Summary: When she turned fourteen, the male cohort of the fifth floor realized Temari was 'blossoming', each in their own unique way.
Sunagakure: Year Four
It was a good thing the genin were very talented in ninjutsu and their special attacks because hand-to-hand combat was not their forte. On those rare days for taijutsu, the genin would be dressed in their dark shirt and trousers. The soft sand felt good on their bare feet, although it was odd not to feel their weapons on their backs. At most Baki only allowed Kankuro to bring kunai and Temari to bring a hand fan for some rather lackluster weapons practice.
Baki would 'spar' with Gaara due to the potential lethality of his sand by having the boy shadow the Sensei's moves against a clone. Gaara was at least learning the motions, although the boy executed them with complete lack of vigor.
That left Kankuro to spar with Temari until Baki was available, but their matches contained no more energy than when the two siblings were horsing around at the Tower. Lately it had been even more pathetic.
Baki yelled, "You're not playing pat-a-cake. Strike, Kankuro!"
He could hear Kankuro grumble under his breath before giving a half-hearted shove to his sister. Temari responded with a swift series of attacks, but Kankuro had a spine like a cat and used his flexibility to evade her. Still, he did not return the blows.
"All right, take a break. Kankuro, come here," said Baki. The boy came over in a familiar sulk. "What's the problem?"
"I can't spar with Temari anymore, Sensei," proclaimed Kankuro. "She's gone all girly and, I don't know, soft in places and it just doesn't feel right, you know."
"Kankuro, Temari is shinobi, not one of the civilian girls sunning themselves on the mall," said Baki, referring to the long public lawn. He smirked at Kankuro's blush.
"I know, but, geez, I'd rather spar with one of them than my sister. Hell, you try it," challenged Kankuro. "You'll see what I mean."
Baki suddenly realized that he had not 'sparred' with the girl for about a year. "Fine, you and Gaara get back to the Tower." He turned to call over his shoulder, "Temari, get in position."
The girl swallowed when she saw her brothers leaving and her Sensei assuming the place of her opponent. She immediately obeyed his order to attack and gave it all she had.
Baki deflected the flurry of motions with ease and was about to tap her chest with the heel of his palm when he realized the problem. He pulled his punch and wound up shoving her on the shoulder instead, just like Kankuro, except that his force sent her landing in the sand on her rump.
The Sensei was still reeling from his discovery when Temari took advantage of his inattentiveness to kick at his ankles. Unfortunately, she did not account for how heavy his mass would be when he fell or that she should have rolled to avoid cushioning his fall.
The wind was knocked out of the girl and her Sensei sprang back up quickly in shock. Kankuro was right again, she had gone all soft and girly in places. Baki shook his head, took note of Temari's distress in breathing, and knelt to help her sit up and catch her breath.
As the girl took deep gulps of air, Baki scowled. "That's enough for today."
Temari looked into his eyes and declared, "I am not weak."
The girl was right; she wasn't the one being weak, but Baki didn't quite know how to explain it to her.
"You wouldn't be on the team if you were," replied Baki gruffly.
He stood up and walked away, fully expecting the girl to catch up and walk by his side. She didn't disappoint him. He felt a pang of regret at the thought that they would lose their feeling of comfort with each other, but pushed the thought to the back of his mind. Taijutsu was not a priority;
Their escapades as Kaitou raiders provided the experience for their next mission to retrieve a powerful scroll. Kankuro had entered the village stealthily and was using Karasu to snatch the the scroll from its hiding place. Temari was gliding on her fan to survey the layout in order to facilitate his retreat. She leapt off of her fan to stand on the jutting rocks to give hand signals when she sighted him.
"Gaara, can you extend your sand attack to stop his pursuers?" asked Baki.
"She's blocking my view again," said Gaara tonelessly as Temari stood in silhouette to them. At his angle, Gaara's view was definitely being obstructed by a set of protrusions.
