Disclaimer - Naruto, and all the original character portrayed within this work of fiction, does not belong to me. No monetary gain is being made on my behalf with this work of fan fiction. As such, I would appreciate it greatly if all lawsuits were directed towards the nearest trashcan or incinerator.

A/N - Alrighty, I'm back with my latest little one shot, this time concerning the ever eventful, interesting pair of Shikamaru and Temari. I hope I did the couple justice, as this is the first time I've tackled such an arrogant couple. This was originally supposed to be a song-fic to Sting's song 'Desert Rose'. But I think I liked it better without the lyrics, so I kept them out. So, without further ado, or blabbering from me, I ask you to sit back and enjoy.


Facets #4
Desert Rose
'Cross the border into Suna and retrieve a scroll containing highly classified information concerning the Fire country's security council and their conspiracy to overthrow the daimyo. Suna ninjas have been contacted, and the Kazekage will hand over all pertinent information at a pre-ordained place and time.'

It was an innocuous assignment, one that any half-trained Genin could do without worry of interference or attack.

'So why,' Shikamaru wondered grouchily, 'did that troublesome woman see fit to send me to do this?"

The problem wasn't with the assignment itself. Shikamaru had, at one time, been a regular visitor into the Suna ninja village. Now he was just hoping that word of his indiscretion, and subsequent fight with Temari the last time she'd been sent to Konoha, had not leaked back to her two brothers. And considering he was currently sitting in a room with her two brothers without any bleeding on his part, glares being sent his way, or threats thrown in his general direction, the shadow manipulator was pretty sure they were in the dark about what had happened the last time he and Temari had crossed paths.

'All for the better. I'm too young to die.' he thought glumly, watching the screen on the table. The picture showed a middle-aged man with short, spiky hair and an easy grin talking and flirting with the two women on each side of him, one of which Shikamaru knew all too well.

He'd never seen her like this. Not even once. The shadow wielder had hoped to avoid being in the presence of the Kazekage's elder sister as much as possible during this trip. After all, he didn't have a death wish.

And even if he had needed to see her, he'd expected her to be her usual loud-mouthed, foul tempered, overly confident self when he'd been sent to Suna. The charmingly seductive creature currently curled into the target's side like a complacent little kitten was NOT the Temari he knew.

In fact, if it had not been for the familiar blonde hair, teal eyes, and curvy body he knew so well, he'd think Gaara and Kankuro had finally fried their brains in the desert heat.

The Konoha nin tore his eyes away from the monitor screen, his blood on the verge of boiling over when he saw the target slip his hand onto Temari's upper thigh near the slit in the short little white skirt she was wearing. At his side, Kankuro was deathly silent, his eyes still watching while his sister continued to easily chat up the man. Gaara seemed completely oblivious, as did the brunette woman at his side.

Shikamaru knew it was pointless to curse the Suna ninjas for not retrieving the scroll before he arrived. Sometimes things just didn't go as planned during a mission, and adjustments had to be made. And since the target had deviated from his assumed actions the evening before, the ninjas on the mission had been forced to pull back, leaving him alive for one more night. The mission outline had changed then, and Temari's assistance requested.

Gaara had gotten word that the target, a man named Reisho Amida who was on the security council of the Fire Country's daimyo, had plans on making an appearance at one of the town's higher class nightclubs the next night. And from what Shikamaru had seen so far, the high class nightclub was nothing more than a cover for a thinly veiled brothel. And apparently one of the girls who worked their had become a particular favorite of the target within the first few hours of meeting her.

"Who is the other woman?" Shikamaru asked absently, watching as the dark haired woman who had kept Temari and the target company for most of the evening was beckoned up to the small stage surrounded by chairs. She struck up a pose, and the fluid sounds of music began to filter through. Shikamaru paid no attention to the woman as she began to dance, concentrating instead on the fact that the target had pulled the coyly smiling Temari into his lap, guiding her head down into a kiss.

Shikamaru quickly found himself wondering if he could manipulate enough shadows between the club couch and where he was to strangle the man until that carnal light in his eyes dimmed into nonexistence.

"Maori is an acquaintance to Suna, as is Ramadi." Gaara said stoically, nodding towards the pretty woman beside him. "They work with us when their particular skills are needed."

"I don't follow you." Shikamaru muttered, glaring death-on-high at the monitor as the target's hand slipped down to blatantly brush against Temari's behind.

Kankuro growled, muttering the same death threats currently residing in Shikamaru's head. Gaara just remained silent, but Ramadi chuckled.

"Please, Nara-san, do not look so surprised." Ramadi said gently, her voice even and calm. "I am sure even in the village you hail from, the kunoichi undergo similar training."

Shikamaru knew they did. Hell, he'd even teased Ino about it before when he'd seen her all dolled up in a bloodstained kimono while he'd been on guard duty at the gates. But…but he never thought Temari of all women….

"Theatricality and deception are powerful agents. Things that make you more than just a simple human in your opponent's eyes." Ramadi continued easily. "In the case of the women at the Delkeithian temples, we go a bit further in the deception department."

"Temples?" the shadow Jounin repeated, silently requesting more information. Temari had never mentioned any temples to him, at least none in conjunction to any training she'd undergone.

"It's part of the women's training. They go to the temple and Miss Manners over there," Kankuro growled, gesturing towards Ramadi. "teaches them how to act like a bunch of sleazy tramps so they can extract the information we need."

"Or lull the targets into a false sense of security before killing them." Gaara added.

"They are making their move." Ramadi intoned calmly, not even denying what the puppeteer had said. "It will not be long now." Sure enough, the guy was standing up from the circular couch, Temari firmly attached at his side, and waiting for the dark headed woman to rejoin them after her stint on the low stage had finished.

As soon as Maori was close enough, the slimy bastard snaked his hand around her waist and tilted his head down to whisper into her ear. She just smiled in return and motioned towards the exit. She said something that had Temari grinning like the proverbial cat that got the canary. Two seconds later, they were seen walking out of the exit.

"Let's get this over with so I can kill the bastard." Kankuro grumbled.

"We've got a few minutes before they get back to the room." Ramadi reminded the men, using a remote to change the picture on the screen to one of a neatly cleaned hotel room.

"Do they know they're being watched?" Shikamaru asked. He was having a hard enough time wrapping his genius mind around the fact that Temari was letting some guy grope her without beating him into the ground. Somehow he didn't think she'd like knowing that her brothers, not to mention himself, and Ramadi were privy to her actions.

Well, she didn't know he was there, but that was beside the point.

"They know." Gaara intoned quietly, arms crossed across his chest. "This is Temari's final test."

