A/N: Sorry for the epically long oneshot here. Couldn't find a good break in the story. There may be a few idiosyncrasies with spellings and grammar since I appears that the translation I am using isn't quite as up to date. Also, my apologies if a few of the characters seem a little OOC when they are worried. That is explained in the story.

Shikamaru read the slip of paper that Tsunade had handed him again and frowned oddly at the number of the room he was supposed to report to and looked up at the door in front of him before sighing.

"How troublesome," he said as he opened the door. This time, his standard address towards everything in life wasn't just him being the lazy goof off that people still thought of him as though. Something was really up with this mission, something that Tsunade hadn't wanted to tell him in her office even.

Which was why he was here. To meet his partner for the job and to learn the new skills that he would need for the particular strategy that this mission would require.

And he didn't have a clue with any of it. Had no idea why Tsunade wanted him to go on this mission. No idea who his partner was.

And he definitely did not know how to dance, let alone how to make a strategy out of it. Not well at least, although he had been passable the few times that Ino had tried to force him into dancing for a few brief seconds, although that had mostly been to get Sasuke's attention and to give her a chance to be bossy enough to annoy him.

"Women, so troublesome," he muttered with feeling again as he walked into the room letting his eyes adjust to the dimness compared to the sunny hallway.

Although whether he meant Ino or the hokage right now, he wasn't exactly sure.

"Well, this should be interesting if you feel that way."

He jumped and Temari smirked as she stepped forward out of the blind spot in the room and into the light from the row of windows lining the western side of the room.

"Can't say I'm exactly thrilled about this assignment though either. At least the dancing will be fun. The spying-," Temari shrugged. "Not so much. I have better things I could be doing."

"Like annoying your guide?" Shikamaru asked, one eyebrow raised sardonically. Not that he had been her guide in anything but name for a while now, but he was still a bit edgy after having her spook him like that.

She laughed at that. A deep throaty laugh which could never have been a giggle even by the farthest stretch of the imagination. "While it's fun making you jump at shadows, playing politics isn't my thing. And there really weren't that many other kunoichi who could, just Hinata, Tenten, and Ino. And since this mission is one that could jeopardize the Sand country as well, I was the obvious choice. Besides, you're my "guide", so there won't be too many raised eyebrows at you being there with me tonight."

"As a guide?" Shikamaru asked, not that he hadn't already deduced that that was not the answer.

"No, as my bodyguard in a sense, since I am not allowed my fan, and more publicly, as my escort."

Shikamaru snorted at the idea of sending a nin on a mission completely unarmed.

As if she had read his mind, Temari smirked even broader. "I only said I wasn't allowed my fan. You don't think that I'm going to let you work too hard as bodyguard, do you?"

He took in her appearance fully. While he was reasonably sure her weapons were still within easy reach with her normal dress, without her fan she did look completely unarmed and helpless. And he was very certain that any suggestions he made which would have allowed him to know if she was armed or not would have not been taken well.

Or would have been taken far too well. Something that he was not sure if he wanted or not.

In either event, he decided, the best he could have hoped for was a slap across the face. Something he really did not want to chance.

"I am aware that the kunoichi are trained to appear as normal women if necessary," he replied sounding as laid back as he could under the circumstances so that he wouldn't insult her.

After all, the circumstances weren't her fault.

She couldn't make the mission any less dangerous, which it must have been to have forbidden Temari from bringing her fan. Or any less secretive.

Or make it any harder for him to keep himself from blushing.

"But we only have a few hours to get ready and for me to teach you how to dance. How much dancing have you done?"

"Recently, or ever?"

"We'll start with the second."

"I've only danced a few times."

"And presumably only the basic "don't step on my feet as we make a vague circle" dance that most guys decide is dancing? Oh boy. Well, at least it's a blank slate if you don't know Konoha's dances let alone Suna's, right?"

"I'm a little bit better than that," he huffed, knowing that Temari's description was not too far off from what Ino had had him do when he had danced with her. "And what do you mean Konoha's dances and Suna's dances? Dancing is dancing. It is like music. That's the same everywhere, right?"

Temari smiled as she moved forward. Shikamaru looked suspiciously and wondered if perhaps he shouldn't have one of the medic nins test to see if he was tone deaf. First, the girl with the flute and her playing, now Temari and dancing. Eventually his obliviousness to music was going to get him killed on mission. Now that he knew the dances would look different, he would be able to adjust to fit.

Once he knew what the dances were.

Knowing Temari, finding that out could be troublesome.

"Well, fortunately for you, I know quite a lot about those dances and how they are different. Let's start with Konoha. You have it easy. You guys only have two or three types of dances. We'll save all the confusion for later.

"Thanks," he growled, but he watched as she began to move backwards, her arms and feet moving slowly in a way that reminded him of floating flowers and leaves caught in the wind. He shook his head and kept studying, his mind registering why the oddly poetic imagery had come into his head. Her arms were half extended, the elbow bent as if holding something as she swayed and stepped in a methodical triangle of steps backwards. One arm swept up suddenly and she turned gracefully on her toes before settling and smirking at him, her hands planted on her hips in a typical Temari fashion.

"That's the basic. You've seen most of the other ones if anyone has ever dragged you to a dance before, but what I just did is probably the most formal of Konoha's dances. The other two are pretty easy."

