Chapter XVIII
In Which the Princess and the Prince Are Married

Konohanese weddings were extravagant, and even more so for the royal family. In comparison, Sunan weddings were quiet, private affairs, where only the friends and family of the couple were allowed to attend. So naturally, the entire kingdom had been invited on Shikamaru's side, and only three people came on Temari's behalf.

Sunan women never wore white for their weddings—white was reserved for the priestesses, for the purest of heart, for women destined for bigger things than men and keeping house. A Sunan bride wore a simple gown of cotton the color of the same sand the Sunan people rose out of. For the princess, the dress was to trail many feet behind her, to gather the dust of her people, a reminder of her duty.

Temari stared at her reflection in the mirror. The most famous, if not reclusive, designer of all Suna had made her dress. It fit her like a second skin, hugging her curves and trailing at her feet. The Queen had allowed Temari to keep some of her traditions and let the dress be the color of sand, but the silk still felt foreign against her skin, and she ran her fingers over it in wonder. The designer stepped away, having finished sewing Temari in, and grinned an almost-toothless grin.

Her brothers nodded in approval, Baki shrugging in disinterest. Ino stood by with her mouth hanging open.

"You look beautiful," Ino breathed.

"I know," Temari responded; but the words sounded a little uneasy even to her own ears.

Temari glanced back to the mirror. Her eyes were rimmed in gold—the color of the sun—and her curls had been pinned to the top of her head. Now that the dress was finished and there were no clasps or strings to pull, Temari was curious.

"Lady Chiyo," Temari began, turning to the designer, "how am I supposed to get out of this?"

Chiyo cocked her head to the side. "Your husband is supposed to rip you out of it."

Ino coughed, "Oh my!" just as Kankurou's face darkened and Gaara's eyes became glassy.

"That's interesting," Temari remarked thoughtfully.

Kankurou coughed, sending Lady Chiyo a glare that wasn't lost to the rest of those gathered in Temari's chamber. "I suppose that's the way things ought to be." He looked back at his sister. "Wait, are you sure you want to get married to him? He's puny. Chances are he won't even know how to rip the thing off you. We'll get you a proper Sunan man, right Gaara?"

Gaara turned away and looked out the window. "There are a lot of trees here."

Baki laughed. Kankurou glowered some more. Ino looked ready to faint.

Temari took a deep breath. Any moment now, she would be walking down the carpeted halls of the palace. Shikamaru would be waiting for her, his hands behind his back, watching her as she glided to him. She felt a nauseating bubbling in her stomach, moths fluttering around her rib cage. She needed a drink.

"Is it time yet?" she asked Ino.

Ino shook her head. "We'll know when they are ready."

"Sister."

Gaara stood beside her, Kankurou at his side, both their hands clasped behind them, as if hiding something.

She furrowed her eyebrows. "What is it?"

Two identical woven bags sat in the palms of their cupped hands. Gaara placed his in her hands first, closing her fingers around it.

"This is Suna's gift to its only princess," he said solemnly.

She closed her eyes and touched the tips of her two fingers against her forehead in gratitude. Then, taking the bag, she opened it carefully to see the insignia of the Sunan royal family, a jagged hourglass, carved into a piece of lacquered wood. She recognized the item as one of the oldest relics of the family, kept safe in the vaults underneath the castle of Suna.

"This," Kankurou said, taking a step forward to place his bag in her hands, "is our gift to our only sister."

Temari repeated the gesture of gratitude but let her hands trail down to her mouth, a sign of utmost respect. She pulled at the strings that tied the small pouch closed, shaking the content out into her awaiting hand.

It was also a small box made of lacquered wood. Her name was etched into the cover in the ancient handwriting of her people. Opening the top, a frozen still from when they were much younger, captured by a court magician that had died years ago, had been melted into the box.

"So you will remember us always," the two brothers spoke.

She felt a tingling in her nose as her eyes became blurry. She blinked it away and raised her eyes to meet those of her brothers—brown and ice blue and so unlike her own.

"When did you guys get so sentimental?"

Kankurou growled and turned away from her, stalking back to his seat. "See what I told you? She never appreciates it when I'm serious."

Baki shook his head. "She never learns. I thought the Queen was giving her princess lessons."

Gaara smiled faintly at her. "We wish you all the happiness in the world."

"Leave her be, Gaara. She's just a bully."

Temari walked up to Kankurou, hands at her hips. "Now, listen here, little brother—"

"I am twenty-two years old, thank you very much."

"Just because I'm not going to be home very much anymore doesn't mean you can go through my raid of makeup."

Kankurou quieted immediately, a hand touching his face and the purple markings he had drawn. "I don't use your makeup."

She turned to Gaara. If he had eyebrows, she was sure they would have been cocked expectantly, waiting for her to do her worst. "And you—make sure you eat every now and then. And sleep."

He scoffed. "I am not a child."

"Whatever." Finally, she turned to Baki, who regarded her coolly. "Make sure you keep these two in line."

He bowed at his orders. "I will do much better with them than I managed with you."

She laughed. "I expect nothing less."

There was a knock at the chamber door. Ino rushed to open it, making sure the person on the other side was not allowed a glimpse of the princess. The blonde turned to look at Temari and said, with a giant smile splitting her face, "It's time."


Bride and groom faced the King and Queen of Konoha, as well as the new King of Suna. The older King stood before them, an earthenware cup in his hand full of rice wine. He held it between the couple as the noble families of Konoha gathered around to watch the ceremony.

Shikamaru looked handsome. She'd never tell him that, because then his ego would grow astounding lengths and chances were he wouldn't even be able to get through the double-doors of their new bedroom. But she couldn't help steal glances, admire the way he looked with his hair pulled back and the clean-shaven outline of his jaw. Even in his dark green robes with his family crest stitched onto the back, he looked like a character of one of the cheesy romances Ino constantly read.

"This is the wine grown from the earth, made by man, and purified by the gods. It signifies your duties to each other and to your kingdom."

Shikamaru took the cup first, one hand holding the bottom, the other cupping the side without curling his fingers around it. He took one sip, turned the cup, took another sip, turned it once more, and took a final sip before placing it back in the outstretched hand of his father.

Temari took the cup carefully just as Ino had taught her. She took the first sip of commitment, then turned it to signify the years that would pass. She took the second sip of forgiveness, then turned it to signify the changes in life. Finally, she took her final sip of love, placing it back in her new father's hands, and bowed her head.

There was an uproar of applause and shrieks. Many of the attendants leaped to their feet, screaming wishes of longevity to the newlyweds. Shikamaru finally turned to look at her, grabbed her hand, and pulled her to him.

"What're you doing?"

"This is the modern twist," he whispered, ignoring his mother's wide eyes and Gaara's death glare.

Temari curled her fingers around the nape of Shikamaru's neck, playing with the hairs that had escaped the hold of his ponytail.

He smirked at her, wrapped his arms tighter around her, and placed his forehead against hers. She felt his hot breath fan across her face, could smell the woods and forest and all the green of Konoha, could feel the heat of a thousand suns warm across her skin.

"So what're you going to do?" she asked him playfully.

"Finally kiss you."

He placed his lips on her lips and did just as he said.

It was a kiss that would be talked about for hundreds of years.

Owari


AN: That's the end! Please review! I just submitted my senior thesis and I thought what better way than to celebrate by posting the last chapter of a story I began when I first entered university? Hope you've enjoyed this long, long, long, long journey. I had a wonderful time writing it and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did! Thanks to your countless reviews and generous support, for your corrections, for your critique, for your boundless appreciation! Thank you, thank you, thank you!