Author's Note: Boy was this a long haul. I apologize for the wait, AGAIN. It takes a lot of willpower to sit my butt down and type-- before of course, something like life comes up and postpones it. I was about ready to quit, even with a single paragraph to go. However, a few recently read reviews left me guilty enough to at least finish this chapter. I hope you enjoy it. As for the next installment, guh...I'll try not to let you guys down. If you see any glaring mistakes, feel free to PM me, I was tired. Very--very--tired...



Chapter 5: The Dream Far Apart

The walk to Shikamaru's home was silent, sober... hardly noticed by either. Both had their minds dreamily spiraling down a contagious whirl, mutely mulling over what had just taken place only seconds earlier. Neither looked at each other, but they were completely aware of each others presence. The journey felt surreal and absent. No matter what route they took, whether busy, bustled road, or still, puddle-riddled alleyway, it was as if the entire walk to his apartment was through a silent, soulless hospital hallway.


When they reached the infrastructure, Shikamaru unlocked the door without a word and ushered Temari inside. Temari drifted near the middle of the living room and impulsively arranged her fingers across her arm. She heard Shikamaru head to the kitchen, followed by the sound of clattering porcelain. She knew he was making tea. He didn't even bother asking. Temari simply walked over to the couch and draped herself over it. She tried to block out any complex thoughts that strived to steal her placid attempts at relaxation. She sighed and laid a hand on her forehead. Shikamaru watched her from afar. Both of them felt like they were in recovery-mode; instinctively easing the body back into a breathable, workable routine and function. Shikamaru smiled, as Temari didn't even seem to notice that she was dozing off. This relieved and calmed him a bit.

Well, he thought, at least she's relaxed enough to feel comfortable napping here…

When the tea was ready, Shikamaru quietly brought it over. Temari took a deep breath and stretched upward. She wasn't entirely asleep, and her eyes fluttered slightly.


Temari murmured inaudibly before responding.

"Yeah?" she droned in reply, rolling her head in his direction.

"You know when I apologized to you in the desert?"

Temari slowly smiled with a hint of nostalgia shimmering in her eyes. It wasn't even an old memory, but it somehow retained a preciousness just like one. It was one of those memories that crept into her dreams, and could slowly bring her out of her sleep.

"Yes…what about it?" she asked, leaving only a little hint of her pleasure for the well fed reminiscence.

"Well…here's another one then." He sat up and folded his hands, leaning forward. Temari eyes followed his movement. She didn't know what to expect now.

"I want to thank you."

Her mouth parted slightly.


"Yep Temari…I want to thank you."

She found that her legs shifted at the sound of her name coming out of his mouth.


"Well…" He turned his head toward the window, gazing out through the pane. There was a lone, drifting cloud, secluded and contrasted against the serenely blue sky; a nomadic wanderer, treading its own invisible, infinite path.

"Just…being here," he said, still staring at the lonely thing. He finally turned to her.

"I know I've never really said it, but I appreciate being able to hang out like this. I know I'm your guide and all, but I know you've made some conscious decisions to spend time with me."

Temari turned away as her hands were gripping tighter in the fabric beneath her.

"I know I've been kind of apathetic about it in the past, but—it really does mean something to me."

Temari couldn't help but feel a sudden rush build in her chest and seep down her curved spine. Even things that did mean something to him were hardly worth his verbal acknowledgment, and yet here he was, admitting to her that her mere company meant something to him.

Temari finally gathered the courage and looked back at him. She never thought she would need courage just to look his way. If it were anyone else, she would just smile and nod at the gesture and be done with it. But this was Shikamaru. This was tunneled into something much deeper than a surface laid out with gratitude. There was something more to this, and the knowledge of it made her stomach tighten.

"I'm glad it didn't go unnoticed," Temari said, her eyes partially closing, "though I want to be surprised that you're thanking me, at the same time…I'm not really."

Shikamaru took a breath through his nose and sipped at his tea.

"Now can I say something?" she said.

Shikamaru raised a brow with a tugging smile. "Of course…"

She leveled her vision to meet directly with his, her eyes with a sudden brightness and clarity; her mouth softened to a sincere gentleness, and her overall demeanor radiated a tenderness he had never, in all the time he had spent with her, seen before.

"I…I greatly admire what you've done with the situation of your sensei's widow…and what you're going to do; so much so that— I can't even properly put it into words really…" she brushed at her bangs unconsciously, "when you told me what you were going to do while we were in the desert, I understood, and I was even in awe, but not to the degree that I am now…" She looked at him with a faint smile, "you've changed a bit…"

Shikamaru shrugged and ran a finger along the rim of his hot tea cup.

"Not really…" he quietly insisted.

Temari watched him. His strong hands slowly ran along different objects that happen to be laid out before him.

"What are your plans once they get out of the hospital?" she asked.