"Test?"

"To see if what we've been telling her has managed to sink into that hard head of hers." Ramadi explained. "After all, there is no point in having her do these type of missions if she can not execute what she's been taught."

"And if she happens to mess up before this is over with?"

"That's why she's not alone. Maori has been doing this type of thing since she finished her training." the woman explained. Kankuro mumbled something underneath his breath and threw a glare

at her, which she ignored. "She can cover any small mistake Temari makes."

Shikamaru remained silent, inwardly fuming as the thought of Temari being manhandled by someone bounced around in his head. He was not left to fume alone, however, as it seemed Kankuro was even more eager than himself to see this mission to its end. The puppeteer was never one to be cordial by any stretch of the imagination. But since they'd taken up temporary residence in the monitoring room a few hours ago, he'd been about as pleasant to be around as Tsunade when she was on a menopausal induced, homicidal rage and trying to maim Jiraiya for peeking at her in the women's bathhouse.

Of course, seeing your sister being felt up by a some traitor trying to overthrow Fire Country's daimyo would make any guy mad.

Hell, it was pissing him off, and he wasn't even related to her.

The sound of a feminine giggles pulled his attention back to the large monitor on the table. The door to the hotel room opened, and he watched as Temari pulled the unresisting man into the room. The guy had a grin on his face that Shikamaru wished he could reach out and personally remove, especially when the half-drunken man immediately seized the blonde kunoichi and proceeded to try and stick his tongue down her throat.

Shikamaru waited, mentally willing the blonde to miraculously pull out her fan and crush the bastard's skull into a few thousand pieces….but she never did. Instead of retaliating with bodily violence, the kunoichi simply wrapped her arms around the target's neck and held on. A few moments later, Maori entered the room, a carded key swinging from her fingertips.

"Surely you two aren't starting the fun without me, are you?" she purred, dripping the room key onto a table and shutting the door with a small click. Temari finally pulled away from the target and smiled coyly.

"Of course not, Maori-chan." the man replied. "I wouldn't think of doing such a thoughtless thing as to insult you like that." The dark headed woman smirked and pulled the man down into another kiss while Temari rubbed his shoulders and played with the hair at the nape of his neck, a perfect picture of the happily infatuated woman that Shikamaru prayed she was not.

"You look positively exhausted, Amida-kun." Maori said, shaking her head after breaking the fiercely possessive kiss. "How about a shower to wake you up a bit?"

"That's right, Amida-kun." Temari added. "Maori and I can't have you falling asleep right in the middle of all the fun, now can we?"

"Only if you beautiful ladies join me." he leered. Shikamaru caught the grin that Temari gave her accomplice before easily slipping out of his grasp and reaching for a bag he hadn't noticed until now.

"How about I join you so Temari-chan can get things set up?" Maori queried innocently, already reaching to unbutton the shirt the man had on.

"Set up? For what?" he queried.

"Now why would we go and spoil our little surprise, Amida-kun? Maori-chan and I worked hard to get it ready for you tonight. You wouldn't want to spoil all our efforts now would you?" Temari pouted prettily.

Shikamaru felt like hurling.

"Of course not, Temari-chan."

"Now that's what we like to hear." Maori smiled, tugging the man towards a small washroom off to the side. "Come on and I'll give you a hand…"

"Don't keep me waiting too long, or I may have to start without you." Temari called after them.

"Now that's something I'd like to see…" the man muttered. Maori just grinned and pulled him into the room, shutting the door behind her. Temari waited until she heard the water running before beginning to unload the small bag she had picked up. Since the room was darkened considerably, Shikamaru couldn't see exactly what Temari was pulling out.

"They're not actually going to sleep with that bastard, right?" Kankuro hissed, apparently ready to step in and do some damage himself.

Shikamaru couldn't blame him. He was already going through the morbid possibilities of how he'd like to kill the bastard.

"We will see soon enough." Ramadi answered calmly. Gaara remained silent as the sound of running water continued to fill the dead silence around them. All they could do now was wait until Amida came back out.

Shikamaru leaned back in his chair, watching with mixed emotions as Temari continued to set out whatever it was she was pulling out of her bag. He noticed her toss a white towel over her shoulder when she finished, then walk over behind a screen.

'She's not…' Shikamaru thought. 'There's no way she's actually going to…'

He was proven wrong once again when he saw the red top she'd been wearing be slung over the changing screen. A few seconds later, Temari walked out, barely covered by the small cloth she'd wrapped snuggly around her body. A few minutes later, the running water stopped, and the girly giggles emanating from the bathroom were heard when Maori opened the door and came out, pulling a grinning Amida with her.

Shikamaru heard Kankuro grumble, watching as he flexed his fingers instinctively as the target reached out to pull Temari against his still dripping wet chest. Maori giggled and joined in the two as well, running her hands around the towel that Amida had wrapped around his waist.

"That was quick." Gaara commented idly.

"It doesn't take long if you know what you're doing, and how to handle the situation in hand." Ramadi replied.

Kankuro growled.

Shikamaru frowned and turned away from the monitor, trying to figure out a way to take his attention away from the coy smiles and soft words that were being aimed at the target. He turned his ire to the woman next to Gaara, pinning her with a glare as the tell-tale rustle of blankets permeated the quiet room.

"So what's your part in this?" he asked, none to nicely.

"I oversee the newest recruits that are sent to the temple." she said, nodding in the direction of the screen. "And in some cases, the regime for the elder kunoichi who come for specialized training."

'Hey! No pinching, Amida-kun…'

"You're the one that taught her…to do that?" Shikamaru asked, gesturing towards the monitor. The gods above alone knew he couldn't actually look at the damned thing.

'Oh…Amida-kun…'

"No. I taught her not to throw every target into the nearest wall when they decided to have a case of roaming hands."

'Yeah…right there…Oh!'

Shikamaru didn't want to know exactly how Ramadi had managed such a feat. All he did know was this mission was taking one hell of a toll on his usually lazy attitude towards everything. His blood had been boiling since he'd arrived and saw exactly what part Temari was playing in the whole set up.

'Mmmm….'

The only fact that had kept him from disregarding the mission details and going down there to kill the bastard who had his filthy hands all over her was that she was on a mission. He kept telling himself she was doing this…acting like this because of the mission. She wasn't doing it because she loved him.

'That's it ladies…keep going…yeah…'

Hell, she was probably going to wind up killing the horny bastard before it was all over with.

'Feels so good….'

