a/n: okay, so whatever I said last time was a lie. This is my last chapter for this collection.
I've never really ended something before. TAGAMT wasn't officially finished when I stopped it (though is completed now) and all my oneshots were different. I mean, I feel like really accomplished while I write this. Whoa.
So, for the final chapter- this began as a thought during thanksgiving and was inspired by reading multiple other stories. I have been working on it on and off since then. It takes place over the span of six years, sort of, and even the year changes not when it's been a year since they saw one another but a year on the calendar.
The characterization is how I imagine a sort of broken Shikamaru and how in meeting Temari, he is pieced back together. .
Yeah, sorry for all this. I have a lot of things to say about this chapter. Get on with it, then. And review. Closing words for the collection and all.
"Pleased to Meet You"
They met in a train station. She bumped into him by the gates. She was exiting he was entering. He knocked her, hard. She spilled her coffee over her magazine.
"Shit," she muttered, bending down to try and decrease the damage as much as possible. It was an old issue— the periodical had been disbanded years before. She was only borrowing that particular copy from another intern, and only because she'd been asked to assist in a similar design to the one in the magazine spread.
She'd cut her hair last week, impassively, up to her jaw, one length. Pieces kept falling in her eyes as her head hung down and the strands weren't long enough to put behind her ears.
It'd been a long day— hell, a long month and she was annoyed.
"I have that." The boy said.
Temari glanced up. Staring down at her was a teenager with the blackest hair she'd ever seen. His face was pale, making one drawn to his eyes, which were dark and surrounded by thick, heavy lashes. She wasn't sure why she stopped, but there was something about his expression that surprised her.
She shook it off. "You what?"
"I have that issue," he clarified. His voice had a sort of whisper to it. Temari glanced back down at the magazine and back up at him. "That one's ruined," he gestured to her copy, "I'll give you mine."
"They discontinued this magazine."
"My father used to collect them."
Temari paused and then blinked. "Your father won't mind?"
"They're mine now."
"You don't need yours?"
"You can return it."
"Ah," she nodded and slowly began to stand. "Yeah, then I'll borrow it. Thanks."
The boy gestured to the gate, "I live ten minutes from here."
"Here? I thought there were only gardens around this place." Temari knew, her internship was only around the corner. This area was only businesses and government owned-land.
The boy turned and shrugged. "It's an old house. Follow me."
He continued to the stairwell. She took a few quick steps to be behind him. "Wait, I'm Temari."
"Shikamaru," he answered without turning around.
She had finished high school only a few months before. The boy was obviously younger than her (he was also in a uniform, if she had any doubt), and she was only eighteen, but he carried himself with much more weight than it looked like he was worth. He had the passivity and calm demeanor of a man in his middle age.
They walked in silence and she found herself wondering how such a young boy came to be like him. She didn't know Shikamaru—they'd only just met—but there was obviously something… heavy, and she wondered what it could be.
He walked slowly, but didn't lug. She kept a few paces behind him. He had gone off the road a few minutes ago, and like she'd thought, this area was only gardens. Right now they were walking through a quasi-forrest, the branches high above her head, and even though it was nighttime, had it been day, she mused that the foliage was so thick that she'd be able to see about as well as she could right now.
The third time she stumbled over a root, he stopped and extended his arm. "Come on," he said in the same strange tone. Wordlessly, she grabbed his forearm a few inches below his elbow and they continued on.
Like he'd said earlier, ten minutes from the station they arrived in a large clearing in the woods. In the center of the land was an old-style house, the likes of which she had never seen outside of television. It was beautiful, large panels of dark wood gleamed in the glint from the porch lights. The house itself was big. Not uncomfortably so, but certainly large enough to house a good dozen or so people.
"This is the back entrance," Shikamaru clarified after she had let go of his arm and begun walking forward. "It's quicker, but you have to go through the woods. The front gate is on the other side of the house."
"It's a beautiful house," Temari offered. He didn't say anything.
The inside was as nice as the outside, though a little more plain that she was expecting. Not dirty, just relatively simplistic. "Is anyone here?"
"Is it okay to bring a stranger home?"
For some reason, Temari didn't feel anxious.
"I'll go get the magazine." He said after a moment and disappeared through a side door. Temari stood alone in the living room. It was hot.
"Shikamaru?" A voice called, feminine and light. Perhaps a sister? "Who are you?"
In the doorway a girl about Shikamaru's age appeared with another boy, both were in a high school uniform. "Ah, hello." Temari said. "I'm Temari."
"What are you doing here?"
"Oh, uh, Shikamaru is lending me a magazine."
"Cool," the girl said. "I'm Ino. And this is Choji." She gestured to the boy behind her. "We're friends of Shikamaru's too."
"Oh you're not siblings?"
Ino laughed and stepped further into the room. "Siblings?! We look nothing alike. We just live upstairs." Temari must have looked confused, because Ino continued. "Shikamaru inherited the house when his parents died, and our families are really close, so our parents only let us live alone on the condition that we all live together."
That changed things. "You all live alone? Aren't you awfully young?"
"Fifteen. And yeah. But we're responsible, aren't we, Choji?"
Choji nodded, but stayed silent.
"I love your hair," Ino continued, coming closer. "I'm thinking of cutting mine like that. July is too hot for long hair."
"It is nice in the summer," Temari commented.
Shikamaru came back into the room. He came to stand beside her and held out the magazine. It was exact issue she'd been carrying earlier. She smiled and took it from him.
"Are you interested in architecture?"
It was an architecture magazine, but she didn't push it. Perhaps his father had been. She wondered when his parents had died.
"So…" she ventured. He was difficult to talk to. "I'll return this to you, then?"
"Whenever you're finished."
"Right," Temari said slowly. She stepped away and took a deep bow. "Thank you so much. I'll see myself out."