She started a second, which with relief he did recognize instantly as the sort of circle dance that some of the girls had done when they were kids. It did not look half as silly as it had when he had watched the girls doing it. The last was a fast twirling frenzy as she caught at hands that were not there in a frantic pace that tired him just to watch it. Temari stopped and smiled, her cheeks pink from the slight exertion as she finished, a broad smile lighting up her face.

Shikamaru nodded. None of the dances were complicated. In fact, the footwork to the second two had been very simple, just much quicker than the first dance. And the first had merely required Temari to step in a turning box formation. Hardly a difficult movement compared to the advanced taijitsu he had learned.

The pain that going through the taijitsu had been was still a comforting thought though when compared to the thought of trying to replicate the Sand nin's graceful movements.

Whatever unspoken prayers he had in mind, it appeared that any listening deities had decided to take a lunch break because Temari continued to explain the dances.

"So that is what Konoha dancing is like. And then there is Suna dancing, which is what I learned. There are all sorts with that, but the there are four types that are most common to us. The first sort are the presentation dances."

With that introduction given, Temari began to dance and Shikamaru was beginning to see exactly what Temari meant when she said that Suna dancing was nothing like Konoha's style. This was-- he did not have words for the hypnotic gestures that Temari was making. They were soft, and understated, not unlike the Hyuuga family's gentle fist style taijitsu. But something in her movement made it quite clear that no one would ever mistake what Temari was doing for fighting, or anything even remotely like fighting. It was as if Temari actually was entangled in the air and dancing with the wind in an intricate pattern.

Abruptly, almost seconds after he had caught the actual technique she used of swaying her arms and waist in half circles as she stepped, Temari stopped.

"So, that's what a presentation dance is. The next sort is a sword dance. That I hardly need to show you. You've seen me fight and do drills, and you have seen Neji and Hinata fight. It looks like a cross between those, leaning more to one side or the other if you are armed. Like this."

She began what looked like a graceful but lethal combination of taijitsu techniques before stopping and smiling at him. To him it looked far less like the gentle fist style than Temari probably was aware, but he did have to admit that there was still a similar grace to it, and the style it presented was far more subtle than the hard fist style of fighting traditionally displayed.

This time, he smiled back, slightly relieved. So far the sword dance looked like the easiest of the dances yet. Maybe she intended to show the Suna dances in order of decreasing difficulty like she had the Konoha dances? After all, the middle and last he at least recognized, even if he hadn't personally danced them.

The third dance of the set she showed seemed to confirm this to him as he watched her. She was spinning again, beautiful and skillful in the flow of arms and legs, but certainly not anymore complicated than Tenten and the spinning of her ribbon during her jitsu. If spinning was all there was to this sort of dancing, he could certainly manage that!

The last of the Suna dances blew his hypothesis not just out of the water, but completely leveled it. He hadn't imagined that people could kick or turn in that fashion, let alone do the movements that Temari was with her shoulders and arms. Slightly embarrassed, Shikamaru fought to keep his gaze on her whole figure and the movements rather than the deliberate sway of chest and arms that occurred in the dance. Enough so that he almost lost track of how close Temari had moved to him by the end of the dance.

Almost.

He stepped back and looked at her and the shattered fragments of his crumbled hypothesis.

"Well, were you paying attention to the lesson so far?" Temari asked with saccharine sweetness and Shikamaru fought not to blush from the inflection in her voice as she spoke. It was bad enough that she had caught him fighting not to stare. She didn't have to point it out to him like that.

"Yes," he replied tersely to cover up his embarrassment. "Most of them have very specific set of foot and hand movements that follow a sequence. It is simply a manner of memorizing and executing those. Some are clearly meant for one person to dance, and others look like they would accommodate, or were really meant to include others."

Temari nodded. "Good start, genius-san. Now it's your turn."

"My what?"

"Turn, genius. You didn't think I was going to be doing all of the work being pretty and do all the dancing for you to watch, did you?"

"Of course not." Now he did not care that the venom was obvious in his voice as he replied, his face burning in all likelihood as red as Hinata's. "Now, I assume that there is a reason that you pointed out about the difference between Suna's dances and Konoha's, or was that just to be troublesome? Right now, the first one is obviously one of the only ones that is purely a partner dance. The rest all are solos and group ones. And things simply don't move more than one way. "

"So you actually were paying attention to the dances and not just me? Well, I'll have to try harder on that part when it isn't a mission. But yes, the particular style you are going to learn is a combination of dances. And it actually does manage to work so that you can move more than one way, whether it should or not. That's why this is dancing, not chess, Shika."

He ignored that obvious barb. "Fine so it is the first of the Konoha dances you showed me combined with what?"

"The third dance from Konoha, which is one of the harvest dances that requires a partner if not a group, and the first and fourth of the Suna dances I showed you. It really shouldn't fit together, but it does in a strange way, so neither country really considers it their's. But the first thing you need to do to get any of this down is to manage the basic step for it."

"You mean the turning box?"

Temari blinked at him in surprise for a second and he smiled, pleased that he had gotten the name right.

"Yes, you need to learn the turning box step so that you can manage at a quicker pace than you would for the waltz. Now, stand here."

Shikamaru went to the designated spot of floor and stood, his arms folded across his chest as he studied her.

"And tell me, do you wear a flack jacket to dance with all the pretty girls? Honestly, Shika. If I am not allowed my fan, you are going to have to go in secretly as well. Now take it off and drop your hands."