"Well…" he breathed, leaning back into the couch, "I'll still visit her every day, make sure she's all right. That will inevitably make me the most prominent male figure in his life. It's no doubt that I'm basically going to be his surrogate father. I won't hide it from him. I'm going to tell him how great his father was, and the powers and responsibilities he possesses as a Sarutobi."

Temari let her eyes drift down to the swirling, cloudy film that rose from her tea cup.

Shikamaru's whole life… she thought.

His entire life had transformed into something that only seemed to have a likeness of his original self, but had otherwise abandoned him. From the freakish amounts of training, to the chasm of distance he created with his closest friends, to his unwavering dedication to his sensei's newly born son. His whole life had undergone a radical alteration that would leave an invisible scar along his heart line. Although his calm demeanor never faltered, and his mellow way of going about his habits, and his sincere dedication to his village and friends remained undaunted, Temari knew for sure now, that Shikamaru truly, would never be the same. And all of it was because of one thing. One incident. One single cause…

"I want to know."

Shikamaru looked at her. "Know what?"

"About that Akatsuki member…how you did it."

"…Did what?" he replied.

Temari carefully tilted her head and took a breath. Clearly, he was uncomfortable with the subject matter. But now seemed like no better time to finally get the answer.

"How you killed the one that killed your sensei."

Shikamaru slowly turned away with drooping eyes. He didn't exactly look sad or crestfallen, but a tire seemed to sweep over him. All at once though, he looked right at her, with a look on his face that seemed to tell her that he was actually thinking about revealing the carnage. More than that, it was almost as if he had been waiting to tell her, but at the right time.

"All right…I'll tell you," he said, sitting forward with his hands folded. "I mean, we're ninjas. We've got strong constitutions."

Temari half smiled. "This isn't exactly going to be a campfire story, is it?" she asked.

Shikamaru guiltily but cunningly bared his teeth. "No, definitely not."

He began right from the point where his team encountered the pair in the forest. He explained, like pieces on a shougi board, how the plan fell into place, and went into detail of the unusual powers their enemies possessed. He verbally sketched out every major move and every close call. Temari instinctively sat closer when he got to the part where he was alone with Hidan, and she especially gripped the cushion and held her breath when he elaborated on how he had tricked Hidan with his partner's blood sample. Temari's eyes were wide and her mouth was parted.

"That's pretty damn ingenious,'re sitting right in front of me telling me this, and I still felt like you're gonna be a goner."

Shikamaru smiled and went on. He elaborated on how he triggered the trap that left Hidan hanging over a hundred foot deep abyss, and then of course, his one last tribute to his sensei.

Temari was quiet, replaying certain scenes in her head that particularly affected her. She then looked up at him, a soft smile forming on her lips before she began shaking her head.

"Only you could kill someone with a cigarette."

Shikamaru smiled with a shrug and closed his eyes.

Strangely enough, this undoubtedly gruesome story seemed to lighten their spirits a bit. Of course it wasn't the story itself, but the re-lived victory and justice burning at the end of every word.

As further time began to pass, whatever dire mood was left, continued to alleviate, and their old selves began radiating through the hazy trance the hospital had snared them with. Temari still had a few questions to ask pertaining to his encounter with the Akatsuki, and wanted certain things cleared up.

"Let me get this straight one last time…you're telling me…" she threw her hands up as if measuring the situation, "you're telling me that Hidan is out there," she said, pointing out the window,"he's out there, buried in your own damn back yard, as we speak?"

"As we speak," he answered darkly."Wanna go unbury him and poke a stick in his eye?"

Temari started laughing, but stopped short and honestly hoped he was joking. Shikamaru smiled.

"Then when he starts cursing us profusely, we can stuff rotten tomatoes in his mouth," he suggested.

"You don't…he's not… still alive is he?" The idea absolutely mortified even her. Going to bed every night, knowing he's still in pieces underground; alive— and wanting out.

"He isn't," Shikamaru answered. "Whatever crazy powers he had, it wasn't really immortality. His body's blown to smithereens. Without any blood flow, he can't sustain life. His body will eventually rot in their individual pieces, till he's nothing but bones. Then the moisture and the sediment will erode the bones and replace them. If he ever gets unburied, all that will be known are fossils of what use to be…"

Temari's mouth skewed at his quick, sinisterly thoughtful answer.

"Wow…really made sure he'd never come back, huh?"

Shikamaru grinned, almost cynically, "I had it all planned out…" he said quietly.

Temari took a moment to study him again. She never really realized how often she spent her time just studying him, trying to figure him out. She could never seem to learn enough, and she never seemed to get tired of learning. Her eyes drifted over to the clock, and she sighed.

"You have to get going, huh?" he guessed.

"I've got a meeting in an hour. Forgot all about it."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be silly, it's not your fault," she said, getting up and stretching before deliberately peeking an eye open and smiling to reassure him.

"Want me to walk you home?" he asked.

"No. In fact—" she pointed at the hallway. "I want you to go to bed and sleep. You look like you haven't got any for days."

