A/N and disclaimer: Another oneshot for the Interwebs! I know this story doesn't have the most original concept, but damn it, there are a lot of really good hurt/comfort fics for these two, and I want to throw my hat into the ring. I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.
Also note that there are spoilers up through episode 80 of the Shippuuden series as well as Kurenai's "condition." Ye be warned.
"Hey, stop!" A guard posted at Konoha's central gate was shouting at her. "You can't just come barging into the village!"
"Out of the way, or I'll run you over!"
Gasping, the guard ducked away as Temari sprinted past, her tessen already drawn.
Temari was nothing if not blunt.
She was in a panic. A blind panic. Her head was swimming with the information Gaara had received two days beforehand. It had arrived as a simple note attached to a hawk's leg. The encryption team had only needed an hour to translate the gibberish into something readable.
The finished product, however, was anything but simple.
FOR THE KAZEKAGE:
AKATSUKI encountered inside borders of LAND OF FIRE. Two combatants – HIDAN (Hot Water), KAKUZU (Waterfall).
Initial engagement force:
SARUTOBI, ASUMA; HAGANE, KOTETSU; KAMIZUKI, IZUMO; NARA, SHIKAMARU
NAMIASHI, RAIDO; YAMASHIRO, AOBA; YAMANAKA, INO; AKIMICHI, CHOJI
More information in subsequent messages. Will include preliminary capability reports on combatants.
Coordinates of encounter to follow.
Casualties: SARUTOBI, ASUMA.
A stamped image of Konohagakure's symbol had rested below the information. She remembered it all, every word, every name, every detail. Especially the listed casualty.
What she didn't remember is what she had said to Gaara. She mentioned something about going on a diplomatic mission to Konoha, that much was certain. Temari believed she had also said she'd be looking for more intel on the attackers. But that wasn't the truth. At least not the whole of it.
She was going to find Shikamaru.
Casting a backward glance at the guard climbing to his feet, Temari cringed. She realized she had probably committed an act of war by aggressively breaching Konoha's walls. She was sure that if she wasn't so well-known from her near-constant trips during the last Chuunin Exams, she'd have been instantly restrained, or possibly worse. But none of that mattered at the moment. She needed to find him. If that meant she had to spend the night being interrogated by the Hokage, so be it.
Temari leapt up onto the nearest building, a destination already in mind. Ignoring the stares of the people below, she folded up her tessen and strapped it to her back. When it was secure, she began sprinting toward the Akimichi compound. If he wanted to get away, she reasoned, he'd be either on his friend Choji's roof or up in the hills behind the house itself, probably watching clouds. Running along the tops of the various Konoha businesses, it didn't take her long to find a section of the village cordoned off especially for the Akimichi clan. Temari leapt into the rapidly thinning trees and continued sprinting, pushing off each branch with enough force to nearly break a few of them.
A few moments passed before she arrived at the base of the hills near Choji's home. It wouldn't take her long to scale them, and from the top, she could see over most of the surrounding area. She made quick work of leaping from crag to rock, determinedly making her way up the small mountain. To her dismay, however, she needed only a minute to survey the landscape around her. Shikamaru wasn't there.
Taking a deep breath, she cast a glance at the house at the bottom of the hill, knowing before she saw the roof that he wouldn't be there, either. Gritting her teeth, she hurled herself off of the hill, easily clearing the distance between the sharply falling ground and the trees nearby. Temari landed hard on a branch and pushed off in one smooth motion, starting a dead sprint through the greenery. She wasn't going to be giving up that easily.
Shikamaru felt numb. He couldn't even muster the energy to be sad or angry anymore. He wasn't even upset that he'd missed the funeral the day before. All he knew was that he couldn't feel happiness or even simple contentment. But despite his mood, he'd actually chuckled once in the previous days, though it ended just as quickly as it began. During the funeral, he was sitting on a rooftop, watching children play and spar. Two of them had jumped onto a woman's house, and she had immediately scolded them. The sight earned a small laugh from him. But then he realized that Asuma would never see his own child be scolded. He'd never see his child grow up and become a shinobi. He'd never see his child, period. That thought killed his humor fairly quickly. Even his favorite pastime, cloud-gazing on a cool, breezy day offered no enjoyment for him. How could it? Asuma was gone. One of the few constants in his life had been ripped away from him right in front of his eyes. And he'd been powerless to stop it all.
The worst part was that he couldn't stop thinking about it.
