Chapter XIV: The Mistake

"Man blames fate for other accidents, but feels personally responsible when he makes a hole in one."

– Anonymous

Shikamaru sat for what might have been an hour or two in the rain. Time did tricky things when he was outside — sometimes it sped up, and sometimes it slowed down. Now, Shikamaru had no idea what it was doing. It seemed to be jumping around, and one moment he thought it was late, when the next he deduced that hardly any time had passed at all.

Finally, after what seemed to have been forever, Shikamaru stood up and stretched his arms, ignoring his clothes sticking to his body and his shoes making squelching noises in the muddy grass. He stood there for another moment, letting the rain drip down his cheeks and arms and chest, letting it wash away whatever needed to be washed away, before he turned toward the direction of home. Where Temari was sitting inside, safe, dry, and warm.

He knew she'd still be there. It wasn't like she would leave — it was still raining after all. And Temari wouldn't want to be seen going down the street hiding underneath her fan. That wasn't who she was. She hated being submissive. Especially when other people saw. Letting all of Konoha see the Sand Ambassador submissive to some force, however uncontrollable, was just not Temari's style.

Sighing, Shikamaru trooped forward through the downpour, forcing himself on. Facing Temari with what he was going to say next seemed hard to do, somehow, even though it made perfect sense to tell her how he felt — but this, like many other troublesome things in his life, loomed ominously, practically spelling out the warning that it would have to come sooner or later. Shikamaru couldn't even begin to contemplate how much of a bother all this falling in love business was; all he knew that he was in before he knew quite how to get out, and now the feelings had him pushed up against a wall. It gave him only two options, really: Either confess and risk everything or keep it in and risk even more.

The house was closer than he thought; within no time he stood just before his back porch, staring at the doors, savoring the sweet rain for just a few moments. There was no going back now — if he went inside and saw Temari sitting there, he'd have to tell her. He would just have to.

Slowly, as though he was walking towards something very unpleasant, Shikamaru dragged himself up the porch steps and to the back door, opening it and slumping through the kitchen. His mother stood behind the countertop, mixing something in a bowl that he didn't really care about.

"I hope you're going to go change out of those wet clothes," she nodded briskly to him, her eyes narrowing as water crawled down his clothing in little droplets, infecting her shining kitchen floor.

"Yes Mom," he lied.

When he got to the door to the living room, Shikamaru quickened his pace slightly, pushing it open. As he expected, Temari sat there on the shabby forest-colored couch, a cup of tea in her hand, gazing vaguely at her knees until his entrance provoked her to look up.

"Hey," she said, surprised.


They stood there for a few moments in an awkward silence, the only noise being Shikamaru's clothing dripping onto the floor.

"You're all wet," Temari stated obviously, eyeing his sodden clothing dispassionately. "Are you cold or what?"

"No, I — no," stumbled Shikamaru, sloshing around the small coffee table to the other side of the couch. He didn't sit down (subconsciously, he realized his mom would kill him if he did and decided against it), but instead he stood before Temari, gaze flitting quickly over her relaxed posture, her crossed legs, her soft, yellow-blonde hair gleaming in the faint glow of the light hanging from the ceiling.

Everything seemed to boil down to this moment. Whatever he said next, Temari would remember him by. His choice of words determined the outcome, he knew that — if he was careless, things would go terribly, terribly wrong, and she'd remember him as that idiot she once called her boyfriend. He would just be a mistake in the past. A blunder. A blur of mild incoherence, one she tried to block out. And he realized suddenly how very much he wanted that to not happen.

He must have looked ridiculous standing there, dripping on the carpet, his hands shoved deep inside his soaking wet pockets. He opened his mouth several times, trying to find the right words — why hadn't he planned this out before? Usually he was good at strategies, even on the spot, but somehow this required more than just strategy. And whatever this called for, he conspicuously lacked.

"Um — "

"Are you — "

Both parties silenced immediately. Shikamaru stared at her half-open mouth, wondering if, instead of saying anything, simply kissing her senseless would get his point across. He decided almost immediately against it.

"You first," he mumbled. Temari shook her head.

"I was just going to ask if you were okay. You've been standing there staring at me for a while. And you're making a bit of a mess." She pointed to the puddle at his feet. "So, are you okay?" She eyed him uncertainly, and Shikamaru suddenly noticed how inexplicably pretty she was, even with her face twisted in hesitant confusion. Consequently, his mouth ran dry.

