Three Days

The Nara doth protest too much, methinks. ShikaTema, lime lime !lemon!

Author's Note. This started out as a request fic for darkgal69, who made me some wicked cool icons. It was supposed to be 2000 words. Oops.

Also, thank you very much to V-chan for the beta-ing AND the title.

Disclaimer. I got plenty o nothin.

o

Three Days

o

He opened his eyes to rude, glaring sunlight.

Morning? Again? Sheesh…

He thought he'd seen the last of the sun when he shut his eyes to it hours ago and crawled back under the covers. He shifted his head away, but it was streaming in at him even through the sheets, almost as if someone had raised the windowshade without asking him. He threw an arm over his face in an effort to block it out, but was not successful, as someone, and this would be the same person as the one who raised the windowshade without his permission, shoved him in the side and jarred his arm out of position. He opened his eyes reluctanctly and raised his head to discover that, in addition to sunlight, his sleepy world had been invaded by a rude, glaring Ino.

"You shouldn't come see me like this," he said. "People will talk."

"It's ten o'clock in the morning. You can't sleep all day." Ino was wide awake – and sounded like it, too. Shikamaru cringed a little. She seemed to be in one of her firecracker moods, which meant that you could light her up with the slightest hint of a reason and she'd explode. She'd always been adept at driving away any semblance of peace and today, it seemed, was no exception.

"Who said I wanted to sleep all day?"

Ino stood there with arms across her chest and gave him her haughty look of all-knowing female mystery. "I know what today is, Shikamaru," she announced solemnly.

His head landed back on the pillow as reality registered and he, too, remembered what today was. His eyes squinted against the light. He could think of a hundred responses to what she had said, but he wasn't inclined to voice any of them at the moment. One thing was clear, however: it was no use denying anything to Ino. She was such a good liar herself that she could spot a bad liar a mile off.

She looked at him critically. "Do you know what today is, Shikamaru?"

Of course he knew. He just didn't feel like giving a damn. "What does it matter?" he said.

"I don't know," she replied. "What does it matter?"

He gave up trying to hide under the covers and wrenched himself out of bed. It was no use trying to get rid of her. What Ino wanted, Ino got, and this morning apparently what she wanted was to interrupt his privacy. Luckily, he had fallen asleep in his pants and Ino was spared a show. He reached over and pulled the nearest shirt within reach, picking it off the pile of wrinkled, slightly damp clothing near his bed. Ino scrunched her nose up in open disgust as he dragged it over his head. "It doesn't matter to me," Shikamaru clarified for her sake, since she seemed to be giving this matter undue attention. "And why would you care even if it did?"

It was a valid question. Ino had never fully embraced his taste in women and had openly resented the one in question when she was around, so he was mystified as to why she would go so far out of her way just to bug him about her.

Ino looked offended. "Just how heartless do you think I am?"

"Pretty heartless," he admitted.

She slapped him in the side in that half-affectionate, half-furious way she had been hitting him since they were toddlers and he winced at the sudden pain. "You know," she said, "I don't know what I was thinking. For some reason I felt like you might need somone to commiserate with. I was perfectly ready to let you pour your heart out and cry on my shoulder."

"When have I ever cried on your shoulder?" he deadpanned, disbelieving.

He hissed when she smacked him again. "Apparently I had it all wrong," she said coolly. "I guess you're the heartless one."

"Maybe I am," he agreed. This made no sense. It was too early in the morning for things to make no sense. Ten o'clock, in Shikamaru's world, qualified as early in the morning.

For some reason, she looked furious.

He couldn't figure this out. What exactly was going on here? Did Ino want him to get emotional? Obviously all women were crazy – there was no other explanation. He could understand women getting upset when they were dumped or otherwise insulted, and he could understand Ino when she started to get defensive about her "boys" and put all the girls that so much as looked at them through the ringer. But this? What was she thinking? This wasn't one of those crazy girl tantrums that was really about something else entirely, was it?

He got out of bed and lamely ambled across the room to search for some deoderant. "It's just not what you think," he said carefully. "It wasn't like that with me and her. It wasn't serious. We were just messing around."

"Tch," Ino said pointedly. "You know you're a terrible liar."

"I'm not lying," he snapped, louder than he'd meant to. "She and I… We were just friends." Who'd had sex a couple times, sure, but that barely counted.

"What do you mean, were?" she said. "Care to tell me why you can't be friends with her anymore?"

"Give it a rest, Ino," he said in a bleary grumble.

She seemed to consider for a moment. She obviously came to the conclusion that she wasn't going to get a tearful confession out of him. "Fine," she said, her face carefully blank. "Well, I tried to help. Have a wonderful day, Shikamaru."

He rolled his eyes when she left. Women always had to be so dramatic.

He would have had to get up eventually anyway, he reasoned. He had a report to hand in to the Hokage today: a theoretical analysis of border defense strategies he'd been working on for a week. Well, at least he let them think he'd been working on it for a week. In reality it had taken him all of three hours to put together. He'd let a brown-nosing Chuunin research the statistics and write them in for him, but he barely needed to look at the data. He knew he was right about everything and it was annoying that everyone else needed to see evidence before they believed him. Reports were a pain. It didn't hurt, however, to have an excuse to stay off the mission roster for a while.

Not that he had been distracted or anything. Because he wasn't.

He wasn't any more bothered about it than anyone else. Why should he be? It was Temari's life, she could get married if she wanted to, even if that meant, apparently, that she'd pick some random guy from Wind Country that no one had ever heard of. What did it have to do with him? Why was everyone making such a big deal about this?

o

He spent about five minutes droning through a summary of his report for the Hokage, until she interrupted him by saying, "Good. I look forward to reading it."

He sincerely doubted that. "Moving forward," she went on, "as a ninja back on active duty, I have a mission for you tomorrow morning. The team will consist of you, Kiba, and Hinata. Shino's away on clan business. There's little risk of combat but the clients are high-profile. Normally they keep their own guard, but the entire retinue's in Suna for a diplomatic event and they've taken their sentries with them. They recently received information that one of their political enemies is expected to be back in the country by next week. They want surveillance and property protection, and if necessary property defense, until such time as the retinue and guard return."

Ha. Diplomatic event in Suna. What was so diplomatic about it? No one outside of Wind Country even knew who the guy was.

He'd heard almost everything about the guy through the grapevine, naturally, but that didn't make it any less true. He was from a high-profile family and was a cousin of the Wind country Daimyo. (Ha. So what? There was so much inbreeding over there that everyone was probably a cousin of the daimyo. Including the daimyo.) Some marriage broker had eyeballed Temari (at the behest of the daimyo, it was widely rumored, as he was looking for some leverage with Gaara – and Shikamaru reasoned that it probably had something to do with the fact that Suna had regained a remarkable amount of clout since Gaara had taken office). And that was that. The formal announcement was made, the alliance was celebrated, and the whole freak show was set to take place today, hundreds of miles away, in the desert. Shikamaru imagined that Suna would be loud, noisy, and crowded. All the preparations would have already taken place, and considering all the old traditions of the various desert tribes, the preparations would be considerable.

"Of course I understand if you don't want to take this mission…" the Hokage started, in response to his silence.

"I'm fine with it. Who cares where they are? Why should it matter to me?" he asked testily, snatching up the mission scroll and mentally returning to the Hokage's office.

The Hokage raised an elegant eyebrow. After years of having heard this particular ninja respond to every possible mission she gave him with deadpanned variations on "It's troublesome, but I'll do it," this response probably set off a few alarms.

"I meant that I thought it would bore a ninja of your skill," she said dryly.

