WARNING: Proceed with caution. Your heart and eyeballs may spontaneously explode.
The rain couldn't have come down any harder if Temari was God herself and willed it to do so. And just her luck, too, because she was caught in the cold, heaping droplets at such an inconvenient time; in her arms was a manila folder stuffed full of important documents that were needing to be either filled out or turned in to the Hokage, Lady Tsunade. The slim kunoichi did her best to shield the files with her arms and breast, for fear of the wet raindrops doing them permanent damage.
As she looked for a shelter of some sort, someplace that could shield her from the inconsiderate weather, her heart skipped a beat as she turned to her left and noticed someone was walking in her direction. Immediately she recognized the spiked ponytail-hairdo, the hunch of the shoulders, and the familiar flutters in her stomach that she had been getting lately whenever she looked at him – Nara Shikamaru.
Of all the people in Konoha, it had to be him…
Not that Temari really had anything against him. Shikamaru was an intelligent person, especially for a teenage boy, and got the job done when it solely relied on him. He had a problem with all women, especially Temari, but a few people who looked hard enough could see that his fiery, sexist view on the opposite gender was beginning to calm and diminish to mere smoldering embers. His Hokage found him to be a loyal and, get this- useful servant to Konohagakure and, when motivated, had the potential of an experienced Jounin under severe pressure. He was the heir of an honorable bloodline and took responsibility over his friends' and villagers' lives extremely seriously.
That, of course, was probably most of the reasons to list why Temari was starting to avoid Shikamaru as much as possible.
Temari was an ambassador from Suna. With the job came lots of work, the occasional loss of sleep from staying up late into the night filling out forms, and only a few breaks during the day to do whatever the heck she wanted. Which, in the beginning of the first week, had been mostly spent with the lazy could-be-Jounin as he either showed her around the village or took her out for lunch (in which he kindly paid, too, after fierce stares ensued as the bill arrived). He was, after all, her assigned guide.
Temari believed that to be the problem. That past few times she's been around Shikamaru, she's felt uncontrollable urges that involve things she's never had to deal with before. And Temari was not one for changes… The tickling deep inside of her belly had only grown worse the more time she's spent laughing and eating out with Shikamaru, and more than once she's caught herself in the middle of flirting stares or thinking about which shirt shows more cleavage as she stood in front of her full-body mirror.
It's been at least three and a half years of time that she's begun to harbor feelings for the lazy shinobi from another village, and this wasn't the first time Temari considered her feelings for Shikamaru. There had been several instances where they both had to overcome fierce sexual tension just to get through one day together. There were moments when the jam-packed hormones forced their way over the caution-tapes, greedily taking over Temari's inner being as she began to slowly undress both the boy's mind and body, trying to learn about his feelings, innocence, and a few more dirtier things any normal girl would think about. And, much more common were the moments of soft tenderness, understanding, and an emotional bond that seemed to be buried deep underneath an icy layer of awkwardness, responsibility, and denial.
Temari knew she had suckered herself into a black pit labeled "love".
She had to be in love with the boy. There was no other explanation. She did not believe in the less trivial things, and she certainly did not believe that after all these years and moments shared together that her love was not love indeed, but simply a plain, run-of-the-mill hormonal crush. If it were just a crush, she would be strong enough to get over it. But it was more than that, and Temari found herself becoming antsy, confused, and sincerely afraid of the future.
All because of Nara Shikamaru. Yes, she needed to avoid him. She could not let love override her duty. Nara Shikamaru could not be a distraction to her.
"Oi! Temari," he greeted in a melancholy tone. It was a genuine interest, trying to be slyly masked underneath those two bored words, but Temari could see the eager glint in his eyes. For a moment she felt bad for him; he was probably more than aware of the distance she had kept between them the past few days and he couldn't be blamed for having a curiosity as to why.
"Hey, Shikamaru. How like you to be walking in the pouring rain," Temari replied, raising her voice against the erupting pitter-patters all around them. She smiled sweetly as the fifteen-year-old stopped about two feet in front of her, a lopsided smirk on his wet face. His clothes were sopping wet and he had his hands stuffed into his pockets like he had no care in the world. He probably didn't at the moment, either.