He took the vest off, curious as to why Temari had softened the tone of her voice to explain that before he came back to the spot, his vest kicked to the side and lazily let his hands fall to the side.

Temari sighed in exasperation, muttered something at him, and grabbed both of his hands with her own. She clearly saw his confusion and moved one so that it rested on the curve of her shoulder, and the other so that it rested on her waist, supporting a good portion of her back with the palm.

"Your hands need to go there. The one at the waist will help with balance later. Now do what I do, only step forwards."

He looked down at her feet as best as he could and began to mirror the sway and flow of the steps. The first few times they turned, she steered him, pushing at his shoulder whenever he was offstep or on the wrong foot. By the fourth round though, he'd managed to get the step down and was going at a pace that was close to the fourth dance's pace while Temari kept directing the direction and pace.

"Now here is where the other three dances come in. In between this, the dancers dance in and out of this step and stance, doing pieces of other dances. Tricks of sorts, I guess that make the dance look fun. That's why neither one will really claim it as a dance. It doesn't look serious, and it's too hard to learn right."

The tricks were hard, a series of movements that used more of his arms and torso than his legs as he spun in and out, spinning Temari, at one point where both of them had their hands behind the other's head. And those were the easy ones too.

"Now, spin me again. No, the other way."

"Why?"

"My arm will actually bend that way, genius."

He apologized briefly and did as she asked. He really didn't want to hurt her with this. True, it was a lot of work, and he still didn't see how it exactly connected to the mission. At least not right now while he was still learning the moves and focusing too much on that to see the other possibilities yet, but that still didn't make him want to break her arm for teaching him this. Rather than spinning away though as she had before, giving him a chance to brace himself so that she would not spin into him on the way back, she moved towards him catching herself a good three inches before she touched him.

"Now lower your hands."

"Relieved, Shikamaru went to lower his hands and shove them in his pockets, since from the sound of things, the 'lesson' part of the mission was winding down.

He found Temari once again putting them back in the proper places.

"No, lower them. Drop me."

"What?"

"Not all the way, but as far as you can reach. You still have your hands there so I don't fall. And I will kick your ass if you deliberately let go."

That Shikamaru had already figured out.

Holding his breath, he quickly dropped his arms, taking care to hold onto Temari.

"Now pull them - and me, since you have problems comprehending this part, genius-san- back up."

He did.

"Now both hand at my waist. Your fingers should touch at the back. That's important."

"Why?"

"Because you are going to pick me up, throw me and catch me before we finish up. So, I guess the answer is simply that I'd like my back not to be broken as a result."

"Throw you? But-"

"If you do it right, I won't break. Trust me, I can probably catch myself, but it is easier this way. Now, up!"

He tossed her up in the air. It surprised him how easy it was. He vaguely remembered as a gennin throwing one of the children he was helping Ino and Chouji watch in the air the same way. Most likely Konohamaru or one of the Third Hokage's other grandchildren, given that Asuma-sensei was his teacher. The nin had shown no reluctance to classify babysitting his nieces and nephews as missions for his team.

It had felt nothing like it had when he had thrown Temari.

He caught her, knowing without asking that it was even more important for him to keep his hands at her waist when she came back down to prevent her back from snapping backwards. She nodded to let him know that he was right and he moved his hands back to the normal position as fast as he could manage. At least no one would be able to tell if he was blushing or not now, as flushed as he was from dancing.

There were three more turning boxes before she spun out and in ending the routine.

"Take a few," she told him, throwing him a bottle of water from a table in the corner. He half collapsed on the floor, lowering his head to his knees for a second just to pull is thoughts back together.

When he looked up again, she was sitting next to him, her feet tucked ladylike under the skirt of her dress.

"We have another hour yet to practice before we get showered. That was why the hokage gave us this much extra time to get ready for the mission. We'll probably only need half that though. You really aren't bad for a newbie."

"Gee, thanks," he drawled before draining what felt like half of the bottle.

"There's more. You always go through a lot of water practicing. No, I was worse than you when I started. A lot worse. Ask Kankuro how many times I have twisted his arm dancing or stepped on his feet. Especially when we first started.

"How old were you when you started dancing?" Shikamaru asked, resting his chin on his hands in genuine curiosity. It didn't take a lot to figure out that you had to know what you were doing to be able to dance like Temari did.

"I think before I could walk really," she replied, her eyes a bit dreamy as she remembered. "It's one of the few things that I remember about my mother. I used to watch her practicing the presentation dances in her room and try to copy them. Not that I wouldn't have learned them anyhow. They take dancing a lot more seriously in Suna. But it is one of the few things that I can see about myself that is like her. My hair and that I love dancing."

"If dancing is so important, I take it your brothers learned the presentation dances too?"

Temari nearly choked on a mouthful of water at his question. "Oh , good grief, Shika. Don't do that to me again!"

"What?" he asked, genuinely baffled?

"Yes, Gaara and Kankuro both know how to dance. But the thought of them ever doing the presentation dances- that is priceless! The presentation dances are only done by women hoping to show their favor towards the Kazekage."

"What? Wait! You said you danced those! How could your father or brother ever think of asking you to-?" Shikamaru could almost feel himself turning pale, if not green, at the thought.

