It's going to be a bit of an exit from any humor for a while in this arc but I will try not to make things too dull. The next chapter will be up in month hopefully. To those that still bother to read this story, i can't even begin to say thank you.

A Princess Exposed

The meeting was over before he could even come to terms with what he had just concluded. The revelation had left him...reeling slightly to say the least. Although why it was doing so, he wasn't quite sure yet.

He was aware that the conversations had begun to taper off and everyone was slowly moving towards the door, chatting and laughing. Except Temari.

He stood up slowly, pretending to stretch and yawn, but really watching her face, albeit more discreetly this time. She was also pretending, he realized, that laugh of hers sounded genuine enough but her hands were gripping her pen so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. She was watching him even as he watched her.

He shouldn't have been, leeri-observing her, so obviously earlier but it was hard to stop once the idea had gripped him. He groaned to himself, having no clue what he was supposed to do next. This new Temari was a creature totally unknown to him; and just when he was beginning to make some headway in understanding the damned woman. She hadn't exactly been interested in talking to him the last few times they had met and the earlier urge to goad her into some of retaliation had all but vanished; in fact he wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of this troublesome place, out of the troublesome thoughts in his stupid analyzing brain.

He inched towards the door, head hanging low, trying to pretend he was his usual morose self. He wasn't even sure anymore why he had to pretend to be so but it definitely had something to do with her. It was always that woman who made him feel like he was stranded in some dark ocean, barely treading water to stop his head from going under, without the slightest clue of what was going on or what to do next. He had just passed the door when he heard his name, "Nara-s-"

Shikamaru didn't even slow down.

Temari shut her mouth quickly, a little nonplussed at the way he had run off. She could feel the pen in her hand give a little as she gripped it harder. Aware that there were still people around her, she quickly snapped back to focus on the kunoichi in front of her who was apologizing for something. Keeping the smile on her face, she brushed it off with a slight laugh. She stopped when she glanced towards the door where Seima was standing and looking at her, eyes narrowed as he glanced towards the direction that Shikamaru had disappeared in.

She eased her grip on the pen and surreptitiously made it disappear into her dress. They were supposed to go for lunch but the way that asshole had run off had left an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. She plastered on an apologetic smile for the rest, aware that Seima wasn't fooled, "Why don't all of you carry on first? I would like to return to my room to get some rest."

She graced him with one of her 'princess' smiles, hoping that he would just accept it and walk away. She was really in the mood to lash out at something but she didn't want it to be her closest friend. He didn't deserve it, not like that arrogant son-of-bitch who was so rude and rude and so fucking rude that even though she was so fucking polite and fucking pathetic now that-


She stared back at Seima as the smile dropped from her face. It was a rare privilege for anyone other than her siblings to address her without any honorifics but Seima had earned the right throughout the years. He stopped in front of her, studying the expression on her face as the door closed. She had only recently begun adopting the false faces that she often presented to the people around her; the happy and pleased smile which never properly touched her eyes, the mournful look of concern which was so false that he couldn't believe that anyone could be fooled by it and the worst and definitely the least, the blank stare with the emptiness dimming her bright green eyes.

The same blank stare which was present on her face now as she stared back at him silently. He was right; that chunin had really affected her in some way and weirdly he had done so by doing almost nothing. He had heard a little of the story with them both; the Konoha ninjas had been a willing source along with Kankuro-san and Temari had spoken a word or two but he was never able to get the full story. And even as much time as they had interacting with Sakura-san, she had never been forthcoming with more details about the Nara and Temari beyond the missions they had shared together. And the last few times they had been in Konoha, Temari had never actually said a word to the guy.

He had been friends with her too long to miss the very discreet signs, though he had always been more than confident they would never develop to anything further. After all she was a princess, not to mention a highly respected jounin and much older than this brat who from rumors abound never utilized his so called 'extreme' intelligence. Temari never had much time for anyone who didn't push themselves to be the best so it was all the more confusing that she was behaving this way.

Or, he thought uncomfortably, it could just be the soul-sucking nature of her dealings with the Suna ruling council. He had had the distinct horror of watching her descent into the presentation robot that now inhabited her body over the last few months.

Temari pushed past him, "Go and eat. I just need some rest."

He watched her leave the room, unease coating his stomach. It was the ruling council. His ruling council. Her ruling council. If they asked him to die, he would ask how many times they needed him to.

So what was he supposed to do as he watched a girl who was more than a friend have her soul sucked out by those he had sworn fealty to?

She had barely taken more than a few steps before a dour faced shinobi appeared in front of her and informed that the Hokage wanted to meet her. She plastered on a smile as she made her way to the Office of the Hokage wondering what new hell was awaiting her.

None of the people in the office looked at her as Shizune let her in, bowing respectfully, a gesture that made her stomach clench uneasily. The Godaime glanced at her briefly before returning her attention to the loud politician – so different from the ninja in the room (takes one to know one, her mind whispered) - who was almost literally patting his back as his head continued to suffuse with blood (she wondered if it would expand like a Suna bloodworm until it burst and showered everyone) boasting of how he had gotten this new trade agreement which –

Wait a minute.

Before she realized it, she found herself at the front of the room. "That was not in the finalized terms of agreement."

The room turned to look at her as she forced herself to tone down her initial ire and spirit. "The terms as set 4 months ago stated clearly that Suna would continue to pay at the initial price in exchange for allowing Konoha to use -"

Bloodworm scoffed, "I don't know who you think you are to interrupt me girl-"

"That's the princess of Suna." Cut in the Godaime with a raised eyebrow at Bloodworm.