At the combination of the words, 'bed, tired, and sleep', Shikamaru did suddenly feel the energy drain from him. It was a bizarre phenomenon. He felt like he hadn't even thought about it for days.

"All right, all right, I'll go to bed…" he stood up and took the tea cups to the kitchen. When he re-emerged, he noticed Temari standing before him with her hands on her hips.

"What?" he asked.

"I won't leave until I know you're in bed, and soundly asleep."

Shikamaru sighed and dropped his shoulders. To his account, she was being unusually concerned, but he could understand at this point. He really just didn't like being forced to do anything, which seemed completely ludicrous in this situation because Temari was actually forcing him to get some sleep.

'Damn, this has been a weird trip to Konoha…' she thought while rubbing her forehead. She looked at Shikamaru, who yawned and scratched himself idly. He seemed to be teasing her efforts.

Temari vigorously pointed down the hall again. Shikamaru countered her silence with his own, as he sauntered down the hallway and into his bedroom. He could hear her lighter pair of feet following his own. He couldn't help but notice the prickling down his neck knowing that she was following him to his bedroom. He stopped in the doorway and looked back at her strangely.

"Well?" she prodded with a rising brow.

"Um…I'm gonna change first."

"Fine, let me know when you're done, 'cause I'm gonna open this door again and I want to see you under those sheets with your eyes closed."

Shikamaru gave her a tight grin and shook his head. "Fine…" he breathed, closing the door, but not locking it.

Temari remained facing the door, her arms crossed, and the fingers on her right hand tapping her arm impatiently. She was ready to open the door the moment he said he was done so that she could be sure he would keep his word. Shikamaru on the other hand was casually taking his sweet time. Temari closed her eyes and twitched occasionally as the seconds passed. Suddenly, she was ripped away from any idle brain fog. As soon as she realized that she could actually hear him taking off his clothes, her arms snapped parallel to her sides and plastered against her body, uncontrollably squeezing herself. She fists clenched instantly, and she succumbed to a rabid heat rushing across her face. She instinctively turned her back to the door as if it would hinder her imagination, even though she obviously couldn't see through it. Her body only tightened at the self awareness of such silliness. She even closed her eyes, like it would aid in preventing the onslaught of heat triggered imaginings.

"All right," came a voice jolting her out of her stupor. Standing coma.

Temari slowly turned around, her arms red and vibrating uncontrollably.

"Are…you have clothes on, right," she stammered.

"No, I'm buck naked, Temari. Of course I have clothes on. I wouldn't torture you with such a temptation."

Temari couldn't help a laugh, but her body shuddered violently at the glorious thought, her hands reeling, her eyes creasing and her teeth grinding. Temari seethed, feeling the volcano heat instantly spread from her face to the very tips of her toes. She knew her response was taking too long. Her nails shakily edged up her temple to brush away some invisible hairs, nervously awaiting a clever, snarky response from him, but nothing came. Temari turned to the door with all the speed of a sloth and stared. Needless to say, she was slightly put off by the silence. She somehow summoned the courage to keep her word and place her hand on the door knob. She took a breath. If she opened it too slowly, it would no doubt register a 'what the hell is wrong with you,' look on Shikamaru's face. So she summoned a heaping of willpower and opened the door casually, awaiting the teasing she would no doubt receive for taking so damn long to open a door. She opened it until her entire body could be seen through the doorway, and she stood. Temari's nose crinkled, her eyes drooped, and her shoulders dropped.

Shikamaru was asleep, just like that. It seemed that all he needed was a little prompting, a few seconds to register that he was in a resting position, and then years of conditioned lethargy would take over, shut his eyes and plummet him into a peaceful slumber.

So those were going to be his last words until she saw him later. Wonderful. What a perfect way end an encounter and enter into a meeting— with rabid thoughts of naked Shikamarus' running through her head. Or lounging casually with a sly, haughty grin on a fluffy mahogany colored, velvet textured, candle-lit couch—.

Oh hell, stop, STOP! She frantically grabbed her head and darted.

After a single bound, she stopped short, and turned around. Before she simply booked it out of the premises, she had the sense and decency to gently shut his door. Then she would run like a mad woman, and fly out of the apartment complex. She didn't even want to think about what she might be overcome by if she stayed any longer.


The dream…

far apart…

ripped, smoothed over—mended back together, falling raining, dripping through his curled, raw, shivering fingers.

It stops.

The rays of ambient light dry them before they hit the celestial floor.

He saw her there.

that fierce, beautiful thing with deadly curves and a wicked grin that enticed vicious desire.

The shadows danced over her body wrapping around her neck, dragging down her torso and snaking under her breasts.

He was jealous of those shadows. He would have them, so that he could have her.

Chills glide down between his shoulder blades like a pair of clawed hands, raking down his spine, smoothing over his torso and gliding up his chest. He could feel her breath behind his ear. She teases—taunts his endeavors of self control.

