The water ran over Temari's body, scalding her. She lathered soap between her hands, covering herself in pure white bubbles, scrubbing every inch of herself. The soap worked its way into every crevice and she continued scrubbing, ignoring the slimy feeling of her skin so obsessively covered.
She stood under the stream, letting the bubbles cascade down her, slipping away into the drain. Her skin was blissfully raw, rough, calloused. The stream washed away every hint of slime or dirt, any trace of a smell aside from the lemon scented soap. She scowled, turning off the shower and stepping out. It had taken her less than two days to get these disinfecting showers down to an art, executing a full clean in under three minutes with military precision.
Temari was not prissy. She'd been covered in a lot of truly horrendous gunk over the years, none of which she particularly enjoyed, but she'd also never felt this unclean before. Ketsu had made this personal. Of course Kankurou thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. Shikamaru had been smart enough to keep his mouth shut when they'd come back to find her still sprawled in the sand, rubbing it everywhere she could reach like it could cure cancer. The smell just wouldn't come out of her hair.
She heard a knock on her door and dressed quickly, missing her ANBU mask. Hopefully she wasn't being called out on a mission, she needed to have a new mask painted for her. The knock came again, patiently.
Temari opened her door and cocked her head. Shikamaru stood in front of her, a dark look on his face and his arms full of files.
"Crybaby, what's up?"
"You've lost your mind."
She raised an eyebrow and stepped out of the doorway, letting him pass. He dropped the files on her bed and she examined them more closely. These were her mission reports for the last three years. What was he up to, now?
"Have you been abusing your ambassador ID again?"
"What are you thinking?" Shikamaru asked, voice low. She examined him, he was serious, and he was angry. She flicked through the files, looking for the source of his distress.
"This is my job, what are you talking about? You know I'm a hunter-nin."
He picked up one of the summary files, opened it and read aloud. "Broken femur, healed at Suna Military Hospital, three weeks recovery time recommended, not taken. Skull fracture, healed at Suna Military Hospital, two weeks recovery time recommended, not taken. Severed spinal cord, reattached successfully at Daimyo's Royal Hospital, six weeks additional therapy recommended, not taken."
Temari stood up, scowling. "How is any of this your-"
"Eight broken ribs, uncountable lacerations, broken hands, broken feet, punctured vital organs..." He slammed the file down on the bed, making her jump. "What in hell are you thinking? It's not just your knees, your last recovery day was when we last saw each other!"
Temari crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow, giving him her best look of utter disdain. If she expected him to baulk under her stare, she was disappointed. He met her eyes, defiant.
"What would you like me to say? Do you think I haven't had this conversation with Gaara?"
The nerve of him, rifling through her records, coming into her room to question her about this. Little twerp.
"How dependant are you on the drugs?"
"For the love of..." Temari wrenched open the files, flicking to the medical reports. "Will you look at these? These are called doctor's signatures, releasing me from hospital and giving me the okay to go back into the field, I'm not allowed any missions without them. Look at this! This is the knee injury you're making such a big fuss over, you see that, right there? Look at it. Doctor in charge: Haruno Sakura. Do you really think my life is so pathetic that I don't have family and friends looking out for me?"
The look in his eyes stopped the anger in its tracks, her thoughts ground to a halt. His eyes were lit with fire, anger, passion. His hair hung in strands around his face, his skin tinged with pink, full lips pulled into a grimace. She felt the breath leave her in a rush of hot air on suddenly sensitive lips. He was a very beautiful man, so much more when his face was darkened with purpose.
Shikamaru leaned close to her, invading her personal space, her body was so aware of his proximity, she clenched her fists to keep her fingers from trembling. Dark eyes narrowed, like a predator closing in on his prey, she could see her breath disturbing his hair, she couldn't seem to stop her lips parting so slightly. Her face felt hot, her skin sensitive to every brush of clothing, the water dripping down her back from her wet hair.
"No one ever challenges you, Temari," he murmured. "Not even your brothers."
She wanted to reply, but her lips didn't want to move. The frustration on his face didn't conceal the worry. He was right, Gaara had deferred to her judgement on her health, Kankurou never said a word about it, her doctors did as they were ordered. Shikamaru didn't take her orders. The demand for an answer, an explanation, was infuriating but at the same time it was something no one else had ever asked of her.
