By: firefly

Note: Okay, this is the last fic I post before I update One of the Cool Kids. I PROMISE. XD Anyway, since a couple of people asked for a sequel or another HidanTema fic after reading Coffee Table Talk, I obliged and came up with this. It was only supposed to be a oneshot, but…it turned into 50 pages. XD So I'm splitting it up into chapters. Enjoy, and reviews would be love!

Warning: This fic will get extremely bizarre. It's not a romance. It is pure mindfuckery and psychological weirdness. You've been warned. XD

Bump in the Night

Beyond the warmth of the torches, the sand dunes stretched for miles across the landscape, tapering off into the arid soil and dead vegetation of the River country outskirts. Hills of sand, deceptively smooth and still, glowed with a dim, blue luminance beneath the moon, trillions of facets of glass and stone glimmering like eyes in the frigid darkness.

A chilled wind swept in from the North and made the torches flicker sporadically, the shadows dancing on the surrounding, glowing sand. A flame licked up into the sky with violent intensity before extinguishing in the wind, its shadow vanishing and revealing the scorpions that started at the sudden loss of warmth.

Temari watched them, her eyes watering and glistening blue in the chill. They danced on the sand; stingers poised threateningly, claws colliding when they rushed violently at each other at random.

A fellow jounin approached with oil and a lighter, and the scorpions scattered when the torch started up again with a faint roar, speckling the surrounding sand with oil.

Temari nodded to him in acknowledgement, burrowing deeper into her coat before changing posts with him. She trudged through the sand, feeling the chill on her toes despite the thick hide of her boots.

Clenching her teeth to stop the chattering, she walked closer to the torches, zigzagging through them so the warmth touched on both sides of her body.

A few minutes later she came to a stop at her new post, turning to glare out at the dark horizon with her numb fingers clenched in her pockets.

It was 2:45 in the morning.

That alone proved that the Kazekage didn't play favourites—assigning his own sister the graveyard shift of border patrol. Temari was never one to complain, but it had been three weeks since she'd gotten the shift (from midnight to five AM), and almost twice she'd suffered severe frostbite.

Clenching her teeth again, she prayed for the construction of barricades to move faster, glaring at the lumps of disconnected metal piled in the distance.

Manually guarding the border to Suna like this was exhaustive and expensive, but ever since Gaara's kidnapping, the council had made it mandatory. The missing nins responsible for the kidnapping had entered from River country, after all.

And unfortunately, until the engineers could design a barricade that wouldn't sink in the sand, she was stuck patrolling every night.

She shivered, stifling a yawn and grimacing when her eyes watered. Worse than the cold, it was the tedious nature of the job that bugged her.

Walk, stare, walk, stare, stare some more, walk some more, etc. Talking to the other guards was prohibited, since it distracted from the task at hand.

Temari loathed the old farts responsible for the ridiculous rule, since there hadn't been any suspicious activity for the entire three weeks she'd been stationed there. Her only comfort was the fifteen-minute switch between posts, since it gave her an opportunity—short as it was—to work some blood into her frigid limbs.

Time passed with agonizing slowness, and her shins ached beneath the cool gusts of wind that snaked around her legs. She pulled her hands out of her coat pockets long enough to tighten the shawl around her head and adjust the radio transmitter, and her fingers slackened in relief when her watch beeped.

Turning away from the torch, she lowered the cloth covering her mouth and squinted at the chunnin who came jogging over to her.

She grew wary instantly, taking in his wide-eyed expression and breathlessness.

"What is it?" Temari demanded.

"We've got a suspicious person a little lower down south," he panted, his breath fogging in the air. "At the oasis."

"They're not attempting to infiltrate the border?"

"No, Temari-san. He's just…sitting there."

Temari quirked an eyebrow.

"Are you sure it's not an animal or some debris? It's dark out there."

The chunnin shook his head, looking vaguely troubled as he glanced back down at the direction from which he came.

"We're sure it's a man. He…uh…spoke to us," he said uncomfortably, scratching his head.

"What did he say?"

"Well, um, Sugimura told him to get lost and he…uh…I'd rather not say it, Temari-san."

Temari rolled her eyes, burrowing deeper into her coat and glaring out at the chunnin over her shawl.

"He's probably just a stray. If the cold doesn't kill him, we will. No one's getting past the border without some documentation."

Looking relieved, the chunnin nodded and eagerly swapped posts with her. Temari held the shawl to her face as she walked to her next post, squinting past the light of the torches at the faint glimmer of water on the horizon.

