Ever since I got to know her, I determined that Sabaku no Temari was the strongest woman I have ever known. Stronger than Anko, with her fury, stronger than Kurenai, with her quiet discipline, stronger than Tsunade with her dedication, and even stronger than my own mother.
Temari was a woman, a kunoichi, but she was a sister, a daughter, a friend. Later, over time, she became a lover, a wife, a mother. She became stability when I lost Asuma, she became comfort when I found her underwear on my lamp that fateful morning, after I lost my innocence to her, and she simply laughed and told me to keep it as a memoir.
No one could ever say that Temari was anything short of powerful. She rustled the trees, she made men shake in their boots, and I determined that she could genuinely move mountains if she set her mind to it.
Her brothers meant the world to her, her home, Suna, was her life. They determined once, when I was on a mission as a gift from the Hokage to the Kazekage (they told me that they were in desperate need of tacticians at the time), that Temari needed to find a life outside of the desert, a life where she could bloom in proper weather, with the right conditioning, and one day, return and grace them with the presence of a woman with a life well lived.
I watched as she stood there, spine iron straight. "The sand is my home, you both know that. Ever since birth, we knew that. I'm the oldest, the one destined to have calloused hands and a bloody end defending Suna. We were all weapons, I control the wind, Gaara controls the sand, and Kankuro controls everything else. I can't leave. I won't."
"You should." Gaara said, his voice soft yet eerie, his eyes haunting and strong. "You can't stay here, you're wilting. You're still a woman Temari, and moreso, you are still a person. You have needs, you have wants, we all do. We are following them. You should not be punished because your wants lie outside of the sand."
Gaara knew what it was like. Now, he had a soft, sweet woman who showed him compassion. Matsuri, a kind girl who bravely faced her fears and later, faced her husband in a white kimono. Kankuro, too, had found comfort with a woman, a civilian who loved his puppets, who loved him, more importantly. The two brothers found their happiness, and waited for her to find her own.
At that moment, I knew I had not been called as a tactician.
"I refuse to leave the sand, Gaara, unless it's to aid it."
"Then I suppose it's a good thing that this will aid it. In an effort to show the nations that we are serious of this alliance with Konoha, we have brought up a binding legal document, and after discussion, we have decided that the best way to bind us together is through a blood bond. Temari, you are engaged to Shikamaru Nara. With this, we hope to make the alliance obvious for generations. Any persons involved in this joining will fall under joint citizenship, and until children are produced, will live in Konoha for six months of the year, and Suna for the other six."
I saw Temari open her mouth to complain, there was fury in her eyes. But Gaara's face was kind, compassionate, his eyes were soft but his air was final. "For the good of the sand, and their greatest warrior in decades." He said, and she dipped her head and walked out to pack her things.
It was January first.
I should have known tacticians weren't needed, considering it was Suna, and Suna never did anything half assed. In an hour, she was ready to leave her home for months on end. Kankuro asked her if she would like a wedding, and she replied that the document was proof enough.
We had a wedding anyway.
It was lavish, and large, done in a space between Konoha and Suna. We were the in-between lovers. There were rumors of us in every village. She faced Suna when we were married, and I faced Konoha, though the guests were not divided as we were. When she said "I do", I knew she said it to Suna.
She would honor it in sickness, in health, for rich or for poor, for better or worse, and once, she thought only death could part her from her beloved home.
When I said "I do", I said it to her. I said it to her eyes which were the perfect combination of grass and sky. I said it to her hair which was all natural and incredibly dry looking. I said it to her exotic air and her beauty, to her fierceness and her strength.
That undeniable strength, because any other woman would weep. I told her she could stay in Suna for the month off we were allotted. I could see the surprise in her eyes, it was etched in her face. I gently pushed her to her tent, told her to get dressed in traveling clothes, and that we would be off to Suna.
Only nodding, I could see how grateful she really was. It was strange to see her that way, but as we traveled, all her wedding things packed up and sent back with Gaara, she was how I always knew her. The sweat was a light sheen on her, her hands were not soft, I saw her scars, I felt her determination. I saw her sheer happiness when we hit the warm sand and the hot sun. I could have sworn that she would kiss it if she could. If only to remove the taste of me from her mouth.
I had no veil of stupidity in this marriage, I knew she wouldn't have agreed if it weren't for the bribe of the good of Suna. I knew that I would be the last man she would choose to marry.
And yet, as we laid on our bed, as far away as we could be, she turned to her side, facing me and said, simply "Of all the people they could have chosen, I'm glad it was you." And then she turned so her back faced me, and slept.
It was the same for a while, we would stay on the far side of any bed we shared, our missions were short and efficient, we were a good team and the gossip was loud.
Eventually, we moved closer to the center of the bed, and our missions grew longer and more emotional. I once was landed in the hospital for taking a katana to the torso protecting her. The scar was ugly, it was hideous, honestly. I looked at myself in the mirror after it was healed, and in genuine disgust, I spat at my reflection. She had walked in, wrapping her arms around my stomach, and tracing the scar with her rough hands.