"I find the rain to be very refreshing."
"You know, I think you look good all soaking wet like that. Kind of sexy," Temari teased. It was meant to be a light-hearted and slightly sarcastic joke, but it sent both man and woman into a finicky mood.
"I'd say the same for you, but you're not wearing a white top," Shikamaru countered. His eyes didn't stray away from her face, but Temari was still grateful that she stood slightly hunched over with the off-white folder wrapped protectively around her boobs.
"Get me out of the rain. I'm cold and these papers are very important," Temari ordered, hoping that a change of subject would help her forget about how exposed she felt at the moment. They never used to joke about such things before, nonetheless just chat about it, considering the violent woman would never stand for such degrading talk. Recently, however, it seemed the only way that they could subtly hint at the wall that stood between the both of them without actually admitting defeat. They refused to call it flirting, though.
He muttered something about "troublesome" as he turned away and started walking towards where he came from, not actually inviting her to follow considering it was obvious she was supposed to follow. And follow she did.
He led her along a couple of corners, going faster than he normally did because he knew the cold rain might give them both the chills. And with all the work Temari liked to do in a day, she couldn't afford to bed ridden, or even develop an exhausting cold. One more turn and Temari watched him stop in front of an indoor restaurant called the "Yaki-Yaki-Yakitori". She immediately recognized it as the place where they had gone out to eat together the first time she had come to Konoha as an official ambassador. It was moderately priced, but had extremely friendly service, and Shikamaru knew a lot of the staff due to he and his father's frequent visits. They probably wouldn't mind serving them despite their cold and dripping conditions.
They walked inside and the cold air hit them instantaneously, making them shiver from head to foot. A waitress who was passing by noticed Temari and Shikamaru, greeted them, and straightaway sat them down in a corner closest to the kitchen, where it was warmer.
As they sat across from each other, Temari shivered one last time and snuggled into her wet kimono, placing the folder on the far side of the of the roomy table and against the wall. With the restful odors of food all around them, Temari's calm stomach soon began to grumble and gripe for sustenance, and she was grateful that Shikamaru had brought her to this exact place.
"Good idea," she told him, folding her arms on the flat surface and leaning a bit over the table. "I remember liking this place a lot."
A waitress came by the next moment and took their drink orders. They both ordered for soothing hot tea. "Do you remember what you ordered last time?" Shikamaru asked, glancing over at Temari.
"Yes, in fact, I do, and I think that's exactly what I'm craving. That's what I'll have – chicken wings." That was one of Temari's favorite meals; sweet, tangy, irresistibly plump chicken wings smothered in fried rice and tangy, original sauce.
Secretly, Shikamaru rejoiced. He loved watching Temari eat sweet and sour chicken wings. Somehow she managed to turn a messy meal into something more like an arousing playtime. It was just as much fun as seeing her in that two-piece bathing suit Tenten and Ino had managed to convince her to buy for a swim at the falls just beyond the village border less than a year ago.
With his turn, Shikamaru decided to order the same thing as Temari. He wasn't too hungry, and Temari had a hell of an appetite for such a tall, slim girl. He'd probably just be prolonging his pleasure by giving her his leftovers.
With the orders placed and the waitress gone, the couple made eye contact and stayed silent for about a minute, both of them thinking about the same things. Shikamaru was the first to break the silence with a question. "Where have you been lately?"
"Right here in Konoha, silly."
He shook his head. "It's troublesome. I've been waking up earlier just for you, woman."
Temari refused to let her gaze falter and she did not turn away or flinch when he caught her eye. Instead, she kept his stare with equal willpower. "Aw, you poor thing. Having to wake up early. Honestly, I've just had an extra amount of paperwork come at me all at once. I've been cooped up in my guest room good portions of the day just filling everything out and making examinations."
"Examinations?" Shikamaru queried, intertwining his fingers together as he sat back in his chair. "What can you possibly examine from a piece of paper?"