And if she didn't, he was.
The shadow nin could still hear the low voices of the women, and the gruff sounds coming from Amida as the minutes stretched on. Shikamaru absolutely refused to watch the monitor, knowing he'd loose his cool if he saw exactly what was happening. The sounds were bad enough. Especially when he heard Temari's pleased whimpering.

'Amida-kun…'

It was a sound he'd heard numerous times before…in a very different situation. His nails bit into the palm of his hands as he kept repeating in his head that this was a mission and he couldn't interfere.

"How much longer is this gonna take?" Kankuro's strained voice hissed.

"Not long." Ramadi answered, reaching over to turn the volume up on the screen. "Listen."

"…certainly know how to make a man feel welcome."

"We try, don't we Maori-chan?"

"After all, this is a small town. We need to keep our visitors happy so they keep coming back."

"Girl's gotta make a living. Isn't that right, Amida-kun?"

"Yeah…yeah it…is…"

"Amida-kun? Are you okay?"

"Tired…"

"So soon? We haven't even got started yet!"

"Sleepy…."

"Amida-kun?"

"Amida-kun? What's wrong with…"

Thunk

Shikamaru glanced over at the screen when he heard the sound of someone's skull connecting with the floor. He noticed the position the two women were in. Temari had straddled herself over the now motionless body of Amida, and Maori was lying next to the man on her side. One quick look at Amida showed him to either be dead asleep…or just flat out dead. The morbid side of his mind hoped it was the latter.

Shikamaru blinked a few times trying to figure out exactly what had just happened. He was sure Temari hadn't hit the bastard because she didn't have anything in her hands. And the Maori woman didn't look like she could hit hard enough to knock out a fly, let alone a full grown man. His attention was drawn back to the women as they struggled to disentangle themselves from the sheets and blankets.

"Well that was easier than I thought it was going to be." Temari's suddenly aggravated voice cut through the air.

"We're not finished yet." Maori answered, throwing the covers off the bed and deftly untangling herself from the now passed out man on the bed then heading into the bathroom. Temari reached for the backpack once again then going to retrieve the clothes she had discarded earlier. Maori reappeared from the washroom, tossing four small scrolls at the blonde. Without another word between them, they finished cleaning up. Shikamaru watched as Temari walked towards were the camera was hidden, pulling it out and training it on her face.

"Hey, Gaara. We'll be back in Suna as soon as we finish playing the helpless little ladies who were traumatized when their screw for the night suddenly passed out from a drug overdose." she smirked evilly, jerking her thumb back to the hapless victim. The screen went blank and Shikamaru gaped openly at the monitor.

"Our job here is done." Gaara said simply, rising from his seat.

"Drug overdose?" Shikamaru asked, trying to put the puzzle pieces together. "Wha.."

"You'd think she'd pick a different tactic by now." Kankuro grumped. Ramadi laughed lightly at his comment.

"She's working on another one. Don't get your pants in a twist, Kankuro-san. She's liable to use you as a guinea pig again to test it on." Ramadi said. The brunette cast her gaze over at Shikamaru, only to frown slightly.

"Nara-san? Are you feeling well?"

"Fine." Shikamaru said automatically.

"It's a bit to process all at once, I know." she said calmly. "Would you like an explanation?"

"Sure."

"That shit they were feeding him was mixed with a sedative. It's one of the witch's favorite tricks." Kankuro chuckled darkly, picking up instantly on the Konoha genius' surprise. "When the chemicals react with that crap they mix with their makeup, it'll knock even the strongest man out cold."

"Okay…" Shikamaru said. Genius though he was, his head was still fogged up with anger and confusion about what he'd witnessed.

"Allow me." Ramadi said gently, giving the puppet master a slightly reproving look. "Many of the drinks the target consumed throughout the evening was laced with a base agent. The activating agent is in the lipstick the girls were wearing. When the two mix, it can either put the intended target to sleep..."

"Or kill him." Gaara finished.

"Yeah, and with as many times as they've kissed that bastard in the last few hours, he'll be out for days…if it hasn't already killed him."

"These chemicals have no side effect on the women?" Shikamaru asked, wondering why Temari was not affected by such a potent chemical.

"They've been inoculated against the activating agent." Gaara said briskly.

"Standard procedure for any girl or woman who we train." Ramadi added as an afterthought.
"We will reconvene back in my office two hour from now." Gaara continued.

"That's it? What about them?" Shikamaru asked, jerking his head towards the black screen.

"Temari and Maori will retrieve the needed materials and bring them back." Ramadi said. "Is there something wrong with that, Nara-san?"

"If they were giving the scrolls to me in Suna, why'd you have me meet you here?" the shadow nin asked, giving Gaara an aggravated look.

"Thought you would enjoy the show." Gaara said blandly.

Shikamaru's blood froze. He threw a cautious look over his shoulder to a thankfully oblivious Kankuro. He looked back at Gaara, thinking maybe he was reading a too far into the his statement. The Kazekage's solid gaze hadn't left him yet.

So the little brother did know. Shit.

The shadow wielder really wondered at this point if he was going to get out of Wind Country alive.

Shikamaru swallowed a few times, nervously trying to clear the lump from his suddenly dried throat. Surprisingly enough, Gaara said nothing else to him as he helped Ramadi from her seat and lead her outside the room.

"Hey, Nara?" Kankuro called, pulling the shadow nin's attention back to the here and now as Gaara's and Ramadi's footsteps began to echo down the outside hallway.

"What?" Shikamaru asked. The puppeteer jerked his hand back towards the blank screen, a purely evil expression on his face.

"You think the bastard's still breathing?"


Shikamaru turned his head slightly to the side, so close that he could feel her breath fan across his cheek. The hand not in his hair going to grip his hip. In a deep voice, dark gaze still set, Shikamaru closed the remaining distance between them, whispering ever so quietly, "Your game is getting troublesome, woman." before capturing her bottom lip between his own.

At first she didn't respond to the man lightly tugging on her lip. Shikamaru knew she was trying not to smirk at him. But when she finally responded, he felt like he had died and gone to heaven. Her eyes shut, her hands went to his vest covered chest and her own lips began to move against his, turning his delicate movements into something fierce and possessive. He tangled a hand in her unbound hair, pressing her bruised lips firmly to him while his other hand moved to the sash holding her simple black kimono tightly shut.

Temari mumbled something against his lips, but he ignored her, already knowing what she was going to say. The warmth of the body pressing intimately up against him was hotter than the scorch of the desert sun that had set only minutes ago. With her back pressed solidly up against the adobe wall of the out of the way alley, she couldn't go anywhere…which was just fine with the Konoha nin. Shikamaru pulled her up to his height, and pressed against her even more tightly. His strong hands gripped her hips and he slid one leg between her thighs, giving her an impromptu place to sit. The complacent kunoichi reached up to free his hair, letting the mass of spiky hair fall around his face.