From where she stood, the oasis was just a shiny splatter on the matte backdrop of sand, glimmering faintly in the moonlight.

She stopped at her post a few minutes later. The oasis continued to shine, rippling and holding her attention from where she stood. When she averted her eyes long enough to glance at the line of posts leading down from hers, she found her fellow guards, small black specks in the firelight, to be staring out at the oasis with the same fixedness.

It was 4:17 AM, nautical dawn, when she finally got close enough to make out the edges surrounding the oasis. Barely discernable against the midnight blue backdrop of sand was a pitch black shape, crouching at the oasis's edge just fifteen meters from the nearest torch and guardsman.

Temari stared, wondering if he was alive or if he'd succumbed to hypothermia sometime during the night.

Fixated, she watched, along with the others, straining for a sound in the deafening silence of the landscape. There wasn't a sound for at least fifteen minutes—no wind, no birds, and no voices. The sand lay docile among her boots, unperturbed by the lack of wind.

The sky brightened into a cold, metallic blue streaked with magenta, ethereal over the dark landscape, and just as the black shape became clearly discernable as a man, it moved. Temari started, stepping forward when the figure rose, stretching his arms up to the metallic sky.

Something enormous and curved merged with his black silhouette, jutting out next to his shoulder.

Temari took another step closer, her numb fingers descending on the frame of her fan as the figure just stood there, unmoving. Then, just as the magenta sky melted to a brighter orange, the figure casually turned back in the direction of River country and left.

The guards stared after his departing figure in silence, exchanging bewildered looks with each other. A few minutes later, their watches beeped simultaneously.

Five AM.

Their shifts were over.

"What was he doing?"

"I don't know, it was too dark to tell."

"He was bathing. I heard the splashing."

"Don't be ridiculous, the water would have been freezing."

"Did you hear what he said to Sugimura? Haha…"

Temari listened passively to her fellow guardsmen as they all trudged back to the village, loosening their shawls and coats as the Sun rose and warmed their backs.

The morning border patrollers walked past them, carrying crates of water and donning white headdresses and thin linen to endure the searing heat of the desert sun. Temari glanced back at them morosely.

She definitely preferred the heat over the cold, and decided she needed to have a talk with Gaara about switching her shifts.

Kankuro was still sleeping when she came home, his muffled snores soft and oddly comforting in the quiet, cool hallway of the second floor. Kicking off her sand-laden boots and dropping her coat and shawl to the floor, Temari collapsed on her bed and fell asleep the instant her head met the pillow.

She wouldn't remember her vaguely unsettling dream of the black figure until midnight that night.

The following night was slightly warmer than the previous one, and for this Temari was grateful, loosening her shawl as she stood at her post. A couple of hours passed in silence, the air so chilled the wind seemed frozen, petrified into stillness. The only change in atmosphere resulted from her slow, steady breaths fogging in the air.

It was a little past 2 AM when the whisperings started again.

The same chunnin from the night before jogged over to her as they switched posts, her new post much closer to the oasis than the previous one.

"He's back?" Temari asked blankly, when the wide-eyed chunnin gestured breathlessly in the direction of the oasis.

He nodded fervently, looking visibly nervous as Temari's upper lip curled and she switched posts, walking with purposeful strides towards the next one. As she arrived at the post, the firelight blazed with a gust of wind, filling her ears with the flapping of flames and scattering of sand.

When it subsided, her surroundings fell eerily silent again, and the only part of the oasis she could see was the faintly glimmering surface of the water. The firelight reflected off the water's black surface as specks of rippling, orange light, and it wasn't until she realized the water was being disturbed that she heard the sound.


Her eyes widened, lips parting in disbelief. The water must have been close to freezing temperature.

Straining her ears, she continued listening, hearing the distinct, gentle pattering of water droplets on sand. The surface of the water stilled momentarily after that, steadying itself into a smooth, black disc dotted with firelight.

Then it broke abruptly with an audible splash, distorting the firelight into dancing orange lines on its rippling surface.

Temari stared at it, listening and breathing, her fingers slack by her sides. Slowly, as the wavering, orange firelight stilled on the water again, recollections of childhood and the previous night's dream came drifting to her in fragments.

A murder of migrating crows, a thick and chaotic cloud of feathers and screaming blackness had descended on Suna when Temari had been eight years old. Never in her life had she seen so many creatures in one place, black as pitch and screeching till the noise made her want to hide under the bed. They descended on the house and settled on the window ledges, flapping against the windows indignantly, their black beaks pecking at the glass.

