Check and Mate (Beta Draft)
Contests / 2013 / Beta Match-Making Contest / Phase Two
Shikamaru continued signing the after action reports, ignoring the loud music and the raucous laughter outside. Parties just weren’t his thing, even a blowout to celebrate the end of the Fourth Great War.
Even after he had dismissed them, his squad mates had tried their best to convince him to join them in the festivities. Ino had practically danced back into the tent, her long blonde hair flowing behind her, giving him a forced, flirtatious wink from under her long bangs. “Come with us Shikamaru!” she had teased, smiling through her sorrow and loss, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “The war’s over! We won! Surely we can forget the paperwork and live a little!”
Ino had been drowning in her grief; she desperately needed an escape from the reality of things dragging her down. She had held them all together. Tiles moved on his mental board and the optimal solution easily presented itself.
His response had been a simple shrug. “Parties are such a drag... Standing around talking to people you barely know and will likely never meet again... I’m fine, believe me. Maybe when I’m finished I’ll stop by.”
Ino gave him a quick hug and turned away. “Well, if you want me to save you a dance you’d better hurry up!” she said with more joy he had heard from her in days. “The boys are just lining up to talk to me!”
A few moments later, his best friend Choji’s bulk had filled up the entrance. “You have got to see this! They have at least thirty whole oxen on a spit!” his perpetually hungry teammate had crowed, wiping a strand of drool from his chin with the back of his bandaged hand, even his mane of brown hair looked hungry. “It’s like I died and went to Barbecue heaven!”
Choji was the kindest person Shikamaru had ever met. They’d been friends forever. He’d personally seen Choji go out of his way to rescue a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web. Even though the all violence he had committed was to protect his friends, the war had taken its toll. Choji’s normally round smiling face looked drawn and haggard. He needed the break far more that Shikamaru did.
“You go on ahead Choji,” Shikamaru had grumbled, never once looking up from the desk. Would no one leave him alone for once? He hadn’t been this popular since he was ten years old. “I’ll wander on through when I get hungry.”
That win was easy too, but to tell the truth, he didn’t feel much like eating either. As an official liaison to the battalion commander, he had seen more than his fair share of casualties in this fight. Casualties, that on some level, he felt were his fault.
Shikamaru was a genius. His IQ clocked in at over 200. Growing up in the Ninja Academy, the greatest challenge he faced was keeping his eyes open in the monotonously dull classes; he had solved all the problems before the classes had begun. He had the reputation of being the laziest boy in school. Back then the only interest he had were strategy games, like chess or go. After graduation, he had earned a bit of a name for himself as a masterful tactician, besting opponents far stronger than himself using sheer wits and foresight.
He did this by visualizing everything as a game of shogi. A moment of relative peace was all he needed to picture himself in front of the board he carried around in his noggin. He used the pieces to play out hundreds of possibilities. The inside of Shikamaru’s head was usually filled with the metaphorical clicking of Shogi tiles.
But not now.
The tiles were stacked as a fortress around his little mental self as he lost himself in the mindless, quiet work of the reports. There were enough details so he didn’t get bored but not so much he had to think about what he was doing.
He finished the after action reports, rubbed his hand, and dragged over the next escarpment of paper. He froze at the title on the top piece: Official Count of Shinobi Killed, Wounded or Missing in Action.
Shikamaru knew there was no fault that could be accredited to him. Despite his unindustrious nature, he really tried during the conflict. He couldn’t have been everywhere at once. Everyone said he did an excellent job; he was a credit to the alliance.
He should have been better. The clicking of shogi tiles as he endlessly replayed every battle in his head kept him awake long into the night. Sometimes, terribly, he even won, but not when it had counted.
It had been more than a week since the allied Shinobi force had emerged victorious. After all the ceremonies and memorials, some of the higher ups had decided that the entire army needed to celebrate their accomplishment.
He had shed his tears, been to the memorials, and said his goodbyes, but the only thing that helped was droning monotony. With almost steady hands, Shikamaru carefully put the casualty list off to one side. He promised himself he’d take care of it later.
The party was roaring into full swing, the music loud and the drone of talk louder, he was halfway through the requisitions and expenditures manifest, and it had all blurred into a white-grey noise, when little shogi-playing Shikamaru in his head peaked over the walls and gave him a mental nudge. There was a familiar aroma filtering through the tent, a hint of jasmine and sandalwood. Shikamaru sat up straighter, and put his pen down with a sharp click. “And just how long have you been there?” he asked in a purposefully disinterested voice.
