On the afternoon of the nineteenth day, Temari was fortunate enough to look like she was sort of doing her job when she was treated to an unexpected visit from her darling brother Gaara.
She was reclining upside-down on her boulder at the time, true, but at least she was staring (though rather dreamily) at the Konoha horizon like it was going out of style. We note in passing that the horizon was largely occupied by Neji doing one-handed push-ups across the road with very manful concentration and also that he was shirtless, but this had nothing to do with anything, Temari just happened to be looking that way.
Gaara arrived in a twist of sand and stoic aloofness (and he did not care that stoic aloofness was somewhat redundant).
"Hi," said Temari brightly and upside-down-edly when her littlest brother stood impassively before her with his arms crossed. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm passing through. Just to let you know." said Gaara. "I'm off to Mist for a week – business."
Temari narrowed her eyes because she knew exactly what kind of business brought people to Mist during these days of peace and it had nothing to do with promoting Suna as a tourist destination or marketing Sand industries. Money would be changing hands, but it would be going between the well-manicured fingers of some exclusive club's welcoming hostess and later down rhinestone-encrusted bras – not quite the Suna Financial Ltd. trust fund.
"Check out that one new club for me," Temari requested vaguely, "the one with the blue-skinned male dancers in the buttless chaps. Chez Kisame or something, it's called. Pants optional. I'm so heading there on my next leave. I mean, mission."
Gaara ignored this unprofessional request and instead followed Temari's line of sight because it was very unlike Temari to speak to him in such an airy, slack-jawed manner, and therefore she wasn't paying attention and therefore she was being distracted and there we go, he had spotted the distraction, it was in the form of Neji doing pushups across the road completely unaware of Gaara's presence.
Gaara narrowed his black-rimmed eyes and caused a brisk sandy breeze to pick up suddenly and swoosh about in a very dramatic manner.
This caught Neji's attention very quickly, principally because he got sand up his nose and had to sneeze vigorously several times to clear it, and he vowed between sneezes to slay Temari because she couldn't keep her damn fan under control and kept blowing crap at him.
Then Neji emerged from his sneezing fit and saw that Temari wasn't the cause of it: there was someone near her boulder and that someone was none other than the Kazekage. Who was very stoic and immovable and kind of off his rocker, from what Neji remembered of him. He was also Temari's little brother, which was to Neji an unquestionable confirmation that screwballness ran in families with varying degrees of intensity.
Neji pulled his shirt back on – he had removed it because it was really hot and for no other reason, okay, and it certainly had nothing to do with the fact that he knew Temari had been looking – and he crossed the road to face off with Gaara because Gaara was a threat to his status as most hardass around these parts.
The sandy breeze picked up again as Neji approached and he and Gaara stared at each other and their hair waved around their emotionless faces as they vied to determine who was most hardass between them.
Then music swelled and Neji and Gaara recalled the difficult days of their youth and their absent father figures and the irreconcilable dichotomy between truth and war and Gaara wondered what love was and Neji reflected on divine providence and Gaara meditated on why there was suffering in this world and what it could all mean and Neji speculated on moral relativism and it was all extremely moving and impressive until Temari yelled "staring contest! Nobody blink!" very loudly, which totally ruined the cinematographic moment.
Gaara and Neji broke their locked gazes to give Temari dirty looks for interrupting their emotional Recalling, Reliving and Recuperation (the three Rs they learned at Stiff Prats Anonymous), but Temari remained happily oblivious to them and maundered on about what a grand staring contest this was going to be what with the taciturn insomniac and the pupil-less wonder being participants. "Totally epic!" Temari exclaimed.
As punishment for ruining his poignant moment Gaara decided to make Temari uncomfortable and embarrassed and so he asked her what exactly she saw in Neji, anyway.
Temari was extremely taken aback by this question and its implications and she strenuously denied seeing anything in Neji whatsoever, what the hell kind of question was that? Totally out of left field!
Gaara asked her why she had been gazing dreamily at Neji, then, and Temari informed Gaara that she had been looking at the forest and not Neji, who was devastatingly uninteresting at the best of times.
This only made Gaara more convinced that Temari did see something in Neji especially when Temari became so flustered that she almost knocked herself out with her fan.
Then Gaara turned to Neji and asked him what exactly he saw in Temari and Neji only looked mildly unsettled because he was better at keeping his emotions under control than Temari. He too said he saw nothing in Temari whatsoever, no offence to Gaara, what with Temari being his sister and all, but she was so not his type, not totally bodacious enough, and they had already been through this, by the way.
And Gaara became more certain that Neji did see something in Temari because he knew hardasses and all of their ways and he could detect Neji's extreme perturbation in the way he spoke in very clipped tones and also in the way he had inhaled his own saliva and choked on it before answering.