She wishes to awaken what she knows lies within him.

Nearly... touchable... locks of deeply golden strands, with only a subtle hint of curls that dimly shimmed when the sun rays stroked them.

And she floats before him again.

The touchable friend.

He glides his fingers down her soft, bare waist. She does not know how hungry he is. He hid it well. He hid it well for years. Now, his patience was dead, his lust threw off the corpse. His teeth reached for her throat. He wanted to dig his fingers into her. He wanted to roar and snarl and steal her breath with his mouth. He wanted to gnash and gnaw and draw blood…

but gently, gently he bit into her flesh. Gently he grazed his canines along her smooth throat. He could hear her breath quickening, quivering, quenched with exited fear.

Darkness. A black as night darkness wrapped itself around her, but she was not afraid. That darkness came from him. That darkness belonged to him.


Shikamaru threw the covers off in a frenzy and nearly did a somersault in bed. When he came to, he was on his back, his vision dazed and desperate to come into focus. Eventually, the plain off-white ceiling became discernable. The ticking of his clock further reminded him of his whereabouts.

"What the hell was that?" Shikamaru asked aloud. He slapped a hand over his face and rubbed it fiercely before letting his arm fall back down to the bed. "It was like a drunken poet vomited in my dreams or something…"

He sat up and snorted like a weary stallion and quietly took in the quiet atmosphere of his room. His eyes scanned around, sincerely hoping he really was in his room, and not a Jiraiya-affiliated bathhouse. He sighed, inwardly thankful and looked at the clock.

8:30… a.m.? "Must've slept through the rest of yesterday and woke up this morning…" he murmured, throwing his legs over the side of the bed before stretching and yawning. He headed to the bathroom to take a shower, forcing an apathetic mindset in every preparation he made before turning the water on, but it was useless. Regardless of the stone faced look on him, his mind was wound tight around the shapely figure of a certain hot headed woman. Yes, regardless of the look on his face, the rest of his body was honest and true in their sentiments. Shikamaru didn't even have to look down to be aware of the nature of his lower extremities.

"Troublesome…" came out the long neglected expression.


For the next two days, Temari's recent routines had mostly consisted of stalemate deskwork and going back and forth between adjoining buildings— so a guide was not needed here. She had not seen Shikamaru since her leave from his apartment, and she was just fine with that. A periodic absence meant less distraction…although… a long absence meant a growing longing for that distraction again. Temari shook her head. She was going to remain focused. She was going to keep her head on straight. Good, time was passing. The more time elapsed, the more her imagination eroded a certain finger twitching, lip licking memory…at least that's suppose to be the logical explanation. Temari soon realized that the importance, meaningfulness, and dearness played a role in the lifespan, and quality of life of a memory. She looked out the window. The sun was giving off its last broad pulses of life as it slowly sank behind the silhouetted mountainside. Temari looked over at the clock. It was past five. She had been here all day. Temari closed the book before her and gathered up her documents. She arrived at the Hokage's office to deliver them.

"Where's your guide?" Tsunade asked, as Shizune took the folders and laid them over the desk.

"He's not here, but please, don't punish him," she joked lightly, "I've been in the next building most of the day, so I didn't ask for him," she explained.

"Is he doing an adequate job?" Tsunade asked, opening the folding and skimming the first page.

Temari intended to speak, but the words seemed to roll up in a tight knot in her throat. She coughed and cleared her breathing before going on neutrally.

"He's doing a very good job, as usual," she answered.

Tsunade didn't look up, and didn't say a word, as she flipped to the next page. Temari's eyes flicked to Shizune in the awkward silence. Shizune could only give her a sympathetic glance as she knew she waited for dismissal.

"How is he?" Tsunade asked suddenly.

Temari swallowed, and her hand instinctively shot up to brush away a nonexistent hair, but she recoiled and clamped both hands together.

"Ma'am?" was all she could manage.

Tsunade looked up at her. "How is he doing? Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Is he doing better? I assume you know what I'm talking about?"

Temari lowered her head slightly.

"He's doing much better, yes. I've been informed of the current circumstances surrounding him."

Tsunade began writing on the given document.

"I've noticed a remarkable improvement in his overall demeanor since your arrival."

Temari took a breath. "He…needed someone to talk to."

"His teammates weren't sufficient?"

"Well…I suppose since they were involved in the matter, it was easier speaking with someone from the outside. Someone he could explain the situation to."

Tsunade was quiet again. She sat straighter and closed the document, folding her hands on top of it.

"Thank you," she said, her eyes falling on the young kunoichi.

Temari didn't know what to say.

"Thank you for taking care of him. That's what you've been doing, whether intentionally or not. You are just as much a guide to him, as he is to you, just in a different way."

Temari remained motionless.

"No one has been able to get him out of his slump, and you come and do that even before you arrive here, and it is very much appreciated. You've brought our genius back to us."

Now Temari allowed her hand to rise up and nervously itch her cheek.

