Sorry this one took so long! I got distracted (boyfriend came into town and we had over six feet of snow fell on us in three weeks).
Thanks to my beta, Noble Spirit, for cleaning this up for me. I feel like it's a lot more polished than some of my earlier chapters.
I'm still following the manga pretty closely, but this is where it really starts to diverge (other than the obvious). I honestly think TemaShika is about to become canon, but that's irrelevant. Relevant right now is that I'm not going to follow the manga even close to word for word from here on out, because I can tell it and I're going in somewhat separate directions.
Without further babble...
Habits – Chapter 6
It didn't surprise her that he wasn't there when she woke up.
Well, maybe a little. As with the prior day, it was a little odd to find him out of bed before noon. Perhaps Asuma's death had put the world into perspective for him. Maybe he'd have some initiative, some drive for once in his life.
...But not even some initiative could explain Shikamaru being out of bed before dawn. That was beyond weird and bordering on creepy.
Okay, now she was surprised.
Temari bundled her clothes back on and wandered on downstairs, peeking into the kitchen. However, she saw no sign of him or his mother.
She stole an apple and strolled onto the back porch. 'Maybe he had a hard time sleeping and went out to check on the deer,' she thought, shutting the wooden door behind her. The sky was a cerulean blue, the light of the sun filtering into the otherwise dark sky, although it was not visible yet. In Suna, this was the best time to be outside, and that was probably why she'd reflexively awakened at this hour. She couldn't possibly have gotten cold in his absence – despite her tendency to wrestle the covers off all but her waist in her sleep. No. It had to be instinct.
...So was it instinct that had driven her to round the corner of the porch instead of wander on out into the fields? Or was it just a habit, knowing that if he weren't on the roof, he'd be with his dad or Asuma, playing that game again?
Playing he was. Fully dressed with a cigarette in his mouth - naturally - and sitting rigid as he peered at the board.
He was playing a dead man, or so it seemed. There was no opponent – just a board with a few pieces placed across it.
She noticed his fingers perched together; two blades sitting beside him in an excessively deliberate manner, which sent shivers through her. She swept a hand through her hair, wanting to know what he thought, but not wanting to interrupt. The distraction of wondering when her hair got out of its ties lasted long enough for him to shift, moving the pieces around the board, turn by turn, playing both sides at once.
She tightened her kimono. It couldn't be that cold out here to make her shiver that much, could it?
He sighed heavily, seemingly upset by the outcome, evidenced by him replacing everything to the starting position.
"Shikamaru?" she ventured when he seemed to relax for a moment. He turned, looking almost surprised to see her, then jerked his head, gesturing for her to come over.
"I could use a second brain for this one."
Something about him admitting that scared Temari – her, of all people - so bad that she almost bolted. This was no game. A game couldn't get him up before dawn, and certainly couldn't concern him enough that he'd admit to wanting another's brainpower on it.
She sat down anyway, biting her apple and asking him what was going on while acting nonchalant, playing stupid.
"I can't explain it. Sorry. This is something for me and me alone."
It wasn't fooling him, and when she thought about it, it wasn't fooling her either. But hey, she'd made him contradict hims-
"Troublesome as this one is though, I thought I'd get someone to play the other side. And considering you've been one of my most powerful opponents..."
Oh, yeah, that. That weird mess nearly four years before. She was still pissed at him for what he'd pulled. She made a mental note to punish him for that - again. No sex that night would probably do quite nicely. Not that he hadn't been punished for it a good twenty times, but it's his fault for reminding her of it again.
He kept talking, even after that, and so she sighed, leaning back on her hands as her apple core fell to the side.
"I play as these five pieces, right? That's the idea here?"
"...Basically. There's a few changes in the normal rules though."
And so he explained.
And so they played.
They kept playing after the sun came up, after his mom had come out to see what they were doing, after his dad had come home from his mission and watched them for nearly an hour. Each time, it was a sequence of no more than twenty moves, and usually not more than six, before he reset the board and they tried again.
