"She's still going to be loyal to the Sand, no matter which way you look at it," Ino said, voicing the unequivocal truth.
"The Sand and the Leaf are allies," Shikamaru said.
"You oughtta know how little that means," Ino countered. "Did that stop them from allying with Sound and attacking us? Has a treaty ever really worked? The villages are allies in name only. Come on, Shikamaru, you're supposed to be the genius."
He knew she was right. He'd been over this argument dozens of times with dozens of different people, and he knew perfectly well by now that there was no way around it. He kept hoping someone would surprise him and tell him something he hadn't thought of yet. He supposed he must be smarter than everyone else after all.
Chouji grunted sympathetically before swallowing another mouthful of meat.
The three were sitting in their favorite barbecue restaurant. They'd just come back from a tough mission, and they hadn't spoken about anything that wasn't work-related for about three weeks. It was a relief to be sitting here with them and talking about the most important topic of the moment, which, instead of combat tactics or mission plans, was currently his love life.
"Even if she is loyal to Suna…" he started… but he never completed the thought. That was the problem. There was nowhere for that thought to go.
Chouji chuckled darkly, as if reading his mind.
"Maybe if she just totally ditched the Sand, like, formally," Ino said, "and defected to Konoha, you know? I could see people buying that."
Defected. The word rang in his ears like a bad tune. In his mind it was in the same category as unfaithful. That was not a word he associated with Temari – she who would do anything to fulfill a mission or carry out an order. And she would kill herself for either of her brothers. That much he was certain of. She wasn't going to throw away her loyalty to them, period.
"I don't think that's something she would consider," Shikamaru said carefully, stretching out in his seat, feeling the weariness start to sink into his limbs. He didn't know why he bothered talking about this with people. No one had an epiphany for him.
Ino shrugged. "Well, you never know. I'm always surprised she goes through as much trouble as she does just for your lazy butt. And she puts up with all your complaining," Ino pointed out. "Not that you don't have anything to complain about. That woman's a harpy."
Chouji and Shikamaru exchanged a glance.
"Don't think I didn't see that," Ino grumbled.
Chouji started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" he said.
"Loud, pushy, loyal to a different country. I can't think of any woman you've ever met who would be more troublesome than this one," Chouji said pointedly.
Shikamaru glowered, his lips a straight line. Ino started to crack up. "He has a point," she said.
By the time he reached the door of his apartment, he was exhausted. Three weeks, barely any sleep. He hadn't felt it when they were at the restaurant, because at that point he'd been so hungry he'd eaten almost as much as Chouji, but now it was hitting him.
The door closed behind him. He sighed deeply, ambled over to the bathroom, dropped his clothes to the floor and stood under the hot shower for all of sixty seconds. Afterwards he was too lazy to even get dressed. He slung a towel around his waist and lurched over to his bed, where he planned to collapse and be dead to the world for the next twelve hours or so.
He didn't usually make his bed – complete waste of energy, if you asked him – but he was astute enough to see that the blankets were crumpled in a not entirely natural manner. The room was lit only by the moonlight from the window, but it was just bright enough for him to see that he wasn't alone.
She seemed to be asleep, although he couldn't make out her face very well in the dark, so it was hard to tell. She was lying on her side, her back to the window. He slunk into bed next to her, hoping he wouldn't wake her up. But either she hadn't been asleep or he wasn't careful enough – as soon as he was lying on his back, she rolled toward him, her hand snuck up onto his chest and her mouth captured his ear. "Hi," she whispered.
He sighed with disappointment. Not that it wasn't nice to have someone chewing on your ear, but he didn't really have the energy for this right now.
He heard her chuckle after his audible sigh. She climbed on top of him, hovered over him on all fours, and started kissing his chest, slowly moving her mouth down from his clavicle.
"Look, I hate to let you down, but…"
"Shut up," she said.
"It's not that…"
"Quit your whining." Her mouth had reached the bottom of his rib cage. "No one said you'd have to do any work." Her mouth continued lower and lower.
He exhaled slowly as realization hit him, and he leaned his head back on the pillow with relief. There may or may not have been an extremely stupid grin on his face. Chouji had a point, but she wasn't all trouble.
He woke up the next morning to the sound of thunder. Outside the window it was pouring rain, gray, dim. Not a morning for moving around. That was okay by him. They made love for about an hour and then dozed off again, tangled in each other and the sheets. He had no idea what time it was. The paltry light outside gave no clue. It could be daybreak or it could be nearing dinnertime. He didn't care. He wasn't going to move from this bed. He was going to lie here for as long as humanly possible, listen to the rain, play with her yellow hair, maybe have sex again, and then go back to sleep.
She, apparently, had other plans. She crawled over him at a slovenly pace and practically dripped off the bed. He grumbled a protest, too lazy to form words. "Sorry," she said, leaning down to kiss him briefly.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked.
"To take a shower."
He made a sound of frustration in his throat as he watched her walk away. That meant no more sex.
He tried to listen to the sounds she made in the bathroom, but the rain was too loud. He closed his eyes and tried to remember everything he'd talked about with Chouji and Ino last night. When she appeared again, he saw to his great distaste that she was fully dressed. "Already?" he said. "You just got here."
"Wrong. You just got here. I've been waiting around for two days. I had a mission in the Wave Country and I was supposed to be on my way home. I'm already late."
"They can spare you another day," he argued. "It's not like they don't know where you are."
"I know that. Why do you think he sent me? It was a lousy C-rank mission, it just happened to be somewhere that required crossing Fire Country. He could have sent anyone. He was doing me a favor. I'm not going to pay him back by disappearing on him. He'll never send me out here again."
He reached out for her arm, pulling her toward the bed. "I never figured you to be the type to let her little brother boss her around."
"You have to admit, he's not an ordinary little brother," she said.
He pulled her down on top of him, aligning her on his chest. "You don't want to travel today. Look at it out there."
"I don't have a choice," she said. She leaned in and inhaled, closing her eyes. "God you smell good."
He was silent for a minute. "I don't like it," he said, staring up at her cool sea-green eyes. "All this coming and going. It's too much work. It's troublesome."
"You could come back with me," she offered.
He was silent.
"Yeah, didn't think so," she said, sliding off of him, sitting up on the edge of the bed, facing away from his still supine form. The room seemed too hushed for a minute, filled only with the soft light from the window and the constant pattering of rain. She turned, leaned down to kiss him, lingered there for a while in her usual goodbye, and then started to stand up.
Before she could get away, he grabbed her wrist. "Temari."
The sound of raindrops filled the space again. All he saw that mattered were her two wide eyes staring down at him. "And he doesn't even sit up," she said, bemused. "You sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet."
"Please," he said.
After a moment of consideration with a completely blank face, she tore her eyes away from him and stood up quickly. "What are we going to do, start our own country?"
"We'll figure it out."
"It's hard enough for ninja to marry each other when they're living in the same village."
"It might not be easy, but wouldn't it be worth it?"
"What put this into your head? Do you even know what you're asking me?"
He didn't answer her. He watched her back as she crossed the room to the door. She pulled it open. Paused. She still didn't turn to look at him, but she said, "I need to think about it for a while."
He felt an uncomfortable emptiness in his chest when he heard the front door close.