"I'm glad I could help out."

"You're dismissed."

Temari bowed slightly and exited the room. As soon as she shut the door behind her, she slammed her back in exhaustion against the wall.

Shit, that was taxing on my nerves… Temari thought, pulling herself off the wall and walking down a flight of stairs to the first floor. She burst through the double doors and took in the fresh evening air. It was Friday, it was night, and she was hungry. Not to mention a tad antsy for some obvious reasons, and it didn't help that her rump grew numb from sitting static, before standing static, before the Hokage of all people.

The pleasant mixture of smells from the marketplace drifted in small wisps and she inhaled deeply. If this had been the first time in this village, she knew she wouldn't starve. She followed her senses and became a part of the crowd. She took a few food samples from long winded food stand operators here and there, and she felt she could finally relax, but she kept her eyes open for a place she could just lounge and fill up her appetite.

It was at this moment that she spotted a black-haired, juvenile Jounin, strolling around the area as mindlessly as she was. Temari inhaled unevenly and shrugged unconsciously as a smirk came over her. Well…there he was—the cause of all emotional lashings within her.

Shikamaru hadn't seen her yet. Temari began walking a few steps forward when both she and him stopped at the shrill sound of someone shrieking his name. Shikamaru turned around with gritted teeth. It was happening. And it was happening right in front of Temari.

The bombardment of bimbos.

"Hmm…what to do, what to do," Temari mockingly pondered to herself, "should I turn on my haunches and boohoo all the way home?" she turned back to the reluctantly swarmed Shikamaru, "or should I have a little fun with this?"

Shikamaru had a severe scowl as the girls continued to crowd and gurgle over him.

"I don't think I need to ask," Temari breathed, making her way to the crowd.

Just before Shikamaru reached the peak of his exasperation, he heard the clear, husky voice of woman that cut through the whiney, bleating voices of high-pitched fangirls.

"Hey, Shikamaru…" Temari said, as if trying to entice him. She didn't know it would work so well.


The girls went temporarily silent when they heard him say a name. They all noticed the direction his eyes were looking, and turned their heads in unison. Without even thinking of their presence, Shikamaru gently moved through them, instinctive in not bustling over them, and walked right up to Temari.

Temari stared at him with a bewildered smile. She almost wanted to laugh. She thought wholeheartedly that Shikamaru was going to charge up to her, panting in a panic, and tell they must escape before its too late. However, he did something completely different. He eagerly walked to her with a content grin, as if the incident with the competitive women didn't even happen.

"You wanna grab a bite to eat?" she asked, deciding to play along with him.

"Sure," he said, still enthralled by her sudden appearance, "let's go."

He instinctively touched her arm to move forward, but was still aware enough to draw back as they walked down the broad gravel road. Temari prevented a flinch, and merely took mental note of this, as she walked on as if she didn't notice. She was more interested in the dumbfounded looks on the faces of the girls as they stood rooted, comprehending the situation. Temari up and stole their man away from them. The sand kunoichi looked over her shoulder right at them, parting a wicked grin and laughing eyes.

Shikamaru walked on, seemingly unaware. Temari was rather uncertain of his lack of attentiveness in this brief, bizarre battle, but she shrugged it off as they rounded a corner and disappeared from the girls' views.

"Did—did that just happen?" one girl asked.

"Maybe he likes foreign girls…" another queried.

"That jerk! He just ditched us for that violent she-thing!"

As Shikamaru and Temari made their way to a cluster of upcoming restaurants, Shikamaru finally spoke.

"Thanks," he said bluntly.

"Oh, so you did notice that I came to your rescue?" Temari teased. "I knew you were being weirdly clueless about the whole thing."

"Of course—I had to make them think that way. If I just rushed over to you and ran, that would indicate my acknowledging of their presence, but by acting like they were as numerous as the rest of the crowd, and ignoring their existence, it's a lot more affective. It really tells them that I just don't see them. Most of them won't be bothering me again. They'll think it's a waste of time."

Temari blinked. "Why, you always surprise me with how well you think ahead. It's pretty amazing. How is it they won't be bothering you again? I heard there's always girls scoping you out— right in your face," she grinned.

"Yeah, but they're almost always different girls."

Temari's eyes widened. "Really? Wow, aren't you the stud muffin?"

Shikamaru bared his teeth in a reluctant smirk and his cheeks reddened. Temari waited and wondered if he would deny it, but he didn't.

"So…any of them catch your eye yet?"

His smirk turned into a dark frown. It was a while before he answered.

"They're annoying as hell."

"Half of them are a lot older than me," Temari remarked.

"Yeah, that too."

"Why did this start happening all of a sudden?" she asked through a contained laugh.

"I don't know, but it's not exactly sudden…been happening more and more over the years," Shikamaru growled. "I s'pose when I started looking more like a man than a kid. They just come raiding my space all of a sudden with their slutty gropes and fake eye lashes."