The outline of Temari's body was distinctly feminine even in the boys' garb she still wore, but Baki shook off the notion that there was something he was missing. Curves were to be expected at her age, she was fourteen, but there just happened to be more curve there than he remembered.
"Temari, point, er, look the other way," called Baki in a hushed tone.
Temari turned at the sound of her name, but that was all Gaara needed to clear his view. The sand exploded behind Kankuro and Temari had to jump on her fan to retrieve the puppeteer as he was thrown skyward as well. Kankuro managed to use chakra strings to capture the scroll as it tumbled through the air.
"Gaara! Retreat!" called Baki when the siblings landed safely near him, but the boy seemed more interested in extending his attack onto the village itself.
"Damn it!" Baki called his orders as he ran to intercept Gaara's attack. "You two, get back to camp now!"
Temari and Kankuro obeyed the command, but looked over their shoulder once. They saw Baki calling the wind to counter Gaara's sand and hastened their retreat. The resulting sandstorm would be voracious.
It was dark by the time Baki and Gaara made it back to camp, but their antics had precipitated a rainstorm. Luckily for them, Temari and Kankuro had set up their three tents for the night and now poked their heads out as their Sensei and brother returned.
Temari put out a hand to catch the first raindrops and smirked at her brother from across the clearing. "Sometimes being a girl has its advantages."
Kankuro peered up at the sky only to have a drop of rain water plop into his eye. He squinted and grumbled, "Oh, man! Gaara's gonna stay in my tent to avoid the rain."
Indeed, Gaara didn't say a word, but silently entered the tent and sat near the entrance staring out into the rain. Kankuro shook his head and waved his hand in dismissal as good night.
Baki, who was quite tired from fighting Gaara, just shook his head and told Temari, "Better get some sleep; Gaara will alert us if there's danger. We're out of here in four hours."
He entered his tent and stripped out of his dusty clothes in the dark before he sank onto his pallet. The opening of the jonin's tent faced the side of Temari's, so his attention was caught by the illumination that made the white canvas seem to glow. He mused over how women shared universal traits, like taking the time to brush out their hair at night.
Baki could see her movements silhouetted against the canvas of her tent, each brush stroke made with fluid, graceful movements. It was hypnotizing in a way, so he failed to react quickly enough when the girl stood up and began to tug off her shirt and pants. In fact, Baki had a moment to appreciate the curves revealed in shadow before he realized what he was doing.
"Damn it, I am becoming an old pervert!" he muttered to himself as he abruptly turned his back to her tent and closed his eyes. He was just tired, it was only the fatigue.
...Cover your face; it's hideous...No woman would marry you now...You can have the girl when she comes of age...Are you sure you don't want to make her your wife... She's gone all soft and girly in places...A girl can marry at fourteen...A pure vessel might work better this time...You promised me, Sensei...
Baki sat up and noticed his heart was racing in response to the dream, or rather, the nightmare. A blood red wedding gown fading into blood red sheets, staining everything: his hands, her body, the hair of his son. Temari's face so pale in contrast, eyes bright in accusation. You promised me...
Baki wiped a hand across his face as he resolved, "I'll protect you, Temari, even if it's from myself."
Temari was becoming a deadly ninja, but underneath she still was such an innocent girl. He made up his mind to quench any thought of her as a woman. Luckily for him, she was still happy being a tomboy. He sighed in relief.
Baki's resolve to relegate Temari into the sexless league of ninjas was only temporarily effective. The last restraints on her femininity were lost after a strenuous flight back to Sunagakure from a harrowing mission. They had intercepted a band of raiders who had attacked an outlying Suna village. The enemy was stronger than expected and had a number of powerful ninja. Shukaku had emerged when Gaara had allowed himself to sleep.
It had been an effective ploy for eliminating the raiders, but it took a lot of work for Baki to awaken Gaara. He had to extend his chakra to gather cold air from the upper atmosphere to send a frigid blast to rouse the boy. The jonin didn't want to think of what would have happened if it hadn't worked.
