a/n: So this is the requested canon-piece... well canon-divergent... it takes place in the naruto world, so close enough. and it's mostly just an ode to a pathetic, wallowing Shikamaru. Now that I've totally sold it, enjoy!
There is only this world and this world
What a relief
over and over
Temari is waiting for him when he comes around the corner. Shikamaru assumes she is there — he must have known — before he even catches the bottom of her kimono blowing gently in the breeze, the hem just brushing the top of her ankles. It has been a while since she has worn that kimono. So long that he feels the pool of heat in his stomach at the sight, but not long enough that he doesn't know who it belongs to.
Seeing her is an old confidence, intrinsic and settled long ago, as though it has always been this way. As though it has never been anything else.
"I'm sorry," he says as soon as he is clear of the corner. His flak jacket is zipped all the way up, snug around this neck, and he feels a bit choked. "I didn't know."
Temari huffs, annoyed at him already. The sun catches her eye as she looks toward it, lashes fluttering. "Don't apologize."
He feels the weight of it in his chest, in his head; spilling out of his mouth.
"I don't deserve it."
"No," he says, taking a step closer. The sun is hot on his brow even though it is already evening; even though he can feel the breeze chilling the rim of his ear in shadow. "You rank higher than me. I'm usurping you. For absolutely no reason."
When she looks over him, she doesn't look angry. She doesn't even look sad.
"I don't deserve the position of proxy, Shikamaru," she answers gently, as though coaxing him into placation. "You do." Her eyes level his, her chin raises. "Now stop. Guilt makes you seem weak."
He doesn't look down to trace the shadows of her collarbone and the set of her lips, but he somehow notices all these things anyway. Instead, he matches her gaze, focusing on the intent behind her eyes.
"You're a jonin," he clarifies, as though she isn't well aware of the circumstances. "I rank below you."
She exhales and her whole chest falls with it. "Yes. Realistically I may deserve it. On paper. But that means nothing in real life." Temari pushes off the wall she has been leaning against and takes a step closer to him. "Rank doesn't designate skill, it's just a flawed systematic way of trying to locate a range."
Shikamaru holds his breath. He, too, takes another step forward. She is beginning to crowd into his space, or perhaps he into hers.
"Aren't you the one who wanted me to become a jonin?"
Was he always this much taller than her?
She tilts her head to the side. Her fan shifts on her back, but her shoulders remain square. "Not for me," she says.
Shikamaru swallows. His mouth feels dry. He shifts his weight. She is staring him down, keeping him grounded in her gravity.
"I wasn't telling you to do so that you could fight me, but because you should do it for yourself. You could be — should be — a jonin."
He doesn't blush, but he thinks he should. Instead something about the words feel right, they feel common, easy… expected.
He takes one more step forward, just an inch and looks down at her. He lifts one hand and places it on her shoulder, strong beneath his palm, and he straightens the strap of the fan. "I know," he says, as she is waiting for him to say, "but I'd do it for you."
He feels like something is missing for most of the morning. There is a hollowness in his chest the minute he wakes up. He feels as though he has forgotten something, like he has left something behind.
It is only two hours or so later when he is washing his spent toothpaste out of the sink and wiping his mouth clean that he catches himself in the mirror and realizes the origin of the feeling. Shikamaru does not often look over his reflection, but when he does, he almost always ignores the parts he is used to. His nose and the shape of his eyes don't warrant any peculiar attention each and every day, nor do the scars, all of them on his face minor, that he has accumulated over the last twenty-six years. He shaved already this morning and at no point had he stopped to observe the qualities of his features.
But he sees it now: the white line atop one cheekbone, along almost a quarter of his face, and thin enough to only be seen with intention.
He remembers then. He had had a dream about the war last night. He had almost completely forgotten. Shikamaru sits back against the top of the toilet. The left side of his jaw begins to burn. He tries to recollect.
Realistically, she had never worn that kimono during the war. And, as far as he remembered in the few times right after, she hadn't worn it since. She never wore the black kimono with the red sash. She never waited for him and smiled. Her shoulder beneath his hand had been bony those years. That was how he remembered it. Had the conversation ever happened? Had she ever said that? Was it ever real?
Was any of it ever real?
He recognizes her quicker than he means to let on. She isn't looking at him, but the minute they step in to the conference room, his eyes fall on her. In some ways she looks nothing like he remembers. She seems taller, bigger… older. Still, he recognizes her without any rumination. He feels the nerves creeping up the side of his neck and chest.
He had thought the dream had something to do with being back in Suna. After all, he has flashbacks of the war wherever they travel.
It's like seeing someone for the first time in a long time, an old friend that is no longer connected to you in any way. Not for any purpose or falling out, just a distance that grew large enough to end something.
Shikamaru looks to Gaara, seated before her, as soon as he thinks to. He sees Gaara with relative frequency, but he hasn't seen Temari in years. Kankuro has been Gaara's only right-hand since after the war. Temari hasn't accompanied her brother since they were teenagers.
"Hey!" Naruto says loudly a moment after he sees her, "Temari! It's been a while!" He looks to Gaara. "Did you finally get sick of your brother?"
Gaara is looking up from his seated position, eyes narrowed at Naruto's comment, but he isn't actually at all irritated. He never is with Naruto.
"Can we begin now?" The Tsuchikage asks, her chin lifted.
"Right to business, Kurotsuchi?"
"You're late, Naruto." She says shortly. They always are, so it isn't a serious annoyance on Kurotsuchi's part. Shikamaru, belatedly, glances up at Temari again.
Back, a long time ago, he used to be Gaara's proxy, Gaara's right-hand. And, unofficially, Temari had been his. When Shikamaru was in charge, Temari was the one beside him.
It was so long ago, he had practically forgotten.
She had made sure he was never late.
He had never done that for Naruto.
His jaw is hurting again.
She still is watching her brother, eyes taking in the table before her.
Naruto waves a hand to dismiss the Tsuchikage's concerns and takes a seat in the chair before him.
Shikamaru's heart is pounding double speed. He hadn't thought about her in so long. Why is she here? Where is Kankuro?
Would he have come if he'd known she'd be here?
Did that mean she had come knowing he was?
He has to practically shake himself. There is no point to this, no point at all. She is a highly skilled woman, a very valuable ally. There should be no surprise at her presence. It's simply a little disconcerting, is all. He has been to these types of meetings for years now and generally knows the whole present company — she is new and it is simply throwing him off. It's simply been so long.
Gaara is the one that begins the meeting. Shikamaru watches him, watches Kurotsuchi, watches Naruto, and then at some point, he feels Temari look at him, and when he glances up, she smiles as though their reunion is something to celebrate.
It is, isn't it?
The hours drag on. They are debating the allocation of economic production from some land they'd already fought over and resolved. The argument isn't heated, but it is persistent. The discussion has gone through lunch. They are all gathered around the table now, some food spread around.
They'll have to finish this before November, at the latest, but, much more realistically, they won't leave the room until they finish today. And then in three months, they'll present their options in Kiri for the remaining two kages. It was their committee branch. Nothing too important, but Naruto's job, and thus Shikamaru's.
Temari speaks frequently. She has a lot to say. He had forgotten that. Did she always have so much on her mind? Or was it something she had come in to?
Does he honestly not remember?
Naruto delegates tasks easier than he completes them. He and Gaara work together seamlessly; the whole morning has been the two of them paired off against Kurotsuchi. She takes it in stride — always has. The two male kages she has somehow been sectioned off to work with here are known among the five for their close friendship. There are elements of blind trust, absolute and consuming, though Shikamaru knows that both would deny it.
Some days, it almost makes him uncomfortable.
Shikamaru only has blind trust in Ino and Choji.
Somehow though, Naruto, being nothing but abandoned by those he loved for almost all of his childhood, found a kinship in Gaara, a foreigner, that surpassed anything he felt for Shikamaru.
Did she feel uncomfortable too?
Did she know Gaara was so reliant on another?
She shouldn't. She wouldn't. Kankuro was there, he knew. But she wasn't. She never came. She worked somewhere else and she had decided to stop coming to Konoha. She hadn't come, not once, since the war. And although Shikamaru has come to Suna many times, she has never come to see him here either.
Perhaps that was it: he had known blind trust before. Was the what he had felt in those days — reliant completely on her presence beside him, her insight in his ear, her steadiness holding his gaze?
Maybe the relationship between Gaara and Naruto is so perturbing because Shikamaru knows how fragile trust is, how you can close your eyes for only a second, and when you open them once more, it can be swept up and lost in the wind.
Is she feeling it too?
He has spent most of the time trying not to look at her, but he does now. She is frowning, a scrunch between her brows, gaze caught between Naruto and Gaara as they discuss almost the same point between them.
