No spoilers to speak of, yay! The idea for this fic has been sitting around in my head for quite a while, but the actual writing of it was heavily inspired by Chevira Lowe's fic "Tempest", which you should absolutely read if you haven't already.
A 'butterfly knot' - chou-musubi - is what the Japanese call a bow. I suppose the reasoning behind the name is obvious.
Temari realizes she's in love when she starts to say things she didn't mean to say.
She doesn't know how this can be happening. She's sixteen years old and she's only been running messenger duty to Konoha for a few months, and they've only been meeting in random places - rooftops, the park, and once at a cafe, but that was a little weird for both of them - for a month or two less than that. So when she finds herself saying, "You should come to my place next time you're in Sand, we'll have dinner or something," and Shikamaru stares at her a little, she understands exactly how surprised he feels.
"What's the matter?" she says, smirking, to cover it all up. "Afraid I'll poison you?"
Shikamaru snorts, and the moment of awkwardness has passed. "Maybe. Can a tomboy like you even cook?"
"Hey, crybaby, I'll have you know I've got servants to do that kind of thing for me," she declares with an imperious snort, reaching over to shove him playfully on the shoulder.
She wasn't planning on anything like this.
She has no idea what she's going to tell Kankurou.
She doesn't tell him anything at all, for a while, and it just so happens that when Shikamaru next comes to the Sand Village they bump into each other by the gates, and so she takes him to a restaurant and avoids the issue entirely. Shikamaru, always the charmingly anachronistic gentleman, insists on paying until she demonstrates her own charming method of getting the meal for free. It involves a small bit of playacting and a much larger bit of "Oh, by the way, I'm the Kazekage's sister" on her part.
Afterwards they go find a rooftop to sit on, and Shikamaru watches the stars for a while, and Temari thinks. She thinks that she wants to keep him around, and she's going to miss him when he leaves, and that all of this is utterly completely wrong.
So she says some more things she didn't mean to say. Mostly.
"I've slept with my brother before, you know."
Shikamaru turns to look at her with a level gaze, his face sober, as if receiving some grave confession. If he's surprised or disgusted by the sudden statement, he doesn't show it.
They haven't gotten quite that far yet, themselves. They've held hands, because Shikamaru is old-fashioned like that, and they've kissed, and they nearly got clothes off once, but they stopped about there out of mutual distaste. Temari because it was too weird, Shikamaru because... well, she's not sure. Maybe just because she didn't want to keep going.
"Does it bother you?" she asks, raising an eyebrow at him, her voice and expression challenging. Daring him to tell her what he really, really thinks. She's got him now, doesn't she? A tiny smirk creeps onto her face.
He pauses, and finally shrugs. Carefully choosing his answer, she knows. Carefully plotting his strategy. Being Shikamaru, and a genius even if he doesn't much like to admit it, she's sure he'll find a way to let her down gently. Maybe go in gradual stages until they've finally weaned themselves off each other.
"Man, if I wanted to get involved with a normal chick," he says, crossing his arms over his chest with a familiar exasperated expression, "there are plenty of those back home. It's enough of a pain in the ass traveling to Sand in the first place."
For a second, all she can do is stare at him.
Apparently, he's not sure whether this is a good sign or not; he looks away for a moment, frowning slightly, before his eyes meet her face again.
"Hey, I expect you to be a weird, bossy, mean tomboy, you know?" He smirks briefly, and his face sobers again as he shrugs a little. "That's Temari. And... you're her. If I wanted somebody else around, I'd go hang around with them." Another small shrug. "But... I don't. I'd rather have a Temari."
She stares at him for another second longer, and then she drags him forward by his Chuunin vest and kisses them both breathless. Sometime that night they find their way to the hotel where his team is staying, and they finally get farther than taking off clothes.
He leaves the next morning, on the mission he was actually here for. She still doesn't tell Kankurou.
Shikamaru won't pretend he doesn't wonder why.
He's not one for pretending much of anything, for keeping up troublesome things like appearances and facades and barriers; he never has been and he hopes that he never will be. For him, 'underneath the underneath' is something to be put away in the pouch of shinobi tools when the mission is over and done with. So, it just figures that he'd go and get attached like this to a girl who seems to wear secrecy like a cloak, wrapping herself up in layers of not-truth and half-truth and things she means but doesn't say.
He guesses it was a test, and he knows he passed it so he shouldn't have to worry about it any more, but he can't help wondering. Why she would say such a thing. Why she would do such a thing. She could have been lying, but he just has this funny feeling from the cant of her head and the lilt of her voice and the fact that they never did go to her house that she was telling the truth.
He was, and is, surprised to find that it doesn't actually bother him that much. Having sex with your relative is undoubtedly one of those life experiences that changes a person greatly, for better or worse, and he wasn't lying either when he said he would rather have a Temari. If she hadn't done whatever she had done, would she still be the same person?
Well... just as long as she isn't still sleeping with him, Shikamaru thinks he can deal with it.
At the end of their mission, his team regroups back in Sand for a brief rest before traveling home, and he goes to seek her out. He realizes he doesn't actually know where her house is once he's gotten about two blocks away from his hotel, but it can't be too hard to find the home of the Kazekage, right? Granted it's a bit of a pain, but he stops the first person he sees and asks if they could tell him where Gaara and Temari and Kankurou live.
