Standard disclaimers apply.


By Cassandra's Destiny


Temari was not sure if five-star hotels charged more than what they were really worth.

It wasn't that she didn't appreciate the efforts the chambermaids put in providing her with high class satin sheets, or how the hotel staff has practically been waiting on her feet the moment she arrived. She enjoyed the attention, and the fuss made over every detail she pursed her lips for. What didn't sit quite well with her is the management's lack of sensitivity to the guests' basic needs: condoms, for example.

But she'll leave the pleasure of giving them an earful on that for the morning after.

"Damn it, can you be any slower?" The sarcasm in her tone made him grunt.

"Can you be any louder?" His grip on her wrists tightened as he forced them over her head. "Keep up with pace, woman."

It was her turn to grunt in acknowledgement to his request. "Maybe it's your pathetic attempt to crack a joke, but when a person says that, the rate of knots is usually fast-tracked." He did not twitch as she expected him to, or would have liked him to. Instead, he buried his face on the side of her neck, biting into the sensitive flesh with neither hesitation nor sympathy.

She shut her eyes tight at the feeling of his cold teeth touching her skin. Maybe this is what hell feels like… or heaven. It didn't matter. Heaven and hell are but names, and a rose by any other name will smell just as sweet – or was it chocolates by any other name will taste just as sweet?

"So, are you going to have your eyes closed the entire time?"

At the sound of his deep voice filling the air she breathed, she opened her eyes and watched his mouth move as he towered over her. "I want you to keep them open. This will not be a fantasy."

"Are you always this arrogant?" She asked, making an effort to lower her voice as he inched closer. "Or do you save this attitude of yours for the holidays?"

"Christmas Eve," came his quick response.

He trailed light kisses from her forehead to the tip of her nose, from her cheekbone to the corner of her lips, from her chin—

"Ugh, you smell like cigarettes."

He smirked against the hollow of her neck before making a comment of his own. "And you, Temari, smell like alcohol." The way he said her name made her shudder; if it was of arousal or irritation, she didn't bother figuring it out.

"Just shut the hell up, woman." He moved lower and lower, making a quick pause at the valley of her breasts, drawing lazy circles on her upper thighs, and finally spreading her legs for his own succulent satisfaction.

The look on his face was priceless. It was a mix of a deer caught in headlights and a tiger about to pounce on his prey.

"You like what you see?" It was a shame to pass up such an opportunity to tease.

He shifted his gaze to her, licking his lips in lustful desire. "I will not justify that question with an answer." He declared, swiftly discarding what item of clothing he had left. "Besides, I remember telling you to shut up," a kiss between her legs. "…woman."

"Oh, shit!" She cried as he went in, all her inner muscles squeezing, her whole body going from tensed to numb, tensed to numb.

His eyes blazed into hers. "Shikamaru," he pulled back.

"What?" Pitiful as it was, she whimpered at the loss of contact.

"Shikamaru," he repeated. "My name. Remember it." A raw need filled his command, and she can only nod in compliance. "I want you to get my name right…" he surged up and over her, "…and outrageously loud." He pushed forward so hard, Temari screamed in pleasure.

It was about time they created their own rhythm.

"Just tell me when you're done with me." Her statement was flat, and it had him withdrawing inadvertently. She glared at him and stretched her arm to the side drawer to knock off his pack of cigarettes. "Don't get any ideas, Shikamaru."

"Ideas? What else is there to do when I'm done with you?"

"Lie down and let me work my magic." She rolled over on top of him, using her hands and legs to pin him down. "A little something from me to you, just enough to have you wanting more in the morning."

"If I'll still be here tomorrow morning…" His voice came out as but a whisper, as if breathing words voicelessly.

"What did you say?"

He shook his head and mouthed 'nothing' before rolling them over so that he was on top once more. "I only thought it's not time for you to have your way with me just yet."

