Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any places, characters, things, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Viz Media, Shounen Jump, TV Tokyo, etc. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.
Summary: What happens when you're stuck in an elevator with chocolate and a handsome stranger? Sabaku Temari is about to find out. :Itachi x Temari:
Warnings: Descriptions of claustrophobia, slight mention of child abuse, and a good deal of sweetness.
Pairing(s): Itachi/Temari, slight Neji/Tenten
Author's Note: I know a lot of people are probably expecting the next chapter of Shadows today, but this idea intruded in my mind and would not leave me alone until I wrote it. I think it's one of my favorite pieces I've ever written, filled with subtely and a study in contrasts and the bringing together of two people from similar backgrounds in the most unlikely of settings. I really hope you all enjoy it, too, and thank you so much for checking it out!
Chocolate. It sat innocently in her purse, calling her name in a voice only she could hear - her own little secret.
It was barely nine in the morning and she already felt the nearly overwhelming need to snatch it out and relieve her stress with its wonderful flavor.
Were it not for the stack of files in her arms, propped beneath her chin, she might well.
Sabaku Temari impatiently tapped one high-heeled shoe as she waited for the elevator to make its way back to the bottom from its place at the top floor. Ordinarily she'd just hop into the other elevator around the corner - even though it meant more steps at the end of her journey up - but the "Out of Order" sign taped to the doors prevented her from taking that time-saving measure.
While she impatiently continued to wait, another figure joined her. "Morning, Temari-san."
Rolling her eyes to the left, Temari got an eyeful of brown hair in panda-ear buns and a cheerful smile - far too cheerful for the rainy, lousy, heavy day just starting. "How can you be so happy on a day like this?" The words were out before she could stop them, but she just couldn't bring herself to regret them.
Hyuuga Tenten's smile didn't waver as she kept her brown eyes focused on the numbers ticking interminably down just above their heads. "It's all about the attitude," she replied. "I figure if I keep upbeat, the day will be great."
Temari could have taken offense at the brunette's words, but she didn't. She knew Tenten was an eternal optimist and enjoyed sharing her sunshine wherever she went. Though the two women didn't know each other well, they often shared the elevator since they worked in the same office - albeit on opposite ends of it.
The ding! of the elevator's arrival saved Temari from having to reply. After the doors swooshed open, the blonde followed the brunette into the elevator and leaned against the back wall while Tenten pressed the button for the seventh floor, then the twenty-first.
"Not going straight to the top?" Temari asked, surprised.
Tenten shook her head. "Copier's out on our floor," she said. "Tsunade-shachou sent me out to harass the repairman into coming now instead of later. She would have gone herself, but she's supposed to be in a conference with one of our clients in England in ten minutes."
"Why didn't she just call the repairman?" Temari had a feeling she'd regret the question as soon as it passed her lips, but decided she'd ask it anyway.
"Oh, she did." Tenten grinned as the elevator chirped yet again and the doors opened to deposit her on the seventh floor. "Ino-chan probably has those copies ready for me now since I dropped them off on my way out. See you later, Temari-san."
"Hmm," Temari murmured noncommitally. With the way her day was going, the other woman would probably see her in the nearest hospital's mental ward instead of her desk.
The doors closed, leaving Temari alone in the elevator. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back against the wall and took refuge in the darkness behind her eyelids as the lift continued its upwards crawl. She'd barely closed her eyes before the elevator ground to a halt yet again and the doors opened to admit another person into her (public) sanctuary. Snapping open her turquoise eyes, she aimed a glare at the sharply-dressed man who joined her and reached for the keypad.
"Oh, you're also going to the twenty-first floor? Wonderful." After setting his expensive leather briefcase on the floor next to his feet, the ponytailed man tucked his hands into the pockets of his neatly-pressed pants and leaned back against the wall. The doors closed before Temari could dive through them and escape, screaming, into the hall. Or shove him back through.
Was it too much to ask for just a few precious moments to herself?
Since she'd picked them up at the front desk, the files in her arms seemed to have gained ten pounds. "Hmm," she grumbled again. Maybe if she made it clear she wasn't in a chatty mood, her fellow traveler would leave her alone.