"Nice to meet you, Temari!" Ino called out after her, but Shikamaru and Choji stayed silent. "Have a good night!"
The night was growing cool as she left Shikamaru's house.
She was hot.
Her head felt light and her knees weak. Not trusting herself to stand, Temari moved to sit on the bench in the middle of the platform and dropped her head into her hands.
It wasn't that she worked particularly hard and hadn't had the time to get any sort of medication, it was just that she hadn't thought she'd need to. She hadn't gotten sick in years. Not since she was a kid, in any sense. And if she was going to finish her degree in three years instead of four, she had to be more preoccupied with work than perfect health.
But she should be more prepared for this. As it was, she had nobody to call. She wasn't particularly close with any classmates. She didn't really want to bother anyone at work. She didn't currently have a boyfriend.
She didn't need to be taken care of though. She was a big girl. She could make it home on her own. Once she got on the train it was only a few stops and one transfer to her apartment.
It was probably easier to get a cab though, and Temari acknowledged this as her train pulled in. Slowly she stood up and turned away from the people exiting to metro to walk slowly and unevenly to the gates. She'd gotten off work about half an hour ago, so the cabs would still be running around the area looking for businessmen to pick up.
"Hey, are you okay?" Someone asked.
Temari waved them off, "fine," she muttered. Her bones felt weak though, and when she stumbled, a strong arm reached out to catch her. "Thanks."
"You look sick."
"I'm on my way home."
"Where do you live?"
"On the west side of the city," Temari managed.
"Our house is closer!" A new voice said, "come stay with us, we'll take care of you!"
"Ino," the man with the arm warned. "She wants to go home."
A hand hit Temari's forehead and felt around for a moment. "She has a fever. I can take care of her."
"She's Shikamaru's friend... Temari, right? He wouldn't want us to just abandon her in the station."
Temari struggled to wave them off. She remembered them now, but the images were hazy. She remembered Shikamaru though.
"It's ten minutes, Choji, and you can carry her on your back, can't you?" Temari could feel herself fading quicker now. Even using Choji's elbow for support, she registered the black starting to surround her vision.
"One immunology elective and you think you're an expert."
"Of course I don't, I just—"
When Temari woke up, it was dark outside. She was by a window, one she didn't recognize. Her head was still heavy and her body felt weak. She groaned.
A moment later, a cool cloth touched her forehead and she blinked to see Shikamaru sitting above her. His hair was longer than she remembered and his face significantly warmer. He wiped down her sweat and then place the cloth beside him.
His hand reached out and brushed beneath her bangs to rest against her forehead. Wearily, Temari reached up and placed her palm atop his hand, holding it in place. "So cold," she whispered.
"Shh," he said, pulling his hand away. She closed her eyes and fell back to sleep.
"Are you feeling better?" Ino asked the next day. "You had a really high fever last night."
Temari took a sip of the orange juice in front of her. When she'd woken up this morning, someone had lain out an extra set of clothes for her to wear. They were most likely Ino's, although they certainly didn't appear to be in her style— though to be fair, apart from her jeans today, the only other time Temari had seen her, she'd been in a school uniform.
"Not particularly great," she said lamely, "but certainly better."
"Well, it's a start. Shikamaru said you woke up a dozen times during the night, so he was able to get a lot of medicine down you."
"I thought you wanted to take care of her," Choji commented, eating the pancakes Ino had made. "Practice your nursing…"
"I did! Shikamaru was up anyway, so he offered to take the night shift… doctors don't work 24/7, Choji."
Temari coughed and waved her hand in front of her. "He was with me the whole night?! You didn't need to take shifts, please don't put yourself out on my behalf! You already did enough."
"Don't worry about it," Choji said, "trust me, being a doctor excites her. If anyone is put out here, it's you. We basically kidnapped you from that station."
She laughed, "not at all. I'm definitely in your gratitude."
Choji had finished his pancakes and stood up from the counter. "You can owe Shikamaru a favor, then."
"Shikamaru? What about me?"
Choji handed passed Ino to get to the sink, "you're right," he amended, turning on the water and washing his plate, "you owe Temari a favor."
Temari stepped outside. The air was dry and crisp. There'd been little snow this year, but it looked like this house and surrounding area had gotten some. There was an old snowman to the right of the backyard.
From the bushes, Temari could see the path Shikamaru had led her through the first time she came here. She'd never actually seen the front gate, so she figured she'd probably leave through the woods again in a few hours. Ino insisted she stay to continue quasi-checking on her condition.
Temari took a few more steps down the stairs of the porch and tilted her head back. She hadn't seen the sky in what felt like a very long time.
Her head snapped down. Shikamaru stood by the bushes that marked the entrance to the back path. He was wearing a black coat and thick wool scarf. His hair was longer, as she remembered from last night, and his eyes no less intimidating.
She gave him a smile, "yeah."
He came closer and extended his right hand, which held a plastic bag. "Take it."
"It's medicine. Ino told me to buy it."
"Oh." Temari reached forward and took the bag from his hand. Their fingers brushed. His were very cold. "And thank you."
He said nothing.
"For last night, I mean."
"Choji and Ino were the ones that brought you home."
Surprisingly, Temari felt a light blush spread across her cheeks. "Ah, I know. Thank you for everything else, though."
Shikamaru cocked his head and blinked. Then straightened. "Take better care of yourself." He said shortly, before moving past her and walking up the porch stairs.
The next time she was with him, it was for work.
It was completely coincidental. Just as it had been when they'd met and the time they saw one another after that.
Surprisingly, she'd seen him at the station three days before. It'd been unusual to see him. Logically, there was the possibility of seeing him everyday. Her work was only a few minutes walk from his home; they both traveled from the same train station. Yet, she came early and left late, often before and after regular school hours. Sometimes she saw students, but rarely, and not once had she seen Shikamaru.