His eyes widen a little as the villager turns to point toward the massive palace atop the nearby mesa, the one visible from anywhere in the village, the one he'd assumed was an administrative building.
"Er... thanks," he says, and keeps walking.
He gets to the front doorway - though 'doorway' is an awfully inadequate term for something that looks like it ought to be the entranceway to a memorial or a cathedral or, he winces to think it, the home of royalty - and he doesn't see anybody around, so he's about to head inside when one of the massive double doors slides open and some kind of uniformed attendant greets him with a professionally polite smile.
"Welcome, sir, how may I help you?"
"Er..." Shikamaru scratches his head, uncomfortable around all this opulence. "I'm looking for Temari..."
"Oh, I'm afraid she's been called away temporarily on business. Would you like me to pass along a message for you?"
Just then, Shikamaru catches a glimpse of black cloth and purple stripes and cream-colored bandages in the hallway beyond, and the other door is pulled open. And for a moment, he and Kankurou just stare at each other.
Shikamaru doesn't know this young man, even though he recognizes the makeup on his face and the puppet-bundle slung over his back and the circular crest on the sleeves of his black kimono. Without the puppeteer's clothes, somehow, Kankurou seems like a different person. Shikamaru remembers seeing him for the first time back during the Chuunin Exams and thinking that he barely even looked human. This Kankurou, on the other hand, has messy brown hair framing his face and a silver stud in one ear, and somehow that makes all the difference in the world.
Kankurou is watching him, too, with an expression on his countenance that's hard to place (the makeup isn't helping) but that Shikamaru thinks might fall under 'pensive'. He wonders if the other boy remembers him, remembers the last time they met - forever ago, on that goddamned mission to rescue that goddamned idiot and Shikamaru still lies awake at night sometimes thinking how it would've been if they hadn't come, and shakes until he wants to throw up - remembers how Shikamaru saw them off at the gates, wished them well, and how Temari turned back to stop and tease him.
Shikamaru guesses he does from the way he smirks at last, setting his free hand on his waist and raising an eyebrow. He resembles Temari, Shikamaru thinks, around the eyes, and in that expression, and maybe a little in the way he's standing.
He is pretty sure Temari isn't the type to fuck someone unless she loves them.
He keeps wondering.
"Looking for my sister?" Kankurou asks, somehow managing to turn the innocent question into an insult. Another talent he seems to share with Temari.
"Yup," Shikamaru agrees mildly, sliding his hands into his pockets. "She around?"
"Ehh..." Kankurou glances back toward the inside hallway for a moment, pulls something out of his waistband - a pocketwatch, Shikamaru realizes after a second - and frowns thoughtfully. "Give her twenty minutes. She'll probably be back for lunch."
Shikamaru nods. "Thanks."
"Sure, no problem." Kankurou shrugs off the gratitude, and looks like he's about to say something more when a man in a familiar black puppeteer's uniform rushes up to the building, babbling something about Kankurou-sama and conferences and won't you come now you're going to be late. The puppeteer grimaces, hefts his bandaged bundle on his back, and turns to give Shikamaru and the servant a sarcastic salute.
"Well, duty calls. Have fun, kiddies," he wishes Shikamaru with a sort of gleefully sadistic grin, and then he's following the other puppeteer off down the street toward the village proper. Shikamaru blinks, and wonders how many separate layers of underneath the underneath he just witnessed in the space of a few seconds.
Apparently it runs in the family.
On his birthday, Kankurou gives his sister away.
Giving the girl away... granting her hand, from her relative to her future... boyfriend, husband, whatever you like. He thinks it's a notion that would please the young man sitting across from him at the far-too-big dining table; Temari keeps saying how old-fashioned Shikamaru is, and so surely he'd prefer to go about his courtship in the traditional manner.
He supposes this is about as traditional as it's possible for this particular situation to get.
Temari's never said anything about it; but Shikamaru has been coming to visit more and more often lately - especially surprising given that the journey between the Village Hidden in the Leaves and the Village Hidden in the Sand is three days of decidedly unpleasant trekking through scrub and desert - and being that Kankurou is a shinobi and is not a fool, he could hardly fail to notice the sorts of noises that come from her bedroom whenever the Leaf boy stays overnight. Not only that, but there is the fact that she never comes to his bedroom at night anymore either, and it's out of respect and brotherly consideration that he's stopped creeping into hers.
He misses her bed. He misses lots of things, like the way her hands feel on his skin, and the little noises she makes when he's truly managed to please her, the ones that make him smile when he remembers at odd times of the day. Most of all he misses sleeping wrapped up in her arms, surrounded by her warmth as he listens to her heartbeat, so calm like there's no reason to hurry, nothing in the world that could ever take them away from each other.
But it's better this way.