Shikamaru never had understood why she always did, but every time they were together like this, the first thing to go was his hair tie. Temari had told him once that he looked better with it down. Shikamaru suspected she had a masochistic streak in her and wanted something to pull on as their meetings progressed.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you missed me, Shika-kun." Temari said breathily, enjoying his ministrations greatly. The young man hid a grin, but pinched her lightly on the leg. Temari jumped and sent a warning glare his way.

"I could say the same for you, woman." he replied, resting his head on her shoulder while catching his breath.

"Good thing you don't know any better then, huh?" she quipped, reaching out to run her fingers through his thick locks. Shikamaru rolled his eyes at her usual superior attitude, knowing it was just her way of welcoming him back after not seeing him for nearly two months. He didn't let it bother him though because her ragged breathing and the unconscious sounds she was letting off as he touched her were feeding his ego to enormous proportions.

He got a thrill out of seeing the usually pig-headed, independent woman whimpering like an attention starved kitten under his touch. That wasn't to say he didn't care about her. Far from it in fact. But watching her change from her solid kunoichi mind frame into that of a lusty, infatuated woman…and knowing it was because of what he did to her…well, it didn't get much better than that as far as he was concerned.

"We should get going." he said after pulling away from another possessive kiss that left them both lightheaded. "I don't have much time here. The Hokage is expecting me back in two days with the scroll."

"So soon?" Temari asked selfishly. "That barely gives us a day before you have to leave again." She pouted and Shikamaru felt his soul soar.

"We'll make the best of the time we've got before I have to…."

"…leave and get here within the allotted time, Kazekage-sama. It should not be much longer."

Shikamaru almost jumped out of his skin as the memory of the last visit he'd taken to Suna began to fade away. He glanced around the room, remembering that he'd come to receive the scroll from Gaara a half hour ago, only to be informed that Temari and Maori had not returned yet. Kankuro had been dispatched to find out what the hold up was, and either bring the girls back or get rid of said hold up. The Konoha shadow nin rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands, trying to ward off the beginning tendrils of sleepiness that were threatening to overtake him. Thankfully, he did not have long to wait, as the tell-tale sound of footsteps could be heard coming down the hallway…along with the not so happy voice of Maori as she verbally laid into whoever was with her.

"…keep going, I'm going to knock the holy hell out of you, Kankuro. Shut up about it already, would ya?"

So Kankuro was the reason for her ire. Shikamaru couldn't really blame her. He never really had cared all that much for the puppeteer either. Someone mumbled, but Shikamaru didn't catch what was said.

"Whose side are you on?"

"My side. She's probably sick of hearing your whining. The gods know you've been at it since we left town!"

"Oh, dear." Ramadi frowned. "They're at it again, Gaara-sama." The usually silent young man sitting in the chair remained stoic in response. A few seconds later, the door to the office swung open and Maori entered, a grumbling, unhooded Kankuro behind her and an aggravated Temari pulling up the rear.

Shikamaru glanced towards the doorway, tensed for the explosion he figured would happen when Temari realized he was in the room. His dark eyes met her teal gaze, and she stopped dead in her tracks, not even getting past the door's threshold. The blonde kunoichi's grip on her overly large fan tightened until Shikamaru could see her knuckles turning white. Her glare was one that would probably send any sane man running for cover, but he showed no outward emotion. He was there to do a job, and the sooner he got the damned papers, the sooner he could get out. Maori, oblivious to the rising tension in the air between her mission partner and Konoha nin, simply put the knapsack on Gaara's desk and began pulling scrolls out and laying them in front of the red-headed Kazekage.

"We found more than we expected, Kazekage-sama." the dark headed woman said politely after bowing to Gaara.

"You just gonna stand there all damned night, Temari?" Kankuro groused, casting a frown towards the doorway from his position in a chair. "If so, shut the damned door."

"Shut up before I give you a reason to paint that ugly mug of yours every morning." Temari shot back caustically. She flipped the enormous fan onto her back and secured it before shutting the office door none too gently. She walked over to a nearby corner and leaned against the wall. Shikamaru figured she was doing her best to pretend he wasn't even in the general vicinity.

He didn't really blame her.

The Kazekage of Suna began going through the piles of scrolls, as did the woman standing to his right. Shikamaru, figuring it would be more prudent to find what he was looking for so he could get the hell out of there quicker, grabbed a few and scanned over them. After fifteen minutes of searching through the scrolls on the desk, the needed information still had not been found. He looked over at Maori, who was trying to identify her own scroll's contents.

"Were there any other scrolls or letters in his packs or that folder he had put on the table?" Shikamaru asked.

"How did you know about that?" Temari demanded quickly, finally speaking to him for the first time since she'd walked into the room.

"Nara-san also viewed the mission." Ramadi said, glancing up at Temari carefully. The blonde kunoichi gave him an icy once over, slipping back into her role as a silent sentinel in the corner.

"We took the folder as well." Maori answered, handing him the item in question from the pack. "There were a few of them actually, all bundled up. We didn't have time to go through them before the police swarmed the place, so I grabbed all of 'em."

"Good work, Maori-chan." Ramadi said, glancing at the folder over Gaara's shoulder. The other woman nodded, then left her seat to walk over towards the other end of the office to glance uneasily out the window. Gaara refrained from commenting on her odd behavior, simply passing a stack of papers to the woman beside him without looking up. A few seconds later, Gaara laid a few sheets to the side. After fishing through the rest, not finding anything else of relative importance, he passed the ones he'd separated over to Shikamaru.

"I think you will find the needed infor…"

"…bitching at me! You weren't even supposed to be there!" Maori's strident voice suddenly rang. "Maybe if you'd quit sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong, you'd quit seeing things that you have no business worrying about!"

"That's beside the point!"

Shikamaru groaned, having temporarily forgotten about the bickering pair in the room. Four sets of eyes trained on the puppeteer and the spy who had retreated to another side of Gaara's office.

"Why don't you crawl Temari's ass for a while? She's your sister and just as guilty as I am!" Maori shot back caustically.

"Because Temari's not the one I'm fu…"

"We don't want to know anything about your sordid sex life, Kankuro." Temari growled from the other side of the room. "Drop it."

"Non-existent sex life is more like it." Maori hissed. "What's got you so worked up this evening, puppet-boy? You're even more unpleasant than normal."

Shikamaru glanced up at the two, realizing it wasn't as much Temari's as Maori's part of the performance that evening that had the puppeteer aggravated to no end. How quaint. The over-painted bully of a Suna shinobi had apparently found someone who would stand up against his caustic nature. That was funny, at least for Shikamaru.

