Chapter 1: In Which Temari Star-gaze

"Don't peek."

He frowned slightly. "Just where are you taking me?"

He could guess that they were somewhere away from the Suna village – the desert to be more specific. He could felt his feet sink deeper into the sand with every step he took as she dragged him over a small sand slope. As a result, the sand kept seeping into his open-toe sandal, and it made him feel a little uncomfortable.

He wasn't used to the desert yet to say the very least. It was his first time coming to Sunagakure for a mission - to further strengthen Sand-Leaf ties. He preferred the lush green forest over the desert any time. The forest was his home, his playground. It provided him the shade and shadows essential for his shadow skills.

"Are you scared, pineapple-head?"

He knew she was only teasing him. Scared wasn't the right word to describe his feelings. Insecure was more like it. Unlike the forest, the desert was bare and alien to him. He felt somewhat insecure being exposed in the open like that, not knowing exactly where he was headed. No, he wasn't scared or worried. He wouldn't have let her drag him on like that if he didn't trust her. And he trusts her with his life, which is more than enough.

"How troublesome…" he muttered under his breath. She heard him but merely smiled. For someone who was a genius tactician, he could be quite predictable sometimes.

After a while, she finally halted. "We're here. Now lie down."

He paused and hesitated for a moment; he wasn't sure if lying on the rough sand would be as pleasant as lying on the soft grass.

"Oi, don't just stand there. Just do as I said," she demanded.

He sighed exasperatedly. He knew better than to argue with her. He folded his arm behind his neck and lay down besides her slowly. The grains of sand were warm against his skin while the air around him was chilly. He decided then that lying in the sand wasn't half bad after all.

"Can I open my eyes now?"

"Of course."

Before he cracked his eyes open, he wondered briefly why she was so determined to bring him there in the first place. When he opened his eyes, his eyes immediately took in the sight of countless stars sprawling across the dark sky.

"Like it? Beautiful, isn't it?"

"Hmph…" he agreed that it was quite a sight but it wasn't all that special. He could watch the stars back in Konohagakure except the sky here was clearer, not obscured by the clouds.

"I'll take that as a yes. We're even now."

He raised an eyebrow and looked over at her.

As if sensing his confusion, she continued to explain, "Well, I don't like to owe people anything. You showed me the best spot to cloud-watch there; now it's my turn to show you the best spot to star-watch here. So we're even now." Then she smiled.

He could see that her smile was content and genuine and that was indeed a rare treat from her. Her smirks or grins were rather cocky most of the time and she usually hid a thing or two behind them. They were rarely as simple and genuine as that.

He found himself unable to avert his gaze away from her face while she was smiling like that. He couldn't help but think that she looked so surreal and beautiful under the stars. She was… breath-taking. He gulped and quickly turned his eyes from her face to the stars above instead when he began to feel the heat on his face.

"Whatever…" he grunted half-heartedly.

That night he barely remembered himself dreaming of stars and a blonde girl under the stars. But unknown to him, a small smile had crept to his lips in his dream.

Temari smiled to herself. It had been a long, long time since she had done this – just lain down and star-gaze.

Time spent on doing nothing was time wasted. Her life style as the strongest kunoichi in her village allowed her no room for this kind of luxury. She needed herself to be stronger; her siblings, her village needed her to be stronger. For the sake of being stronger, she had abandoned her childhood and everything it entitled. She had forgotten to appreciate how beautiful the stars were.

She stole a glance at the figure that was lying beside her. It was funny how he defied all her logic. How could she possibly lose to a lazy bum who preferred doing nothing except cloud-watching? How could he possibly be the same boy who was strong enough to defeat her yet so weak that she had even seen him cried before her once?

She remembered that afternoon. He was lying on a grassy hill when she found him after he had run off from the hospital.

"Found ya, Crybaby."

She sat down by his side.

He cringed.

"What do you want from me?" his voice was a little hoarse from the cry but it was obvious that he hadn't wanted her company at that moment.

Right, why did she even care? She thought angrily.

She stood up right away and dusted the blades of grass off her skirt, preparing to leave.

"Your father was right. You are a coward."

Just before she was about to walk away, she heard him mutter, "I know."

Somehow his words had added fuel to her fury. It burnt as if it was a personal insult to her. She turned around abruptly and clenched her fist until her knuckles turned white.

"Stand up and fight, Nara. Prove it to me that you're the one whom I lost to in the exam," she growled in a low voice.

He shut his eyes and turned his head away from her. But she wouldn't have him ignore her like that.

"Damn you! Didn't you say that you won't fail your comrades again next time? How are you supposed to do that if you won't even stand up and fight me like a man? I don't even need my fan to kick your ass right now."

His eyes snapped open at her remark at once. She had meant it that way – her words were meant to bite, to sink their fangs deep into his flesh until it provoked some kind of reaction from him. She smirked inwardly when she saw his onyx eyes harden as he stood up slowly and faced her.

Then they fought. Their fight was rather raw and neither used their trademark jutsu. They merely used Taijutsu – punching and kicking rather gracelessly at each other. At last both were panting heavily and exhausted. They finally agreed to call a truce as they both slumped to the ground.

They didn't speak or move for a long while. Both seemed to be absorbed in their own musings until she broke the silence.

"Oi, are you dead? Say something."

"Like what?" his voice was bored and lazy much like his old self.

"What do you see in the clouds? What makes them so fascinating to you? To me, clouds are just clouds."

"Being a human is too troublesome; being a cloud is much easier. Clouds don't need to worry about anything like humans. They're just floating in the sky and letting the wind decide where they go."

She broke into a huge grin.

"That sounds very much like something a lazy bum like you would say."

They spent the rest of the afternoon watching clouds and bickering occasionally. She was the one who did most of the talking, but he didn't seem to mind. They almost seemed to forget about the unpleasant incident earlier that day.

"Thank you," he said to her before she left.

"No problem, Crybaby."

She couldn't refrain from teasing him every chance she got.

That was the day she had decided that if he ever come to Sunagakure, she would show him the best spot to star-gaze.

"Oi, look! There's a shooting star."

When she heard no response from him, she shifted her head and saw that he was already asleep. She inched closer to him and watched him sleep. What caught her eyes were his lips curling upwards ever so slightly in his sleep. She wondered curiously what he was dreaming of.

"Sweet dreams, lazy bum."

She curled next to him and closed her eyes.