Just nine more floors... She stared owlishly at the numbers, hoping if she watched them long enough she could make them tick by faster. If she could just make it to the office, she could drop off her armload of files, then take cover in her cubicle and break into the chocolate calling to her with all the power of a mythical siren.
"Would you please let me take some of those for you? They look extremely heavy, and we're going to the same place, anyway." His dark head appeared before her eyes, blocking her view of the numbers.
Temari felt her resolve waver. Did he have to have such a smooth voice? "It's only a few more floors, and I might drop them if I try to hand some of them off," she said. As disappointment flashed through his inky eyes, she swallowed and added, "Thank you, though."
The files, however, were destined to hit the floor. The words barely passed her lips before the elevator jerked to a sudden halt, the lights flickering, then going completely dark at the same time. Files smacked the floor and papers skidded to all four corners as Temari's back impacted the wall, the subtle scent of cologne filling her nose. The dim orange glow of the emergency lights illuminated the blue tie less than an inch from her nose, secured by a gold clip with an elaborate fan-and-flames pattern engraved on its surface.
"What just happened?" The breathed words from just above the top of her head ruffled her hair, making her shiver despite the warmth.
"Power's out. I think they'll have to tape an 'Out of Order' sign on this elevator, too." Temari curled her hands into fists to keep herself from shoving away the man still hovering in her personal space, hands braced against the wall on either side of her.
Fortunately she didn't have to, because he backed off on his own. Carefully stepping around the files scattered across the floor, he returned to the key pad and pressed the small "emergency" button, then waited, head tilted toward the small speaker next to it.
Glad she'd put on a pants suit that morning, Temari knelt and began gathering up her scattered files as her companion pressed the emergency button yet again. "Power's out," she repeated. "I doubt you'll get anyone to answer."
"Hn." Reaching into his jacket pocket, the dark-haired man withdrew a cell phone, then sighed. "No signal."
"These elevators are just about as good as a concrete tomb, at least for phone signals." Scanning over papers, she jammed them back into their corresponding file folders as she resigned herself to waiting until the power came back on or someone arrived to force open the doors to rescue the pair of them. Either way, it would probably be a while.
A sick moan from across the space brought her eyes upwards. She was just in time to see her fellow trapped traveler slide slowly down the wall, his already pale features looking even whiter as he stared at her with suddenly fevered eyes. "Could you please put that a different way?" he asked, sounding oddly strangled.
Sinking back on her heels, Temari felt her eyes widen. "Are you - claustrophobic?" she ventured. She'd always thought the elevator was a relatively large one, but now that it was stopped and dimly lit, she realized it felt much smaller than usual. To a claustrophobe, it had to be even worse. Now she regretted her flippant comment...
Very slowly, her companion nodded. Pulling his knees up to his chest, he closed his eyes and drew in several deep breaths. "Odd thing is, I thought I was over it." He let out a weak chuckle. "Funny how you find out the truth at crunch time, isn't it?"
Well, at least he wasn't freaking out on her. Temari's younger brother, Gaara, had suffered from claustrophobia when he was little, clear up into his early teens, thanks to several really awful childhood experiences. Though he'd managed to overcome it by the time he left home for university, there had been several occasions when he'd completely freaked out on her when they had been stuck in a small space, even if they were only there a few moments. Her companion now, however, seemed to be handling things a little better, which would definitely help. But if they were trapped in here for hours - well, perhaps it was a good thing she already knew how to deal with claustrophobes.
"That's the way it does seem to go," Temari agreed, trying to keep her voice calm and even. "By the way - I'm Sabaku Temari."
Those dark eyes flickered open slightly to regard her from behind a veil of equally black lashes. "Uchiha Itachi. Pleasure to meet you, despite the circumstances." Allowing his head to drop back against the wall, Itachi let out a long sigh. "What a lousy first day of work."
"Ah, so you're the new guy." She kept her tone teasing, hoping to distract him.
Itachi smiled thinly. "My reputation precedes me." Uncurling from his position against the wall, he reached for the closest file and picked it up. His hands visibly trembled as he tucked the papers half-sticking out of it back inside. "I love the way news flies about the office."
"If it makes you feel any better, I think I'm one of only a handful of people who know you're coming," Temari said. She stacked her files up against the wall, deciding she'd go through and reorganize them after they'd gotten them gathered up again. "Tsunade-shachou had me clean out the cubicle next to mine for you."
