Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, this story is for amusement purposes only. Naruto is owned by Masashi Kishimoto. This story is an entry for sunaprincess7's ShikaTema Summer Fest 2011 contest. Inspirational music for this story is No One on Earth by Above and Beyond, a variety of songs by OceanLab (particularly Satellite), and Fight for You by Morgan Page
Festival of the Fallen Leaves
Temari had been scheduled to leave for Konoha on this date for two months. She walked from her home towards the towering walls of her village running through checklists and arrangements in her head. She was traveling in her official capacity as ambassador of Suna but it was supposed to be another routine mission for her. The four pigtail wearing blonde did enjoy visiting her friends in the village hidden in the leaves, especially a certain lazy shinobi. The blonde smiled as she thought of sneaking off sometime on an afternoon with her escort to watch clouds. It surprised her how relaxing the simple pastime was. There was nothing unusual scheduled, no exams or anything with an impending deadline. This was going to be a low stress visit. There were no threats to Suna or Konoha at this time, so Temari was scheduled to be traveling alone. The young kunoichi was surprised to find her brothers and Matsuri at the gates waiting for her with their traveling gear.
"Ohayou gozaimus!" greeted Matsuri looking rather excited and happy.
"Good morning," Temari replied hesitantly and obviously confused. "Why are you three here?"
"Gaara-sensei thought it would be good for me to travel to Konoha with you three to expose me to areas outside of Suna," she looked embarrassed and ashamed when she added,"I am apparently somewhat naïve to the world outside of our village, so I need to see other customs and cultures."
Temari shot a look at Gaara and Kankuro who were both simply standing there with their arms crossed and straight faces. She couldn't read anything from either of them, but had a gut feeling there was more going on if the Kazekage was willing to leave the village. Matsuri began to fidget with her cloak nervously. Temari knew Gaara didn't mean to sound so harsh or cruel, he simply stated facts but Matsuri had obviously taken it hard.
"Oh, no one had told me that you were coming but it will be nice to have company," Temari smiled warmly at the young girl. She turned to her brothers with a little more hostility though, "Why are you two coming too? I can take Matsuri and show her around by myself just fine."
Kankuro deferred to Gaara by simply pointing his thumb in his little brother's direction. Temari didn't miss the fact that he was fighting a smile. Gaara stood there somber and stoic as usual with his arms still crossed. Several minutes passed in silence as Temari and Gaara stared at one another until Temari finally cocked her head at him obviously demanding a response.
"I am her sensei and wish to be the one showing her these things. I felt Kankuro would be a good addition to the group since you will be busy with your work once we reach Konoha," he answered in his quiet yet firm voice.
The blonde kunoichi shrugged as she closed her eyes. She placed her hands on her temples and began to rub them in a circular motion since she felt the beginning of a headache. Temari knew there was something they weren't telling her but didn't want this to turn into an interrogation. She wanted to get to Konoha in decent time. The trip there usually took her 3 days, but with Matsuri they were going to be slower. "OK, well let's get going," she sighed.
Shikamaru leaned against a wall waiting for Temari's arrival as he usually did. He got there just before dawn since the Suna kunoichi had the habit of arriving everywhere early, but today she was late and it was beginning to concern him. The sunrise had been a beautiful one which he enjoyed, but there were several things he could have done instead. He had been assigned to escort Temari as usual but had other assignments given to him by the Hokage to complete as well. He was disappointed that he wasn't going to remain with the fan wielding shinobi like he usually did. The ponytailed ninja was relieved when he saw the familiar silhouette in the distance and began to walk out to greet her. The shadow user noticed as he got closer that there were three more silhouettes about 800 meters behind the blonde. 'That explains why she is late, she was slowed down by someone in her group. She is going to be in a bad mood because of this too. What a drag,' he thought.
"Yo," the dark haired Nara greeted the kunoichi once she was close.
"Hey, sorry I am late. You know that's not like me at all," Temari said obviously annoyed but trying to keep it in check.
"No problem," Shikamaru said as he began to scratch his head looking off to the other three travelers. "Is that Gaara and Kankuro?" he asked with surprise.
"Yeah, with Matsuri. I told them I could have brought her by myself but they insisted on escorting her," the four pigtailed ninja said sounding exasperated. "That may have been a good thing because I think I would have started carrying her about twenty miles ago so I could get here early like usual," she added quietly with a little chuckle to herself.
The Nara couldn't help but smile at her honest assessment of herself. "The Lady Tsunade would like to see you right away. The village is busier than usual, so there is a little bit of chaos here and there. I won't be able to stay and assist you as usual either since I have multiple duties at the moment."
The Suna ambassador frowned, "Would you mind waiting for them and taking them straight to the apartment then? I will go ahead and report to the Hokage, I have already kept her waiting." She began to walk past the Konoha shinobi towards the gate of the village.
"Sure thing," Shikamaru answered. "What time do you want me to meet you for the festival tonight then?"
Temari turned on her heel to face the Nara with a look on her face that was indescribable. The shock was clear in her voice, "The WHAT?"
"Uh, the annual Festival of the Fallen Leaves is tonight. Tsunade sent a letter to Gaara letting him know that it would coincide with your trip here," Shikamaru felt the need to explain since he could feel the killer intent coming off of Temari. It wasn't directed at him, but he still had to fight the urge to find cover.
"My brothers are so dead when we get home…" the Suna nin mumbled under her breath. "They didn't tell me and I didn't bring anything but my yukata and some training clothes. Great, this is just fabulous. The ambassador should attend events like this and they screwed me. I bet money Kankuro set Gaara up to do this," she fumed. "I am going to see the Hokage, so I don't kill them," she hissed as she stomped her foot. Temari paused for a moment then looked straight at Shikamaru with some hurt and disappointment in her eyes. "I hope I'll be at the festival tonight, but I'm not sure," she then turned and ran towards the village and Hokage tower.
Shikamaru simply stood there dumbfounded as the blonde went on into Konoha. He watched her disappear into the distance and couldn't help but feel a little angst over the uncertainty of her attendance. That was going to be the only chance he was going to have to spend time with her today.
"Oi, pineapple head! What's up?" Kankuro greeted since he had walked up behind the Nara while he had watched Temari bound away. The black clad shinobi was wearing a mischievous grin.
"The usual- work, preparing for the festival, and setting your sister off on a murderous rampage," answered the shadow user as he shrugged. "Why didn't you tell her about the festival?" Shikamaru asked turning towards Gaara.
"I wanted to see how she adapts to the situation," the red head answered authoritatively. "Temari is very difficult to surprise or challenge since she prepares for multiple scenarios in every aspect of her life. Lady Tsunade and I arranged for her to be stressed on this trip. She has a festival tonight that she should be at in her official capacity as ambassador, she has nothing to wear, and it is arranged for her to have an impossible workload that has to be signed and delivered to the Hokage by midnight tonight. She won't have time for the festival, much less to find something to wear." The Kazekage crossed his arms and stared at Shikamaru in a way that dared the Nara to question him.
"I am betting she stays buried in her paperwork and does nothing else. That's just how she is," interjected Kankuro with a smile. "She's not real big on social interaction and definitely not anything where she needs to behave like a lady," snickered the puppeteer. He was usually the one pulling the pranks on Temari, so he was enjoying the fact that he could watch this all unfold and be perfectly innocent for a change. Shikamaru fought the urge to correct Kankuro, but he knew if he said anything it would only go downhill.
Matsuri stared at the two sand siblings with her mouth open, "That's so mean! Why would you do that to Temari? She's your own sister! We came to enjoy the festival and you are making it so she can't be there?" The young nin directed the last part to her sensei and idol. There was a pleading and innocent look in her eyes.
The three began a rather animated debate as the Konoha shinobi's mind began to work through details. Shikamaru couldn't help but wonder if that explained the sudden doubling of his workload. He normally would be assigned to Temari and would remain with her for the entirety of her stay. Instead he had been assigned work the entire day, only allowing him off one hour before the festival which meant he would be in a rush to get ready as is. He and Temari could have probably handled the paperwork and other complications under their normal circumstances, but Gaara probably knew that. Temari's brothers could sure be troublesome.