If anything, the title only seemed to increase the flow of blood to his head. "All the more it is not her business to-"

Temari could feel the blood start to flow as her fingernails pierced her palm. "I was part of the negotiation party. The terms were stated very clearly and I don't quite understand how you suddenly think that we would accept such a demea-… drastic change."

A badly hidden sneer appeared on his face as he turned fully to stand tall over her. "If the princess would bother to check with her superiors she would know that those terms have been discussed at the highest level which obviously does not include her. But then again, this is not any concern for a princess so I suggest that she stay out of her superiors' business."

He continued to drone on a bit more, but all Temari could think about was an incident in her 2nd year of training when she had seen one of her teachers grab an enemy by the neck and squeeze until the head popped off. The blood had sprayed out like rain which had now become the trademark of Gaara's Desert Coffin technique. Of course, once she had done the same to Bloodworm, it would probably be seen as an act of aggression and she'd probably have to kill everyone in the room.

From the 2 kunoichis (discrete Anbu) lounging on the couch to the even more discrete Anbu that were probably hiding close by, to Shizune (who she had always liked) and even the Godaime Hokage who was glancing at her with some interest. She would kill them all though it would be a little hard without her fan; but Bloodworm deserve something more personal. The Hokage would probably kill her though but it would be worth it just to see the blood spurting from his head like some geyser and then the damne-

"That's enough Bloodworm." Temari frowned, had the Hokage also called him bloodworm? She couldn't quite hear anything clearly with the blood rushing in her ears. "Thank you for your efforts. You've done a good job."

The worm continued to spout off platitudes as he left the office, most of them directed at himself. She was left standing at the front of the desk, as the Hokage continued to regard her. It took a while before the all the blood drained from her vision and Temari found herself in control again. Still the Hokage kept silent, as though waiting for a response to an obvious question. And Temari didn't have any answers. She had not a clue what was happening, how the trade stipulations had been overturned without her knowledge, to be as demeaning as it could possibly be. She didn't even know at the moment, if she was supposed to take another breath or just continue standing there not breathing until the lack of oxygen caused her to pass out and hopefully drift away into nothingness.

Seeing as how there was not going to be any response from the Suna princess, the Hokage spoke up, "I'm not complaining about this great new deal Konoha is getting… But I'm not intending to foster some sort of hatred and anger because of it."

There was still no reply or hint of one so she went on, "I wanted to hear your opinion on this, but if you have nothing to say…" She trailed off, a blonde eyebrow raised and waiting.

The words floated from her stomach (or heart? Or was it her brain? She wasn't sure) rising through her esophagus, though her throat until it parked itself on the tip of her tongue. Poisonous and bitter they were, causing Temari to wonder dimly if she could make it to some basket before she retched.

"I have no further comments."

Seima hadn't seen her for the rest of the day. The group of them lowered their faces as they walked past her closed door, glancing out of the corner of their eyes at each other. It had become normal behavior, not that any of them would ever say it out loud to her face, for her to feign some sort of illness or exhaustion or some other excuse and hide herself away from the rest of Suna delegation. Which was painful, considering that they had all been working together for far too long to not be invested in Temari, whether it was out of respect or just sheer admiration.

He wasn't the only one who had felt hurt watching her play this robot, pulling away from them, trying so hard to please the dignitaries from other countries. Two of the girls had actually fought tooth and nail for the chance to get to work with Temari and in the beginning it had been something out of a dream, or so they had described. It was Suna thing, to idolize their ruling family and for them Temari was like a goddess.

For all her temper, which she had so frequently demonstrated to them, she had never shied away from being genuine and honest with them which had always been part of her attraction. And now, the only people she ever even interacted properly with were her genins while the rest of them had to make do with the perfect princess who spouted off words with a fake smile and faked illnesses to avoid everything else.

One of the chunnins, Misani, stopped abruptly. "Do you think she's eaten?"

Everyone glanced at each other but no answers were voiced out. Chieko turned around and headed back towards the front desk, speaking in a low voice. Returning to the group, she shook her head. Again, they stood in silence. One of the younger girls, Akari, turned to Seima and sighed, "She's supposed to prepare the list of nominated genins' supporting documents and sign off on them before tomorrow's meeting."

"She would definitely want to finish that off by tonight ..." Misani said quietly. No one was looking at each other. "But if she's already faking this early at night… Something really upsetting must have occurred."

Seima snorted and wondered what would happen if he banged that door open. For all his right to use her name so casually, he was as powerless as the other upset members of their team. They all wanted to be there for her. They all wanted to help her. They just didn't know how. She… was their Princess. Her brother was their Kazekage and their ruling council was… their ruling council. They could no more break her out of this situation than they could start squawking and laying eggs. If they broke into her room and beg her to for once tell her what on earth they could do to aid her, she would give them a beatific smile and laugh it off.

And if they reminded her about the unfinished work, she would probably take the documents and tell them to let her do it herself. Just so that they wouldn't see her slowly breaking. And that beatific smile would be present again tomorrow.

He made up his mind, "Chieko," he turned to the older girl, "Get them to make some soup with just tofu and prepare a few snacks. Get them to send it to her; she won't turn them away. Akari, prepare those documents and we will all go through it. And prepare her seal."

Akari looked at him doubtfully, "Her seal? Are you sure about that?"

He looked back at the rest of them. "We will support her in whatever we can. If she has a problem with it, she can deal with me tomorrow."

"Deal with us." Misani replied, standing up a little straighter. "She can deal with us."

He nodded at the rest as they scurried off. It wasn't much and it wouldn't solve anything for the future. But she was their Princess and they would damn well have her back.

It was the Suna thing to do.

i always imagined that the Suna citizens would treat their family like the royal family of England. It just seems that way in comparison to Konoha.