Of course, the way she was looking at him said she knew what he thought she meant. Shikamaru's eyebrows slanted lower. Did everyone know? Did every woman in existence have to pry and be nosy and expect big drama where there just wasn't any? Where the hell could a guy get some privacy around here?

"I'm sure it will be a riveting experience," he responded.

She glared at him.

Days that started with angry women, he mused, only seemed to lead to more of them. With any luck he'd avoid running into his mother before lunch.

o

With an extended mission coming up, he didn't have anything to do for the rest of the day but train. Well, if he had been any ninja but Shikamaru, he would have trained, or at least planned to train. Given that he was Shikamaru, the weather was nice, and "not training" was an open option, it wasn't terribly likely to be something he'd do that afternoon. Instead, he ambled around the street for a while, fully intending to take advantage of some quality cloud-gazing time. The weather was almost painfully beautiful – not too hot or too cool, and clouds were trailing with morphing edges across a vivid blue sky. Without even a conscious thought of it, his feet automatically started toward his roof of choice in the city of Konoha.

A bunch of time with nothing to fill it: this was all it took to make him perfectly happy.

Shikamaru was a simple guy. He was easy to please. He didn't have unrealistic or difficult goals like Naruto or Sasuke, and he didn't want them. It wasn't that he didn't understand the concept of ambition, it just had no appeal to him. He needed very, very little to get by in life, and he liked it that way. He didn't want his happiness to be dependent on anything that was difficult to get.

Shikamaru…

(He remembered the image of her in the shadowy hallway outside his apartment, her eyes clouded with lust, her mouth just barely hanging open. They'd only had sex together once before, when they were both drunk, and hadn't even meant to kiss this time – it had been an accident, really. But one thing led to another and now here they were, inches from his door and on the edge of something that was probably going to cause them both a lot of headaches… And she knew that, and she knew him, and yet she let herself be pressed against the wall next to his door while his hands moved from her hips to her lower, lower back, stroking unbelievably warm round flesh and pulling it toward his groin. He was amazed at the fact that she was sober and letting him do this. He found her eyes – they were half-closed – and her head was tilting up to him, and moments later those soft wet lips were trailing down his neck.)

Lying on the bench, he shook himself mentally and tried to pretend that whole series of images had not just flashed through his mind. It wasn't that he wanted to avoid thinking about Temari, really, it was just that thoughts about her required more energy than he wanted to expend at the moment. It was probably a bad idea to watch clouds today. He needed something else to occupy his mind. A long game of shougi with his father or a long argument with his mother, maybe. A long lunch with Chouji, one of those meals that started at an indoor restaurant and moved around from tea houses to fast food stands while they talked and ate for hours. Something like that was just what he needed.

But it was too late to stop himself now, and his mind's eye was stuck on the image of a lithe body in black with a rigid posture and bunched golden hair.

He tried to cut these thoughts off at the pass by reminding himself that she really wasn't all that great.

She was spoiled, obnoxious, unnecessarily cruel to her opponents, and unkind in general, he reminded himself. Everyone said so. It was common knowledge. Unless she already knew you she was more or less a total bitch. Temari was rough and brutal and completely unfeminine.And totally selfish, too, remember?

I owe my brothers everything. You don't know what they've been through, and they've always forgiven me.

(More words he pretended he'd never heard, or at least pretended he didn't remember hearing.)

Ha. You don't fool me. The lazy act is just a cover. You do more for this village sitting on your ass than an idiot like Sasuke ever would have done in combat.

(And he tried to forget that there was a side of her that only came out when she was alone with him.)

And she was way too serious for him.

(Meaning he had only ever heard her laugh when it was just the two of them together.)

He couldn't argue with the fact that she was a good ninja, but she thought herself rather too good. She was too aggressive with everything. He hated aggressive women, especially ones that were full of themselves.

Shikamaru, don't be an idiot. If you keep selling yourself short like that you'll never get promoted. If it wouldn't kill you to get off your ass and do something once in a while, you'd already be a Jounin.

And sure, she had a nice body and beautiful eyes (and perfect breasts), but her hair was insane – it always looked ridiculous, and she didn't seem to care that she'd worn it the same way all her life. And okay, it was kind of cute, but couldn't she at least try to look like a grown-up? Normal girls didn't wear their hair like that.

What's your problem? Stop staring at me! Do I have something on my face?

Never mind what she looked like, she was annoying. She was one of those women that just had to have a smart answer for every comment he'd ever thrown at her.

Don't be such a baby. You'd get bored with a girl who couldn't argue with you just like you get bored with everything else that isn't a game.

And she was three years older than he was. There were plenty of nicer girls his own age. That's what he'd always wanted: a nice, quiet, normal girl, not too pretty or too ugly, who wouldn't cause him any trouble. Temari did not fit the bill. She was off by miles.

And she was from Suna –that fact was a world of trouble in and of itself.

Suna is where I belong. It's in my blood, it's who I am. You wouldn't leave Konoha for anything either, would you? It's the same for me. We're loyal mercenaries, both of us.

(And she'd said it while she was staring at him, standing apart from him, fully clothed, in broad daylight, at the gates of Konoha, while they were waiting for Naruto and Sai to catch up with them, and for all the world he thought she might as well have said, "You're nice, but I'm staying over there, so let's have no misunderstanding about it.")

(But then, the second time they'd made love, the way she'd kept her eyes open, the way she'd held onto him…)

Furthermore, he reminded himself…

(Her small hand yanking the clasps on his vest apart so that they snapped and flew across the room; then sliding inside his vest as gently as if she didn't have the strength to tear paper; her fingers on either side of him, grazing his thin shirt, tracing in to his chest and then down to where they trailed just around the waistband of his pants, teasingly darting underneath, just barely touching his skin, which was so hot by then he was already sweating. The whole time he looked down at her face, and she smiled up at him with that expression that was halfway between a smirk and a frown, the conflict so obvious on her face while the way her body was talking left no room for argument. He remembered the way he had pulled her to him then – for what, reassurance? – and he felt her warm breath on his chin in a soft sigh – relief? And kissed her. She was a good kisser. She made you forget about everything but the kiss, and then you'd feel her hands and remember all over again…)

Furthermore, she had never seemed to think of him as more than a good time. Not that she had ever said anything along those lines exactly – not that he had either – but as much as they had talked and touched (and kissed) she had never told him that she loved him or even said anything close to it. Therefore he was concluding that she didn't. That was fine, because neither did he.

(He'd been an idiot – being with her made him feel clumsy and young. His hands dumbly gravitated to her breasts and he pulled at them greedily through her clothing with his left hand while with his right he threaded his fingers through her hair from the nape of her neck up. He couldn't get over the smell of her hair or the way it tumbled all over the place as soon as he had her hair ties out. The slow burn became tumultuous when she yanked his shirt over his head and he felt her lips on his chest, warm and pliant, followed by a gentle bite on his shoulder while hands that had briefly forgotten how to operate pushed her annoying dress out of the way.)

They hadn't had illusions with each other. Neither one was the emotional type. They weren't going to get all stupid and kissy and hold hands while they walked down the street, they were just two people who happened to have had sex a couple times. There was nothing romantic about it.

Never mind that he could still hear her breathless voice saying, Shikamaru…

And furthermore, they were just friends. It wasn't like she was dying or anything. He'd still be able to see her. Talk to her. Hear her voice.

Shikamaru…

And furthermore…

(And after that night he had felt the sudden shift between them, and it struck him how quickly she'd gone from playful flirting to pointedly avoiding being alone with him.)

"Shikamaru?"