“Long enough to determine you’ve lost your edge as a shinobi,” Temari chuckled in a throaty contralto. “I had enough time to come up with seventeen ways to assassinate you.” He could hear the smirk in her voice. “Some of them were quite creative,” she purred.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes and pushed away from the desk to face her. “If you’re going to kill me, hurry up and do it before I get any deeper into the inventory accounts. Making me wade through all of those first is unusually cruel... even for you.” Everything about his outward attitude was one of annoyance. In his psyche, the chess master was rubbing his hands with glee, as he unlimbered from his lotus position and quickly set up the board.
Temari lounged against one of the tent poles, idly cleaning her fingernails with a kunai, pretending to ignore him. She was from the Hidden Sand village, once a deadly rival, now an ally. She’d taken the time to change out of her battle uniform and into something more like her standard shinobi wear, a short black kimono with a red sash, with a flower embroidered on the shoulder. He’d always wondered whether she preferred the short skirts because she liked the freedom of movement they offered or if she just liked showing off her legs. He never got the courage to ask though, because Temari had the unnerving reputation of being the cruelest kunoichi in the world.
Physically she was attractive, but so were any other number of girls, until he talked to them. Looks were nice, but what came from their mouths made him want to knife himself. To Shikamaru, what made her... tolerable was her personality. Every conversation was a new challenge with her. Her tongue and wit were honed to a razor’s edge. Temari lived every minute as if life was a sparring match and she was constantly trying to score points. Whenever she was around, she was always badgering, always haranguing him. He had to be constantly on his toes with her or else she’d leave him verbally sprawled in the dust. It was as if she never forgot their first match against each other.
“Was there something you wanted?” Shikamaru asked after the silence had gone on long enough. “Or did you just stop by to admire my genius?” On the mental shogi board, a pawn was slid forward, a safe opening gambit.
Her four, honey blonde ponytails rustled as she tossed her head, amused; there was the forest green flash of her eyes as she glanced at him and quickly looked away. “I stopped by because I heard the most amazing rumor... Shikamaru Nara was hard at work. I simply had to witness this miracle with my own eyes.” Her knight hopped out from behind the pawns, a strong offensive counter. “I was so sure you’d be at the party,” she continued teasingly. “Going seemed like a great strategy to get out of doing mountains of paperwork.”
Suddenly, Shikamaru didn’t feel like playing anymore. He quickly turned back to the desk and dropped his eyes. “Yeah... well... it’s a drag but... It’s my duty.” He left his king wide open... waiting for the end.
There was a rustle of silk. “It is your duty, but you can spare one night,” came her voice from right over his shoulder.
He hunched his shoulders over his work. “I don’t.... Look, I just need to do this, okay?”
There was a long silence. Just as he was beginning to wonder if she had left. There was an explosive scrape as she pulled up a chair. “Fine. Where do I start?” She passed on the easy victory? Unheard of!
“I don’t need your help. I can....” Shikamaru’s voice faded away under her glacial stare.
“We are going to tear our way through this bureaucratic nonsense, and then you are going to take me to the party,” she said adamantly. Temari glared at Shikamaru until he closed his mouth. “What? I’m not going to be able to find a date if I’m wasting all my time here with you, am I? What are you waiting for? Stop staring at me! Get working!”
He passed her the casualty report as a final rally.
She snapped it from his hand and glared at the page; her eyes widened as she read the title.
“Oh, okay,” she swallowed, picked up a pen and began to write.
It was too hot and too loud, just as he predicted, but in a way that was... okay. With so much assaulting his senses, it was difficult to focus on his own failings. He spotted the other members of his squad in the crowd. Ino lost in the music, dancing away with some broad shouldered Hidden Stone shinobi, and Choji stuffing his face from what looked like a food service tray piled high with delicacies.
Temari nudged him with her elbow. “Not bad huh?” she yelled in his ear to be heard over the music.
Shikamaru just shrugged, there was a group of Hidden Sand village shinobi who kept looking over at them and whispering.
“Are you having fun?” she yelled again in his ear.
Shikamaru leaned over. Knight takes bishop. “I’d say I’d give my right arm to get out of here,” he said, ignoring her raised eyebrow. “But I’m afraid you’d take me seriously!”
Temari narrowed her eyes and jabbed him with her elbow hard enough to leave a bruise. He winced. That move was less than optimal. “You idiot!” she complained. “I’m going to go get a drink!”
Shikamaru rubbed his side and pointed. “Would you be so good as to get me one too?”
She stuck out her tongue at him before she turned. “No!”
There was a tap on his shoulder as he watched her sashay away. He found himself looking into the concerned eyes of a Sand shinobi. “Excuse me for asking but are you and Temari-san... um...on a date?”
Shikamaru shook his head. “No!” A moment of embarrassed confusion rippled through his brain.