She remembered it vividly, huddling on her bed with Kankuro, staring with wide eyes at the enormous carrion crow on her windowsill. It turned its head and she saw its beak, long and black and slightly curved. There was something red and glistening dangling from it.

What is that? She remembered asking herself. Where did it get that?

Then the crow tilted its head back, opened its curved, black beak, and swallowed it.

Temari remembered screaming herself hoarse when it happened.

In her dream, the black figure had been a crow. The long, curved, black something emerging from his shape—it had been a black beak.

When she recalled the surreal, distorted image, it was with a faint sense of foreboding.

Crows signified something. Something foreign. Something peculiar.

"Something bad," she'd murmured upon waking that afternoon, unable to recall why she'd said it until now.

She didn't quite believe in omens, but then she'd said that when Gaara had been kidnapped.

Unnerved by the memory, she shook her head and rubbed her eyes, taking a deep breath before glancing out at the oasis again. The water had finally stilled, and there was silence.

The next two hours continued to pass soundlessly with agonizing slowness, and she continued straining her eyes, moving closer towards the oasis with every fifteen-minute switch.

She was just nearing the edge when the first hints of pale, blue light appeared in the sky. Thin streaks of clouds came out of hiding, and she kept her eyes locked fastidiously on the water's edge, waiting for a glimpse of the figure, waiting for a glimpse of the curved something attached to him.

Nautical dawn came again, and the edges of the oasis became discernable.

She checked her watch.

4:17 AM.

Her breath stopped fogging in the air, and she swept the shawl down to her shoulders, wincing at the feel of cool wind against her clammy cheeks. Another seven minutes passed, and then she saw him.

He was crouching at the edge, just like before. Her eyes widened.

The curved thing was gone.

Unconsciously, she released the breath she'd been holding.

As she did, the figure moved to stand, and her stomach flipped when he kneeled down and lifted a large object lying next to him. Momentarily held straight, she was able to make it out for what it was.

A scythe, its silhouette pitch black against the blue backdrop of sand, stood almost as tall as the figure, decked with three long, curved blades.

Relief should have been the last thing she felt, but her shoulders slackened nonetheless as he attached it to his back and turned to leave again, just as the first tints of orange started lightening the sky.

Half an hour later, her shift ended.

"I'm going to kill that bastard."

"What did he say to you this time, Sugimura?"

"Did you see that weapon? Perhaps we should tell Kazekage-sama…"

"No," Temari said sharply, turning to face the alarmed jounin who'd spoken, stopping in the middle of their trek back to the village.

"Kazekage-sama has enough to worry about at the moment. If something happens, we'll handle it ourselves. Got it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Temari paused, turning to glance at the jounin known as Sugimura. He looked infuriated.

"What's your problem?" Temari asked, raising an eyebrow.

"The stranger said something to him," Sugimura's friend offered with a wide grin.

"What did he say?"

Sugimura's face reddened.

"I'd rather not say…"

"I'm not twelve years old," Temari said impatiently. "Whatever it was, I'm sure I can handle it. Spit it out."

"I told him to get lost…and…" Sugimura trailed off, face reddening further, and his friend stepped forward with a cheeky grin.

"The stranger told him to go fuck a camel, ma'am."

The entire group of patrollers burst into laughter.

Temari could only stare in disbelief.

The day passed quickly. By the time she woke, it was 4 PM, and by the time she finished carrying out errands and attended three meetings, it was 9 PM.

She waited out the three hours at home, listlessly flipping through channels as her dinner heated in the oven. Kankuro sat at the kitchen table, getting black grease everywhere as he tinkered with his puppets.

Temari couldn't bring herself to care, intent on imagining herself finally getting the post closest to the oasis, and getting rid of the strange figure once and for all. Granted, he wasn't really doing anything that was a cause for concern, but his presence was making the other patrollers skittish.

Complacently, she patted the pocket flap of her shoulder bag, tracing the cylindrical ground flares contained within.

At 11:30 PM, she departed for the border, hopping over rooftops and fences. By the time the houses tapered off and she emerged onto the outskirts, Temari whipped open her fan and caught the strongest gust of wind, settling onto it to ride it out towards the border.

The gust would carry her there within half an hour, and she waved down at the camel-riding patrollers beneath her with a wry grin as she swept past.

She followed the path of bright torches till they separated and went right and left across the landscape. Leaping onto the sand, she glanced at the weary patrollers who'd been there from 7 PM.

They gratefully murmured their thanks when she dismissed them, and she started down south, trudging through the windswept sand towards her post.