His body jerked in surprise, jarred violently out of the daydreams he had promised himself he wouldn't get into. He just barely had presence of mind enough to realize that Chouji had been standing there and had probably been trying to get his attention for a while now. His friend looked down at him with evident concern. Shikamaru decided to distract him. "Hey Chouji – you want to get something to eat?"

The perfect question for Chouji.

o

The greatest thing about Chouji, Shikamaru reflected, the absolute awesomest thing, was that he was so unlike Ino. It wasn't that he didn't care, he just knew how to keep his distance from you. Like Shikamaru, he had an appreciation for the simpler things in life. Simple things like barbecue pork, barbecue beef, and barbecue-flavored potato chips. And he wasn't big on conversation, especially around the lunch table at his favorite barbecue restaurant.

How in the hell Naruto and Kiba had ended up at the same table was beyond Shikamaru. Then again, it was the height of lunch hour, the place was packed, the two other young shinobi were just back from another mission, and Naruto was a one-man vacuum for all things edible. Empty spots at a table were normally filled with strangers when it was lunch hour and the place was this busy. It was just as well that it happened to be someone they knew.

And if you ever needed someone to fill an awkward silence, Naruto was definitely the one to call on.

"So, so, and then he went for the sixth bunshin, thinking it had to be me, and he was so concentrated on his jutsu that he didn't even sense my chakra, so I came down at him from above with this wicked awesome kick and I…"

"Yeah, yeah, aren't you tired of this story yet?" Kiba droned through a mouth full of food. "I mean, come on. It's been three days. Time to let it go."

"You're just jealous because you were stuck being a bodyguard and I got all the cool fighting," Naruto said.

"Jealous of what? That chick we were guarding was hot."

Naruto snorted. "Not that you got anywhere with her, dog-breath."

"Shows what you know," Kiba mumbled into his cup as he took a sip of tea, and he shot a conspiratorial smirk at Shikamaru. Chouji blushed.

Naruto scrunched up his forehead, studying the other ninja carefully. "Yeah right! You would have said something before now if you had really…"

Kiba was busy chewing another mouthful of beef and onions when he answered. "Maybe some of us have tact, genius," he said. "And there's a lot you don't know about women."

Naruto took offense at this and the whole conversation suddenly got louder. Chouji tried to get them to quiet down so that they wouldn't get kicked out of the place. Shikamaru just gave up on pretending to eat and rested his chin in one hand, letting a cloud of disinterest settle over him. He reached up to scratch his ear and his finger brushed across the silver stud that he always wore, and all at once he remembered how it felt when her teeth caught on it and pulled, gently leading him toward his bed.

He snapped out of the fantasy in a second, sitting up abruptly and grabbing at his drink so fast that he spilled some of it on the table. Chouji, he noticed, was looking at him with a funny expression on his face. "What?" Shikamaru grumbled.

"I didn't say anything," Chouji said, holding up his hands in defense.

Something seemed to have happened while he wasn't paying attention, because now Naruto and Kiba were staring at each other in grumpy silence and Chouji… had stopped eating. Shikamaru noticed that Chouji was watching him. You could tell he was trying to do it surreptitiously, but geez, he'd stopped eating.

"So," said Kiba, directing himself at Shikamaru and apparently trying to be social, "I heard your girlfriend's getting married."

"She is not and never has been my girlfriend," Shikamaru droned. Where did everybody get that misconception, anyway? They'd always been careful not to get too close in public. He certainly hadn't told anyone they were anything but friends, and he couldn't imagine she would have shouted it out to the world either.

(Because they weren't anything but friends. Certainly not.)

"Yeah, I guess it would suck pretty bad if your girlfriend married someone behind your back," Naruto said with a carefree smile.

"Are you kidding me? It's practically an international event. That would not count as behind his back," Kiba countered.

"I can't believe you weren't even invited," Naruto continued.

"It's a Suna thing. It's all Suna people. And, uh, other Wind country ones," Chouji said with a defensive smile, then clumsily tried to change the subject. "Hey, did you hear about that new jutsu Kakashi invented? My cousin says they're actually going to start teaching it to the Academy kids…"

"That sounds like the start of a bad dirty joke," Kiba remarked.

"So, so, she was what, like, dating both of you at once?" Naruto asked with a perplexed scrunch of his forehead, obviously not one to be easily deterred.

"Duh, idiot, it's an arranged marriage – they probably didn't date," Kiba explained.

"Oh, yeah, right. So how come you didn't go and fight him or something?"

Shikamaru stared at the blonde, disbelieving. "Once again: she was never, ever my girlfriend."

"Yeah right, you expect us to believe that? You two were together all the time whenever she was here."

"That's because I was her guide."

"You were the guide for all the Suna diplomats," Kiba noted. "I didn't notice you hanging around Kankurou when he…"

"All right, enough. Cut it out, will you? Normal guys don't talk about this stuff. When did you all turn into a bunch of girls?"

Naruto paused for a second, and Shikamaru caught the glance that went between Kiba and Chouji. Naruto said, "Hey, don't get so defensive, we were just trying to joke around, you know, make you feel better."

"No one needs to 'make me feel better,'" Shikamaru said. "I feel just fine, thanks." It was just what he had dreaded: they were all turning into Ino. Geez, what a pain…

He unintentionally eyeballed Chouji, and in response Chouji threw up his hands and repeated, "I didn't say anything. I definitely did not say anything."

Shikamaru sighed, contemplated the food he'd been toying with for the last half hour, and then pushed it away. "Well, that's it for me. See you around." He got up and sauntered away without looking back at them, pretending not to notice the voices he heard behind his back. For effect, he stretched his arms above him, yawned, and laced his fingers behind his head as he walked.

They would see him walk away like that and it would be clear that nothing was wrong with him.

(Because nothing was wrong with him.)

Once he reached the street, though, the first thing he saw was blonde hair.

He stopped in his tracks and his hands dropped and he briefly forgot to breathe. Was she…?

The woman turned around and bent over to pick up a bag she'd left on the ground while she'd been talking to a friend, and he saw that it was definitely not Temari. He didn't know how he could have been mistaken. She was older than Temari and fatter than Temari, and she was almost certainly not a ninja. It was so not Temari it was almost funny, only Shikamaru didn't feel like laughing.

"Hey Shikamaru…"

Startled, he turned to his friend. Chouji was standing just outside the restaurant and had that earnest, hopeful look on his face that he so often had when he was trying to placate Ino, and Shikamaru briefly wondered when that expression had started being used on him. "So I was thinking… I was going to train this afternoon, and I thought… maybe you'd want to come with me? I mean, I didn't know if the Hokage had given you another mission yet, so I figured you might have the day free…"

"Chouji," he interrupted.

"What?"

"Cut it out."

"I didn't say anything!" he protested.

"Seriously," Shikamaru said. "What is going on here? Is this some kind of weird conspiracy?"

Chouji sighed. "Well, we hadn't seen you for a couple of days… Ino had this crazy idea that you might have run off to Suna to stop her or something," Chouji said with a laugh. "I set her straight on that, but she didn't believe me until she found out you'd actually just been in your apartment the whole time. She got all weird and weepy and said she was going to try to do something about it."

Shikamaru scoffed. "Huh. Her brilliant plan was to get me out of bed."

"Ha ha, can you believe her though? The idea of you running off anywhere like in some romance novel… it's the kind of thing only Ino would think of. I tried to explain to her that just having to go through that much trouble for someone would be enough to make you want to dump her," he joked.

Chouji was smiling carelessly at his joke and obviously had no idea that, to Shikamaru, surprisingly enough, the truth of that statement stung. Shikamaru didn't like it, but he recognized that underneath that thoughtless little comment was a grain of truth that had kept him where he was. In Konoha. Because as far as he was concerned she wasn't worth the trouble.