Temari laughed and felt an insatiable urge to pinch his cheeks playfully, but she composed herself.

"You've got it rough, huh?"

"Tell me about it," he answered, playing into her sarcasm. Shikamaru paused and looked at her cautiously when he felt her put a hand on his shoulder.

"Why don't we go to this place?" Temari pointed suddenly at a low lit restaurant with smooth, enticing smells.

"All right," he agreed.

Once they were seated and made their orders, Shikamaru laid his head back against the booth and sighed.

"Sleep well after I left?" Temari asked.

Shikamaru's eyes flickered The first thing that came to his mind, was that damnable multi-colored, overly saturated dream. Oh, and the multiple dancing clones of a single woman that sat before him.

"Erm," he choked, "actually, I slept very soundly. Thanks for putting me to bed…"

An awkward silence.

"I didn't see you yesterday," he said.

"I was at the Hokage building most of the day. I didn't want to disturb you."

"Did you miss me?" Shikamaru asked cunningly.

"Did you miss me?"

"I asked first," he asserted.

"Okay, yes, I miss these moments," Temari said more quickly than she intended, fiddling with her napkin deftly.

Shikamaru lifted his head. He wasn't exactly expecting an answer like that.

"I mean…it sure beats desk work. And I'm sure you appreciate a night away from the howlers."

Shikamaru diverted his eyes and smiled before slowly looking up at her more seriously. He wasn't exactly sure how to break this question, and now seemed a good a time as any; at least while his courage held up.


"Yes?" she looked to him curiously.

Shikamaru looked absolutely grim. His mouth was tightly shut, his eyes were narrowed and staring into space, and Temari thought she could see the faint beading of sweat gathering at his temples. Apparently, whatever he was going to ask, it had been on his mind a long time.

"Have you…ever…erm…" His nose wrinkled severely. He was having a miserable time trying to keep himself composed. Never had he struggled like this. He had the village's greatest poker face. And if he decided to wear Shino's sunglasses, he'd have the world's greatest poker face.

At the moment however, he didn't look like he could play a hand of Go Fish.

Temari faced him with more focus now. She was both bothered and intrigued by his sudden tank in poise.

"What is it…?" she asked almost carefully. He looked ready to fall to pieces, and over what, Temari was anxious to know now.

Damn it…I can't…control myself… he strained in his thoughts. I can't back away now though. It'll only make things more suspicious. It looks like I trapped myself…idiot…

"Have you ever…had a…significant other?" his throat closed up after that, as if it were a one shot deal.

Temari stared at him. "A boyfriend?"

" of those..."

No…way he acted that goofy because of that question, there's just no…

Temari thought fast on how to deal with this situation. Indeed the impulsive reaction would be to flaunt and tease, relish in making him blush and squirm and bite his lip. But she was afraid it would divert the conversation too much. She continued to think. If she answered his question, chances were he would pursue the conversation, and dig deeper. Sure, it left the possibility of her having to answer more questions, but it would reveal more about him that she had been wanting to know a long time. She was reluctant, and she fought hard internally, but she would push away the urge to tease for now, in search for his answers.

Temari lowered her head and smiled slightly.

"Well…no actually." Though her head remained low, her eyes darted upward quickly. She wanted to see his reaction. She wanted to see what she would expect from him. There it was. The relaxing of the shoulders, the loosening of the jaw; his whole posture seemed to melt slightly in his seat.

"Oh…" came a deep grunt from him.

Dammit, dammit, what is wrong with me? he ground his teeth and sat straighter.

"Really?" he asked, taking casual breath and putting on a slight smile. Inwardly, he was thrilled, but he kept himself collected.

"Yeah, really," she droned, smiling at him. "Surprised?"

The corner of his mouth tugged upward. "I find you to be a pleasant mystery sometimes," he answered, "you seem too prideful to allow some guy, regardless of looks to just invade your sphere. You're not an airhead like Ino and Sakura. However, I don't know much of how you were before you came to Konoha the first time. So…it was hard to judge."

"Hmm…" she hummed, "You do a lot with the little information that's given to you."

"That's my job."

Temari glided a finger over her glass while studying him.

"What about you?" she asked.

"Naw, I've never had a boyfriend. Don't ever plan on getting one."

Temari laughed. "You know what I mean. Ever had any girlfriends?"

Shikamaru seemed more disturbed by this question than Temari did. He turned his head away slightly and his lip instinctively curled. He looked terribly annoyed.

"No," he answered flatly.

"You know, I imagined myself asking you that question one day, and every time, I imagined you being a totally cool cat about it. Just shrugging it off, saying no, or maybe even a "tsh" and a roll of the eyes, but…you look damn peeved."

"It's 'cause the girls that have asked, are a bunch of squealing, half witted bimbos. It's like Ino times 10."

Temari snickered. "Oh, gosh, that must be pretty insane then?" Temari was glad she didn't jump to teasing him when he first asked her about a boyfriend. This was far more interesting. However, she decided she could get answers, and make him squirm at the same time. That was always satisfying to her.

