Author's Notes: This fic comes with a story! I began writing this about a year and a half ago, and put it down for others projects, Life, etc. I opened it again a little while ago and couldn't remember where I was going with it. I don't really like to leave things sitting around (I'm all about finishing what I start), so I gave it a bit of a beta and finished it. It's incredibly wordy, has no major plot, and mostly out of character. But I haven't posted any ShikaTem in a while, so I thought I'd throw it online.
Hope you enjoy a little, but I don't claim this as my best fic. It's part drama, part humor, all AU.
Written for the theme "Scholar" for 50 Alternates.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
In The Library During A Storm
It had not been a long voyage, due to benign weather. The sea, so smooth and green, had made Shikamara Nara briefly recall the glass wine bottles Ino used to bring him whenever he had been sick in childhood. Each bottle, helpfully emptied of their contents by her father, had always contained the brightest arrangement of flowers. He had repaid her girlhood kindness by paying for the flower display in her wedding to that dog trainer husband of hers. The two made a handsome pair, Shikamaru concluded, if an aggressive one.
It struck him as odd that he was already thinking of his friends, having left them only two days before. It was, perhaps, the chronic nostalgia that plagued all businessmen – or maybe just bachelors. Ino had harbored overexcitable affection for him from puberty until he had gone away to school. By the time he had returned, her unrequited feelings were a distant memory to the Yamanaka daughter, and every word she spoke from then on had to do (either in admiration or in anger) with Kiba Inuzuka. Chouji had confirmed their mutual friend's care for the man as anything but fleeting, although the jovial vegetable farmer had made the report with the slightest touch of loss. Shikamaru had long suspected Chouji's feelings toward Ino, but he had never heard any voiced thoughts of the matter, and Chouji's negativity dissipated almost at once.
But all of this reflection was completely irrelevant to Shikamaru's purpose in Calais, France. He had not traveled across the Channel just so he could dissect the relationship between the people who comprised the majority of his childhood memories. Shikamaru had come to fulfill the task given him by his father, the one reason he had ever attended Oxford: to conduct business for the success of the Nara family's deer enterprise.
The docks in Calais were downright dodgy compared to those in Dover. Shikamaru found himself reviewing guidelines for warding off pickpockets. He carried no weapon, but he mentally invented various methods of utilizing the suitcase in his hand to fell ne'er-do-wells.
Progressing away from the docks, he contemplated stopping for a drink at an adjacent tavern, only to dismiss the idea as a health hazard. The cut of his clothes was too fine for anyone with even a pinch of dissolvable sedative to resist. Instead, he waited close to the entrance for an undecorated black carriage with its lanterns lit in spite of the bright day to draw up.
"Monsieur Nara?" guessed the cloaked driver with the reigns in one hand, hat in the other.
In return, Shikamaru asked, "Baki?"
A wide grin split his face. "The House de Sands awaits you, sir." He descended from his perch to take Shikamaru's luggage and hold the door open for the English guest.
The ride to Paris from Calais was not terribly long, or so the driver assured him. Even so, Shikamaru found the bumpy road aggravating and entertained himself by examining every puffed cloud visible through the windows of the carriage. French countryside, he noted, was not very dissimilar to English. Both boasted overgrown grasses and miles of fencing, as well as animals with a talent for chewing their days away. So far, he was not impressed.
"Your first time to Paris, monsieur?" called Baki from the front. His passenger answered in the affirmative. "You are in for a treat! The Sands family's hospitality remains unsurpassed – some days even by the Tuilleries."
"I am no guest of Bonaparte," Shikamaru told him tightly, recognizing the declaration as a loyal one to Baki's employer. Even though his father was the cousin of a marquis or some such aristocrat, the Naras bore no standing with the French government and certainly would be unheard of in Josephine's salons. That they were doing any business at all with the French was much to the chagrin of Shikamaru's father, but it was a necessary endeavor for the family's finances as the market for deer in England was presently less than preferable.
"I am told Monsieurs Kankurou and Gaara are fairly taciturn in their dealings," he commented to the driver.
"Gaara, yes," Baki affirmed. "He will often leave contracts up to his brother. Kankurou shall bear plenty involvement in your business. It is Gaara that has a taste for deer meat, however."
Asked Shikamaru in what he hoped was an appropriately detached tone, "Are neither of them married?"
Baki replied in just as polite a tone, "The two are devoted to the care of their older sister."
So uninformative a statement piqued Shikamaru's momentary curiosity. "I was not aware they had a sister."
