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8

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"Does this mean we have to stop having sex?" he asked.

She grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "Don't even joke about that."

o

He rolled over on the bed and stuffed his fingers into the sweaty yellow rat's nest that was what had become of her hair. It was always like this after they made love. Even when she made a point of trying to keep the hair ties in place, he always managed to pull them out while she was distracted.

"Leave my hair alone!" she shrieked.

"I hope the kid is blonde like you."

"You do not want my hair in your family," she said with certainty.

"Yes I do."

"Do you know why I wear it like this? Because there's no other way to wear it and keep it in place. Seriously."

"I told you before, I like it like that."

o

She wandered around his apartment retrieving clothing. They had been rather… impatient… the night before, but she wasn't technically supposed to be in Konoha at all and a small part of her mind was saying to get back home to Suna and enjoy it while she could, because her days living there were numbered. She'd visit. Probably for months at a time. But still.

"Why are you going back to Suna?" he grumbled.

"I don't know, idiot, I guess it must be because I live there." She always called him that, even though she knew he was a genius. It just came out of her mouth automatically. He never seemed to mind, though.

He caught her as she was escaping his bathroom and put a hand at her waist and leaned toward her ear carefully. "When are you coming back here to stay?"

She reddened like a little girl again. She didn't know how after all this time and everything they'd infamously done together he could still make her blush so easily. "Soon," she said. She gave him a warning glare after he let go, as he picked his Jounin vest off the couch in the living room, shook it out, and threw it around his shoulders. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Packing."

"You're coming with me?"

"I'm not stupid enough to let you go alone."

This initiated an argument about her being able to protect herself, which first led inevitably to sex, and finally to the understanding that he would come along just to make himself feel better if he really wanted to and she grudgingly allowed that she wouldn't stop him.

o

She stood before Gaara. "I've got news," she said, trying not to look too smug.

Gaara and Kankurou, as one, looked toward Shikamaru, who suddenly envied the goat he had seen getting picked by carrion in the desert on the way here, because at least that situation was taking place outside this room and far away from these men.

Temari barely noticed. She was staring at Gaara. "Don't you dare laugh. I will kill you if you laugh and I'm about this close already."

o

Kankurou turned to Gaara after they left. "I told you that was a bad idea."

Gaara only smiled.

o

She packed a few changes of clothes and a few pictures (all photos of her brothers and students and Suna, none of her parents). Anything else she wanted could be mailed. She was five months pregnant when she returned to Konoha for good, and since Shikamaru hadn't been able to get time off for it, Kankurou came with her for the journey. They didn't hurry. They walked the whole way, partly because she couldn't do any more than that, and partly because this would probably be their last chance to torment each other for a long time.

Shikamaru was out on a mission when she got there. Kankurou hung around for a couple of days, finally getting the message that Ino's free time was spoken for and not by him. Temari made fun of him for losing out to "the only ninja fatter than you." Finally she told him she was sick of him sexually harassing the Leaf kunoichi, and saying she was getting a bad reputation by association she kicked him out.

Shikamaru didn't come back for another week. It didn't surprise her. As Konoha's best battle tactician, he was much in demand, and she heard secondhand that he'd been saddled with another mission as soon as he got back from the first. She bought him groceries at the market and spent a couple evenings trying to cook, meeting with eventual moderate success, probably due to the fact that he wasn't around to distract her. She flipped through half his library and read a couple books. She got bored waiting around, but she wasn't sure how exactly she should go about explaining her extended presence to anyone else in Konoha.

Chouji surprised her one evening by showing up in Shikamaru's apartment. "Do you know when he'll be back?" she asked his friend.

"Any day now," he said. "It was a B-ranked mission, but more expensive than dangerous."

Almost bored out of her mind, she decided to put her recent experimentation to the test. She made Chouji wait at the table while she desperately tried to cook something edible. Chouji was left to idly wonder how in the world Shikamaru, the laziest ninja ever born, got someone like Temari to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Making him dinner.

Ino joined them not long afterward, glancing at Temari as if she expected the Sand nin to steal Chouji from her.

She made dinner with as few curses as she could manage.

Shikamaru arrived sometime later, when all three were eating.

He noted a lot of things. The way she was treating his friends. The bag of unsorted belongings she had left in the corner of his bedroom. The female underwear stuffed into his top drawer, which he came across after he showered. He drew some conclusions. It didn't take a genius.

After the other two had left, she commented, "Your teammates are fucking."

Shikamaru snorted. "Always so tactful…"

She swatted him playfully. "I didn't mean it in a bad way. We used to be just fucking, remember?"

Shikamaru lazily nuzzled her neck. "Yeah. I remember."

o

It was funny how it worked out. How people who had glared at her on the village street before suddenly smiled when they saw her. How the girl at Ichiraku Ramen gave her extra servings. How women she barely knew passed her charms that were supposed to make her have a son. (They didn't work.)