"At least I know I'll have a nice neighbor - on one side, anyway." Itachi nudged his briefcase out of the way to gather up some more papers.
They fell into silence as they finished gathering up file folders and their contents. Temari took the last few and plopped them on top of the rest before sitting down next to the pile and letting out a long breath. "That certainly took a while."
Taking a seat across from her, Itachi nodded in agreement. "Though not nearly long enough." He glanced anxiously up at the ceiling, his complexion slightly pasty in the dim glow of the emergency lights. "I wonder if anyone realizes there are people trapped in here."
"Tenten-san will let someone know," Temari said confidently. "She got off a floor before you got on, and she'll realize the elevator won't have had time to get to the top." She made a mental note to treat the younger woman to lunch sometime soon in thanks. We'll have something chocolate for dessert, too...
"And how long do you think it will take for the people she tells to figure out where, exactly, this elevator is stuck?" Itachi's voice sounded deceptively calm. It reminded Temari of the calm before the proverbial storm.
Not long, I hope. "Oh, not long, I'm sure." Stretching out her legs, Temari tilted her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. Now the bright overhead lights were out, the pounding drum in her skull had reduced itself to a slight murmur - definitely more managable pain. All she had to do was stay calm and distract Itachi until Tenten arrived with a rescue squad, which surely wouldn't take that long. There were only twenty-one floors in the building, and obviously she and Itachi would be stuck somewhere between seven - where the brunette exited - and the very top floor. That left only fourteen to search.
...Of course, if they were stuck between floors, that might make things a little more complicated. But even then, surely it wouldn't take that long to find a stuck elevator.
Half an hour felt like an eternity when stuck in an elevator with a stack of files and a claustrophobe.
"You know," Temari began hesitantly. She waited until Itachi's eyes opened and focused - albeit fuzzily - on her before she continued. "My brother used to be a claustrophobe."
That seemed to catch his interest. Lifting his head, he focused completely on her as he tugged the knot on his tie - already very loose - even further down his chest. "'Used to be'?" he echoed.
Temari nodded. "He used to freak out every time we got in an elevator or something - even if the power was on and it was moving. We took the stairs a lot." She closed her eyes, forcefully shoving away the memories of hearing her youngest brother's muffled sobs from the hall closet while she was forced to stay in her room, unable to do anything to help him. "It finally got so bad he made himself face his fear. He went back-" too much information, Temari! "-ah, he closed himself in a closet for a long time. I heard him mumbling to himself most of the time, and he cried a time or two." It had taken every ounce of her strength and more to keep from tearing open the door and yanking her brother out of that closet, the way she should have so many times when they were younger. "But when he came out, I could see it in his eyes. He commanded the space now, not the other way around."
Perhaps it was only her imagination, but Temari thought she saw some sort of glimmer of understanding in Itachi's eyes. Like he'd been listening very, very closely and heard the things she hadn't said. "I've mostly managed to avoid having to face my claustrophobia," he said at length. "I would find ways to avoid going into tight spaces - it helped that my little brother is very adventurous, and likes doing those sorts of things - and eventually I made my ducking out seem natural, too." He chuckled, weakly and without humor. "But running away never solves anything." Bitterness dripped from his tone and glittered in his eyes.
A sudden, fierce pang went through her heart, a combination of sympathy and admiration for this man sitting before her. She'd known him for a grand total of forty-five minutes at most, but at the same time she felt more for him than for any other man she'd ever met, save her brothers. It wasn't romantic, not really, but she had a feeling it quite easily could become romantic, if she allowed it...
Getting off the subject, Temari. Focus, girl. "Maybe this is your time, Uchiha-san," she said with what she hoped was a confident smile. "Maybe this moment is your opportunity to face your fear and tell it right to its ugly face that you're going to rule it, not the other way around."
Itachi smiled crookedly in a way that made her heart turn traitor and go pitter-pat. "I went to a therapist for several years in an attempt to get rid of my claustrophobia," he said. "It's odd, but forty-five minutes with you has somehow done more for me than five years listening to him talk about meditation and balance and 'finding my center.'"
Temari's face warmed, making her hope the emergency lights were dim enough to hide her blush. "I've been called a lot of things by a lot of people in my lifetime," she admitted. "But I have to say, therapist was not one of them."