After letting Temari and Neji stew in their own botheration for a while, Gaara recalled that he had things to see and people to do – or was it the other way around? – in any case, he had to be off, and he gave Neji a curt nod which meant that he accepted Neji into the Callous Clique and in return Neji gave Gaara a manly knuckle-bump which meant that Gaara was accepted into the Passionless Posse. Temari was totally rejected from both of these elite organizations because sometimes she evinced signs of actual emotion, and so she only got a vague wave from Gaara before he vanished in a poof of sand and she got nothing from Neji since he wasn't going anywhere anyway.
When her littlest brother had disappeared, Temari muttered something about him being totally way out there oh my god yeah that was embarrassing.
Neji agreed and stated that it was obvious that Gaara was completely unversed in human interactions like whoa. It wasn't like he and Temari were even friends or anything.
Much less interested in each other.
Temari nodded and pointed to further proof: she and Neji couldn't even go a day without having a huge fight. Neji said that made for irrefutable evidence for sure, since they always ended up more or less trying to kill one another.
Temari concluded that thus, obviously, indisputably and self-evidently, they totally hated each other.
"Yeah," said Neji.
And then there was a silence and Neji felt the need to clarify:
"Well not hate, exactly. I mean, I can tolerate you. Mostly."
"Yeah, I guess," said Temari, who brightened considerably at this addendum of Neji's, "I can stand you sometimes."
Then they stood around and were quite satisfied with themselves for having quashed Gaara's completely absurd suggestions.
Two figures detached themselves from the Suna skyline at this point and Temari narrowed her eyes and hoped they weren't Gai and Lee or something and Neji Byakuganed them because he also hoped they weren't Gai and Lee and he wanted confirmation one way or another. As it turned out, it was Tenten and Kankuro making their slow way towards the border post.
Tenten and Kankuro seemed to have reconciled their former differences quite well – indeed, perhaps too well for Temari and Neji, who each witnessed one of their team-mates engaging in questionable canoodling with a ninja from another village.
"Um," said Temari when Tenten and Kankuro were close enough to catch the outraged stupefaction which she packed into that one syllable.
"Um," reiterated an appalled Neji.
"Um… hi," said Kankuro when his face was unstuck from Tenten's for a moment.
"I got my shuriken back," said Tenten.
"And I took a shower," said Kankuro.
"Now we're going to Mist," Tenten said merrily. "We have a mission."
"A joint mission." Kankuro specified. "Sand and Leaf."
"Yes," said Tenten, "to strengthen diplomatic ties."
"Okay…" said Temari slowly, and then she put one hand on her hip and tapped her foot impatiently and conveyed a general expectancy of awaiting further explanation and that it had better be really good.
However, Kankuro and Tenten deliberately avoided explaining anything else by suctioning their faces back together and tripping away into the Konoha forest without so much as a backward glance at the shocked jounin pair behind them.
"Nauseating," said Neji.
"Yeah," said Temari, and then she added an earnest "ew" for emphasis.
When Tenten and Kankuro had left and all sounds of smooching had faded away, Temari sat down glumly on her boulder with her head in her hands.
Neji asked her what was the matter, not that he cared or anything. After a moment, Temari sighed and told him it was obvious that there was a real party shaping up at Mist and she totally hadn't been invited while Kankuro and Tenten had.
Neji then parked himself dispiritedly beside her because he had just remembered that Gai and Lee had also been heading to Mist which meant that they had gotten invites while he hadn't and that was really a humbling proposition.
Then both Temari and Neji felt like social outcasts, which was a very strange feeling for both of them since they were usually the height of cool.
Temari conjectured that perhaps it was an oversight on behalf of whoever was organizing the party, and Neji didn't find that plausible because there was no way anyone could ever forget a Hyuuga, they were invited to all the A-list parties without fail, and Temari said that as daughter to the former Kazekage and the sister of the current one, the situation was the same with her.
Temari could only conclude that everyone had forgotten them because they'd been living in the middle of nowhere for three weeks. Neji found also that this was the only conceivable explanation and therefore everybody they knew had dreadful short-term memory retention rates.
Temari declared that since nobody wanted her she would become a vagabond ninja and she suggested to Neji that he could be her hobo leper companion if he really wanted. Neji declined because he planned on becoming a pariah and exiling himself to a tropical island to write a tell-all book on the Hyuugas, which was a more stylish occupation than that of leprous hobo in his opinion, and Temari had to agree.
Then Temari felt like she was falling off of her boulder and so she shuffled sideways a little bit closer to Neji, and Neji braced himself in case she took it in her head to shove him off, but she didn't, and they sat quietly in the mellow light of late afternoon and contemplated how much their social lives sucked.