But that morning she had. He was standing across the platform and to the left, watching an empty spot with no outward expression. He was obviously going to school, in his uniform and with his bag over his shoulder.
Then a man, a much older one, came up to him and patted his shoulder. The man said something and Shikamaru changed his expression.
It wasn't that Temari noticed she hadn't seen him smile. It wasn't something the necessarily thought about, but when she saw him smile for the first time, it suddenly struck her that she had never seen the expression on him before. What kind of person didn't smile?
Well, apparently he did. Just not for her.
For the older man, though. He was in his mid-forties, with blonde hair and high cheekbones. He obviously knew Shikamaru, though Temari had no clue as to who he was. She had little to go on, she'd allow. After all, she had only met Shikamaru twice. But she knew enough to realize that he wasn't the social type, seemed to enjoy no club activities, and had no parents to speak of. But the man didn't set her off. In fact, Shikamaru seemed more comfortable than she'd ever seen, and, if anything, she felt curious, and perhaps, quite surprisingly, jealous.
It was then, three days after seeing him in the station, that Temari met the older man.
She worked for an ad agency, and on this particular advertisement—for a shoe company—her company was merging with another. The man at the station was director of the other company her office was working with.
She recognized him immediately. It was funny, she supposed, that they'd meet like this. And before they even took a break so she could inquire his relation to Shikamaru, the man changed images on the projector screen to show a photograph of an old house and large garden.
The picture was old, the coloring obviously from a decade or so before. But one could still see the vivid color of the flowers and the free-growing grass. It was a beautiful image, and one she recognized, though it took a moment.
"That's where Shikamaru lives," she mumbled.
The man turned to her. She was only a part-timer, and was surprised he'd been paying enough attention to even hear.
"Ah, you know Shikamaru?" The man asked, quite taken aback.
Temari hesitated, then nodded.
The man thought this over. "I didn't know he had other friends," he said after a moment.
Temari wouldn't classify herself as a friend, but she nodded anyway.
"So you know the Nara residence?"
She nodded again. She'd never actually known Shikamaru's last name, but Nara seemed relatively fitting.
"And you think it would be right as the background for the ad?"
Temari glanced around the rest of her table, and after getting a nod from her boss, scooted forward in her seat. "I do," she hadn't thought about it before, but Shikamaru's place was ideal for this, actually a number of, ad(s). "It's hard to find old resident buildings like that anymore, especially ones as beautiful as this."
"I'm glad you think so," the man said, smiling, "the customer was the one who picked it out."
When they went on break, he approached her. "So you know Shikamaru?" The man asked casually, handing her a coffee. Temari thanked him and took it.
"Not really," she admitted, "he and his friends took care of me once when I was sick."
"Oh?" He raised his eye brows, looking quite surprised. "I've never known Shikamaru to have many friends," he admitted.
"Ah, he lives with—"
"Yes, but I meant apart from Ino and Choji." The man looked at her and smiled, "they're more like siblings. They were raised together. What I meant was, he doesn't have many friends, so I'm glad you two get along." Temari had never said anything like that, considering she didn't think they got along very well. But she said nothing, only nodded.
"Are you friends with him as well?" He was surely older, but Temari wouldn't put it past him.
The man laughed, "I'm Ino's father." Temari was slightly embarrassed that she hadn't seen the likeness before, as they looked quite similar, "but I was friends with Shikamaru's parents."
"Oh," she exclaimed, embarrassed she hadn't realized it beforehand. "Of course you're Ino's father."
"Takes after me, does she?" He laughed.
"What are you doing here?" He asked.
He was standing in the garden with his hands tucked into the pockets of his coat. It had rained the night before, and now, a little after nine am on the morning of the shoot, the grass was wet and the air crisp. His dark pants were tucked into rain boots and big scarf was wrapped around his neck and tucked into his jacket.
He looked thinner than before, more chap too, both probably relating to the harsh weather that preceded the niceties of spring.
Temari blinked, "working."
He looked surprised.
"This my job, you know." She said with a tinge of sarcasm. "Advertising. Thank you, by the way, for letting us use your property." Actually, she was only there because Mr. Yamanaka had asked for her to act as the liaison between the two offices. Her boss wasn't in any position to refuse, and thus Temari was standing in the back yard of the Nara estate.
He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again. She didn't know how to follow, so a short, and surprisingly weighted, silence ensued.
"Ah, also," she said after a moment, "thank you for last time." Temari grinned, "for last month, I mean."
"You're an adult." He said seriously, "learn to take care of yourself."
"Fainting in the station is irresponsible."
"What are you—," she shook her head, "I don't particularly like you."
Shikamaru didn't give any sort of reaction, just looked at her for an annoyingly long time and then turned around and walked to the back porch.
What was that about? He'd never been particularly nice, so she couldn't exactly be surprised.
More than that, though she was loath to admit, he was kind of right. She had overworked herself. And had Choji and Ino not been there, it could've turned out a lot worse.
But that didn't give him enough—any, really—sufficiency to ride her about it. Greatly annoyed, Temari made her way back over to where people were setting up for the photoshoot. The models each for heavy coats that would later be shed as the wore lighter outwear. Mr. Yamanaka was standing over everyone, holding a steaming paper cup of tea. When he saw her, he beckoned her over.
"How are you doing?"
She shrugged and burrowed further into her own scarf. "Cold."
"You're always welcome to wait inside, there's only so much you can do out here."
Their conversation halted for a moment as the shoot started. The models slipped off their down coats and started posing on the porch.
"I didn't know you and Shikamaru were so close," he said after a few minutes, completely taking her by surprise.
"What? No, we're not."
He smiled, "Shikamaru doesn't like many people. I'm glad he likes you."
Temari was quite sure the opposite was true. Even in the times he wasn't being straightforwardly cold, he was being unresponsive, at least in all of her experience with him. It was a sharp contrast to the treatment Choji and Ino gave her, and she would much sooner call them friends than she'd call him one.