Not that there was anything wrong with being where he was.

Chouji seemed to pick up on the sudden change of mood and shrugged amiably. "You're well rid of her, right? You always said she was too much for one guy to handle."

Shikamaru shrugged and silently searched for any subject, any other subject he could bring up to change the topic once and for all.

"Of course… it's an arranged marriage, right? So she probably doesn't even like him," Chouji said.

Shikamaru snapped. "Who cares who he is? Why the hell should it matter to me? It shouldn't. It doesn't. Just drop it already."

Chouji looked stunned, but Shikamaru was unrepentant. Chouji, even Chouji. When he couldn't count on Chouji, there was no one left to talk to.

"You're the one that brought it up," Chouji pointed out.

Shikamaru waited for the embarrassing silence to settle on them, then waved a casual goodbye to his friend, stuck his hands in his pockets, and started to walk away.

"Where are you going?" Chouji asked his retreating back.

"I've got a new family jutsu to practice," he lied.

He'd always been a terrible liar.

o

"Shikamaru. Shikamaru. Shikamaru."

His father finally had to chuck one of his captured pieces at him to get his attention. It bounced off Shikamaru's forehead. When his eyes and ears caught up with what was going on in the last few moments he realized what an idiot he was making himself look like.

"It's your move," Shikaku said.

"Yeah, yeah, I didn't forget," he said, shooting his father the evil eye. He had forgotten, but never mind. He had to act like he'd been thinking about the game, so he did something that Shikamaru almost never did: he picked a piece off the board at random and moved it. Then he folded his arms across his chest so that he could go back to thinking.

His father picked up one of his own pieces and moved it without so much as a look at him. "Check mate," he said.

"What?" He snapped back to reality and stared at the board. He hadn't even seen it coming. "Eh… cheap trick," he said, absorbing his father's strategy. "I demand a rematch."

"You've already had two."

Three games? They'd played three games? How'd he lost track of time like that? And how in the hell had he lost three in a row to his father? Even keeping in mind the fact that his father was the only one who'd ever beaten him at this game, this was still a pretty sad record for one day.

He'd wandered to his parents' house after getting sick of the apprehension he felt whenever he saw anyone he knew in Konoha. He'd tried wasting time via several different methods. He'd bought a loop of new shuriken, picked up a magazine, fed the deer… but no matter what he did, his brain was stuck on Temari. It was like his subconscious was staging a revolt. At some point he'd just given up all resistance to it – what was the point? If she was going to be on his mind and on every other god damn person's lips for the day, putting up a fight was just too much work.

Everything reminded him of her – it was ridiculous. Why should the smell of grease at a restaurant remind him of the one and only time he'd eaten her cooking? They'd been travelling together from Suna and had arrived late at night – neither one desirous of spending another night on the cold ground. She hadn't wanted to wake any of the innkeepers, and he'd had a role to fill as host. So they ended up at his place, where to fend off starvation she'd picked through his kitchen until she'd found rice, beans, mushrooms, and a couple more things that were actually edible, and then she'd cooked, and he'd made some sidelong comments about instant ramen at the 24-hour market while she chewed him out for not having any spices. What do you mean you haven't got pepper? Everyone has pepper.

Why he should remember that platonic night in place of the other fantasies he'd been having all day was a mystery to him.

And of course, naturally, logically, he'd thought of their first time together when he was out feeding the deer. You didn't need to feed the deer, but they had a more restricted habitat than their wild cousins and because of that didn't get as much in their diet as they needed. His mother basically made them salt licks with extra stuff in them – vitamins, he guessed, although he'd never asked. So why on earth did he think about Temari drunk when he stood against the tree with his hands in his pockets and the herd nearby? Why would anyone standing innocently in the forest think about the way she'd had so much sake that her hair smelled like sweat and her face had bloomed an embarrassing shade of red? And then she'd gone and smiled at him with that toothy, full-blown, face-stretching smile, and he'd been an idiot, yeah, but she didn't smile at anyone else like that. If she hadn't smiled at him he never would have followed her back to her hotel room on the pretense of making sure she wobbled home safe. Not that he'd been any more sober. He didn't even remember who'd kissed who first or at what point the clothes had started coming off.

He watched his father put away the shougi pieces and remembered to stand up and pretend to be in the here and now rather than the there and then.

"Your mother's making dinner especially for you," Shikaku said as they walked into the house. "You'd better stay."

"I'm not hungry."

"That's never stopped her before," Shikaku noted.

"Eh, I've got to get ready for this mission tomorrow."

His father smiled grimly. "It's your funeral."

He tried to slink out the front door while she was in the kitchen but had no such luck. As soon as she saw him she called out, "Where do you think you're going?"

He grimaced and scratched the back of his head. "Eh… I've got a mission tomorrow, I can't really…"

"If your mission isn't until tomorrow, that leaves plenty of time to eat. Now sit down."

"But I'm not…"

"I said sit."

Even if he didn't live with her anymore, her voice still had the command of authority. He found himself at the kitchen table with a plate in front of him that was soon lost to sight under a pile of food. His mother, when she was in the kitchen, was always in a constant state of movement – washing dishes, cleaning things that were already clean, making tea, lecturing someone, poking at vegetables in the fridge to see if they'd gone bad, throwing things into boiling water seemingly at random. She rarely stopped to actually eat. "Look at you. You're nothing but skin and bones. I told your father you'd never be able to feed yourself."

"I eat just fine, mom." Speaking of his father, how'd he managed to get himself out of this? Sly bastard…

"I've seen the way you eat, and it's ridiculous. There are things at the grocery store other than instant food, you know. Why aren't you eating!?"

"I told you, I'm not hungry."

She looked like she was about to say something, then threw up her hands and turned around. "Fine. I'm giving you some to take home."

She set a cup of tea in front of him, then sat down on the other side of the table with her own cup. He drank and tried not to feel weird. Why was she sitting still all of a sudden?

"Well?" she said expectantly.

"What?"

"Do you want to talk about it?"

He froze with apprehension. "Not you too…" he mumbled.

"Excuse me?" she demanded sharply.

He held up his hands in defense. "Nothing – Ino just came over this morning to ask me the same thing…"

His mother, who disliked Ino, narrowed her eyes at the implied comparison. "I see. And what did you tell her?"

"That there's nothing to talk about," he said and sipped his tea.

His mother raised her eyebrows, shook her head gently, sipped her own tea, and didn't say anything more. Shikamaru was unnerved. His mother had outright hated Temari. He could recall several distinct arguments on the subject. The Kazekage's sister? Are you out of your mind? You're suicidal all of a sudden, is that it? Hasn't he already tried to kill you once? If anything, she should be overjoyed at this new development. "I thought you didn't like her," he said.

"I never said that."

"Yes you did. I remember specifically – you said she was a backstabbing traitor and the sister of a murderer. You said I shouldn't trust her."

"Well – I didn't know her as well as you did," his mother said without looking him in the eye.

He gaped at her. His mother had never, ever, in all of living memory, admitted fault at anything.

"Temari and I were just friends," he said. (Are just friends. He'd meant to say, are just friends.)

She shot him a withering look of skepticism. "You're right about one thing," his mother said. "Ino and I do have a few things in common. We're both going to hate any girl you bring home, and we both want you to be happy."

"What's that supposed to mean? I am happy. I am very, very happy," he grumbled. "You're giving me a headache."

She narrowed her eyes at him. If this were a normal day, his mother would have snarled at him, Shikamaru, if I give you a headache it will be one you'll never wake up from. But since today heralded special awkwardness in all social interactions, she sighed and got up again and said, "Well, there's nothing to be done now, at any rate."

