Author's Notes: Written for the 50 Alternates challenge and the prompt "stage," I bring some AU ShikaTem! This fic is an accompaniment of sorts to another AU fic of mine, Seasonal Society. It isn't necessary to read that one to understand this one, but it may amuse you!

Note: I had to give the Sand siblings a last name. Yes, it is lame. Also, a couple people were wondering if I lived in New York, but no. I live in the Midwest of the States and have never been to NYC. I'm just good at researching. One day, though!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.

Professional Secrets

By Nessie

Shikamaru Nara did not like the theatre.

It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the work put into a production, or that he wasn't aware of how expensive a single show could be (it would explain the obscene pricing on tickets, anyway). He enjoyed a good story (or a bad review) as much as the next audience member. But he did not like the theater aspect of theatre

For instance, the woman sitting to his left looked to be about sixty-five years old and wore so much perfume Shikamaru wondered if his sense of smell would ever be fully functional again. To his right sat a man who could only be described as rotund, enough so that Shikamaru had little to no arm space and felt perpetually crowded.

The stage lights would most assuredly hurt his eyes, and by the time he arrived at home three hours later, he would be horrifically behind in paperwork due the next afternoon. Legal cases in New York didn't wait just because the curtains went up on Broadway.

Shikamaru told himself it was because of work that he was here. Kankurou Sands was a client he couldn't afford to lose, and to tick him off in same way meant risking his decision to switch law firms, and if that happened, Hyuuga & Nara would dive so fast Shikamaru would forget he was ever an attorney. Not to mention his partner, Neji, would doubtlessly murder him right there in the office.

So it was due to Kankurou that Shikamaru was in the orchestra section of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater at eight o' clock on a Wednesday night. He had heard good things of Envy, the second play of a writer whose name he couldn't recall. Apparently Temari Sands, the show's leading lady and Kankurou's sister, was the critics' sweetheart this season.

"I was supposed to see my sister in her first Broadway show tonight," Kankurou had said at the end of their lunch meeting, one hand straightening his tie while the other messed up his hair. "Unfortunately, I've been called in to see to business. I'm sure you understand how that goes."

"Sure do," Shikamaru had replied no less than pleasantly in order to end their meeting on a high note. "It just happened to me last week."

"Since you understand," continued Kankurou with the first vestige of a grin, "would you mind going in my place? She expects me at her dressing room after the show, and I haven't been able to reach her – no cell reception at the Jacobs. I can't just let the ticket go to waste, you know?"

"Well, that's understandable, but I—"

Kankurou had interrupted him with a hard pat on the back. "So you'll do it, right? Since you see my dilemma. Temari has been getting rave reviews, I bet you'll enjoy the play. Just tell her for me that I couldn't make it and I'll be seeing it with Gaara this weekend."

That was the trouble with Kankurou Sands – not even his lawyer could get a word in when he was doling out instructions. It was probably what made him a successful CEO.

At least, Shikamaru thought with a glance around, the seat was a good one.

The house lights dimmed, and the pre-curtain chatter hushed as the foot lights came up and the curtains parted. Shikamaru crossed over leg over the other and folded his designer suit-clad arms, settling himself as best he could until intermission.

A tall, slim woman walked onstage. She wore a bathrobe and held a mug between her hands. Long, light hair fell in unbound waves over her shoulders as she sat on a set couch. Shikamaru hadn't bothered to skim through his Playbill but guessed that this was Temari Sands.

Lighting suggested it was storming outside and Temari's character was planning on spending a quiet evening indoors, when her night was interrupted by a drenched actor, a rich college friend of hers there to convince her to go with him to a formal dinner the following night. Temari delivered a monologue on her hermitage at private college, dryly remarking on her poor status being the cause for her lack of social skill, how she had always admired those with money and resented herself for its lack.

The protagonist was melancholy and sardonic in turn, and Shikamaru found himself chuckling and scowling in exactly the right places. At intermission, he read all of Temari Sands's biography.

By the end of the play, the main character had been persuaded, transformed into a stunning vision, ridiculed by women of higher social status, and gotten drunk with her friend, who confessed in his tipsy state that he had been in love with her for years. An implied sex scene later and she discovered from her friend-turned-bedmate's fiancée that she had not only been burdened with envy since her school days, she had also been the cause of it for people richer and less secure than her. Her satisfaction found, she parted ways with her would-be lover, only for him to come back to her as the curtains were closing.

Shikamaru had been taken in, possibly because he had once been a college hermit – preferring to stay in his room with only one or two friends and play chess rather than party – and because he was now a successful, socially-prominent person himself. When the cast took their bows, he was on his feet and applauding with the other theatergoers present.

With the play over, the attorney's mission was halfway complete. He found an usher that looked no older than eighteen and slipped him a twenty in exchange for taking him to Temari Sands's dressing room. She had no other callers outside the door that evening – mid-week lull, he supposed – and gave a brisk rap. Moments later, the Broadway actress appeared, her stage makeup washed off to be replaced with a more everyday wear, her hair brushed and gleaming gold in the fluorescent lighting. She wore a white dressing robe not unlike the one she had been in at the beginning of Envy.

She blinked at him with bright, blue eyes infused with puzzlement. "You're not with Christopher Ashley, are you?"

Shikamaru's mouth fell open and then closed as he decided to answer directly. "No."