"They didn't ask me to. I did it myself. It is expected for the daughter, or for that matter- the sister, of the Kazekage to dance them. The other women come when they are petitioning favors. The dance itself is really not sexual unless you mean it to be. Not that there were not women who danced it in hopes of finding themselves in father's bed. But all I wanted from father was his approval. I think Gaara understands that better than anyone else. He always will dance a waltz, one of the Suna ones, with me after I finish. Honestly, I think that is the only dance anyone would ever be able to talk him into."

"Because of the biju?" Shika asked shrewdly. It was hardly a secret anymore that Gaara had been the host of the one-tailed spirit in much the same way that Naruto housed the nine-tails. Only, the Yondaime had never meant for his infant son to be a weapon or a pawn to be destroyed at his whim the way the former Kazekage had.

"In part. Also, neither Gaara or Kankuro ever liked dancing as much as I did. I mean, Kankuro's decent, but it makes him feel like one of his puppets. And Gaara-. Well, the fox didn't help, but our uncle was the one who raised Gaara, and when everything there fell apart, my little brother became a stranger to all of us. Which is why I try to protect him a little even now that we're both nin. That probably sounds stupid to you."

"No. It reminds me a little of Naruto, with the kyuubi and all. But, really I think more of Chouji with that. We grew up together, and our dads are good friends. Didn't keep people from making fun of Chouji for being weak though, so I got to be friends with him and started looking out for him with that."

Temari nodded. "That makes sense, I guess." She drained her own bottle of water. "I guess we should get back to work if we're going to be ready for the mission tonight.

Shikamaru didn't move but stared up at her from his seat on the floor. "Temari, why are you doing this mission for Tsunade-sama anyhow?"

"It's a favor for my brother. Now, are you going to practice or not, lazybones?"

They practiced three more times, and by the fourth, they had it down to the point that Shikamaru could begin to see how the turns and spins of the dance could easily be transformed into deadly kicks and rolls, the muscle memory from his training adjusting to the dance and the thought of the mission. The fifth time through, they were both sweated and he could feel the warm ache in his muscles that let him know that it was enough, but they had begun to be able to improvise the routine.

"Good. Can you meet me back here in half an hour After you shower and change? Well, and I do too. We can't go on mission like this."

Shikamaru grabbed another bottle of water from Temari as he bent to pick up his flack jacket. "Sure. You realize that last bit sounded more like Ino or Sakura than you, right?"

Temari cuffed across the back of the head harshly for that comment. "Maybe I do, but that's because I am not going to fool around on a mission like this. Now, go get cleaned up. And take this. This mission needs to go well."

He barely caught the bundle of clothes she threw at him as she practically pushed him out the door. Quietly, Shikamaru walked off, his mind swimming with thoughts.

What was so important about this mission? And why wouldn't Temari simply tell him what it was if it was so important? Dammit, they were both working on this mission, not just her. They'd worked together before, so why was it all of a sudden that she couldn't trust him enough to give him information about what the hell was going on so they wouldn't both get killed?

Shikamaru still didn't have the answers by the time he reached his place. Or got showered. Or dressed. The only thing he had figured out was how to fit weapons into the spaces on the suit that Temari had thrown at him. At least she had been that considerate. He transferred the scrolls, kunai, and flash bangs from his flack jacket to the suit and went to retie the headband when he remembered the tie. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he cursed briefly and shoved both into his pockets before running back to the room.

It was easier to see in the room now with the lights on, the afternoon sun beginning to fade enough for her to turn on the lights. Only, when he looked around for Temari, he couldn't see her, only a different woman standing with her back to the door and fidgeting with ties on the back of her dress . A woman with waist-length blonde waves and a deep rich teal dress that left most of the back between the ties bare.

He walked silently in, hoping that the stranger wouldn't notice him coming in. He thought he had succeeded fairly well when he noticed the pile of hairclips on the table and a shinobi headband. The headband of a shinobi from Suna.

"Temari?" He stared at the woman's back, stunned and truly unsure of who it would be answering.

She spun around and any doubts he had were gone. In spite of the deep vee of the dress and the bright color, it was Temari. No one else he knew had quite the same face or the deep piercing eyes.

"Wow, and on time too. I'm impressed."

"But- but- your hair!"

Temari smirked. "Ah, yes. The wonders of long hair and what people never realize when you keep it tied up. It works better to wear it down when I'm in disguise. Now, let me help with the tie. You did bring it right."

"Temari, what the hell is-?"

"And your hair. You really must have been in a hurry to get here on time to forget to tie that up. At least you wore dress shoes. That-"

"Temari, dammit! Why won't you at least brief me on the mission."

"Fine, fine. You need to know. It's just- this one is personal. I asked Tsunade for this one to help Gaara. He doesn't know."

Shikamaru thought this through and then nodded. "Okay."

"There is a plot with some of Konoha against Suna. They think there shouldn't be an alliance. That the best way to end the alliance is to get rid of the Kazekage."

It clicked. All of it, to a depth Shikamaru was even surprised at. This wasn't just about Temari protecting the alliance or her country, it was an attack on the little brother who she had never felt able to protect well enough.

"So we are going to get enough information to report."

Temari nodded. "And kill any plotters there are. Any plot is still small enough that the death of more than one will throw them off. I am not losing my little brother again."

Shikamaru saw now just what Temari's stake in this was. For as long as she was working this mission, she had to deny all of her ties to Suna, her name, everything that she was. Without a word, he pulled out the tie and allowed her to fasten it in place. She reached behind her and grabbed one of the ribbons that normally held her buns in place from the table.

