It's not about the money we make
It's about the passions that we ache for
What makes your heart beat faster
Tell me now, what does your body long after
I don't care now where we live
It's not where, or what, or who we were with.
I just need you in my life, so promise me again!
--Time & Confusion, Anberlin


Chapter XVII
We Could Last Forever

People are like clouds.

You have your different people of different places, which can be represented by the different cloud types that there are, like the cirrus, cumulus, nimbus, and stratus. But even among these, each cloud is formed a little different, looks a little different, speeds across the sky a little differently than the others. Just like people. Just like how Ino and Temari and Hinata and Tenten could be the same cloud type, but act completely different. And just like how clouds merge, I found myself being sucked into Temari's space and becoming one.

And sometimes, you see things in the clouds. Like an elephant, or a beaver, or the most beautiful girl in the world. And you want to reach out and hold it with you for a little longer than you should, even though a cloud is meant to move on to some other place, away from you.

I guess that's why I'm not the greatest person when it comes to goodbyes. I don't like the idea of having to work up the effort only to see the person go away. Maybe I'm just as lazy as people say. Maybe I'm just too emotional for my own good.

That was probably why I dreaded the next few days after the dance.

Temari was leaving.

As much as I wanted to see her, as much as I wanted to be with her, the constant reminder that in a week she'd be gone, a memory to blanket my mind for years to come, kept me from calling her cell phone, kept me from accidentally walking around her neighborhood, kept me from seeking her out now that the days were slowly dwindling and she'd disappear.

"She wants to see you, you know," Ino told me when she came to see me two days after the dance. She sat on my bed, legs tucked under her, fingers picking at a flower she had placed in her hair. "She wants to call, but she has too much pride. She wants to see you, but can't even come near here."

"I know," I mumbled. And I did know. I knew her almost as much as I didn't. I knew she'd never come to me and that if this kept going at the rate that it was, that night of the dance would be the last time I ever got to see her.

"Shikamaru…" Chouji trailed off. He wasn't even looking at me, instead choosing to watch the fading sun from my window seat. Beyond the back of his head, I could spot the pinks and purples and oranges and reds and golds swirling together in the sky as the sun set behind the trees and buildings of Konoha.

I had a feeling that it would be the last time a sunset ever looked so beautiful and felt so devastatingly bittersweet. The end of another day. The inevitable ending of yet another thing.

Chouji finally turned, staring at me with his kind eyes. He was not judging me. He was not telling me what to do. He was there for moral support, to be the friend I needed. I was far more emotional than I could care to admit, and Chouji was good at balancing it out with his immense heart.

"I understand, Shikamaru." He smiled kindly, eyes bright. "I really do."

And so I cried.


In the end, I didn't go to her graduation.

I stayed home and slept. Occasionally, I'd wake up to stare out my window, to watch as morning slowly turned into noon, to watch as noon slowly turned into afternoon, to watch as afternoon slowly turned into evening. My pops came in twice to tell me I was wallowing like a girl. The hag came in once to tell me Ino said the graduation was beautiful.

After a few more days rolled by, and the constant feeling of emptiness began to fully consume me, I realized just how much I liked Temari. Too much, apparently. So much so that my heart was breaking even though we still inhabited the same town, only a few train stops away.

The day she was scheduled to leave, my mother stomped into my room, hauled me out of bed and yelled at me to get her something from the store. I didn't question her. Didn't argue. I washed my hair like she told me to and wore the jeans she had bought me months back. There was no use arguing anymore. There never had been any use to arguing.

As I walked back home, carrying three bags full of food the dearest hag would probably shove down my throat, I saw it.

A blur of blonde hair sticking up randomly in four ponytails that would leave physicists reanalyzing gravity.

I stopped in my tracks, let my mouth hang open. I blinked a few times just to make sure I hadn't just snapped and officially went 'round the bend. But it was real. I could recognize those four ponytails anywhere. Even with her back facing me, I knew who it was.

Temari was standing right in front of me.

Looking a bit stalker-ish, since she was hiding behind a telephone pole staring out at my house, but still real and tangible.

There was an odd pounding in my chest as I continued to look at her, as I took in the way the sun hit her hair and made it lighter than it really was, as I took in the way her skin had tanned considerably in the last few days since I hadn't seen her. I took in what she was wearing: clothes that probably cost more than what was normal, but worn and comfy and natural. It surprised me, looking at her, watching as she jumped up to peer over the hedge she was hiding behind to get a glimpse of my house, just how much I missed her, because I had a strange urge to go up behind her and wrap my arms around her.

So instead, I cleared my throat.

At the sound of my cough, Temari turned, stiff and surprised. She stared at me with wide eyes even though she was frozen to her spot, as if caught in my shadow that extended from me to her. Some time during our staring contest, I dropped the bags I was holding and took a few derisive steps towards her. But it didn't really register in my mind. All I was really aware of was that she was standing right there, right in front of me.