Her heart thumped hard in her chest, she was caught in his eyes. The tip of her nose brushed against his, she hadn't even realised she had been leaning forward. The feel of course material against her face, strong, lean fingers brushing through wet hair, sent shocks down her spine. Her hands ached to touch him, she pressed them against his chest.
Her whole world was overwhelmed by those black eyes, the smell of him, the heat of his breath against her face. She was only separated from the skin of his chest by a tantalisingly thin layer of fabric, she could feel the ridges of his mesh shirt under the cloth. Air rushed through her lips, breaths taken quickly, almost panting, and she could feel the same from him. His thumbs traced lines on her cheeks, his grip tightening to a desperate tension.
Temari could almost taste his lips, his nose nudged hers, gently, affectionately, encouraging her closer. Her eyes drifted closed, so lost in the feel of him. Their foreheads touched and she sighed, they were so close, their hips touching, bodies pressed against each other. All she had to do was lean forward, close that last millimetre, and they'd be kissing.
Temari's eyes shot open. Oh hell no. She wrenched out of his grip, a shock of cold descending over her. She had nearly kissed him. He barged into her room to give her a lecture on her personal habits and she responded by trying to kiss him?
What in hell was she doing?
"What in hell are you doing?" she accused, crossing her arms, bringing the barrier back up. "You can't just raid my personal files and come in here to get on my back about it, then... then... That's not how it works!"
"Temari.." he started, but she didn't want to hear it.
She started fixing her hair and obi as she talked, refusing to look at him. "Those files aren't your business, you shouldn't even be looking at them. But that's not even what this is really about, so why don't you just admit it? Where is Hidan?"
"How is that..?"
"You don't know," she hissed, eyes still fixed on the mirror. "You don't know, the mighty Nara Smart Ass has lost control of the situation. You have no plan, you have no clue, so now you're searching for something else to figure out and control."
He stepped back, avoiding her as she swooped down on the desk beside him, retrieving her tessens and jamming them into her obi.
"You can't just barge back into my life and try to figure me out like some puzzle, Nara, I'm not a fucking board game. My hospital visits are confidential. Do you get that?"
"Barge back into your life?" he asked disbelievingly. "If I remember right you're the one who just disappeared."
"I didn't disappear, I was right here, at home, in my home country, in my home town, and not once did you go out of your way to come see me, so don't bother trying to lay a guilt trip on me. Go use that big brain of yours to figure out where Hidan's head is."
"Temari." Shikamaru caught her arm, forcing her to face him. Her most withering glare was useless against him. "I'm worried about you."
"Worry about yourself." She tugged her arm out of his grip. "And stay out of my files. I'm supposed to be training, see you later."
Before he could answer she launched herself out the window toward the desert.
Shikamaru cursed himself, still standing in her bedroom. Stupid stupid, he couldn't believe he'd been so stupid. Like if he just came over here and confronted her she'd burst into tears, admit she had a problem and enter a twelve step program. He sighed and sat down on her bed.
The worst part was the niggling feeling that she was exactly right about him. Hidan was gone and he didn't have the slightest clue where to begin looking for him. He was feeling out of control, lost. That didn't mean that his concern for her was just a way to regain that control, he wasn't that self centred... was he?
Shikamaru slouched down further. She couldn't have left him feeling any lower. He could still feel her face in his hands, her fingers pawing at his chest. Kami, she'd almost had him. In that moment every bit of anger had melted away, he'd forgotten about the bet, it had taken every bit of his self control not to just throw her on the bed and have his way with her. The way her hands trembled, her breath stuttered, she would have accepted him.
Stupid, stupid. Why didn't he just kiss her? This stupid bet, it was driving him insane. She had been so close and he blew it. She was so pissed off when she left, every word dripping with acid, and pissed off Temari was not someone to mess with. It was bad enough that she was still fuming from her fight with Ketsu, and he had to go and rub salt in the wound. Idiot.
Shikamaru closed his eyes. Her words had stung. It was true, he had lost control, but the insinuation that he was manipulating her to gain it back, it made him sound so weak, so petty. The worst part was that stinging accusation, he had always look at her leaving as some kind of abandonment, he'd never even thought to chase after her. Megume wouldn't have let him, but he couldn't lay the blame on Temari for that.
Great, now she was somewhere tearing up the desert, thinking he saw her as a plaything to be figured out and discarded. Dammit. He swore aloud. He couldn't leave things like this, not even for a little while. He wanted to make things right, and he wanted to know that she wasn't destroying her body and her livelihood.