She suddenly wasn't the enemy anymore. A good fraction of the shinobi had known this for years, but finally the rest of the population was catching on.

Shikamaru got made fun of. Often. Especially by his father, but almost as much by his friends. He was the first of the Rookie Nine to start a family, so all the jokes that would become stale and unoriginal in a few years were getting broken in on him. There were so many dirty references to Shadow Possession jutsu that, happily for everyone, the joke soon became cliché.

o

After several months of holing up with Shikamaru and getting fatter, she decided she missed Suna. Not that she was ready to spring for the desert already, but she wanted to see her brothers. It wasn't that she enjoyed their company, exactly. That would be difficult. It was more that she hardly felt like herself without them.

She sat down by the window one day with a piece of parchment and wrote her brothers the following: If one of you doesn't bring me the takeout fried chicken with the double spicy sauce from that restaurant just down the street from the Kazekage's tower I swear to god I will hunt down and kill you both. Love, Temari.

o

In her third trimester, Temari competed with Naruto to see who could eat more ramen. Spectators placed bets. Naruto won, naturally. But it was close.

o

In Konoha, it wasn't customary for men to be there in the room. What was customary was to take the father out drinking until he forgot what was going on.

His friends tried. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how one looked at the situation), they did not succeed: by the end of the night, between him, Chouji, Kiba, Ino, Sakura, and Naruto, Shikamaru was the only one who could still walk home in a straight line.

Except he didn't go home. He went to the hospital, the place he technically wasn't supposed to be, and slouched around in the waiting room feeling like a useless idiot and trying to keep still the millions of thoughts that were going through his mind. He knew Shizune and several nurses were with Temari, so she'd be well taken care of, and, for reasons he did not at first grasp, so was his own mother. "A mother should be there," Yoshino explained to him curtly at dinner several nights before. "And she doesn't have one of her own."

"You just want first dibs," his father Shikaku had accused under his breath.

Shikamaru remembered that she had thrown something at him.

Sitting in the hospital waiting room, still slightly buzzed from his friends' noble efforts, he leaned his head back against the wall and bit his lip. Not that he was nervous. Not that he was nervous in any way. Nervous would be unreasonable. He wasn't going to get worked up about it. Shizune was there. The Hokage was practically on standby. How could anything go wrong? He didn't know enough about obstetrics to make any estimates as to survival rate or general health… if he could get his hands on some statistics, maybe…

He was so distracted he didn't even notice when his mother walked up to him. She pulled him up out of his chair by his ear the way she used to when he was five and he wasn't paying attention to her lectures.

"Aaah! What did I do?"

" 'What did I do,' he asks. Go and see."

His mother led him down the hall and up a few flights of stairs and shoved him into the room and closed the door behind him before he had a chance to argue. Temari was standing by the window. Was she supposed to be standing? She wasn't supposed to get out of bed, was she? Was that even healthy? He was going to say something about it when she turned around and handed him something wrapped in blankets.

"Oh," he said, looking at the thing now in his arms.

"Yeah. Oh," she agreed.

He stared for a minute. "Is she supposed to be all wrinkly like that?"

Temari looked at him darkly.

"Right. Forget I said anything."

So all that trouble had led to this little person. Well, not person, exactly. Small and wrinkly little ball of red flesh, to be precise. But definitely a living, breathing, shaking-her-fists-at-him and squinting-her-eyes ball of red flesh. Every moment in his life and Temari's life had added up, in the end, after all variables were factored into the equation and all probabilities played their parts, after all the arguments, after one kiss from him and one hot look from her and two years of running back and forth pretending they weren't in love with each other and six months of aggravating effort, to this little person. What were the chances? He thought of all of this, and he thought of his sensei, who'd changed so suddenly when he first found out he was going to be a father, and Shikamaru finally understood why.

She was kind of cute, actually. Or she would be if she weren't so red.

"Shikamaru… oh no… don't tell me," Temari said, rolling her eyes. "Give me a break…"

"What?"

"Crybaby," she said, poking him in the side. "Tch. And you call yourself a ninja. You're setting a bad example for her."

He shrugged dumbly while Temari kissed a tear out of the corner of his eye. He couldn't help it.

o

She had her mother's eyes, and while it was entirely too early to tell whether her hair would be straight or not, it was definitely dark, which was good enough for Temari. They called her Chikako, in spite of the widely-held opinion that she should be named "Passport." By the time she was born, she was already an inside joke known to half the village. For some reason, the laughter didn't bother her parents.

In fact she was ten times as popular as either one of them. They never had to worry about finding a babysitter, anyway. Getting her back from Yoshino was practically an A-rank mission.

Chouji arm-wrestled her with a pinky.

Kurenai ran into them on the street while they were on their way back from the hospital and wouldn't let go of the baby for half an hour while she stood there giving them advice, much to the aggravation of her eight-year-old son, who looked like he was getting jealous.