He was a little startled by the sudden shift. But then he looked up and saw that his father was on his way into the room.

o

He left after that.

Things were too awkward. There were certain subjects he never breached with his father, and he could only take his mother's pity for so long. He headed back to his own apartment filled with unrest. He decided to take the long route through some of the practice fields to get some of the anxiety out of his system.

It was then, alone, with no one watching, that he took a minute to think about the things he had been trying not to think about all day. He unconsciously slipped one of Asuma's knives out of the pocket of his vest and started to twirl it around a finger while he ruminated.

He couldn't have changed her mind. Right? She was single-minded when it came to any mission. Her whole self-image hinged on it. She didn't give in to anything, didn't let any urge rule her life, just followed orders.

My country's been shrinking and growing weaker for the last twenty years. It's not Gaara's fault I'm out on missions all the time. They're always short on Jounin. That's why I was promoted so early.

And she had pride that would cut through rock like it was water. She would never leave Suna. It would go against her nature. Wouldn't it?

He looked up and glanced at where the sun was setting. Clouds in the west were glowing a lazy red. Somewhere out there the Sand was knee-deep in festivities. He didn't care, damn it. He didn't.

So what if she was with someone else? It just went to show that she'd never really given a damn about him in the first place, just like he didn't really give a damn about her.

He didn't. He…

And even if he did… it was about three days too late to do anything about it. And he wasn't the kind of guy for big gestures like that. And she wasn't the kind of girl who would appreciate it. He didn't lash out. He didn't get wild and angry. She didn't like having her plans interrupted. She'd made up her mind and that was all there was to it.

Even if they had been nothing but friends, it was still depressing. Even if she stayed an active kunoichi he couldn't honestly expect to see her as much as he used to, especially if she started having kids – kunoichi like that rarely went on long missions far from home. Who knew, maybe her husband – he'd be her husband by now, right? – wouldn't want her being a kunoichi at all – maybe to appease whatever agreement the daimyo had made with Gaara, she'd end up stuck in this guy's house with no other purpose in life than to please him. Did she really understand what she was getting herself into?

It might have helped to talk to her about this. Three days ago.

His knuckles whitened around the grip of his knife. There was no explaining away the anger he felt right now. The fact of the matter was that it was too late, just too late. It didn't matter what strategies he came up with, there was no way to get to Suna any faster than three days.

Not that he was even thinking about going to Suna.

What would it be like, he wondered? He'd show up three days after she was married with his hands in his pockets, ask her how she was doing, beat the crap out of her husband…

It would entail abandoning the Leaf, and abandoning his latest mission, which would only cause trouble. The Hokage didn't just grant three-day vacations on the spur of the moment. Although it would most likely be an eight-day mission. He'd need three days to get there, one day to recover from traveling, one day to carry out his mission, three days back…

Not that he was even thinking about it.

(Her strangely-colored eyes, one just slightly darker than the other, the skin like honey, the hair twisted and tangling in his fingers while she burrowed her face into his neck…)

Stupid. Why would he do a thing like that? They'd only slept together twice.

(The way she smiled at him, just barely, when they were in public together and she thought no one would be looking. The way she crossed her legs at him. The fact that she only ever laughed with him. The fact that no one else had seen her smile the way he had seen her smile. The way she looked at him and actually made him feel like he was someone worthwhile, in spite of her voice chastizing him for being a layabout. The way she'd carelessly gotten drunk in his company and taken him home. The way he'd let her.)

They'd only slept together twice. They didn't even see much of each other. They were friends, of a sort, but that was all.

(The way she loved to pick apart his little strategies and then pretend to fall for them all the same.)

The first time was so spontaneous and wild and inappropriate it was almost a mistake. The second time he lost count of how many times they made that particular mistake. Then he hadn't seen her for six months, and then when he saw her again and thought they could finally make up for that error she just smiled and told him she was getting married.

Well, obviously she didn't give a shit about him, if she was just going to up and marry someone else.

(Look, it's my country, it's where I belong, she had said, but even he hadn't been blind enough not to see that she was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to explain it to him.)

The way she hadn't argued with him. The way he hadn't argued either – just accepted with a smile and a half-ass joke, and then pretended not to see – had he imagined it? – the ghost of hurt in her eyes when he failed to react to the news that she was marrying someone else. The way her voice still carried on endlessly in his mind.

Suna is where I belong.

I owe my brothers everything.

Shikamaru…

The hand gripping the chakra knife fisted; he suddenly twisted and using every muscle in his body flung it into the forest, embedding it in a nearby tree well to the hilt.

The impulsive exertion had him breathing hard for a few seconds, frozen in the half-crouched position his body had been in when he had released the knife. Then he calmed down and and straightened up and went to collect the damn thing. He hated her at this moment. He hated that she had gotten under his skin. He hated the stress of it and the attention it got him – hated all the trouble she caused him. He walked across the practice field and angrily yanked the knife out of the tree with a burst of chakra. And then stared at it.

Shikamaru…

Idiot. He should have left three days ago.

Even if he couldn't have done anything, he should have gone. He should have told her something, anything. Should have tried to be suave and said don't be stupid, you obviously want me, or should have held out his empty hands and offered her things he couldn't give her, should have lied, should have cheated, should have done anything other than just sitting around here in Konoha waiting for the world to rub it in his face that the one woman he'd actually liked being with was out of his reach for goodAnd now it was too late.

For once he was sick of being himself.

o

He spent the next hours – he didn't know how many – not being himself. He got angry and frustrated, he took it out on nearby trees, avoiding targets in favor of just drilling kunai straight into the wood. The solid thunk as each one hit was somewhat gratifying; he liked the way the flying splinters darted out in all directions. He relived old battles in his mind and beat enemies to a bloody pulp with taijutsu he almost never used in actual missions. He pulled muscles in his back and arms.

He never lost control. He was too indolent to lose control. And here he was, losing control. This was supposed to be some kind of release, but he found himself just getting more and more frustrated. The lower the sun, the less the light, the more clearly he saw her in his mind's eye staring up at him from his bed, her eyes half-open and trained on his. He couldn't believe he hadn't said anything to her. He felt like he had when he was a little kid and had broken the handle off of his mother's favorite teapot: he'd closed his eyes and held the two pieces together and just wished, like a moron, that time would reverse itself and make it all right. Life didn't work that way, though. Broken things stayed broken.

Finally he was spent enough, his muscles were screaming at him, his energy had drained away, and all that was left was a bad taste in his mouth, a collar of sweat on his shirt, and a lingering bitterness. He stopped because it was too dark to see clearly now, and if he kept going he was going to lose all of his kunai and shuriken.

After gathering all the detritus of his training, he yanked the last kunai out of a tree, musing momentarily over the scar left in the trunk, wondering how many times in his life he'd walk by this tree on the training grounds and see the scabbed bark and think about all the things he hadn't done, and he turned and slowly started to make his way back to his apartment.

The night was cool. Everything was so deliberately normal. Even the wind seemed to be taunting him. Go live your boring life. Marry your little nobody, have your boring children, play shougi until you die and get out of everyone's way. The path of least resistance. The one you always told yourself you wanted.

Acting on emotion would lead to nothing but trouble.

Women were nothing but trouble.

Love was nothing but trouble.

Yeah, all right, he admitted it: she was a crazy, beautiful shrew and he was heartsick in love with her. It didn't matter now whether he admitted it to himself or anyone else. It was too late.