Shikamaru shoved his hands into his pockets as he sighed. He should probably get things moving so he could try to get his work done early. Temari was going to need help, somehow. He cleared his throat causing the three Suna nin's to stop their bickering, "Temari asked that I show you to her place here in Konoha. If you will follow me, please."
"Enter!" answered Tsunade when someone knocked on her door. She quickly stashed her bottle of sake back into one of her desk drawers. Shizune opened the door motioning Temari inside. The ambassador from Suna walked in and bowed to the Konoha Hokage.
"I apologize for being late, Tsunade," breathed Temari as she bowed. She had obviously run the entire way and was still slightly winded.
Tsunade waved her hand dismissively, "You aren't that late, things happen." The Hokage shifted in her chair so she could rest her chin on her hands. "I apologize for the timing but all of these documents concerning our villages need to be addressed before midnight tonight. The daimyos are wanting a detailed report on our treaties with other countries and villages and any conflicts of interest that may arise." Tsunade gestured to Shizune who re-entered the room to hand Temari a huge stack of books and reports.
"Yes ma'am, I will start immediately," answered the blonde nin masking her feeling of being overwhelmed. This was supposed to be an easy and relaxing stay in Konoha and everything was going in the exact opposite direction much to her dismay. She bowed quickly then took the large stack of paperwork which made it difficult for her to see. Temari turned to leave the Hokage's office when Tsunade stopped her.
"I also need you to be at the festival tonight. There will be members of the council there that would like the chance for casual conversation with you," the Hokage commanded with a gleam in her eye. Tsunade was thankful that the Suna nin's back was to her so she couldn't see her fighting a smile. "Several of our clans here in Konoha would like the opportunity to speak with you as well. There are some propositions they would like to discuss."
Temari didn't turn back around since she was so angry that she felt on the verge of tears. She was thankful that the stack of reports covered her face from Shizune. "Yes ma'am," she was able to say sounding calmer and more collected than she felt. The blonde ninja from Suna walked out of the office and Hokage tower as quickly as she could. 'This is impossible! No one could possibly complete this in time. Throw in me having to attend the festival too and it is beyond crazy,' she thought as she forced herself to do tactical breathing trying to calm herself down.
Temari walked back to her apartment and was about to unlock the door when she heard the commotion inside. She sat her stack of papers and books down so she could eavesdrop for a few minutes. Kankuro and Matsuri were having a very animated and loud conversation with occasional pauses. Temari could safely assume the pauses were when Gaara was talking softly. The teal eyed blonde felt her anger boiling to the surface again that Gaara had not told her about the festival but let it pass. Kankuro she would expect these kinds of antics from, but not Gaara. Now on top of that she had to pull off some kind of miracle as far as getting all of her work done and being presentable. She was going to have to simply wear her black yukata even though it wasn't really formal enough, but it was just going to have to do.
The voices in her apartment were getting louder again and there were sounds of items possibly being thrown. Temari sighed as she decided she didn't want to know and didn't want to think about it right now. The fan wielding kunoichi was going to have to find somewhere else to work since it was going to be too loud in her own apartment. Kankuro being around was not very conducive to getting any type of work done, much less paperwork. Having to control her urge to beat Kankuro and Gaara senseless would be a challenge too. The only logical thing she could convince herself was that beating them to a pulp would just mean less time to get everything she needed to do done.
The blonde pig tail wearing shinobi picked up her huge stack of paperwork as she contemplated her next move. Where could she go to have some peace and quiet?
Yoshino was cooking lunch for herself and Shikaku when she heard a knock on the door. "I wonder who on earth that could be," she said to her husband who was sitting in his chair reading as she walked by to answer their front door. She opened the door to find a stack of reports that had a pair of legs and the bottom of a very dusty black yukata coming from the bottom of them. "Oh my, Temari is that you? I'm sorry, but Shikamaru isn't home."
"I know," answered the blonde hesitantly. "I need somewhere quiet to complete my work and my apartment has too many people in it for me to get anything done. Please may I use your study or library? I will be so quiet you won't even know I am here, I promise." Temari lowered the pile so she could look at Yoshino pleadingly.
"Of course you can, dear," answered Yoshino sweetly. "Shikaku, help her into the study," she said with more authority as she turned to see her husband still sitting in his chair peeking over his book at the two women. The father of Shikamaru sighed as he put his book down and took half of the pile from Temari. The elder Nara clansman motioned for the kunoichi to follow him as his wife headed back into the kitchen. Yoshino yelled after the pair, "Temari, you look like you just arrived. Have you had anything to eat yet?"
"No ma'am. I have so much to get done, I really didn't have time," answered the fan wielder.
"I won't have a guest in my house go hungry," Yoshino answered. "Lunch will be ready in a little bit. Shikaku dear, why don't you see if you can help her with some of that?"
"Yes, dear," he yelled over his shoulder back towards the kitchen. "Troublesome woman," he added under his breath. Temari couldn't help but inwardly laugh at the identical behavior of father and son. The ponytailed man led her through the house to a large study. Shikaku was setting the books and reports down on a large rectangular table as he looked at Temari thoughtfully, "What is it they have you working on and what is your deadline?" When she explained in detail and informed him of her midnight deadline his eyes widened in surprise. "They expect you to have all that done by midnight?" he asked looking at her in disbelief. She nodded back at him as he began to scratch the back of his head like his son, "You're lucky I am on a break between missions right now. Guess we should get started."
Temari let out a sigh of relief, "Thank you so much! Shikamaru usually helps me but the Hokage gave him more work than usual." She frowned at the thought. Shikaku watched her reaction and nodded thoughtfully.
The Suna ambassador and Shikaku were working diligently when Yoshino came in about a half an hour later with a tray filled with a variety of delicious foods. The two cleared just enough room to fit their plates and tea on the table so they could continue working. Temari was surprised to see that Yoshino had prepared some vegetable soup, which was her favorite. The Nara woman had a great memory and picked up little details like that. The pair nodded to Yoshino and smiled at the smell of the feast she provided them. Yoshino moved over to her husband placing a hand on his shoulder. She leaned over where he was sitting to kiss him sweetly on the cheek as he placed a hand on top of hers and smiled up at her. "Thank you, my dear," he murmured.
Temari watched the two with a longing look. She wished that she had parents that were still around, well maybe not her father. Shikamaru was so lucky to have such kind and loving parents, even though she knew he complained about his mom a lot. His mother only nagged him because she cared though. "Thank you so much, Yoshino. This looks absolutely delicious. I probably wouldn't have eaten until after midnight at this rate if it weren't for you two," said Temari giving a heartfelt smile to the couple.
"What about the festival?" queried Yoshino looking alarmed.
"Oh, uhmm," Temari fumbled, "Well I am supposed to be there, but I don't know how I am going to manage to meet my deadline and be presentable. I didn't know about the festival and didn't bring anything to wear on top of that," the young lady admitted looking slightly embarrassed. "Tsunade said I am supposed to meet with members of the council and some Konoha clan heads. I was hoping to see Hinata so I could ask her if I could borrow something to wear, but I couldn't find her." she placed her head in her hands as she continued, "I just don't think I can get all this done. It's just not possible."
Shikaku looked up to his wife, "They really gave her an unrealistic deadline. This is insane even with the two of us working on it. There's no way she can go to the festival and complete this in time."
Yoshino looked down at the paperwork covering the large table in the middle of their study as she placed a hand on her chin. She shook her head in amazement and walked back over to the blonde. "Temari, can you stand up for a moment for me please?" The young ninja complied with the request. Yoshino walked around her and lifted Temari's arms sizing up the kunoichi. "I'll be back in a little while, you two enjoy your lunch and there is more in the kitchen if you are still hungry," the dark haired woman said as she left the room. "Temari, there are some roasted chestnuts in the kitchen too," she called from somewhere near the front of the house.
Shikaku chuckled as he watched his wife leave and Temari looked at him with a perplexed look on her face. "Don't worry about it, let's get back to work," said the elder shadow user. He had an idea what his love would do, but would have to get all the details from her later. He might complain on occasions about his wife, but she was an amazing woman.