"You!" the dark clad shinobi answered. "You were acting like a common…"

"Don't you dare, Kankuro." Maori hissed. "I swear to the gods…"

"Kankuro, that's enough." Gaara said warningly, sending his older sibling a pointed glance. Kankuro ignored both the warnings, plunging head on into the argument.

"…whore." he finished venomously. "Going back to your old habits, are you?"

The room fell into utter silence, and Shikamaru watched the angry expression on Maori's face flicker into blatant hurt for a split second. The dark headed woman's eyes closed for a few long seconds, trying to keep her emotions in check before she lashed out anymore. When she opened them, her gaze was focused on Gaara and Ramadi…not Kankuro.

"Excuse me, Kazekage-sama, Ramadi-sensei, but is my presence still required?" she asked politely.

"You are dismissed." Gaara answered simply. Maori nodded stiffly and walked over to grab her pack from where it was beside Gaara's desk. But Kankuro wasn't quite finished yet.

"Yeah, that's just like you," he sneered, walking towards her. "Running when you don't want to deal with the tru…."

Smack!

"Maori! That's quite enough!"

"You would do well to look in the mirror, you conceited bastard, before judging me for doing a job you'd never be able to pull off!" Maori said icily, ignoring the stinging reprimand from Ramadi for physically striking the man. Kankuro, finally silent, just gaped at her. "You think I like doing this? Or are you just pissed because it wasn't you I was crawling all over?"

Kankuro sputtered, not able to formulate any kind of comeback to her accusation…and apparently a bit in shock at her audacity to actually hit him right in front of everyone in the room.

"Tactful as always, little brother." Temari said drolly, watching as Kankuro continued to scowl while Maori stalked out the room, slamming the door behind her.

"Kiss my ass, Temari." Kankuro groused, flipping her off as he left the room as well. Shikamaru noticed that his chakra signature was headed in the same direction as the angered woman had gone seconds before. Temari, obviously a bit more concerned with what was going to happen than what had already happened, mumbled something about 'damage control' and 'blockheads better not break anything' before leaving the room as well.

"Never dull around here, is it?" Shikamaru asked after the blonde left.

"Not when these two get started." Gaara muttered, sending Ramadi a pointed look. The pretty woman just shrugged and shook her head before turning to Shikamaru.

"Are you leaving tonight, Nara-san?" she queried.

"Yeah."

"I'll walk you out then." she offered. Shikamaru shrugged nonchalantly and grabbed the papers, folding them and sticking them into his pockets. The woman left Gaara's side, and the shadow wielder followed her as she led him out of the office. They were halfway down the hallway before she addressed him again. Only this time, her bell-like voice was silently pleading. "Please, Nara-san, do not think ill of us…especially Temari-chan."

"I wasn't…"

"Don't even try feeding me that line. I know that look well, my friend." she said simply. "The thoughts going through your head were quite apparent when you realized who was on that monitor screen."

"It was a surprise…seeing her like that."

"I would imagine so, given her normal disposition about such subterfuge to gain information." Ramadi agreed. "I thought it odd when she approached me about working at Delkeith. She never had seemed all that interested in honing her skills before. I was a bit shocked when she showed up on the temple steps."

"Why did she seek you out?"

"I wish I knew."

"She didn't tell you why?"

"Have you ever known her to be forthcoming with an explanation about her actions?" Ramadi answered, giving him a knowing look.

"No." Shikamaru answered. "How long has she been running missions like this?"

"She's been partnered with Maori on and off for about six months."

"That long?"

"It took a while for her to learn how to control herself in certain situations. But after we got past her throwing the men pretending to be the targets through the wall because they were chatting her up, things progressed quite nicely." Ramadi answered with a chuckle. "She was quite a handful."

"I can imagine."

"I am sure you can." Ramadi said, only to shake her head. "Yet even with her training, she still made simple mistakes tonight that could have jeopardized the mission if her target had been a shinobi."

"She made mistakes?" Shikamaru asked. Hell, it seemed convincing enough to him. Kankuro as well if the puppet-master's reactions were anything to go by.

"Quite a few of them, actually." the pretty woman admitted. "Her and Maori both."

"How?"

"Well, let's just say one was out to prove something, and the other one's heart wasn't completely in it." the woman said sadly. "You may not realize it, but it is quite difficult to act normal when you know the target is going to be dead by your hands before the sun rises."

"I would have thought Temari would love that. From what I've heard, stuff like that gives her a thrill."

"Oh no, Temari is a large-scale fighter. She doesn't like getting up close and personal in an altercation. Instead, she stays a relatively safe distance away, then waits for the opportune moment to strike." Ramadi replied. "But you already know that, don't you, Nara-san?"

"She's an opportunistic witch." Shikamaru mused.

"Well named." Ramadi chuckled. "But I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised at her. Towards the end of her time at the temple, her mother acted in much the same headstrong fashion."

"Her mother was a priestess?"

"No, her mother was one of the kunoichi that that founded the temple. Karura was born into the ninja world, and later became one of the highest level instructors, and one of the best recon and espionage spies ever to ever come out of Delkeith." Ramadi said. "Even to this day, her name is revered amongst the elder kunoichi."

"So she was a shinobi."

"Yes, although not a particularly strong one when it came to fighting." Ramadi answered sadly. "To this day, many believe that she used what she had been taught within the temple walls to steal her way into the Fourth Kazekage's good graces. Even Temari will tell you that the relationship between her mother and father were strained at the best of times. But…I have my own suspicions about that particular relationship and what happened."

"You don't think she really loved him?"

"I think she was looking for a way out, and the Fourth Kazekage was so hung up on her that he offered it to her on a silver platter." Ramadi said with a shrug. "Make no mistake, Karura loved her children, but after she saw how her husband regarded their offspring….well, I think things deteriorated rapidly after that."

"You speak of her mother as though you knew her personally."

"I did." Ramadi said with a smile. Shikamaru gave the woman a disbelieving look, and she smiled at him. "Let's just say I'm quite a bit older than I look, Nara-san."

"So where do these girls you teach come from?" the dark haired man asked, figuring he had another Tsunade on his hands. "I was under the impression that Suna's forces were in short supply."

"Most of the girls that come from the temples are not kunoichi, nor will they ever be. In fact, three of them were actually found in a brothel in River Country. Their contracts were bought, and they started training with us to become spies." Ramadi said carefully. "Hence Maori's blatant disregard for Kankuro-san's authority."