When they came over to meet her, Ino and Sakura emitted high-pitched squeals for no less than five minutes straight and could not talk in adult language for several hours afterward.

(Ino was practically squirming for days. "I want one!" she had declared, which made Chouji look distinctly nervous.)

Naruto made faces at her and tried to explain in monosyllabic words how he was going to be the Hokage when she grew up, which turned out to require half of an afternoon.

When Gaara saw her for the first time, like Shikamaru, he cried. Temari could never remember this happening before, and never asked what he was thinking. Whatever it was stayed between him and Chikako.

Kankurou held her as though he thought he would break her. Temari stared at him with wide eyes and a rigid neck as if she shared this opinion.

Kankurou later approached her alone, looking like she hadn't seen him look in years. Or maybe ever. For half a minute he didn't look like her brother at all. "I never really believed any of us would have a normal kind of life," he explained.

She felt like a traitor all over again. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Don't be sorry," he said. "I didn't mean it like that. I'm actually happy for you."

"Kankurou…"

"I am. You'll be a good mother."

They are never supposed to touch each other like family. Growing up, this was one of the unwritten rules of the household, along with don't tease Gaara and never talk back to the Kazekage. They are not supposed to be hugging like this, like two people who are related by blood, and she is sure that it's just the hormones making her cry because the Kazekage's daughter is a ninja who never shows emotion.

o

They were married as quietly as possible, and the only people there were shinobi. It was over in a few heartbeats, but the party afterwards was a different story. At sunrise the next morning people were still stumbling around the site of the festivities, spilling drinks.

They received gifts from every major family in the village.

"It worked," she noted, late the night of the wedding, before they had left the party but after the shinobi there had significantly drained the provided supply of warm sake. The two of them were sitting at a table lit by candlelight, the remnants of their wedding meal between them.

"Yes, I know."

"I'm not saying I doubted you, but I think it worked even better than you thought it would."

"I've noticed."

Sitting there, staring happily while his mother walked around through the inebriated crowd nearby, showing off their daughter shamelessly, Temari looked at his face and thought to herself, where have I seen that devious smirk before? "You didn't do this all just to embarrass me, did you?"

She watched his face carefully. The corner of his mouth curled up in a sheepish half-grin. "I have to admit that it's amusing to see you turn into a paranoid, over-affectionate, baby-talking psychopath."

Temari fumed. She didn't know whether she wanted to murder him or kiss him. For a hair's breadth of a moment it could have gone either way. No one but Temari knew how close that wedding came to ending in a spectacularly violent death. "You know what would wipe that look off your face? A good smack with several pounds of iron fan."

He shrugged again, but she didn't miss the slightly nervous look on his face. It appeased her.

She went to sit down again, aimed for her chair, but somehow ended up on his lap instead. She eyed him severely even while she was slipping her arm behind his neck. She had an image to maintain, damnit.

"What?" he asked with faux innocence.

She rolled her eyes, but it was too late to pretend that she was mad at him. She decided that it would be better for everybody, on the whole, if she kissed him instead of killing him. And she didn't regret it.

o

He came home late from a mission. They'd made him stop at the hospital for stitches on his arm, although he grumbled pointedly about it and glared at the nurses. He was too weary (or lazy) to eat. The weather was wet and miserable as he made his way home. By the time he walked in the door, the apartment was already quiet and dark, full of shadows and the sound of muffled rain. He had a feeling Temari was long asleep and there would be hell to pay if he woke her up. The kid was teething. He knew both of his girls must have lacked for sleep while he was gone.

He drank half a carton of milk, took half a shower, and bothered only to put on a loose pair of pants to sleep in (and only because she'd gone through the trouble of hanging them on the bathroom doorknob). He turned off the light and stumbled toward the bed.

He didn't need to look twice this time to know there was someone in it. That didn't surprise him. What surprised him was that she wasn't alone.

Temari opened her eyes to him. She was lying on her side, curled around the baby. "She was lonely," Temari said, by way of explanation.

He grinned at them. "Go back to sleep," he said.

She nestled her head into the pillow, sighed, and closed her eyes, arm securely wrapped around her daughter.

He crawled into the bed as carefully as if he were shadowing a target for a mission. Usually he slept on his back. Tonight he rolled onto his side and stared at the two of them. It was a while before he fell asleep, even though he was more than comfortable. Before he could close his eyes, he had the need to reach out and rest his hand on the soft little fuzzy head between them for a minute. He wondered when she would talk and walk. He wondered what she would say. He wondered who would teach her the shadow jutsu, whether it would be him or his father. He wondered what she would sound like when she started to get intelligent. And then he pulled the blanket over Temari's shoulder, since she was already asleep past the point of no return. He lay there and watched the two of them, thinking: this is what all the trouble is about.

He dozed off feeling their warmth on his chest and arms, listening to the sounds of soft breathing and rain beating on the window.

o

Fin

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