"Don't you remember what I told you? Suna and Konoha are trading fighting techniques. We're doing a study in our village; we're trying to decide whether our traditional routines in our academies are effective enough to keep up with the outside world. We can't send in newly trained shinobi into battle if they aren't anywhere near in rank to the enemy. So my job is to examine the test results of fifty of our students and compare them to Konoha's results. The Kazekage just sent me a new wave of student test results via airmail."
"Your brother, you mean."
Temari sighed. "Yes, Gaara, my brother. And not only have I had to crack the secret codes in the letter just to figure out what it said, but I've had to sit there and mark beside each Suna student's name and match them up with their closest Konoha rival."
Their drinks were brought a moment later and set in front of them. They were in small, fancy porcelain teacups, steaming with warmth and pleasant samples of sugar. As Shikamaru slowly stirred the brownish liquid, he watched Temari's face carefully, as if trying to decipher what was truth and what was mere excuse. The blonde took a tentative sip of the tea as her friend across the table spoke up, "Why don't you have me bring you to your place and help you?"
She almost spit out her tea and had to force herself to swallow it. She hadn't expected him to invite himself over, ever, and the safety and surety her half-hearted (yet true) story had given her had so quickly gone down in flames. Temari had expected him to take the story without complaint and move on. Instead, he took it as an opportunity and pursued it. Which surprised her just as much as when she had fought him for the first time at the Chuunin exams; when was Shikamaru ever motivated to go out of his way for something? Life or death situations; this was not life or death…
"Honestly, Shikamaru, the offer is kind, but not necessary. It's a one-person type of task that takes careful consideration and patience."
He raised a brow at her and she knew why as soon as she had said what she had said. She had just described Shikamaru. Quickly and smoothly, she thought of another excuse, and threw it on the table. "It's confidential information, too, and not just anyone can prance around reading it. Gaara and Tsunade are trying to keep a low profile about this."
"Then obviously I'm not just anybody. You've already told me about the whole deal here."Crap it, he's too good…
"Come on, Temari. I've got nothing better to do. It's been raining too much for me to go cloud gazing, and my mom refuses to have me sleeping in the middle of the day. She kicks me out in the pouring rain if I try to… If it's a one-person job, then I'll just do the whole thing for you. Take a break."
They both watched each other in silence for a moment, before a huge smile cracked the emotionless features on Temari's pretty face. "You really are desperately bored, aren't you? Fine. I'll take you by and you can do my important paperwork for me."
The look of triumph on his face as he sat back into his chair again made Temari feel terribly sorry for herself. Thankfully, however, their food was set in front of them and it caused for a major change of subject.
The next thirty minutes Shikamaru got to watch Temari licking the sauce from her fingers and corners of her mouth, and the way she enjoyed talking about how she always appreciated a break from the tightly sown manners from her home village. Her eyes lit up when she told a story about her younger brothers. The rain had added a couple of better things, too, such as the way her fierce hairdo was now laden down with wetness, bringing more ascendancy to her rosy, silky cheeks, and how the wet kimono stuck to her skin and made her look vulnerable.
Like she needed him.
And for Shikamaru, he was finding that to be the best feeling in the entire world.
He could see the hesitation in her features as they stopped in front of her guesthouse, a temperately spoiled-sized building just a short walk away from the Hokage's headquarters, where honorary guests such as a visiting Kage or ambassador would stay and be easily reached. The best of the best were only ever offered just what they were – the best of the best. That was the way Shikamaru viewed it, at least.
He wasn't sure what she was so worried about, and he didn't dare ask her. Frankly, he was just grateful and shocked that she had accepted him into her comfort zone, the only place she could get away from other people and relax in privacy. From studying her in the restaurant he knew that Temari was trying her best to keep up her normal composure, which was doing good holding up so far – but could only last for so long, just like a ninja could slowly run out of chakra. He wondered what would happen when that came upon Temari.