This was the second time Mr. Yamanaka had mistaken her for being Shikamaru''s friend, but she still didn't correct him. He clearly cared for the kid— she was in no position to explain that they didn't get along.
"When I used to live here," Mr. Yamanaka continued, "there were always people bustling in and out. Today is kind of like a reminder of my youth."
"You used to live here?"
He nodded, "when we were young, Shikamaru's father decided to turn this place into a boarding house."
Temari glanced around, remembering the photograph he had shown in the meeting the week before. It really was a beautiful house, and it was easy to imagine as a boarding house .
"At any given time, ten to twenty people could be staying here. It was a much more lively place back then." He paused. "It was very hard for Shikamaru when he parents died, as you'd expect, I guess. It was about five years ago, so he wasn't very old at the time, but old enough…" Mr. Yamanaka exhaled, "He'd been looking out the window all day; when I came, he was upstairs watching the garden. He didn't move until you walked in through the back path. I watched him leave the window and run down to talk to you."
Temari said nothing, unsure how to respond.
"He is a very passive person. His father was lazy, and I think that is where he gets it from, but his father wasn't passive. Shikamaru doesn't speak much and he doesn't understand empathy."
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because," Mr. Yamanaka said slowly, "he came downstairs as soon as he saw you. I haven't seen Shikamaru do that since he was a child." He gave a small smile and rubbed his chin. "I'd appreciate it, as a favor to myself, if you would come by more. Please continue to be his friend."
Temari leaned back in her kitchen chair, running a hand through her hair. It was growing longer, and she had thought about it cutting it recently. Last August, she'd cut it all off, but now it was almost June, and she hadn't had a decent cut since.
She was in a pair of drawstring pants and sleeved shirt that was comfortably loose. She had had trouble sleeping lately. It wasn't anything conscious. She had no anxiety she was aware of— or nothing critical. She worked hard, and that came with a bucket of stress, but there was nothing out of the ordinary that she had to be worried about.
Temari brought her left knee to her chest and placed the pads of her fingers on the table before her, pulling back a photograph.
Three weeks ago, someone in the office had brought in the images from the photo shoot at the Nara residence from March. The ad was in print now, and the remaining frames were going to be filed away. Temari had shifted through them with a colleague half-heartedly until one popped out at her.
She remembered the moment when the picture had been taken. Everyone was on break, and she and Choji were sitting on the back porch when Shikamaru walked past them on his way to the store.
The photographer had stopped him and asked to take a picture.
"Why?" He had asked, in the blunt manner of his.
The photographer, a man in his later thirties frowned, "because," he'd said simply, "you're beautiful."
Of course he was. Temari knew it. Anyone with sense could tell; physically, at least. He had those simple, angled features, but it was the gaze, along with his coloring, that made his appearance so interesting. He had dark eyes surrounded by heavy, darker, eyelashes. His eyes were never dull, always bright and alive, which seemed to completely contrast his personality. His skin was light and his hair thick and black. It was growing longer, and it didn't appear to have been cut in a while. Now, the back reached his shoulders, and was probably long enough to have to be put into a ponytail when he washed his face.
Sighing, Temari pushed the thought aside. Since when had his habits or the details of his appearance concerned her? He might have been pretty, but it was no matter to her. She didn't like his personality.
Anyway, she thought, he is much more attractive when he smiles. In the photograph before her, he was just looking at the camera impassively, but she remembered the time in the train station at which he'd smiled at Mr. Yamanaka.
When he smiled, his whole face lit up. He'd never smiled like that for her.
But why did she care? She shouldn't. Sure, she sympathized with the loss of his parents, but after so long, Shikamaru had no standing to be so… rude.
Except he wasn't rude. Maybe in tone, but everything he said to her was neither kind nor cruel. It was straightforward. And she was pretty sure, if she argued him on it, he would let her go.
But either way, that didn't give her an excuse to like him. They had expertly clashing interests, she could tell. There was no basis to enjoy his company, much less to be so interested.
Then again, she mused, she liked Ino, very much, in fact. But she didn't steal photographs of Ino out of the file and study them on the kitchen table.
She had gone out with Ino frequently over the year.
This time, Temari had run into her around the office, and Ino had asked her out. That had been in January, a few months short of a year since they last saw one another.
They'd gone for coffee. There was a place a half mile from the office and Shikamaru's house. They'd walked there, stayed, talked about school and college applications, walked back, and parted ways.
They met again not long afterwards. And then again. And again.
"We all got in," she said one weekend morning over breakfast in later March.
"Good," Temari commented, sipping her coffee, "that's where you wanted to go, isn't it?"
Ino nodded, "yeah. We're all going to attend too."
"You want to stay together?"
Temari licked her lips, "you know," she said unsurely, "people usually try to attend a university far from home and with all new people. You're going to miss the chance to 're-invent' yourself.'"
"But I don't want to reinvent myself," Ino defended, "anyway, I don't want to stay in dorms with young girls who have never been out of the house before. Could you imagine?"
Temari nodded, "I do go to college too, you know."
"The point is, can you really have many new experiences, or 'college experiences' rather, if you live in the same house as you did during high school? With the same people as well?"
She shrugged, "I have friends outside Choji and Shikamaru." It was true, Temari had seen Ino with a cluster of attractive young girls, and some boys, a few times before, and she knew a handful of them by name. "Plus, they're more like siblings. So really, I'm just attending school with my family, I guess. And honestly, I am more independent living on my own than I would be in a dorm with dozens of others."
"Siblings?" Temari asked, regretting the comment as soon as she'd said it, even if she was only half-serious, "aren't you supposed to choose one?"
"Not you too."
"My father asked me that last year."
"Well," Temari said, tracing the pad of her pointer over the lip of her mug, "isn't it kind of a given?"
"That I end up falling in love with one of them?"