"They did not tell you?"
"Well, I suppose they are under no obligation to mention the detail."
"But you will be staying in the house for the next month?"
"Yes." Shikamaru rubbed the back of his neck, the spiky tail of hair there brushing his hand. Something about the hesitation in Baki's voice unsettled him. "It is their prerogative to refrain—"
"Monsieur, I have served the de Sands family longer than both Kankurou and Gaara have lived. Their late father, though a private man, would not have expected them to withhold a...potentiality for discomfort in his home which his guests ought to know of. Particularly if their stay is extensive."
Shikamaru wished he had rode alongside Baki, if only to watch the man's face while he spoke. From the belly of the carriage, he could only watch trees as they passed or the ribbon of road beneath the wheels. If he craned his neck, he could glimpse horses' hooves. "What potentiality for discomfort?"
He had already figured out that the driver's words had to do with the sister. If she was ugly, he could assure Baki that he had known only too many unattractive women in London life. If she was a spinster, that was also prepared for that. He recalled several visits from an aunt whose yearly tours to her family's homes had been a blight on his mother's summer.
"My dear Monsieur Nara, Temari Sands is, by all accounts, insane."
"Monsieur Nara!" Kankurou Sands rose from a velveteen settee, hands spread wide in greeting when Shikamaru was shown to the study where both gentlemen of the house were conferring. "How do you do? I trust your time with Baki was well endured?"
Shikamaru felt the phantom of his father's elbow in his ribs and cultivated a pleasant smile upon his lips. "It was educational, monsieur. It is very gracious of you invite me into your home."
"Ah, none of that." A fringe of brown hair flopped over Kankurou's forehead as he nodded acknowledgement of the gratitude. "This house is so large that a great many of the rooms are closed off. We could never hope to fill it."
The Nara had noticed. The Hotel de Sands was a four-winged affair, with molded ceilings and a series of gardens in the center courtyard.
"This surly young man I reluctantly introduce as my brother, Gaara."
Gaara was the shorter of the two but decidedly more shrewd-looking. The thick red hair and rather shaded eyes set obvious differences in the family. They only resembled each other in miniscule ways; the shape of their ears and the way they both held themselves.
"Your French is flawless," said Gaara. There was nothing in his words to suggest rudeness, although what little variety of tone he used revealed his surprise.
Shikamaru contemplated describing the challenging curriculum of the language at Oxford but soon decided the topic would not interest his hosts. He settled on a simple thank-you. "Do you wish to begin discussing—"
"No, no," Kankurous declined. "You'll be taken to your rooms, and dinner is at six. Have a turn in the gardens, if you wish. Our library also holds a vast selection. Any of the servants would be happy to bring you a title – in French or English."
Shikamaru bowed before following a middle-aged maid to the set of rooms where his luggage had been left. In the sitting room adjoining the bedroom, he helped himself to some pre-dinner brandy and surveyed a few of the documents he had brought with him from England. Every scrap of furnishing from the rug on the floor to the posts of his bed was, to Shikamaru's slight distaste, stalwartly French. He thought of his mother's painted tea set and burned with a yearning for good, warm tea.
He remained in his rooms until dinner, having caught the scent of impending rain before entering the manor and saving a garden viewing for another day. On the way to the dining room, he paused several times to note that the house contained a collection of works from choice artists. Apparently the family busied their wealthy lives with aesthetics in addition to business.
Nara was bored by both but had been raised to understand the advantages and lacks of them. His mother had wanted a son who could recite Shakespeare and draw the finest details of her rural home. His father had desired someone to take care of the business aspect of the deer he raised and realized that he would not have to pay his own child. Shikaku Nara was satisfied with his son's mind. He had fulfilled far less of his mother's desires.
Although, as of late, both of his parents had been loitering around the disconcerting subject of marriage now that Ino was wed.
Shikamaru ignored the idea, reminding himself that he was outside of his parents' plotting range and managing his own affairs as an Oxford graduate. And truth be told, he would sooner lock himself in the Bastille than marry anytime soon.
Immaculate linen draped the ten-person table in the Hotel de Sands, which was laden with fine china plates, crystal goblets, and silver that sparkled from the efforts of a devoted house staff. Seated there, he found the brothers and no one else.
"I had hoped to introduce you to our sister," said Kankurou. Shikamaru began to lower himself into a cushioned chair, only to shoot into a ready stance when a keening cry arrowed into the room from above. The timing seemed almost rehearsed.