"You're not a therapist," Itachi replied, completely serious. "You're much better than a therapist." Something odd and tempting glittered in his eyes, and Temari felt her blush grow brighter.
"Is it just me, or is it getting hotter in here?"
The shocked look on Itachi's face made Temari realize she'd spoken the thought aloud. She instantly realized how her words could have been taken and covered her face with her hands, completely mortified. I can't believe I just said that. And to someone I've known less than an hour at that.
Itachi let out a choked sound, and Temari's head shot up so she could stare in disbelief. "Are you - laughing at me?" she demanded.
Tilting his head down, Itachi covered his mouth with one long, pale hand. "No," he said from behind his fingers. "I'm trying not to laugh." The silence stretched between them for a long, tense moment before he added, "Though I have to admit that was funny."
Despite herself, Temari let a rather unladylike snort of laughter pass her lips. "I've never said anything like that before," she admitted. "Though I promise you, I did not mean it that way."
Tugging at the knot of his tie again, Itachi regarded her with a surprisingly solemn expression. The humor dancing in his dark eyes, however, betrayed his real feelings. "I've never met anyone like you before, Sabaku-san."
Nervously, Temari tugged on the fringe of her bangs hanging by her right temple. "We've only known each other for a little while, but I think this situation makes it acceptable. Please, call me Temari."
The lopsided smile was back, and with it her strange heart palpatations. "Very well, Temari-chan," he replied. "And please, call me Itachi."
Not quite what she'd been aiming for, but it was probably for the best anyway. "All right, then ... Itachi-kun." She smiled innocently.
Itachi shook his head at her, but his responding smile made it clear he'd enjoyed her response. For a moment they stayed that way, two near-strangers sitting across from each other in a broken-down elevator, smiling as if they were seated at a café having tea on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
It was ... nice. Natural.
A few minutes of comfortable silence passed. Itachi shifted his position once, but only long enough to shed his suit jacket before again propping up the wall, his eyes closed. Temari idly sorted through her stack of files, humming quietly to herself as she returned some sort of order to their chaos.
Right after the hour mark of their incarceration passed, Temari made a decision. Flopping down her files, she reached into her purse and withdrew her precious stash of chocolate. "Want some?" She leaned forward, waving it in his direction temptingly. "It's a well known fact chocolate cures whatever ails you."
Itachi opened one dark eye and regarded her, then her box of pocky, curiously. Opening the other eye, he leaned forward and pulled one crisp treat out of the container with a smile. "It's been years since I've had this," he said before sticking the end in his mouth.
Temari thoughtfully sucked on the end of hers for a moment before she delicately nibbled off a bite. "I treat myself to a box once or twice a week," she admitted. "But I always have to hide it. Gaara - my younger brother, the one who had claustrophobia - doesn't really like sweets, but Kankuro, the sibling between Gaara and me, loves them. Sometimes I swear he's got the nose of a bloodhound and can sniff out sweets - especially chocolate - no matter where I hide it." She waggled the box at him and smiled when he accepted another stick. "That's why I usually pick up a box on the way to work and eat it during the day, so it's gone before I go home."
Swallowing, Itachi idly twirled the last nub of his pocky between his thumb and index finger as he watched her intently. "So your brothers still live with you?"
She found it extremely interesting he thought of it as them living with her, instead of the other way around. Typically when the subject came up with people she'd never met before - which she made sure did not happen often - the other person naturally assumed she was the one living with her brothers, for one reason or another - mostly because of her gender. "Yes," she finally answered. "Kankuro's got a job in kabuki - not the most famous job in the world, granted, but he loves it, and that's what counts - and Gaara's in his last year at university. He comes back home between semesters and for holidays, and he's already got a job lined up for after he graduates." She couldn't keep the note of pride out of her voice as she said the last bit.
He nodded, as if he'd just figured out something important. "You raised your brothers," he said wisely.
"...Was it that obvious?" Temari arched one eyebrow.
"Probably not to most people." Itachi slowly ate the last of his pocky before he continued. "The only reason I figured it out so easily is I know what it's like."
Remembering him mentioning a sibling, she offered him another stick and said, "Younger brother, right?"