She could feel his eyes boring into her as she unlocked the front door and pushed her way inside. She had to stop her hands from shaking, and she didn't know why she was suddenly so fidgety to let Shikamaru inside. On the other hand, she didn't know why she had accepted his offer at all. It wasn't something extremely confidential; she hadn't been told to keep secrets about it and was to automatically assume to shy away from strangers. It wasn't something exhaustingly hard; just time consuming and took lots of effort and math. Truth be told, she didn't need Shikamaru's help at all. She didn't particularly even need a break.
They walked inside and Temari set the vanilla folder down on her worktable, which was already piled high with extremely organized papers. She offered him a drink, which he kindly refused.
"I don't have much clothes that would suit you in more ways than one, but I might be able to find some crappier garments I don't often wear anymore. I keep them sometimes as pajamas. You could get out of those wet clothes if you want."
He shrugged as he looked around the room, his hands shoved into his pockets like usual. "Nah. No thanks. I don't mind the wet clothes."
"Well, I do. I'm going to change real quick and then I'll get you a towel to dry yourself off with."
She disappeared and about three minutes later emerged from her room, dressed in a white outfit similar to the style she wore when they had first met, except the top part of her shirt was fashioned more like a comfortable tank top. She wore slippers.
Throwing him a towel, she scowled at the sight of him sitting down on a rather expensive wooden chair with green fabric patterns woven on the seat. "You're going to ruin that chair, you know."
He didn't answer as he first scrubbed at his hair with the white towel and then moved down to his drenched clothes, squeezing the cold water out as best as he could. "So where's these troublesome papers that I have to examine?" he asked, wrapping the towel around his neck.
"Right over here," she said quietly, rubbing her cold hands together for moment's warmth. She pulled an extra chair from the dining room over to her worktable and invited him into one of them. He sat next to her and watched as she slid a good-sized stack of ink-filled papers towards him. "Are you sure you want to do this? I really don't care whether you do or not. We'd probably get into trouble if our Kage's found out we did this, anyways."
Shikamaru glanced up at Temari with furrowed brows. "That's never stopped me before, and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't stop you, either."
This time, Temari couldn't keep his gaze and turned away, feeling foolish. She just shrugged and began to explain how it was done. "Well, basically, you're just looking at each student's success percentages and averaging them into one total, studying their jutsu techniques and other special abilities that may outweigh another rival student with the same percentage, but different skills. I was just on my way back from Lady Tsunade's because she had given me her share of the research papers involving her students, so now that we have all 100 students, we can begin pairing them up into groups of two. They all had the same three tests; stealth test, IQ test, and target practice test."
"So you add all three percentages from each test and find the average, then pair them up with a foreign student who had the closet percentage as them, making sure that their ability match-ups aren't unfair," Shikamaru gathered, staring down at the papers with a curious expression.
"You got it. Of course, there are descriptions of every student's abilities, so you should have no problem figuring out what would be an unfair fight and what wouldn't," Temari explained professionally. Fortunately for her, getting involved in her paperwork helped her feel like she was more in control of the situation that she was unsure about.
That quickly changed when she felt Shikamaru's leg brush against hers, and her intestines did flip-flops around themselves. She would have tried to maneuver around her nervousness if she hadn't taken such a sharp intake of breath at his touch. If Shikamaru heard her, however, he pretended not to notice, because he picked up a pen and one of the papers and began calculating the numbers at an extraordinary speed. In about a minute, he already had nineteen Konoha students with the final averages next to their names, and still going strong.
She tried to calm herself down and regain self-control, and watched him dribble down numbers after a short pause as he evaluated everything in his head. She had to admit, his intelligence was amazing; it took her a couple of days just to finish up the Suna side of this experiment. One student took her thirty seconds to evaluate.
"Thank you, Shikamaru. With your speed we can get this done in no time."
He smiled at the 'we' part. So much for a one-person job.