Shikamaru was called to the Hokage's office four hours before he was scheduled to leave for the day. "Tch, how troublesome," the shadow user mumbled. He couldn't help but wonder if that meant they were going to pile even more tasks on him. He had been working like a madman with the hopes he could sneak out early. The Nara stuffed his hands in his pockets as he slowly walked into the Hokage tower.
Shizune met him halfway up the tower and had obviously been running, "Get to Tsunade's office, NOW!" She bent over grabbing her knee with one hand as she pointed up the tower with her other, trying to catch her breath.
Shikamaru took off sprinting since there was obviously something wrong. When he arrived at the Hokage's door he didn't even bother to knock but barged right in. The sight in front of him was one that he never expected. Tsunade was standing over her desk with her hands placed on it authoritatively and across from her was his mother, Yoshino, with her hands on her hips and some serious killer intent was rolling off of the two women. It felt as though the two were going to come to blows at any moment as they continued to glare at each other. Leave it to his mom to challenge one of the legendary Sannin.
"Shikamaru!" barked Tsunade, "you are relieved of your duties for the rest of the day. I will assign them to someone else. Please get this woman out of my office, immediately!"
Shikamaru grabbed his mother by the arm and half dragged her out of the office and the Hokage tower. Shizune stared after the two in utter disbelief. The Naras began to walk down the street heading towards their home in silence. The shadow user looked around when they turned a corner onto a relatively empty street. "What is going on?" he whispered since he felt they were beyond anyone's earshot.
"Nara tactics," whispered his mother with a triumphant smile. "Get home immediately to help your father and Temari on that ridiculous report. I'll take care of everything else."
Shikamaru smiled widely at her. His mother never ceased to amaze him in moments like this. She was usually troublesome, but in a jam she was worth her weight in gold. "Thanks kaasan!" He surprised Yoshino by kissing her quickly on the cheek before he ran off in the direction of their home.
Yoshino held a hand to her cheek and smiled as she watched her son leave. He hated work, yet he was willing to run home to help the blonde from Suna. He was growing up and Temari was the catalyst.
"OK, now back to work," she sighed.
Shikaku and Temari heard the front door open and close a little while after Yoshino had left. Temari simply assumed it was Yoshino returning and continued her work. She was getting frustrated since even though she had the elder Nara genius helping her, she still didn't see how she was going to be able to get this done and attend the festival. This was completely impossible. The young ninja let out a long slow sigh.
"We're in the study, Shikamaru," Shikaku called out without looking up from his documents.
Temari looked towards Shikaku completely vexed as Shikamaru walked up and stood in the doorway of the study. The four pigtail wearing kunoichi couldn't keep the look of surprise from her face. Her expression turned to one of her huge eye closing smiles when she realized she might just have a chance to pull this off. The young shadow user wore his signature smirk as he looked at Temari, "I hear you could use a hand."
"You have no idea," breathed Temari as she rolled her eyes. "I thought you were stuck working all day?"
"Nara tactics?" asked Shikaku before Shikamaru could answer her.
"Hai," laughed Shikamaru.
"Ah yes, I love when she pulls those antics to get me out of missions occasionally," said Shikaku reminiscently. "Pull up a chair son, let's fill you in on where we are and what still needs to be done."
Yoshino was almost home, but she knew it was going to be close. She found helping Temari to pull of the impossible exhilarating, that and she wanted to make sure that her lazy son noticed the girl as a beautiful woman tonight. The girl was the only one Shikamaru had ever been interested in which did not go unnoticed by his mother. Ino, his own team mate, was beautiful but had never piqued his interest. There had been plenty of gorgeous young women in Konoha interested in him, but no one was worth the trouble. Temari was from another village and the sister of the Kazekage, which complicated things but the two were a good match. Temari had what all the other girls had been lacking, a mind that challenged him. She was a genius as well, just not the level he was. Shikamaru wasn't interested so much in beauty as he was brains, he was just lucky enough to find a young lady with both.
Yoshino laughed softly at the thought of having a daughter-in-law and grandchildren. It could all be possible, she just needed to help the couple in the right direction with a little nudge. She had a little scheme that just might help to set things in motion. Yoshino came in the front door and headed to the study with her packages in tow. She walked in to find the three still working furiously. Shikamaru and Temari's chairs had gravitated toward one another and the two were talking very closely about an aspect of the report. "How much more needs to be done?" she asked looking at her husband.
"We have about an hour worth of work left," he answered without looking up.
"Well that's not good enough. Temari has to be at the festival in her official capacity as the Suna ambassador in an hour and I need to get her ready. You boys can finish this, right?" the last part sounding more like a statement than a question.
Shikaku and Shikamaru nodded since they had been expecting Yoshino to do this anyway. Temari looked up at Yoshino, "but this is my work, I can't make them finish it for me." The blonde was interrupted by the dark haired Nara woman holding up her hand for her to stop. Temari looked at her pleadingly, "I don't want to be a bother to all of you, I already know I am incredibly troublesome." The kunoichi glanced over at Shikamaru with a slightly embarrassed look as he smiled.
Shikaku and Shikamaru laughed as the elder answered her, "You can't help it, you're a woman."
Yoshino placed her hands on her hips staring at the two which promptly stopped their laughter. "Come with me Temari, we need to get you cleaned up," the woman walked out of the study motioning for Temari to follow her. Temari looked to the two men seated at the table with her apologetically as they smiled at her. She had the feeling that they thought they were getting the better end of the deal. The blonde followed Yoshino obediently into a room and then a bathroom attached to it, "The guest bedroom has its own bathroom and shower. There are towels, shampoo, soap, anything you need. I will leave clothes for tonight on the bed. I need you to shower, get dressed, and then meet me in my room three doors down the hall on the right. I will do your hair and makeup since we are crunched for time."
"Yes ma'am. Thank you for all of your help," Temari added quietly, "I really didn't expect all of this."
"You're very welcome, dear. Now get moving," smiled Yoshino as she began to remove items from the packages and lay them out on the bed. Once she was done she left the room and shut the door.
Temari turned on the shower to let it warm up as she got undressed. She placed her dusty black yukata on a hook so she could wash it later. The blonde pulled her hair out of her signature four ponytails as she stepped into the stream of water and simply stood there for a moment. The hot water and steam felt so good on her aching muscles. She had not realized how much her muscles were cramping and aching since her arrival this morning. Everything had been so hectic she didn't have time to worry about herself. The soap she was lathering up smelled like a mixture of lavender and mint, which had a relaxing effect on her. She slowly washed herself, partially in a daze. Temari snapped out of her slight trance when she remembered the short time frame she had left and quickly washed her hair. She was definitely looking forward to a nice long soak in the bath at some point tomorrow, maybe even a hot spring. With the day she was having she deserved it.
The blonde wrapped herself up in a towel and twisted her hair up in another one as she went out to see what Yoshino had left her. She couldn't help but tear up a little with what she found. Yoshino truly had an eye for detail.
"Go get ready, Shikamaru," Shikaku smiled knowingly. "I'll finish this up and meet you all there. It's not a good idea to keep a lady waiting."
"They set her up to fail, as a test to see how she would handle things," Shikamaru whispered as he stood up, "then they tried to make sure I wouldn't be able to help her."
"Your mother and I figured that out," the elder Nara said as he shrugged. "We're just glad she showed up here rather than trying to deal with it on her own. We can talk more about the details later; just get ready so you can escort her to the festival. That is your job, isn't it? Well, maybe you have a little more incentive other than just your sense of duty…"
"What are you saying?" asked Shikamaru looking rather puzzled.
"Do you think of her as just a friend or something more? If you want something more, then you need to make a move because she has hundreds of official suitors. Rumor is someone from Konoha is officially submitting his name to that list at the festival tonight," his father answered looking at his son seriously. "If you don't tell her how you feel, you may never get the chance after tonight."
Shikamaru turned a bright red. "It's not like that. She's from Suna, I am from Konoha. She's practically royalty and I'm no one," he barked at his father, but Shikamaru added quietly under his breath, "She deserves someone better."
"She wants you," came his mother's voice from behind him. "and you want her. The politics involved can be worked out. What matters is how you two feel. If you think you are falling in love with her, tell her." Yoshino smiled and put her hand lightly on her son's shoulder. "Go get ready now, I will help your father finish up," she said with a tenderness Shikamaru rarely heard coming from the usually harsh woman.