And how they were sitting very close and pretty much touching, but it was completely decent and decorous and who read into stuff like that. So anyway their social lives sucked.
"Well," said Temari eventually, "at least we have that."
Neji, who had been observing Temari's hand on the boulder and trying to decide whether to place his own two inches beside it or only one, looked up, and he saw a particularly flamboyant sunset in the western sky behind the Konoha tree line.
"Yeah," said Neji. "You don't get that in Mist."
"Exactly," said Temari, "because it's all, you know, misty there."
"Right," said Neji.
Together they watched the sun proceed in its setting and pretended to be slightly bored but nonetheless appreciative of this spectacle of colour and light, which was a difficult balance to achieve but they managed more or less.
And so the twilight chorus of birdsong slipped into the quiet of evening and darkness fell about Neji and Temari until they blinked and noticed that it was night. And neither of them made to move, even when the moon rose and the night creatures began their rustling in the Konoha undergrowth and there really was no excuse to keep sitting together any more.
And while he was sitting there next to Temari, Neji realized that there was something else that had been developing in ways akin to this hushed progression of nightfall, something else that had happened by movements slow and steady and secret. And this left him quite perturbed.
And while she was seated there next to Neji, Temari realized that there was something else that had, like the coming of dusk, actualized itself by calm purposive advancements which had gone completely unnoticed and unheeded by her until now.
And then Neji and Temari both understood that that something had been happening by unhurried degrees over the course of three weeks, as imperceptible as this present twilight's sinking into night.
And then they knew then that they didn't really hate each other or even just tolerate each other or stand each other or even just like each other a little bit but rather a whole lot.
It was falling a little bit in love.
And Temari blinked.
And the realization was a rush and it was a high and they found themselves feeling awkward and unfamiliar but also knowing suddenly that the fights and the insults and the shared tumbles and scrums had all been leading up to this, to sitting here together and almost touching and pretending that they weren't thinking about it. And it was inevitable and unpreventable and necessary somehow and that made everything all right.
Neji finally decided to put his hand not two inches away from Temari's or even one inch away but rather close enough that his fingers slightly overlapped hers, just to see what would happen. And Temari noticed this and instead of pulling back or yelling about personal space, she turned shifted hand so that their fingers interlaced, kind of.
And that seemed as good as time as any to Neji and so he nudged Temari and said, "hey."
And Temari turned and said, "what?" even though she already knew what.
And then they both sort of smiled and their eyes met and, two seconds after that, so did their lips.
On the twentieth day, Neji and Temari said goodbye.
We will drop the curtain of privacy around them regarding the precise details of their farewell ceremony but we will mention that Neji proved beyond question that he was part carp when finally got a hold of those fishnetted legs and had his way with them. And we note too that, with regards to a particular article in Killer Kunoichi, as it turned out Neji wielded a katana and not a kunai, which satisfied Temari very much, and we mention too that his endurance levels turned out to be most pleasing and indeed almost too pleasing.
We remark also that Temari got very intimately acquainted with the deliciously thick pile rug of the Leaf bunkhouse and later with the jacuzzi and even later with the 400 thread black silk sheets and she considered writing a book called The Adventures of Neji The Nudist Ninja which would be infinitely more exciting than the Norman series because the protagonist would have a totally bodacious consort called Temari the Tantalizing Tart.
When they had quite finished frisking, frolicking and generally engaging in cross-village hanky-panky quite as outrageous as that of their bugs, Neji and Temari lay together sticky with sweat and other interesting bodily secretions and basked quite satisfied in post-hanky-panky afterglow.
Then Temari stretched and casually mentioned that maybe she would be swinging around to Konoha at some point and Neji looked up and just as casually invited her to stay at his place because someone had to keep an eye on her before she destroyed the village or something and they kind of agreed that yeah, that sounded like a good plan, but it was all very provisional and didn't mean anything or whatever. And Temari's hand disappeared under the sheets and started to do naughty things with Neji's katana and they were getting frisky again almost immediately.
And then they fell asleep nestled together in Neji's bed, but only because it was more convenient for Temari to stay there since half of her clothes were missing in action and her fishnets were ripped in the most scandalous places, and not because they had a profound heartfelt longing to remain together as long as possible maybe forever and till-death-do-us-part. Or whatever.
On the morning of the twenty-first day, the bunkhouses stood empty once more – but only until the next disgruntled jounin pair made their way to them, grumbling about border duty.
Quiet anticipation made the air hushed and still on the little-used road between two bunkhouses on the border of Sand and Leaf.
A/N: The end. Hope you enjoyed this little story! Writing it was a pleasure and hopefully reading it was fun too. Please see my profile for updates on my other fics.