He remembered cursing when he saw Asuma on his knees, bent over and retching blood. Hidan was laughing. He was always laughing. It was haunting sight, seeing the man's three-bladed scythe imbedded into his own torso. And he was still laughing.
'In the end… In the end, even you were willing to sacrifice yourself to protect your comrades.'
Shikamaru grimaced as the memory worked its way through his mind against his will. He could remember every horrible detail, and his analytical mind refused to leave it alone. He recalled sprinting as hard as his exhausted body would let him. His feet felt like concrete blocks and his legs like jelly, but he had pushed forward in the vain attempt to save his mentor.
'It's my fault… It's my fault! If I hadn't been such a numbskull, Asuma wouldn't be in such a fix!'
A misstep. A simple trip. That's all it took to simultaneously send him to the ground and dash his hopes of intervening. He didn't have the strength to stand up, let alone to stop that monster as he toyed with Asuma.
"How is it? Hya-ha-ha! Does it hurt? Huh? Well, how about it?"
He cringed as he remembered how Hidan had gripped and shook the scythe while the blades were still inside of him. He couldn't block out Asuma's anguished groans as he writhed, the agonizing pain resonating through his body.
"Hee-hee-hee… Finally. I finally get to taste that pain."
Shikamaru swallowed subconsciously as he remembered Hidan flicking his wrist, extending the pike that would be Asuma's doom. He recalled the terror he felt as the monster began to bring it up over his head. By that point, he had managed to struggle to his hands and knees, channeling every ounce of his will to move. To do something.
"The pain of killing you… Ha-ha-ha… Ha-HA! HYA-HA-HA-HAAAA!"
One quick thrust of his arm was all it had taken to rip Asuma away from him, away from his squad, away from his village.
Shikamaru squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head to try to clear the memory. He was successful in banishing it at that point.
But by then, he'd already remembered more than he cared to.
For the first time that day, he realized how so very tired he was. He hadn't slept since it happened. Every time he had tried, the memory came back. It was just easier for him to stay up. Eventually, exhaustion would claim him. It wouldn't be long, he figured. The fight with the Akatsuki had worn him down to nearly nothing. Only his shinobi-trained stamina kept him conscious at that point. Sighing, he slowly turned his tired eyes to the sky once more, trying to find some comfort in the clouds or the breeze or the grass. He'd made a point to leave his chuunin vest at home, simply wearing a black long-sleeve shirt and his matching padded pants. He'd even kicked off his sandals in an effort to feel the ground between his toes. All he'd made himself was dirtier.
He wanted to cry again. He hated that he wanted to cry again.
Shikamaru heaved a soft sigh as he reached into his pocket with one hand, withdrawing Asuma's lighter and last pack of smokes. Removing a cigarette from the box, he brought it to his lips, letting it hang loosely from them. He honestly disliked the habit he was about to engage in. The smoke made his eyes water and burned his lungs, but it was the only thing that let him feel much of anything. It was the only thing that gave him an excuse to cry.
Flipping the lighter open, he brought his thumb to the flint wheel and gave it a flick. After a quick spark, the flame rose up instantly. He inched the lighter up to the cigarette, but just as the flame was about to touch it, a warm breeze blew over him and snuffed it out.
'Troublesome…' he thought.
But the problem was easily solved. He placed his thumb to the wheel once more and flicked it. Again, the flame sprouted up.
Temari frowned gently as she saw the lighter spark to life again. After nearly an hour of exploring Konoha, she'd finally found him. She was exhausted from her two-day, soldier-pill-fueled sprint from Suna, not to mention her frantic searching once she'd arrived, but she'd caught up to him. She had peeked into his room, stopped by his squad member's flower shop, and visited all his favorite spots in town. It was only when she'd ruled out his usual places did she check out some new ones. Under a tree a short walk away from a local training field definitely wasn't where she thought she'd find him. But she did. She always did.
But now that she had, she was disappointed that he apparently wanted to smoke. It wasn't because of his health. They were ninja. They could all be dead by the end of the day, for all she knew. That wasn't the problem. But there was no way she was going to put up with that kind of irritation while they talked. Bad breath, annoying smoke, and hot ashes? Not a chance. When she saw him readying the lighter for the second time, she frowned, growing determined. Lifting up her fan once more, she closed her eyes and focused. She took a deep breath, then gently swung the weapon around, imbuing just enough chakra into the act to send a second warm breeze toward the lazing figure.
