Just to give a big thanks to everybody who has reviewed so far, and to say this chapter is still T, due to a slight mentioning of blood and a bit of swearing.
Insomnia, noted Shikamaru, was apparently contagious.
Ever since Temari's visit a few days prior, the Nara boy had suddenly been able to find any excuse to put off going to bed. For some reason, those shurikan that he had in a pouch somewhere on the floor of his room really seemed to need cleaning. Tidying his bedroom became a priority.
It wasn't that he was afraid of the nightmares. If it were about that, Shikamaru would have stopped sleeping a long time ago.
But he didn't want to sleep, because he didn't want to admit that this was really happening.
Yes, Shikamaru had told Temari what she wanted to hear. Yes, he found it a strange coincidence that he was dreaming of a mysterious, flamed-haired girl the same time Temari was being 'haunted.'
But Shikamaru was a strategist. He believed in logic.
What logic was there in the one ghost, returning three years prior to her death? Why would it be that particular ninja? Why now?
So many questions. Questions the Shadow-manipulated doesn't think can be answered. Not even by the ghost herself, if she even existed.
Lying down on his cool bed, Shikamaru stared at the ceiling, his eyes focusing on nothing in particular. His room was dark, but the curtains were blowing elegantly in the breeze. It was nearing midday, but to Shikamaru, it was basically just hours stretching on ahead of him without sleep there to interrupt him endless musings. His parents, strangely, seemed to know something was going on, because just recently they had been giving him a slightly wider birth.
Not avoiding him, exactly, but there was a certain tentative way that they would react to him. His mother's voice was strangely flat when she would tell him to pick up his damn stuff or his father would gruffly ask him if he was alright, before grunting and going off to work. His mother had even refrained from complaining when Shikamaru told her he wasn't feeling well. She merely told him "not to push it" before leaving to house also. He didn't know if it was the lies she was talking about, or the excuses.
He possibility it was himself had only just occurred to him.
Shikamaru wasn't sure, but maybe the shadows under his eyes let them know what they needed to know.
After a few minutes, however, Shikamaru could hear a tap dripping from the bathroom. A steady trickling, probably from the shower. He closed his eyes, but now that he had noticed the sound, it seemed to grow more insistent, like a rapid increase of a heartbeat.
With a sigh that rattled from him. Shikamaru flipped himself off the bed, stretching his arms so far out he heard his shoulder pop in an oddly satisfying way.
Heading for the bathroom, Shikamaru squinted at the sunlight. He didn't remember using so much steam in the bathroom, either, but it was as though a switch had been flicked, thick steam hovering serenely, almost as though it was expanding.
"Huh?" murmured Shikamaru, frowning slightly.
He walked into the bathroom, his bare feet slapping gently on the slightly damp floor. The dripping continued melodiously.
Then, through the steam, Shikamaru saw something. At first, he was convinced the sunlight and steam combined was making his vision hazy, but another noise, like a hiss, penetrated the silence.
Another movement, just to his right. He flicked his eyes to the bath again, and he saw a shape, standing just under the nozzle for the shower.
Shikamaru rubbed his eyes, his knuckles poking at them through the delicate skin of his eyelids. When he finally removed them, however, the image became even clearer.
The ghost of a redhead was casually leaning against the tiles on the wall. Her skin didn't leave a wet imprint on the tiles, but her arm and back were glistening as though she had just stepped out of the bath. Shikamaru opened his mouth, but the only noise to escape was something that sounded like a strangulated gasp.
Finally, she looked over at him. Her expression was odd. Her eyes were watching him, a lock of hair falling between them, striking red against her tanned skin. She wasn't smirking, like he had expected, or even glaring, specifically, but there was something cold, almost predatory about her gaze that made Shikamaru's throat dry.
"...Why...?" he eventually managed to say, conjuring the words from the last piece of resolve in him. He cleared his throat. "Why are you here?"
She didn't answer. She merely frowned, as though she was concentration. Tayuya's skin rippled for a moment, and then she stepped out of the bath. The Nara boy was surprised to see that Tayuya was not wearing the clothes she had died in. Her skin was still glistening, her hair messy and fanning out around her, her hat missing. She moved close to him, her expression never shifting its focus. Shikamaru didn't want to touch her, so he backed away, awkwardly, until he felt the wall and his back gently collide.