When she arrived, she was pleased to see the oasis was better-lit then before, the water illuminated by the full moon that hovered directly overhead.

Unbuttoning the pocket flap of her shoulder bag, Temari slipped her hand inside, and with a flick of her wrist, used her fan to extinguish the bright flame of the torch. Smoke spiraled into the still air in lazy, silver wisps, and she watched the burning embers glow orange and fade crimson at intervals, filling the cold air with the bittersweet smell of burnt wood.

The embers eventually faded black and she settled down next to the torch to wait.

Two hours passed in silence, the absence of sound as surreal as ever as she watched a snake slither towards the patch of light emitted by the torch to her right, its body only a thin, wriggling line from where she sat.

A bite could kill in less than ten minutes, so in a way, they also played their part to protect Suna's borders. The country's shinobi were already immune to the venom after the invention of an anti-venom-based vaccination, and rather than eradicate the reptiles, they were kept as a form of protection against invaders.

The snake eventually stopped moving and lay still in the warmth of the torch light. Temari watched it contentedly. A few minutes later, she heard a faint splash.

Startled, she glanced out at the oasis, catching sight of the rippling water.

Goose bumps rose with a flourish beneath her clothes, and licking her lips, she reached into her bag and withdrew two of the ground flares. Once lit, they would burn a bright red for up to half an hour.

She waited for three more splashes, honing in on the direction of the noise, and then gradually got to her feet. Speed was crucial in determining the figure's identity.

Once she pulled the caps, she would have to throw them close to the oasis's edge. There was no time to pause. Just the sound of them flaring up would be enough to send him running.

Biting her lip, she counted to ten in her head, slipping her finger through the stringed loop attached to the cap.


The flare started up with a hiss the instant she yanked the cap off, illuminating her surroundings. At the very moment she saw the red light she threw it as hard as she could.

It spiraled through the dark, lighting the sandy slope leading down from where she stood.

When it landed, a huge portion of the oasis suddenly became visible, the water glistening blood red in the light. There was a startled yelp, followed by a loud splash.

She was just able to make out the half-naked figure that fell halfway into the water before it scrambled back onto the dark sand outside the circle of red light.

Temari grinned and tossed the second flare.

It landed right next to him and he cursed, rolling away from it. Within the two circles of bright red light, she could make out his weapon, and next to it, a discarded black cloak.

She squinted, and her grin faded as the distinct shapes on the cloak became visible.


Crows. Bad omen. Something bad.

Her fingers flew up to the radio transmitter.

"Don't move!" Temari shouted, her warning meant for the other patrollers. "I'll handle this!"

The confidence with which she warned them relayed none of the sickening fear in the pit of her stomach.

She knew those cloaks. She remembered the owners of those cloaks to be the ones responsible for nearly killing both of her brothers.

It took every ounce of self-control she had to not snap open her fan and lunge forward in blind fury.

Her breathing was shaky, she found, and she forced herself to remain calm, tightening her gloved fingers into tight, trembling fists.

The figure was indeed a man, shirtless and wet from where he'd fallen into the water. He sat on the sand and held a hand over his brow, looking up in her direction.

"What the fuck was that for?" he shouted, sounding furious. "Trying to set me on fire, you Suna shit heads?"

"Shut up!" Temari shouted back, shocked with the way her voice sounded almost panicked. "Go back to where you came from!"

"You bitch," he said angrily, getting to his feet with his fists clenched by his sides. "Are you blind? I'm still in River country!"

"Leave!" Temari shouted vehemently, fury rendering her voice shrill. "Get out of here!"

"Make me!" he retorted, and flipped her off.

The urge to discard her fan and skewer the man with a hundred kunai was almost unbearable. She never knew it was humanly possible to experience a loathing of this degree, let alone experience a desire to inflict as much pain as possible.

Gritting her teeth, she dug her boots into the sand, reaching out to grip the extinguished torch next to her. The wood splintered beneath her grip.

She forced herself to steady her breathing, and when she spoke again a few seconds later, she sounded calmer.

"Why are you here?" she demanded, making her voice as authoritative as possible. "Answer me!"

"That's not any of your fucking business, now is it?" he replied scathingly, brushing off the wet sand that clung to his skin.

Her grip on the torch tightened, her fingers aching in strain. Biting her lip, she watched him, glaring intensely as he crouched back down near the oasis, muttering curses and pouring handfuls of water over his sand-coated arm.

Had Temari been in a calmer mood, she might have marveled at how he could withstand the wind chill and freezing water on his bare skin. But now, all vestiges of coherency were gone from her mind, replaced with loathing and disgust.