"What's with the long face?" He threw the question without glancing at his visitor, occupied with rummaging through the fridge for a can of beer. As he yanked it out, he became very intrigued at the loud sigh his friend gave him for a response.

"What's with the long face?" He asked again.

"What's with the beer?" She shifted in her seat by the counter to eye the can he held in his hand. "Isn't it too early for that?"

Shikamaru dawdled to a seat opposite hers. "To answer your first question… no, I won't tell. Besides, I asked a question first. To answer your second question, it's already half past twelve."

"Three guesses, Nara."

Tucking an arm under his chin, he fingered the rim of the can of beer. Much as his friendship with Ino go all the back when they were in diapers, he hated having these guessing games with her. Two days ago, she had him guessing what Sakura was doing for the holidays. Last week, she had him guessing where her date brought her to. The week before that, she had him guessing what this guy at the bar was wearing. "I only have two guesses," he played anyway, knowing full well he was not up for a pointless argument. "It's either… a, you wore yellow to a party only to realize that violet is the new black or b, you spent Christmas Eve by your lonesome."

She snorted. "Why must you make things sound far worse than they really are?"

"Beats me." He shrugged, reminding himself it was not worth arguing back.

"I just can't believe it. The one year I promised myself to spend Christmas with my family, they decided to fly to another country! I mean, sure, they're visiting our relatives, but couldn't they have done that some other time? Seriously, when was the last time I spent Christmas with them, huh?"

The pause that followed was a sign that she required a reply from him. However, before he could put a word in, Ino has already decided to answer her own question.

"Three years, Nara; it has been three years since I spent Christmas with my family."

Even a blind person can tell she was upset. When she called her parents a week ago to tell them she would like to spend Christmas with them, they gave her no chance to talk – only told her they were flying to see some great aunt. She could not make it known to them how pissed off she was at that. Besides, the last three years she didn't spend with her family, she spent rocking some other guy's bed. But much as he would like to remind her how none-too-romantic but definitely casual sex has become her own personal Christmas tradition over the years, he'd rather not. Again, it's not worth arguing with a woman. "Why didn't you fly with them then?"

"Fly with them? You know I can't do that!"

He arched a brow.

"They checked into the airport the day after I had dinner with them, and they're scheduled to come back after New Year's Day…" She trailed off, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

"And you'd be missing work," he supplied for her, then taking another sip of his beer. "Why didn't you apply for a leave of absence?"

She shot him a look he did not comprehend. Maybe asking questions was not worth it too. "The first day of work after the holidays is always important," she explained. "It's even more important than the usual Monday mornings!"

Shikamaru nodded in understanding. Ino didn't join her family not because she hated flying or because she hated absenting herself from work. Ino did not join her family because she loathed the idea of missing the first day of work after the holidays, missing all the juicy gossips.

"Imagine, it has almost been a week since we last saw each other at work. Christmas Eve has already passed. Christmas day has already happened. Who knows what rumors and scandals I'm going to miss if I choose to be absent?"

He nodded once. Who is to say if office gossip benefits or destroys a company? On the one hand, it encourages employees to go to work, going so far as abstaining from a family trip of two or three weeks. On the other hand, it takes up good working hours with the endless chattering between company staff. It's probably a double-edged sword, he decided.

"Before the office holidays, there were a handful of unsettled affairs, actually." The glittering in her eyes had him bracing himself for the many examples she was about to lay down on him.

"For example," here goes, he thought. "Is Hinata going to have her second child before the first one turns two?"

If she is going to have their second child only months after the first one, he'd be obliged to send a congratulatory bottle of wine to Naruto.

"Is Naruto going to be swept away by the holiday spirit and make the first move in reconciling with Sasuke?"

If he is, he definitely wants no part of it. The last time he got himself involved in a discussion between those two, it was not pretty.

"Is Lee finally going to realize he needs to have those eyebrows of his waxed?"