She knew by afternoon exactly what he had planned. This was about revenge. He was obsessing this badly because his plan had finally failed, because he'd been beaten, and lost someone because of his mistakes. The unknown had caught up with him; there had been too many variables.
The lessons learned three years prior remained with him. He wanted to correct his mistake. However, this time, he knew no one would appear at the last second to save him.
She reached into the pile of discarded pieces and pulled one out, setting it on the board on his side.
"Let me help," she explained, tapping the piece.
He stared at the piece, then at her. He slowly shook his head. "This is our fight." He took the piece back off the board, closing his eyes and rested his fingers together again.
"Maybe you should find something else to do for a bit. Visit the others?"
Damn it, now he wanted her gone. She'd tried to interfere too much. She objected, of course. She objected until her throat was sore and until his mom yelled back at her for him.
Then she stormed off, making a good, dramatic show of it.
Overall, acted as if she was 15 again. Maybe she wanted to be again; maybe she wanted to think she could be his savior once more, instead of just another person he wanted to protect.
She was stronger, older, and higher ranking. She was supposed to protect him, damn it. That had been the deal all along, and it was still supposed to be that way.
But that was why she loved him, wasn't it? Because in the end, everything was because he cared.
She spent an hour out with the deer, sitting quietly amongst them. She knew that was likely where he acquired his affection for cloud watching... As a child, he spent his days off from school guarding the herd and thinking, training his mind instead of his body. She'd hoped that being there might give her some sort of insight, some way of helping him short of chasing after him as she tended to. However, she knew she was a decade late to bridge the gap between her intellect and his.
Temari left the field, deciding to rely on the one advantage she had over him: women's intuition.
If only her intuition had something to say other than beating him until his limbs broke.
Dinner... was awkward. She'd never spent more than a few minutes at a time in a room with either of his parents, let alone both. Let alone both without Shikamaru there.
His mom attempted to make conversation, and at first Temari tried to respond in kind, since Shikaku obviously wasn't saying anything. Like father, like son. It got to her after a while, though, and she stood just short of politely, walking outside to retrieve her boyfriend.
She knew they were watching her drag him by, taking him through the kitchen and up the stairs. She knew it was early, and they were aware she'd slept over the night before, and everything else.
She didn't care.
All she wanted was to hold and kiss him and convince him not to do anything stupid - without openly admitting she was worried about him. After all, she didn't worry. Especially not about him.
Even though she loved him.
She threw him on the bed and pounced, kissing him desperately, tearing out his hair tie with one hand while the other pinned one of his above his head. With hands separated, he couldn't use his shadow to force her off him. He was defenseless, and she liked that. Now was the time to teach him what was truly important.
Then she made the mistake of pulling back long enough to get a good look at him. He stared, long and hard, his gaze almost piercing through her, his eyes all but vacant.
"Are you done?" he asked curtly. She nodded, quietly, and rolled off to sit beside him.
"Don't worry, all right," he said, sitting while gathering his ponytail back together with his hair tie. It wasn't a question, or any attempt at comfort; it was a command. "I'm going to go see Chouji and Ino. I'll be back in an hour or two. You can stay here if you want."
There wasn't much she could do if she followed.
So she chose to stay.
His arrival that night consisted of shedding his clothes and collapsing in bed beside her. She pretended to be asleep while he stared at her for almost half an hour before finally falling asleep.
She woke up at sunrise again, but this time, he was lying beside her, and barely more than snuggled his pillow as she climbed out of bed.
Breakfast and a shower later, he was still sleeping. It was so normal, so usual of him, compared to the previous days that Temari couldn't help but feel disturbed. She rubbed her arms, smoothing down the goosebumps, then walked to the bathroom again, tossing the towel from her head to the floor carelessly. She worked on tying her hair back, glancing back down the hall after completing each ponytail. No sign of movement.
She had a meeting to attend. A couple, actually. He was supposed to go to one of those, too...
