Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue.






The boy stirred the rice in his bowl in a bored manner. His sister sat at his elbow, eating rice three grains at a time, as she tended to do when she was preoccupied. Their father sat across from them, face expressionless, stirring his own food.

It was hard to eat when you were hearing that voice.

Wandering in and out of the room every few seconds was his mother. You didn't need to look up or even listen for her footsteps, because you could follow her movements by listening her low, loud voice and its constant stream of complaining. If he didn't know her as well as he did, her tone of voice and the expression on her face would terrify him. She terrified most of his friends and classmates even when she was in a good mood. Seeing his mother in a mood like this would send most people running. But he was so used to her anger that he didn't even raise an eyebrow.

"Damn it! I know it was here! One of you must have picked it up! Damn it, somebody answer me here! This house is such a pigsty. You boys don't pick up anything. Here I am, supposed to leave for this mission ten minutes ago, and I'm still sorting through this mess! If I…"

She rounded out of the kitchen and into another one of the rooms. The tirade didn't stop, it was just softened to a dull droning that they could hear through the wall. The boy rolled his eyes. They did pick up after themselves. The place was practically spotless. But he knew it would be much more trouble than it was worth to point this out to her when she was like this. Instead, he picked at his rice with disinterest.

He raised his eyes to his father, who was doing the same with his food. A thought occurred to the boy. He decided to ask the question now while his mother was decidedly out of earshot.

"Is she crazy?" he asked his father out of the side of his mouth.

His father's chopsticks paused and he raised his eyes to his son. The man's expression gave away no emotion, as usual, other than to appear bored and slightly annoyed. "You know she gets like this when she's tense."

The boy sighed deeply. "Why did you marry such a troublesome woman, anyway?"

The man didn't say anything for a minute. It seemed almost as if he were lost in thought. His father did that a lot.

"Well," his father said finally, "some days, when she's not tense, she kind of smiles at me."

The boy scoffed. "That's it? You married her for that? Maybe it's you that's crazy," he mumbled.

You had to know his father very well, and you had to be watching for it, to know that the slight twitch that started at the corner of his mouth signified the beginning of a grin. This mildly surprised the boy.

"Let me tell you something," his father said, and he leaned his head in across the table just a bit. He noticed his sister glance at them with interest even though she was pretending not to.

"Every woman is like a puzzle," his father said softly. Then he leaned back and redirected his attention to the rice bowl in his hand.

The boy stared with a disappointed frown. "That doesn't make any sense," he pointed out.

His father's grin grew by infinitessimal increments. "You'll understand when you're older."

"You're just trying to get out of answering."

The father sighed. "It makes perfect sense if you just think about it. Every woman is like a puzzle, a game. You have to figure her out. You have to figure out what makes her smile that smile that she hides from everyone else. And when you have the answer, then you can see if she's worth the trouble."

The boy stared blankly. His expression plainly said he couldn't see what would make any woman worth this much trouble.

The man's mouth twitched again.

His mother circled into the kitchen again. "…told you a thousand times before, I don't have time for this kind of thing, if someone in this house could just keep themselves organized for more than five minutes, if some people weren't so lazy..." she said, pausing to stare pointedly at his father.

His father grinned at her. She stopped in her tracks, her cheeks flushing. "Why are you grinning? Can't you see I'm furious?" she seethed.

"You're prettier when you're furious," he said, setting down his bowl and leaning back in his chair, linking his hands behind his head casually.

Because her tirade had filled the air just a few moments ago, the silence now was deafening. The boy was sure his father was about to suffer an unknown jutsu from her direction.

Her face was like stone. "Don't think you can just change the subject."

"Can I help it if you're beautiful?" he said in a perfectly flat tone.

The air was charged. His mother crossed the room, marching straight up to his father's side, and looked down at him with a haughty expression. "Flattery will get you nowhere," she said, but in a very different tone than before.

"I forgot this morning to tell you how much I'll miss you," he said.

"You're ridiculous," she said. "You're utterly transparent. Don't think I can't tell that you're trying to manipulate me."

The key difference now was that she was starting to smile. The smile was creeping across her lips slowly and jerkily, as if she was fighting it all the way. It was a soft mysterious smile, one she saved for only his father. His father responded with his casual, laid-back grin.

With a lazy motion, he reached up and placed a hand on one of her hips, and with only the slightest effort he pulled her down so that she landed sitting across his lap in a pose that had obviously been practiced for years.

The boy made a sound of disgust. He exchanged a sideways glance with his sister, whose chopsticks had paused in midair. Here they go again…

"You know, Temari, you're not very late…"

She smiled her smile at him and said nothing. He grinned back at her.

"Time for school," the boy said. He grabbed his bento lunch from the table and snatched up his knapsack from the floor. His sister quickly followed suit.

"Bye, kids," his father said, not moving his gaze from his mother.

"Be good to your father while I'm gone," their mother said.

He and his sister made a mad dash for the door. Just as he left he saw that they were starting to kiss.

"Blech," his sister said once they got out to the road. "They're so gross."

"Yeah. I don't know which one is crazier."

He still had absolutely no idea what made it worth the trouble. Certainly it couldn't be that.