Shikamaru looks away. He shouldn't make a judgement on what she is thinking. He honestly doesn't know her all that well.
He isn't sure why she comes down. She has a home in Suna, right? There is no reason for her to be staying at his hotel.
Perhaps she isn't, he thinks, after all. Maybe she is here for him. Or Naruto. Or Kurotsuchi.
Maybe she is just here for the complimentary breakfast.
She catches him as he is finishing the cup of tea before him. He's only eaten half his breakfast, but he is on his way out. He doesn't really want to speak with her —
Is that really wrong? They just weren't friends anymore.
"Shikamaru," she begins, regardless. She probably knows he is going to leave. There are still a few hours before their meeting is meant to begin. He plans on spending them in his room.
Still. "May I join you?"
Her tone is kind. Stable. Clearly, somehow, she doesn't feel the stifling constriction of air around him as he seems to feel around her.
Was any of it ever real?
He waves his hand in acquiescence.
He has a two-person table by the window. She is holding a mug in one hand and a bowl of soup in the other. She puts down the mug and pulls out the chair across from him to sit down.
"It has been quite a while," she says, patiently, scooting forward and tilting her head in his direction. "But it's good to see you."
Shikamaru sighs and leans forward to place his elbows on the table. "You don't come around much anymore." He isn't sure what to say. He isn't sure what she wants.
Should she want something?
Wasn't she always expecting something? From him, from everyone.
Temari smiles softly, her eyes glancing down to the mug in her hand, her palm wrapped around the surely warm ceramic. "No. I've been out of the political scene for a little while." When she glances up, her eyes seem to catch the light.
"Good for you."
She laughs under her breath and brings her tea up to her lips. The top one is wet when she lowers the mug. "I like to think so." Her gaze wanders past him out the window for only a minute. "Suna has been unbearable these days," she says, quietly, in another thought. He thinks, perhaps, it has. It always is hot for him though. "Anyway," her eyes catch his again, "I thought we'd catch up."
They're friends, after all. Childhood friends.
She looks so familiar, it is almost hard to look at her. Almost as though they had never been separated.
He opens his mouth and then shuts it again. He straightens up and rolls his shoulders back. He isn't sure what to say. Where to start? What to offer?
"I'm doing well," he eventually goes with. "Work. You know."
"You must be busy, working with the Hokage."
He shrugs again. "Busy enough." Busier than he has ever wanted to be, surely, but not nearly as busy as someone in his position doing their due diligence would be. "And you?"
Are you okay, is what he wants to ask.
Temari takes a sip of her soup. "Oh, I'm as good as can be expected."
"What have you been doing since you… went out of the political scene?"
Temari leans back. Her neck stretches out and the hollow of it seems deeper than he remembers. "Nothing of consequence," she says — easily. "I taught at the academy for a few years and ran a genin team for the past three years."
She lifts her shoulders in a shrug and takes another spoonful of soup. "I thought I'd be a sensei."
He isn't surprised. Not in the least. If he remembers correctly, she had been quite dependable in that way.
"And how did that go?"
Temari smiles softly again (it never seemed to be widely now, like he might say he remembers), "fine. Nothing to write home about."
"You're not still with them?"
In Suna, like in Konoha, didn't they too have one team leader throughout training?
"I'm taking a break. From that too."
Shikamaru finds himself smiling.
"With the kids."
Shikamaru tries to picture him with a group of genin. He saw sense in that too.
"So you're back."
She blinks. "Yes," she answers, and it dries out his throat, "I'm back."
There isn't too much to discuss. They tell a few brief stories about their mutual friends. An update or two from their families.
Sometimes, seeing an old friend like this is unsettling. It is perverse, in a sense. He only knows her within one bubble, but ever since she left, she's had her own marvels and adventures, and now when they meet once more, in the ways that seem to matter, she is only a stranger.
He finds, sitting across from her as she finishes her breakfast, that he remembers her physical characteristics more than the usage of words as they slip out of her mouth.
It is like that, when you run into people you once knew. They have a quirk you may have forgotten about; a fidget that you couldn't recall until it is once more in front of you and seeming so familiar, it seems integral. A look that was never gone for you, only momentarily forgotten.
He thinks, only once, as she rubs her thumb on her lower lip and her brow furrows in thought, that everything about her is familiar.
But then the thought it gone. Had he spent any time with it, he would surely find the idea absurd. After all, he doesn't know her all that well.
"Will I see you next month," she asks as they part.
There is a meeting between a different half of the Kages over in Kumogakure.
Shikamaru glances down at her, takes in the line of her shoulders and the stray hairs falling out of her ponytails. The skin against his jaw burns. "Yes."
"I'll look forward to it," she smiles. The corners of her mouth turn up higher than they have all morning, but there is still a hesitancy in the earnestness of her gaze he only notices now that he's considered her for a time.
He smiles back, rubbing a hand against the base of his neck. "Me too."
He thinks, maybe, he is lying.
Shikamaru goes on a walk that afternoon.
He knows that Temari is busy — he has left her in meetings, with a small goodbye and a mock salute to Gaara.
Still, as he crosses the street, he finds himself looking for her in every corner, around every turn, like she might happen to have finished her work hours early.
The weight of expectation pushes him down and bears upon his shoulders. It hurts. It always did.
Does he remember that?
Everything, suddenly, seems very wild.
He is steady. Everything about him is predictable. He doesn't act out of his own turn. Not for any lack of confidence or pride, but as a general passivity towards those things in life which come and go. He likes dedication. He likes loyalty. He likes being so predictable.
They were friends before the war. In the war. Not after the war.
There is no nefarious purpose behind it. People come in and out of your life, Shikamaru knows. They were together once, as enemies, and then maybe friends, and eventually they separated. War did that. Life did that.
He muses it to one of those things where you were friendly with someone and now kind of assume they dislike you even though there is no reason for that as you parted well, like with old classmates that he never disliked, but is now loathe to meet again.
They were never too close to begin with, probably. Nothing more than skewed circumstances of life or death to falsely bring people together. And then once it was over and they'd realized the shallowness of it, there was nothing more holding them together. Nothing more than that.
Shikamaru wants to stress that nothing ever happened. There was no incident. He has always been the same. Always steady. They grew apart. He doesn't miss her. He never has. She just came and went, as things in life do.
Her absence has never felt like dying. Nothing like that.
"You didn't tell us Temari was there." Ino opens with his third day back.
Shikamaru glances up from his shogi game. There is no basis for Ino's comment, but he doesn't need to ask; of course he knows what she is talking about.
She stands there, hands on her hips, still out on the deck. A step below her is Choji, but he just shrugs when Shikamaru tilts his head in question.
"In Suna?" He asks, rhetorically anyway.
"Yes in Suna."
He blinks at Ino and then returns to the game before him in time to see Mirai move a tile. "I didn't realize it was something that would interest you." He rubs his chin and then makes his next move on the board. "You never like it when I talk about work."
"Who 's Temari?" Mirai asks, leaning back on her hands as Choji and Ino come to take a seat beside them.
"She was a close friend of Shikamaru's when we were younger," Choji explains, pointedly ignoring Shikamaru's eyes. "A friend of all of ours, really."
"Naruto told us she was at the meeting." Ino says quickly, leaning into Shikamaru's line of vision. "He says she is exactly the same."
Shikamaru shrugs and wishes Mirai would make her next move so the game could get going.
"Well?" Ino asks, "what did you think? Is she doing okay? Did she look good?"
"She seems fine. We were working though, so we didn't speak about anything personal."
"Were you glad to see her?" Choji asks.
Finally, probably deliberately belatedly, Mirai makes her move.
Shikamaru reaches for the game piece he had been eyeing for the past minute. "It was good to see her again."
He thought that a fair statement, but when he looks back over, Ino is looking at him with annoyance. Or rather, disappointment. Not sullen in the news, just disappointed in him.
Shikamaru ignores this and goes back to the game.
He doesn't remember the boy's name, but he thinks the girl is Moegi. He only remembers because of Asuma; only somewhat keeps up with Konohamaru because Asuma had. And still, they come to him almost in tears in their fear for their teammate; their fear of her.
It shouldn't be said, Shikamaru thinks briefly, as he runs through the woods not nearly as fast as he probably should, that Shikamaru Nara did not do his part to impact the village youth.
The King — have you figured out who is the King yet?
He goes there waiting, knowing, she is there. He knows exactly what he will walk in on. His confidence! His confidence in her.
He moves so quickly through the woods, from branch to branch, that the light strobes in front of his eyes, flashing in glimpses between the trees. He almost misses his step. He can feel the wind brush over the rim of his ears.