He paused on the hill and stared up at the sky, which was revealing dim stars moment by moment, and he thought about stupid grand gestures and how little they meant. And she? If she were anything like Ino, maybe she would run away with him or something and even risk the wrath, or at least severe annoyance, of the Kazekage, but she was stubborn and proud and had already made this decision on her own. He could never change her mind for her, no matter what he did or said.

He walked home to his apartment in the quiet night and steadfastly resolved never to love anything ever again. At the moment, it did not seem like a hard thing to do.

He wondered about a lot of things during that walk. He pondered on the meaning of love and whether or not it was just a chemical imbalance that drove people to mate. He ruminated on the idea of loyalty and the concept of borders. He thought about the life he'd once wanted and wondered where you even found a nice, average wife in a place like Konoha.

He wondered about the way he'd reasoned out his life when he was a kid. He had plotted out the best path objectively and without emotion.

Where had he gone wrong?

By the time he was climbing the stairs to his floor, he was so miserable that it didn't bear describing. In another lifetime first, he was thinking about getting seriously drunk for no other purpose than to get seriously drunk. Shikamaru was actually sick of thinking. He pushed the key into the doorknob, turned, pushed the door in and listened to it creak as it swung. He stepped in and closed it behind him, and glancing over his living room in passing his eyes landed on the tuft of tangled blonde hair pillowed on the arm of his sofa, and over the next sixty silent seconds he went perfectly still as if trapped in his own jutsu.

o

When he had recovered somewhat and his blood was no longer pounding in his ears and his lungs were in fact inhaling and expelling air as expected, he moved robotically, gently kicking off his shoes and dropping his keys on the end table next to the door. Every few seconds he had to remind himself to breathe, but if you didn't know him at all and were watching from somewhere else in the room you'd think he looked perfectly calm.

He didn't want to touch her. If he touched her and it turned out that she wasn't really there, the letdown might actually kill him. Instead he walked over to the couch and stood over her, and his shadow from the lamplight fell over her sleeping body. He could tell that she wasn't really sleeping now, just pretending – Temari-like, she'd probably sensed his chakra as soon as he'd opened the door.

His arms hung limply by his side while he stared down at her. Damn it, he didn't even want to move. If this was a fantasy then he wanted to enjoy it for as long as he could. She was on her side facing the back of the couch and looking so damn peaceful. The expression was totally out of place on her face. Come to think of it, he'd only seen her sleep once before…

(..the first time, when he'd woken up in her hotel room with an annoying little hangover, after he'd gotten his bearings and remembered why he wasn't at his own place, he'd rolled over to see her drooling on her pillow, her face perfectly lax – it was an attitude he'd never seen in her before, which was weirdly charming.)

She rolled slowly onto her back, stretching her arms over her head and arching her back like a cat waking up from an afternoon nap. He was transfixed as she blinked her eyes open. The image of her face in his memory superimposed itself over the picture in front of him.

He caught his breath when he felt one of her hands grasp onto one of his. "Hello, stranger," she said lethargically.

Having seized him in a stupor, she pulled gently on his arm until he was coaxed onto his knees beside the couch, but she didn't need to tell him what to do after that. His lips gravitated inevitably to hers. The kiss was warm and perfect, here and now, so real that it almost hurt.

See? They were just friends. They were always extremely friendly with each other, just like this.

He didn't know how much time had passed when he pulled away. He only did so because he had decided that there were some questions that weren't just going to sit unanswered all night.

"I could be wrong," he said, "but I seem to have heard somewhere that you were in Suna getting married right now."

"Oh, that," she said drowsily. "Yes, I've heard that too."

"So, what? He wasn't the man of your dreams?"

He saw her chest vibrate distinctly when she chuckled. "The kunoichi who dreams of a future with that man," she said with a tone that did not brook argument, "is one sorry excuse for a kunoichi."

"What happened?" he asked, trying to quell the annoying excitement in his chest.

"Diplomatic incidents. Negotiations broke down. It's rather a mess out there in the desert at the moment."

"I didn't realize it was so political."

"You don't know the half of it," she murmurred. "Anyway, it's all over now."

It took him some actual physical effort not to let his reaction to this show on his face. "Your fault, or his?"

"What an intriguing question. Hmm. It's hard to say. I suppose everything started to fall apart when his father made an uncomplimentary comment about Gaara. Kankurou heard and tried to start a fight." She paused to run two fingers through one of her pigtails, working out a little snarl. "Then he had to get involved, he being my ex-fiancee, and then we had a rather unpleasant argument, by the end of which the whole idea of marriage was out of the question."

She smiled her secret smile at him and ran a finger along his arm, causing hair to stand up on its end all over his body, before she continued. "Of course, there had been trouble ever since his relatives started making an appearance – his cousin was a belligerent Ame jounin, one of their top shinobi, who literally wanted me dead. We butted heads over conflicting missions in Grass country a while back, and he's got a long memory." She stopped briefly to laugh. "Poor Gaara. I've never seen him try so hard not to kill someone. Ha, there was a lot of that feeling going around. When I left we were practically in a civil war, although the marriage brokers were still trying to salvage the situation."

"That bad?"

"Well… maybe not a war. A feud at the least." She stretched out again, reaching her arms over her head, causing her back to arch and her breasts to stick out in a fairly hypnotizing manner, and he could swear he heard a purr in her throat. "Which is ironic, considering the whole marriage contract was supposed to signify the end of the old feud. Anyway… they were trying to keep the fact that the merger was off out of people's ears, at least until Gaara finished working out contract negotiations with the daimyo. They were scheduled to wrap everything up yesterday. He hinted that it might be a good idea for me to lie low for a while even after word got out, just until everything settles down. You don't mind if I crash here, do you?"

He answered her by getting onto his feet, then throwing one leg onto the the couch and straddling her so that his body hovered just above hers. She only smirked slightly, trying to act nonplussed in spite of his nearness. "Well," he said, "I don't care one way or the other, but you know, this couch gets so uncomfortable."

"Oh? Where would you suggest I sleep?"

Instead of answering her he kissed her again and stopped bothering to support his own weight; instead he let himself drop and pressed his chest into hers, tangled his fingers in her golden hair, reveled in the fact that she was trapped underneath him. It wasn't like him and he didn't care.

Five minutes ago he had sworn to himself not to love anything again, least of all a woman, least of all her. The last of his misgivings dissolved when he heard a low involuntary chirp from her throat. The sound immediately electrified him from the nerves in his feet up. Fingers of one hand fisted in her hair, the other hand squeezing between her back and the couch cushion and stroking down her spine, pushing her body up towards him. She was totally giving beneath him, as if she wasn't a kunoichi who was practically made of steel and hadn't spent the last six months fully intending to marry someone else. He pushed the thought away; they could argue and come to a reasonable understanding later. Right now he wanted to keep feeling the way her back slowly arched under his hand and the way her legs were moving apart to make room for him and then hooking behind to pull him closer. He reached his free hand down and stroked her hip, and his face dove in between her breasts. She was so warm and real underneath him he could hardly stand it.

"Shikamaru…" she breathed.

It was enough to make him lose control completely. He wasn't sure exactly how it happened, but he knew he was trying to grab her to him and get her clothes off at the same time, and somehow that led to him rolling off the couch and landing, hard, on the floor, on his back, with her on top of him. He was going to have a bruise on the back of his head for his troubles and he was pretty sure he had heard something in his apartment break and he did not give a flying fuck.

She chuckled throatily. "Shikamaru are you… mmmph…" He cut her off banter without pity or regret. He only wanted her mouth for one thing at the moment.

