A/N: I thought I'd try something a bit different from all the NejiTen and my SasuSaku piece I've done. Shikamaru/Temari came to mind. I actually really liked writing this too.
But in true me fashion, it's angsty. And allusive to adult situations (hence the Mature rating). And set in the future.
Dedicated to Cyberwolf, who is so insanely supportive that it scares me. Haha, not (scared, I mean. She actually is that supportive).
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan work.
Tsuris – n. Trouble; aggravation.
The night bore an odd sort of stillness. Only the soft crackling of scorched wood and the occasional music of nocturnal insects and animals could break the spell of utter concentration that seemed to thicken with the rising of the moon. Until—
"This is ridiculous."
The grip on the black knight tightened enough that the fingers squeezing it blanched. The master that held it let out a sigh. "You only say that when you're losing." He mentioned nothing about how the other person lost every time.
The player using the white pieces allowed herself a small, hard smile. "Not only then," Temari murmured cheekily. She ignored the half-confused, half-bored look her opponent sent her and returned her attention to the checkered board that sat between them. The late night hour made it difficult to see everything properly, but the light of the nearby campfire was enough for her to see and resent the large and growing pile of defeated white chess pieces near the other player's elbow. The pile of black pieces on her side, only a few pawns and a couple of bishops, was considerably less impressive. And she had a feeling he'd let her win those, anyway.
At least he never boasted. That probably took far more effort than he preferred to give. Temari could always tell that he was pleased by his victories, but as he constantly expected them, there was no real sense of satisfaction.
Was it possible even that Nara Shikamaru regarded her that way?
Here, past midnight in the middle of the forest between the Land of Fire and the Land of Wind, she imagined the black haired boy – man, she corrected herself after remembering the growth spurt that had rocketed him well past her own height – was comfortable in the dark. The light shed by their fire's flames created a wealth of shadows that, were he to wish it, would obey his every command in mere moments.
Perhaps that was what had first drawn her to him. The man controlled shadows; all the old stories and warnings of elders said that light and goodness was the way to win. But Shikamaru worked for the goody-goody village of Konoha and they had a whole clan that excelled only with the assistance of darkness. How ironic.
"Checkmate." His monotone voice broke Temari from her thoughts as he unceremoniously knocked over her defeated white king. She shrugged and sat up. They had both been lying on the grass on the stomach to play. She brushed green blades and stay dirt from her and tried not to wonder if the fact that she was naked from neck to mid-thigh under his Jounin vest stirred anything inside of him.
Unlikely; he probably still had tactics and strategies roaming through his brain. It would take more than the firelight-drenched legs of a foreign kunoichi to unhinge him. The notion always irritated the hell out of her.
Temari scratched the thought about his shadow-manipulation being something that had attracted her. There was nothing particularly dark about Nara Shikamaru, which destroyed the description of brooding good looks. He was good-looking – especially when he was, like now, wearing nothing but a pair of tight black pants – but he didn't brood. He was just lazy.
Even so, something had sparked. Perhaps it had just been basic lust. Perhaps it had been a challenge to turn on someone other than the constantly horny numbskulls that littered the deserts back home. She remembered needing a release at that time, that day when Uzumaki Naruto had returned from his training and they had just finished proctoring a Chuunin exam. He'd been fifteen. She'd been eighteen.
It had been a personal achievement luring him away from a team meeting to go make out behind the city wall. He'd been clumsy and inexperienced, something that had amused her greatly. While some of it was most likely chalked up to simple hormones, she would never forget that gleam in his coal-dark eyes when she had walked carelessly away, leaving him to watch her go with a swollen mouth and a hard-on.
She laughed aloud at the memory and felt him slant a mildly curious look her way.
"What?" he demanded. Temari knew he was only intrigued because she didn't laugh often, in his or anyone else's presence. She never had much cause to find humor in any life aspect.
She shook her head, quieting. The weight of her yellow hair – hanging in a wavy, tangled mass down her back because he had snapped her hair ties with impatient flicks of his fingers only an hour ago – bothered her because she wasn't used to wearing it loose. The feel of it over her bare shoulders made her slightly insecure; she felt more like a woman, and that bothered almost any good kunoichi.
