I don't know which emotion I was feeling more: amusement at my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law's argument, or annoyance at their not noticing my near-death experience.

"You lost the rings, you bloody slacker!"

"I didn't lose them, they fell into that acid bath your stalker set up!"

"You dropped them in when you bent over to look at the pit! How stupid can you get?"

"Woman, I was trying to see if you were there!"

"Don't pin this... this idiocy on me, Nara Shikamaru! How could you just leave it unsecured in your pocket?"

They stood nose to nose, glaring daggers at each other.

"Um," I raised a finger weakly, "if it's not too much trouble... could we please... get me to a medic before I pass out again?"

Gaara was at my side in a second, the sand platform a gentle bed. I let my head fall back, silently thanking the tendency for Gaara's sand to soak up blood – with my blood loss the poisons had not had time to diffuse into my cells before much of it was absorbed by the quartz grains my brother carried.

It all made sense. Sort of.

My head swam before I drifted into sleep.




I leaned on Chouji as we made our slow way out of the labyrinth of caves. Gaara had gone on ahead; Kankuro's injury was more serious than he'd care to share with us, but Hinata knew that look and had insisted on Gaara leaving us behind.

Temari was walking with Hinata's help. She was looking at me, but the second she saw me looking at her looking at me she twisted her head away.

I smirked.

Chouji nudged my ribs. "Did you really lose the rings?" he asked under his breath.

:I nodded. "Didn't mean to."

He merely sighed and patted my back a little too firmly.

"Ow-ow ow... Chouji, I'm still rather fragile?" I complained. "At least it's over."

"I wouldn't say that," Chouji whispered as he stole a glance at Temari and Hinata. "She looks ready to kill."




"I'm gonna kill him," I said. I was still limping; the anesthesia was not wearing off fast enough.

Hinata tried to calm me down. "We can always get another set of rings, Temari. Better ones-"

"Those were the rings promised us by Tetsuo! And you know how picky he is about making jewelry!" I protested. "That Nara idiot lost them because they slipped out of his pocket! Tell me what Tetsuo would say."

Hinata could only smile apologetically. "Guess it's really rather... upsetting."

"Upsetting? If I were any more upset I'd be... I'd have married Shikio!" I fumed. Then I thought about it. "No, I'm not that upset yet. But still."

"Maybe you'll like to speak with Shikamaru later after you've calmed down a bit?"

I harumphed and looked at the Nara's spiky hair bobbing ahead. He was still not ready to move about; the injuries he sustained were mostly internal ones, what with rocks crashing into his torso and chakra overuse; and a number of scrapes, burns, cuts and bruises from the traps he'd refused to detail to me.

When he stumbled I almost darted forward but remembered I was currently angry with him, and I looked at my own feet.

Stupid, stupid Nara.




When we finally made it out to the clear air I wanted to just fall down and sleep. But since we were seventy feet from the ground I desisted from that particular impulse.

"You alright, Nara?" Temari asked softly. With Hinata supporting her I wasn't worried... well, not that worried.

I nodded. "Chouji will take care of me. He wants to make sure he gets the chance to model his tailored tuxedo."

"Shut up," Chouji said with a short bark of laughter.

I held my breath as he jumped, me on his back. He landed without even jarring my poor battered body, and I thanked him.

He merely shrugged. "Hinata thinks we should set up camp here for tonight."

"Oh come on," I said, "it's supposed to be the wedding today. If we keep delaying this-"

"You really want your bride to appear with a black eye and multiple cuts?"

I exhaled heavily. In truth I hadn't really noticed; she was just... Temari was just Temari, whatever she looked like.




I pursed my lips and tried my best to look stern. "We're going back so Nara and I can get married today, Hinata."

"You look terrible, and he looks like he's been through the wringer and back. Stay." Hinata being fierce was as unsettling as a rabid bunny.

When I tried to get up she pinned me with a glare. "Stay."

"Yes, ma'am." I threw my head back and looked up. Already it was evening; the pink and orange sky was so brilliant, I had to smile. Sometimes nature was just too tacky

The smile faded when I remembered I had blood on my face and on my hands. No matter how hard I washed them the blood would always be there.

The life of a shinobi...






She was staring at the darkening sky. I settled beside her, then offered my uninjured arm. She lifted her head without my prompting and then snuggled into the crook of my neck and shoulder.

After a long moment, while the sky turned amber and then blue-black, and stars started winking at us from the vaults of heaven, I asked, "Do you feel guilty about it all?"

"No." Her answer was firm and a little sad. "He knew from the onset I had you. He just wanted something that wasn't his."

"I don't blame him," I murmured. "You do send out strong currents of desirability."

"So you blame me?"

"I never said that. I meant that he caught a stray bolt of your attractiveness – and didn't know how to deal with it properly."

She fell silent. I closed my eyes, glad that she was here beside me again.




I listened to his even breathing.

I could smell the dinner Chouji was cooking; I could hear their soft chatter; I could see the play of firelight and shadows over us.

But I listened to his even breathing.

"Nara," I said quietly. Perhaps he'd fallen asleep...

"Hmm?" He blinked. "What is it?"

I tilted my head to press my lips to his chin. "Will you, Nara Shikamaru, take me to be your wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, till death do we part?"

"I do. Even if it's too troublesome." He turned his head slightly so he could gaze sleepily into my eyes. "Will you, Sabaku no Temari, take me to be your husband, to obey and to honor, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, till death do we part?"

I wrinkled my nose. "I have to obey?"

"Mm-hmm. Most of the time anyway."

"Well, in that case..." I kissed his chin again, "I do. As much as you do."

He bent to kiss my lips. "I do. With all my heart."

"With all my heart, then, too."




I sat on the rock with a bowl. Hinata sat beside me, her cheeks pink with embarrassment and happiness.

I scooped up a potato. "It's like we don't exist."

"You're right," she said, then smiled. "But they're finally married. I guess it's a happy ending."

"Happy beginning, I hope." With a sigh I chewed on a carrot chunk. Kankuro would be mad he had to miss this, I chuckled inwardly. But it was worth all the trouble to see my best friend finally settling down with a – well, he would call her troublesome – woman who could keep up with him mentally and physically, and occasionally trounce him.

Now for Ino to get herself married off...



A/N: That's the end of the story! Fluffy ending because I love them both so, so much... Review please :)