Tayuya watched Shikamaru retreat, and he thought he sensed a shift in her demeanour. He suddenly noticed how cold the room felt. Tayuya placed on hand on the wall nearby Shikamaru's head. The move was slow and measured, her palm flattening against the wall. She was still staring at him, her mouth thin, as if she was biting down hard on the inside of her lip.
"What is it?" Shikamaru muttered, his voice mingling with the sound of the faucet dripping. He felt afraid, but more of Tayuya's silence then anything else. He could never remember her being silent, "What do you want from me?"
Tayuya stared into Shikamaru's eyes and moved closer. He could feel nothing but cold, the hairs on his neck standing on end. Then Tayuya leaned forwards, her icy breath floating through the whorls of his ears.
"I have a message for you." she whispered, and her voice was like smoke.
She smiled as her hair somehow managed to brush his arm.
"He's waiting for you."
When Shikamaru opened his eyes, she was gone in an instant.
He would have been convinced that he was dreaming, except that Tayuya had left him an eerily real momento, before that too vanished. Shikamaru's lips were ice cold.
A handprint, fresh and shining glistened on the wall, right where Tayuya had placed her palm.
It was made with blood.
"Excuse me, Kazekage?"
"Your brother wishes to see you."
"Send him in."
The blonde girl disappeared, and Kankurou entered. He wore a grim expression, and his face-paint was smudged. His left hand had faint purple smears on the side of the wrist and on his fingers.
"Kankurou, this had better be important." intoned Gaara, tapping his fingernails on the table, watching his brother fidgeting uncomfortably,"I have work to do."
"Have you seen Temari?" Kankurou burst in, somewhat impatiently, but Gaara could sense his brother's agitation, so did not rise to this. Instead, he shook his head, watching Kankurou's hands clenching and unclenching.
"Kankurou." Gaara repeated, quietly. "What is it?"
"Do you remember when Temari kept complaining about how it was always cold in her room? And how she couldn't sleep in there and shit?"
"I remember." affirmed Gaara. Kankurou had unconsciously began rubbing at his face in agitation, the paint cracking and flaking onto his knuckles. Gaara wondered how many times Kankurou had already re-added his face paint throughout the course of the day.
"It was weird." frowned Kankurou, "I went in there the other day, and it's like a friggin' icebox. It makes the hairs on my arm stand up to go in there, and not just because of the cold. I feel like...I'm being watched when I go in. Like someone's already in there, even when I check in every possible place. It's just...I don't blame her for not wanting to be there either. But I dunno where she is."
Gaara said nothing, but the wheels in his mind were already turning. He rose his aquamarine eyes to his brother's. Kankurou looked away, whether he was cowed by Gaara's expression or embarrassed about his feeble reasoning, Gaara didn't know. An expected pause filled the room when the Kazekage did not immediantly respond. Eventually, Gaara said,
"Temari departed to the Leaf Village six days ago. Perhaps she's seeking answers there."
"What?" Kankurou jumped in, surprised. When Gaara merely continued to gaze at him, however, he relaxed slightly.
"She's just...not herself." mumbled Kankurou, shrugging his shoulders. "That's all."
Gaara nodded his eyes deep and thoughtfully staring at the desk. Then he spoke his words quiet and measured.
"I think...you need to let Temari handle this on her own." he said. Kankurou made as if to interrupt, but Gaara continued and he fell silent, "If she has gone to Konoha instead of remaining here, all we can do is allow her to handle the situation by herself until she needs us."
"When will we know that?" Kankurou replied, softly, his voice slightly irritable, but pained, "When is she going to tell us?"
"We will know." answered Gaara, his voice still calm and quiet, but an authoritative tone was creeping into it as he stared thoughtfully out at the sunset, the sight breathtaking from the tower, the village of Sand being sent into a meditative slumber as twilight approached, "She is our sister. We will know."
Kankurou watched Gaara for a moment, marvelling in the unexpected depth of his brother's words. He nodded slowly, his hood falling off his head as he moved, making his face look strangely vulnerable without its shadow and its faded facepaint.
"...Yeah." Kankurou eventually responded, his voice reflecting Gaara's tranquillity, his forehead uncreasing as he observed the sunset and the village. "Thanks, Gaara."
Without another word, Kankurou turned and departed, his footsteps making soft shuffling sounds against the floor, the door closing silently behind him.
For those of you who are curious, the words I've been using in the chapter titles are music terminologies.