"Bend your head a little."

He did, surprised by the fact that she practically fit under his chin as she reached behind him and pulled his hair back into a braid.

"Where did you get the dress?"

"Tsunade. She thought it would do since I couldn't wear my normal dress. Thank you for doing this. I really had no reason to ask you. I mean any of the others from Konoha could have managed this instead, but I didn't feel it was right to ask the other girls. And if you get caught, as my guide they will know that-"

Shikamaru put his hand to her mouth and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead to calm her down. He wasn't really sure why, but it felt right at the moment, and he could see some of the anxiety give from Temari's shoulders, and she smiled as if she could think clearly without babbling.

Women. At least Temari made some sense, especially tonight.

She reached behind her again and grabbed the headband, tucking it into the inside waist of her dress. "These come with us. We are shinobi, not missing nin."

"Mine's in my pocket." he told her as he moved to follow. "Hold on."

"What?"

"There's a tie in the middle." He deftly fastened the tie of her dress and stepped back. "There. Wouldn't do for you to fall out."

She smiled weakly, but a ghost of the mischievous glint that was so normal for Temari began to return. "In your dreams." she retorted and opened up a small panel in the wall.

The panel led to a deep stone staircase and Temari had to hold up the skirt of the dress to not trip as she went down.

"Are you sure you're all right back there?" she asked softly.

"Temari, my main jitsu has free reign in the dark. I'm great. I'd be better if I knew where we were going."

"It's a club, a dance hall. I found out that this is where all of the conspirators have been meeting and that's why no questions. Everything's communicated during the dances.

"Temari, if they recognize you when you're dancing with them, I don't know if I can stop them in time. Hell, the same thing could happen with me! Especially since I barely know the dance."

"I know. That's why you'll be dancing with me the whole time. After all, you are my escort, not theirs."

"Ah." That made sense. A lot of sense. So why did Shikamaru feel like he was playing a game down three pieces at the start?

He really couldn't ask right then, so he simply followed Temari through the rock hewn tunnel that the stairs opened into and then into the cavernous room at the end.

Not cavernous, he corrected. It really was a true cavern that had died, the walls still smooth and dry on the inside, the wiring and furniture a sharp contrast to the ageless stone.

He even might have enjoyed it if this wasn't a mission.

They walked and mingled for a few minutes before the music began to play. Almost everyone there seemed friendly and social to the two of them. For a brief instant, Shikamaru felt a thread of panic thinking that they had involved bystanders in this until he realized one thing. No one asked or gave names here. As if it was understood that they wanted no names to be traced back to them. Temari was right, there was a plot. Nearly twenty or thirty other people in the room, all plotting to end the peace because they simply hated the Sand country and their people enough to refuse to accept a sound alliance? It was ridiculous. He wondered if they even knew how much of the dancing that they did came from there. Probably not. Nothing else even bore anything that even hinted at a connection from Suna. As he scouted the crowd, he picked out three of his fellow nin, two chounin and a jounin in the crowd. His stomach pitched. This was deeper than even Temari knew if it had gotten to the nin.

He took a breath, hearing the opening notes of the song and he tried to relax enough to remember the moves as Temari pulled him into the dance.

"Sorry about pulling you into a girly mission. Keep your ears peeled for anything about the plot." she whispered.

Shikamaru smiled briefly at the weak joke that the kunoichi had pulled, knowing just how deadly the 'girly' stealth missions they pulled were. Hell, Anko-sensei still scared him!

"Of course, with such a troublesome partner."

Even more amazing than their ability to joke with everything, it seemed, was the fact that both of them were able to keep dancing in spite of listening. Shikamaru found that his difficulty with music actually helped with this. He was able to follow by the slight changes in pitch or rhythm easily, deaf as he was to the way they fit into a melody, and listen to the conversations around him without getting caught up in the music.

Two dances, three dances, and the band stopped long enough for everyone to catch their breath and mill, changing to some meaningless series of notes that seemed to signal this to everyone else.

"Did you hear anything yet?" she asked, as she got a drink of punch from the bowl that sat on a table near the alcove. His head almost had to touch her forehead for him to be able to even hear her. Not that he minded per se, but it did reaffirm the need for caution.

"Plenty, but nothing specific. I'm not so sure that there was only one plan tonight though. Or that it was your brother we need to worry about." he replied just as softly.

He didn't dare tell her that Gaara was not the only one in danger. That most of the group had decided that the best way to undermine the Kazekage was to attack or kill one of his siblings. And the most accessible was of course Temari no Suna.

He highly doubted that the thought that they would have to kill him as well would disturb them. Especially not the chounin who appeared to be the leader of the group. He had been one of the ones who had always tormented Shikamaru and Chouji when they were both younger. Age had not made him anymore amiable.

Temari leaned her head against his shoulder briefly and nodded. He could feel her shaking with worry, and he hugged her, hoping that the gesture would let her know that he understood. Not that it probably didn't look a lot more personal than that to everyone else, but it was so rare for Temari to be this shaken that it was almost a relief to be able to comfort her for once rather than vice-versa. She had been there when Chouji had been in the hospital, had rescued him, had been an emissary and a partner with him for years now, and had even let him simply grieve when Asuma-sensei had died. Helping her with this was merely returning years of favors. But it still felt strange to see her actually seeming fragile. Not helpless, but as if losing Gaara again would make her lose part of what made her Temari. If not her life.

