Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Temari did her best to ignore the knock on the door.
Her brother, sprawled out from an intense training session with the Aburame heir, managed to tilt his head slightly to the left, where his sister lay on the couch, her eyes closed to the world. "You gonna get that?" he asked.
He nodded once and let his head fall back against the plush back of the chair. A slick noise pressed against the door and the older Sand siblings felt a small burst of chakra. Kankuro was up with a kunai and the door was flung open to reveal a familiar face, leaning against the door frame. Reassured that it wasn't an exploding tag, just someone she really didn't want to see, Temari snapped her fan closed.
"Uh," Temari felt a brief flash of morbid amusement as she saw her brother's anger fade to something she could classify as embarrasment. "Hi," he said finally. "Do you want something?"
"Hi," Yamanaka Ino replied, she stared at Temari, somehow managing to look casual and determined. "We need to talk."
"No we," Temari stressed, "Don't." She shot her brother a subtle look, one she usually shot at him whenever they were at a Suna social function and needed to be rescued. Unfortunately he was still struck rather dumb by the pretty blonde in his doorway.
"You're Shikamaru's teammate right?" he said at last, he stepped aside to let her in, apparently deaf to his sister's wishes.
"Right." She nodded. If her own blunt statement wasn't enough to make Temari aware of the girl's serious attitude, then the lack of friendly chatter definitely was. Normally you couldn't get the younger girl to shut up. The two blondes continued to stare at each other and Kankuro seemed to register that he was in the middle of something that no sane male should ever be caught in the middle of.
Not wishing to ignite either of the girls' explosive tempers, he looked cautiously between the two blondes. "Do I need to leave?"
"No," Temari said, while Ino said "Yes." Ino sighed and pulled something out of her pocket and slapped a hefty amount of yen into Kankuro's hand. "Drinks are half off tonight at the bar just down the street, the rest is on me. I hear you need it after the whooping Shino gave you."
Kankuro, never one to turn down free drinks, had sensed the tension double almost immediately after the Leaf kunoichi's offer to pay and accepted her advice with a quick nod to both of the females in the room. He felt Temari's well-controlled muted rage burn a hole through his retreating back.
Ino tilted her head and stayed like that until she was reassured that her brother had indeed left. Never one to beat around the bush, she turned to look at Temari, "Fix it."
"Fix what?" Temari snapped.
Ino's eyes narrowed and she pushed back her bangs, now parted in the middle Temari noted, from her face. "Whatever's wrong between you two. Fix it," Ino repeated.
"I don't need to fix anything," Temari stressed coldly, "Especially not because you told me to."
Ino shook her head, "That doesn't matter. Fix it."
Temari was a good soldier, she was used to leading, but she was no stranger to obeying orders, but under no circumstance was she going to listen to the demands of someone she didn't even like.
"Get out," she jerked her head towards the door. "Tell you're teammate to settle his own problems instead of sending his little teammate to fix it for him."
Not only did Ino not budge, but if anything she seemed more resolute. "Shikamaru," she stressed his name, "Doesn't tell me to do anything. And it's been a long time since 'Return the Favor' Temari-san and I am not that little girl anymore." She took a step closer. "You can't scare me away and you're not stupid enough to try and beat the crap out of me."
"Because of him?" Temari scowled and snapped her fan open. "Don't make assumptions little girl," she emphasized.
"Because your a liaison," Ino said slowly, still not budging. "And because of him."
"Really?" She said flatly.
"There would be no fixing things between you two if you did. You still want to, that's why you haven't left. The Chunnin Exams finished a week ago. The only reason you haven't, and he hasn't is because you're both too damn prideful. So fix it. Don't pretend you won't regret it if you don't."
If Temari had even wanted to mend things between her and the shougi player before, Ino's insistence made her stand even firmer.
And yet, as a sign of international friendship the Hokage requested that if possible, could Temari accept a joint mission with another leaf shinobi. Somehow (Temari highly doubted it was coincidental) her and Shikamaru ended up being partnered off.
She was torn between gratitude and anger at his teammate. She rested her cheek against his collar bone, listening to his easy breathing. She supposed that if someone did this to her brothers she would do the same thing, after threatening maiming and death. She guessed that the reasons Ino didn't try threats was for the same reasons Temari wouldn't have seriously injured Ino, no matter what she said.
Duty and Shikamaru.
Raw panic pulsed through her veins.
She rudely shoved the orderlies out of the way before arriving at his hospital room, as described by the harassed administration nurse. She took a deep breath to calm herself, she already knew that he was fine, there wasn't any need to get hysterical. She snorted at the thought and moved to go in, but paused.
There was... two people in there? The door was already slightly ajar and Temari shifted silently to the side.
"You took a real beating," a gentle voice admonished. "You idiot."