Except for Gaara, they were all drained of chakra by the time they got close to Sunagakure and resorted to running the last miles home. That's when Baki noticed that Temari now jiggled--or rather bits of her did. With every single step she took, the jiggling occurred. With his height advantage, it didn't matter whether the girl was to his left or to his right, the bouncing body was in view.
Baki resorted to sending her ahead so he could watch their back. Temari's posterior curves were still evident, but at least the jiggling was obstructed. The large fan now strapped to her back didn't obscure the movement of her hips, but he could handle the sway.
Damn, he felt like such a pervert! He was going to give Hiroko hell for not telling the girl she needed to start wearing a bra!
When they finally reached the safety of the village and arrived at the mission station, Baki took Temari aside and instructed her, "Go to Hiroko. Ask her to take you shopping for a bra."
"What did you say, Sensei?" asked Temari. She was having trouble shaking off the image of Shukaku in addition to her exhaustion. She also felt uncomfortable from the jostling her body was giving her. She wished she were ten again.
"Tell Hiroko that you need a bra," repeated Baki in a hushed tone.
"Abra? Is that a special jutsu or something? I don't understand, Sensei," said Temari in confusion. Her brain was simply not registering Baki's voice.
Kankuro decided to be helpful. He began at a shout, "He said to tell Hiroko that you need--mmph."
Baki covered the boy's mouth. "Kankuro, go. Take Gaara with you."
Once her brothers left, Baki began pulling Temari along to Hiroko's desk so quickly that she again began jiggling. His scowl made several of the lounging chunin avert their gazes quickly.
"Hiroko!" he hissed when he got to her station.
The pregnant chunin sitting behind the desk was trying not to laugh to avoid upsetting the girl. Still, she had never seen Baki's death glare used outside a field of battle. And with only one good eye now at that. The problem had been very clear as she watched the two approaching her station.
Hiroko maintained her composure and said, "Temari, I'm glad you're back. It looks like we need to go shopping."
"But, Hiroko, I'm really tired," admitted Temari.
Baki ignored his student and instructed Hiroko as he practically slammed the seal into Hiroko's hand, "Get whatever she needs and make sure it's sturdy." He gave a long glance to Temari and added, "Very sturdy."
"But, Sensei--" Temari began to protest.
"Temari, go shopping. Now. That's an order."
"Baki, why don't you give the girl a day off? She does look exhausted now. Temari can spend a couple of nights with me and we'll go shopping in between. Yura is on a mission and I could use the company."
"Very well, but I expect you back early the next morning and ready to work," admonished Baki as he turned to Temari.
"Thank you, Sensei, and tell Kankuro to give Gaara back his teddy bear. I had to fix his ear, but we went on mission before I could return it, so it's still in my room."
Baki merely grunted his agreement. As he stalked away, the jonin pointed to a random chunin whom he had cowed earlier and demanded, "You. You're buying me a drink, you little pervert."
Hiroko couldn't hold back her laughter once Baki dragged the hapless chunin out the door. "Come on, Temari. Let's have a girls' night and indulge at an evening at the spa."
"I've never been to the spa, Hiroko."
"Then it's about time the Kazekage spent his money indulging his daughter. All women should experience a facial and manicure at least once," grinned Hiroko as she flipped the seal in her hand. Then she frowned and her tone turned apologetic. "It appears I took for granted that you knew about feminine apparel. It's time you quit dressing like a boy and appreciated the fact that you're becoming a very attractive young woman."
"Me? But, I'm nothing special," said Temari in confusion.
"Of course you are," assured Hiroko as she put her arm around her shoulders and led her out. "Every woman is special, but you, Temari, are going to be spectacular."
The Cottage, Suna
Three hours later, Temari and Hiroko were in their pajamas sharing a laugh, comparing their manicures, and trading stories that illustrated the cluelessness of the male sex. They had developed a nodding acquaintance in the past year, but this was the first time Temari realized she had a friend in Hiroko.
"I'm really glad that Sensei brought me to you, Hiroko. I can't talk like this to him or my brothers."