"Uh," he began stupidly, "Uh, yeah, I'm fine. I just wanted…" Clearing his throat, Shikamaru forced himself to push through. "…to tell you something. I mean, I have something to tell you." He coughed awkwardly, anger twitching inside him — stupid, ridiculous, troublesome feelings.

Temari looked, if possible, even more surprised. And confused. "What is it?"

Shikamaru took a huge breath, trying disastrously to steady himself. "I — Temari, I — "

"SHIKAMARU, I SURE HOPE YOU'RE NOT DRIPPING ALL OVER MY NICE CLEAN CARPETS," thundered his mother from the kitchen, abruptly breaking the moment. Temari looked around, just as startled as he was. They blinked in the silence for a few moments before Temari turned back to him.

"She's right, you should go change." Giving him a small smile when he didn't move, she added, "Before she kills you, Shikamaru."

Breathing heavy as though he had just run miles, Shikamaru nodded and turned around, walking quicker than usual to his room. Half of him was screaming inside, wanting to yell at his mother for ruining the one, small spurt of bravery her son had ever had (now he'd have to summon the courage all over again! What a pain), but at the same time, his other half sighed in relief. He felt ashamed of this side of him. It was the cowardly side.

Angry at himself for being so gutless, Shikamaru moved quickly into the bathroom, stripped his shirt off to let it dangle over the edge of the tub, grabbed a towel, and walked into his room, where he noticed a small mound of fresh laundry waiting for him on the foot of his bed. After ridding himself of the other sopping garments he wore, he tugged a dry set of clothing out from the pile and pulled them on, thinking cautiously to himself.

Now he'd have to go back out there to Temari, who was expecting him to say something — what exactly would he say, though? "Temari, I'm in love with you" seemed a bit much for right now, but "Temari, I like you a lot" seemed just stupid. He stayed in his room for several minutes after he was fully dressed, listening to the rain pitter-patter on his window, trying to think of a clever way (or at least remotely sensible way) to tell Temari every thought bursting in his brain. How was it possible that he could think up incredible strategies in seconds, but now, when he was faced with what very well may be the most stressful situation of his life, his talent for finding ways to win lost battles epically failed him? How was that even fair? Bitterly, Shikamaru gathered up his wet clothing and carried them to the bathroom, still mulling over what he could possibly, possibly say to Temari now.

With the hope that something might just come to him spontaneously, Shikamaru trudged back down the hallway and into the living room, brooding silently, only to find that Temari had conspicuously disappeared. He sat staring at where she was on the couch, dumbfounded; her fan still leaned casually against the wall, so she couldn't have gone very far, but then, where in the world could she have gone? It wasn't like his house was exactly monumental, or interesting, or someplace fun to explore.

Shikamaru carried along into the kitchen, stuffing his hands into his pockets absentmindedly. His mother looked around when he walked in, now dumping dirty dishes into the dishwasher, and nodded at the back door.

"She's outside," she said, and privately Shikamaru thanked, for what may be the only time, the fact that his mother could read him. It had been the same way since he was a baby: Mom was practically the only one who instinctively knew what he wanted, even when he gave no clear evidence towards his desires. Perhaps it was a motherly thing; Shikamaru wouldn't ever know. But despite the fact that it sometimes got him in trouble, he was thankful for it then, and he followed her gaze to the back door.

Outside it was still drizzling. Shikamaru stepped out onto the porch only to see Temari leaning over the railing several feet away, her arms folded on the banister in front of her and her weight on one leg, so that the other could droop lazily, the foot curled behind the opposite ankle. She looked so relaxed and so picturesque as she stood there, just watching the rain come down, listening to the gentle thumping of it on the canopy that draped over the porch, that Shikamaru almost wanted to slip quietly back inside and not disturb her.

He might have, if Temari hadn't turned around at that specific moment and gazed at him, eyes half closed as if she was sleepy, and expression bored.

"Finally," she drawled, turning fully around to lean against the banister with her back. "You take forever to get dressed, you know? I was about to come in there and drag you out." She gave a short bark of laughter, and Shikamaru's stomach did a flip. He tried to push the thoughts of Temari barging into his room when he was only half clothed out of his mind.