He didn't know himself anymore – only knew her. He was all hands. Had her obi always had so many knots? It was getting so aggravating that he grabbed it with the intention of ripping it. It was really hard to be coordinated enough to untie a knot like that and wrangle her tongue with his own at the same time. He barely noticed her hands creeping up his mesh shirt, but regardless of how sneaky they were they didn't stand a chance against him. In another few seconds he had flipped over and pinned her underneath him again. He was at her neck with lips and teeth and his hands were making a fast wreck of her clothing.

He suddenly realized she had been trying to say something.

"Shikamaru, stop."

He paused, weirdly self-conscious, and then he began to breathe again. After a few moments he let go of her slowly and sat up.

When he was far back enough to really see her, the look of confusion on her face made him feel even worse. Horribly, she propped herself up on her elbows and scooted to sit on the floor with her back against the couch.

He wasn't sure what was going on, but he sure as hell wasn't going to hold back. He closed in on her again, careful to move slowly, unsure of the expression on her face. At least she didn't pull away from him. Even if he hadn't made satisfactory progress with the rest of her clothing, he'd managed to undo her hair, and he reached out to touch it with one hand, brushing it away from her forehead with his thumb while he watched the play of unfamiliar emotions on her features. He traced the side of her smooth cheek softly and she closed her eyes slowly – then opened them in a hurry.

Temari made as if to speak, but no sound came out of her mouth. He watched, fascinated and alarmed, as tears pooled in her eyes. Only one got out and rolled down her cheek. He'd never seen her cry before – hadn't known it was something she could even do.

"Shit," she said and looked away from him as if embarrassed.

He looked at her dumbly, lost for words.

She jumped to her feet. He watched, alarmed, as she darted down to the floor for her obi and quickly began to tie her maligned clothing back into place. She wouldn't meet his gaze.

"Temari?" he tried. He could hear the anxiety creeping into his voice. If she left now, without telling him why, he didn't know how in the hell he'd ever get her to come back. In a move of naive desperation he stood up too and positioned himself in between her and the door. It wasn't as if he could stop her if she really wanted to leave, but at least it would give him a chance to talk to her.

She swiped at her face with the end of her obi, turning away from him as if it would hide her tears.

"What did I do?" he asked.

She finally looked at him, and he saw something in her eyes that made his chest hurt. She turned away quickly. "What did you do? You looked at me. Like that. Like you're looking at me now."

He was still confused. "I can keep my eyes closed," he offered.

She let out a half-hearted laugh and another round of tears spilled over her face. "Well, shit," she said.

"Temari…"

"What in the hell happened to you? Shit, Shikamaru…" She swiped an angry thumb at her cheek. "You weren't supposed to do this. You weren't supposed to be like this. I didn't think…" She trailed off as her voice started to break.

When she started to move for her fan, he realized he was in the wrong place. He quickly repositioned himself between her and her weapon. "Get out of the way," she growled.

"No."

He grabbed her wrists in time. He wasn't sure which one of them was physically stronger, but he had a feeling panic would give him an edge. She pulled away sharply, but he only held on tighter. "You want to get hurt?" she asked him with a humorless laugh, and her right arm flexed dangerously in his grip.

He didn't answer her, but he kept his gaze steady. Her chest heaved hard and her eyes sharpened and focused on him. She was a ninja preparing for a fight. But he wasn't going to be so easily intimidated. "You thought you could just use me again and walk away, is that it?" he said coolly.

She breathed once through her nose, apparently reaching for control. The softness of her voice surprised him when she spoke. "I wasn't using you, Shikamaru…"

"Oh yeah? Then what would you call it?"

"You don't know?" she said – too quickly, giving herself away with one last red-faced glance.

The silence that followed answered his question. The anger seeped away, and he saw her for what she was behind the battle-ready demeanor: scared and embarrassed. The same as he.

"Why me?" he found himself asking.

"Tch," she said, brushing him off, then looking away. "I have no idea. Maybe I just like the way you talk to me."

He took a moment to digest this. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know!" she cried, her lips pulling into a sudden grin that squeezed more tears out of her eyes and made her blush all over again. "I don't want to analyze it. That sucks out all the romance."

"You call this romance?" he asked.

"Yeah, I do."

He started to say something bitter, something like then why the hell did you try to throw it away, but he stopped himself in time. He knew why. Of course he knew.

It was like she heard the question he wasn't asking. "You never said anything. I was always making the first move. I thought that was all I was to you. I didn't want to be that. I'm not supposed to turn into some kind of girl who cries over, of all things…. And now you… you look at me like… oh fuck this, I never cry!" she said irritably as another round of tears dripped down the curve of her cheek.

His grip had gone lax by now, so she pulled her hands free and buried her face in them, and again he couldn't believe this was actually Temari. Maybe his addled mind was making this up.

"Don't leave," he said.

"What do you want? I'm the Kazekage's sister, and you… and it's useless, the whole thing, so we might as well stop right here while we still can."

"No," he said.

"Then what? What in hell do you expect me to do?"

"Stay. Just… stay."

He leaned down without a word. Just let the side of his face lean against hers. He could feel the wetness of her tears on his cheek – she was crying even harder now. He opened his mouth against her skin. Reactively, she drop-stepped back, but if she was trying to deny him she was putting up a pretty unconvincing act, since she merely backed herself into the wall and stayed there. He followed in. He knew her body was on his side even if her mind wasn't there yet, and Shikamaru was sick of talking.

(Closing in on her, he remembered how quickly this same thing had happened the first time. How she'd let herself be captured.)

He didn't touch her with his hands, didn't try to trap her. Instead he lowered his head to her neck again so that he could smell her clothes. "Temari," he sighed into her shoulder. "Can't you just stay?"

"I…"

He moved to the damp contours of her face and let his lips slide over the salty, tear-slick skin. She breathed sharply with surprise but didn't push him away. Encouraged, he braced his hands against the wall on either side of her. The sudden sexual heat between them was palpable. She barked out a short laugh to break the tension. "How did we get to the point where you're the bossy one and I'm crying? Shikamaru…"

And now she wasn't even pretending to put up a fight. It was in the way her skin was flushed to the hem of her clothing, her eyes darkening, her body opening to him unconsciously. His name on her lips in that shaky voice made him smile. "So…how can I convince you to stay?" he asked, leaning in and brushing his lips over hers lightly.

"Convince me?" she said in a husky, breathless voice. "All you ever had to do was say the word. Idiot."

If this has been the first time, he would have been surprised by the sudden shift – how she abruptly leaned into him and angled her head up to catch his lips with hers.

(But of course it had happened like that the first time, too – she had backed away, luring him in, and then trapped him with a single counterattack, and then he was at her mercy.)

(Had been ever since.)

Temari pushed herself up with her toes and angled into him, pressing back at his body with so much intensity that he almost lost balance. He smiled into the kiss. He didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow or the next day or how long he could possibly keep her here, but he was smugly certain of one thing: she was staying tonight. He loosened his arms from where they were pinned to the wall on either side of her and let his hands land on her hips. She brought hers to the back of his neck and held him in place while their mouths fought for dominance. He finally let her win, and then she was in command, her tongue imposing on his mouth and her hands insistently dragging at his shirt until she had pulled him down to his knees.

He let her claw at his chest and peel his mesh shirt over his head. He chased her mouth with his while she fumbled with the top of his pants impatiently. Now that she wanted him, she wanted him now.

She momentarily gave up on his pants, and while she grappled with the knot in her obi that she had so vehemently retied only minutes ago, his hands swept almost lethargically up and down over her clothed back, down to her thighs – she was sitting on her heels, kneeling in front of him. He reached back to her firm rear and dug his fingers in, drawing her closer. She dropped the obi, leaned up with enthusiasm, grabbed his head and pressed in on him again, deepening the kiss. Everything about her was so sweet: the way her tongue drew on and tangled with his, the soft press of her flesh on his, the obviousness of her need.