Temari started working on the list from the very bottom so it could be done even faster, and they worked and finished it all up in about forty minutes. During which Shikamaru watched Temari carefully while he worked, trying to see why she was acting strange. A couple of times he purposely let their legs or thighs brush each other, wanting to see how she would react. To his crushing disappointment, she didn't seem too happy about it, and each time she tensed up her shoulders and had to redo her counting, biting the sides of her mouth with stress. She tried to hide all of the hints, but she was starting to get more terrible at it. He suspected she was starting to run out of that chakra.
When they were done, he leaned back in his chair, starting to become just as disoriented as Temari was. When she shuffled her papers together and looked over at him to thank him, she stopped herself and asked what was wrong.
"Wrong? Absolutely nothing. I was just thinking of how troublesome that all was. No big deal, though."
She shook her head and smiled. "I was about to get mad at you for calling your own idea troublesome. Anyways, though, thanks for helping me out. Now I only need to pair everyone up, which is something easier for me. Then I'll give the results to Tsunade and she'll send copies to Gaara."
"Glad to help."
She still sat in the chair, watching him in silence for seconds longer than any other time before. She hid what she was thinking well, all of her thoughts completely blocked from Shikamaru. Abruptly she stood up and asked, "Want something to drink now?"
He thought about before answering. "Sure," was his answer. As she nodded and walked towards the kitchen, he watched her posture for anything he could gather about her current mood. All that ended up in was a severe tease as he got distracted by the sway of her hips and all of the bare skin her skirt revealed. Gritting his teeth, he wished he knew why Temari seemed so determined to push him away right as they started something new with each other. At the moment, he decided that he couldn't physically wait anymore; it was now or never.
She came back with a clear glass in her hand. "It's just water," she declared as she handed it to him. Instead of taking it right away, he stood up out of his chair and then reached for it. Temari's gut once again dropped a moment before he actually took a step closer to her, putting the glass on the table as he did so. She almost knew what was coming, but it was so random that she couldn't be sure what was about to happen at all.
He had subtle scents of cologne that hadn't been washed out from the rain, and his clothes were almost completely dry. Temari watched as he creased his eyebrows probingly, lifting his right hand to find her cheek and skim it gently with his fingertips. His mild and soft touch sent a mixed wave of excitement and fear through her body.
When she didn't recoil from his touch, he found it an invite to do to her what he had wanted to for a long time now. He urged himself to push his lips against hers, not really a kiss at first, but more like a ground testing. If she turned away, he wouldn't chase her. He wanted to know if this was what she wanted.
She didn't turn away, and in fact, she ended up being the one to make the first move. Eyes closed, she sucked at his lips and drew in a deep, unstable breath, and Shikamaru's heart leaped with satisfaction. He felt shaky hands press against his chest and he reached for them, enclosing them with his own, stopping their shaking at once.
Temari was more scared than ever. She was afraid of this happening; afraid that she wouldn't be strong enough to hold herself back. Now she and Shikamaru had just dropped further into that pit, something that she didn't feel ready for.
She wanted so much to keep kissing him, smothering him with all the love she could humanly give him. But she couldn't. She couldn't complicate their relationship any further.
She pulled her lips away from his and took a step back, turning her back to him. "No, no," she whispered angrily, suddenly feeling humiliated and childish. She always tried to appear strong and sensible in front of Shikamaru, and she always had, until this point. Now she felt like she was getting weaker by the second and she was too paralyzed to stop it.
Shikamaru watched her, staring at her back with emotionless eyes.
Women have to be the most troublesome things…
"Why are you pushing me away, Troublesome Temari?" Shikamaru gently prodded, reaching for her hand. "I want you."
She moved her hand away and refused to look at him. "I have work to do."
With her back still turned to him, neither of them moved an inch from where they stood. Shikamaru sighed in defeat and shoved his hands into his pocket. "But that's not really it, is it?"
Temari hugged herself, staring at her fan, which was resting against the wall just a few feet away. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to think of all the reasons she felt she couldn't be with Shikamaru. Nothing real came to mind. "I don't know…"
"You know what I think?" he expertly asked, using an analyzing tone that he would normally use when on a serious mission. He stepped up close behind her so that she could feel his breath tickling the nape of her neck. She shivered.