Right then, Shikamaru, even focused as he was on the mission, would have given a year's worth of the money his family earned from the antler medicine to be able to cheerfully beat the living hell out of everyone who had worn the kunoichi's inner strength down this much.

That would definitely be hard though. Especially since he would probably have needed to beat himself up as well.

She stepped back and he looked to make sure she was okay. She nodded and he smiled back, meaning to step back and look up. He had looked up too quickly though and missed Temari's hand on his shoulder until he felt it. Startled, he looked back down, hesitantly and felt her place a brief kiss on his mouth. Completely innocent, completely chaste, the same as the kiss he had placed on her forehead earlier. In fact, taking in the shocked look on her face, he was sure that was what she had meant to do.

Not that he minded as much as he thought. Not that he minded at all, really.

And since she looked shocked and not murderous had him wondering if she felt the same about it.

The music started up again and they headed back to the dance floor. Briefly, he caught sight of one of the chounin hovering near the bandstand for a second before rejoining the dance.

They finished and the band settled not into another upbeat dance, but a slow pretty waltz, like the first dance Temari had shown him and had him practice in their dancing lesson. He frowned slightly, unsure why the band had changed the music, but still listening as he moved with the uncharacteristically worried looking Sand kunoichi.

There was a shift and even Shikamaru could hear the melody change slightly partway through. It was only when the band stopped that he realized what had happened, and looking at Temari and the pale panic look on her face, he knew just how badly they had erred.

The band had been playing a Suna waltz. A waltz that no one there, but only someone from Suna or closely allied to them would have bothered to learn. The chounin stepped forward, shoving Shikamaru hard. He didn't even rock, keeping his feet in stance for balance as he bit the inside of his cheek. It would have been a lot easier to hit him if he hadn't noticed the kunai that the jounin and other chounin had pointed at Temari's back.

"Nara Shikamaru. C'mon, the family resemblance to your dad is just too close there for you to pass, hair or not. Now, the little Suna bitch you escorted might have stood a chance of passing if it hadn't been for that. Or maybe not. I mean, there aren't that many blondes running around Konoha that no one has seen before. And none of them are in the village right now, save the Hokage. That really leaves you and the girl shit out of luck, Nara."

"Not hardly."

He pulled one of the scrolls out of his jacket and tossed it to Temari as he began the Kagemane No Jitsu on the other people surrounding them. He'd used the scroll before, knew it would work even for him, but out of everyone he knew, she was the best person he knew left to use it, and without her fan, it had a chance of being her best weapon.

A brisk rush of air filled the cave and he felt her ready herself into the fighting more now that she was armed with another way to use wind chakra.

Asuma-sensei's scroll.

He used the shadow jitsu to make himself go backwards, forcing everyone else that was trapped in it to back away from Temari as well.

It was a pity the jitsu only held for so long.

He felt another rush of air and then a sudden cracking sound. Without thinking, he grabbed Temari's arm and pulled her downward. He saw one of the rocks from the side of the cave crush the chounin's skull before he got them almost to the tunnel. He bent down to keep Temari safe from the falling debris around them. Then the rocks in front of him fell.

For a second he thought he saw sand, but then everything went black.

When he woke, it still was black, only now he was on his back instead of his stomach. He rolled over and began to cough up dust from the cave in. He vaguely remembered.

The wind jitsu. She had severed the pillar with the wind jitsu to help during the fight when the Kagemane No Jitsu had worn out. He remembered seeing the kunai coming towards his throat and then the wind. And then the blackness that still was surrounding him.

"You will eventually need to remove the shield and see what state he's in by the time his parents arrive with Shizune." Tsunade's voice sounded serious and he tried to sit up, both stopped by a dull ache in his ribs, and hitting his head off of something hard.

A second later he felt a hand help him up and found himself blinking against the reemergence of the dim starlight and staring at Gaara.

Gaara. The thought struck him, and he found the Kazekage's hand on his shoulder keeping him upright as he tried to figure out where he was and how he had gotten there. The memory of the cave in came flooding back.

"Temari!" He yelled without thinking it and was rewarded with a glare from Gaara.

"I wouldn't be taking care of you if she wasn't fine."

"She went with Shizune and Kankuro to notify the two closest nin with any medicinal knowledge, medic or not, about the cave in." Tsunade added dryly. "It is a pity that none of the others inside survived long enough to correct that assumption. Or explain why they were committing treason."

Shikamaru was not likely to argue the group's eulogy so he focused instead on looking around him and caught the sight of white horns at the edge of the field.

"And since I am lying in my own backyard, I take it that the deer would make my parents the nearest nin with medical knowledge?"

"If you keep thinking this fast, I'll have to quit giving you a handicap in chess." Nara Shikaku chuckled softly, his face softening in the light from his lantern as he helped his son up. Your mom is helping your friend get cleaned up. A few scrapes on her hands from digging out, but she seems fine. Worried about you though. Come on. It will be easier if we get everyone inside so we can see what we're doing."

"And witnesses for the conversation we'll be needing to have. It will be easier for Shizune to take notes in there."

Somehow Shikamaru did not find Tsunade's comment comforting.

Even with his dad's help, he was leaning heavily on the older man's shoulder to get inside, his rather pummeled feeling torso refusing to completely straighten enough to support his weight.