"Speaking of which, I hear some of the younger girls talking about Kankuro," said Hiroko in a conspiratorial whisper. "Three in particular."
"Really? Ew, but he's so, so--"
"You're supposed to feel like that, he's your brother after all," laughed Hiroko. "Seeing Kankuro without his face paint is a major coupe for the genin. One even has a pet cat named Kankuro."
"What? You mean," Temari burst into laughter before she could finish her thought. "Kankuro could be out walking in the village and hear his name called by a girl who's only looking for her cat?"
"Don't make me laugh so much, Temari, although the baby likes it," chastised Hiroko when she recovered some control. She patted her belly and said, "Baki shouldn't keep you locked away in the tower like some fairy princess. Thank goodness we broke up when we did; he can be so old-fashioned."
Temari sobered up a bit and suddenly seemed to be inspecting her toes. "I like Baki the way he is, so maybe I'm old-fashioned, too."
Hiroko caught something in her tone and decided to pry a bit. "Just how do you like him, exactly?"
The blush and accompanying shrug gave it away, but Temari was not a coward, so she explained, "I respect my Sensei, but lately I've been noticing more things that I like about him. Ahem, physical things."
"Like how tall and lean he is? Or how elegant but strong his hands look? Or how his mouth looks so firm and soft at the same time?" Hiroko patted her shoulder in comfort.
"I am so embarrassed! But, yes, I guess since you dated him, you'd know, wouldn't you?" said Temari.
"Baki is no pretty boy; his attraction is his strength. That's nothing to be ashamed of." Hiroko punched Temari playfully in the shoulder. "Don't worry. You've just got a crush on a teacher; it happens all the time. Luckily for you, Baki is such a prude he'd never take advantage of you. Besides, he's not the touchy-feely type of guy."
"Yes, but that's another thing I like about him," said Temari glumly.
"Good, then when this little crush is over, you'll still appreciate your Sensei. You see, these infatuations come and go at your age. In a few weeks, you'll be noticing one of the chunin hanging around the mission desk or maybe the boy who works with the baker or it might even be some boy that you find very annoying at first."
Temari frowned at this state of constant transition. "A crush sounds so immature and fickle. Where's the loyalty, the sense of commitment to the well being of the person?"
"I think crushes are a way to make sure you recognize love when you're finally ready for it. That's when the loyalty and commitment come to play. In the meantime, you need to get out more. I know you're the Kazekage's daughter, but that means it's important you learn to be confident about being a woman so that some pretty boy doesn't convince you to run away with him because you've developed a crush."
"I would never desert my brothers or my people," replied Temari immediately.
"Damn, Baki's good. He's got you speaking Shinobi all the time. The thing is, you don't have to give up being feminine to be a good ninja. Do you know that Tsunade, the female sannin, can heal a man or crush him with a single punch? And she's supposed to be no taller than you, a pretty, busty blonde from what I hear."
"So, you think I need to feel as proud of the fact that I'm a woman as I am that I'm a ninja?"
"Be true to yourself, Temari. Don't avoid the 'girly' stuff just because your brothers will tease you. And frankly, Baki has always been exasperated by the feminine, so it would do him good to get some exposure to the concept of soft but strong."
"That's an idea. I could be educating Baki for a change," said Temari with a grin. "Okay, tomorrow, let's go shopping."
"Good, and you'll get some practice at harmless flirting. Just smile at the boys, be pleasant, laugh at their lame jokes, and make sure they know their boundaries," said Hiroko.
"Boundaries?" asked Temari.
"Yes, you know, look but don't touch?"
"Look but don't touch. Then how does a girl ever get a boyfriend?" Temari frowned.
"That's the whole point. He's the exception to the rule."
"Ah," said Temari with a tone of enlightenment. Her mind conjured the image of a faceless male, tall, but definitely strong, wind user...
"And with a watchdog like Baki, I'd say the young man had better be very exceptional or he's likely to see the Wind Sword in action."