Shikamaru stops three feet short of his presence being readily viewed. He kneels. He watches. She walks away. He observes the line of her back and the easy sway of her hips. It is so distinct, so familiar.
Konohamaru is on his feet again in no time.
Shikamaru knows how this will end. He's known it since the moment the other genin interrupted his walk home: Konohamaru will use his rasengan and Temari, not expecting it, will overreact. She won't want to hurt him, but will anyway.
Still, Shikamaru takes his time. He baits fate. He waits to find the exact moment. He plays the game, keeping the other two like pieces on a shogi board.
Finally, an instant before Konohamaru hits her, and a second into Temari's inhale of preparation to block the attack, Shikamaru does the signs and plays his hand.
The shock of the rasengan hitting the ground explodes the trees around them. He can smell the freshness of newly broken trunks. When the smoke clears, he finds himself watching the steady outline of her form. He knows, of course, she hasn't looked back at him. She hasn't confirmed his presence, but is still calm within it.
He moves forward. His feet feel grounded, heavy in each step. He comes up five feet apart from her, overlooking the pit as she hardly even glances his way.
Shikamaru follows her gaze. He watches the stone with King engraved on it pulled from their pockets.
The village, he had meant —the people.
But now, he thinks, was that really what he had meant? Was that what he had understood? Now, standing beside her, was there something else more important?
She levels her gaze at him and holds it for only an instant as though she knows what he is thinking, but he feels it all the way to his knees regardless.
"Protecting the village is a huge responsibility too," he says, pulling his eyes away from her and hopping from makeshift step to makeshift step into the pit, "but boy were you lucky."
Shikamaru doesn't realize he is awake until the blurriness clears from his gaze enough for him to see the alarm clock beside his bed. He is sitting up, hands splayed on either side. Sweat drips from his temples and pools in his collarbone; runs in cold lines down his chest. He lost his shirt at some point during the night. His whole body burns, but his skin is cold to the touch. Maybe he is getting sick.
He is surprised to have had that dream. Less like a dream, more like a memory. Maybe it was a memory of pre-war. Pre-death. Pre-hunger.
He doesn't remember.
That was before.
Was any of it ever real?
His sheets are settled around his hips. His pants are still on, but he can make out his shirt a few feet away on the floor. His inhales slowly, holds it, and then exhales into a sigh, falling back against his pillows. It hasn't even passed midnight.
There is no moon out. The only light in his room is from the neighbor's that is still on.
The sheets are wet against his back. Why is everything so hot?
He closes his eyes, but he can still feel the breeze of the summer day on his neck, can feel the confidence of her actions pressing against his chest, like a hand squeezed around his heart and an iron heating up his gut.
When was the last time he was so confident in anything as he was back then? In anything? In anyone? Where had all that cocksure surety gone?
He is sweating too much to go back to sleep.
There is a bit of an argument between Temari and Karui in Kumo while the Kage's present have begun a private meeting, leaving the rest of them in a nearby office.
It doesn't surprise Shikamaru. He has gotten to know Karui fairly well since Choji had made his intentions clear to court her. Those were the words Ino used, which only made Choji sputter denials, but the term was accurate. Choji hadn't actually begun courting her, but was, is, consistently writing her letters stating his intention to.
Shikamaru had even delivered some to Karui, reluctantly, this morning.
Temari's quickly delivered responses don't sit well with Karui. He can see how Karui inhales each time Temari opens her mouth. They are similar, he finds. It makes sense: this bickering.
Kauri is like that, at least. And Temari isn't much different than how he remembers. They'd fought a war together, side by side. She still fights the same way now, silently, with gritted teeth. And the truth. Always the truth. He'd seen it in Suna too. He'd recognized it there too.
"You have nothing to add?" Karui asks.
Shikamaru glances over. He is leaning back in an uncomfortable wood chair, arms crossed over his chest; legs splayed before him. He flexes his feet.
Temari is somewhat beside him, but she turns her head at his invitation to speak.
Karui widens her eyes in annoyance. "Really? You have no thoughts on this?"
He meets Temari's eyes. She looks patient. What is she waiting for? Is she waiting for him to agree with her?
He swallows. Shrugs. "Not really."
Karui huffs hits her palms lightly on the table, diverting her attention back to Temari.
Temari holds his gaze though. It's only an instant, and then she gives a sort of smile and turns back to the conversation. Argument.
He watches her jaw and the back of her right ear. Had he ever been able to tell what she was thinking?
He sits beside her at dinner that night.
It isn't much. He doesn't do it too purposefully. He thinks, as he walks in and the seat beside her on the tatami mats is empty, that it would seem more purposeful if he avoided the open invitation. He thinks, in the end, it's worse that he even feels the need to do the calculation anyway.
None of it particularly matters. She smiles at his arrival, asks if she can pour him a drink. He accepts the small sake cup, filled to the brim, from her and their fingers brush. She has already been drinking — he can see it in the flush of her face and the light behind her eyes. He is about to ask how long she has been here when they are interrupted by someone across the table.
By the time he has answered the questions thrown at him, Temari is engaged in a dialogue with someone on her other side. The dinner is too large to facilitate one conversation, and the people too drunk enough to try, so they spend the whole night in discussions between the only one or two people within earshot.
He eats some of the seaweed salad in front of him, but he isn't hungry. Sometimes, when he isn't being asked a question, he finds himself mentally disengaging and concentrating on the sound of Temari's laughter beside him. It is loud and it makes him nervous. It makes him wild. But the alcohol weighs him down and drowns out everything around him. He is both out of control and steady as ever.
Shikamaru looks down, watches the bend in her wrist as she leans back. He traces her skin with his eyes, wandering up the where her arm disappears into the cuff of her sleeve a few inches below her elbow. He doesn't follow further. She is speaking to the woman across from her and would easily see him stare at her face. Shikamaru, even in this state, can gather that.
His stomach is warm, his chest feels anxious, as though he is about to embark on something.
He is tempted to touch her skin, to just brush his fingers over her to back of her hand to get her attention. He can practically feel the conclusion, as she would lean into him to see what he wanted and they would leave to speak in the crisp air outside.
He won't touch her. He doesn't know how she will react. He doesn't know why he wants to talk to her. He has no idea what he would even say. He can't figure out why she is all he has thought about all night.
They all spill out into the street together, breath visible in the frozen air. It is a little foggy at this time of night and the lights from the nearby buildings arm dimmed by the low hanging clouds. There is moisture in the air. His neck is tightly wound up in a scarf and Shikamaru can only feel the cold against his ears.
Temari shivers beside him. Kumo is bigger than Konoha. She is staying far enough away to have to take a rickshaw or be stuck walking for another hour. So he waits with her while she and a few other guests wait in line to get in one.
"It's so cold," she breaths, tone easy and slippery with the alcohol they'd both drunk too much of.
She has a coat on, but he thinks it's probably one that doesn't get much use. Her nose is red. If he were to touch her face, tonight, it would be numb.
"I should have sat across from you," he says instead of anything else.
For an instance, he remember Ino's disappointment, but then passes it over. It isn't good to dwell on things like that.
Temari doesn't turn to face him, but he can see the surprise etched into her features. Her brow creases, she sucks in her cheeks; stiffens her shoulders. Everything about her is so goddamn familiar.
(especially now, especially at night, especially when he isn't thinking clearly)
Her exhale sounds close to a laugh. His knees go weak. She is pulling him in again. He recognizes this centripetal force.
"I'll see you though," she asks, voice light. "Right?"
His face feels clammy in the cold humidity. "Next time." He affirms.
They step forward and she gives the address to her driver. She offers him a wave in parting, and her avoidance of eye contact doesn't hit like he thinks it should have.
He doesn't sleep. He doesn't dream. He walks through the empty streets far into the night until the crest of dawn begins to break earlier than it does in the Leaf, so high up Kumo is.
Shikamaru's fingers are numb, but his hands press themselves tightly into his jacket pockets regardless.
He walks. He paces down street after street. He becomes lost. He learns the curves of road. He finds his way back.
He thinks about the war.
They walked then too. They didn't sleep then too.
He used to complete his work with her sitting on the opposite side of his desk. Her hair used to glint in the candlelight they worked by — oil lamps if they were lucky. Her breathing slowed when she tired. Her shoulders were smaller with the weight they'd lost. Their uniforms scratched all the softness away from their skin. Her hands, when they brushed his in the exchange of something, were always dry; her lips always cracking.
They were always so precarious. Always on the edge of a precipice, sidestepping one another over and over until they were both about to topple off.
It was a war. They were violent. Deadly. Night after night in tents or makeshift cabins until he couldn't remember what it had felt like before… that. But they, the two of them, felt delicate, like a plate of china about to tip over.