He made his way in, leaning against the table long enough to catch his breath.

"Sit down." Tsunade ordered. He did, feeling the medic nin checking along his ribs and spine.

"Bruises, some of them probably deep enough to be bone bruises. So you'll be sore, but there's nothing broken. You are lucky with that, given the fact you took two decent size rocks to the back."

"They were going to kill her. That was the plan. To break the alliance by killing Temari so they could kill Gaara. She never heard the whole thing. It doesn't matter, now. They're dead."

Kankuro nodded from the doorway to the kitchen. "We know. That's why we came as soon as we found out. The messenger birds can only fly so fast though. Temari and your mom will be out in a minute or two. Your mom insisted on helping her get washed up and changed into warmer clothes."

"Sounds like Yoshino." Shikaku murmured, deftly taking the hair tie that Shikamaru was playing with and pulling his hair out of the braid and into its standard tail.

"She'll need to see your fine before she's okay."

"Who, Temari or mom?" Shikamaru asked.

"Both." The answer was a chorus from the Suna nin, the Hokage, Shizune, and his father."

Shikamaru looked at all of them in confusion. "But Temari was there, she saw that I was fine."

"No, she didn't." Kankuro told him bluntly as Gaara looked away silently, standing and heading towards the window. "We got there around the time that the ceiling caved in. We were far enough in the tunnel to see so it wasn't that hard for Gaara to keep the sand from crushing you two and with the sand and the puppets, we pulled you out of there before Gaara dealt with the plotters who were still alive."

"But then- how?"

"The dust the rocks formed was all through your lungs." Gaara told him. "You were suffocating. Temari kept trying to get you to breathe and she couldn't. You are fortunate that ground rocks are the same as sand."

Shikamaru stopped and blinked, staring at the gourd on Gaara's back. "You rescued me? But why? Not that I'm complaining, just-,"

"There was no way to get Temari out of danger otherwise. She refused to leave, and if where the cave was collapsed on the surface, she would have died."

"She should have left. That was part of the mission, to make sure that both of you were safe."

"And leave someone behind? I thought you were smarter than that genius-san."

He craned his neck back to look behind him as well as he could manage to look at Temari. She looked almost normal wearing one of his mother's black dresses, an old wrap shirt and a green sash making it almost like her normal dress. Even if the sash was red instead of green. Her hair was even back up into the four buns she wore it in.

So why did she look even more delicate and vulnerable like that than she had in the blue dress she had borrowed from Tsunade?

"And that was a risk I knew when I went with you. I made you explain the mission to me and I knew I might not come back. I remember someone yelling at me for being too overinvested in a mission once, Temari. The same works for you."

She flushed at that, and he knew that she was clearly remembering when Chouji had been in the hospital after their attempt to rescue Sousuke.

"That was different?"

"How? I went in knowing that I might die as a result. Hell, I went in not even fully briefed. I still have no idea what the hell you didn't tell me about before we went in, but I trusted you when you said that you had gotten the mission cleared by Tsunade."

She shook her head. "I did tell you. This was a mission that I asked Tsunade for."

"Aren't you leaving out one very important piece with that statement, Temari?" Tsunade asked.

Temari just looked at her feet, refusing to answer.

"Since she will not tell you, it appears I have little choice." Gaara said quietly, "Three days ago, I received one of our messenger birds in response to a question I had sent to Tsunade regarding a concern I had when I had spoken with her. Instead of the response I expected, I was informed about the plot that Temari had discovered and was asked to send my permission for her to go, even though it was a mission that technically did only require her permission as the Hokage. I did, with one condition, and asked Kankuro to come with me. However, as Tsunade knows, and I am sure Temari does as well, I had asked for her to wait until nightfall this evening when we would arrive so that I could learn of the plan and try to help diffuse the matter. Something which is my job as the Kazekage, Temari. So, sister would you like to explain why you disobeyed direct and official orders from both the Hokage and myself?"

Temari still didn't look up as she replied.

"I didn't go as a nin. Neither of us did. We would have been caught. I didn't go as a member of Suna or the emissary to Konoha. I didn't even go as Temari no Suna. I went as myself."

Shikamaru braced himself for the fight that he was fairly certain was about to break out. Even if Gaara's temper had improved since he had become Kazekage, Temari and Tsunade's hadn't.

"I would have gone even if she hadn't." he finally said.

"What?"

"If you are going to yell at us, yell at both of us. I would have gone if she hadn't. She's been friends with me for a while now, and helped me out with enough assignments. Helped Konoha with enough assignments. Part of the plot was to kill her to weaken the Sand's control. Even if that hadn't happened, what they were doing was going to break her. So if I had known, even if she hadn't told me and had me rehearse and go through our mission's plan tonight, I would have gone."

"Troublesome creatures?" Skikaku asked, giving his son a knowing smile, remembering a conversation they had had about Ino and Sakura years before.

"Far too much so for a lazy genius of my caliber." he said.

Tsunade tilted her head. "Really, Shikaku, Yoshino. Your son's eloquent moments are truly beginning to astound me. I wonder where he got that part of his training?"

"Oh!"

Temari's shocked squeak surprised him and everyone else in the room. "Here. I kept it safe, and when we got you out, this fell."

She handed him Asuma's scroll and his headband.

"I knew you would want the scroll back. It must mean a lot to you."