"Baki wouldn't decapitate a man on account of me!" exclaimed Temari as her phantom boyfriend disappeared in a puff of fear.
"I don't think Baki would be aiming for the boy's head, Temari," laughed Hiroko.
"Right," said Temari with relief. "Sounds like I better not have a boyfriend who's weaker than Baki."
"Setting high standards is a good idea," agreed Hiroko.
"So by touching are you including kissing?" asked Temari.
"The hand holding and touching can lead to kissing, but that doesn't mean you have to have sex with him. You might have several boyfriends before you find one worth losing your viginity, but he doesn't have to be the man you marry."
"I don't want to get married and have babies, Hiroko," admitted Temari. "No offense, but--"
"I used to feel the same way, Temari, and there's nothing wrong with simply being lovers when you're adults. But remember that accidents happen, so don't have sex with anyone you wouldn't want to father a child with you. Men can and do walk away from a pregnancy; women can't, at least, not in Suna. And avoid it until you know you can support a baby."
"I intend to make jonin by the time I'm eighteen--although I guess that sounds arrogant considering I'm fourteen and still genin," sighed Temari.
"That's only because the Kazekage has prohibited your participation in the chunin exams thus far. That doesn't mean you don't have the skill for the rank, Temari," said Hiroko sympathetically. "That's one thing I wouldn't trade with you. I'd hate to be the Kazekage's daughter; your life is pretty much in his control."
"Yes, but at least we have Baki," assured Temari. Then she jumped in surprise and pointed at Hiroko's belly. "It jumped! I saw it move!"
"The baby does gymnastics this time of night. Here, feel," offered Hiroko.
Temari suddenly looked fearful, so the woman assured, "Babies are a miracle, not a threat, Temari."
The girl placed her hand on the pregnant woman and felt some of her fears melting away. Being a woman was a powerful thing.
The men of the fifth floor were in for a surprise when Temari returned from her day with Hiroko. Gaara and Kankuro had just finished breakfast when their sister entered laden with two large bags and sporting a new look.
The red head actually whispered to his brother. "Is that really Temari? She looks odd."
Kankuro whispered back, "She's always been odd, Gaara, but now she's odd in a girly way which means guys are gonna notice her. And you know what that means. Trouble!"
"Trouble?" queried Gaara.
"Yeah, remember that Men Are Pigs lecture that Baki gave us?" Kankuro murmured.
"Speak of it and you die," muttered Gaara.
"Don't I even get a hello?" asked Temari in exasperation at her brothers' whispered conversation.
"Oh, hell," said Kankuro instead as he noticed the Sensei stepping out of his room and doing a double-take when he spotted Temari.
Baki couldn't believe his eyes. What had happened to the blonde-haired little tomboy? She had been consumed by the pubescent nymph standing there in a lilac colored--mini-skirt?
His vicious scowl was reinforced by the thunderous tone of his voice. "You've got legs!"
Temari grinned in spite of the tremor, determined to appear confident. "Yeah, Hiroko said all my training has given them really good muscle tone."
"Muscle tone?" Baki seemed to be unable to get his mouth to work. He had sent the girl out to prevent any more jiggling and instead he gets back a young siren.
"You can't train in that outfit. Go change now!"
"Training is no problem, Sensei. See, I've got shorts underneath," said Temari as she hiked up one side of her skirt over her hip.
For the first time in his life he felt close to a nosebleed and all on account of this--temptress. Wait, no, he couldn't be having impure thoughts about Temari? She was turning him into a pervert!
"Don't do that!" commanded Baki. As an afterthought he added, "Ever."
Baki took a deep breath to collect his composure, but still barked his orders at the boys, "Kankuro, you and Gaara go ahead to the training field and warm up for taijutsu. And take your kunai for practice, too. Start with that and we'll meet you there later."
Temari watched her brothers leave in silence, but instead of giving into the impulse to flee to her room, she stood her ground. Her heart lurched at the thought that things were going to change between her and her Sensei, but it was important to stand firm. Still, she began by offering Baki a bow of apology.