She wanted him gone. Possibly dead. Dead and buried in the sand beneath her feet.

She clenched her fists again.

"Leave now," she commanded, her voice clear and loud in the still air. "This is your last warning."

"Oh yeah?" he challenged, getting to his feet and turning to face her direction again. "Or what? I'd like to see you cross the border first, bitch."

"If you give me anymore reason to, I will," she said icily.

"Anymore reason to? I'm fucking sitting here minding my own business and you try to set me on fire!" he shouted, sounding indignant. "Shit, Deidara was right. You Suna nins are out of your fucking minds."

"I know the organization you're a part of," Temari said, unconscious of whether he could hear her or not. "I know what kind of people you are."

"Is that so? Then you'd be an idiot to cross over here yourself," he said, the sneer obvious in his tone.

"If you continue giving me a reason to—"

"I'm not doing anything!" he roared back, kicking up a spray of sand. "God dammit, I'm still in River country!"

"You're a member of a criminal organization. Leave."

"As if I'll take orders from you. I'm not going anywhere."


"Come here and make me!"


"Fuck you!"

Temari clenched her teeth, glaring intensely down at the man who stood obstinately in the bright circles of red light, his body eerily illuminated crimson.

She clenched the torch tighter to prevent herself from moving forward, telling herself he was most likely an S-class missing nin with powers unknown, telling herself it would be suicidal to try and attack him on her own.

Unable to think of a response, she fell silent. He stood there, staring up in her direction, unable to make out her silhouette in the dark. A few minutes later, he turned and walked back to where he'd left his cloak, settling down on the sand next to it.

He didn't bother moving out of the light. She watched him, vaguely perturbed by his stillness and silence. At one point, she half-expected a bunshin to burst out of the sand or for him to do something—anything—even remotely remarkable. But he just sat there, still shirtless in the numbing cold.

Now she understood why the other patrollers had found his presence so unnerving.

"What are you doing?" she finally demanded.

He didn't reply.

Temari's voice rose an octave.

"Hey, I asked you—"

"Would you shut up?" he snapped suddenly. "I'm trying to fucking pray, here."

Temari was sure she'd misheard him.

"You're what?"

"Okay, seriously, you're pissing me off. Jashin-sama can't hear me if you're bitching like that, so shut up!"

Again, she was positive that she'd misheard him, but was too infuriated by his audacity to care.

"Listen, asshole. If my bitching can drive you out of here, then I won't stop."

"If you don't stop, I'll give you a reason to come over here and I'll shut you up myself."

"I'm more than ready, you bastard. Just give me a reason."

"Seriously, what the hell is your problem? Leave me alone!"

"What's your problem? Why don't you just leave?"

"Why the hell should I listen to you?"

"Fine, don't listen. I'll just keep bitching, then."

"Seriously, when I'm done praying, God is going to lay some serious smiting on your loud ass."

Temari stared at him wordlessly, knowing now that her ears weren't deceiving her.

He was here to pray? A member of the Akatsuki organization was here in the freezing desert at two-something in the morning to pray?

"You're insane," Temari said contemptuously. "Or lying. Or both."

"What the hell are you talking about, heathen? I keep telling you I'm not fucking doing anything."

Temari stared at him critically, at his clear, red form sitting cross-legged in the sand.

If she was going to be honest with herself, she had to admit he hadn't done anything remotely suspicious besides being there in the first place. Not only that, but he insisted he was there for prayer, and it would be foolish to try and provoke him into attacking when she had no idea what his abilities were.

Subdued, she fell silent, settling for watching him. He eventually lowered his head again and resumed his prayers.

Fifteen minutes later, when her watch beeped, Temari remained seated. She pressed a button on the headset and patched herself through to the others, telling them to keep their posts till the end of their shifts. Her frosty, hard-edged tone left no room for argument.

There was no sensation of feeling cold. She felt nothing, watching him from where she sat, forgetting to shiver and forgetting to blink. All she remembered was a tense awareness for movement.

He might have been holding something in his hands, but she couldn't tell from where she sat. That, and one of the flares had extinguished, the other on the verge of following. Its weak, crimson light flickered sporadically, stretching and distorting his jagged shadow over the red sand.

Temari bit her lip and withdrew another flare.

There was no way she was letting him out of her sight, especially now that she knew who he was.

"Hey you," she called, and then lit a third flare and tossed it.

He only glanced up when it landed—right on his cloak.

"Holy shit—!"