He nodded. It had been one of a handful of true gifts that his teacher had ever given him, a reward after one of his chounin missions. He'd claimed it made more sense to give him something that required little chakra to fight with during battle.

After Asuma's death the scroll had become something far too precious for him to fight with.

He was glad that Temari had no idea what it meant when he had lent her that particular scroll as he put it back into his pocket.

"And when they question the cave-in and all of this?" he asked as he tied the headband onto his arm.

Gaara shrugged. "I just had come to deal with some private matters with the Hokage and was taking the chance to visit my sister."

Tsunade smiled. "Very well. I will appreciate you obeying the orders for a mission the next time, but somehow the two of you managed. Shizune and I will be leaving then."

"If Temari and her brothers wish, they are welcome to join us for the night rather than walk back to your complex, Hokage-sama." His mother, while still firm and formidable sounded mildly hesitant, as if she weren't sure how the guests would respond. "We have spare rooms ready for when the medic-nin need to stop and restock on the antler medication and it is late or they have an injured party."

"You don't mind us?" Gaara genuinely sounded shocked at his mother's invitation. Then Shikamaru remembered how unlikely it was that he would have heard someone like Yoshino offering him a welcome as himself and not for any other reason.

"Of course. Especially if you can get these two to actually do anything." she added, as she moved to heat up broth for them and their visitors. In the clatter of voices, they all missed when Shizune and Tsunade had left.

Settled with bowls of broth, Temari's and Shikamaru's both sprinkled with the antler medication, the four nin settled at the table watching the interplay between both families. He almost jumped when a sudden burst of temper from Temari toward Kankuro bolted him out of the calmness he had just begun to settle back into.

"What? You said you would never dance with someone who wasn't related for anything that even looked like swing dancing after they tried to make you marry that fat guy that looked like a toad."

"No, even Father said no to that one. I quit dancing like that because you dropped me, moron!"

"I'm your brother, so it was kind of weird dancing with my sister!"

Shikamaru smiled as he sipped his broth wondering what Kankuro would say if he knew about the kiss his sister had accidentally given him.

No, best not to bring it up. He glanced at Gaara out of the corner of his eye. Really best not to bring that up. Things were moving forward on their own. Sometimes one step backwards to every two steps forwards, but still forwards.

And some nights, like tonight, people like Temari threw in a step sideways as well.

It still eventually had gone forwards though, with the success of their mission, everyone still alive, and neither of Temari's brothers having learned about the two kisses they had shared to be able to throttle him, which was amazing in and of itself.

Although maybe not as much as teaching a tone-deaf nin how to dance. Although, honestly Temari hadn't been the first person to teach him. Just the first person that he had seen dance like that. He had no intention of saying anything about that though, but was perfectly happy to leave things as they were.

It seemed that the same could not be said for his mother. Shikamaru loved her, but her drive, stubbornness and sheer force of personality were a bit much at times, especially when you compared it to two self-proclaimed lazy geniuses like him and his father.

At least this time it was not Shikamaru she was looking at and scolding. It was worse.

It was Gaara.

"You can quit looking at me as if I have lost my mind, young man. I am aware of who you are and the position that you hold. That does not change the fact that you are most likely tired and hungry or that you saved my son's life. The only way you would not be welcome here is if you attacked one of us in these four walls."

"Or put socks on the deer's antlers. I believe that is why you refused to let Uzumaki Naruto visit again? Please, if we did not want you to stay, we would not have offered." Shikaku gave a lopsided grin, trying to diffuse the tension a little.

Gaara finally nodded putting Shikamaru at ease until he heard his mother's next question.

"And did you forget something today?"

He looked around and then noticed for once his mother was dressed up. And his father even wore a tie under his flack jacket something which only ever happened whenever they had been out to celebrate their anniversary.

And Shikamaru always gave his mother a present for that, the way that he had since he had been about five and had asked his dad to teach him.

One dance of the anniversary dance. A dance Temari he was sure had never seen. She would never have mistaken the waltz for Konoha's most formal dance otherwise.

"No, I didn't forget, but are you sure, Mom? I don't know if I can manage with being stoved."

"Son, the only year I got out was the year I had a broken leg and taught you."

"Whatever this is, I have to see. Not like I normally see you showing off if it isn't chess." Temari said, leaning against the back of the chair to watch.

It really was a simple dance, a half box to one side, followed by a half box to the other, a simple spin and turn with a full turning box behind done behind before reaching hands back and repeating the pattern all over again twelve times in a row. Finishing he bowed and turned back to finish his soup, ignoring the fact that Temari was gaping like a fish.

"I- I thought you were tone deaf!"

"He is," Yoshino said with a smile. "He always has been. But when Shikaku broke his leg on mission when Shika was little, he insisted on learning the dance, and every year I make him dance it once with me for an anniversary gift. It is normally the only time I ever see him dance. Otherwise he would shrug it off as too much work."

Shikamaru gave up trying to defend his claims of laziness after that and leaned back, full from the good broth and contentedly just listened to the teasing and bickering between everyone.

Right before he fell asleep in the chair, he caught sight of Temari dancing a Suna waltz with Gaara and he smiled softly.

He decided then that he would have to ask her to teach him that in exchange for teaching her the anniversary dance which she had insisted on learning after seeing it.

Such trouble, really.

Always between them this dance. Two steps forward and one step back.

His last conscious thought was that he really did need to teach her the anniversary dance.