"Sorry," he replied, wishing he had something better to say as he walked forward and pressed his palms to the wooden railing, staring out at the shower like Temari had been doing only moments before. Beside him, she resumed her previous position and they stood there, just watching the rain.

"I was going to go out there, you know," she said after a moment, "in the rain. You seem to really like it for some reason. I thought I'd give it a try, but" — she laughed shortly, her head tilting back with the sound — "I don't think your mom would take too lightly to me dragging water through the house if she gave you such a hard time."

"She's actually much nicer to guests. I'm sure you could get away with it."

"Nah," responded Temari softly. It wasn't a weak word, or a harsh word, it was just a respectful denial of Shikamaru's hidden offer.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, observing.

"So you're not scared of it," he mused, not missing the fact that her eyes flashed at the word, "but you still don't want to deal with it."

"Shut up," she said, slapping him roughly on the arm. "I'm just not used to it is all. You got to give me time with these things. They're so weird. Rain, I mean. Like I said, we don't have rain in Suna. It's… different."

Shikamaru nodded to show he knew what she meant. He had known this about Temari — her hesitance of the different, the unknown — since the very beginning, but now she was telling him straight out, and it was a mark of how she trusted him that she did.

Cautiously, hesitantly, Temari extended her arm. The tarp covering the porch hung roughly six inches past the banister, but Temari reached out past that, until her hand hovered in the rain. From her wrist all the way to the tips of her fingers, water splashed down, wetting her tan skin, dripping down her forearm and to the crook of her elbow. She twisted and turned over her hand, so that she was palm up sometimes and palm down sometimes, as though trying to do a good job of getting her hand completely wet. After a moment of watching her stare intently at the sparkling drops dribbling down her skin, Shikamaru realized that she was simply marveling at it, observing, scrutinizing, gathering details that could be useful later. The skill of a great strategist, but it was unneeded with this harmless natural occurrence.

"Water's so weird," she decided finally, retracting her hand and letting it swing off of the banister, now in the dry area. "It's so fluid and calm and peaceful sometimes, but then it's crazy and wild and does things you can't control. Like rain." She looked out over his massive yard, scrutinizing the watery haze before her.

"Yeah," mumbled Shikamaru, unsure of what to say next. Who was this soft, vulnerable Temari? She certainly never let herself show to him before. Whenever one of her gentler side showed through, she usually followed it up with hitting him. Just to re-implant the tough image in his mind. But now she simply existed there next to him, quiet and observant, peaceful and serene. He thought for a moment how the same way she described water was one of the many ways he described her, but he didn't trust himself to speak at that point, lest he ruined the moment; thankfully, he didn't have to.

"So," Temari said, clearing her throat. The rain thumped down around them, plopping steadily on the earth and the tarp. "What were you going to say to me earlier? In the living room."

"Oh," gasped Shikamaru. He had all but forgotten this — more like he hoped Temari would forget. But she was much more perceptive than that. He knew somehow she'd manage to ask him about it. "I just…"

He looked up at Temari. Mistake number one.

She was watching him intently, eyes focused deeply on his, as though whatever he had to say was of the utmost importance. Teal stones, glinting at him, sharply, but not piercing. Simply watching him, like a hawk's eyes.

A lump rose uncomfortably in his throat. He felt weakened, suddenly, by this woman in front of him. Vulnerable, Shikamaru retreated from the confession he was about to say and instead spluttered out something far, far worse.

"Let's do something."

Temari blinked confusedly at him; all intensity vanished. "I'm sorry?"

"I mean," Shikamaru corrected quickly, already cursing himself silently, "you're leaving in a few days so I just thought we should… do something. Before you go."

Mentally, he was smacking himself. This was his way of asking her out on a date. His cheesy, retarded way. And the thought that he actually needed an excuse — I mean, you're leaving in a few days — was even worse. Couldn't he just ask a girl out because he liked her? Something about having an excuse made him feel safer, like if she said no, he could just respond, Oh, well that's okay then. It was just to be nice. Since you're leaving and all. More weakness. More cowardice.

In reply to his comment, Temari only stared at him, her mouth frowning, lips slightly parted, like she'd inaudibly gasped; her eyebrows tapered forward, and she was watching him intently again, searching his face for some sort of signal or sign that he didn't feel capable of giving at that moment. Rather, he felt ridiculously hot, despite the very cool, fresh wind on his cheeks and the rather crisp, chilly storm air around him. Was this what normally happened? Was the girl supposed to stare at you awkwardly? Were you supposed to feel stuffy and crowded in your own skin?