What was he doing? What was he thinking? Why was he acting as though they didn't even know each other? Was that what you did — was that what he was meant to do? When he cared for her and he hurt her?
How could he forget? How could he pretend they were ever anything else?
Why did everything about her always make him stupid? Why had no one ever existed for him except her?
But what did it matter? Was any of it ever even real?
It's shocking how fast everything happens from there. How fast it all comes rushing back, as though perhaps, maybe, he had never really forgotten it.
He thinks about her eyes when she got in the rickshaw on her way to her hotel. He wonders why she hadn't asked him — why hadn't she asked him in beside her?
She wanted to. He knew that much.
He thinks about how everything she does has always been so predictable. Everything about her is the same as it was then. He knows exactly what she wants.
So he also knows why she didn't ask. He's always known.
She is all he has ever wanted. She is all he has ever thought about.
He may have moved on, but in the important ways, he has always felt the weight of her absence. Even in his purview, he has always known it would have been better with her.
His elbows dig into the mattress and his shoulders hurt with the tenure of weight they hold as he keeps himself up on his forearms. He isn't thinking about much, isn't thinking about anything really, just going through the motions he had so long ago acquired into habit. Even as her fingers curl around his bicep and she squeezes her eyes shut and breathes harder to make herself come sooner, he isn't thinking about anything particular.
She raises her hips in tune with a rounded heel bruising into the muscle of his calf and he pushes harder at her insistence.
She raises them higher and finally gets annoyed and turns her head. "Why won't you finish this?" She asks, voice hoarse and tone accusatory.
He is so far over her, shoulders in line with her eyes, he only has to turn his head towards her to see the crinkle of her brow.
"Well maybe if you weren't just lying there…"
Temari exhales and lets go of the fist she'd made of the sheets to slap his side, smile pulling up the corner of her lips.
"I wouldn't be if you were doing anything to make me come."
She's joking and happy and he feels it everywhere; feels the blood paint his cheeks even more red and feel his chest warm even though they're both already covered in sweat. He's so comfortable with it, so used to this giddy and easy sex, that is as much a chore as a gift and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Oh," Shikamaru feigns, falling down from his forearms to rest his weight against her chest, pressing into the softness of her breast. "I'm so sorry."
Temari laughs, and circles her arms around his shoulders to hold him to her, taking his earlobe between her lips. "You should be."
"We'll try to amend that," he grunts, words still caught in his smile as he re-shifts his weight a bit to be able to thrust so hard they almost move up the bed.
The noise she makes is caught between a short laugh and the exhalation of a moan. "Yes," she whispers, holding him tighter, voice beguiling encouragement in his ear, "that'll do it."
He laughs, sweat running down his chest and dripping onto the sheet beside her head. He pushes that hard again and then again and faster this time until he feels her begin to lose the coherency she only lets down with him.
"I love you," she whispers, so caught up he barely catches it. He knows this, she says it all the time, but he holds onto it and as he grunts over the shaky breath she is extending beneath him, it is all he can hear over and over. I love you, I love you.
"Good." He says, caught in half a smile and half a moan as he keens into her until he isn't thinking once more because there is nothing to occupy his senses except her.
He has never been happier, never, more than this.
Shikamaru knows, down to the minute, the time Gaara is meant to arrive, but he doesn't admit this — perhaps not even to himself. He purposefully moves about his day avoiding the entrance into town, avoiding Naruto or any of his other friends that might rope him into going out with the visiting Kazekage.
It's an unofficial visit. Gaara comes for them occasionally. Normally, Shikamaru would see him — would go out drinking with him and Kankuro and everyone else from their childhood circle. They'd go to lunch and then later maybe pass them at the movies. They would throw around a few words about work, but that would be all. Shikamaru would spend his break — the one Naruto inevitably took to spend time with Gaara — to lose himself in the clouds and the warmth of sunlight on his forehead as the grassy knolls he napped on licked at his cheeks.
Well, no, it's winter now. He'd be at home or spending time with his family. He would know of Gaara's arrival and departure, but other than the few outings he'd participate in, he would spend his time in peace.
There's nothing like that this time.
Temari is coming today and so Shikamaru busies himself as much as possible to avoid the inevitable consequence of being reluctantly pulled into her gravity. Waiting at home isn't an option, but going out isn't either. Hiding is too pitiful and Shikamaru doesn't really have any reason to hide, does he? He has no real reason to avoid her. No real reason at all.
So he wanders and runs errands he would initially have completed some months in the future. He returns some books and stops by to see Shiho for a few minutes and drops some flowers on Asuma's grave and buys more cigarettes so he won't have to when he runs out in a few weeks.
It's no matter though, Sakura catches him only two streets from his house the second day of their visit.
"We're going to spar," she says, hands already gloved and eyes bright. "Come."
"Isn't it too cold to be outside?"
Sakura rolls her eyes and waves a hand in the air as she turns away from him. "Get over it, you're coming."
Sparring is too close to sex. He remembers.
It has always been that way, even when they were too young to understand. It's a desire, an urge, a potential for conquest — an invitation to dominate, to hope you dominate, the other.
Shikamaru doesn't value sex as the underlying purpose of fighting, but they are connected. And when there is sex — when sex is already a factor in the relationship — sparring is about the closest one comes to abating that same starvation.
He remembers how it feels to spar with her. He remembers how she moved, how he monitored every flick of her wrist and glance of her eye. He remembers how her chest heaved and her gaze lit into his. He remembers her hand around his throat and the feeling of her body being forced under his complete control.
He remembers all of that.
While fighting, as the training fields blow up with Naruto's yells and the thumping of Choji's expansion jutsu rolling over the hills, he can ignore the memory of possessing Temari. He stays beside Ino and keeps her back protected as she concentrates, avoiding looking towards Temari as often possible.
It's not reciprocal, he knows. He can feel her eyes weighted on him, her will for him to turn her way.
He doesn't know what she wants. He knows — he knew, that night in Kumo — but his answer makes no sense. He can't rectify it with all the other answers he has already gathered — gathered tightly against his chest.
"Wow," Ino says towards the end, turning in to half-whisper in his ear. "This is awkward."
He opens his mouth to deny it, but there is no point. Her desire for him is so strong, everyone must feel it.
"Hey Shikamaru," Naruto says, jumping down from the tree above them, "I totally forgot. You and Gaara's sister used to date, didn't you?"
Ino has to cover to her mouth with her palm to keep the laugh from extending beyond a surprised bark, turning on her heel to look between Naruto and Shikamaru.
He, on the other hand, feels all the breath catch in his throat and he can't do anything more than shake his head.
"No," Naruto urges, face sweaty and cheeks red, "you definitely did. I remember. Bad breakup?"
"We didn't —"
Naruto shrugs and turns away, "I guess it was bound to not work out," he says flippantly, already moving on to scope out the rest of the fight, "you two are too different. I'm glad you came anyway."
A second later he has propelled himself back up into the foliage and Shikamaru is left trying to recover his wits.
He feels the truth of the matter — and the ignorance of everyone else — deep in his gut.
"That's—" Ino begins, sober with Naruto's absence, but Shikamaru cuts her off with a raised hand and readies his stance once more.
The light is so bright, he only sees her as a silhouette. More, the sun is high enough that the light seems to wrap around her division in it until almost her whole form is lost in the glow.
They are in Suna. Even as he shifts on his hands to come to standing, he recognizes it as a dream.
Perhaps less of a dream and more of an old, remembered fantasy. He's had this one before. He'd had it a lot, during the war.
The air past the balcony doors is crisp and smells of old dirt and sunshine. Her kimono flutters around her ankles in the breeze. Her shoulder blades press back against the fabric, sharp and framed by muscles.
Shikamaru steps closer and watches the flex of her wrist as she leans over the balcony. Everything about her is vivid, from the gleam of her hair in the sunlight to the feeling in his chest: reckless, suspended.
Still, as he weaves his arms around her middle and brings his mouth to rest it against the back of her shoulder, he knows she is allowing him, she is the one to let him envelop her. She's given this permission and, for this instant, she is his.
She says nothing, but he can feel her curve of her smile intrinsic to her change in inhale. Her hair tickles his nose.
He knows, holding her like this, this is what love means. This is the actualization of what he has felt for years, the manifestation of his greatest testimony. This, standing with her in his arms on this balcony, gaze blinded by the light, is what it means to love and be loved: salvation, surrender; resolution.
It is her fault.
There is poison on her tongue and she never speaks the truth.
She was the older one, the mature one, the leader. She consumed him, not the opposite: her allurement, her leverage against him — not his.