Shikamaru had found his mother did a little shopping for him too and insisted he wear his new festival garb. He had on black hakama, a forest green hakama-shita, a forest green haori with the Nara clan symbol embroidered on the back in purple, and a purple haori himo. The top of his men's purple obi was just visible from under his hakama. He was waiting patiently in their front living room for Temari to come out, but was fidgeting since he really didn't understand what all the purple was about. He didn't exactly feel comfortable in what he was wearing. He tried to think about something else, so he thought about how they were going to be arriving shortly after the festival started. Since no one was expecting Temari to even show he felt pretty happy about that. The shadow user was sitting in a chair staring off into the distance thinking about everything that had happened today when he heard Temari speak softly.
"Ready to go lazy ass?" her insult didn't have the usual bite behind it. It was rather timid and unsure actually.
Shikamaru looked up and couldn't help but simply stare at the vision before him for several minutes. His mom was good, she may be every bit as brilliant as his old man. Temari stood there before him looking like the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. The Nara's eyes traveled up and down her as if he had never seen her before this moment. Her hair was down, just a little curl to it. The kunoichi's makeup was simple yet elegant and the kimono she wore was a rich purple adorned with fans and butterflies. The exact same purple he happened to be wearing, which brought a smile to his face. There was a large red formal obi around her waist, a silk lavender obi age, and a pink obi jime wrapped around it. She had on silver earrings that were small fans with some design he couldn't make out etched on them. The blonde wore a simple silver chain that was tucked into the kimono so he couldn't see what was on the end of it.
Shikamaru stood up and took a few steps towards her so he was standing within arms length of her. "You look amazing," he said softly, still taken aback by her appearance. It seemed strange that the scary shinobi could look so delicate. He began to reach for the necklace, his curiosity getting the better of him. "May I?" he asked. Temari nodded her head in affirmation as she started to turn red. He pulled the necklace gently and found the charm on the end was a small silver deer antler. His father had given his mother one just like this when they were younger that she still wore to this day tucked inside her kimono. His mother was far craftier than he had ever given her credit for. He smiled as he looked into Temari's eyes, "This is a Nara clan necklace," he stated with slight mock surprise in his voice. "If you wear something like that, people will think that we are together. Is that what you want?" he raised an eyebrow after asking.
"Oh and the fact that we match perfectly doesn't?" she tried to joke unconvincingly. Temari looked away trying to hide her face. "It's just a charm, it doesn't mean anything," she said softly.
Shikamaru lightly touched her chin with his finger forcing her to look back at him bringing his face closer to hers. "It does mean something," he mumbled under his breath, "to me." He saw the uncertainty in her eyes, and fear. The silly kunoichi was afraid of letting anyone into her heart out of fear it would only be broken. He had been worried she would laugh at him, but it was plain that she had feelings for him. How long had the pair been this obvious to everyone? It was to the point his very troublesome mother initiated all this to force him to take some kind of action. "Answer my question, you troublesome woman. Do you want us to be together? Is that what you want?" He brought his lips to where they were almost touching hers and gazed into her teal eyes.
Temari's eyes fluttered from the feel of his warm breath against her face. She couldn't rip her gaze from his, feeling like she may suddenly burst into flames. She wanted to run away and pretend this wasn't happening, but felt as though she couldn't move either. She bit her lower lip lightly and then whispered, "maybe." She was normally so strong, but at this moment she felt weak and vulnerable. She tried to look away again but Shikamaru grabbed her face gently with both hands, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Is that what you want?" she asked in barely a whisper.
"Yes," he answered as his lips traveled the last distance to hers. Shikamaru felt her arms wrapping around him as he moved his around her, pulling each other closer. Their kiss was soft and gentle, yet there were sparks between them. The ridiculous day had been worth it for this moment alone. Their first kiss ended with the pair looking into one another's eyes while their arms stayed wrapped around one another.
"I guess you are OK with me wearing the necklace then," Temari teased. The Nara smiled and nodded his head yes as he removed himself from her arms. He moved so he was standing beside her and facing the door.
"We need to get you to the festival," he said as he slid her arm inside of his and placed his other hand on top of hers. "I know I have to share you with the dignitaries, but other than that you're all mine. Deal?"
"Deal!" the blonde laughed as they walked out the front door arm in arm.
Gaara, Kankuro, and Matsuri were enjoying some of the many foods offered at the festival when music began to play. Gaara was wearing his usual Kazekage robe without the hat, Matsuri had on an orange-red kimono, and Kankuro was wearing a black hakama-shita, black hakama, and a purple obi peeking out from behind the hakama. Kankuro wasn't wearing his makeup for a change and actually looked quite handsome. There were several Konoha ladies that had been looking in his direction after his arrival. The three shinobi were in a private area with tables and chairs for foreign dignitaries which overlooked a clearing for people to dance, but the area was rather crowded.
People began to clear out of the area after the music began to play. Couples began to take the floor one by one, some the Suna nins knew and others not. Naruto waved to Gaara as he took Hinata by the hand, practically dragging the blushing Hyuga onto the dance floor. Ino was pulling Choji by the arm with a huge smile on her face, while the Akimichi had a slightly terrified look on his. TenTen and Neji practically danced onto the floor with an air of grace and poise that was the envy of all around. The two moved smoothly, in perfect rhythm, and seemed able to anticipate each other's movements. It was truly poetry in motion.
"I would love to go dance, "Matsuri said wistfully as she leaned her shoulder up against Gaara's chest.
"Kankuro, dance with Matsuri," the red head commanded without hesitation.
"But," Matsuri began to protest as the puppet master took her hand and led her to the dance floor.
"He doesn't dance, Matsuri. Don't take it personally," Kankuro whispered. "He just wants to make sure you get to do all the things you want," explained the still black clad shinobi. One would think he could add at least a little color to his wardrobe.
"Oh," she answered unable to hide the disappointment in her voice.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to try to make a move on you or anything. Just have fun," the brother of the Kazekage laughed. "You are special to him, he just doesn't know how to show it," he said softly. That little bit of information perked the young nin up considerably.
The pair began to dance on what was quickly becoming a very crowded dance floor. It was a fun and animated dance, nothing slow which Matsuri was thankful for. The two laughed as the song ended and they headed back to where Gaara had remained standing. The music slowed to a romantic love song as Matsuri sat back down in her seat. She watched couples move closer and begin to sway in the fading light of the sunset. Lanterns were being lit throughout the village and the soft flickering of the flames prompted the girl to sigh again. She placed her chin on her hands watching the scene like a child. Then she saw something or rather someone as she scanned the crowd, "Hey, isn't that Temari?"
Gaara and Kankuro practically fell over Matsuri trying to see where she was looking. She pointed towards a couple that had just arrived arm in arm looking absolutely radiant. The pair mingled amongst their friends along the way, oblivious of the scene the two were creating. Naruto practically pounced on top of Shikamaru while Hinata warmly greeted and hugged Temari. Naruto nudged the Nara in the ribs and gave him a big thumbs up when Temari was busy talking to Hinata. Naruto and Hinata waved as they set off looking for ramen and the other couple moved on and greeted all of their friends in turn. Ino and Choji shared a knowing smile as they walked away after talking to their team mate and the Suna Ambassador.
Shikamaru finally began guiding Temari toward where Tsunade and some of the council members were. The sea of festival goers seemed to part before the pair, all eyes on them. The Ambassador from Suna looked exquisite as she greeted those around her and her escort incredibly handsome yet reserved. It would have been very easy to assume that the couple was married if the whole village didn't know otherwise. The two remained glued together despite attempts by several people to separate them. Temari was polite yet firm to the young noble lineage shinobi that came forward requesting a dance or private conversation. The young blonde occasionally fanned herself with a small fan identical to her battle fan that Yoshino had made for her. She also used it to conceal what she and her escort were whispering back and forth on occasions with subtle smiles on their faces. The Suna nins could practically see the murmuring and gossip spreading through the crowd.
"Temari appears to be full of surprises," laughed Kankuro. "Shall we join them?"