"Temari," Gaara said by way of terse explanation, "is not feeling well this evening." He flicked a hand at a maid standing against the wall, and she hurried from the room in obedience.
"I hope she's not in much pain." Shikamaru successfully and uneasily sat.
Kankurou shook his head as a butler filled Shikamaru's glass with burgundy. "Not much. She suffers from regular nightmares and is prone to tearing at her body in her sleep; at her worst in the spring, I regret to say. Gaara and I are often forced to station someone in her room at night for fear that she will harm herself."
It sounded dreadful, but Shikamaru doubted Baki would have called the woman insane if she was only the victim of nightmares. Still, it wasn't his place to further the topic and was relieved when the brothers asked after his journey and hobbies. Dinner went uninterrupted from then on, although Shikamaru noted the strange glances directed at him when he told his hosts that he enjoyed cloud-viewing.
Kankurou met with him early the next morning. Shikamaru would have preferred to meet him later – he had a personal affinity for sleeping in – but he was pleased with the older brother's interest in the Nara family's methods of raising the deer he was selling.
He spent a large portion of the day exploring the nearby streets, including a lengthy walk along the Seine. It was a gray day, one that was too lazy even to rain, and the kind that called for napping, but Shikamaru resolved to see enough of Paris to tell Kiba how extraordinary it was, as a favor to Ino, who longed to travel.
By the time he returned to the manor at sundown, Shikamaru had drawn several conclusions: the Arc de Triomphe would be better positioned on the other side of the city, the guillotine was a ridiculous tool of execution, and he would have to bring Chouji a box of eclairs. He also rather hoped someone would soon do something about the awful stench that rose from the cobblestones outside.
Gaara and Kankurou were out of the house for a theatre engagement scheduled before Shikamaru's arrival. As rain again seemed only minutes away, Shikamaru contented himself with writing letters to England at the desk in his room.
At least until the open window allowed entry to a particularly zealous gust of wind that promptly snuffed out his weakening fire and extinguished all light from the room. Shikamaru fumbled until he found matches and lit a candle upon his desk. Bringing it with him, he set off through the dark passages of the Sands house to find a servant who could relight his fireplace as no tools for doing so had been left by the hearth.
The rain had manifested in a steady downpour, soon accompanied by the usual guests of thunder and lightning. Shikamaru sighed ruefully as he reached the bottom of the stairs and stood on the second floor landing. His first French storm.
To the side of the stairs, a strip of light glowed from a door left ajar. Hypothesizing the presence of a servant or two, Shikamaru meandered over and stepped just inside.
He found himself in a grand library, as confirmed by the story-high shelves positively crammed with books old and new. The smell of leather binding was almost overpowering. The array of genres would have turned his bibliophile mother green, and most came in more than two different languages. The fireplace stood as tall as him, and facing it were two armchairs.
Shikamaru saw the library was devoid of life and began to go, thinking he might borrow the book of chess tactics if he had time.
"The rain sounds like crickets. Don't you think?"
The lightly-spoken French took him by surprise. Shikamaru had been highly valued and detested by his professors at Oxford for his capacity to foresee possibilities. But as he looked over his shoulder and saw the one who spoke to him, he doubted any hint on earth could have helped him predict the woman.
She sat behind one of the chairs; not in it, as her head peeked around one of the arms. Shikamaru stared, bewildered, as she stood up. "At least," she went on, "it's what I have imagined crickets sound like. I have never heard them."
Her flaxen hair hung in shimmer waves to her waist. She wore a white nightgown of thick cotton, detailed in silk. It was not late in the eyes of social people, but she looked as if she were on her way to bed. "What?" managed Shikamaru. "Crickets?"
"Yes. They do not have crickets in the city, you know."
All he knew was that he was in the presence of an unmarried woman in a dim library, with no chaperone in sight. If the de Sands brothers responded to such a predicament in any way like the English, Shikamaru would find himself thrown out of the house with no contractual agreement to speak of. Glancing toward the open door and then back to the indecently-clad woman, he saw her blue eyes glittering with question.
"Are you English?" she asked.
He nodded absently, trying to figure out how to appropriately extract himself from the situation.
"I'm French," she supplied unhelpfully.
Shikamaru wanted to roll his eyes. "Yes, you're..." Blast, he had forgotten her name already. "The lady of the house," he finished, inwardly congratulating himself on his diplomacy, given the circumstances.