"I think that you're scared, because you're afraid of letting everyone else down."
He firmly traced his fingers down her spine.
"You're fearing the opinions your younger brothers will have once they find out you and I are more than just acquaintances. You're afraid you might bring shame upon your entire family because Gaara is the Kazekage, and I'm from a different village."
His hands rested on her hips and she slowly looked down at them.
"You're afraid to have your own life. You're scared because soon you're going to have to travel back home and deal with missing me. You're terrified because I'm the only one who has ever made you feel this confused. And you're also frightened because everything I've said is true."
He gave her a quick, reassuring squeeze with his strong, calloused hands, and Temari found herself smiling. She turned around to face him, but it wasn't the broken expression she had instances before. It was the same strong Temari that he was so used to seeing and absolutely adored.
"I never did give you enough credit, did I?" she laughed softly, puddles of love and gratefulness filling her eyes. Feeling a charge of renewed strength, Temari's arms found their way around Shikamaru's body, and she hugged him as tight as she could, because no words could ever express how much she owed this one lazy, unmotivated Konoha ninja. The best guide she ever had, too.
He never found words to answer her, either, but his lips instead found her cheeks, her forehead, her neck, the hollow of her shoulders, and he suffocated her with all the love he had been patiently keeping this entire time.
No one knew what happened that day except for those two. No one noticed that Shikamaru was with her the entire day from lunch until dinner, no one noticed how after that he was always with her when she visited Konoha. He never left her side, and he no longer argued with her on every subject. When she left back to her home village a few weeks later, only a few noticed how Shikamaru volunteered himself for any and all mission that brought him into the Sunakagure village and he was gone on missions more than he was ever home.
Everyone did notice, however, the way Temari became less violent, less antsy, more at ease with the world. Shikamaru stopped talking curses about women and when his father asked him why he had such a sudden change of heart, all the lazy ninja would say was, "I've learned that they're not so troublesome to take care of after all."
Gaara and Kankuro were the ones who truly saw changes in Temari's demeanor, because she was their only sister. She was nicer than normal to them, and one day she had even kissed both of them on the cheek before she left on her next ambassador trip to Konoha. They couldn't remember any time since she was about three or four that she ever did something like that. Kankuro had always assumed that their father's professional and not-so-lovable view on the world had wiped out most of the motherly compassion out of her. Before she was even six years old, Temari had to grow up and take of Kankuro and Gaara, especially Gaara, because she saw his sorrow long before it changed him. She had always harbored a fear for her youngest brother; but Kankuro had always watched her eyes, the way she looked at the redhead with love, sympathy, and regret. Maybe that's what Kankuro loved about women the most.
They saw signs of change in Temari, but it was never what they expected. When Temari approached Gaara with a question and a ring on her finger, both the brothers fell out of their chairs (Gaara even spit out the water he was currently drinking) and stared at her with disbelief. When they heard whom it was that had given her the engagement ring, that changed the situation completely.
Shikamaru, of course, was the lucky man, and when Gaara watched his sister talk about everything they had been through together, all the time they had spent with each other, the feelings they shared for one another, the man knew from the sparkle in her eyes and the smile in her voice that she was in deep love.
He let her go. Kankuro was just as happy to let his sister marry away, and that was the second time in a very long time that Temari kissed them both on the cheek, and definitely the first time she had ever squealed with glee like that.
Perhaps neither Shikamaru or Temari would ever be totally the same again. But this time, nobody was afraid of this change. They all embraced it.
Sitting out in the open grass, Shikamaru and Temari sat side-by-side and watched the Konoha stars in peaceful silence. When looked over at her pretty, moonlit face, that familiar sense of contentment filled his already-swollen heart. She looked back at him with a smile and leaned over to kiss him, slipping her tongue inside of his mouth and tasting his smooth palate.
Nothing tasted better.
Author's Note: Sorry, got kind of extremely fluffy near the end. Hope it wasn't too out of character for your tastes! By the way, if you're a reader of "A Heart of Gold", stay tuned for chapter 10. It should be here shortly. :) Thanks!