Sure enough, just as the flame was ready to ignite the cigarette, the wind caught it and killed it. She heard him grumble something profane, which brought a soft smile to her lips despite the situation. He seemed a bit more like himself, if only because he was more preoccupied with the lighter than with his fallen sensei.
But Temari was hesitant to announce her arrival just then. She had left her home the instant she'd learned of his sensei's death, only sparing time to pack a bag of extra clothes. She'd traveled over deserts, around mountains, through forests, and scanned an entire city to get to him, but it occurred to her that she hadn't for one moment considered what she would say to Shikamaru once she found him. Then again, she figured, maybe she'd found her solution. She wouldn't need to say much of anything at all.
Closing her tessen up, she carried it over to the tree he was reclining against and set it against the bark. Straightening out her short beige traveling kimono, she seated herself next to him, keeping a few inches between them for appearance's sake. He acknowledged her with a soft noise, almost a grunt. Temari swallowed softly, then turned her head to watch him. She caught a glimpse of his eyes and noted that they looked unfocused. They didn't look dead or dull, just not altogether observant.
That worried her. Shikamaru was always observant, even when he did his best not to be.
But Temari was grateful when she noticed that he was pocketing his lighter, though he still kept the unlit cigarette between his lips. She figured he was probably just too lazy to stash it after he'd already withdrawn it. She let them rest in silence for a few minutes before speaking softly, "I… I came as soon as I heard. I'm so sorry, Shikamaru."
He didn't respond. She'd expected as much.
She continued, deciding to try her best to offer him some measure of comfort, "I'm going to be in the village for a few days, at least. I'll be around, if you want someone to talk to."
She shifted a bit nervously, moving a bit closer to him while still keeping enough room to be polite. As she fell quiet, she couldn't help but feel a bit worthless, given the situation. She'd never been any good at consoling others. She'd never had much of a chance to practice it. It also didn't help that she hadn't thought any of her actions through. Temari doubted he knew why she was there, other than to offer a few kind words. That was mostly because even she didn't know why she had come. All she knew was that from the moment she saw the report on her brother's desk, she had to be in Konoha.
Still trying to think of a way to help, Temari let her mind wander. She thought of what she would've wanted someone to say to her when she thought Kankuro was going to die after Gaara had been taken. Taking a shallow breath, she tried again.
"I'm…" she paused to rephrase her statement. "You know I'll be here if you need… if you need anything, right?" she asked softly. She was quiet for another moment before she shrugged and said, "And just so you know, I'm glad you got back safe."
"I shouldn't have," Shikamaru finally said, breaking his silence. Temari was surprised not only at his words, but also by how weary he sounded. "I failed. My plan didn't work. Asuma was counting on me to keep him safe, and…" his breath caught in his throat, threatening to come out in a sob. But he refused. He wouldn't let himself cry. Men didn't cry.
He took a moment to compose himself before he said, "I got my sensei killed. He's got a kid on the way, Temari. Did you know that? I should've been the one who-"
Temari was already moving before he could finish his sentence, but it wasn't compassion or sadness that drove her. Temari was reeling in anger. "Don't you dare say another damn word, Nara!" she shouted. No longer caring about appearances, she shifted her body and kneeled over him, her knees resting on either side of his hips. Reaching down, she roughly grabbed his collar and jerked him close, sending the cigarette flying from his lips as she did. Temari held him inches from her face as she continued. "You idiot! You think I don't know what it's like to lose someone close to me? To think I'd lost two brothers? To know I lost a mother?"
Shikamaru finally brought his eyes to hers, forcing himself to gaze into her teal orbs. His brain recognized that there was genuine anger in them. Anger and pain. But there was something else, too. Something deeper.
"You're alive, Shikamaru!" she said, continuing to berate him. "You survived! You made it out of there and came back! Don't you get it? You came back to me!"
And all at once, it was out in the open for both of them to absorb. But she wasn't ready to stop yet.
"Do you know what that report did to me?" she asked angrily, ignoring the burning she felt in her own eyes. "Do you have any idea what it was like when I saw the word 'casualties' on a report with your name on it?"
Her grip suddenly loosened, and she let out a gasp, falling quiet. She had become distracted by the feel of Shikamaru's fingers brushing against her face. Swallowing, she examined him once more. To her shock, his eyes no longer seemed unfocused. Instead, they were filled with purpose, perhaps a sign he was working to decipher the meaning of what she'd said. Whatever he was thinking, he held her gaze for a long moment before he reached the conclusion he did. The conclusion that it was all right to do it in front of her. Just her. Just that once.