"Okay, so you've never had a girlfriend, but…have you ever uh…" she lifted her eyes to him, almost seductively. Shikamaru tensed. He didn't even want to take a guess. He swallowed hard.

Temari twirled her fingers.

"Have you ever…you know…"

"Know what?" he asked rather loudly, in shock. Temari's eyes lowered. Her mouth relaxed, and she looked more serious now, as she truly pondered over the question. Of course, she would still be blunt about it.

"Ever slept with a girl?" she said quietly, her eyes creeping up to his eyes.

Shikamaru frowned, darkly now. This wasn't mere annoyance. He was upset.

"I suppose it's quite common nowadays for people to randomly sleep with each other without really being significantly involved," he growled, "but for the record, no, I've never laid my hands on some girl who wanted a one night stand, aka, those girls you saw before we came here."

Temari turned her head. A smile graced her lips.

"You?" he asked dully. He flinched afterward.

"Of course not…"


"What do you mean?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.

"You're too fearsome and proud to let some random asshole get his mitts on you."

"Humph…and I say you're too noble to let some attention whore get her slutty hands on you and turn you into a slobbering wolf. As if the world doesn't have enough of those already."

"Makes us two of a kind, huh?"

"So it would seem."

The waiter came about during their brief silence and laid their orders on the table.

They ate mostly in silence, periodically eying one another. Although it was never verbally exchanged, both were well aware that they were ritually committing to the habit of analyzing one another.

When Temari was finished, she gave a content sigh and noticed Shikamaru opening up his wallet.

"You're paying again?"


"That also part of your job description?"

Shikamaru smiled.

"More like a personal duty." He said laying down the bill, before getting up and offering her his hand. Temari looked at it a moment. Shikamaru watched her carefully. The shy hesitation, the shortened breath, the rapidly wandering eyes, it was all there, if only for a mere second, before she grabbed his hand quickly to prevent him from seeing any sign of it trembling.

"I'm going to walk you home," he seemed to read her questioning mind. he told her as they walked out of the restaurant.

"You…you don't really have to."

"I know."

Temari looked up at him. She was reminded of his height again, and took a moment to scan his entire body. It might have appeared unwholesome to a passerby, but now, nobody was in the vicinity they were traveling in. Because of this, Temari didn't mind admiring him and smiling. Shikamaru was either completely oblivious, or he was doing a fine job of pretending not to notice. Temari didn't care either way at this point. The two walked side by side through the crowd that grew less and less dense with people. The chatter and clamor of shops began to die away

The diversity of moods they could share with eachother; from teasing and taunting to reluctantly and nervously seducing, to calm, and deeply meaningful. And she could share it all with him, he was the only one she could share that kind of emotional range with. He made present, certain emotions and feelings she didn't know existed, until the way his eyes met her at times.

Temari found herself doing the very same thing he was doing to her not too long ago. Was this part of his plan? It seemed like she was recycling the very movements he was genuinely guilty of that day. That day especially. He studied her the most that day. Then he disappeared for awhile, probably to study some more on his own. Temari nearly stopped dead in her tracks, but didn't want to draw any attention to herself, so she continued on with the result looking like a half stumble. Shikamaru noticed. The very thing she didn't want.

"You all right?"

"…" Temari turned away, mindlessly dragging her fingers through her hair. She tightly shut her eyes in a hard, time consuming blink before opening them gingerly. She regretted not answering him, and waited for that mellow hail of verbal teasing, but it never came. It seemed that Shikamaru wouldn't press her on the issue. Temari felt relived yet slightly guilty.

It was fully night, now. The stars were thrown with careless beauty across the sky…but neither was paying any attention to them. Shikamaru chose to let whatever ailed her to discomfort her more. If it was important enough, he trusted she would bring it up again. Although this would normally turn into a dangerous habit if committed by other men, Shikamaru wouldn't carelessly toss it away. No, he would carefully stow the incident in his nearly infinite memory space and let it make friends with the other reminisces he had been carefully fostering. But what was the purpose if he was never going to bring it up again? Why give the memory any kind of nourishment? It wasn't the physical incident that

Perhaps it was his way of trying to pry something from her. Perhaps he could have his go at silently taunting, teasing and driving her down the same boulevard of insanity she so easily steered him in. She could push him. He wanted to see if he could push back. She could back him into a wall with no offensive maneuvers on his part. She could push him as if his hands were tied behind his back. But now, he wanted to see what would happen if he broke those ties... if he laid those hands on …

Shikamaru sighed as he discreetly eyed her. When would he ever be able to obtain that courage that looked so good within the realms of fantasy? He lowered his head. He would plan. He would find a way. Somehow, he would time things right.

He rested a thumb and forefinger on his chin. He had to be patient. He had to wait for an opening, and that wasn't going to be too hard given the tendencies of her nature. It was him. He had to take that opportunity. Somehow he would feel the perfect moment in the very air around him.