She is the one that brought him, them, to ruin. She should have known, when he turned away that night, when he left the room, that he was just too young. He was too young to choose. Too young to leap.
If love — falling down, throwing yourself, losing yourself — is suicide, then he was too young to deliver his own destruction.
And now, she sits with him and glances at him over tea and treats him like someone special, like a close compatriot. But nothing like that was ever one-sided.
She had expected too much. He had been too young; too scared.
It is her fault. She should have known. When he left, she should have chased him. She should have asked, just asked, him to stay.
This is why he blames her. Didn't she know — if she had only asked him, how could he have said no?
But it doesn't matter, they never would have worked out anyway. Too many inconsistent factors, too many rivaling desires and priorities. It is good she didn't chase him, good he turned away really, in the end.
Winter is on the edge, some mornings cold enough to confuse the month, but by midday the dew has settled over the grass as though it is simply waiting to dry up rather than freeze over once night comes once more.
Her staring has become more open now. He wonders when she will get the message. How is she still waiting for him? She should have said whatever it was years ago. She's had her chance, he decides.
They are in Iwa though, and as some of the only few foreigners, they spend their time together.
She says nothing on it though. She accepts his few comments on the weather and doesn't look to him to back her up in arguments.
"You've been quiet," she says the second round of meetings, but she says nothing more on the subject. She doesn't even look to see his shrug of response.
Still, even if they don't speak, even if he openly ignores her adjuration, he very rarely stands anywhere other than at her side. It's easier this way, honestly.
It's reckless, sure, more arduous, but at least this way it isn't hard to keep looking away from her.
He drinks too much one night. Shikamaru knows this, even as he waves the bartender over for another. He feels each one burn down his throat again and again until they keep going but he's past the point of being able to feel their bearing into his body.
"Slow down," Choji advises with a strong hand at his back.
Karui is here too, now. She sits beside Choji with a hand on his thigh and her shot glass twisted between her fingers. She's been here for over a month and Shikamaru, even though he spends much more time with her on a daily basis, finds himself missing her in meetings. Omoi is, honestly, a lame substitute.
"Why?" He poses, putting his now empty glass down on the counter a fraction too loudly. That one spot on his jaw is beginning to burn again.
"It's a Tuesday night, for one."
"We never go out though," Karui adds, facing straight ahead of her, attention only half on them.
Shikamaru gestures with his glass to her in appreciation for the solidarity and then tilts it to the bartender to ask for another.
"Jesus," Choji bemoans, moving his hand to clamp it around Shikamaru's wrist. "Stop. You know perfectly well you won't be able to drink her away. You might as well try to talk about it before resorting to… this."
Shikamaru waits for the expected comment from Karui, but she says nothing, just keeps quietly nursing her glass on the other side of Choji. Absently, he wonders how many people know.
He licks his lips, but he can't feel his tongue on them anyway. "What do you suppose one does," Shikamaru begins with an air of acceptance, placing his glass on the counter and swiveling his stool to face Choji, "when they are in love, but never do anything about it?"
It's something he's thought about for months — for years, really, even if most days he can't say with any certainty that any of it was ever real.
—what do you do?
It's not a breakup. It's just an unnatural growing apart. Nothing was ever confronted back then, so what does one expect now?
He's never said the word aloud. He's never said it to anyone. Not once. Not to any subsequent suitor, not even to his friends or parents, even if he's meant to. It's not a word he has ever thrown around, not one he has ever actualized on his tongue. But it feels natural. It rolls off like the truth, the verification, of the answer he has always known.
But it also feels wrong, inconsiderate. He's making something of absolutely nothing.
"Do you fall out of love?" Shikamaru continues anyway, too drunk to stop himself, eyes pinning Choji's attention beside him. "Do you acknowledge that, once, you loved them, even if it wasn't acknowledged then? Do we rectify it now? Was it always just imagination?" His mouth is dry, the words grating over his arid throat, tumbling out like they have flown through his mind infinite times before. "How do you tell someone — you aren't exes. You're not old lovers. You didn't just have an affair. You're in love! Still. Even now. Always. What do you suppose one does, then?"
His soliloquy stops short. He's made his point, but the sentence feels jilted, the rectification cut off too early.
His heart is pounding. Around him, the sound of the bar drifts into his ears as though someone has just now pressed a Play button.
Choji, however, says nothing. He hardly moves. He just watches, with patience, and perhaps a little pity, at Shikamaru's expression, pleading in their sincerity.
"What else do you do?" Shikamaru asks again, quieter this time.
Behind Choji, Karui turns her head to glance at him for only a second before moving to stare back at the bartender. She gestures for him to come refill their drinks.
Finally, after much too long, Choji shakes his head and pulls his hand away from Shikamaru's wrist.
"Honestly," he says, grabbing his newly refilled glass and taking a large gulp. "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard." He takes another sip, this one smaller. "Just talk to her. I mean, jesus. Are you serious? I don't know what you're so scared of. It's not like she doesn't have feelings for you. We all know…." He shakes his head again.
Shikamaru gulps. He should go home. He feels unsteady.
"I don't know," Choji says after a moment, "what happened between you. But whatever it is, she's not over it either. Just… talk to her. It's simple."
They are asked to spar again. It's been several months since she reappeared in his life — like lightening, like she'd never left, like he'd never forgotten her.
They're in Konoha, again, still. It's spring now. It is smaller this time. He reluctantly agrees with Choji's urging when they bump into her and some of her traveling companions on the street.
In some ways, it comes as no surprise when she is the one that refuses. He is waiting for it, has been waiting, really.
There are some things he doesn't remember well enough — some memories he can't parse as real or as fantasies, sometimes, he thinks, perhaps, none of it was ever real. But this, this is real. This he remembers.
Temari is polite about it, like she is about everything these days. She yells (with the truth) at everyone else, but she is always polite, demure even, to him. He hates it, loathes it, but he won't take any action to change it.
"Next time," she says, smile genuine and tone even, though he knows exactly why she won't join him. It's the same reason she is avoiding his eyes right now. It is the same reason he won't talk to her. It's what Choji and Naruto and Ino never understood.
They arrange a time for the rest of them to meet and then they separate. He doesn't see her for the rest of her trip.
Shikamaru moves without thinking. He does that, sometimes, when things get a little too out of hand. It's rare, but it has happened.
Maybe, he thinks later, even if he had had the capability of better gauging the situation, using his shadows on her would still be the right move.
Regardless, it is what happens. He makes the signs and watches the two shadows, moving over the ground swiftly, grab her — become her. He can feel it, the moment he has possession of her body. He's done this a thousand times, over and over until it's habit.
Still, he doesn't need to feel it happening, he can see it. He catches the moment she realizes she is being held by him, owned by him. Her whole body, already poised on the adrenaline of a fight, stiffens. Shikamaru has no time to think on it — he moves her before she can protest. It is nothing big, not even an imitation, just a grab and go manipulation, pulling her to the side in an effort to show her the opening on an enemy she has missed.
He thinks, later, he could have called out to her instead, but this had somehow been more instinctive.
Afterwards, the minute his control slips down her skin and away, she shoots him a horrified look that he feels to his core. It shakes his whole world — throws him completely off balance. She has never looked at him like that. She has never looked at him, never, like she was… scared of him.
She's panicked. He knows, somewhere, somehow, it is a violation.
He knows he's used it on her before. Once or twice, when they were younger. And he does it all the time on others, friends and enemies alike, but here she is looking like he robbed her of something he doesn't recognize. It is vile, hateful, and scary.
That was what happened, all those years ago. They didn't grow apart naturally. They didn't just separate and move from friends to strangers.
He hurt her. He hurt her even though she was the only thing he wanted to protect.
It was an accident, he'd said all those years ago. He meant nothing by it. He was trying to use her. He was her leader in proxy, it was his job.
And then less than a week later, a week full of awful avoidances and her weak excuses to never be alone together, Temari reached out and brushed her hand over his cheek, as though nothing had ever happened. She reached across their makeshift desk and brushed her knuckles over his skin, right at his jaw. Her eyes were decisive, like she was finally taking the charge he was too stupid not to take, and admitting what was between them.
And then, just to confirm, he pulled from her own shadow created by her form against the lamplight and wrapped it around her wrist. She flinched back.
He left the room before she could call him back — so fast, he didn't even get a chance to see if she would try to say his name.
It is his fault.
Shikamaru was the one that left. She was the one that took that step, the one who actualized something between them, gave shape to what until then had only been unspoken, and he was the one that turned away. She consumed him, but he thought, maybe, even then, that he consumed her too.
He'd thought, why hate him for controlling her? How could she find his jutsu, the call of his name, so violating, so terrible? He was so possessed by her, was it not fair that she, just once, let him possess her in return?