Shikamaru leapt from her window, trying to follow her path out to the desert. She'd have gone far away from Suna, she had to in order to draw her tessens. Of course she might just see him coming and blow him straight back into town, but he had to try to make things right. His father would think this was hilarious.
The rooftops blew by below him, empty desert stretching out in front. He saw a trail of destruction through the skeletal forest just outside Suna and followed the path hewn through the dead trees. He saw her shadow up ahead, taking her time destroying the forest as she made her way to the other side. He didn't have anything planned to say to her, he wasn't used to this kind of thing.
Shikamaru kept his distance, not wanting to get caught in the gusts of wind that levelled trees, her rage blasting out in a radius around her. She made her way out the other side of the forest, walking out into clear land, a flat plain. He hung back, maybe this wasn't the best time to approach her. Maybe when she wasn't likely to literally take his head off.
Shikamaru decided to turn back, but lingered a moment when he saw her take up a basic combat stance. He had wanted to see her new moves. He perched on one of the dead trees, deciding to watch until it became unsafe to do so.
Her stance was familiar now, her arms extended low, gripping a closed tessen in each hand. She closed her eyes and expelled a deep breath, as if she was willing her anger to leave her body. Tough for Temari on a good day, but when her eyes snapped open again they were clear, determined.
There was a squawk and Shikamaru looked up to see the desert birds in the wood around him take to the skies, moving as one, aware of the danger. He saw mice on the ground also fleeing, every sign of life avoiding what was about to happen.
Temari's fans fell open.
He was nearly taken off the branch by the blast of chakra, and when he drew the shielding arm away from his face the whole world seemed devoid of colour, like it was being sapped by the powerful weapons. She didn't move, standing rigid, like she was practising the stance, weighing the weapons in her hands, feeling the wind resistance, processing the sudden changes to the world.
When finally she made a move, it wasn't at all what Shikamaru expected. She held one fan in front of her, shielding her, the other swept around to protect her back. Her knees bent, testing the weight, and her left hand flicked, throwing the rear fan into the air and catching it again just as gracefully. In one smooth move she caught the fan and pushed it outward. A blast of wind cleared the sand to her side.
Temari was still again, holding the pose. Then her left fan swept again, only this time it sung through the air defensively, forming a locked shield with the right fan, an iron wall that no one could pass through. Shikamaru could still the curve of her extended ankle and elbow, the tiniest hint of her eyes over the top. Again she held it.
Her steps were graceful, a twirl, measured footfalls that spun her in a circle, her left hand resting against her back, displaying the pure white fan like a brilliant tail, the right blown out to the side, the rolling swing creating a circular wind, a defensive tornado. It twirled through the air long after she stopped moving.
This time she didn't pause, the second the wind subsided she was moving again, both fans twirling into steel rotors in her hands, exposing and concealing her, doing nothing to disguise the fluid movements of lean arms and overworked shoulders, the tilt of her hips as her legs braced her against the sand.
This was no defensive move, twin snakes, made entirely of wind, sped through the sand, tearing up the earth all around them, pure destruction. Temari slid her fans into the ground and fell forward onto one knee, arms outstretched, controlling, guiding. The snakes followed identical paths, twisting and curling under her hand movements before being forced straight into the air and allowed to blossom and burn out.
Shikamaru barely noticed her ethereal creations. He dimly realised that his mouth was dry, hanging open. This was... obscene.
She rolled her hips, hoisting the weight of the steel into the air, feet dancing, fans swinging, the sand springing to life around her. She swept outside the circle she had created, her rhythm perfect, first one fan flowed, the the other, her body in perfect time with the heartbeat that thundered in Shikamaru's ears, watching her unashamedly burlesque manoeuvres.
Her body swayed, each swing more exaggerated than the last, each kiss of wind shaping the tornado in front of her, moulding it with her fans like they were an extension of her body. It was so unsafe for him to be where he was, easily in range of any of these techniques, but his body had stopped responding to his commands, frozen like a statue clinging to the tree.
Temari tossed one tessen in the air, the other held against her back. She leapt upward, stepping on the flattened tessen, twisting in mid air to grab it and toss her other fan above her, maintaining momentum and flying upward in one fluid movement. She hopped from fan to fan, dancing through the air. He hadn't appreciated until that moment how the ANBU uniform clung to her, showing the muscles of her back, the curve of her breast, the hollow of her neck as she stretched out in each perfect leap.