"She seems to respect Gaara and Temari well enough." Shikamaru commented as they passed into a foyer that led into the kitchens.

"Yes, but…."

"Fuck you, Maori!"

"You already did, numerous times."

Ramadi stopped walking only long enough to roll her eyes at the sound of Kankuro's and Maori's continuing arguments. It seemed they two combatants had taken refuge in a room off the kitchen to finish their verbal battle. There was a rather loud thump against the wall, and Shikamaru wondered if the feisty woman had made good on her word to knock the holy hell out of the puppeteer. Ramadi, however, simply shook her head and continued on her way, grinning slightly when a rather loud groan was heard from the room, followed by a muffled curse.

"We should be going, Nara-san." she said, gesturing towards the door down the hall. "At times like this I have come to realize it is best to leave those two to their own devices." Shikamaru said nothing, following beside her without question.

"And what about you?" he asked as they walked across the threshold into the kitchen.

"What about me, Nara-san?" she asked, busying herself with getting some food put onto a tray.

"You seem uncommonly close to the Kazekage yourself."

"The Kazekage and myself have a working partnership that is mutually beneficial." she explained simply. "He sends the up and coming kunoichi of the Hidden Village to the temple for training, and I get paid an appropriate amount for my time and efforts. This also allows him the possibility of accessing the information my girls gather while working, or even using our influence to set up meetings with targets. Whether you realize it or not, Maori was a far cry from being the only young woman I've ever trained working inside the place we left earlier."

"But why?" Shikamaru asked. "Why not have the already trained kunoichi handle the girl's training?"

"Think, Nara-san." Ramadi said quickly. "The number of fully-trained, suitable Suna kunoichi is almost non-existent. This is mostly due to the fact that the Fourth Kazekage did not think women were suitable to take on the rigorous job as shinobi. During the years of his rule, fewer and fewer females were recruited."

"That's ridiculous."

"That's the way it went. Up until the past two, maybe three years, there have been absolutely no young girls enrolled in shinobi training." Ramadi explained. "Now, you know, just as well as I do, that some missions handed down to the shinobi countries require a woman's presence and cooperativity. True, she may not do the actual killing, or passing of information. But a woman has her own abilities that no man can ever emulate, no matter how skilled he is."

"That is true." he consented.

"So you do understand then." Ramadi said, chuckling slightly. "The men may very well be walking weapons around here, but the women are very often the ones who give them someone or something to kill, maim, steal or dismember."

Shikamaru remained silent as she finished getting the tray of food ready, contemplating the woman's words. What she said was true, in every sense. He could not fault her on logic. But he still didn't understand why Temari had suddenly decided to become the Suna seductress. Ramadi seemed to sense that he still had some unresolved questions, and nodded towards the West as she walked by him.

"Talk to her. She can give you the answers you want. I trust you know where the training grounds are?" the woman said simply, leaving him to stand in the kitchen on his own.

Shikamaru watched as the woman disappeared into the darkened depths of the hallways from which they had just come. He scowled, hating to admit that the woman was right. He needed to talk with Temari, even if it meant him taking yet another beating at the kunoichi's hands. It had been four, almost five months since their argument…if one could even call it that.

'This is going to be troublesome.' he thought glumly, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his green Jounin uniform and looking out the window with his usual bored expression. After a few seconds of contemplating whether he should try and reason with the blonde, or if he should live up to his name as Konoha's number one coward, he growled in aggravation and headed towards the training grounds that were on the other side of the sand dunes nearest the Kazekage's tower. He took his time, realizing that even though he'd garnered up the courage to face Temari, he had no idea what to say to her.

How did one apologize for getting caught cheating on his girlfriend? And with an old teammate none the less?

And it didn't matter that he'd been drunk off his rocker when it happened. Nor did it matter that he'd been imagining Ino as the feisty Suna kunoichi the entire time. What did matter was that he'd been an idiot to let it happen in the first place, especially since he'd known Temari was on her way to Konoha to deliver some papers to the Hokage.

The shadow wielder still felt like scum, even after all these weeks.

He could vividly remember waking up that next morning on his living room couch, feeling the warmness of a body next to him. His addled brain had still not recovered from the copious amounts of alcohol he'd consumed the night before, and had immediately assumed that the person curled into his side was Temari. He remembered wrapping his arms around the woman and burying his head into her hair, only to realize that the texture was….off.

Temari's hair was short, and slightly coarse from the sand and heat of the desert. The strands he had buried his nose in were long, silky, and smelled faintly of chrysanthemum and iris blossoms.

Unfortunately, about the time he realized that it was Ino he was cuddled up to, the door to his apartment opened, and he felt the familiar shock of Temari's chakra signature suddenly blow into ungodly proportions. He barely had time to wipe the sleep from his eyes before he was faced with the wrath of the angry kunoichi. She had yelled at him, cursed at him, and then knocked the holy hell out of him while he was hoping on one foot and struggling to get his pants on, sending him flying into the couch that a very disoriented (and very naked) Ino was still lying on. The couch fell over backwards, casing Ino to screech like a banshee and him to curse. By the time he'd righted himself, Temari was long gone. He'd ignored Ino's persistent questions and screeches, and hauled ass after Temari, hoping to catch up with her and try to explain himself.

Looking back now, he realized that probably had not been the smartest idea he'd ever come up with. He'd caught up with her not far from Konoha's gates, and the fight had commenced. Shikamaru had tried to explain, he really had…but Temari had been so angry, she'd leveled ten acres of forest in an attempt to kill his sorry ass. He'd been caught in the flying and falling debris, just like Tayuya had years before. When he'd woken up, he was on the back of a medical nin, being brought to Konoha hospital.

That was a little over four and a half months ago. Shikamaru hadn't spoken to her since. He was guessing word had gotten around to the Hokage what had happened (through Ino no doubt), and he'd found himself running mundane missions while another messenger carried information to and from Suna. And if he'd had to guess, Temari had forgone her job as glorified messenger girl as well because he hadn't seen her in the village since then.

Shikamaru glanced down into the training field as he crested the sand dune, finding very little light illuminating the grounds where Temari was currently using her chakra-laced winds to rip some training dummies into little more than shreds of cloth. He suddenly wondered if he really wanted to do this. He didn't have a death wish, so why was he pushing himself into expending the energy to try and set things right?

Because he knew he was wrong, and his conscious had been nagging him since the minute he'd woken up on the back of that medic ninja.

He stuffed his hands down further into his pockets and slid down the sand dune without a sound. He ambled his way towards the grounds, and stood there as the last of Temari's latest attack dissipated. The sand she'd kicked up with the last attack swirled around her like an angry tornado, and Shikamaru idly thought she looked like some kind of sand witch.