He was angry and humiliated but, more than those, absolutely regretful. He couldn't believe that something like that, something born of himself, could be harmful to another in essence. He had been too young, too selfish to understand that just by doing his what he was born to do, he was hurting her.
So instead, when she flinched away from him, he had brushed it off without realizing that by leaving her he was leaving them.
But it was nothing. It has long since been over. They separated and went home and dealt with their own lives and their own consequences. Eventually he was pulled into Naruto's work and she became a sensei of her own genin. He thought of her less and he moved on, carried on, because what else was there to do?
And then, like nothing had ever happened between them, like she hadn't once been the center of his entire world, she appeared again standing behind her brother and smiling at Shikamaru like nine years had only been a few days.
He doesn't know how he feels. He doesn't know what is real. It's been so long. He remembers the confidence in her companionship, the steadiness in her shoulder, the truths she reasoned between clenched teeth, but he doesn't know these things to be real. They surely had never slept together, yet he remembers that as well as Konohmaru blowing a hole in the woods outside town. Is one more true than the other? If one hadn't happened, what did that mean for his memory? Shikamaru can't distinguish what is fantasy and what is reality. He doesn't know how much, if any, is real.
But he is so steady. Everything about him. He's never moved in one direction or the other. He keeps his morals close to his chest. Temari is the singular fluctuating equation without a fixed answer, but it doesn't matter, because he is steady. He never acts out of turn. Everything about his whole life is predictable. Everything, except, perhaps, her.
Does he love her? Did he ever? Only then? Or does he love a concocted history of her entire that has never really existed?
It's all too complicated. A part of him understands — understands her and understands what he wants, but another part, an equally weighted one, understands absolutely nothing. Everything about her is contrary to what he wants; what he's always thought he understood.
They pass almost half a year in relative silence. He is twenty-seven now. She is a frequent attendant in his life, but she never lingers in any impactful away. She is a coworker, they speak only in representing the interests of their respective countries.
He thinks nothing of it. This is their fate. It's kismet, and what chance does he have to stand against that? As unknowing as Naruto was, perhaps he understood something more inherent than Shikamaru had given him credit for: they were simply too incompatible. He remembers before, when they were something else, but they're not that now. She owes him nothing. He never should have expected her attention.
Which is why it is so surprising when she calls to him after a meeting one afternoon in October.
He glances back, too quickly, surprised by the brusk ejection of his name.
She inhales, pulls him in with the wideness of her eyes, and steels herself, as though she was unsure in the moment before she called to him.
He is on the edge of people to leave, but Gaara, behind him, pushes past Shikamaru with little more than a glance to see why his sister is keeping her Leaf counterpart privately after the meeting.
She has transitioned, in some point between him sidestepping Gaara and glancing back at her, to look sure in his regard, confident in her position.
"Are you busy?" She asks, tone level now.
He can't think. "No," he replies honestly, though if he had a break from her gaze, he would have reconsidered his bearings. He doesn't want to open himself in any way.
She swallows. Her lips part. A single stray of hair has fallen loose from the ties and is curled against her forehead, only seen because of the light's angle through the window. "Will you walk me back to my hotel?
Shikamaru's response isn't as quick this time. His breath catches. He understands nothing of what she means.
"Surely you know how to get there on your own."
Temari halts momentarily. She is surprised at his refusal. So is he, honestly, even if he has no interest (no interest at all) in saying yes. Still, it is short and rude to refuse her. She is the guest. And he would do it for absolutely anyone else.
(Once, actually, too long ago to really remember, he was paid to walk her to her hotel).
He remedies after a beat. "But I will accompany you." It takes too long though and his acquiescence doesn't remedy the awkwardness now present between them.
Temari doesn't budge though. She doesn't turn away or avert her eyes. He doesn't know what he is expecting, but when she simply continues to stare at him, waiting, without any alteration, he feels the incorrectness of the moment.
Shikamaru inhales, holds his breath, and then steps further out of the doorway to allow her to pass through it. Temari only tilts her head and walks purposefully past him. He follows after a step or two, only a few inches behind. He keep his gaze on the back of her shoulders, on the steadiness of her neck as she steps out of the academy building, listens as her sandals crunch against the dirt of the street.
She waits a moment for him to come to her side and then continues in the direction of her hotel. She is staying more nearby than the place she used to when they were teenagers.
Still, they walk down roads that they haven't walked down together in over ten years.
Temari doesn't speak. He doesn't know what he is expecting.
Nothing, actually he is expecting absolutely nothing from her.
And yet beside her, the denial of a few inches separating their shoulders, he finds his heart pounding faster. Everything around her is always… faster.
She doesn't slow down as they approach the hotel. She doesn't stop at the entrance or make any movement for his attention, so he follows her without pause. It's only half a hallway to her room.
"Gaara is one over," she says as a break in the silence, sliding her key into the lock. Shikamaru waits impatiently behind her. He rubs his jaw.
And then they are inside. There is a desk and a television and a bed haphazardly made with the covers pulled up to the pillows.
"Temari," he says, prorates, as the door closes behind him. She is standing in the middle of the room, five feet from him, turned to level her eyes on his.
He inhales. The cut of her gaze burns in his chest and in his periphery he can see her collar bone heave with the weight of her own inhalation.
"I don't know if you remember," he says, hardly understanding why the words are coming out of his mouth. "I don't know if it means anything to you," Temari's stare is unbroken as the words tumble out, "but during the war, once, when we were talking about nothing important, you reached across the desk and…." He trails off, unsure how to continue. But Temari lets him. She looks at him like there are no words to finish his sentence that would possibly surprise her.
And still he understands nothing. He is skirting on the edge of a theory, tiptoeing to the line of erudition, but veering only centimeters away with the refusal of being pulled into her.
There are some things he can allow, if only to himself: one, he loves her. It is useless denying it. It was useless denying it then. It's been useless and futile everyday for years when he pretended she was no more than an old, long lost, childhood friend. And she loves him. She's sought his attention, taken it and held it close, since he was only a kid. Right now, she seeks nothing more than his consent, his surrender. Two, he is here for sex, after all. He's known it, meant it probably, since the moment she asked him to walk her back. Three, since the day he left her, everything has seemed meaningless. He lives and he works and he enjoys because he's alive, but it is all so minimal compared to what those exact same experiences would be if she were by his side.
But there are more things he knows, more things he remembers: four, she wants more than him from this life. She wants the world and he only wants her. There has never been any hope of him giving her what she wants, not really. Five, they may not disagree on anything that matters, but they disagree on everything else in every other respect. Naruto is right, ignorant as he is: they are not compatible, whichever way he looks at it.
Right now though, he's looking at Temari.
"Won't you say something?"
His mouth feels too dry, too crowded to articulate anything coherent.
"What do you want me to say?"
Temari moves back a step and flexes her wrists in irritation. Her brow scrunches and she inhales sharply. "Stop acting like you don't know!" She snaps, hard and resonant in the otherwise silent afternoon. "Stop acting like we don't even know each other."
"We don't," he says instinctively, but it sounds pitiful even to him. "We haven't spoken in almost a decade."
Temari glares at him. It's a look that hasn't been thrown his way since their first meeting, but he knows it all the same. "That means absolutely nothing and you know it."
"Stop telling me what you think I should know."
He hadn't meant to speak so loudly. It surprises them both.
But then Temari comes barreling forward. She takes the few steps it takes to get back to him and then she keeps going, bracing her hands and pushing her palms against his chest. He stumbles back a step, eyes wide, and then she pushes again, moving still.
She isn't trying to hurt him. She isn't adding any chakra to her blows or working to throw him against a wall or dresser or anything. She stops after the second push, leaving them feet from the sturdiness of the door, but he finds his knees so weak he thinks he better move to lean against it.
Temari looks furious. Angry. Unheard. Betrayed, even.
Shikamaru pauses. For a moment it looks like she is going to hit him again. He can see it happening, can see her elbow pull back and her fist clench, and he thinks, maybe, for only a second — finally.
But the blow never comes.
She stops short and he chokes on his breath. The silence is weighted heavier this time, thick and laden with the interruption of her punch.
He sees the change as much as he feels it: the stalled rise of her body, the relaxation of acceptance.
They are only inches apart now, stalled and anxious with the only sound in the room being the pounding of his heart. He feels sweat gather at his temples. Temari smells like sunshine. It carries into his every breath, spreading out in his ribs like tentacles wrapping around his bones. They haven't been this close since the war.
Slowly, slow enough that the trail burns under the scrutiny, she moves her eyes to his lips. They part, with any purpose, and his mouth feels baited.