"I was just recalling that time we first started this. You were such a baby." Her teal eyes flashed like discs of cut sapphire as she turned her gaze to him. "Do you even remember? It was at least four years ago."
As usual, Shikamaru didn't hold her eyes for long. He never seemed to like staring at her gaze-for-gaze. He preferred to look at other things, whether it was a tree opposite him or – bored men everywhere forsake it! – her chest. "I remember." He regarded the twenty-two year old woman beside him with a brief, indifferent look. "It didn't start then."
"Hm." Temari wondered. It was true that this little tete a tete hadn't begun until the night of Hyuuga Hinata's eighteenth birthday party, after the ceremony that had inaugurated her as the rightful heir to the Hyuuga Main House. Inuzuka Kiba had seen to it that Shikamaru had drunk enough sake to properly loosen him up. Temari had mistaken the adult punch for the non-alcoholic one. With both their inhibitions gone, one thing had led to another, and they had woken up the next morning in Shikamaru's bed; stark naked, of course.
He had secreted her out of the village before anyone else was awake. She'd been supposed to leave for the Sand the previous evening. Their lingering hangovers must have demolished their senses just enough for a quickie in the woods, and they'd parted ways with nary a word.
Temari didn't know for sure when it became an unspoken agreement that her routine representative visits to Konoha would unquestionably mean meeting in the forest for sex and board games. They played each other every time, both physically and mentally. Shikamaru she could almost understand. He spent hours upon hours every week teaching a bunch of children at the Academy so that he probably craved adult company. And it was the only time he didn't look utterly disinterested in everything around him.
It was herself that Temari struggled to comprehend. She continually came back for a younger man who gave her a very strong indication of having absolutely zero feelings for her beyond natural physical desire. When had she gotten so lax about her standards?
"You'll be returning to Sunaga tomorrow?" Shikamaru asked, breaking into her thoughts once again. That was his way; letting her think as long as he needed to and then saying something just to stir things up.
"Yeah. You'll want to get back to those snot-nosed kids." She watched his eyebrow quirk and then grinned. "I'll bet you're a good teacher."
"Probably no better than you are an assistant to your brother," he replied steadily. Still lying down, he turned over on his back, angling his head so that his ponytail didn't dig into his skull, and studied the star-littered sky overhead. "Do you miss them when you're here?"
Her grin fell. He had never asked her a personal question before. "Do I…miss them?"
"Your family," he clarified, adding as seemingly an afterthought, "and your village?"
There was hesitation before she spoke, and Temari didn't doubt that Shikamaru noticed it. He was lazy but not inobservant. "The Sand is home," she told him at length. "I'm used to the heat and the dryness. Gaara's status and the fact that I'm older than him make me sort of a princess over there. I don't like it much, but I can't avoid it."
And she looked like a princess right now, bathed in the glow of the fire and moonlight. Her pale tresses shone against the dark that edged her back, and her skin was practically luminous in the middle of the night. Shikamaru would never admit any of this, however. And Temari could never guess that he thought so.
"So no," he furthered, his voice flat.
She chuckled, but this wasn't her laugh. It was a bitter sound. "Why are you asking such things? Nara Shikamaru doesn't care a lick about what anyone feels."
His eyes narrowed. There would have never been such attention in the dark orbs four years ago. "Yes, I do."
"Ha!" She leaned back on her forearms, feeling inexplicably restless and annoyed all of a sudden. "The hell you do, Shikamaru, with all your 'how troublesome' sayings. It's okay," she added before he could reply. "I don't expect anything else out of you."
At first, neither of them said another word, and the stillness descended upon the forest again, only to be shattered by a loud crack! and then several plink-plink noises. Temari had only an instant to realize that he had forcefully batted the chessboard away, the various pieces scattering; some went into the fire, others flew into the shadows. Before she could wonder about why he had taken such an energetic action, he was above her, hands gripping her arms just above her elbows.
Shikamaru pulled her to him, lips claiming hers before she could even react. The kiss was not tender, as theirs rarely were. Her lips parted from the silent order he gave and she responsively tussled with him for a moment before she realized he wasn't about to give up his leverage. Instead of fighting for domination, Temari relaxed and let him hold her as their mouths mingled. His fingers brushed the skin of her shoulders, her neck, then just above her bare knees. She lifted her arms to wrap around his neck, calloused fingers slipping into the short black hairs at the base of his neck. She felt him tense in response to the sensitive spot.