Temari felt a bitter sense of satisfaction when the sleeve caught fire and he sprang forward, grabbing fistfuls of sand to douse the flames.

After thoroughly drowning his cloak in sand and putting out the fire, he stood up again and took a few steps forward, standing right at the edge of the lit sand.

She smirked.

"Okay, you're seriously pushing it!" he shouted furiously. "Try that one more time. I'll—"

"Shut up," Temari commanded, pleased that her voice regained its cool detachedness. "As long as you're here, I can't let you out of my sight. So there's a lot more where those came from."

She expected him to shout and curse some more. What she didn't expect was for him to suddenly pick up the second, dying flare and fling it violently in her direction.

Gasping, she threw herself sideways onto the sand, barely avoiding the flare as it smashed into the torch she'd been leaning against. The collision of metal on wood echoed loudly in the silent desert, and a shower of bright sparks rained down on her, brilliantly illuminating the sand.

The flare extinguished almost instantly, but the damage had been done.

"Ha! I see you, Suna bitch!" he shouted triumphantly. "You should have kept your damn mouth shut!"

Momentarily stunned, Temari continued lying there on the sand, wondering how on earth he'd thrown the flare so precisely. He shouldn't have been able to see her, so the only thing he could have based his aim on was the sound of her voice.

Her throat tightened in anger and anxiety.

Not only had she given away her location, but she'd underestimated him.

His perfect throw couldn't have been a fluke, and had she been a fraction slower, she was sure the flare would have cracked her skull.

"Tch, I missed," he groused, before turning and striding back to his spot.

Temari slowly sat up, her shock waning into anger and contempt once more.

"You're lucky you missed," she said in a sneering tone. "Otherwise we'd have perfect reason to kill you."

"Hey, I'm giving you a reason! All of you can come at me—I'll sacrifice you all to my God!"

Again, she fell silent, bemused by his choice of words. The idea of a religious man being part of a criminal organization just didn't compute, but then she had no idea what kind of religion he followed, anyway.

And she didn't want to know, she told herself vehemently. She wanted him gone.

But he didn't leave, remaining obstinately near the water, his weapon resting mere inches from his fingertips.

Eventually the third flare began to die out as well. Her only reaction to this was to light the second to last one and toss it, this time a respectful distance from his belongings.

He glanced up briefly when she did, but said nothing.

Half an hour later, she threw her last flare.

It fizzled out at 4:15 AM, just as the sky began to lighten. The crimson glaze of light faded to a cold, metallic blue, making him appear almost statuesque. He hadn't budged for an hour and a half.

Then, just as the faint blue light of dawn lightened the sky, he moved.

Temari watched him reach forward and pull on his cloak, watched him grab his scythe and rise to his feet. There was a moment of silence when he turned and glanced in her direction, and she broke out in goose bumps, knowing he could see her black silhouette against the cold blue sky.

She broke the silence first, her voice calm.

"Don't come back."

She couldn't see his face from where she sat, but she was positive he was grinning when he answered.

"Just for that, I will."

Then he turned and left.

Forty minutes later, her shift ended.

The walk back to the village was a silent one. When she returned home and climbed the stairs to the second floor, she paused by Kankuro's room. Her brother slept soundly, sprawled haphazardly over the bed, his blanket in a twisted heap on the floor.

The sound of his soft, steady breathing infiltrated the hall, a stark contrast to the cacophony of anxious thoughts swarming her mind.

Temari gazed at him, and abruptly felt her loathing for the Akatsuki erupt with an intensity that made her nauseous.

They'd almost taken Kankuro and Gaara away from her, and now one of them was just a step outside her country's border. Just watching Kankuro sleep brought back vivid images of him lying pale and near death on the hospital bed, his features contorted in agony. She remembered how he'd been too weak to grip her hand, and a lump rose in her throat at the memory.

Closing Kankuro's door gently behind her, she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

When she thought of him, of the foul-mouthed recalcitrant on her country's doorstep, her jaw clenched so hard it ached, eyes hardening as her thoughts became poisonous.

One more reason—it was all she needed. One legitimate reason and she'd sever his head from his body—and possibly mail it via care package to his organization.

When she blinked herself out of the fantasy and found herself grinning, the realization was met with both fright and exhilaration.

At 6 AM, when she dropped lethargically into bed and laid her head against the pillow, she didn't close her eyes, the noise in her head too unbearable in the dark. So she settled for staring at the blinds and pictured a faceless figure with a wide, white grin.

Just for that, I will.

She didn't sleep after that.