A breath, and then she tilts her chin up with the force of intention behind her.
He holds his breath.
Six, she is scared of him. `
"Don't ask me this," he whispers, soft enough that he isn't even sure she'd understand had she not had her eyes set on his mouth. His whole chest vibrates. "Don't ask me to do this."
Shikamaru straightens. He hadn't even realized he'd been leaning down. Temari has already moved first though, taking two steps back the moment of his rejection, pulling her whole force away from him, as though she were attached to a rubber band and it was simply snapping her back into place.
He looks down. He doesn't want to see her. He doesn't understand anything. Not then, not now.
"Okay," Temari says, shaky through the first half of the word before she steels herself. "That's okay." She takes another step. "I get it. You're not into me." Another step, her sandal sliding on the tatami mat. She sounds sure. He stares harder at the ground. "It happens. Not all love it reciprocated."
His head shoots up. Doesn't she know? Doesn't she understand?
"I'm sorry," she says, relaxing her posture to seem ambivalent with the whole affair.
Everything about her is a lie. Everything is calculated. She never speaks the truth. He's never trusted her.
"For assuming something without properly consulting you."
He opens his mouth to speak —
to say so many things at the tip of his tongue about how she is all wrong and nothing has ever mattered for him except her
— but he has nothing to say, so he closes it again.
"It was unfair of me." She finishes.
Another breath. His catches in his chest.
"Don't apologize. It happens," is all he manages, half-hearted and said without any real intention. And then he turns around with energy he had long thought gone and reaches for the door. Temari says nothing more to stop him and so he doesn't stop walking until he closes the front door to his own house just in time to land his whole weight against it to support him as he sinks to the ground.
He mostly thinks he's done the right thing.
It would be immature and a surrender to his base instincts and worn fantasies if he had accepted her.
But he also thinks about what a mistake he has made. He has only this life, only this chance — shouldn't he prioritize his own happiness? His own desire?
Is that what he is supposed to do? It's been so long; his feelings so contrived he can't tell what is real, an old anger and a new one tangled together too impenetrably for him to understand.
It's no matter though. He said no and she accepted his answer and so it was over now.
Maybe, this time, he could move on. Onwards and upwards. He had before, hadn't he?
The sun is setting by the time his mother finally gets up to take the cups back into the kitchen.
"You'll catch a cold if you stay out here," she says as the door falls shut behind her.
Shikamaru just shrugs, leaning back in his chair and reaching into his pants to pull out a mostly-crumpled pack of cigarettes.
"Mama told me I'm not allowed to be with you when you're smoking anymore."
Shikamaru stops midway through clicking his lighter, hand poised around the end of the unlit cigarette between his lips to keep out any breeze. He looks over at Mirai.
She just mimics his shrug.
"Kurenai is one to talk. Look at who she married."
"My parents never got married."
Shikamaru waves his hand. "In all the ways that matter they did."
"And anyway," Mirai continues, curled up on the chair, knees pressed against her chest. It's a Saturday evening and she isn't dressed nearly enough to keep her warm. "She says he stopped smoking when she got pregnant."
"Ha," Shikamaru exhales. "Bullshit." But he puts the lighter back in his coat pocket anyway. The cigarette he holds between his fingers on his lap, eyeing the thing from different angles.
They're silent for a few minutes. It's comfortable, each lost in their own thoughts. Or, at least he had found the moment forgiving, but Mirai interrupts it to ask why he is so tense.
"I'm not," Shikamaru says quickly, head popping up and snapping her way.
"Yes you are," she says, more carefully this time, just as the front door opens. "Just look at you."
Yoshino steps outside, a heavy sweater wrapped tightly around her waist. "What?" She asks, glancing between the two of them.
"Nothing," he says at the same time Mirai clarifies with: he's tense.
His mother steps further out onto the porch and back to the chair she had recently been occupying. "Oh, it's Temari."
The air leaves his lungs so quickly he chokes on it's absence without quite figuring the ability to replace it.
Mirai gives him an annoyed look he catches as he coughs, head swimming.
"You mean his ex-girlfriend?"
"What —" Shikamaru begins when he has regained enough sensibility.
"That's the one," Yoshino offers. "She's in town."
"She's not — wait, how do you even know that?"
It's Yoshino's turn to shrug. "I hear things."
It's Ino, he's sure of it.
"So what's the matter?" Mirai asks, looking at his mother now instead of him, as though can offer some sort of answers he can't. "Want to get back together?"
"He's being a big wuss about it," Yoshino gives. "Won't just admit how he feels."
"You have it all wrong," Shikamaru tries, leaning forward in his chair. His heart is pounding for absolutely no reason. They don't understand anything.
"His father was the same way."
"Really?" Mirai says, leaning back in her chair and looking toward the sunset. "Huh."
"Yeah," his mother continues. "He always thought they'd get together too, if Shikamaru could ever keep up with her."
"Will you?" Mirai asks, turning to him now.
But Shikamaru has paused, his fingers accidentally snapping the cigarette in his lap.
"Dad thought I would marry Temari?"
Yoshino doesn't perk up at the gravity of his tone, as though she had been expecting it, but Mirai does, surprised at the sudden shift.
"He was hoping you'd end up together."
"No he wasn't."
Yoshino looks away and sighs. "Maybe," she admits, "it was me. I don't remember. We only talked about it once."
"Mom —" he begins, but she interrupts, gaze pointed at the sky.
"He wouldn't've ever said anything. He didn't want to put any more unwarranted pressure on you when you already put so much on yourself. When he had already put so much on you as a child." She inhales and then exhales slowly. "But she always made you happy, so we thought, probably, she would be good for you."
There is a long pause after that. Shikamaru has nothing to say.
Finally Mirai, all of eleven years-old, and even that, barely, is the one to break the silence with a seemingly long-worn and won knowledge: "love doesn't have to be hard, Shikamaru. It can be simple, too."
He thinks about what Mirai says for a long time. He tries to parse the words, tries to move them around and then fit them back together.
He thinks about Temari and what has happened since she touched him and he left her, about was has happened since she left politics and started a genin team and then left them too. He thinks about what has happened since she came back into his world. He thinks though, really, she had never really left it in the first place.
He wonders on things he has tried to ignore. He thinks on them categorically, separating glances and meanings and trying to understand her. Trying to understand himself.
He recognizes, though, that she isn't the same. That he is the cold one now, the disciplined one, the one who doesn't understand trust. She's the sentimental one, now, the one who doesn't let anything like history or the rigidity of old affectation dictate her decisions.
Though in other ways, nothing has changed. She still idolizes dedication. She likes loyalty. Even if she seems so otherwise at first glance, she likes predictability, in her own way. But what is she loyal to now? She left her brother and then she left her genin and she pushed Kankuro out when she decided to come back.
And then, eventually, after a long time, he realizes that she hasn't been disloyal or non-committing, her dedication simply lied in other things. It lied, lies, in him, he thinks, but he doesn't know how to quite articulate that.
Shikamaru doesn't do much during this time. He calls in sick through the final two days of the Suna delegation's visit and then once they're gone he goes out a few times with Ino and Choji and when he's with Naruto they talk about nothing but work.
Life carries on with his purposeful deprivation, even if it feels as though somehow, all around him, the dice are loaded.
It's around nine o'clock on Friday morning when his doorbell rings. He's already ten or so minutes late to work, but that's only to be expected. He's still in his pajamas and nursing his second cup of coffee with little intention of making any motions toward leaving for at least the next half hour.
He pauses, one foot pulled up on his chair as he overlooks the morning paper — nothing of any particular interest. He waits a moment, expecting the doorbell to ring a second time if it's not simply a package, but the ring doesn't come.
Shikamaru has no explanation for it, but, with the belief that it is only some kind of delivery waiting on his step, he decides to prematurely get up and walk into the living room to the front door.
He sweeps his hair up and into a ponytail too, just in case.
Still, he's reasonably sure it will only be a box. He is quite taken aback then, practically speechless, when he pulls it open to find Temari.
She is anxious on his doorstep, lips tight and breath already coming quickly. She blinks in surprise when she sees him, as though she had accidentally come to the wrong door, but a moment later, before he has caught up and even opened his mouth for a customary greeting, she has pushed past him and walked with quick steps into his living room.
"Temari," he says, slowly, turning to face her, hand still holding the doorknob. "I thought you'd left." Gaara and the others had, last Sunday.
Belatedly, Shikamaru closes the door. A second later, he flips on the living room light when he thinks the sun is still a little too low for much natural light to come in. It's all he can really do, because he can't quite think quick enough to understand what is happening right now.
Temari doesn't seem to notice. She doesn't seem to have even heard him. Instead, she spends only a second glancing around before beginning to pace back and forth, eyes avoiding him.
