The light filtered into my hospital room, grey dawn. I was still aching from my iron shower, but the bullets had been successfully removed. I wanted to get out of this stupid hospital. Too much rest was making me lazy. I swung my bandaged legs over the side of the bed.

"You're not going anywhere."

A tendril of sand shoved me back into bed. Great, now I was stuck in a bed, and the bed was full of sand. I glared at Gaara. "We need to get back to Sunagakure."

"The council is taking care of Suna," Gaara took a seat next to the bed, letting his gourd sit on the ground. "Kankurou isn't ready to travel anyway."

I nodded solemnly. Kankurou had been returned, but not completely intact. He still needed a lot of medicine, surgery and time. Kumogakure's surrender had been unconditional.

Shikamaru had not been to visit me. I didn't often give in to self pity, but I felt more stupid with every second that passed. He was probably off being coddled by Ino-chan. We thought that we would die, of course we would act irrationally. I hadn't really thought...

"Are you and Nara-kun," Gaara paused. "Romantically involved?"

Stupid brother with his stupid mind reading. "Will you assassinate him if I say yes?"


"He has a girlfriend, Gaara." I pushed my hair out of my face. "He came to save Kankurou because he was guilty about his strategy failing."

Gaara leaned back in his chair, looking lost in thought. What was up with him? It wasn't like it made any difference. "I was under the impression that you had feelings for him."

Gaara knew? Gaara was a complete emotional moron. If he knew then so did everyone else. Everyone in the village, probably in Suna, too, had watched me fall over myself for a guy as young as my baby brother, while he was busy with a much prettier girlfriend. Not that I had. He was just a friend. Just a friend I kept kissing. Just a friend who had seen me scream and beg for him.

I hadn't really expected...

A sob escaped my throat, completely unbidden. I tried to hold back the tears. I was crying over him? This wasn't me. He was just a friend...

Gaara sat next to me on the bed and let me hug him. He looked supremely uncomfortable. This wasn't really his area. It wasn't mine either. Was their some kind of protocol to follow for jilted lovers? We both knew protocol.

"Do you want me to kill him?" Gaara asked softly.

I laughed through my tears. "Would you?"


The dawn was cold. Autumn was creeping into Konoha.

I walked the streets, wanting to waste time. It was only another three hours until Temari left the village. I hadn't been to see her. I wanted to, but it was hard enough. If I saw her again I would be packing my bags for Suna in a heartbeat. And that was what I was trying to avoid.

It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. My dreams every night were of her, smiling, laughing, moaning. It was only by constantly distracting myself that I was able to stay away from the hospital. Also, I hadn't really expected to live long enough for Gaara to kill me for deflowering his sister. Fear was as good a distraction as any.

Well, technically, she had jumped on top of me, but I doubted that he would appreciate the subtle difference. I dug my nails into my palm, trying to stop thinking of her.

I had reached my destination. I knocked on Kurenai's door. She called out from inside.

I opened the door and instantly felt my leg caught by something. I looked down at the little mop of black hair. A grinning face turned up toward me. "Sika!"

I smiled, pulling the little girl into my arms. I carried her to the kitchen, I knew Kurenai would be waiting for me. Sure enough a mug of tea was already waiting for me. I sat across from her, letting her child down to the ground to continue playing.

"Good morning, Shikamaru," Kurenai smiled for me, her red eyes gleaming. "I'm glad you made time to come and see us, Godaime tells me you've been very busy."

"Yeah," I rubbed my neck. "It's been nonstop since Kumogakure surrendered."

And it wasn't like I was taking on as many jobs as I possibly could. Nothing like that.

"I found that very interesting," she said with a sly smirk, as if she knew something I didn't. "Since you usually put all your brainpower towards avoiding work, even at a time like this."

Oh, damn. What was this? I had walked into an ambush. As if I hadn't heard enough of this from my friends, telling me how strangely I was acting. "Konoha needs me right now."

"Of course." She sipped her tea, meeting my eyes evenly. Oh, she was going for the unintrusive approach. I was never going to hear the end of this, it was like everyone was trying to get rid of me. "Have you gone to visit her in the hospital?"