"Forgive me, Sensei, I have great respect for you and I've become a strong ninja under your care. But Hiroko convinced me that doesn't mean I can't also be a strong woman. And in that, I will be true to myself. I know this is abrupt, but I've outgrown being a tomboy."
Temari then lifted her head to look directly at the jonin. "I don't want to be my brothers' shadow anymore. I don't want people to only point to Gaara of the Desert or Kankuro the Puppet Master. I want them to see Temari, the Tessen, the Iron Fan, not, not-- the blonde-haired boy with the cat and pet raccoon!"
"Temari--" began Baki, but then he suddenly stopped and began laughing. He quickly caught his breath and asked, "Who called Gaara a pet raccoon?"
Temari felt the tension between them dissipate as she grinned, "It was one of the Border Bears last year during the Nightingale mission. "
"Ah, yes," said Baki with a touch of nostalgia, before ending with, "Don't ever remind me of that again."
"I promise." Temari smiled but then said firmly, "I'll change clothes if you insist, Sensei, but I'd rather show you that I'm not hampered in a skirt."
Baki inhaled deeply as he considered the metamorphosis of the tomboy. He felt as if he had lost something--or someone--special. "Take your things to your room and then follow us to the training grounds. We'll continue this discussion after you prove this new--outfit--doesn't impair you in taijutsu, so don't dawdle."
Baki walked out determined to take a detour to have a little talk with Hiroko before meeting his team.
Temari was soon on the street walking at a fast pace to get to the training grounds. The hand fan strapped at her waist was dangling from the red sash she wore and emphasized the sway of her hips. She walked oblivious to the effect her new look had on the males of Suna.
Indeed, the baker's boy stumbled to send several loaves tumbling, the flower shop's assistant watered the owner rather than the plants, and a jonin got slapped by his girlfriend for staring after her. The male attention failed to register until a group of young men blocked her path.
"Where you going in such a hurry, babe?" asked a rather handsome young chunin.
Temari looked at him and merely said, "Training."
"Kunoichi, huh? That's real cute." His cohort laughed as they saw her discomfiture.
Temari said nothing, but tried to walk around them with determination. She thought she was free of them when she felt a distinct pinch to her rump and heard the chortling from the gang.
"Oh, babe, you are ripe for the picking, aren't you?"
Temari unfolded the hand fan and sent the cutting wind at the cohort with satisfaction. The young men were thrown against the wall, each bearing various lacerations on their body. Nothing deep, but certainly annoying.
"I am not cute, I'm deadly. My name isn't Babe, it's Temari." She folded the fan and smirked at the young men who were now staring at her with wide-eyes as they recognized the name. "Look, but don't touch."
"Oh, man, you were hitting on the Kazekage's daughter!"
"I'm more worried about him!" said the man as he pointed to the jonin now standing behind Temari. "Wind Sword!"
"Any problems here?" asked Baki mildly as he held the gang immobile with his glare.
"Just flirting, Sensei," replied Temari as she deftly put away the fan. "I think I've established the rules."
"Get going then," said Baki. Temari glanced quickly to the young men, he assured, "They just need a short lesson in respect."
Temari bowed to her Sensei and left. Baki approached the leader of the group, who at least had the gumption to stand tall to face the jonin. The young man winced even as Baki raised his hand, but instead of a blow from the Wind Sword, he only got a dope slap to the side of the head.
"Impaired judgment, poor impulse control, faulty memory, and a lack of respect for women. Little wonder that you're still genin at your age," scoffed Baki. They looked about eighteen.
"Sir, I meant no--"
Baki stopped the young man with a slap to the face. "I don't like suck-ups. You're fast to show respect to power, but not to someone you deemed powerless."
The jonin then let his gaze fall on the rest of the gang. "I'll inform your Sensei that you're spending the next month on sewer duty. And be grateful that I let Temari handle you on her own. I keep telling her that she's too gentle. Now go the the mission desk and await your orders."