"You know," she begins, a little neurotic, steps a little too fast, "I thought maybe seven days were enough, you know, for me to, well, process your rejection." She stops, for only a second, and turns to stare at him. And then she begins pacing again, between the wall and one of his couches. "But no, you know what, that's not fair. It's not fair." One of her hands waves in the air as though to try and get some sort of point across.
"Temari," he says again, leaning to take a step forward, "let's—"
He does — air caught in his lungs and a lump in his throat.
"You don't get to just leave again."
It feels like a blow to the chest. The immediate and loud expanse of his exhale make his head swim, as though deprived of oxygen. He knows she isn't talking about last week, but talking about that night a long, long time ago. He didn't just leave. He didn't —
"We can talk about it," she continues, standing still now, her whole body facing him, open and honest. "And you can give me a fair rejection. Tell me that I'm wrong. That I'm the one that doesn't understand."
"You don't understand!" He snaps, finding his voice with all the force of a snapped band, elbows tight and hands balled into fists. "You've never seemed to understand."
"You're the one that never lets me. You give me no agency!" Temari responds in kind, body moving forward with the same velocity as her words hitting against him. "You're so self-involved, Shikamaru. Haven't you ever wondered what I'm going through?"
He says it before he knows what he's doing, before he knows what he wants to accomplish.
Mirai and Choji are all wrong. There is no simplicity in this.
"I know," he begins, lost long before he has said anything, "I understand. I hurt you. I used my shadows and I violated you. I know. I made you afraid of me. You don't think I know that?"
Temari stops her progression a second later, as though only processing what he is saying a palpable moment after he has stopped saying it.
Her brow furrows and she takes a step back. "What?" She shakes her head. "What are you talking about?"
Everything is silent. He doesn't even hear the metronomic pump of blood in his ears, but he does feel like someone has reached in between his ribs again and wrapped a hand sharply against his heart with the sole intention of squeezing it until it bursts; until he bursts.
And then: nevermind, she says, with another head shake. "I know what you're saying."
Another beat and Shikamaru tips back for his shoulders to hit the doorway in hopes that it might carry some of his weight, eyes falling to his feet.
"But you've got it all wrong."
His head shoots up, a piece of hair falling of the poorly done tie.
"I didn't… I wasn't afraid." Temari inhales and turns her head to the side.
Her shoulders tense and he suddenly feels like he is sixteen again and being swept into her without power to withdraw. It's like a gravitation pool around her, bringing him to his knees before her.
"Well, maybe I was. But never of you. Never."
She sighs. The room gets momentarily darker, even with the overhead, as a cloud covers the sun.
"I mean jesus, I've fought against ninjustus that take control of me before, Shikamaru. I am a kuniochi, after all."
"That day, on the field, it wasn't that you were controlling my body. It was that I wanted you to do it. I liked it." Temari closes her eyes and lowers her voice. "I liked the control, the defeat of giving everything to someone." And then, carefully, and with a newer confidence, she turns her head and opens her eyes to stare at him point-blank. "I wanted you to move me. I liked that you used me along the battlefield like I was a piece in one of your shogi games. I liked that you were aware of the game, that you were aware of me. Which of course you were, I mean, you had to be. But this was different."
Shikamaru swallows. He can't understand.
"That night. Of course I remember it. I was scared, but of how much I wanted you to continue. Of how desperate I was. Of how desperate I've always been, for you."
He can feel himself pale, feel his limbs go cold and all the heat in his body pull into his chest. He even notices his fingertips shaking against his thigh.
How has he misunderstood everything so gravely? How could he, all this time, be so incredibly wrong?
Or maybe Temari misunderstood. Maybe she, even before then — maybe.
"We never would have worked out," he says without meaning any of it. He thinks of her dress in the wind and the cut of her smile and the way he can't distinguish what is dream and what is memory and he wonders if any of that has ever even mattered. "You always wanted more than me. Nothing I could give would have been enough for you."
The look that Temari gives him makes his throat hurt. Something has changed. She looks angry, frustrated, beyond relief.
"No!" She says, shaking her head, vexed into coming forward and reaching out her hands like she might better get the point across if she shakes it into him. "I wanted you."
Then Temari drops her hands and exhales. "Don't speak like you know. Why are you always doing that?" A breath. "You were enough. You would have satisfied everything! Having you…" she trails off.
And then there is nothing to say anymore.
It doesn't matter if any of it is real anymore, it doesn't matter if it ever was (but boy was it ever). He feels himself being pulled in, swept up into the constant centripetal force around her, as he has been absolutely every day since she clucked her tongue at him standing in the bearing sun in the stadium at fifteen.
He's loved her for so long. He's wanted to be loved by her for so long, he shakes with it.
"You have been," she says, quieter this time, and he thinks, perhaps, he said that whole thing out loud.
"I know," he manages, almost a whisper, before he really is falling into her. She steps forward and catches his weight and lets him press in as they fall to their knees together.
"What do you think?" Mirai asks a while later, extending one leg and lifting it above the table.
"That you're wearing pants?" Temari asks, chin balanced in her hand.
"Yes," Mirai says with exasperation, one hand twisting in the air, as though the answer should have been obvious. "For the exams."
Temari laughs, absolutely no offense taken at Mirai's pre-teen attitude, a rare, but certainly present feature. "I think it's a great idea."
"Did you always wear a dress?"
"Actually I started right before the chunin exams."
Shikamaru glances over in surprise, twisting against his shoulder as his arm hangs loosely over the back of Temari's chair. "You did?"
She turns her head in her hand. "Yeah. I wore pants while training as a genin. I think it was because I didn't want to be seen as weaker than my brothers… well, weaker than Kankuro." She smiles and then glances back to Mirai across the table. "And I wore pants during the war too, but we all did."
Mirai shrugs. Shikamaru is pretty sure she won't pass the exams next week — unless she has some talent he isn't aware of or gets assigned an opponent at the bottom of the heap — but she will learn from the tournament and will surely breeze through the whole thing the next time around. Still, they will both be there supporting her.
"So what made you switch?" He asks his girlfriend as Mirai takes a bite of her ice cream.
"I'm not sure." She says, twiddling the spoon in her empty bowl with her free hand. "My mother wore dresses. Maybe that was it?"
"I just think shorts will make me look young," Mirai adds, pulling her lips from the spoon slowly.
"Well I think you'll look very mature dressed like that."
Mirai tilts her head in consideration. "Thank you."
There is a beat and then Temari sighs shortly and moves to stand up. "Mirai, would you like any tea before you head home?" She asks as she reaches for Mirai's now empty bowl. She stacks it under her own and Shikamaru's and then scoots her chair back and makes her way into his kitchen.
"Would you?" He asks when Temari has left.
"For both of us," he calls after Temari's disappeared form. He hears the bowls being put in the metal basin of the sink. There is the sound of running water and when he glances back at his god-daughter, she is staring at him pensively, as though she understands something he does not.
"So?" She asks.
Mirai sighs and gestures with her hands towards the kitchen. "You're together."
He frowns. "We've been together for months. You've been here, multiple times, since then."
She rolls her eyes. "But like, you're together-together?"
Shikamaru wants to mimic the expression. "I genuinely don't understand what that means."
"Choji says it means you're going to get married."
"He does, does he?"
"Ino says you probably won't get married, like my parents."
He does roll his eyes now. "I'm sorry, how many people have you been discussing this with?"
The water in the kitchen turns off, but then the overhead fan turns on. There is no real reason for Temari to use the fan above the stove, but he appreciates the gesture nonetheless.
"Your mother says that you've settled now, permanently."
"Can I be godmother to your kids?"
"Mirai…" He draws out her name, shooting her a warning look. She is much sassier tonight than usual.
"But hey, Shikamaru," she says, more sober this time, enough for him to straighten his gaze from one of exasperation to one of patience. Mirai leans forward, folding her hands before her. "I told you it was easy, didn't I?"
"Well, I told you it was simple. And wasn't it?"
Shikamaru exhales and leans back in his chair to hear the creak. He thinks about where they were and where they are now and all the steps in between and he looks toward the kitchen, imagining he can see Temari through the wall where she is no doubt standing and hearing everything being said.
"Yeah, you're right. It was."
I know I know it's been a while! But thank you to appy and abby for looking this over the past few weeks and i'm sorry it's a few days past valentine's day and i'm sorry shikamaru is such an idiot here.
But okay thank you, leave comments and let me know what you think!
ALSO the balcony scene was inspired by this: spacepandar *dot* tumblr *dot* com /post/161613444735/another-dream-shikamaru-temari-horizons
^^fuck you ff for still not linking