Why did the idiot have to look so cute with his hair down and drool hanging from his open mouth?
...Yeah, she'd tell Yoshino to wake him up in time for his meeting.
He opened his eyes and sat up, wiping his mouth on his forearm. God, she wasn't even trying to hide the fact she was staying here, let alone sleeping in the same bed, was she? It had to have occurred to her that they would get in trouble if his parents came to the (obvious) conclusion that he was intimate with a girl, let alone one from a different village. She was one of the smartest people he knew, so the fact couldn't have escaped her.
No, there was only one answer; she was in league with his mother. His dad wouldn't have cared to begin with... In fact, Shikaku whistled at her at one point. Likely just to annoy his son, of course, but it still meant that he could care less what they were up to. No, it was his mom he had to watch out for, and she...
Was downstairs yelling for him to get out of bed. Great. Why did she wake him up from such a good sleep, especially after he'd been up late the night before? Well, not wake him so much as get him out of bed, since he was already awake.
She was still yelling. He stood up, stretching slowly, then called back in a flat, barely raised voice, "I'm up, mom. I know, the meeting."
Two of them. Two crazy women under one roof, both in control of his life and now possibly in cooperation with each other. He wondered what was in his dad's genetics that made Nara men attracted to bitches.
Then he remembered her smile. He sighed, knowing why.
He'd have to make sure he saw it as much as possible that night. Just in case. If everything went as planned, then he'd have a million more chances to see it. If not – and things seldom went exactly as he planned – it might be his last chance. He couldn't afford for it to be, of course,... not after all he'd promised to her and to his old teammates, not after all she'd lost. Things must go smoothly.
For now, he had to work on acting normal. He knew that Temari, and possibly his whole family, was suspicious after how he'd spent the previous day. It was obvious that he planned revenge; he wanted them to believe he'd realized all plans were impractical, and decided against it. That'd be best.
So would get dressed. Standing around in his boxers wasn't going to accomplish anything.
One night over at Chouji's, her parents had understood, especially after the funeral. Two they'd been iffy about, but they dealt with it anyway. Three, though, she knew would be too much, but she was going to do so anyway... which meant that she'd gone to work in the shop that morning, just to appease them a bit. When Chouji picked her up for lunch, they made the best show possible of things being perfectly normal, pretending they weren't together, and that they hadn't spent most of the previous 48 hours roaming in bed, or planning illegal missions.
They put together a simple bouquet – white periwinkle and forsythia – before leaving, which Ino clung to with both hands as they wandered down the street. Lunch was surprisingly easy and normal, but that wasn't going to be the hard part. No, the rest of the day... seeing Kurenai and talking with her for the first time since Asuma's death...
She wasn't their teacher, but they'd come to know her well over the years. Her relationship with Asuma had been public only to their two teams, though of course Tsunade knew of it – as Hokage, it was her job to know everything about her village. The last few days of grief had been left to herself and her own team, but now it was Ino and Chouji's turn to go comfort the older kunoichi; Shikamaru had gotten his chance back when she first learned the truth.
It was obvious from the moment she opened the door that Kurenai was still hurting. Her eyes were surrounded by dark circles and her smile was strained, though at least today she was trying. At the funeral two days before, there'd been no sign of anything but pain and sorrow on her face. Ino nearly dropped the bouquet in her hurry to give the woman a hug, and Chouji quickly embraced them both, bending down so that his arms wrapped around their shoulders. One after another burst into tears, right there on the doorstep.
Slowly they calmed again, smiling quietly at each other as Kurenai invited them in, closing the door behind them. She fetched a small vase for the bundle of white flowers, placing them on a table as her guests sat on the couch.
They talked quietly, catching up on things. It'd been a few months since they'd been together like this, the group drifting apart into their designated new teams in the Nijuu Shotai. Most of it was simple conversation, or reminiscing about Asuma – the stories were far and few between for now, but they all knew that there was enough to last for years to come.