Ino was bent over his bed. They weren't touching, despite Ino being in her medic's uniform and perfectly justified in doing so, and yet the moment still felt horribly intimate. Shikamaru's eyes were closed and Ino's face was softer than Temari had ever seen it. She almost jumped when she head her name.
"Is Temari still here?" he asked causally, not even opening his eyes.
In a way he was fortunate, he couldn't see the pain twist his friend's eyes shut. She bowed her head, blonde hair slipping to cover her face. "She'll be here soon I'm sure," Her tone didn't change. "I'm sure Shino or Kiba told her already."
When Ino looked up again the pain was gone, but the raw tenderness that seemed to radiate from her was still there.
Temari exhaled roughly before pushing the door all the way.
If Temari was wary she shouldn't have been.
Ino never made a move to jeopardize anything, she waved at them when they were together. Called her by the same honorific and whenever Shikamaru said he'd train with Temari for a while, Ino simply nodded along with Chouji, and dragged the Akimichi into a spar. Whenever she and Kankuro joined Team 10 for barbecue Ino spent the majority of the time dragging a willing Kankuro into conversation. Still the morbid whispers in her ears, that Ino was still single, were insistent.
Relief and horror when Kankuro told her, as blissed out as he'd been since he passed the Jounin Exams, that he had a date with Ino.
When it became clear to Temari that there was no ploy (Ino listened when her brother talked, her laughter was genuine,
when she spoke to him she seemed animated), she relaxed.
It'd been a long time since she'd seen her chauvinistic brother this enthusiastic over a girl. And Ino herself, was already aware of what an overprotective female was capable of, so there was no need for threats this time around.
Before Ino had to try to not notice. Now it's effortless. The only glances she spares towards her and Shikamaru are whenever they join the conversation. Most of the time she's laughing about some narrative Kankuro's telling her and talking at a pace that Temari can barely follow.
Despite her lack of suspicions, she was alarmed at how much more often Kankuro seemed to accompany her to Konoha. He insisted that it was because of her, but not even Gaara seemed to buy that.
"Is she good for him?" Gaara asked her seriously. Her little brother seemed unaffected by the whims of puberty and hormones, he remained as stoic as ever. But it was this concern, and softness that radiated from him that convinced her to answer honestly.
"I think she is."
"Are you using him?" Temari asks bluntly. "To forget?"
Ino seems to sense the harsh concern and pauses from her food. She had guessed that Temari meant to do something like this, (despite their ceasefire, they weren't friendly enough for her to invite the younger kunoichi out to lunch).
She laid down her chopsticks and looked at the liaison seriously. "He does make me forget," Ino admitted slowly. Her next pause halts Temari's anger. "But...."
Temari doesn't prod, but she hardly needs to. "He makes me want to forget," Ino finished. She picks up her utensils and gave her a sidelong glance. "I've never wanted to before."
She is relieved, not just for her brother, but shockingly for Ino as well, that her suspicions to Gaara proved true. She hasn't seen her brother like this in years.
"She likes someone else," he said casually over breakfast one morning. Temari back washed into her orange juice and gave him what she hoped was an incredulous look.
"How do you know?" Temari asked cautiously as she wiped up the spill.
Kankuro plopped a dumpling into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "For a while now," he answered softly. "Sometimes there's these moments when she seems like she's not there completely or she seems to hesitate when she says my name."
Temari raises her eyebrow. "And it doesn't bother you?" she prodded. "Being second best?"
He snapped out of his reverie. "It would, if she hadn't felt like that from the start. But it's been happening less now," he mused. "I think she's started to like me more than him. And she's worth it."
"I hope she is," Temari says honestly.
Temari, and Shikamaru, who decided to lounge at her place for a change, watched in amusement as her brother ran into the bathroom.
"Couldn't hold it in Kankuro?" Temari called out.
"Fuck off," came the reply muffled by running water and the wooden door. Shikamaru raised an eyebrow and resumed his position by Temari's neck. She felt the warm kick associated with that particular spot, before irritation took over when she realized that her boyfriend was trying to go to sleep.
Before she could rebuke him for his lack of carnal frustration, her brother stormed out of the bathroom with a bang. His face was shockingly free from any face paint and was full of annoyance.
"Who pissed in your ramen?" Temari questioned amusingly.
"She switched my paint," he answered shortly, showing her the pink stains from the bathroom towel. "I haven't needed to look in the mirror to put it on for years. I didn't even know until Naruto almost pissed himself from laughing so hard."
Temari counted to three silently in a valiant effort to hold in her laughter.
"How?" she managed to ask, she knew how protective her brother was over his kabuki face paint.
He scowled sullenly before collapsing into the armchair. "She must have done it when she stayed over last night." Temari was interrupted mid-jeer by the sudden downward curve of lips against her skin. Suddenly her amusement at his antics faded. "Sneaky minx," he frowned, but it was impossible to not notice the fondness in his voice.