Ino pantomimed choking.
"I always thought you and Shikamaru would make an attractive couple."
"For one thing," Ino said quickly, "if anyone is getting together, it's Choji and I. Still not happening, but I'd sooner end up with him than Shikamaru."
Her conviction was surprising. "Hm?"
Ino was silent, moving fingers over her mug again. "I just couldn't handle him, is all." She pulled a lock of hair behind her ear and looked at the table with thoughtful eyes. "He's changed a lot though," she said slowly, thinking it over, "recently. He talks more and smiles sometimes. Choji and I tried everything, but we were never able to help him."
"No," Ino continued, "we never did. We support him, I guess. But we don't help him. He needs someone who can help him." She grinned and glanced up, "that's why I'm glad you're friends!"
"What are you doing here?"
It was late July, a day very much like the one when they'd first met. He was in the second-floor hallway, leaning out the open window and calling to her. She'd barely made it into the yard before he yelled after her.
She raised her arm to emphasize the bag she was carrying. Looking up at him, she ran a hand through her hair. "Dinner."
He waited for a moment, and then moved away from the window. Temari, assuming he was going to come re-enact the same conversation from the last time they'd met the past year, stood rooted in her spot.
It was hot though, and underneath her skirt, she could feel sweat running between her thighs; she felt the need to fidget.
A few moments later, Shikamaru came onto the porch. "You brought dinner?"
"I brought dessert. I'm invited to dinner."
"Ino called me last week and invited me. She said Choji was cooking."
"Ino called you?" The question wasn't rhetoric in tone, more genuine with surprise. "She has your number?"
Shikamaru opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again. She'd been expecting something harsher, but when he finally came out with: come inside, it is hot out here, she'd been surprised.
She glanced up at the window where he'd been one last time, remembering how she'd looked up there last time to see, as Mr. Yamanaka had said, Shikamaru watching her from behind the window. Was he always looking out the window? Or did he only watch her?
Her neck burned as she walked inside.
"Are you excited for school to begin?"
Shikamaru was sitting across from her, leaning back on his hands and his legs crossed beneath him.
"College is a big deal," she continued when he didn't respond. "The time of your life, supposedly."
"We're not moving out. It will probably be just like high school."
"You don't have to live on campus to enjoy it. There are more parties. Sex, alcohol, no uniforms."
"You dropped out of college."
Temari sighed. "That's different." Her job had become too demanding, and they'd offered her good pay for a full-time position.
Actually, she could make much more money if she took the promotion they were offering her. Three new branches were opening out of the country, and they were offering her to help run any one of them. The younger staff were all taking the jobs. As of now, she was the only one who held out.
There was no reason she shouldn't leave. She had nothing tying her down here. She had few friends and none worth staying a year. And yet, she hadn't given her company a conformation yet.
"The point is," she continued, "it's an exciting time for you. I know Ino and Choji are looking forward to it."
Shikamaru glanced to the side.
"I don't think much will change. I switched schools a lot when I was younger. They're all the same, aren't they?"
"You have very set convictions for someone so young."
"You're not much older than me." He said pointedly. She couldn't disagree. She wasn't that much older. He wasn't a kid anymore.
"Don't say stupid things like that," she said instead.
"What are you doing?" She asked when he followed her out that night. They were on the back trail that led to the train station.
He averted his eyes to the ground and kicked a pebble before looking back at her. "I can walk you to the station."
"Why would you do that?"
"You're a guest," he said patiently, "isn't it what I'm supposed to do?"
He'd never offered to walk her before. Choji or Ino often inquired, but Temari usually turned him/her down. She knew the way, and walking through the woods, especially in the setting sun of mid-summer, was a nice silence.
"You don't have to, I know how."
"I want to." His face didn't change with the confession —could it even be called that? emission, maybe— but hers certainly did.
Temari raised her brows and then shrugged. "Sure." Her body felt warm.
"Shikamaru takes nothing and leaves nothing. He lets everything pass him by, less like a leaf that flies where the wind takes it, but more of the rock in the stone that lets the wind pass it by."
"That's an awfully poetic thing to say."
"It's a quote I read," Ino admitted, "but I though it fit."
"Oh? So he's like the rock?"
They were in a cafe near Temari's apartment, drinking iced coffee. It was early August.
Ino nodded. "He is going to take over the company one day. He doesn't particularly want to, but there isn't anything else he wants to do." She twirled her straw around in her glass. "He doesn't say so, but I can tell."
"He must have some other interest?"
Ino thought about it. "Not really. He used to play the piano, when we were young, and he enjoyed reading more than the rest of us. But he doesn't do those things anymore."
"Hm. Anyway, you're eighteen soon, right?"
"Right. So, when you become an adult, you usually start branching out and choosing a definitive interest. He'll have more electives in college and will eventually have to choose a major."
"I don't think being a legal adult will have any affect on his interests." Ino muttered. "After all, Shikamaru's been more or less and adult for the last eight years."
"You've been hanging out here a lot," Shikamaru said one afternoon as he was walking in and she was walking out.
"You are." He agreed.
"It is a boarding house, you know," he said, "if you're over so often, you might as well talk to Inoichi about moving in. He owns the house until I turn twenty-one."
The comment, said passively, took Temari completely off-guard. "I... uh—, and live with a bunch of freshman, no thank you." She waved her hand and brushed off the invitation.
The corners of Shikamaru's mouth turned up in something that resembled a small smile and he cast his eyes toward the ground. Her heart beat faster. Quickly, Temari excused herself and continued on.
When Temari arrived, the party had already begun. She saw some people she recognized, mainly a few friends she'd seen Ino with before and then Mr. Yamanaka and someone who looked shockingly like Choji, whom she assumed to be his father. There was also the girl with long dark hair Temari had seen walk home with Shikamaru twice in the last week.