She was high above the tornado when she seemed to freeze in the air, arms folded to present her tessens like wings. The heavenly image only lasted a moment before she let forth the full force of her weapons. The desert rocked, the ground shaking, Shikamaru fell back as trees around him were uprooted. He should have turned around run, but his eyes were fixed to the sight before him.
Temari slammed to the ground, not even looking at the monster she had created. The tornado shaped by her final blow, risen off the ground into a ball of swirling sand. It looked like Naruto's rasengan, only the diameter was three times the height of any normal person.
Another flick of the tessens and it disintegrated, sand flowing down to the ground like a waterfall.
Before his brain could register what happened she twirled again, the same move from before, the tornado reforming around her. She stepped out, shaping it again, building it up, although this one wasn't nearly the same size. The fans twisted around her body, exposing one long leg, one slender wrist, the curve of her waist, each time revealing and concealing, her tornado building.
She stopped, falling back to her original position, a fan to either side, facing away from her tempest. Faster than Shikamaru could see, she threw both fans into the air, then launched herself upward.
It was like she was moving in slow motion, sailing through the air. At the very peak of her jump, just above the height of the tornado, she let herself start falling backward. The line of her body was perfect, long legs the flowed into the curve of her back, breasts thrust forward, feet tucked against one another, gliding through the air as naturally as any bird. Her hands clasped in a series of seals and then were brought to her mouth.
Fire spilled from her lips, swept up in the storm, circling around her as she fell down into the eye, lost in the firestorm. Her hands found her tessens and at the last possible moment her legs tucked under her.
Whatever Shikamaru had been expecting, it wasn't the wall of fire that radiated out from her in every direction, speeding toward him with the the force of a massive explosion. It blossomed like a flower, curling upward and spilling out onto the sand, a wave of molten sand carried on the wind, ready to destroy anything in its path.
His frozen mind suddenly taken over by self preservation, he made a split second decision. The only way to avoid it was to go forward and over.
He threw himself in Temari's direction, feeling the hellfire on the bottom of his feet.
With a tumbling landing, he found himself kneeling in front of the desert princess.
"Crybaby, have you been there the whole time?"
He nodded, still recovering from the shock. "Yeah."
Temari's lips curved in a sly smile. She knelt in front of him, bringing herself down to his level. "Like what you saw?"
He looked her in the eye, shocked. Not twenty minutes ago she was furious with him. "I've never..."
"Seen anything like it before?" She asked. "No one has. At least, no one still living."
The look on her face was unmistakeably predatory, and he tried to get his scattered brain into order to figure out what was going on. Before he could form a coherent thought he felt her hands on his chest, and she leaned close, her lips brushing his ear. He froze, suddenly paralysed. Her tongue darted out to play with his earlobe and she let her hot breath wash over the sensitive skin.
"Tem... Temari..." he stammered, but she continued the assault. He wrapped his hands around her shoulders, desperate for some kind of anchor to keep him from drowning. There was no tremble in her touch, nothing of the hesitance she had before, nothing of the vulnerability. She brought her mouth lower, nipping at the skin of his neck, drawing a hoarse groan from the back of his throat.
They had moved closer, he could feel her breasts pressed against his chest, her hips grinding against his own. It was too much, he couldn't take anymore. His hands clamped down on her, pulling her away. One arm wrapped around her waist, supporting her weight as he leant her back, giving him the power to visit on her the same torture. The moment his lips touched her skin he knew he was in trouble.
She smelled good, nothing flowery, just sand, sweat and leather, she smelled like a woman. The hands that found a grip in his hair were small and feminine but strong, and the whimpers and pants that escaped her lips were more girlish than he could have ever imagined Temari capable of. But the way she tasted was better than all of it. He sucked on the tender skin just behind her ear, letting his tongue trail over her, drinking in everything about her.
She arched into him and moaned. That sound could so easily send him over the edge. Their hips ground together frantically and he couldn't tell if she was doing it or he was, it felt so good. He wanted so much more, he wanted everything.
He wanted his kiss.
He wrapped a hand through her hair, bringing her face to his. She looked up at him through wild eyes, her pupils fully dilated, face flushed. Shikamaru felt his stomach turn to stone. His fingers tightened involuntarily in her hair and internally he rioted, swearing every foul word her knew black and blue.