Suna Training Grounds
Baki joined his team for the taijutsu, each one sparring with a clone. He watched Temari for a moment as he remembered his little detour to the mission desk and his discussion with Hiroko. Or rather, the tongue-lashing the chunin had given him. He had agreed that the girl needed to learn the ways of the world, but insisted she also needed to understand the dangers of being a kunoichi.
Temari had a lesson to learn; dealing with boys was not the same as dealing with men. At the end of the session, he began this tutorial. He approached Temari while Kankuro and Gaara watched their interaction.
"Temari, you don't appear impaired by this new outfit you want to wear and I can also see where an attractive woman can be distracting to a male opponent. Just remember that a kunoichi runs the risk of being targeted for special treatment."
"I can take care of myself, Sensei," Temari insisted.
"Really?" Baki moved to stand close to the girl. "Show me what you could do to stop me."
The jonin caught the girl around the waist and brought her against his body. Temari used the heel of her palm to thrust into his throat. Baki didn't even flinch at the blow, but captured her wrists and drew her closer.
"What now?" he taunted.
Temari knew he was strong, but had not understood the true strength of his grasp before. She moved to kick at him, but he easily subdued her by catching her legs by crooking one of his around her. She struggled in vain and then her heart seemed to stop as he moved one hand from her wrist to wrap around her throat.
"What now, Temari? You can't even scream."
All Temari could do was cast a pleading glance to her brothers. A whirl of sand began rising around their bodies.
"Close your fist and you'll crush your sister, too, Gaara. I've told you that you need to work on finesse." Baki maintained his hold on Temari as he spoke calmly. He brought her wrists behind her back and she winced in pain.
"Gaara might crush her, but the kunai will drill through your head, Sensei," said Kankuro.
Baki looked upward briefly and smirked when he saw two kunai suspended and spinning above him under the control of Kankuro's chakra strings. "Good, now you're working as a team."
"Let her go, Sensei. You've made your point." Kankuro did not withdraw the kunai nor did Gaara's sand recede.
"On my count, we all release," Baki said sternly. "One, two, three."
The sound of the kunai slapping into Kankuro's hand was closely followed by the hiss of retreating sand. Baki released Temari's wrists and legs, but kept a steady hand on her back lest she fall.
"Sit and catch your breath," ordered Baki as he helped her sit on the sand. He used his one minor healing ability as he lightly touched the areas her throat to prevent the bruising.
A subdued Temari just nodded and began breathing deeply.
"That was cold, Sensei," admonished Kankuro.
"Kankuro, remember that talk I had with you and Gaara? What was the main lesson."
The answer came from Gaara. "Men are pigs. Does that apply to you as well, Sensei?"
"Of course, but one can learn to be prudent about expressing it. You're going to have to watch after your sister now." Baki held up his hand and added, "I know Temari, you're strong, but the hazards you face may not come on the battleground, but right here in Sunagakure."
"But people know she's the Kazekage's daughter and the Wind Sword's student," countered Kankuro.
"No, they didn't recognize me earlier, Kankuro, not dressed as a girl. Half the village thinks the Kazekage has three sons," admitted Temari.
"And another unfortunate truth about our village is that it has more than its share of drunken louts who'll act first and think about who she is too late. But worse are those sadistic enemy ninja who will specifically target kunoichi for rape," explained Baki. "Remember your lesson today so none of you have that to regret."
"I'd like more training in taijutsu, Sensei," added Temari. "I want to be able to handle a man of your size by myself. I can't expect your or my brothers to always be around."
"Good, my intention was to demonstrate your vulnerability, not to make you fearful of men." Baki was relieved when he saw the fire in her eyes. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go see about moving out of the Tower. It would not be appropriate to have me live here any longer."
Temari stared in shock, but Kankuro voiced his surprise first. "But you're our Sensei, you know? You can't leave me alone with a bossy big sister and a psycho punk of a brother."
"You're man enough to handle it, Kankuro."
