a quick laugh, "A turtle could keep up with you…"
As they began to walk down the path towards the village, she glanced over to Shikamaru walking casually, his hands jammed in his pockets, looking up at the sky like he didn't have a care in the world. How could anyone be that carefree after everything he'd done and seen in the last few months… He was an odd guy, and there was something about him that almost defied description. Temari caught herself smiling amusedly and looked upwards to hide it. The sky was a brilliant blue, a few lazy clouds drifting across a great, deep sea of color. As a warm breeze drifted through the trees, she found herself forgetting about the battles, about the long journey back, and about the Kazekage. She let herself drift for just a moment, touching on the beauty of the moment, and on the weird guy that had somehow wormed his way onto her mind.
Shikamaru breathed in the warm day, with its clear sky and soft breeze. It was a beautiful day, just warm enough to remind him that Summer was around the corner, and with it long afternoons of Shogi and naps in the shade. Sure there'd be lots of work to do, but it was the spare moments like those that made everything worthwhile. He looked over to Temari, though she seemed engrossed in the sky. It felt strange, but walking with her like this felt somehow familiar. She was a little weird, but he enjoyed having her around because of that. Her strange sense of humor, and her brusque personality somehow suited her, and he found himself slowly trying to think of ways to get her to stick around. Maybe for just another day or so. For a rematch, of course. It'd only be fair… He looked up at the clouds, wondering if they had an answer for him.
Authors Note: Kinda short, kinda fun. Hope you enjoyed. Such an interesting pair those two, I can't quite seem to figure out how this pairing works, it just sorta does. Ah well, R&R, and as always, thanks for reading!