The kiss broke with a rush of air on both their parts, and they simultaneously pulled away before they could stop themselves. Shikamaru still needed to go home tonight.
"You think I really don't care about things?" The question only came after several minutes of wordlessness with Temari's head tucked in the crook of his neck and shoulder and his fingers sliding through the length of her sun-colored hair.
She shrugged one shoulder, although shrugging while lying down and against a man proved difficult. "You never show any interest. Are you going to try to get me to believe that you do?"
"You've seen me—"
"Stick your neck out a few times," she interrupted dryly. "For your friends and for your village. What?" she said when he looked down at her. "Are you going to say you care about everything? The guy who likes to lie back with his friends and watch clouds go by?"
It was his turn to shrug. "You're watching stars with me, aren't you?"
That made her pause. Temari took longer than usual to form a reply, only because she had no idea what to say to that. "I'm…" She closed her eyes just as a smirk appeared on her lips. "Ridiculous," she whispered.
"I said it's ridiculous," she told him, louder. She was surprised that she had actually said it to him. "We've been meeting like this for two years now, Shikamaru. Two years of just sex." Temari opted to not mention that it was fantastic sex lest she stroke a hidden ego. Turning in his arms, she turned her face upward to see him and directed her half-amused, half-melancholy smile to his eyes.
He looked away – as she expected him to – before murmuring a response. "That's all it is, huh?"
"Well," she chortled, "maybe unless you said you love me." When his eyes shot back to hers with a glint of shock, she chuckled again and stood up, brushing more grass and dirt away. Reaching for her black kimono, which hung on a low tree limb, she started to strip off his vest.
"Would it be so ridiculous if I did?"
Her hand froze before she could tug down the zipper. Turning to him, she stared wide-eyed. "W-what?" was all she managed to say, ashamed of the tremor in her tone.
For once, maybe even the first time, Shikamaru's eyes stayed on hers. It was evident that he knew she'd heard him. "Would it?" he asked, his voice as smooth as marble. "You aren't beautiful," he whispered as though he spoke to himself rather than her, "but you definitely aren't ugly."
Temari would never have expected a statement like that to actually make her blush. Fighting down embarrassment, she waved a hand in front of his face. "Hey, Shikamaru, wake up. Don't joke," she ordered, a touch of desperation entering her expression. "Neither of us need jokes like that."
"You really think so," he muttered, standing up. "You really think I don't care anything at all for you."
"I…" Damn, why couldn't she use any words! He walked toward her with a concentrating stare and didn't even blink against until he stood right before her. Temari couldn't move; it almost felt like he was using Kagemane on her. "No," she told him finally, feeling defeated. "But you can't honestly say you love me." When his expression didn't change, she tentatively added, "Can you?"
She wouldn't have guessed that a meager stare from him could have made Temari feel defenseless. Shikamaru never answered her question. Instead, he pulled his vest from her and simply helped her change, trying the obi of her kimono for her before pulling on his own long-sleeved shirt and Jounin vest. They didn't speak to each other as they put on shoes.
Confused, Temari waited until he was ready and then looked at him again. It was the farewell look, although they never actually bade each other goodbye. Before she could speak, he beat her to the punch.
"In six months, there will be another Chuunin exam held here." There was no sign of boredom or disinterest in his eyes now. Temari's heart sped up at the realization. Shikaru went on. "When that time comes, I'll have a question for you."
A question? Temari only watched as he stuck his lazy hands in his pockets and turned to walk away. He only made it a few steps away before he stopped. Swiveling, his hands came out of his pockets again and he was with her again in two long strides. He didn't touch her with his hands. Saying nothing, he simply leaned down and kissed her cheek as softly as sunlight kissed the clouds he liked so much.
"You're not troublesome," he revealed, not with affection, but with honesty.
Temari watched as he did walk away this time. Her fingers gently touched the place he had so carefully kissed; he had never kissed her like that before.
Nara Shikamaru, she thought. "And you're not ridiculous," she whispered after him. "I'll have an answer for your question."
Her secret flew through the night to join his.