If Temari had started to relax about her brother and Ino's strange relationship, than Shikamaru seemed to tense whenever the subject was brought up, though he never said anything outright. But it was obvious, even when her brother did something as innocent as put his arm around her waist.
"Do you have a problem with my brother?" Temari asked finally, after she watched his expression darken at the action.
"What?' he seemed startled by her question. "No, it's just.... " he trailed off. "It's weird that's all," he said finally. He looked upwards, "For a long time, me and Chouji are the only guys Ino's spent any serious time with. I mean she always flirted, but that's about it."
Despite this, Temari notices that Chouji seems to have accepted his female teammate's relationship as graciously as he had Shikamaru's, but then again, Shika is a creature of habit, so maybe it's to be expected.
Chouji is in critical and there's nothing she can do to even remotely comfort him. She's tried holding talking to him, yelling at him, even hitting him, but nothing. He's in shock, his gaze is locked onto the floor. He's not even shaking like last time, but she knows that he's breaking.
And she can't do anything.
The double doors bang open. And Ino shoots in, her face drained of any color and her eyes glittering. "They won't let me in," Ino said hoarsely as she dropped by to sit by her conscious teammate. "Something about my inability to be professional."
With what seems like a great effort, Shikamaru lifts his gaze from the tiles and stares at her. Immediately she closes her hand over his. Her's Temari notes, is shaking. "I know it seems like forever," Ino murmured, "But this won't last. He won't leave us, he still has his promise."
Shikamaru moved his hand slightly to grip hers. "He's already stronger than anyone expected," his voice is coarse from not speaking. Ino gave him a weak smile and gave him another reassuring squeeze with her fingers, now still Temari notices.
"But he hasn't dieted yet," Ino countered softly. He gave a shaky laugh and looked at her desperately.
"I should have-"
"Don't even start," Ino snapped. "It's not his fault, and it's not your fault."
His eyes are doubtful, but he looks at her solemnly. "It's not your fault either."
She looks away for the first time, "That's different. I should be in there," Ino jerked her head towards the room. "That's what I promised."
Both of them seem to have forgotten everything except for Team 10. The Sand kunoichi doesn't begrudge Ino this, it is something that dates back before Temari's presence in his life. And just like Kankuro, she accepts that Shikamaru is worth understanding this. The only other person besides Ino and Chouji who could comfort Shikamaru when he's like this has been dead for five years.
Temari gets up slowly, as to not interrupt them, she's leaving him in good hands for now, and when Chouji's better she can be there for him.
Chouji is fine, but he's been chained to bed rest for the next few months. Heavily recommended by Sakura, confirmed by Shikamaru, enforced by Ino.
No one sees it coming, not even Konoha's top strategist or Suna's number one analyst can predict that this is the catalyst for everything. Later Temari would muse it's because they were too close, too into the battle, to see the war be lost.
Her brother stumbles back towards their hotel, it's pouring outside and Temari is surprised to see him at all. Usually when he's out this late, it's a sure sign he won't be back until morning.
Temari helps drag him towards his bed, and he falls onto it, shaking the bed frame.
"You told me you wanted to forget."
The flower shop is empty and she finds Ino there, twirling some stem with leaves (bay leaf) in her hand. "I thought I did," she answered slowly. "But I don't and I can't."
"You lied," it's almost a snarl and her hand is reaching towards her fan. Wanting to tear apart what broke her brother into what she saw last night.
"Yes," Ino looks at her bleakly. There are bruises under her eyes and she looks tired. "I guess I did."
She barked a laugh, "You guess?!" It's incredulous and before she realizes it her hands are already holding it in a way to best use as a club. No jutsus, the building would be destroyed, (not that she doesn't deserve it).
"I made a promise." Temari's hands halt because this sounds too familiar. "I made a promise to Asuma as he died," Ino murmured still twirling the plant in her hand. She looks back up at Temari. "We all did."
The thing about being an analyst is that there's never such a thing as too much intelligence, it's been drilled into her. Only a fool passes up this chance. Temari is a kunoichi first and foremost and she paused in her anger, long enough to listen.
Ino seems to realize this because she goes on. "He made Chouji promise to get stronger and to diet," her lips quirk up into an almost smile. "He told Shikamaru that he had the potential to be Hokage, but that he probably wouldn't ever do it because it's too troublesome," there is an actual smile now, though it's sad and makes her look old, "And made him promise to take care of the next generation. And I promised I wouldn't lose to Sakura. But more than that I promised I would take of them."
"I love your brother." It happens before she can control it, her hand makes contact with Ino's cheek and the girl's face snaps back.
She doesn't even make a noise of protest. She lifts her head to look at her and she says it clearly. "Only five people know. Us, and now you. I told Kankuro last night."
"I love your brother," she repeats in an toneless voice. "But I love my teammates more."