"What're you doing here?" she asked. Her voice was unnaturally high; worried and afraid and self-conscious.

There was a moment of silence as my eyes focused on the house behind her—my house. "I live here."

Her jaw was set as her eyes bore into mine. A few seconds later, she softened and said simply, "Oh."

The awkwardness of the situation was palpable; it hung in the air and threatened to suffocate us. I didn't know how to go up to her and take her by the arms and ravage her senselessly. She was too busy being prideful. We were left teetering on the edge of the unknown, too scared to look downwards to see the fall, too frightened to take a step back and lose our balance.

"You're… leaving today?"

She nodded.

The clenching in my chest made me pause for breath. The force of it almost made me swoon.

"Are you… doing okay?" she asked.

I nodded.

She seemed to be having as much trouble breathing as I was.

We stayed like that for a few minutes. Watching each other, but making no other move to get closer, to kiss, to touch, to breathe each other in.

But Temari was brash and forward. She did things she thought had to be done. If she had something to do, something to say, it would find itself in the open regardless.

"Shikamaru… In two years… You'll have graduated high school. Got anything planned for college?" She seemed to be struggling with her words, hiding it behind a smirk that was pulling at the corner of her lips that seemed to strained to be honest.

I laughed. "You really need to ask?"

"Then try to get into Kage University. Because…"

I watched her as she took a step forward. She looked unsure, but still determined.

"What?"

She stopped a few steps in front of me. I could see the beauty mark by her lip, the specks of brown in her eyes, her dark, golden lashes fluttering slightly as she blinked. "I… uh…."

No.

I held up a hand, stopping the monologue I was sure she would end up going on about. Women were, in the end, just like that.

I stretched out my hand, watching as she caught her breath and I touched her cheek; a mere press of a finger against smooth skin. "Don't."

She stared. Her eyes hardened. She looked ready to punch me.

I continued, ignoring the look she was giving me, ignoring the fact her mind was probably devising a way to skin me even as she trembled only slightly under my touch. "Give me two years."

"What?"

"All I need is two years. That's what you said right?" I shrugged. "In two years, I'll see you at Kage University."

That's all I ask.

Her eyes were strangely bright, brimming with unshed tears. Tears she had probably never revealed before. Tears that went beyond our bittersweet farewell.

And suddenly she was smiling, all teeth, all danger, while a single tear squeezed out her eyes and she lifted her fist to punch me playfully on the shoulder.

"Good," she said. And I would never forget the sound of her voice: happy, brimming with sadness, and hoping for the future.


"Hey, freshies! If you guys don't want to get lost on campus, you better come here, quick! I'm not the most patient of women!"

Her voice wasn't very much different from before. Lighter, happier, if anything much more cynical than I remembered. And she didn't look much different. Thinner, slightly shorter, probably because I had shot up in my last year of high school, and much more beautiful.

Definitely beautiful.

I strolled straight up to her and crossed my arms, waiting for her to recognize me. She stared around for a few moments, waving at people and glowering at others as she patiently (or not so much) waited for the rest of the entering freshmen at Kage University to group around her.

"Oi, troublesome woman, you going to be my guide this time?"

She bristled and turned slowly to look at me, and I could tell she was readying a response for being called troublesome. She opened her mouth to say something before she let out a tiny gasp and closed her mouth at the sight of me.

"Nice to see you, too."

She opened her mouth, closed it and then allowed a smirk to slowly but surely grace her lips as she shifted her weight onto the other leg.

"Well, if it isn't Nara Shikamaru." Her voice was exactly as I had remembered it. Only it was one thousand times more precious, since I hadn't heard it in a little over two years.

I bowed my head mockingly. "Temari."

She punched my shoulder. Her way of a welcome. "Good to see you, kid."

"Troublesome woman, when will you learn?" It wasn't much of a comeback to the punch or comment, but I figured it was good enough. So I pulled at her hand, the one still making its way to her side after just having punched me, and brought her to me, chest against chest, my arms wrapped tightly around her waist.

And while it was troublesome, I knew that if I didn't do it, I'd be killing myself over it later.

She stiffened against me, muttering, "What the hell are you doing?" under her breath, her mouth warm against the skin of my neck.

I lowered my head, my lips close to hers, mumbling, "Shut up," before I claimed her open mouth as it readied itself for a retort.

If I didn't know back when I was in high school that I cared for her, if I didn't know that Ino had fucked me over by jinxing my life with her, then there was no way denying it then when I had Temari wrapped in my arms, my lips against hers, her heartbeat racing just in time with mine. Not because kissing her would be embarrassing without a motive, but because I couldn't imagine having any other girl press against me like she did, or have hands run through my hair like hers did, or have any other girl whisper across my lips,

"I love you."

Fin.