Emotional Fortitude

-
you are subtle as a window pane
standing in my view
but I will wait for it to rain
so that I can see you

(Ani Difranco)

-
- -

Through the branches of a Konaha tree, Temari saw her prey: a stooped, relaxed figure sitting lazily down on a rock, watching a stream with half-lidded, scrutinizing eyes. To an average person, Shikamaru's body language might suggest that he had his guard down and was unprepared for attack, and they would be right... partly. Temari could tell that the heavy stoop of his shoulders was indicative of fatigue. His gaze was far away and his mouth was drawn into a simi-frown. It was true, she could probably successfully ambush him right now, but the way in which his shadow waved and jerked behind him, a fidgety flicker, suggested agitation. Attack him now and it would be a full-blown battle. The thought made Temari's skin feel hot and her heart beat faster.

A Sand ninja was taught above all things the value of patience. Careful consideration had to be paid to the way in which you moved and breathed. A ninja's most valued weapon was stealth. Stealth could only be achieved through keeping a cool head.

However, even patience could expire, and it was beginning to come to Temari's attentions that simply sitting back and waiting for an opportunity might not work. Being a distance fighter, she had always prided herself on how long she could wait, seldom going after a target offensively until she was sure of an opening, but Shikamaru never gave openings. At least not the kind of openings she was looking for.

It was positively irksome to her that she could have nearly every man in the Sand village she desired, not to mention several favorable looking ninja from Konoha, but the one man that intrigued her remained as allusive as ever. The waiting was maddening and it grated on her patience and also on her pride. After all, who did Shikamaru think he was to keep her waiting? She, one of the most powerful female ninjas in her village?

With a gentle gust of wind, Temari leaped from her tree and landed behind Shikamaru's rock. The Chunnin reacted faster than she anticipated. His shadow lashed out and wound itself around her ankles. She grimaced in discomfort, but showed no signs of distress.

"You've been training," she commented. "Your reaction time has improved."

Shikamaru didn't respond immediately. He stretched his arms and slowly got to his feet. He put his hands in his back pockets and coolly turned around. "You must've known I would've sensed you. Is there a reason for you spying on me?"

"I didn't come here to fight, if that's what you mean."

"Shouldn't have brought your fan then," Shikamaru said, eyeing the silver weapon strapped to her back.

"What kind of ninja would I be if I didn't bring it?"

Shikamaru shrugged. His shadow retreated and released Temari. She exhaled in relief.

"You should give it up," he said dryly.

Temari stiffened. "Give up what?"

"This."

"What?"

"Being a ninja."

"Excuse me?"

"It's not a woman's place to fight."

Temari was surprise, then annoyed. If Shikamaru had been any other ninja, she would've thrown a kunai at his head and been done with. But she knew him better.

"That's a rather judging remark to make," she stated. "And who are you to tell women what is or isn't their place?"

Shikamaru turned his back on her. "It's a proven fact that women are weaker, and they're more emotional, too. They should just stay home. Let the men protect them and stop getting in the way so much."

Temari could've said a lot of things then: how the strength of women shouldn't be judged on the same plane as the strength of a man, that both genders had values that could be useful on the battlefield, that it shouldn't be about comparison but about coesion. Shikamaru's disdain for the feminine side to things was a weakness. Temari had had about enough of it.

"Strange thing for a ninja of Konoha to say," she said darkly. "Isn't your Hokage a woman?"

"I'm still waiting to confirm that," Shikamaru said.

Temari's temper began to mount. "This short-sighted judgment of yours wouldn't have anything to do with that blonde teammate of yours, would it? I heard she was admitted to the hospital today."

Shikamaru's usually impassive face twitched. He ran a hand over his tightly bound hair. "So what if it did?"

"Was your mission a failure?"

No, it wasn't."

"Is your teammate seriously hurt?"

"She'll survive," Shikamaru said.

"Then I don't understand. Why are you sulking?"

Shikamaru let out an aggravated sigh. "How troublesome. I'm not sulking."

"You're being irrational then," Temari snapped. "And what did this blonde woman do that was so bad it made you give up on all the rest of female fighters?"

Shikamaru's mouth opened then closed. He seemed to be inwardly struggling with himself. "She disobeyed my orders," he said at last.

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time that has happened to a team leader. Ever gone on a mission with Naruto?"

Shikamaru almost smiled. "True."

Studying Shikamaru's features, Temari suddenly felt a jealous twinge in the back of her stomach. "This girl... do you have feelings for her?"

"What?" Shikamaru said, surprised.

"This girl, what is her name... Ino. You've known her for a long time, haven't you?"

"You could say that."

"Loud, obnoxious girl. Short-tempered?" Temari recalled distastefully.

Shikamaru make a non-commenting sound to this.

"It seems to me that missions are meant to be dangerous, and teammates get hurt all of the time. This wouldn't be the first time this girl has gotten injured, right?"

"No."

"But you feel guilty about what happened?"

Shikamaru made another sound in his throat.

Temari reached back and put her hand on her fan and sighed. She turned away and started to walk.

"Where are you going?" Shikamaru asked.

"Away. I don't think I'm needed anymore. Besides, I have things to do. You should just go back to staring at your stream."

Shikamaru wrinkled an eyebrow. "You're mad," he commented.

"How strangely perceptive of you," Temari said coolly.