If he is, it's probably too soon. The fuzzy eyebrows have become his trademark since their elementary days, and having them removed would not only be a big change for him, but also for the people around him. Besides, should he ever want them gone, or at least toned down, threading, not waxing, is the way to go.

"There are so many questions left unanswered, Shikamaru." She watched him finish his can of beer before disclosing what she believed was the juiciest gossip of them all. "Tenten might even get the ring this year."

"A proposal? From Hyuuga?"

"Why do you make it seem like the sky is falling?"

Shaking his head no, he threw his empty can to the trash bin on the other end of the kitchen. "It's about time."

"Totally, and if she gets the ring now, they're getting married next winter."

"Next winter? They're going to wait a year?"

She rolled her eyes at his queries. "Yes, a year. They need at least a full year for the wedding preparations. Hyuugas are known for elaborate matrimonial ceremonies, you know. Remember Hinata's wedding? It was a major event. Considering the Hyuuga clan is overly patriarchal, plus the fact that Neji is the heir to practically everything Hinata gave way for, I bet their wedding would put even a water puddle on the globe!"

"I can imagine." He turned his back on her to rummage through the fridge again for a can of beer.

"Another one? Do I even need three guesses to figure out what's up with you?"

"Maybe." It's not like he cared about their guessing game. For all he knows, she'll get it at first try.

She gave him her most thoughtful look that early afternoon, standing up to get herself a glass of water. "Let me see, you left early morning yesterday to visit your sick mom in the hospital across town. You came home early morning today smelling like smoke, sex and alcohol, and you're already in your second can of beer before having anything to eat for breakfast or lunch. I'm guessing," she drifted, waiting for him to empty the contents of his can in a single gulp. "You got laid."

He only smirked at her guess, and opened the fridge so his back was facing her.

"Do you have orange juice there?"

"Nope. Chouji left a jar of prune juice though."

She made a face, but it was gone unnoticed by Shikamaru. Her walk to the living room, too, was paid no attention to by him.

Pulling out his head from the refrigerator, he heard her laugh. "I swear, Nara, if you're going for thirds, she's probably blonde… and a feisty one too."

He hesitated for a moment with the new can of beer in his hands."What the heck," he thought, and drank it anyway.

The day after Christmas was like any other, except Nara Shikamaru was clothed in a dress suit and was running late for his interview.

"What are you going to tell them when they ask you why you gave up your old employment?"

"The truth, of course, that the company I used to work for had no clue what effective management is. To add to that, if they don't step up soon, they'd be absorbed into the international brand and lose their rights to be a singular institution for all eternity." He stated as a matter-of-factly, feeling no need to sugarcoat the predicament of his old employer. "And I've had enough of their shit loads of bull."

"Shit loads of bull," Ino repeated slowly. "Now I'm sure your interviewer will find you nothing if not charming."

He sighed in frustration as he pressed the "up" button on the elevator several times even though he knew it was not going to make it any faster. He took a look at his watch; he was already five minutes late for his expected time of arrival. Drumming his fingers on the wall, he waited. There was no need to rush like a maniac; he's only running late for his ETA, but had at least two minutes left before the interview. Nevertheless, he can't afford to stop and smell the flowers too; he wouldn't want to arrive half an hour late before the CEO, or Vice President, or manager, or whomever he's meeting with.

Finally, the doors opened, and he quickly stepped inside, unmindful of the exiting woman whose purse he knocked over.

"Sorry," he crouched down to retrieve the purse, then handing it to the woman without any say-sos.

He jammed the "8" button with more force than necessary and leaned back against the wall. Waiting for the silver metal doors to close, he took in the view on the other side. His eyes flew to watching a woman sashay her hips and strut in her expensive corporate pumps. He studied her backside carefully, obviously enjoying what's in view. With the metal doors slowly closing, his eyes landed on the purse she tucked under her right arm. Instant recognition.

He gave a final look at her backside, and Shikamaru cursed under his breath. The doors closed. A not-so-instant recognition.