"Yes." This time Itachi ate the entire stick in silence before he finally spoke again. "Our parents took one night out of every month and went out to spend time, just the two of them. On one such night, they were robbed and murdered on the way home." He swallowed convulsively, raw pain visible in his eyes. Temari had to clench her hands into fists to keep from throwing herself across the elevator and wrapping her arms around him, as she had done when her brothers were younger. At that moment, Itachi seemed so young and vulnerable himself, a lost, lonely little boy trapped in a man's body, as he stared back through time to something only he could see.
"I was fifteen. Sasuke was only eight." Itachi's hands tightened around his upthrust knees, knuckles turning so white Temari was almost afraid his bones would crack under the pressure. "Our parents had a falling out with the rest of the family several years ago, so we got no help from any of them. It was just me and Sasuke, doing whatever we could to make ends meet." He smiled grimly, an expression on his face she recognized from seeing in the mirror countless times. "I've done things I admit I'm not proud of, but I did it all for him."
As quickly as it had darkened, Itachi's expression brightened again, gaining cheer and just a hint of pride. "Like your youngest brother, Sasuke's only a year away from graduating university himself."
"What's his major?" Temari asked softly. She felt like she could speak again without breaking the fragile blanket of understanding which had settled over them, and sure enough, she was right.
"He's going to be a doctor." Itachi hesitated, then shook his head and chuckled. "No, that's not right. He always gets mad at me when I say that. Actually, he's going to be a veterinarian. He's got some sort of connection with animals - snakes, especially, which has always been a little strange to me - and it was the natural course of study for him to follow."
Temari hadn't even met the boy, but somehow she could see the sense in Itachi's words. "This will mean nothing to him, but tell him I said good luck with his last year," she said.
"Thank you, I will." Itachi opened his mouth to say something else, but immediately shut it again as he leaned forward and held up a hand. "Did you hear that?"
Setting aside her now-empty box of pocky, Temari strained her ears, listening for a hint of what Itachi might have heard. For a moment she registered no sound save for the low hum of the emergency lights; then she heard it - voices.
Help had finally arrived!
The pair scrambled to their feet at the same time and hurried to the doors. They pounded the sides of their fists against the door a few times and then shouted, "We're in here!"
"Temari-san?" Tenten's voice sounded faint at first, but then much louder when she spoke again. "We've been trying to find the elevator for the last hour. I thought you'd be farther up."
"The thing stopped to pick up another passenger along the way," Temari said, smiling at Itachi. "Can you get us out of here?"
Muffled conversation, followed by a series of thumps and a bang, preceded Tenten's response. "Power's out all over, not just in the elevator - lightning struck the building. It's going to be a while before it comes back on, so I brought a couple of people to help me pry the doors open." A beat of silence, and then, "By the way, who's in there with you?"
"Uchiha Itachi," Temari replied.
"Ah, yes, the new guy. Nice to meet you, Uchiha-san," Tenten called cheerfully through the doors.
"You, too - ah-" Itachi looked to Temari and lifted his brows helplessly.
"Hyuuga Tenten," she supplied.
"Hyuuga-san," Itachi finished smoothly. "And thank you for going to all the trouble of rescuing us."
"No trouble," Tenten replied a moment before something banged into the elevator doors, causing its occupants to jerk back in surprise.
As further thumps followed, accompanied by the creaking groan of stressed metal, Itachi turned back to Temari. "I thought you said only a few people know about my starting today," he accused. The smile on his face took any sting out of his words.
"I did." Temari calmly adjusted her suit jacket and returned his smile with a serene one of her own. "Tenten-san is one of those people. As well as Tsunade-shachou, and Shikamaru-kun, and Shino-kun, and Sakura-chan, and-"
"All right, all right, I get the picture." Itachi held up his hands in surrender. "So much for sneaking in and remaining unnoticed for my first few days."
"Like you said, news travels fast in the office." She didn't mention the fact Sakura had seen her cleaning out Itachi's cubicle, asked what was going on, and then proceeded to spread the news around the office. To be fair, she was pretty sure at least Sai, if not Matsuri and Lee, too, had been out sick that day. So they were probably still unaware of Itachi's imminent arrival.