"No," answered Gaara rather firmly. "We will simply observe."
"Awww, you're no fun," mumbled Kankuro. "You want to go play some of the festival games, Matsuri?"
She hesitated and then looked at Gaara , "That sounds like fun, but I am going to stay with sensei."
"Suit yourself," shrugged the puppeteer. He actually liked the idea of mingling with some of the local ladies, so he wasn't going to complain at all. He saw a brunette earlier that he would really like to track down, so not having Matsuri with him would be a bonus. He headed out down one of the rows of booths as Gaara continued to watch Temari.
"What is going on?" asked Matsuri since the Kazekage was looking at what was transpiring rather intently. The young girl stood back up so she could stand by Gaara and have a better view of things. She stood close to him, closer than he was comfortable with but he let her remain. The red head was trying to become more accustomed to physical contact with others, even though Matsuri being this close to him made it difficult for him to think. He could smell her sweet perfume that reminded him of his favorite candy.
"Politics," he answered softly. He explained in detail who each person was that Tsunade was introducing Temari to and the importance each person had in either the village or the Land of Fire. Shikamaru remained at her side steadfastly as Temari greeted and conversed with each person of interest. She would occasionally lift her eyes to meet his and smile, trying not to break conversation. She would shake each person's hand, bow, and all necessary formalities, but would try to find a way to slide her arm back into Shikamaru's. The few occasions that she wasn't able to easily link back with her escort, he would stand beside her and place his hand on her lower back. It wasn't as bold as sliding his arm around her waist, which would be rather inappropriate with the company they were in. It was more like he was reassuring her that he was still there.
Tsunade motioned for Temari to follow her and Hiashi Hyuga into an area where they could speak in private. "Temari, we would like a private audience with you." Tsunade said looking straight at Shikamaru. The dark haired Nara bowed to the Hokage and remained where he stood. The blonde nodded her head and followed, but wore a look of concern on her face. She glanced back one last time to the shadow user who gave her a reassuring nod. Once Temari turned back around, Gaara noticed that Shikamaru's expression changed to one that didn't appear pleased at all. The genius began to walk purposefully in another direction, then once he thought no one could see him he suddenly faded into the shadows. A faint smile came to the Kazekage's lips.
"I think that it's time for me to join them," said Gaara. "Would you like to come with me, or stay here?"
Matsuri felt as though that were the most ridiculous question in the world. "I would like to come, Gaara-san."
Tsunade led the Hyuga clan head and the Suna Ambassador to a secluded outdoor seating area that had three large benches covered with comfortable cushions. The moon had risen by this time, illuminating the area in addition to a few colorful paper lanterns. The Hokage motioned for the two to sit as she sat down on the middle bench. Temari seated herself on the bench to the left hand side of Tsunade and Hiashi seated himself on the one to the right. Temari began fanning herself so she wouldn't feel so uncomfortable. She was starting to feel warm with all the layers she had on.
"Temari," began the elder blonde, "you are well aware that alliances can be made and broken easily. Konoha and Suna have an unfortunate example of that in our not so distant past." The Hokage looked at the young ninja sternly as Temari flinched at the reminder. The incident after the Chunin exams was one Temari sincerely wished she could go back and change. "As the Hokage it is my duty to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again, so we need something that makes the bonds of our two villages stronger."
"Excuse me, I believe I should be involved in this, Lady Tsunade," they heard the quiet yet intimidating voice of none other than the Kazekage. Sand blew into the clearing with Matsuri following behind. The sand materialized into the somber looking shinobi who motioned for the girl to sit next to his sister while he stood behind the two. "I apologize for the interruption, please continue," the red head said softly as he gestured with his hand.
The Hokage was obviously a little flustered with his arrival. She was going to have a hard time intimidating and threatening Temari as she had originally planned. That wouldn't be a really good idea with Gaara standing right here. The attempt to isolate and entrap Sabaku no Temari was not going well. Tsunade adapted her plan and continued. "What I was explaining is that a blood tie between the two villages would solidify our alliance. Temari, since you are the sister of the Kazekage, the council and I feel if you were to marry someone in Konoha we would never be under threat from Suna as long as Gaara remains Kazekage."
Temari remained composed and continued to look at the Hokage with a cool demeanor even though she was panicking on the inside. She folded her fan shut by lightly striking it against the heel of her opposite hand and laid it on the bench beside her. The blonde began to slide the antler charm back and forth on the chain of her necklace without realizing it. Gaara shifted his weight where he stood behind her as he crossed his arms, obviously not pleased with what was happening. Temari said nothing and waited for the other blonde to continue. She was a little reassured that Gaara didn't appear to be happy either.
"The council and I have decided that the Hyuga clan would be the best match, Hiashi has graciously offered his nephew Neji to ensure peace between our villages in the future," Tsunade explained raising her hand towards the nobleman. The Hyuga nodded his head in acknowledgement. "The Byakugan is a highly sought after bloodline in the shinobi world, so it would be a compliment to you and Suna to be married into such a family. The only stipulation is that you would live in Konoha," Tsunade continued.
Temari felt she couldn't remain silent any longer but tried to be as tactful as possible. "I am incredibly flattered by the offer Hiashi-san, but with all due respect, Neji and I both have other interests. This arrangement would not work."
Tsunade's face began to flush with anger and was about to say something when Gaara spoke up.
"Temari actually has a formal request for courtship on file from another Konoha shinobi. The clan does not have a bloodline as highly sought after as the Hyuga, but a blood tie with them would serve the same purpose," he stated sounding rather disinterested.
"Who?" asked Tsunade becoming incredibly irritated. "All such requests are to go through the Hokage!"
"Oh, I'm sorry about that," replied the cheerful voice of Shikaku as he emerged from the shadows carrying a very large report. He walked over to Temari and placed it in her lap smiling at her when no one else could see him. The scarred man turned and bowed to all present. "I sent the formal request directly to Gaara on my son's behalf after her first trip to Konoha as ambassador. That was so long ago it must have slipped my mind," he announced non-chalantly. Hiashi and Tsunade both stared at the man stunned.
Gaara did let a small smile creep onto his lips, "I respect the time you and the council took trying to find the best suitor, but if you had discussed the matter with me I could have simply informed you that Shikamaru Nara was the only one that I, as the Kazekage, will accept." He and Shikaku shared a knowing look as the elder Nara moved to the side of the clearing.
Temari looked up to her younger brother from where she sat with an appreciative grin. "Thank you," she whispered. Her little brother still wore the small smile as he nodded to her. She looked down at the antler charm she had been toying with nervously and grasped it firmly as she closed her eyes.
Matsuri was watching the chain of events with a sense of awe. The young shinobi shifted her weight on the bench so she could see everyone's faces better. She felt like she was in the middle of some dramatic play. This was great!
"I apologize for the interruption," Shikaku said, "but if you will excuse me I do need to get back to my wife." The group nodded their heads to him with the exception of Temari who smiled at him brightly. He bowed and began to walk away down the path. "Oh and Shikamaru stop hiding in the shadows. I know you are eavesdropping on all of this with the Shadow Meld technique and masking your chakra so no one senses you," the elder Nara yelled over his shoulder back towards the group.
"Tch, how troublesome," replied the shadows from around Temari as they began to stretch and come to life. The darkness formed and solidified into Shikamaru who wore a rather annoyed expression on his face. He moved himself slightly in front of Temari in a rather protective fashion.
Hiashi cleared his throat, "Hokage-sama does this mean that Neji and I are no longer needed for this task?" He was beginning to feel rather uncomfortable due to the looks Gaara and Shikamaru were sending his way. He continued to hold his head high since he was nobility after all, but the sooner he could escape the better.
"It appears that way," groaned Tsunade. "Thank you Hiashi-san for your assistance and patience."
The man bowed and left, walking at a quick pace. Once Hiashi was out of view, Shikamaru picked up the large report sitting on Temari's lap and walked over to where Tsunade was sitting. The Nara held it in front of the Hokage so she could see it, and then slammed it onto the bench beside her. "There it is, and before midnight," he seethed. The hostility he felt towards Tsunade at the moment was actually palpable. He walked back to where his blonde sat and took Temari's hand in his. The pony tailed Nara pulled her lightly over to the bench that Hiashi had been sitting on so Gaara could sit down beside Matsuri. The shadow user kept her hand in his as he glared at the Hokage. The tense silence continued until Gaara finally spoke up.