"Temari de Sands." Temari did not smile, but her voice held the hint of imperialism every cultured Frenchwoman inherited through some mysterious play of genetics. She dipped in a proper greeting, much of the formality lost between her swinging hair and improper clothing.
Shikamaru noted, as her hemline rose slightly, that she was barefoot. Distracting himself from the unusual sight of shoeless skin, he stepped forward and spotted the book on the chair. Like a child, he now deduced, she had been lounging on the floor, her book propped on the seat and lit by the fire. It was, now that he thought of it, a better means of seeing the words than sitting in the armchair would have been.
She returned to that position now. Shikamaru, remembering Baki's words about Temari, asked, "Where is your maid, mademoiselle?"
At that, her mouth did twitch up. "Asleep. She slumbers very adamantly. But then, she's adamant about most things." Spreading one arm over the seat, she rested her head on the limb and dourly recited, " 'Unbraid your hair before sleeping, wash your face before dressing, pray to God to make you well.' "
That last confused Shikamaru. She had screamed on the night of his arrival, yes, and while she was clearly unlearned in matters of propriety and tended to ramble, he could not see where anyone came off calling her insane.
Her eyes swiveled to meet his at an upward angle. "Do you pray, monsieur?"
Shikamaru folded his arms, but a smooth chuckle eased out of his throat before he could stop it. "I have very little to pray for, I assure you."
"The sun in the sky, the fish in the sea, the deer in the woods—"
"Occasionally the deer," he conceded.
"The touch," Temari went on, turning away from the chair and facing him with knees drawn up to her chest, "of a woman?"
Face burning as red as the fire, Shikamaru took back his earlier sentiment. She was quite mad.
Her features tightened in an expression of uncertainty. "Or to be untouched by a man. I have forgotten."
"Perhaps I ought to rouse your maid," Shikamaru said, abruptly turning and heading for the door. Rude or not, he was sure withdrawing was the best possible course of action.
She dashed ahead of him, a quick blur of blonde hair and white nightgown. Using her body as a barricade, she whispered harshly, "Do not! It's so rare that I can read. I have been waiting for months to touch a book again."
"Why not let you have books, mademoiselle?"
"They give me nightmares." She shivered, clutched at her upper arms. "I expect I'll have a dreadful one tonight. My brothers will be very ashamed of me."
"Why? What are you reading?"
She hesitated, as if afraid to remove herself, but she moved swiftly across the rug on the floor to fetch her heavy tome and beckoned he follow. Hesitatantly, Shikamaru did, and she showed him the cover.
"The Bible," Shikamaru stated, his eyebrows darting up. "Ah...quite right, I'm sure it has inspired a nightmare or two."
At that, Temari laughed. Shikamaru watched her face as color bloomed into the pale cheeks, astounded by the transformation of a detached woman to a good-humored lady – albeit one defying all established rules regarding time alone with a man. He was not entirely unmoved by the sight.
"You are an interesting man, monsieur," she told him, her gaze narrowing into a mischievous grin. "To others, you must be boring."
"I am," he said, relaxing even as she climbed onto the seat of the armchair so that her face hung just barely above his.
Temari's eyes gleamed like marbles in the firelight. "I shan't forget it. I could use entertainment besides books. Would you take me outdoors tomorrow?"
She certainly was forward. "Your brothers—"
"My brothers would never let me walk about the streets." Despite the restraining truth, her smile broadened. "What about a drive just outside the city? You seem the sort to be comfortable in the countryside."
"I watch clouds," Shikamaru blurted, unnerved by her proximity or her eyes or both.
"Good. I would like to hear crickets."
Shikamaru, studying this slim blonde woman in her nightgown, felt a smile of his own tug at his mouth. "We will see."
Above them, the ceiling creaked with the weight of someone leaving a room. Temari's smile fell, and the Nara son guessed it was her maid newly woken. She darted off the chair and went to replace the Bible on its prominent stand. Running for the door, she paused for a moment to turn. "Tomorrow, ask me nicely," she said.
Shikamaru thought she expected him to do just the opposite and could not care less. "Good night." She flew from the library, and he looked into the fire to reflect on the exchange. Mad or not, he considered as he borrowed some tools from beside the hearth to revive his own fire, there was something he could appreciate about Mademoiselle Temari Sands. Her capriciousness, her bluntness...the way she filled that nightgown.
He murdered that thought faster than a guillotine. No need to get ahead of himself. Shikamaru was sure she filled other garments just as nicely. He would find out tomorrow.
Outside, the storm was dying down.