"But how am I going to keep those two in line?" asked Temari in dismay.
"Temari, sometimes I think your brothers fear you far more than they fear me."
"So you just give up on us?" asked Gaara as if he expected this all along.
"I will remain as your Sensei on the roster while you're still genin, but I want nothing to taint Temari's reputation. My continuing to live at the Tower is not a good idea; I should have moved to my grandfather's house when he died."
"So it's not that you're disappointed in us, in me?" asked Temari.
Baki turned to sweep all of them in his gaze. "All of you were operating at chunin level last year. On our last mission you performed at the level of our newest jonin. You are kept as genin because the Kazekage is not ready for your abilities to be recognized yet, but the time is coming."
Baki smiled faintly and said, "As far as I am concerned, you are chunin and should address me as Baki, a colleague who will help you grow in your skills, but not as Sensei."
"Well, ahem, Baki," said Kankuro, deepening his voice as he tried that address for the first time, "we can at least help you pack, you know."
"Thanks, but I'll see to it. Why don't you three enjoy the rest of the afternoon at the mall," said Baki as he referred to the open lawn area. "There's a puppet show, I hear, to raise funds to support the children left orphaned by the raiders."
Later as Baki carried his belongings to his grandfather's house in the cliffs, he passed by the mall to make sure his team was enjoying and not disrupting the afternoon.
Kankuro was in the front row explaining the puppet show to a girl sitting beside him who was petting a cat. The boy looked more interested in the bunraku than the girl, but then it didn't hurt if the boy was still a bit clueless about female interest.
Temari was sitting at the back row surrounded by a group of boys. Several were vying for the privilege of getting her a drink. One brave soul began leaning closer to her, but Temari's sharp elbow was a good deterrent. Baki smirked and he saw her glance up quickly to him and wink. He saluted her and looked for the last one.
Baki had to scan the environs before he found the boy. In fact, he had to follow the gaze of a young girl sitting in the section reserved for the orphans. There was Gaara hanging upside-down in a nearby tree, almost invisible. Again, he reminded Baki of the shy ones who are more comfortable watching than participating in human life.
He hoped they enjoyed the peace of the moment. Soon, they would all be tested.
The dry winds of Suna shape its landscape; their constant presence assures new sand dunes are created and on rare occasions, hidden treasures are exposed. But one must take care not to be buried in the shifting sand. Against these dry winds stand the cliffs of Suna, giving part of themselves to the winds for its new creations, but also offering shelter against sandstorms. To the children of the Kazekage, their Sensei was like these cliffs. And to Baki? The three siblings were the hidden treasures about to be exposed.
End of Dry Winds
I painted Baki as a 'man's man' sort of guy, old-fashioned, but with a sense of honor that drives his actions. I thought he would find Temari the greatest challenge and this last chapter was to illustrate this, so I'm sorry it did not have the balance readers have enjoyed in previous chapters. Not only is she a girl, but the idea that one day she would be his wife generates conflicting emotions. Without that complication, it would have been easy for him to disregard her.
Crushes on teachers are also normal; that doesn't mean I'm advocating student-teacher relationships. I used Hiroko to point these things out to Temari who up to this time has lived in a world of men. By the time the chunin exams start in Konoha the next year, she seems very confident. But that's for a different story.
I don't think Kankuro had fangirls like the other characters in Naruto, but surely there were some girls interested in the Kazekage's son. I did not give the girl a name because she's just the first girl he talks to.
And for Gaara. The image of when Team 7 first encounters him was stuck in my mind for the last scene. What you don't know at the time is that the girl watching him is Matsuri. The mission Team Baki completed dealt with the raiders who had attacked her village.
Special thanks to Adlerauge, spriterx, Elfdragon12, hi, doryshness, and Danie for the encouraging comments on the previous chapter.
Thank you for reading the stories. If you enjoyed this one, then you can look forward to another arc dealing with the chunin exams and aftermath, but I'm not sure when I'll have those ready. As usual, reviews are not necessary, but always welcomed.