The elevator doors gave way with a final screech, jolting open enough to let in a surprisingly bright stream of light. Lifting her hand to shield her eyes, Temari squinted until her pupils adjusted enough to allow her to spot Tenten's grinning face hovering above a spiky blond head and another, darker, one.
"Hey, you two!" Tenten greeted. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to wait until the power came back on to see you both."
"I, for one, am glad we didn't have to wait," Itachi said. While the crack between the doors wasn't wide enough yet for them to exit, he seemed more relaxed now that he could see outside the space. "Thank you again for getting us out of here."
"Hey, like Tenten-chan said, it's no problem!" Uzumaki Naruto grinned goofily and rubbed the back of his bright yellow head. "I was up on the nineteenth floor changing a lightbulb - it was reported out right before the power went out, and I figured I'd change it so it'll come back on when the power does, since I had nothing better to do anyway - when she came looking for someone to help her pry open the elevator doors. I offered to help." Dropping his hand, he hefted a crowbar with the other, a wicked gleam suddenly very present in his mischievous blue eyes. "Besides, I like wrecking things."
"Thankfully, I'm trained to fix them." The other man recruited to help pry open the doors leaned against his own crowbar, pale eyes glimmering with just a hint of amusement. "All things computerized, anyway," he added.
Temari leaned a little closer to Itachi. "Meet Hyuuga Tenten, her husband, Hyuuga Neji, and Uzumaki Naruto, our heroic rescuers," she introduced. "Tenten-san, Neji-san, Naruto-kun, this is Uchiha Itachi."
Two grins and a tilt of the head served as greetings for the "new guy."
While Neji and Naruto worked on getting the doors open the rest of the way, Tenten explained that she found her husband on the seventeenth floor. Apparently he'd tired of waiting for the elevator to come back down and had started up the stairs. In addition, he was the mysterious repairman Tenten had been sent to retrieve by Tsuande, since the brunette held an obvious sway over the man, being his wife and all. With the help of both of them, she found Temari and Itachi on the fifteenth floor.
Or, more precisely, stuck halfway between the fifteenth and the sixteenth, which would force them to hoist themselves up and out of the elevator when the doors finally fully opened. Just her luck. Then again, it has been one of those days. Glancing at Itachi out of the corner of her eye, she quickly amended the thought. Though it definitely hasn't been all bad.
Chocolate hadn't been the highlight of her day, after all. What do you know?
Adjusting her sunglasses, Temari flipped the next page of the manuscript lying on the table before her as she shifted in her seat so the rays of the noontime sun were at least partially blocked by the umbrella over her chosen table. But her concentration kept wandering, leaving her glancing up every thirty seconds or so to the other side of the low iron fence separating the table at which she sat, as well as those around her, from the sidewalk.
Fortunately for her patience (and her sanity), she didn't have to wait long. Only ten minutes after she'd settled into her chair and pulled out the manuscript, a familiar figure appeared on the sidewalk across the street, ink-black hair shining in the sunlight. He spotted her at the same moment as she did him, smiling and nodding before checking both ways and hurrying safely across four lanes of traffic to her side.
"Am I late?" Itachi queried after coming through the gate and settling himself across the table from her.
Straightening the pages before her, she tucked them into her briefcase before replying. "No, I'm just early." Leaning back in her chair, she studied her companion over the tops of her sunglasses. "You're right on time, in fact."
Before Itachi could reply, Akamichi Chouji appeared next to their table, a welcoming grin on his face. "Since you've been coming here steadily for the past three years, and ordered the exact same thing every single time, I know what you want," he said, nodding to Temari. "What may I have the pleasure of serving you?" He tilted his head respectfully in Itachi's direction.
Allowing his dark gaze to drift from Chouji, to Temari, and then back again, he hesitated only a moment before replying, "I'll just have the same thing she is. Thank you."
Chouji hurried off to fill their order, and Temari silently counted to five, ending just as Itachi spoke. "The natural thing to do would be to wait until it gets here, but I have to know ahead of time: What, exactly, did I just order?"