She didn't say anything, she didn't need to. But I knew she was appreciative. And she hadn't said anything when I woke up and saw her next to my hospital bed. We had our banter, but only after a while. We were scared to test the waters, scared to break our slowly developing relationship like it was thin glass.
Eventually, we woke up in the middle of the bed, tangled in with one another, naked limbs and ugly scars and loose hair. She had a brand on her left breast from a harsh capture, I had a nasty scar on my right hip from a bad fall. I continued to take blows from weapons for her, if only so that when she undressed again, later when we were alone, she was untouched by anything except my hands. We argued about it, but finally, she stopped when I told her that I just wanted to ensure that she was mine, entirely.
I saw the guilt in her eyes when she traced her hands over my torso, over my legs and neck and arms, and there was even one on my jaw. I faced my reflection in the mirror most mornings and chuckled about how I had become my father. She was healing, even then. I saw it every day, when I'd walk out of my shower and see her milky bare back facing me as she looking out of our window, either to the sand she called home, or to the green grass I called home.
She got pregnant.
We both knew that she needed to decide. I told her it was her choice. She gave me herself, and she would give me a child. All I could give her was a choice, and I intended to do it every chance I could. That day, she grabbed several small vials and filled it with sand from various parts of Suna. One was even full of the sand from Gaara's gourd. When our six months were up, she was four months along.
She kissed Gaara and Kankuro, and told them she would visit. They nodded as if they predicted it and send her off with swift embraces and promises to visit and write.
She had the child in Konoha and she was born in the small hospital, delivered by Sakura and Ino, and her name was Shikari.
I became the Nara head, and my mother and father left Konoha to live in a small village my mother had grown close to. She kissed me twice on the cheek, and promised me that she would always be there if I needed her. I followed directly in my father's footsteps, becoming a Jounin and a general, marrying a troublesome woman.
I had a son a year later. His name was Shikasu Nara. She let the name roll off her tongue when I named him and she smiled. Shika Suna Ra. She agreed. We had only one more child, another son. She named him Sunashi.
I did not protest. I loved her from the start, we had no pretenses. She knew, and I knew when she began to love me as well. I knew Temari, and she wouldn't give me a child if she didn't love me. At birth, the children were given a vial of sand, but Sunashi was given the vial with Gaara's sand.
She has never broken in all the years I've known her, in all the years I've loved her. Our children grew up strong, Shikasu and Sunashi both had the shadow possession bloodline, but Shikari controlled wind, and Temari had TenTen make a custom fan just like hers. This one had red moons on it, and it was coated in silver.
Temari never stopped being a kunoichi. She continued taking every mission she could to Suna, and we made trips frequently. The children adored their uncles and they loved the sand and they loved the heat, but they loved the clouds as well, and the grass and trees. We requested they be put on the same team together, breaking the Ino-Shika-Cho tradition.
Seeing as Ino and Chouji died, it was bound to happen anyway. They were dubbed the Sand Siblings, version 2 and Temari was equally glad at the name. It brought back memories of home. And the kids eventually went on missions and long trips. We stayed home most of the time. I was the chief advisor during peacetime and jounin general in times of war, always a tactician, always a husband and father.
Unlike Temari, I had never been a sibling, but looking at my children, I saw how hard it was for her to leave. And at night, when I held her close and smelled her sandlewood and jasmine perfume, when my face was in the crook of her neck and I saw my teeth marks in her bare shoulder, when we were spent and tired, and ready to curl up, when I saw my scarred body reflected in her eyes, when I saw the tattoo on her other shoulder reading "Daughter, Sister, Friend, Lover, Wife, Mother" in an upside-down pyramid, I realize how strong she truly is.
And she lay there, under me one night, and spoke, in a soft whisper, not facing Suna, not facing Konoha, but facing me and the stars, "I do" and I knew, finally, that she could truly move mountains. And she was there when Shikari was married, then Sunashi, and finally, Shikasu. She was there for the birth of her grandchildren and every visit we ever made to Gaara and Kankuro, or my parents.
And finally, when Shikasu was married, I named him the Nara heir, and the three split up the fortune as they saw fit. The children were divided then. Sunashi and Shikasu remained in Konaha, while Shikari moved to Suna and became an honored kunoichi. Many spoke of how she was like her mother in Suna. Those in Konoha praised the genius of Shikasu and Sunashi, two brilliant though lazy boys.
I moved with Temari to the brittle wind and the warm sand. I woke to the sun casting golden light over her and I was content. We were not ninja anymore, we were only people. People with needs, people with wants, people who lived full lives. Konoha saw mine blossom, and Suna saw her in full bloom.
Our tale is one that could not be told if she had not been as powerful as she was, and even now, late at night, when the temperature dips to freezing in the desert, I watch her breathing and pray that she does not stop. She is as strong as she needs to be just by living.
Just by existing right there, next to me.