"Shikamaru, Temari, you both have been through a traumatic day. Why don't you go enjoy the festival while the Hokage and I work out things here?" Gaara said softly as he sat next to Matsuri. The young kage obviously appeared uncomfortable sitting next to the young woman but was yet again trying to get used to the feeling of being close to people.
"Thank you Gaara, that sounds like a good idea," answered Temari as she pulled the still obviously angry Shikamaru up from where he was sitting. She was very thankful that Gaara was trying to diffuse the situation but was surprised that Shikamaru actually had a temper. He was so lazy, he normally didn't care about anything enough to get angry. When she tried to pull him up he initially resisted, but the strength of the eldest sand sibling forced him to his feet.
The Nara turned to the Hokage one last time as he prepared to leave. He lowered his voice and tried to calm himself, "I expected more from you. The council I knew, but you?" He shook his head in disgust as he turned to follow Temari back towards the festival. The girl from Suna grabbed his hand reassuringly as she led the way.
Matsuri looked back and forth between the Hokage and the retreating pair. There was hurt and guilt in the older woman's expression. She scooted a little closer to Gaara in her excitement and was practically grabbing his shoulder. The young man was less worried about Tsunade than he was about the extreme discomfort he was having due to Matsuri. The girl was oblivious to his awkwardness though as she reveled in the fact that the world was so much more interesting than she had ever imagined.
Shikaku and Yoshino were seated eating a variety of the festival foods when they spotted Temari and Shikamaru returning from the meeting area. "Shikamaru!" yelled his father catching their attention. The pair walked over and the young Nara held out one of the chairs so Temari could sit next to his mother. The blonde sat down with a sigh, placed her elbows on the table, and placed her head in her hands as she closed her eyes. Shikamaru gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze after he had scooted her chair up to the table. She glanced up at him for a moment with a thankful smile, and then resumed holding her head. He settled in next to his father and let out a long breath trying to calm down still.
"You knew," the young Nara said without looking at his father.
"I had found out bits and pieces," sighed the elder. "I contacted Gaara to warn him, who filled me in on the misinformation that he had been given. The Kazekage wasn't supposed to be here, but played his part as though he was helping Tsunade's supposed plan. Tsunade told Gaara she simply wanted to stress Temari and see how well she handled pressure."
"The real plan was to have Temari flustered, disoriented, isolated, and willing to agree with what the Hokage wanted- which was a blood tie to a noble clan," finished Shikamaru. "I thought those type of things didn't happen anymore. The blatant manipulation of a foreign ambassador strictly for the village's protection…"
"Shikamaru, don't think so poorly of Tsunade. She was under enormous pressure from the council to do this and objected vehemently," his father said as he placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "Danzo wanted Temari for our village since she is such a strong kunoichi…" Shikaku continued talking but Temari was no longer able to process anything going on around her. The realization of what exactly had transpired and why was hitting Temari like a brick wall as she listened to the two geniuses talk at length. She opened her eyes again and stared at the table top as her mind swirled. If it had not been for her brother and the Nara's she would have fallen right into their trap. She suddenly felt very hot and light headed. The world around her turned black…
Yoshino caught the girl since the two men were too engrossed in their discussion to notice that the blonde had passed out. "Excuse me," she directed at the oblivious geniuses incredibly annoyed. "Were you trying to scare the poor girl out cold, because you succeeded."
The pair looked up with identical shocked looks at the unconscious woman in Yoshino's arms. "Since when does Temari pass out? That's Hinata's specialty…" Shikamaru mumbled. "How troublesome."
"Troublesome? You don't know the meaning of the word! I'll show you troublesome," the Nara woman practically growled. The intimidating woman barked orders at her husband and son as she began to carry Temari out of the festival. The two men began to fumble around as they complied with her demands. Shikamaru smiled, he had been lucky that his mom had been so nice the majority of the day. She was now back to the woman he feared the most in the world. Temari was a close second though. Well, maybe it was a tie.
Temari woke up in the guest bedroom of the Nara household with a cold washcloth on her forehead. She kept her eyes closed for the first few moments trying to remember the events that had transpired and mentally registering that she was lying on a rather comfortable bed. Her whole body ached and her back muscles would spasm on occasion. She slowly opened her eyes to look around the room and realized she was simply lying on top of the covers of the bed, still wearing the kimono, and that Shikamaru was asleep in a chair by the bed. She silently slid the washcloth off of her forehead as she sat up cautiously when she heard Shikamaru address her.
"When was the last time you slept? Did you leave from Suna right after completing a mission?" he asked with his eyes still closed looking as though he were still asleep.
The blonde shrugged, "over 72 hours ago. I returned from a mission, slept that night, and left for Konoha early the next morning. We didn't sleep in transit, I prefer to get here as quickly as possible. You know that." She quickly added in her defense, "It was a good six hours of sleep though." She looked to the window to try to tell what time it was. "How long was I out?" she asked. "I've never done that before," she mumbled.
"A couple hours," he answered with a smirk looking up at her. "You're dehydrated. You probably haven't eaten enough or replenished your electrolyte levels adequately either. Throw the stress on top of that, we get an unconscious Temari," he looked at her with a more serious expression as he added, "We probably should have taken you to the hospital, but knew that would upset you."
"Yep, the last thing I want is to be in the hospital," she answered angrily, mad more at her own stupidity than anything. She tended to push her body to the limits, but she had never reached this point before.
"You're from the desert, you should know when you're getting exhausted and dehydrated," groaned Shikamaru. The blonde rolled her eyes at him in response and sat there in silence for a few moments. She couldn't defend her actions and wasn't going to try.
"So I pretty much missed the whole festival," she said softly as she looked down at the bed with a disappointed look on her face.
Shikamaru felt bad for snapping at her and softened his tone. "Sorry, but it's wrapping up right now. The river that they release the floating lanterns in comes through our clan woods. I can take you there to see them if you like," the shadow user suggested. "Honestly that's what I usually do since I'm not real big on crowds."
Temari's eyes lit up, "I would like that."
"One condition though," the Nara cautioned as he held up a finger. "You tell me if you don't feel good or get light headed again. You probably should just stay here and rest, really." Temari frowned at the last statement. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Take it easy or you will end up getting carried."
"Yes, dear," Temari said imitating his parents. She swung her legs off of the bed and stood up, but found she wasn't steady and quickly sat back down. It felt as though her legs were jell-o, they simply quivered underneath her weight. Her quad muscles began to spasm uncontrollably. Temari grimaced at the pain and the thought of being weak for the moment. She glanced quickly at Shikamaru to see if he had noticed, which she could tell by the look he was giving her that he had. "I just need a few minutes, that's all. I'll be fine," she said waving her hands in front of her.
"Sure," the young man answered disbelievingly. "There's a glass of water on the nightstand there you should drink. Stay here, drink the entire glass of water, and I'll be right back," he said as he stood up and walked towards the hallway.
"Shika," Temari said hesitantly. He stopped in the doorway and turned back around. She knew only his parents addressed him that way, but it seemed comfortable for her to call him that now when no one was around. She pressed her lips together for a moment and looked up to his face, "Thank you for everything today. I owe you and your parents."
The pony tailed shinobi smiled as he traveled back to her bedside. "You're welcome," he leaned down and gently kissed her on the forehead. "Now drink your water," he commanded smirking as he turned back around and left the room.
Temari smiled to herself and drank the glass of water quickly. She decided to lie back down for a few moments while she waited for him to return. The blonde closed her eyes and listened to noises coming from somewhere in the house. It didn't sound like Shikaku and Yoshino were home, just Shikamaru possibly in the kitchen. She stretched lying on the bed as much as her muscles would allow. Footsteps came lightly back down the hall towards the room, so she opened her eyes and sat back up. Shikamaru walked just inside the doorway holding a rather large picnic basket.
"OK, how do you feel," he tilted his head as he asked to signify that she better answer truthfully.