Knew that was coming. Basking in the glow of being right, Temari took pity on Itachi - who looked quite handsome when anxious - and explained. "My standing order is a cup of their special secret tea blend and whatever sinfully delicious chocolate dessert Akamichi Chouza, the owner and head chef here, has come up with next." She nodded meaningfully in the direction of their recently-departed server. "You just met Chouji, the proprietor's son." Gaara had gone to high school with Chouji, which was how she'd originally discovered the slightly out-of-the-way café. She had rapidly become a regular at what was now hailed as one of downtown Tokyo's "best kept secrets," at least as far as eating establishments. Fortunately, as the sister of Chouji's former classmate and a regular-as-clockwork customer, Temari was always able to get a table at Akamichi's, no matter how busy they happened to be at the moment of her arrival.
It didn't take long at all for Chouji to return, his tray holding two steaming mugs of tea and two plates of what looked to be a decadently rich chocolate brownie accompanied by a sprig of mint pillowed by fancily curled shavings of dark chocolate and a fresh, ripe red strawberry on top. "Please, enjoy." The stout man bowed, then backed away with a smile.
Admiring Chouza's artful arrangement of the dessert, Temari lifted her mug to her lips and blew gently before taking a sip of her tea. The flavor burst to life in her mouth, swirling with an almond base with just a hint of complimenting vanilla, finishing with smooth, creamy chocolate. Her eyes practically rolled back in her head with ectasy. Perfect, as always.
"This is good." Itachi sounded surprised as he stared down into his own mug. "Is Akamichi-san's recipe really secret?"
Temari nodded mournfully as she set down her mug and reached for her fork. "Sadly, yes." Admiring the artwork on her plate one last time before destroying it with her utensil, she took a bite of her dessert and moaned. "Also sadly, I think this recipe probably is, too."
Itachi followed her lead, taking a bite of his own brownie. Temari caught him quickly licking his fork before lowering it back down to his plate. "I can't believe I never found this place before," he said. "I used to come this way a lot-" He stopped abruptly, but she heard what he didn't say.
"It's one of Tokyo's best-kept secrets - according to the paper, anyway." Temari savored her next bite before continuing. "I come here at least once a week."
"I can see - or, perhaps I should say, taste why." Itachi swallowed a mouthful of tea and nodded again. "I think it won't be too terribly long before I'll be a regular here, too." He smiled at her - shyly, but with a hint of promise which made her feel excited in a way she'd never felt before.
She'd thought nothing could top the experience of enjoying an excellent cup of tea and a decadent chocolate dessert.
She'd been wrong. One thing did top the aforementioned experience:
Enjoying an excellent cup of tea and a decadent chocolate dessert on a sunny Sunday afternoon, accompanied by a handsome man she had the good feeling would be a major part of the rest of her life.
All thanks to a power outage and an out-of-order elevator.
Only one word could describe her life at that moment, and henceforth:
Author's Ending Notes: Apologies for this not being the next update of Shadows, but the idea for this piece intruded my thought process and wouldn't leave until I wrote it. Originally it started out as two people stuck in an elevator, but then Itachi and Temari decided they had another story they needed to tell, so they kind of took over and wrote the whole thing themselves. I enjoyed writing this piece full of subtely and a study in contrasts and the bringing together of two people from similar backgrounds in the most unlikely of settings. In fact, this is definitely in my top five favorites of all the pieces I've ever written. I really hope you all enjoyed it, too, and thank you so much for reading!
Author's Ending Notes (2): Even though I never thought there would be one when I originally wrote Perfection, I'm adding this author's note to let you all know there is now a sequel up. It's called Coffee Connections, and it will be twelve chapters in total. You can find it on my profile. Thanks for reading Perfection, and if you read its sequel, I hope you enjoy it!
Author's Ending Notes (3): Just in case some things were too subtle, I decided to add this piece here just in case some things didn't come through clearly enough. One, Temari was having her time of the month, which was why she was a little crabby, craving silence (and chocolate), and fighting such a bad headache. Two, it was Gaara's father who locked him in the closet and made his younger son develop claustrophobia - the Sabaku patriarch always seems to come out evil no matter what universe I write him in - but Itachi had the phobia since he was a very young child, through no fault of his parents or anyone else. And finally, at the café when Itachi mentioned he "came this way a lot," he meant his parents were killed in that general area and he often went to stand at the spot and think about them. It was the one place he felt he could let down his barriers and grieve, since he had to be strong for his little brother the rest of the time. These were all things I couldn't quite find ways to work into the actual story, though I hope they still somehow found a way to come through. Thanks again for reading!