The dam broke again.
Leaning forward, he buried his face into her chest, his body quickly becoming racked with sobs. Temari's anger instantaneously evaporated as she brought her hands up, holding him to her.
"The smoke," he said between choked gasps, still trying to maintain some semblance of masculinity. "It's stinging my eyes."
Temari glanced at the unlit cigarette lying discarded in the grass before gazing back down at him, cradling his head to her chest. "Yeah," she murmured softly, unfastening his hair tie and running her fingers through his black locks. "Yeah, I've heard it does that."
He slid his arms around her, pulling Temari securely to him, clinging to her as he cried. He relived every happy memory he'd had with Asuma, knowing they would never come again. No more celebratory barbecues with the team. No more day-long shogi tournaments. No more seemingly vague life lessons that turned out to be vitally important later. The list seemed to go on forever. Asuma had been a pillar in his life, someone he could rely on when the odds were completely stacked against him.
And now he was gone.
He continued to cry, even as his exhausted body protested. It was all he could do to stay upright, but he knew he needed the release. Besides, Temari was keeping him steady. He silently noted between sobs that she was always keeping him steady. He suddenly swallowed, trembling gently as he felt her brush her fingers against his neck, a simple caress.
"Just let it all out," she murmured softly against his ear. "All that sadness, that fear, your anger, and everything else. Let it out, Shikamaru."
Unable to help himself, the boy pressed his body to Temari's and screamed in anguish, though her kimono muted most of it. His sobs renewed themselves as he released his pain in full. For her part, Temari simply tightened her arms around him, whispering soft encouragements as she stroked fingers through his hair.
He cried for what seemed like hours, until his body could barely produce tears. He wept, he shouted, he cursed the world around him. He dragged every painful memory and haunting realization screaming into the light, forcing himself to accept the facts. And finally, when he could put no more effort into it, he let his sobs die down. Shaking softly from exertion, Shikamaru clung to Temari as he hiccupped, rapidly falling quiet. With his mind finally beginning to clear, he looked for something else to think about, trying to ward off the fatigue that threatened to claim him. As he gently pressed his head against Temari's chest, his brain chose what to study for him. The girl in front of him was now on his mind.
It was the first time in days he'd actually wanted to utilize his natural talent.
He decided to start at the beginning of the whole debacle as he nestled closer to Temari, his arms still wrapped around her. Asuma had died three days before then. The messenger hawk announcing an Akatsuki attack had probably taken less than a day to get to the Hidden Sand Village. From that point, if she'd left right away, it should have taken her about three days to get to Konoha. She'd made it in two. His brain was stuck on why. Even with the Akatsuki involved, there was no reason for her to cut out an entire day from the journey, he thought. A simple information session with the Hokage wasn't worth that kind of hassle, even if she did hold a grudge against the organization.
'And besides, there's obviously more to the trip if she's… if she's… right here with me.'
He sighed softly.
'She's right. I'm an idiot.'
She'd come there for him. It was obvious to him then. She'd even just about said so when she first started talking to him.
"I'm… You know I'll be here if you need… if you need anything, right?"
He could tell she'd wanted to simply say, "I'm here."
But he'd been too distracted to connect the dots. He really was an idiot. A very grateful idiot.
Sighing haggardly, he began to reconsider his predicament, minus the crippling depression. He thought that maybe he hadn't lost a pillar to lean on in Asuma. Perhaps it'd just become someone else. At least temporarily. He could certainly think of worse scenarios.
'Besides,' he thought, 'someday soon I'll have to grow up and take care of this sort of thing myself. How troublesome.' He took a deep breath, slowly starting to resume something of a normal breathing pattern. 'But this works. For now, this works.'
Ignoring his stiff back, Shikamaru reclined slightly to look up at her.
She was smiling. It wasn't a smirk or a flashy grin. There was no hidden meaning behind it. Temari was simply smiling.
His heart skipped a beat at the sight of it. He wasn't sure why. Maybe he felt more connected to her now that she'd held him as he cried his eyes out. Maybe it was just nice to see a kind face after such a horrific past few days. Or maybe it was because he was just finally noticing how soft her touch was or how warm her body felt in the cool air. Regardless, it helped that the setting sun turned the sky behind her a nice pinkish-orange, accentuating her natural looks.