(He remembered the first time he had touched her, the way he'd been drunk but not really drunk – drunk enough to lose his inhibitions, but not so far gone that he couldn't remember the friction of her skin under his hands and the way she laughed carelessly when he slid his hands inside her dress.)

Her hands were fast and urgent again, tearing away his belt so fast that he heard the slap of leather when it hit the wall. He laughed softly into the kiss that still hadn't broken, and then his mind dissolved as he felt the warm fingers of her right hand wrap around him. She leaned back, slid her legs out, and effortlessly drew him down on top of her. Her calves came up to his hip, her toes caught on the hem of his pants and slowly pushed them down his leg, but he was barely aware of it. He broke away from her mouth to gasp air as her hand did something unspeakable to him. His hips convulsed, thrusting himself at her involuntarily. She stared at him with the self-satisfied smirk of a woman who knew she was in control.

He slipped one hand under the fold of her dress and pulled it open in spite of the stubborn obi that was trying to hold it together. The obi stayed obstinately in place as he impatiently tried to move the material of the front of her dress out of the way. Then he gave up, moved his head down and bit into her clothed breast. The suddenness of it made her cry out and let go of him. She tried to say his name but he bit harder and the words died on her tongue. She squirmed in the grip of his teeth. It felt weird through her clothing, and he knew he would leave a big wet mark on her dress, but that didn't exactly displease him, either. One of his hands slipped up between her thighs before he even realized where it was. When she tried to protest he moved his teeth to the very tip of her nipple and pinched it. She cried out and arched her back, pressing her chest up at his face.

He used one hand to pin her stomach to the floor and ground his hips into her then, knowing how much she would love it. (Last time, hadn't he brought her all the way on the first round with that alone?) His mouth moved back up to her neck while he cradled her back with his free hand and dug his arousal into the apex of her legs. It wasn't long before she gave into him completely, wrapped her solid legs around his ass and hissed in his ear, "Stop being such a tease!"

He wasn't in a place to argue. Every time he moved against her and felt the friction of her underwear against his bare flesh he wanted to swear out loud. He wanted to draw this out, though, wanted to watch her squirm, so he pressed his thigh into her crotch and delighted at the strangled sound that came out of her throat. (And remembered the way she had begged before – was it the first time? No, she hadn't been drunk for that, had she? And she had made that sound, and then she had…)

But she wasn't playing that game this time. He felt her hands on his shoulder only for an instant before he was thrown off of her with the kind of impromptu strength that only a ninja could command. He blinked dazedly when he landed on the rug on his back and winced because he'd hit his head again and it was already sore, but he barely had time to think about it – she was crawling on top of him. He watched in a daze as she hiked up her dress until the skirt was bunched at her waist and actually ripped off her own panties, positioned herself, and planted her pelvis down on him in one quick thrust that had them both swearing.

She moved slowly. He could have killed her for it. She dropped to her elbows so that her hanging breasts brushed against his chest every time she moved, and he held her gaze while she set a carefully tethered pace, pushing him a little further in with every thrust. He stared up at her and watched her eyes close, the sweat beading on her forehead, mouth hanging open, lips sparkling, hair drifting and bouncing around her in a blonde mass. It wasn't much time before he couldn't hold himself back, and then he was trying to meet her – but their rhythms were off, and in his desperation he couldn't stop his hips from jerking up even when he knew he was moving faster than she wanted to. He moved insistently until she collapsed into the new faster rhythm, bearing down hard on him, rocking the front of her pelvis against his – until she suddenly arched her back, he lost sight of her eyes, half his name choked out of her throat, and the sudden clenching around him pushed him over the edge into his own oblivion.

o

It was hard to say how much time had passed when he opened his eyes again. He had fallen asleep a little, and it took him a minute to realize why he was lying on the floor and what was on his chest weighing him down. He looked down his body, but the view was entirely blocked by a pile of wild blonde hair. He reached his hand up to run his fingers through it. They were tangled almost immediately. He laughed softly, trying not to wake her.

He needn't have bothered. When she raised her head to look at him he could see that she was wide awake. Her eyes were glassy, still puffy from crying, and her lips were dark and swollen. He lifted his sore head off the floor and reached up to kiss her again, but she unexpectedly backed out of his reach. "Wait," she said.

"Hmm?"

She was definitely more awake than he was if she was capable of actual speech.

"Before this goes any further…" she started.

How much further could it go, he wondered?

"… just promise me one thing. I'm a kunoichi of the Sand. I'm strong. You need to be honest with me, I don't care if it hurts. If you ever decide you don't love me as much as I love you, you need to tell me."

He carefully rolled onto his side, taking her with him, and started to kiss her face – the soft, tender little kisses they'd never bothered with before, because they'd always been in too much of a hurry, or too afraid to admit what they meant, or some other stupid reason better left forgotten. The air in the few inches between their faces was comfortably warm, their breaths mixed, and he kept kissing her while the smile crept onto his face. "Sure," he said easily, confident that the problem would never arise. "Promise me you'll never try to marry anyone else?"

"Okay," she said. And inexplicably started crying again.

He kissed her tears off her cheeks, and then he kissed every part of her face he could reach, and then she became engrossed in trying to kiss him back.

He did finally get her out of her clothes and into his bed that night. Eventually.

o

He was groggy and dirty and disheveled the next morning when he answered the knock at the door. Kiba smiled brightly at him while he squinted at the unwelcome morning sun.

"Our mission was cancelled," Kiba said. "Godaime's assigned you another."

He tossed Shikamaru a small scroll.

"She's sending Hinata and I to Rain Country, but she didn't mention what she was doing with you. We're going to grab something at the ramen stand with Naruto before we head out. You want to come with?"

Shikamaru paused and chose his words carefully. "I better look this over first," he said, holding up the scroll. "Probably another research assignment."

"Aw, come on, you must have a few days to do it, then. You need some fresh air, man. You're looking kind of pale."

"Thanks, but I'm not really hungry."

"You sure? Naruto said it's on him if I can get you to come with us. You can't pass that up."

Shikamaru stuck his free hand in his pocket and shrugged noncommittally, firing up his languid mind to search for a viable excuse. "I… I, uh…"

"Dude," Kiba interrupted him.

"What?" Shikamaru asked, severely annoyed.

"I can smell a person from over a mile away," he said with a huge smirk.

Shikamaru stared at him stonily. "Get lost, Inuzuka," he said.

He closed the door on Kiba's dirty grin and unrolled the scroll as he walked back into the kitchen. When he had read it he stopped abruptly.

Temari was standing in front of his refrigerator, guzzling milk straight out of the carton. She was now wearing his clothing rather than her own: his was much easier to take off. She stopped drinking when she saw him, put the carton down, and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. "What's that?" she asked, staring at the scroll.

"A mission."

"…Oh," she said with obvious disappointment.

"Yes. Apparently the Hokage has received a request from the Kazekage."

Her brow knit. "What's the mission?"

"Find Sabaku no Temari, get her into hiding, and make sure she doesn't go anywhere anytime soon."

She smiled slowly. "Hmm. Could be tricky. How are you going to manage it?"

He smirked as he moved toward her, dropping the scroll on the way. "I did have a few ideas. Do you think this means that Ame ninja is coming after you?"

"Doubtful. But even if that were the case, he's coming from Suna. So we've got three days."

o

It became another one of those times with her that he would repeatedly remember. Especially what was said.

Stay. Can't you just stay?

All you ever had to do was say the word, Shikamaru.

o

FIN

o