She was still with him now, sitting at the table with him and Choji, talking to make up for the lack of participation from the other two. Shikamaru and Choji were best friends, but neither were particularly talkative—though neither were shy nor incapable—but they were completely comfortable in one another's presence. Temari knew what it was like to be between the two of them, trying to make up for a tension only she felt.
But she felt no sympathy for the girl, and so she moved away and went to go greet Mr Yamanaka.
"Her name is Reiko." Choji said later that night.
Temari nodded and glanced over to the corner where the girl and Shikamaru were talking.
"She is in his economics class."
"Good," she said, smiling softly. It was good that someone was interested in Shikamaru. Of course, he was attractive. But that went only so far. His presence wasn't joyful and most people didn't want to take on the burden of loving someone like him.
Temari certainly didn't want it. Had she any sense, she would leave the house and stop catching glances with a broken boy fresh out of high school.
The girl seemed nice enough. And she was pursuing Shikamaru, which made her worth it. Temari wasn't pursuing him, in any view. But there as still something about Reiko that she found annoying. Wasn't it awfully presumptuous to think you were worth it, that you were worth him?
She stopped and turned around, her eyes moving up the second-floor window.
"What are you doing? Go back downstairs."
He ignored her. "Are you leaving?"
She nodded. "I have things to do tomorrow."
Shikamaru thought this over. "Can you stay?"
She had stayed an appropriate time, certainly. She'd waited for cake and had the obligator conversations with everyone she knew. She'd avoided Shikamaru for most of the night, both because she'd rather not engage with him and because he'd been seemingly busy. By the time she'd looked for him to say goodbye and wish him a happy birthday, he was nowhere to be seen.
"Just for a minute," he continued. "I'll be right down."
Temari paused, bit her lip, then nodded and he disappeared from the window.
"You know," she said, lighting up her cigarette and taking a long inhale, "when we met, I was the age you are now."
"I must have seemed young."
Temari chuckled and leaned against the porch. "Yeah, I guess you did."
They remained in silence for a little while.
She glanced at him in question, tapping the cigarette between her fingers to rid of some ash. He rarely said her name.
"I'm thinking of dropping out."
"You've been in one week." She took a drag. "That's an awfully swift judgement, don't you think?"
"I never really liked school."
"No one likes high school."
"I didn't dislike it," he amended quickly, "…I just didn't care for it. And college isn't particularly different."
"It's only been a week," Temari repeated, "things change."
Shikamaru looked at the floorboards.
Things changed. He'd changed. He wasn't as quiet as he was last year or the year before that. He was shy, but he'd certainly warmed to her over time. School changed. Ino and Choji changed. Temari herself had changed. She had a job now. She paid her taxes. She owned an apartment.
"Is there a point?" He asked after a while.
Temari frowned. "That's a stupid question."
"For me, I mean… ah, there's no real point for me to stay. I'm learning, I guess… but, I won't need it. When I turn twenty-five, I'll inherit the company. I'm just killing time before then, aren't I?"
Temari opened her mouth to speak, but then shut it again. She remembered what Ino had said to her, about how Shikamaru took nothing and left nothing, but let everything pass by without personal thought. She finished the cigarette and put it out with her boot before picking it and walking inside the house to throw it away, all the while gathering her words.
When she came out, Shikamaru was sitting on the edge of the porch, legs crossed beneath him.
"Dropping out is a mistake." She said plainly.
He looked surprised. She came and sat down beside him.
"You can do whatever you want, you know? …You don't have to be an architect. The company— you don't have to inherit it."
"Yes, I do."
Temari rested her hand on his forearm. Her words came out slowly. "You don't have to do everything you're told, Shikamaru. Waiting aimlessly until you're old enough to take over a business that you don't even care for is… idiotic." She stopped and took a long breath, waiting to see if he'd correct her on her interpretations. "You're an adult now— make you're own decisions."
"It's my obligation—"
"No it isn't! Stop being so fucking passive, Shikamaru."
The silence between them this time wasn't comfortable. It was hard and icy and she instantly regretted what she'd said. But she didn't take it back.
She was staring at the ground, but she could feel the moment when he turned his head to look at her. She'd only ever seen him wear a handful of expressions, and she could easily picture the one he was wearing now- irritated and hurt.
"Shikamaru…" she tried softly, turning her head to meet his gaze, but she wasn't able to finish the sentence.
Perhaps she had sat down too close to him to start with or perhaps he'd moved closer sometime between then and now, but either way, at the moment he was too near, wearing an expression she'd never seen before. Her heart beat quicker.
"You know," he said quietly, seemingly unperturbed, "sometimes when you look at me, your eyes grow darker? What does that mean?"
Like a bolt of lightening hitting her core, Temari jumped back and snapped her gaze back to the ground, biting the back of her hand as her face heated.
He had asked honestly, completely unaware of any meaning behind the question and the answer. But she knew it. She'd known it, for much too long. And she'd denied it, for longer.
He was only a child, and a lost one at that. She had no right and certainly no backing to be feeling this way.
"Temari?" He prompted when she didn't respond.
The decision came in an instant. She had no lingering feelings and no wayward intentions. She knew now why she'd neglected making the decision. But she also knew why she had to make it. The transfer would be good for her, because if she stayed here any longer, she would fall in love with Shikamaru Nara, and that wasn't okay.
The night was black. Not a single star peeked out of the skies. Lanterns were lit along one of the buildings on the residential street she was walking up, lugging one wheeled suitcase behind her and a duffle almost half her size of her shoulder. She'd shipped most of her belongings home already, but not enough to give her a light bag.
She had been slowly making her way home to her old apartment, bags and all, when a figure emerged from around the corner of the cross street. She'd ignored him, but when his face was close enough to make out, she recognized it immediately.
Shikamaru turned to her and gaped, obviously quite surprised by the sudden meeting.
"T— Temari? What are you doing here?"