The first few weeks it's painful to watch Kankuro he's always missing, never home, always with some girl or on a mission. But after a while the fervor fades and Kankuro stops bringing home trashy girls who just want to marry into the `Kage's family.
Kankuro, for the first time, wakes up without a hang over and sits down next to his siblings for breakfast. Wordlessly Temari hands him a glass of orange juice and Gaara observes quietly. "I should have known it wouldn't have worked out anyway. Even before she told me," he said abruptly. Gaara raised a non-existent eyebrow.
Neither Temari or Kankuro have told Gaara about the promise, it was something that belonged and was soley about, Team 10. Not even Sakura or Naruto knew. For them, the foreign shinobi to know, was a decision made by Ino in the hopes they would honor that. Sand shinobi, when their word was given, did have honor. That's why when it was crossed, they were so deadly.
"How so?" the youngest sibling's voice is devoid of almost any emotion, but it is not harsh, not short.
Kankuro shook his hair out of his eyes and grabbed the salt shaker. "If we worked out, for us to be together, one of us would have to leave." He focused on sprinkling salt onto his eggs. "I can't leave Suna and she would never leave them."
The harsh sun is setting and the night's chill is already falling.
Temari's eyes are staring out at nothing in particular. She is not foolish enough or egotistical enough to believe that no one could love someone as much as she loves Shikamaru. A couple of years ago she would never have thought neither her nor Kankuro even leaving the village for the periods of time they did for the members of Team 10.
Kankuro loved Ino. Ino loved Kankuro.
Temari loved Shikamaru. And she knew Shikamaru loved her.
She rubbed the edge of her fan, finding comfort in the cool steel. Their team is different, different from the ones here in Suna, and the ones she's seen in Konoha. Shinobi teams are close, they are loyal, they would die for each other, sometimes they fall in love with each other. But they are rarely as ever connected or as part of a whole as Sarutobi Asuma's genin team is.
She remembers reading reports that about the percent of missions accomplished by Konoha Chunnins years ago. They had a regular amount of solo missions. But in joint missions, they averaged higher than most Jounin teams, beat out only by the ANBU squads. Even as genin, they had a teamwork, they were part of one. A winning hand, cards useless without each other.
It's amazing what the mind will do to protect itself, Temari mused. The attraction could not be helped, but the consequences the results, should have been obvious form the beginning. How could she not have seen it? The next generation of Konoha, she almost laughs and the image of Asuma's tiny cheerful daughter comes to mind. He won't leave her, he won't leave them.
And you wouldn't leave either.
She has watched Suna grow and mature like a child and she loves it. She loves the sun breaking harshly over the sky, she loves completing a mission successfully, she loves training the future of Suna at the Academy, she loves the evening cold, she loves everything in her village. The beauty in a landscape that doesn't need endless greenery and she loves it's flaws. The shinobi that are hard and stoic, the veterans that are rough. The hospitals that house ninja who will never wake.
She loves her brothers.
It's a deadlock. A waste of energy to pretend any longer that the decision shouldn't be made. She should have seen this.
She hears the rough call for the guards to switch. Wordlessly she picks up her fan and is surprised by the liquid on her hands and on the edge of her weapon. She looks at her fingers. The skin between the nail and the upper tip is ripped open.
"The Council is offering you a position," Gaara informs her. He isn't her brother right now, but the Kazekage and she is a loyal kunoichi.
"What?" He voice is sharp as she considers the honor bestowed upon her. The Council of Suna is made up of shinobi who are the elite of the elite and all of whom are over 30, veterans by ninja standards. Temari is only 23. She would be the youngest member, and only the second female invited to join. The Council is the one organization independent from the Kazekage's influence and to have her in it would go a long way in helping her brother fight old prejudices.
The Kazekage is looking at her expectantly and her mouth is already open to accept but no words come out.
This is absolute. This is final.
He sees it now too.
"They gave me a genin team."
"They offered me a position on the Suna Council." She's sure her own voice reflects that same silent amazement.
"If they hadn't, would you have left for me?"
And like a dam breaking she pulls him forward into a hard hug, squeezing him like he was going off to an S-rank. His own arms pull her closer and his forehead drops onto her collarbone.
"I should have seen this," he mutters, his grip tightens and she feels his hot breath spill onto her neck. "I should have known."
She laughs at the irony because if she tries talking she knows her voice will crack.
The knocks on her door are short.
This time Temari ignores it. She saunters over and slips a sheet under the door.
It's a notification of the newest addition to the Suna Council.
The knocking stops, but Temari is no longer listening, she knew Ino would understand.
How could she not, when the circumstances were so painfully similar.
They had all loved, her, Kankuro, Shikamaru, Ino. But what they needed was not each other.
Bay Leaf - Strength; I change but in death.
reviews are welcome.