"The hell are you doing here?" her curt voice asked. She hadn't turned around, or even looked over her shoulder at him. The eldest of the Sand siblings still had her iron fan out and fully open, chakra radiating from the folds.

"Would admitting that I'm an idiot help?" Shikamaru asked, figuring it was best to get straight to the point. He didn't like tippy-toeing around a subject, and knew well enough that Temari did not either.

"No." she said caustically, taking to the air and sweeping her weapon to the side, sending another blast of wind towards the already decimated dummies. The razor sharp blades of wind hit a far off sand dune, causing it to blow up like an erupting volcano.

"Would admitting that I'm a stupid idiot be any better?" he asked drolly when she'd finally touched down onto the ground again.

"No." she replied, her voice colder than the desert air around him. Shikamaru cocked his head to the side, realizing that she was going to be at her most difficult.

No big surprise there.

If she'd acted any other way he'd have thought that crazy Ramadi woman really had managed to brainwash her at that damned temple they'd told him about.

"Damnit, Temari!" he groused. "Just listen for two sec…"

"I don't want to hear it, Shikamaru!" she hissed, finally glancing over her shoulder to glare at him. "And I suggest you drop it and get the hell out of here if you want to keep all your body parts in tact. I'm in no mood to listen to your excuses."

"Temari…" he started, beginning to walk onto the field, only to jump back when she spun around and swung her fan at him.

"I said go away, asshole!" she screeched, sending a wall of wind his way. Shikamaru, who was quite familiar with her attacks, instantly disappeared and reappeared well out of reach of the blast.

"It's been five months. At least let me try to defend myself!" he said loudly, crouching down on the dune he'd transported himself to. He saw Temari whirl around and ready herself for another attack.

"No!" she yelled angrily, sending yet another wall of razor sharp wind towards him. Shikamaru growled and disappeared once again, right before the ground he'd been standing on was thrown into the night air.

He really hadn't wanted it to get to this point. And he knew Temari was only going to be more furious with him after it was over. But if the only way to get her to listen was to stop her from moving, he was willing to do it. The Konoha nin positioned himself out of Temari's line of sight behind her. The hand seals he went through were second nature to him now, and he frowned when his shadow shot out to meld with hers. Temari's body went rigid, and Shikamaru finally stood up and walked towards her.

It was apparent that she was, just as he had predicted, foaming at the mouth in anger…most especially when he forced her to throw her fan down onto the desert sand on her way to him. He stopped walking while there was still five feet between them. Temari had never been able to break his shadow binding hold on her before, but he didn't want to be within swinging range if she managed to do so now.

"God-Damnit, Nara!" she seethed, "Let me go!"

"It was an accident, Temari." he said simply.

"Binding me up in your shadow is an accident?" she retorted.

"You know what I mean." he answered.

"An accident? You call that an accident? Shattering a glass on the floor or missing a target is an accident. Sleeping with your old Genin partner does NOT fall under that category!" she retorted icily, struggling against his hold on her.

"You sure are quick on the trigger this evening." he muttered.

"Let. Me. Go."

"I will when I'm finished saying what I've got to say." Shikamaru answered coldly. "Until then, you're not going anywhere until you calm down."

"Do you want me to beat you into the ground again?" she asked rhetorically. "Cause I'll be more than glad to if that's what you came out here for, asshole!"

"I want you to listen to me. Can you shut your trap for that long, or do I need to do that too?" he said coldly, extending a shadowy hand up her neck and over her cheek. She apparently felt the movement, and stilled instantly. Her glare was one promising death, destruction and dismemberment the moment he let go. Shikamaru, not only tired of this whole ordeal, but tired of fighting with her, dropped his head as if he were tired beyond reason. "What happened to that woman I saw earlier?"

"If I had my guess, I'd say she and Kankuro are busy fu…."

"The other one." he growled in aggravation.

"She took a vacation." the blonde answered acidly.

"She was much calmer and reasonable…not troublesome like you." Shikamaru asked calmly. He couldn't help but tease her, despite the situation they were in. "When will she be back?"

"Not anytime soon, and not for you!" Temari hissed. "Damn you, Nara! Let me go!"

"Are you going to attack me again?"

"Depends on if you piss me off." she retorted. Shikamaru took another step forward and extended his hand towards her face. Temari, still caught up in his jutsu, glared hell-on-high at him as her body was forced to reciprocate the gesture. Shikamaru's lightly trembling hand touched Temari's tanned face, and the young woman scowled.

"What do you think yo…."

"Just shut up, will you?" Shikamaru groused. "For once in your life, just shut up and let me talk."

"You can talk all you want, doesn't mean I have to listen." she retorted, her hand curling around the nape of his neck, mimicking the movements of his.

"She was a mistake." Shikamaru said quietly. "Ino…she…it wasn't supposed to happen."

"But it did." Temari hissed. "How many times, Shikamaru? How many other times did you sleep with her when we weren't together?"

"None."

"Liar!"

"I'm not lying to you, you troublesome woman!" Shikamaru growled. "What have I got to do to make you believe me?"

"There's not a dammed thing you can do to make me believe you, Nara. And for another thing, I just want you to know that you're luck…..mmph!"

Shikamaru had long ago found out that the best way to shut Temari up was to give her mouth something else to do. So, going with that line of reasoning, he pulled the highly pissed woman closer and kissed her.

All sense of willpower evaporated the moment his cool lips touched the slightly chapped skin of hers. He had wanted this, desperately, for months. Shikamaru didn't want to admit it, even to himself, but he missed Temari. And now here he was, after months of being stuck in the proverbial 'dog house', touching the very woman he had been thinking of for days and nights on end. The charge in the air around them was almost electric.

Temari's lips conceded to him for a second, both of them moving in a way that was so reminiscent of the months before his indiscretion. Unfortunately, the blonde in his grasp seemed to gain her common sense back as quickly as it had left her, and Shikamaru could feel her renewed struggle against his shadow bind.

He let her go and took a step back, still safely out of the way incase she did indeed manage to break the hold.

"What the hell was that for?" she asked, her voice a bit calmer now despite the fact she was glaring holy hell at him still.

"I told you to shut up and let me talk." he groused, pulling back a bit more. "When are you gonna learn to listen?"

"When you learn to use that grey stuff between your ears and three feet above your ass." she hissed. "You realize one kiss is not going to make amends for what you done. I'm still pissed off at you."

"And you realize that after what I saw this evening, you are in no position to be condemning what I did."