If his face weren't already so red, she might've seen him blush.
Desperate to change his train of thought, he looked around for something, anything to talk about. With limited options to pick from, he cleared his throat. "I… Sorry about your clothes," he murmured with some embarrassment, gesturing to her heavily tearstained garment.
"Idiot," she whispered with a hint of affection. As if she cared about a lousy kimono.
Shikamaru blinked, then felt the corners of his lips turn up slightly. It wasn't a smile. But it was the best he could offer at the moment. He paused to take stock of the situation once more.
She was practically straddling him with her fingers tangled up in his hair. Their bodies were pressed against one another, and they were sharing an intense gaze. If anyone were to venture out of the nearby practice field, they'd probably get an eyeful of the wrong idea.
But at that moment, it was the sort of wrong idea he could fully get behind. He just had to be sure of his suspicions.
Swallowing softly, he leaned closer to her, his brown eyes fixated on her teal ones. At their close proximity, he could hear her quietly suck in some air. He also noticed a bit of redness on her cheeks, and the fact that she wasn't moving away wasn't lost on him, either. He casually flicked his eyes to her lips, a forced subconscious cue of his intentions.
Temari swallowed, continuing to gaze at Shikamaru, unable to bring herself to move. 'W-What's his game?' she thought as she suppressed a shiver. 'What's he trying to pull?'
Despite her confusion, she couldn't help but feel it wasn't an unwelcome prospect. If it were any other person with her in that situation, as if she was actually close to someone other than her brothers and Shikamaru, she would've thought his intentions were driven by desperation. She would've thought it was a misplaced sense of comfort masquerading as attraction. But deep down, she knew, or at least she felt herself hoping, that Shikamaru had more sense than that. With a quick, shallow breath, she closed her eyes and readied herself for the inevitable.
But it never came.
Instead, she felt Shikamaru resting his head on her shoulder. She slumped slightly from her position on top of him.
Shikamaru sighed, murmuring lazily, "Didn't you pay any attention to me at all during our Chuunin Exams?" Not giving her any time to answer, he reached up, cupping her cheek with one hand and turning her toward him. He watched her for a few seconds before he whispered, "The first move is always a feint."
He suddenly leaned close, closing his eyes before finally pressing his lips to hers, capturing them. He heard her make a soft, shocked sound before she parted her lips, accepting the kiss. Seconds later, as her mind caught up to the present, she began returning it, unwilling to be taken off-guard.
It lasted only a moment, but it was all they needed.
Shikamaru pulled back, carefully regarding Temari, observing her before his typical lazy smile graced his face. Sliding out from underneath her, he slowly, reluctantly let go of her before standing up. Sighing softly, he extended his hand to her. "Well? Are you coming, or what?" he said more than asked. "My mom'll destroy me if I don't invite you over for dinner. She had my hide when my 'trusted colleague' left without stopping by the last time she was here. What a drag…"
Temari blinked, then smirked softly, taking his hand and standing with him. "Well, it serves you right," she said cockily. "If you weren't so lazy, you might've offered me a spot at the table. You got what was coming to you."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes, grumbling, "Yeah, yeah. Let's just go."
Despite his remark, he didn't let go of her hand.
Two dawns later, Shikamaru was standing at Konoha's northern gate. Ino, Choji, and Kakashi were with him, ready to take the fight to the Akatsuki. He took one last look at the village before shifting his gaze to the west. A hawk from Suna had arrived the day before. It carried a message from Gaara strenuously insisting that his sister return home.
But he couldn't worry about that. He missed her, of course, but he knew they'd see each other again. They'd already shared a nice meal and kept each other company for one evening, and he planned on repeating that experience for quite some time. Still, he had other things to worry about – such as how to incorporate Kakashi into his team's strategy. The jonin was a welcome addition to the team, but it meant Shikamaru needed to rework the group dynamic. He was going into the fight of his life. Everything needed to be flawless, especially if we wanted to avenge Asuma. And especially if he wanted to see her again. As the four Leaf shinobi began to sprint toward the unavoidable conflict, his mind began analyzing a new set of attack strategies. Scenario after scenario presented itself to him, and he analyzed every one of them. By the time he finally settled on the right one, he couldn't help but notice a few other things.
He'd become less lazy.
He'd become more responsible.
He'd even become motivated.
And it was all because of that damn troublesome woman.
All because of his Temari.