She invited him to the birthday party. If it had been up to Kankurou, he wouldn't have had a birthday party at all; but Temari insisted with her usual stubbornness that it was a good thing he was another year older so they were going to celebrate it, dammit. And then later she mentioned, with a peculiar sort of smile like she expected to be yelled at, that she'd asked Shikamaru if he wouldn't like to be present for the event and Shikamaru had accepted. Kankurou had laughed, waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her, and asked if their birthday present to him was going to be letting him watch. She threw a pillow at him, but he just ducked and laughed a little harder. Well, until the notebook that followed whacked him in the face.
That's about as close as she's ever gotten to asking, and it's about as close as he's ever gotten to telling her it's okay. That it's what he wants for her, that if she thinks she has a chance for something approximating a normal life - a chance to be... to be happy, in whatever form it comes to her - that she ought to grasp onto it with both hands and never, ever let go.
And if the night is dark and the desert is cold and there are things he can't quite get away from when he's by himself, well... he'll manage. He always did before.
It's better this way.
They've been drinking a little, tonight. Temari is not drunk yet, he doesn't think, but her face is a little flushed and her laugh is certainly coming more easily than usual as she playfully shoves Shikamaru in response to some dry comment or other. Gaara, ever the cautious one, only has a glass of juice as he sits across from them on Kankurou's side; he's never had the desire to find out whether alcohol and Shukaku mix, and neither has either of his siblings. He turns a questioning gaze on Kankurou at their sister's display, but the latter just shrugs, taking a sip of his own drink. Let Gaara think what he wants. Kankurou doesn't have it in him to try and explain something he's not sure he understands himself.
Before too long, Shikamaru rises, saying something about using the bathroom. Temari teases him about being able to find one in this big place - though in truth, he's been here often enough by now that he can probably make his way around without too much trouble - and he glances toward Kankurou for a moment, and Kankurou rises from his seat and declares with a smirk that he'll be glad to provide an escort. As they walk out of the dining room he hears Gaara begin to ask an embarrassing question, and he regrets that he's probably going to miss out on Temari throwing fried cream puffs at his little brother.
By mutual unspoken consent, they pass the nearest bathroom entirely and walk out onto a quiet balcony. The sun has already disappeared beneath the horizon some hours ago, to reveal a black sky littered with glittering pinprick stars, and a half-full moon that dyes the cityscape spread below them in shades of blue. Shikamaru walks over to lean his elbows on the balcony railing and gaze down on the village, and his companion stops a few paces behind, resting a hand on his hip.
"Surprised?" Kankurou asks quietly, not sure if he's talking about the view or something else entirely.
Shikamaru is silent for a moment.
"Very," he murmurs at last, glancing over his shoulder. "But not in a bad way."
They are both quiet for a while longer. Kankurou watches Shikamaru, and Shikamaru turns away from him again and watches the Hidden Village spread below him.
"...It's sort of a pain, but... I... wanted to ask you something," he murmurs.
Kankurou raises an eyebrow. He goes to perch next to Shikamaru on the balcony, turning to lean against the railing and stretching out his legs a little as he crosses his arms over his chest.
Shikamaru straightens, giving him an unreadable sideways glance as he slides his hands into his pockets.
"Well... I..." He stops again, and grimaces. Kankurou is certain he's thinking about what a troublesome thing it is, having to ask questions, as he says finally, "Temari... told me she'd slept with her brother, once."
Kankurou just looks at him, long and level. He's quite certain he's never seen calm, nonchalant, bored Shikamaru seeming this uncomfortable.
After some time it becomes apparent that Shikamaru is not going to say anything else. And so Kankurou raises his eyebrows, smirks wickedly, and replies, "That's not a question."
If he'd been talking to Temari, that definitely would have earned him a smack. But Shikamaru is the opposite of his sister, and Shikamaru just stands there continuing to look discomfited.
"Well... is it true?" he manages at last, voice slightly strangled.
Kankurou's expression sobers again, eyes narrowing slightly at the other young man. He doesn't feel afraid for Temari, of course. He only feels angry.
"Does it change anything if she has?" he asks, quietly challenging.
Shikamaru raises an eyebrow at him. Now that the question is asked, his discomfort of a moment before seems to have evaporated; he stands there regarding Kankurou with something in his eyes that's hard to place, something sad and hesitant and maybe a little guilty.
"No," he murmurs. "But does it for you?"
The balcony is silent. The stars glitter down on them quietly, and a breeze rustles through their hair and leaves specks of sand in their clothing.
For a second, all Kankurou can do is stare at him, stunned. And then he shakes his head with a soft snort, smiling ruefully as his eyes flick toward the floor for just a moment, standing and letting his arms fall to his sides.
And he's given her away, just like that.
Shikamaru watches him for a second longer, and finally nods, slow and solemn, before he turns to head back. He's walked halfway to the hall by the time Kankurou's voice stops him.
"But no fucking funny business, or I come kick your ass, got it?"
Without turning, Shikamaru gives him a silent salute of acknowledgement, and walks inside.
It's better this way.
Kankurou smiles at him and he has to turn away.
Kankurou talks to him again, and he can't bear to look back, because he thinks if he has to look at that smile one more time his heart might just burst from that feeling it gives him, deep down in his chest, like he's just watched somebody die.
And he thinks to himself what a lucky man he is, as he walks back inside to the sound of glasses clinking, and her laughter.