"It was a mission!" she defended. "I don't think the Hokage ordered you to sleep with that banshee Yamanaka!"

"And Gaara told you to sleep with that bastard?" he asked coldly.

"I'd have slit his throat before it went that far!"

"Somehow, I don't doubt it."

"Shika…"

"I'm sorry." he ground out. "And I know getting you to believe me is going to be a pain in my ass. But at least hear me out. You owe me that much at least."

"I don't owe you a damned thing."

"It's thanks to you I spent a week in the hospital after you stormed out of Konoha." he reminded her.

"You're lucky I didn't finish the job and kill your ass while you were unconscious!"

"Why didn't you, Temari?" he wheedled. "It would have been easy enough. One quick swing of your fan, and I'd been nothing more than a bad memory floating around in that thick head of yours. Why didn't you do it? You were angry enough, that's for sure."

"I…I…I don't have to explain what I do to you."

"You couldn't do it, could you, troublesome sand witch?" he wheedled. "You couldn't do it."

"Try me now and see if I couldn't." she hissed angrily.

"You couldn't do it then, and you can't do it now." he said smugly.

"You're awful confident. Let me go and let's see how wrong I can prove you, Nara."

"You can bluff all you want, woman." he said quietly. "The same reason you didn't kill me is the same reason I'm standing in front of you."

"You presumptuous bastard!" she raged.

"Listen to me, Temari." he said seriously. "I'm sorry. It was a drunken accident. I know that doesn't mean a damned thing, but…." He threw his hands up in the air, but made sure the jutsu he'd trapped her in held fast. "What do you want from me? Blood?"

"Yes." she bit out.

"Fine." he answered coldly, drawing a kunai out of his pouch and slashing a gash down his arm.

"Shikamaru! What are you doing, you idiot?"

"You wanted blood? You've got it." he said simply. Temari's gaze danced from his face to the self inflicted gash on his arm, finally looking away as the blood began to pool on the ground at his feet. Shikamaru saw her attitude finally waver, and he walked over to her, his large hand almost covering the side of her face with a gentle touch.

"Shika…"

"It was a mistake. I was stupid. It never should have happened." he admitted, gritting his teeth together. "I don't know what I was thinking, Temari. I'm sorry."

"Damnit, Nara Shikamaru!" she growled.

"What?" he asked, confusion evident in his voice. "Now what'd I do?"

"You're not supposed to apologize!" she bit out.

"Huh? Why not?"

"I'm supposed to be mad at you!" she answered pointedly. Shikamaru withheld the comment that his apologizing had never stopped her from being mad at him before. He figured he was already pushing his luck as it was.

"When do I do anything I'm supposed to?" he asked lazily, shrugging nonchalantly. Temari looked away, her eyes trained on the rivulets of blood coursing down his arm and soaking his sleeve. "Give me another chance, Temari?"

"You're not asking for much, are you?" she asked quietly.

"I don't think so." he said gently. "Please, Temari…"

"I'll think about it." she answered finally.

"That's all I'm asking for." he said, finally releasing her from the jutsu. Temari stumbled a bit, but regained her footing quickly. She stood up straight, giving him a quizzical look before turning to retrieve her overly large fan from where he'd made her discard it moments before.

The shadow wielder heaved a sigh of relief. He knew he was far from regaining Temari's trust, but at least it was a place to start. The blonde woman would be a tough nut to crack, but he was willing to try, if only to get her back.

Sure, she was as troublesome as his mother, and could give Ino a run for her money as far as being loud and annoying was concerned, but the lazy young man had learned to overlook that after a while. Temari was just…Temari. There really wasn't another way to explain it.

She walked up to him, her fingers splayed over her fan and her face trained towards the ground. Shikamaru was just glad he wasn't the only one feeling a bit out of place by then.

"Now what?" she asked bluntly.

"I don't know." Shikamaru answered honestly, shoving his hands in his pockets. "You got any ideas?"

"Not one."

"Figures. Troublesome woman." he muttered. He caught the annoyed look from Temari, right before she hauled off and punched him in the stomach. Shikamaru doubled over, having not expected the attack, and coughed a few times until he managed to catch his breath. When he straightened up, he caught sight of her walking through the enormous hole she'd inadvertently created while trying to tear him into shreds.

'..don't know why I put up with it. Damned lazy ass man's worse than my idiot brother ever thought about being! Aaagghh! It's a damned good thing I love the morons or I'd kill the whole lot of'em in one clean sweep, all three of them!'

Shikamaru grinned, listening to her monologue as he followed a safe distance away. Okay, so she was still mad at him, and she would probably wind up being the death of him before everything was all over with.

But damnit, he loved her. And he'd be damned if he was going to let her get away from him again. Even if he had to put up with her grumbling and bitching for the rest of his life, he knew she was the only one who he wanted. And considering she'd accepted his apology (in her own twisted way), he figured he had a good chance at regaining the trust he'd lost.

"What's taking you so damned long, Nara?" she called out, looking back over her shoulder at him. "Not scared of the dark, are you?"

Shikamaru's lazy grin intensified, hearing the embarrassed aggravation in her voice.

Yep, things were finally starting to get back to normal.


Ramadi moved on silent feet as she made her way back through the halls and towards the Kazekage's office. When she opened the door, she found the young leader motionless, his head bowed and eyes closed. Gaara remained silent, his hands molded together in an all too familiar sign. The elder woman waited a few more seconds, until a small of sand appeared in the air above her. She sighed and shook her head as Gaara opened his eyes, causing the small eye-like sand ball to dissipate and fall onto his desk top.

"Forgive me, Kazekage-sama," the kunoichi said quietly, slipping the tray of food onto his desk. "but is it wise to spy on your siblings like that? Experience has taught me you usually wind up seeing something you don't want to. And considering the…state of things with Maori and Kankuro-san, well…."

"Too late." the redheaded young man answered sourly. Ramadi chuckled lightly and bowed herself out of the office, leaving the young Kazekage to finish his food. As she shut the door on her way out, the air around the woman's body began to waver like a mirage on the desert sand. A few seconds later, the genjutsu was completely dispelled, and where the beautiful woman had stood only seconds before, there was only a wrinkled lady with a head of white hair that still held a few strands of crimson despite her old age.

"There may be hope for them yet, Karura." the woman whispered, smiling at no one in particular as she trekked down the hallway to her own quarters.


A/N - Well, there's the end of that one. What'd you guys think? Like I said earlier, the Shika/Tema pairing is a new one on me. Hope I didn't get them too out of character (well…Temari was in the beginning, but that couldn't be helped). Constructive criticism is welcome and, above all, encouraged.

Until next time,

A.A.