Temari tried to stand up again, with a little more success but more difficulty than she wanted. She sat back down with a look of frustration and balled her fists up, "I'm still weak and my muscles are spasming. I probably won't be able to walk there and back if it is more than half a mile." She hated to ever admit she couldn't do something. Temari was not the type to ask anyone for help and hated not being able to take care of herself. She avoided relying on other people her entire life. She looked away from Shikamaru, "I guess I just need to go back to my place and sleep."
The young Nara slung his arm over and behind his head as he began to rub the back of his neck. "First, you're not going back to your apartment. Mom insists that you stay the night in our guest room here. If you want to go to sleep, I can leave you alone and you can. Second, if you would rather see the lanterns, I will carry you if your ego can handle it," Shikamaru walked over to the bed and set the basket beside her. "We brought back some of the best food from the festival and you can eat it here or by the river. It's your choice."
"What do you mean, if my ego can handle it?" Temari growled turning her head to look at him again.
Shikamaru couldn't help but laugh as he leaned over lowering his face so it was in front of hers, "So you're fine with me carrying you then?"
"I didn't say that!" she said back, raising her voice.
"Oh, I see. So I'm right, your ego can't handle it," he continued to wear his all knowing smirk she really wanted to smack off of his face at the moment.
"Nara," she said threateningly. The blonde really wished she had the strength to hit him in the head with her fan.
"Yes?" he answered teasingly placing his hands down on the bed on each side of her inching his face closer to hers again. Temari knew he was manipulating her, but that it was out of concern so she couldn't get too mad. "Do you want to stay here or let me take you out to the river to see the lanterns, the beautiful moonlit sky, and eat a delicious dinner?" he whispered bringing his lips close to hers and then tauntingly sliding them past so they were beside her cheek.
Temari laughed softly as she placed her hands lightly on his cheeks forcing his face back in front of hers. "Why do I have a feeling I'm going to have a hard time doing anything against your wishes?" she sighed.
"Because you are a very intelligent woman," he whispered back as he closed the distance between their lips kissing her again. This kiss wasn't a short sweet gesture like the previous ones. He slid one hand gently up into her golden hair as he nibbled on her lips for her to open her mouth in response which she did eagerly. The kiss was long and slow, the two reveling in their first "true" passionate kiss. Shikamaru's heart began to race as he enjoyed the moment.
"We should get going," he said softly as he pulled away finally. "You can hold the basket while I carry you," the Nara spoke as he placed the basket on her lap and swept her up bridal style in one smooth movement. She laughed as he carried her out of the house and into the woods of his clan. The trees were bathed in moonlight as the sound of crickets chirping and frog calls filled the woods. The light of a firefly appeared every now and then on the scenic walk towards the river. Shikamaru loved walking through the woods at night, shadows obviously didn't bother him. Temari looked around in awe like a child, her one arm making its way around his neck and shoulders to steady herself. The blonde was having a hard time keeping her eyes open even with the beautiful scenery.
Shikamaru smirked as her head occasionally fell against his chest as she fought to stay awake. She would jolt up, then slowly fade back to sleep. The exhausted kunoichi finally couldn't fight it anymore and her head fell limp against his chest once again. Her breathing became slow and steady as she fell into a deep slumber. Shikamaru laughed to himself since she looked so sweet and angelic as she slept, too bad he knew better. 'I'm the lazy one, it's not fair you get to nap when I don't,' he thought still laughing to himself.
She began to stir after 15 minutes as they neared their destination. "Why do you always have your hair up?" she murmured almost to herself. She was trying to talk to force herself to stay awake, but as Shikamaru looked down her eyes were still closed and her head was resting on his chest still.
"Nara clan men always wear their hair in the signature topknot. It's practical for battle and just how it has always been," he answered simply. "I only have it down at night or around the house, but if I go out in public it has to be up."
"May I?" the blonde asked as she moved her hand up to the ponytail finally opening her eyes. Shikamaru hesitated and looked down at her to see her looking up at him pleadingly. The shadow user sighed and nodded. No one other than his mom and dad had really seen him with his hair down, so he wasn't sure what kind of reaction Temari would have. She gently pulled his hair down and ran her fingers through his hair as he continued to carry her. They were in a darker part of the woods so it was difficult for her to see him, so she squinted her eyes trying to adjust to the lack of light. Shikamaru walked out of the tree line alongside the river where the moonlight finally hit his face. Temari let out a little gasp at the vision of the handsome young man with his shoulder length jet black hair framing his face perfectly. The Nara looked down at her again and saw her looking at him admiringly.
"Wow, I guess it's a good thing you don't walk around like that," she said trying to sound judgmental. He looked down at her with mock hurt on his face. "I would have to beat girls away from you with a stick," she added with a proud possessiveness to her voice and smug smile on her lips.
"What do you think it was like for me earlier tonight? I thought I was going to have to literally beat some of those guys away from you with a stick. " he smiled back at her. Temari rolled her eyes and then placed her head back down on his chest. "You handled yourself very well through everything. I don't think I could have been as gracious as you were." Temari smiled back up to him then nuzzled her head into the crook of his neck. She breathed deeply and noticed the Nara smelled faintly of pine and honeysuckle. He was so warm and she felt safe in his arms, they had a comforting quality to them. The blonde knew they were pretty much to their destination, so she wanted to enjoy the last few moments of being carried. "Here we are," he announced quietly as he lowered her down gently so she was standing on slightly dewy grass. "Will you be ok standing for a moment?" he asked. She shook her head yes.
Temari was standing on a gentle slope covered with a thick grass and wildflowers interspersed throughout that led down to the river. The night air was clean and crisp, the stars shining brightly above them with an occasional wisp of a cloud dotting the sky. There was a light breeze that wafted her hair around her face. The moonlight illuminated everything in white as it reflected off the river like something she had seen once in a dream. The blonde could see the lanterns floating slowly, still a ways upstream.
Shikamaru had set out a blanket and the food while she was looking at her surroundings. He walked over to where she stood to help her sit down on the blanket, which she accepted thankfully. Temari still didn't feel right. He gave her a knowing look as he handed her a large canteen of water gesturing for her to drink, which she did obediently. "Do you know the purpose of the Festival of the Fallen Leaves?" he asked as he made a plate for her. She was shaking her head yes or no as he pointed to different foods.
"I am guessing since you are asking me, that it's not something as simple as a festival to celebrate the changing colors of the leaves. It's not about foliage falling in autumn at all, is it?" she said cautiously as she took her plate. She was surprised how hungry she was after the delicious lunch she had earlier. The blonde quickly devoured her food and resumed sipping water from the canteen.
Shikamaru liked the fact that she could use logic to reason through things, that's part of what he found so irresistible about her. "No, it is not about fall foliage," he answered with a small smile. The Nara placed his hands on the ground behind him and leaned back looking up to the full moon. "The festival began as a celebration of the shinobi that had died in battle the previous year; the fallen leaves are the fallen leaf ninja," he explained. "As years have gone by the festival was expanded so the civilians could be a part of it, so now it is simply a celebration to remember those we have lost."
"Oh," mumbled Temari feeling awkward. How was she not aware of this when she is the ambassador after all? "This is the first festival since you lost…," she whispered and stopped knowing how difficult it had been for Shikamaru to lose his sensei. She scooted herself over beside him and slid one of her hands on top of his.
"Hai," he nodded as he glanced at her briefly then resumed looking up at the moon. Shikamaru interlaced his fingers with hers as he stared intently at the sky as though the answers were there. Temari assumed the same position he was in and looked in the same direction. The blonde found the view was quite breathtaking as they sat in silence.
"The Southern Cross," she observed softly. "So that is Alpha Crucis, also known as Acrux, there," she placed her face so her cheek was next to his, so she could point accurately. "It's a beautiful steel blue color which makes it stand out in the night sky," she sighed. "When I was a child I looked at the sky every night with Gaara, we should know every star and constellation by heart," she chuckled. "We pretended that star was where our mother's soul went and that she was looking down on us from there. We would even talk to her as though she would answer," the blonde said softly as she looked down at her and Shikamaru's entwined hands. "With each passing year the pain of loss gets more tolerable, but it never goes away," she added in a whisper.