She shrugged, playing it cool though just as taken aback. "My apartment is a few blocks down."
He rubbed his neck and glanced down at the ground for only an instance before meeting her eyes. She found nothing calculating about his gaze, which was surprising, considering there usually was something… different there, but today he looked, well, okay. "I mean here?"
She wove her eyes back over her bags, "just got in."
"Ah," he reacted, completely innocently and young and so different. "Sorry." He reached for her duffle bag.
"It's fine, I got it."
"No, I'll help." Reluctantly—but not really, he'd been bigger than her for a few years now— she handed over the duffle. He held it by his side and began walking in the direction she gestured. "I've never been to your apartment before." He blinked and looked back at the ground. "I want to see where you live."
"I haven't lived there for a year, you know."
She didn't know how to respond, so they kept walking in silence.
They hadn't kept in contact. He had turned nineteen over a month ago. She had last seen him on his eighteenth birthday.
Her decision to leave wasn't based on him. She'd had other reasons to spend a year out of the country, helping to open the new branch. He had only prompted her choice. He hadn't been the reason.
Or at least, not the sole one.
She had texted Ino a few times, maybe once a month or so, but that was all. Of course, Ino had always spoken about Shikamaru. For some reason Temari couldn't understand, while she was certainly closer to other members of his household, she continued to be regarded as 'Shikamaru's friend.'
He'd been good, Ino'd said. He was into his second year of college now—he'd decided to stay—and was narrowing in on a business major. He'd even dated that girl that'd been at the party. She'd ended it, according to Ino, but Shikamaru hadn't been broken up about it; but he wouldn't, would he? He wasn't like that. He didn't care about other peoples feelings.
They came to a stop at the foot of her building.
"I have nothing to offer you." Temari said slowly. "I rented it out, but they've been gone a few weeks, so all the food is probably gone too."
"I'm not hungry."
Temari sighed and rubbed her eyes. She'd planned on crashing hard when she came home, but while her body still felt weak from the move, her mind was very fully awake and aware of the person next to her.
"There is a convenience store on the main street," Temari said, "go buy us something to drink. I'm in 4B."
He was surprised.
"Is that okay? You're old enough now, right?"
Shikamaru set down the duffle bag. She saw sweat on his neck and realized that perhaps he wasn't as strong as she'd thought. He was still only a kid. It was easy to forget that. But he had walked the whole way without switching hands or position once.
"I… we've never gone out drinking before."
He glanced down at the floor. "You always go with Ino."
"Do you go drinking with other people?"
"Huh? No. Not at all."
For some reason, Temari found herself grinning. "Just grab some beer," she said, grabbing her bags and pushing open the lobby door, "and come find me."
"You look so comfortable."
Shikamaru raised his brows. He was reasonably drunk by now, but was holding his alcohol well.
"With drinking," she answered. "I don't remember you being so casual beforehand."
"It's been a long year."
Temari laughed. It certainly had been. "So, how is everything? How's school?"
"And Choji and Ino?"
"They're good. They've missed you."
"The feeling's mutual."
There was a pause and Shikamaru straightened his back.
"Why did you leave?" He asked eventually.
"For work, remember?"
"No." He said. "Why did you choose to leave us?"
"A year is a long time."
"You're right," Temari said the first time she saw Ino, "he has changed."
"He missed you."
"I doubt that."
"I don't know if you understand, Temari," she said, crossing her arms over her chest, "you changed him. We've all realized it. Did you know, after his parents died, he stopped playing chess?"
"He played chess before?"
"He won chess. And then when he heard you'd left, he decided to join the chess club. I hadn't seen him play in almost a decade. He is practically the head of it now— undefeated by all members and anyone else whom challenges him."
"It has nothing to do with me."
"Doesn't it? Don't you see? He wants to be good enough for you."
"What?" Temari scoffed. "What are you talking about?"
Ino shrugged, and exhaled, "I don't know. Choji is the one who said it: 'he wants to be her equal,' something like that. I think it's true though. We tried everything we could, but we thought he would never change. Honestly," she looked down and continued slowly, "I thought he was going to be like that forever."
Temari didn't know what to say.
"Thank you," Ino continued after a while, "for helping him."
She'd realized it during her year abroad.
If she was truthful, she'd known it earlier on. It was why she'd left him in the first place.
But when the feeling finally daunted and then sat with her, deep in her gut and tying her chest, she'd been a hundred miles away.
They talked more than they used to the next few months, but not as frequently as she would have liked.
They took walks in the park, and every now and then, Temari took one of the empty rooms on the first floor and spent the night.
She was in love with him. It was far beyond a crush and skipping over any gradual lust. There was lust—plenty of it—but sex wasn't what occupied her mind. It wasn't the process of attraction, then sexual urges, and then romance. The love, the yearning and caring, had built without any realization and then slowly prcked its way into her conscious.
If she were being honest, she'd come back for him too.
She'd come back to him. So that maybe, one day, he'd feel the same way. But she was content to wait for him. Choji had said he was becoming a better person for her, and Temari was satisfied to let him come to her.
The first time Shikamaru smiled for her— not in her direction, or at a joke or anything like that— was New Year's. They were at Mr. Yamanaka's home to celebrate. It was a massive party, one akin to those she'd attended in college. Swanker, certainly, but still booming with noise and heat from near pressed bodies. Temari's dress was loose, practically baggy, black silk with one string around her waist to cinch it.
She was aware that the straps on her shoulder looked ready to come off; it was the appeal of the dress. It was long and covered almost all of her leg and torso, but was easy to get off— noticeably.
Falling straps were a consequence of the plain sexuality of the dress, and she took it in heed, pulling them up every now and then. Until at one point, Shikamaru did it.
"Oh," she'd said, not even aware he'd been behind her. "Thank you."
His eyes crinkled and his lips turned her insides coiled. He was smiling.