Shikamaru went and grabbed her wrist. Judging by his expression, he was beginning to have a dawning comprehension. "You're mad," he said, "or maybe you're jealous."

Temari flipped her arm over, moved behind Shikamaru and held a kunai to his throat. "Don't get the wrong idea, Shikamaru. I wouldn't waste jealousy on a woman like that. If I want something, I take it. I don't sit quietly by and watch."

Shikamaru's shadow uncoiled and while she was frozen in place, he got behind her and put his own knife to her throat. "Don't think I'm so easy to catch," he said calmly.

Temari fought the shadow instinctively then relaxed. The coldness of the metal against her throat made her pulse race. "Let me go," she commanded.

"Not until you say it."

"Say what?"

"Why you followed me out here," Shikamaru said.

Temari felt the heat rise in her face, despite her pride's desire to keep her thoughts hidden. Even now the closeness of Shikamaru's body made her own ache in response. It would be too undignified to admit the reactions she had to Shikamaru. She'd rather stand there all day with a kunai to her throat.

"I was going to go training near the waterfalls. I came across you by chance," Temari lied.

"And the anger?" Shikamaru quipped.

"You were being weak, acting irrational. A ninja isn't supposed to let his emotional guards down like that, especially over such trivial matters. It made me angry watching you." The words rolled like venom out of her mouth, sharp and aimed to bruise.

Shikamaru's grip on the handle of his kunai tightened, but his voice remained calm. "How unfortunate for me that I lack so much emotional fortitude. That I can't switch off my feelings like you can."

"All ninja are trained to think dispassionately."

"Then you failed your own rule by getting angry."

"I was still able to think dispassionately and come to a reasoned decision."

"You call running away a reasoned decision?"

"I wasn't running away."

"Yes, you were. You were running away because you were jealous, and you didn't want to lose your emotional control. You were being a coward, afraid of your own feelings."

"I told you I wasn't jealous," Temari hissed, angered by the knife and even more so by his words. "What you do with your teammates is none of my business."

"You're right. It isn't," said Shikamaru. He released her.

"Haa!" Temari yelled. She immediately aimed to hit Shikamaru's chest with her elbow. Her dodged out of the way and she tried to kick him. He jumped back, and they glared at each other from a distance, stances ready to fight.

Temari fought to control her breathing as she studied Shikamaru.

Ever since they had met there had been a subconscious power struggle going on between them. They recognized the each other's skills and intellectual strengths. They were attracted to them, but also repelled by them. Each ninja wanted to supersede the other, and both of them were too stubborn to be the first to back down.

"Give it up, Shikamaru. You know you couldn't win against me," she said.

"I have no desire to fight you."

"Too much of a hassle?" she asked.

"No. I just don't like fighting women," Shikamaru taunted.

It was said to get a rise out of her, and it worked. "Fuck you," she spat out.

"That wasn't very lady like," Shikamaru commented.

Temari threw a kunai at his head.

Shikamaru threw one back and they met in the middle with a metallic clash, spinning wildly into two nearby trees.

"Was your decision to throw a kunai at me reached dispassionately, I wonder," Shikamaru said sarcastically.

"Best damned decision I've made all day."

"You don't look very pretty when you're angry, you know."

"You think I care?"

Shikamaru made a sound of exasperation. "This is taking too much energy," he complained. He then threw his weapons' pack down and sat on the ground.

"What are you doing, you lazy coward? Get up and fight me," said Temari. She held her kunai, ready to throw it.

"Don't want to," he responded.

Temari's arm shook from holding in her rage. "Fight me now, or I'll kill you where you sit."

Shikamaru laughed at her.

"I mean it," she warned.

He folded his arms.

Temari gritted her teeth and threw her knife. It went flying, straight and true, and hit a tree behind Shikamaru, several inches away from his face. He didn't flinch.

"Are you done finally?" Shikamaru asked coolly.

Temari felt her chest constrict. The inner battle raging within her felt all at once explosively toxic to her. It was overwhelming and infinite, already she could feel its effects leaking out. She took a shuddering breath.

Shikamaru was surprised. He had made her cry--- her, a woman who never let her guard down, who almost always greeted his remarks with an arrogant sneer. She was cold, emotionless and proud, so how did he do it?

Carefully, Shikamaru got up and put his weapons' pack back on. He walked over to her and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I'm sorry," he said, studying his feet awkwardly.

Temari turned her face away from him in equal shame. "Whatever," she said.

Shikamaru studied her profile then: the steely stubbornness in her eyes and the hard line of her jaw. He saw the way her mouth trembled with effort to restrain her emotions and allowed himself to really look at the way her clothing hugged her body and accentuated her shape. He had always stayed emotionally distant from people to avoid trouble. He hated conflict, and he couldn't stand tears. Temari was like that, too. They had worked well together for that reason, both keeping a fair distance, not getting too close in an effort to have an advantage over the other.

But he realized that all that had changed now. They had both let their emotions show through somehow, and it had felt good, a subtle relief. Perhaps, finally, it was time to drop pretenses.

He reached over and pulled her towards him. It surprised him howdeceptively vulnerable she felt. Her shoulders stiffened defensively at first. It was hard for him too, but he held her closer and relaxed, pushing his cheek gently against her head.

Eventually she did the same. "Thanks," she said.

- - -- --