She knew about Temari? Of course, Tsunade knew. And women liked nothing more than to gossip. Soon Ino would find out and I wouldn't have to visit her at the hospital, I'd be sharing a room with her. "No."

Kurenai's eyes widened in anger. "You haven't..."

"She has her brothers there, she doesn't need me." I buried my nose in my tea, trying to avoid her stare. A genjutsu master staring would intimidate even a kage. She picked up her daughter, letting the little girl sit on her lap.

"Godaime told me that she offered you the chance to go to Suna as part of a special taskforce." Her voice was still calm and sweet. I could see what Asuma had loved about her, even when she was troublesome she seemed so innocuous.

Did she have to remind me? Did I really need another vision of Sunagakure, with an easy but important job and my Temari, waiting for me just out of reach? Did they all think that I hadn't imagined this a thousand times, and had to stop myself from running to Hokage, telling her that I'd changed my mind?

"It would be nice, but I have responsibilities here," I replied nonchalantly. Maybe I could get her off my back by mimicking her calm, detached tone.

She looked away, like she was trying to figure out how to word what she had to say. "Your responsibilities... This village..."

She was losing her cool. This was something I had become used to in her wildly hormonal months, but I hadn't seen it in a long time.

"I thought you were supposed to be smart," she huffed. I was getting that a lot lately.

"I promised Asuma-sensei-" I was cut off.

"Do you love her?"

Love her? I sat back, shocked. What was this talk about love? She wasn't even my girlfriend. She was just a friend. A friend I couldn't get out of my mind. A friend who was so pretty right after we made love that my heart broke just to see it. I sighed heavily.


She sipped her tea again, her composure returned. "Do you think Asuma would want this for you?"

I sat back, feeling like I'd been knocked around the head. Asuma wanted Kurenai and his daughter taken care of. He wanted the child to have a father figure. That what he wanted for his family. I didn't know what he wanted for me.

I thought back to how he looked at her before he had left the village for the last time. He watched her, the whole world gone from around him. I could see through his eyes now. He had seen what he wanted for himself in Kurenai. He had seen his future, her happiness, a reason to go through the trouble he went through every day.

My thoughts flicked back to when I fought the Raikage. Gaara had blushed. And smiled. Gaara had blushed and smiled. When I called Shiota his girlfriend. He had found his mate, his reason, and it made even Gaara smile.

So why couldn't I smile? Why could I distract myself and stay away?

Did Asuma want me to lose my Kurenai for the sake of his?

My Temari. I was going to lose her. She would walk out of this village and I would never see her again. I'd hear about her being promoted, one day married, one day killed in battle. That would be our story.

I looked at Kurenai, my face contorted in shock. She smiled at me. "Go."

I swept her daughter into my arms for one more hug, holding her tightly for just a moment, before racing out the door toward the Hokage's office.


"Let's go already," I heard her huff. They were standing at the gates, as many Sunanin as had survived the initial battle. I walked down the streets, not wanting to hurry. I could see her face. She was staunch, emotionless.

"We still have one more coming," Gaara replied simply, his face giving away nothing.

She wasn't wearing her ANBU uniform, neither was Kankurou. They looked just like when I had first seen them. Only now I knew them. She didn't look so scary now. Gaara and Kankurou looked scarier.

"Wait up," I called toward them. Temari's head whipped toward me. She looked murderous.

"What are you doing here?" she asked me coldly. I hesitated. If she had changed her mind, I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.

"Didn't you hear?" I asked nonchalantly. "I'm stationed in Suna from now on."

The look of shock on her face was worth the wait. "What about Yamanaka-chan?"

I smiled at her. "Ino broke up with me two weeks ago. Said I was head over heels for someone else."

She looked up at me, stunned silent. I thought she was going to hurt me for a moment. Then her shoulders started to shake. I stepped forward to wrap my arms around her.

She didn't cry, but little hiccups escaped her throat as her eyes caught mine.

"You're going to be living in Suna?"

I smiled for her. Ignoring her brothers, I took her hand. I'd need some company, it was a long walk to Suna. She pulled away from me, regaining her composure, but kept her hold on my hand.

I knew starting again in a new place was going to be troublesome. Managing my own team would be troublesome. Missing my friends and family would be the worst. But I looked down at the impassive face of the girl next to me.

Temari was worth the trouble.