He moved to pull up the other one, but waved him away, quite unsure and feeling stifled. "I got it."
Shikamaru lost his smile and shrugged, turning away from her and back to the party. The moment was tight, and she could tell he felt it. "You told me to stop being so passive," he said lightly.
There was a pause.
She wondered if he'd knew what he'd said. Or if he knew what he did to her— what he'd always done to her, even then.
"Come on," Temari said eventually, grabbing his elbow and dragging him through the crowd. "I want to show you something."
"Show me what?"
"It's a surprise."
"It's almost midnight."
But she ignored him, fingers clenching into his elbow, and he didn't put up much of a fight. She pulled him through the house, stopping only when she came to one of the closed doors. Technically, there wasn't a rule against going into closed doors, but she supposed it went far past common courtesy when in someone else's home.
But Temari had been wandering around earlier in the night, and her aimlessness had led her here.
"We probably shouldn't—"
"Sh," she said quietly, letting go of his arm and turning the knob. As earlier, it wasn't locked.
The room was mostly empty, a few unused chairs and what appeared to be miscellaneous storage, mostly. A lamp was left on from when Temari had first entered a few hours before. In the middle of the near wall was a grand piano, most likely out of tune and carrying a fair subscription of dust, but certainly not out of order.
Shikamaru stopped in the doorway, his eyes scanning the area before setting on the piano and blinking.
"You play, don't you?"
Shikamaru licked his lips. "I used to."
Temari reached over and grabbed his wine glass from where he was dangling it by his thigh. He let it go easily, eyes not moving off the instrument. She then stepped back and watched him watch the piano.
"Play for me."
He looked over at her, "it's been ten years."
She mouthed please in a half-joking manner, but his expression was serious, and she quickly sobered. His expression wasn't cold, nor was it warm, just kind of quiet. But it gave her a tight feeling in her chest. It was a look she'd grown accustomed to more recently. It wasn't yearning and it wasn't content, it was just merely… watching. And the feelings accompanied with it were already familiar, feelings and heats she'd never wanted to be associated with him.
With a final sigh, he waved a hand over his eyes and moved over to the piano.
Shikamaru sat down on the black bench, fingers loosening his tie and teeth biting into his lower lip. He was nervous and that made her feel more excited than before.
Temari took a stance against the wall to his left, crossing her ankles and holding his empty wind glass in a loose hand by her chest. The room was relatively dark, but there was a pale glow from the lamp in the corner and the light through the windows.
Shikamaru clenched and unclenched his hands. He glanced at her and she nodded in encouragement. Then he started to play.
His fingers moved over the keys slowly, the tune deep and melodic. He was good in a mediocre sort of way. It was much better than she was expecting and Temari found herself in a light, daydreamed state without actually thinking about anything.
Her whole body felt flighty.
His fingers were long and knobby, and they were moving in distinct patterns and Temari found herself substantially aroused in addition to the lightness. She closed her eyes and listening to the music. Outside the party wore on.
As the song continued, Shikamaru became more confident. His shoulders loosened and he even smiled— again.
It ended too soon. Temari immediately began clapping, but stopped as soon as she opened her eyes to see Shikamaru, having risen from the bench to stand, in front of the piano, facing her fully.
"I'll give it to you."
Heat rose to her neck with his expression. It was very different than the one she had seen the night they met. But not unlike the one from his birthday two years ago.
He stared at her, unabashed. "If you say it's okay, I'll give you everything I have."
Outside the countdown began. Ten, nine, eight, down to one without either of them speaking. When midnight hit, there were screams and fireworks in the distance.
But Shikamaru and Temari stood, over five feet between them, in silence. Shikamaru seemed to understand it though.
"I want you," he said.
"How many people are here?"
They were sitting on the edge of a bed now, both hanging their feet over, facing front, over half a foot between them.
Shikamaru shrugged, his hands resting gently between his thighs. "About thirty, I think."
"Oh." She ran a hand over her eyes and muttered: "do you think sound travels well, like in your house?"
"Because," she said quietly, strikingly surprised with how embarrassed she suddenly felt, "we can't do anything."
Shikamaru paused, obviously confused, and she recognized the moment the he realized what she meant and turned his head to look at her.
He grabbed her hand and held it on the bed between them, "I want to kiss you."
Temari had had sex before.
Many times. Before and after she'd first met him.
But for some reason, Shikamaru's words made her blush in a way she hadn't since her early youth. And it made the blood rush to her groin, where is had casually pulsed since his confession twenty minutes before.
He wasn't a good kisser.
Quite bad, actually. And she had a sinking feeling it was his first real kiss. She'd mainly gotten over how young he was, but reminders didn't help.
But she had no aspirations to quit now, so she thought perhaps she could show him how.
She pulled away before he did.
"How much longer are you out of school?" She asked, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
Temari pulled her hand from his and stood up, fixing the wrinkles in her dress. "Would you like to come stay at my place until then?" She asked as though it were the most casual request in the world.
"I'd like that," he said, a tinge of a smile on his lips. "Very much."
Well, I'm going to go have a drink in celebration of finishing this finally (nothing has taken me so long). This is almost as long as CUT.
Shikaku and Inoichi's roles were written into this before... well, yeah. I thought it odd that I had finally decided to write Inoichi into a story when it happened. Anyway. Can I dedicate this chapter to him? Well it is now. This chapter also celebrates my undying love for Ino Yamanaka. I need to learn how to write Choji better, I know. But I mean... Ino.
So I sincerely thank all of you for your support and for continuing to read my story. A lot of work went into these stories both from myself, from the wonderful heathrowe, and from my lovely beta, and the other friends whom have looked things over and helped.
But mainly thank all of you readers for our feedback and encouragement. I am humbled and honored to have such beautiful readers. Thank you, really. I love you all.
Goodbye for now.
(see you in volume two)!