Forcing his hands to comply, he helped her regain her balance and let her go, standing up.
"Shikamaru?" she asked, bewildered.
"You're high, Temari." His voice was steely, angrier than he had intended. "I can't."
A numbness swept his body, he turned and walked away. The sound of frustration that escaped her lips made him smile grimly. If she only knew how close he had been to not caring how high she was. Everything inside him screamed to turn back, there was a gorgeous woman throwing herself at him. A gorgeous woman who really knew how to use her fans.
Fuck. He clenched his fists and kept walking. He needed to get away, the desert air felt suffocating, his clothes were smothering him, his lungs weren't working properly. A fierce wind struck up and he knew without looking that she had returned to her practise. He didn't want to look, it felt cheap, watching her tawdry training from the trees, spying on her in her most sensual moments.
Fuck her for taking those drugs, at that moment he didn't care about her pain. He needed her clear headed. He needed to know what she really felt, if he was someone she wanted to be close to, or if she was just in need and he was nearby. The thought sickened him. How many men had just been nearby? How many had seen her cheeks flushed, body stretched, eyes dark? What the fuck was she doing with her life?
The image played in his head again and again, her fans fluttering, disguising her, one long leg outstretched, the stretch of bare skin so tempting. When did she get to be so sexy? She hadn't been that way when he'd met her, her short, sturdy, undeveloped body held no interest to him at his chuunin exams, aside from the unmistakeable strength that threatened to tear him apart. When had she stopped being stocky and started being curvy? When had she stopped being terrifying and started being challenging?
When had the threat of a single kiss turned into something so important?
The forest was fading behind him, the open space helping his heart rate return to normal. The thoughts in his head became more ordered, beginning to make sense again. It was just a kiss. That was what this bet was about, a battle of pride. She would eventually admit to him that she cared, just a little. That was all, a kiss, not a proposal, not crazy sex up against the wall, no commitment, just a single kiss.
The million thoughts of the day swirled back into that single purpose and Shikamaru let his hands unclench. He couldn't believe he'd lost his cool so badly. Twice. This was getting completely out of hand, and he couldn't let that happen. Temari's bad life choices weren't his business or his problem. For now he just had one kiss to focus on.
The slow walk back to town calmed his nerves, and by the time he walked through the gates of Suna he had regained most of his composure. He caught sight of a familiar face in the guard post and groaned. Just what he needed right now, company. There was no avoiding it.
"Hey, Shikamaru!" Kankurou called, practically hauling him inside the post. Neji gave him a nod in greeting, seemingly deep in conversation with one of the Suna guards.
"Kankurou. How's Gaara?" Shikamaru asked.
"Ah, Neji and I just took him back to the Kazekage building. Matsuri's back home."
"That's good. Uh... what are we doing here?"
"This is Kenta-san, one of the jounin who's been defending Yama. We're trying to figure out where Seiya's headed next."
Finally, someone who might have some answers, who might know if there was anyone in Yama with a reason to steal a disembodied head.
Shikamaru looked at Kenta, assessing him. His casual smirk and tousled hair reminded him of Genma, there was that same laid back arrogance about him. The man turned to greet him, giving a sloppy salute.
"Nara Shikamaru, right? You're the guy who's going after Temari."
Shikamaru sighed, exasperated. How was everyone finding out about this? Had Ino put an announcement in the newspaper? He wouldn't put it past Kankurou, either. His nerves were frayed enough as it was without all this questioning.
"Yeah, that's me. This is such a pain."
Kenta grinned broadly. "Ah, she's worth it, if you you what I mean."
"Hey, man, that's my sister you're talking about," Kankurou warned. Neji bristled, fingers brushing against his weapons, sensing the tension in the air.
"Ah, man, don't take it personally, with a sister like her you should be used to it by now."
He made a lewd gesture and laughed, his obscene grin spreading from ear to ear.
Shikamaru's eyes narrowed.
Gaara looked over his desk, arms crossed, he wasn't even fully healed and he could feel a headache coming on. He surveyed the four sulking shinobi.
Kankurou nursed a blossoming purple bruise on his forehead, half supporting the weight of Shikamaru, who was heavily favouring his left side. Neji was holding his ribs like they were about to buckle at any moment, but Kenta had come off the worst. The jounin's face was half blackened, his jaw clearly broken, and his shoulder was sitting at an odd angle.
Gaara sighed. "Dare I ask?"