For now, he decided to relish in the fact that they were sharing the mutual tension and discomfort. At least he knew he was causing her mutual discomfort. They would have to share that a little while longer. Just a little longer. Finally, they stood before the embassy. The streets were barren and carved out of any souls. The lights of all but major buildings were dim or completely out. They stood for a few seconds. He had yet to hear her footsteps head toward the double doors. He expected her to say something. He expected himself to say something. He ground his nails into the back of his head. He couldn't even turn her way.

Now…? Now? He lowered his head and closed his eyes, seemingly letting out a tired sigh. Was the opportunity there? He couldn't tell, he wasn't even looking at her.

Damn it, damn it, seconds are ticking by, and I'm letting them die in vain…

It was late. They were tired. Perhaps… tomorrow. Yes, he would try tomorrow. Shikamaru felt a tremor of guilt and shame drag like sand paper down his spine. After all this time, he was postponing the courage. After all this time, he was going the cowards way. What happened to all that he had learned during the time of her absence? Could the mere thought of attempting to initiate further closeness sever that valor and newness of life he gained from his recent tragedies?

Tomorrow…. He thought rigidly, trying to reassure himself. Tomorrow for sure. I'm going to be with her anyway. It can wait one more day…

He sighed again and dropped his shoulders.

I just hope I don't make a habit of saying that…I could go insa—

His thoughts were violently ripped from their roots. A hand, no, two hands had done the deed. Shikamaru's head was in a minor daze before his vision focused and he looked down to see Temari's flushed face.

Suddenly, she was all hands; all claws. She grabbed his vest, grabbed his shoulder, grabbed his collar and finally grabbed his head, and practically tackled him as she roughly planted her lips on…his crimson cheek.

That was it.

His cheek.

Nothing more.

She released him just as quickly as she had grabbed him and turned away, walking casually to the embassy, as if nothing had ever happened.

"I'll see you tomorrow," she said, lifting a hand without even turning to look at him. She used that hand to open one of the double doors. Just before she walked inside, she took one look around at him.

"Oh… and try to get some sleep tonight, okay?"

Shikamaru hadn't moved a muscle, his eyes hadn't blinked, and his mouth was dry from hanging open.

"Goodnight…Shikamaru…" the door slowly closed behind her, as she disappeared behind the shadows he so wished to control at that very moment. But he remained frozen. His hands were trembling. His feet were made of stone.

Well…that made things a hell of a lot easier…

Damn... I love this woman…


As soon as she realized she was out of his vision, Temari dug her heels in and ran to her suite. She burst through the door, slammed it shut and crashed her back into it, sliding to the floor.

If anyone thought she was in control of the situation; if anyone thought she had Shikamaru wrapped around her finger, they wouldn't be able to recognize Temari right now. Her knees were trembling against one another, her fingers were clawing the sides of her head, her hair was draping carelessly down her moist face, her teeth were grinding severely, and her eyes were crushed together. She was in anything but in a state of control. She wanted him. She wanted him right then and there. She wanted to drop him to the floor and inhale his breath as oxygen.

How she managed to follow through with her plan, and so casually retreat from his side like she was in control of the world, was a miracle she could not comprehend.

She only knew one thing now. She was weakened. She was vulnerable. She knew this changed everything. She knew the next time she saw him, she would want him more. She would want to feel his lips on her cheek, on her neck, on her lips.

As time passed, Temari's trembling eased, but it remained consistent, relentless, and occasionally flared back up to its original state. She could not stop it. Her breath was never sufficient enough, and her thoughts, never tame enough. Her mind replayed the events; replayed her decision... She saw what she had done to him. If only he could see what he was doing to her right now. Temari leaned her back further into the door, lifting her head to the room's cool air, and steadying her lungs intake of it. Eventually, her heart began to settle in the stillness, her breathing became slower, fuller. Temari opened her eyes slowly. Her vision seemed to open to a layer of memories, old and new, stretched over the plain ceiling. She took another steady breath, and watched as they danced before her.

He changed a did she. He changed her. They always had hidden retaliations. They always had subtle challenges. They always had mute study sessions of each other. And always... always he nonchalantly handed her defeat. He always turned around her momentum, claimed it as his, and turned it from a fierce, fiery tycoon, to a slow, soothing ripple through the air that mellowed her from the inside out. He was always one step ahead. He always beat her. He always won.

Temari's hands found company in each other as their fingers intertwined. Even with the adrenaline still surging; excitement still shooting through her veins, and the new weakness, the new vulnerability tearing through the sand hardened exterior; even with the still trembling hands, the sweat clinged hair, and fibrillating heart, Temari could not resist a simple, staggered, knowing grin that twitched along her face.

I was finally one step ahead of you...






Author's note: have you ever had one of those dreams? Scary as all hell. Yes, typos and nonsense were in that particular section on purpose.