When Temari still didn't respond, he became nervous. "We could… go to dinner, or something," he spluttered, grasping at some sort of connection that would reach her, anything to stop her from scrutinizing him. "That place we went to on our first, um… date. I don't remember what it was called, but it had the paper lanterns?"

"Oh yeah," Temari said vaguely, still gazing at him. After a moment she seemed to come abruptly to her senses, and she shook her head slightly to clear herself, ponytails bobbing unassumingly. "Yeah. Yes. We could go there, if you really wanted to — the waitress was kind of checking you out last time."

She smirked at him, leaning sideways against the banister. Shikamaru felt his whole face relax now that she had stopped staring at him so strangely and they were back to normal conversation.

Well, as normal as it could get with the ridiculous nausea sweeping his stomach. But for all intents and purposes, it was normal.

"Cool," he said, putting his elbows upon the wood and staring at the rain, feeling suddenly elated and queasy all at the same time.

"Cool?" Temari snorted. "I knew you liked her. I saw it from the second you made those googly eyes at her."

"What?" Shikamaru remembered the waitress comment. "Oh — no, I didn't," he protested. "I didn't make googly eyes at her."

"Don't lie. You were totally smitten with her. She practically gave you a lap-dance when she handed you the menu. And don't tell me you didn't enjoy those sappy looks she gave you."

Actually, Shikamaru quite loathed sappy looks. Which was why (he suddenly realized) he liked Temari so much. She never batted her eyelashes or gave him sloppy, slavish gazes. She could hold her own. And by just living and breathing she caught Shikamaru's undivided attention. She didn't need the coy glances or the cutesy acts.

"Right, you caught me. I totally fall for the girls who make me pay after they feed me."

"I'd make you pay," Temari grinned at him sideways. "But not in money."

Shikamaru raised his eyebrows at her, remaining cool on the surface, but underneath his relaxed exterior, his brain had gone into overdrive. "And how would you do that?"

Temari only grinned menacingly at him again, and despite the fact that it terrified him, he was oddly turned-on by the mysteriousness lingering in the corners of her eyes and mouth. A whooping feeling built somewhere behind his navel; something must have shown in his face because Temari was suddenly laughing and crowing, "I can't believe it — you're thinking dirty."

"No I'm not," he said stupidly.

Temari smirked. "Then what's with that dumb smile?"

"I'm not smiling, woman." But even as he said the words, he felt his cheeks tighten, and he tried to twist his face into some other expression, his attempts only making Temari laugh even harder.

"Come on, stupid, it's getting dark. Let's go inside." She was still laughing when she took his hand, and when she did Shikamaru felt the air grow somewhat still, as though the whole world was watching her thin fingers grasp his.

"Wait — so, dinner?"

Temari turned back around to face him, their hands still intertwined. Her arm extended out fully, pulling his along, for Shikamaru had frozen in mid-step, suddenly remembering his request.

"You mean at the paper-lantern place?"

"Yeah. Could we — could we go tomorrow night or something?"

"Eager to see the waitress, are you? Not tomorrow, I'm busy" — Shikamaru had to wonder what in the world she could be doing, or if this was possibly just one of those tricks girls used to seem not as interested as they really were — "how about the next night?"

"Night after next," he repeated. "Got it."

The corners of Temari's mouth tweaked up. "Did you really even need to ask?"

"Of course I had to ask," Shikamaru said seriously. "I had to make sure it was okay with you."

Temari smirked slightly, but it was a softer, more amorous sort of smirk. "Come on. I bet your mom has dinner ready."

"Right," Shikamaru breathed, and he followed her inside, letting her lead him with her small, supple hands.

At that moment, Shikamaru was relieved, to say the least; he hadn't had to express his feelings for Temari just yet (better to let them stew while he found the appropriate words), but he was successful in securing an opportunity to relay them to her: Over their date. She was scheduled to leave the day after, so it would be the perfect opportunity.

Then, all those things ran through Shikamaru's head, and he was thankful. Thankful he'd held back. Thankful he'd neglected to tell her. Thankful he'd been a coward. But it would only take him forty-eight hours to wish that he had summoned the courage earlier.

Then, maybe, everything wouldn't have gone down in flames.

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