"Oh, good." Visibly relieved, Temari left the door standing open but moved back to sit at her well-lit dressing table. "I respect him as a director, but I told him I had no interest in doing Xanadu The Musical. I'm a klutz; roller skates would mean my death."

"Um…" Thrown off-balance from his usual simple way of dealing with people, Shikamaru had to recover. "Ms. Sands, I'm representing your brother this evening."

She made an ahhh sound that told Shikamaru that she was perfectly familiar with this scenario. "Kankurou sent you to take his seat and tell me he's sorry, right?" Shikamaru saw her smile in the mirror. "And?"

"And…" That smile had stirred something unpleasant in him, and his speech was failing for the second time in three minutes – a world record for him. "He says that he and Gaara will be coming this weekend." There, he thought. Done.

"He will, too. And then my whole dressing room will be filled with flowers in apology." Taking up a small brush, she quickly patted rouge onto her cheeks. "It'll look like the goddamn Amazon in here." Looking up in the mirror, she saw him watching her. "Sorry, I'm being rude. I tend to be a little crabby just after a show. How do you know Kankurou?"

He launched into the usual introduction. "I'm Shikamaru Nara. Your brother is a client of mine at Hyuuga & Nara."

Temari had shot him a glance during the brief line, but now did a double-take. "The law firm?" At his curt nod, a grin slowly formed. She took in the ponytail running over his collar, the gold hoop in his ear. "You don't look like a lawyer."

"I get that a lot," he said.

"Well then, Mr. Nara, tell me truthfully – did you enjoy the play?"

He reported honestly that he had, letting one hand wander into his pocket. Temari studied his face as he spoke and only smiled politely.

"I don't imagine you're a regular at the theater, are you?" she asked when he had finished.

"I – no, not exactly," Shikamaru replied. "I'm not really the most arts-interested man. But I pay attention to what's showing. You'd be surprised at how many cases we get regarding stalked actors."

"Hm. I don't have that problem myself, not since I publicly beat up a guy who tried to follow me home last year when I was doing previews." The tone she used made Shikamaru unsure of whether she was joking or not. His eyes fell downward, lingering on her leg bared by the part in her robe. He quickly redirected his glance toward the costume rack on the left.

"Well, I…" Clearing his throat, he afforded her a barely-perceptible smile. "Congratulations on a good performance. I have to—"

"Get home?" she supplied. "It must be nice having a secure job like that. One that doesn't depend on if you can tap dance."

A comment like that made him chortle before he realized it. "I've had a few hearings that felt like a freaking tango," he assured her, and this time it was Temari who laughed.

"Can I get you a light?" she asked him, reaching into a drawer and producing a Zippo. "I don't smoke, but you look like you're about to pass out from lack of nicotine."

"Your people won't mind if—"

"Are you kidding? Pre-show, this place is smoky as hell. Ensemble members," she explained, "live off Diet Coke and cigarettes and nothing else. That's the secret to success on the stage." She lit the cigarette he took from his pocket. "You have to take care of yourself. Is law like that?"

He smiled at the idea. "The secret to law is a suicidal tendency." A thought occurred to him. "Ms. Sands, are you—"


"Temari," he amended, thinking he had never heard that name but that it wasn't so bad, "are you looking for a lawyer?"

Her face straightened somewhat, as though she had been expecting him to ask something else. "No," she responded, gripping the terrycloth at her leg and jerking it back into place. "I've got one. Kabuto and…and…" She snapped her fingers in the air, trying to bring the name to mind.

"Orochimaru," he offered. They were his and Neji's most threatening rivals.

"Yeah, them." She went about putting away her makeup, and Shikamaru wondered why she didn't ask him to leave if he had offended her in some mysterious way. (And wasn't it just troublesome that he had no idea how he might have managed that?)

"You have to get home, don't you?" she queried at last.

"Oh. Yes," he admitted. "But I…"

He had been about to say that he was thankful to have been given the opportunity to see her play and how sure he was that Kankurou and their brother Gaara would enjoy it as well, when a notion had struck him. Temari Sands, for all of her talent and public approval and confidence, was lonely.

The tension that he had not noticed to be gone from his shoulders now returned. It was a sad fact that Shikamaru had spent the better part of the years since opening the firm with Neji either at the office or at home with his case files and order-in. He had been to one party in two years, and that had been his father's retirement celebration.

And maybe loneliness detected loneliness.

"I, um," he faltered suddenly, "wondered if you might have time to get a drink?"

Temari's face broke into a smile, and Shikamaru wished Kankurou had warned him about his sister being beautiful. Now he was concerned that he would never see someone so torturously appealing this close ever again.

"If you give me five minutes, Mr. Nara, the rest of my time is yours."

It actually took eight minutes for her to finish dressing, and Shikamaru didn't like to wait, but he found the result (involving a mini-skirt and high heels) was worth it. Temari wore a scent of some flower he couldn't identify, and it made him smile as she led him up the stairs and outside.

"Call me Shikamaru," he remembered to add as they headed for a bar across the street.

"Won't this be a scandal at your work? You having drinks with a client's sister?"

Placing a hand at the small of her back, he allowed himself his most genuine smile in years. "It'll be a secret, for now."

That weekend, Temari did receive a rainforest of flowers from her brothers. One bouquet, however, was a subtle bunch of white roses and came with a handwritten tag:

I lied. The secret to law is breakfast. Would you join me?

Shikamaru N.

The End