"I brought two lanterns that we can light and put in the river," he said softly. "You don't have to," he added not sure how Temari would feel about such a custom. Suna didn't have much water, so he couldn't imagine they did anything with floating lanterns.
"That would be nice," she nearly whispered as she continued to look at their hands. She glanced back up to his face and gave him a small smile. Shikamaru slid his hand out of hers as he went back to the basket and pulled several things out. While he was busy assembling the lanterns Temari gingerly stood up and walked down to the edge of the water. The blonde knelt down carefully in her kimono and seated herself to face upstream, watching the lanterns float silently towards them. She was thankful that for the moment Shikamaru was busy and was unaware that she had started silently crying. Temari had not thought about the loss of her mother for years. She had tried to block out the pain of losing her mother and the gaping hole it left in her life. The kunoichi placed a finger in the cool flowing water of the river as she listened to all of the very vocal creatures of the night, trying to refocus herself. Tears continued to stream down her face as she tried to calm herself and stop their flow. The blonde heard movement coming towards her but it was too soft to be Shikamaru, so she turned slightly to see a spotted fawn only an arm length away from her. The young deer was looking at her as though it was concerned which Temari found amusing. The young one took a few more steps so it could lick the tears from Temari's face which caused her to laugh softly.
"Well, you appear friendly," she murmured softly as she reached out to pet the animal gently. "But where is your mom?" There was a snort in response from up by the tree line as if the fawn's mother new exactly what had been asked. Shikamaru had finished the lanterns and was walking over to where Temari sat with the fawn. The young Nara had a rather large smile on his face. The fawn actually laid down next to Temari and placed her head in the kunoichi's lap. The blonde smiled and continued to lightly stroke the deer's soft head occasionally scratching around the ears.
"Hoshi (star), she was simply asking and didn't see you there. Don't be so defensive," the shadow user cooed to the mother. The deer came down and greeted the young Nara which gave her a few pellets of food he had. He reassured the mother before she retreated back to the tree line and continued to look at her fawn with the stranger warily. Shikamaru sat down beside the river bank near Temari and beside the young deer. "Hotaru (firefly), you have already grown so much," he murmured softly as he slid his hand down the back of the deer. The deer lifted her head to look at him for a moment as if to say, 'of course' then placed her head back on Temari's legs. Shikamaru handed Temari a few of the pellets of food and gestured for her to feed the small deer. Temari was rather hesitant and not sure what to do so he took her hand in his.
"Hold the pellets like this, making sure your fingers are back," he used both his hands to shape Temari's. "Let Hotaru smell the food and if she wants it she will simply eat out of your hand," he demonstrated with a sweet smile.
Temari slowly moved her hand holding the pellets toward the mouth and nose of the deer lying in her lap. The deer sniffed the pellets initially then moved its head to lick up the pellets eagerly. Temari giggled at the feel of the deer licking up every last bit of food from her hand. She looked back up from the deer to Shikamaru with an expression of sheer joy at such a simple act.
Hoshi snorted again as if calling her daughter, to which Hotaru appeared to reluctantly comply. The young deer slowly stood up and licked Temari's face one last time before she ran up to where her mother stood. Temari watched the deer in awe as they walked away into the darkness of the forest. "They even have names?" she finally asked.
Shikamaru chuckled, "Of course, how else could we keep track of them? The deer in the Nara clan forest are our responsibility so we take care of them and feed them when their natural food is scarce." The young Nara added with a playful tone, "The two just here are the least friendly towards people. They usually avoid everyone other than my father, mother, and I. I wonder if what just happened is a sign…"
He quickly moved the lanterns he had assembled in between them as if to change the subject. "The lanterns from the village are almost here, so we should get these ready," he said moving one closer to her. Temari took the lantern into her hands and looked at it thoughtfully. Shikamaru removed the lighter from his late sensei from his pocket and stared at it for a moment, then used it to light the candle within his lantern. He looked at Temari who nodded for him to light hers as well. Shikamaru placed the lighter back into his pocket, and then picked up his lantern. The pair moved so they were both kneeling beside the river and sat there in silence for a few moments. "Asuma-sensei," the pony tailed Nara murmured softly as he gently placed his lantern in the water.
"Mother," Temari barely whispered as if saying the word was incredibly painful. Shikamaru inwardly cursed at himself for complaining so much about his own mother to the kunoichi. He didn't think about how hard that would be to hear for someone that lost their mother at a young age. The blonde's hands shook as she moved the lantern towards the water. Shikamaru moved swiftly behind her and reached his hands out so they were on top of hers to help her gently place the lantern in the water. "Thank you," she whispered as she tried yet again to regain her composure.
"You're welcome," he whispered into her ear as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her so she was sitting on his lap. The blonde turned around in his lap so she could wrap her arms around his neck but still face the river, lightly leaning her head against his. Their two lanterns drifted lazily down the stream just ahead of the others. He could tell she was crying even though she was trying to hide it. He simply squeezed her tighter as he let his own tears fall remembering his sensei. The pair simply sat there in silence as they watched the lanterns pass. After what seemed to be ten minutes or so Temari kissed him gently on the cheek and nuzzled her head back down into the crook of his neck. Shikamaru began to absentmindedly run his fingers through her golden hair as they sat there. The hundreds of lanterns, the stars in the sky, the bright moon, it was all so beautiful.
Temari sighed as the last of the lanterns faded into the distance knowing that it was time for them to head back. She removed her arms from around Shikamaru as she stood up slowly. The shadow user responded by standing up quickly and picking her up before she could object. He walked back over to where the blanket was still laid out and managed to pick it up, throw it in the basket, pick up the canteen, and pick up the basket with ridiculous precision all while holding Temari. This time he ran back to his home, which meant the ride was rougher, but much faster. Temari was laughing the entire way; the lazy shinobi could be motivated when he wanted to be. He walked in the front door, placed the basket in the kitchen on the table, and then continued to carry her to the guest room.
"I can at least walk from here, I am not totally helpless you know," Temari breathed trying not to laugh more. She didn't want to wake everyone.
"I know, you are actually quite the opposite. You are a strong, intelligent, and beautiful woman. Let me enjoy the last few moments of being able to take care of you for a change," he answered softly. Temari actually blushed at his words and wrapped her arms back around his neck as she buried her face into his neck. "Here we are," he announced as he stopped at the doorway. He gently lowered her to the ground and wrapped his arms around her.
"Shikamaru? Temari? Is that you?" they heard Yoshino from another part of the house.
"Yes, mom," the young Nara answered.
"There are pajamas for Temari on her bed and we are all going to the hot springs tomorrow. I think she deserves it with the day she has had," his mother yelled. "Make sure she has plenty of water and takes the electrolyte replenishing pills I placed on her nightstand."
"That sounds wonderful and thank you so much!" Temari yelled with a huge smile on her face.
"Stay right here," Shikamaru said as he slowly unwrapped his arms making sure she was steady. He quickly went back to the kitchen and returned with a pitcher of ice water. He slipped past Temari into the room and placed it on the nightstand after refilling her glass from earlier. He slid back out into the hall, "There, now you are all set."
The blonde smiled appreciatively as he wrapped his arms around her again. She wove her arms around Shikamaru in response as she buried her face into his chest one last time. He and his family were so good to her; she hoped that this was an indication of things to come for her. The shadow user pushed her away slightly so he could see her face again as he smiled at her with such warmth and adoration that Temari could feel the barriers around her heart melting away.
"Good night and sleep well," he said softly.
"Good night," she replied as she placed a hand gently on his right cheek. Shikamaru noticed something different in her eyes, but couldn't place exactly what it was. The blonde slowly leaned in kissing him slowly and gently. He felt like he may pass out now with the wave of emotions that he felt in that moment. It hit him, he knew what that look was. 'No matter how strong-minded a woman is, she will show tenderness to the man she loves' was what his father had told him. The look in the mesmerizing teal eyes of an incredibly dangerous and deadly kunoichi was one of tenderness.
Temari pulled away and smiled at him as she stepped into the guest bedroom and shut the door. "How troublesome," Shikamaru mumbled with a smile on his face as he walked to his room.
Prompt for story: .com/#/d2wta09