He frowned as his eyes followed after the retreating back of the woman approaching the bar, a shogi tile walked across his mental fingers, then he turned back to the person talking to him. “Or, at least, I don’t think so.”
The Sand Shinobi stared at him with pursed lips. “Well be careful, you don’t want to end up like Gorou.”
Before Shikamaru could ask, Temari appeared right behind him and grabbed his elbow in an aching grip. “Ouch! What gives?” he yelped.
“I am going to dance!” she yelled over the thumping baseline. “And you are coming with me!” She dragged him to the middle of the dance floor, pushing other people out of the way. Once there she let go of his arm and began to shimmy. He just stood there as she wildly gyrated around him in circles.
He saw Ino flash past in the arms of some shinobi with a manly clefted chin. “Hey Shikamaru! Nice moves!” She called out giggling, at least something was making her happy, and letting her forget for a moment. As a matter of fact, they were drawing quite the audience, most of them laughing.
“Come on Shikamaru!” Temari yelled, thumping her hip into his. “Dance!” Shikamaru harrumphed, and tried to think himself invisible. “God,” she exclaimed as one song switched to another. “You really are bad at this aren’t you?”
Click, click, and click. Challenge accepted. The shogi tiles fell in quick succession on his mental chessboard. He held up one finger. “I’ll be right back,” Shikamaru said to Temari’s puzzled frown, pushing his way off the dance floor.
He returned as the music was changing, only to find a disappointed look on her face. “Congratulations, you weaseled out of it,” she muttered, taking his hand and walking off, “There’s no way anyone will dance to this old...”
Shikamaru was ready for that and his feet were planted firmly. He tugged and she spun. He grinned at the astonished look on her face centimeters from his own as he glided into the first sensuous steps of the traditional Sand Village tango known as The Burning Sandstorm.
His hand pressed firmly in the small of her back, he guided her through the first three transitions until she recovered from her shock. Once she began to move with him, he gave her a self satisfied smirk, dipped Temari low and executed a slow turn, giving her a good chance to see how they were the only ones on the dance floor. There was no sound other than the clack of their heels and the carnal pulsing of the music.
Shikamaru ran his fingertips down her flank, felt her shiver under his hand and pulled Temari upright again. His eyes issued his own challenge. Her eyes were crinkled with amusement, but her mouth was creased with determination.
Temari locked her eyes on his and roughly pushed him away. Then, with a slow undulating roll of her hips, she stalked back. Once again, Shikamaru caught her hand and pulled her tight. With a challenging grin, Temari slid slightly to one side and molded herself to him running one hand down the side of his face. The contest had truly begun and tiles flew across the board.
From that point on, each of them tried to outdo the other with the most outrageously sensuous steps they could. He twisted her into a spinning whirl and she countered by seizing him around the back and giving him a long sliding caress down his chest. Shikamaru propped her leg up on his in a high leg wrap and gave her a short turn. Temari with a broad smile slowly lifted that leg off his thigh, placed it gently on his shoulder in a standing split, and leaned in.
They fought as they whirled around the cleared dance floor as the crescendo built, no quarter was given or expected, and then they stopped together with the music. Temari was bent back in a low lunge, with one leg coiled tightly around Shikamaru. His forehead was pressed tightly to hers, fire in their eyes, and both were breathing heavily. There was a long moment of utter awestruck quiet as everyone realized that their display was finally over, an explosion of applause and the spell was broken.
One moment they were straightening while the MC of the band was calling out for more applause. The next moment Shikamaru heard someone in the crowd yell, “Be careful! You’ll end up like Gorou!” There was a quick, almost painful tug on his arm, and Temari was pulling him outside. He had a glimpse of Choji standing with food in his hand and his mouth open but not eating. They passed a panting, wide-eyed Ino, her hand on her chest, and out into the darkness of the night.
“Now where did you learn to dance like that?” Temari asked the cool night air, her face aglow. Shikamaru could smell the musk of their sweat on the air as his pounding heartbeat began to slow. He wiped the sweat from his face and aired his shirt as they strode away from the party.
He noticed beads of sweat on her arms and legs highlighted by the widely spaced lights, and the dark V-shaped patches on her black silk kimono clinging to her glistening skin.
They were walking through the camp, in the general direction of her tent. “The truth now!” she insisted as Shikamaru opened his mouth, releasing his hand to point at his face.
She had seen right through his feint. Goodbye bishop. “My mom made me take dance lessons when I was ten. She said they’d come in handy someday. I was the only boy in a class of fifteen,” said Shikamaru with an embarrassed flush on his face. “How did you know I was going to make something up?”
Temari smirked. “I have two brothers. I know what boys look like when they lie.” She started to giggle. “I’m sorry, I just can’t get the image of ten year old you in a class full of girls out of my head. I bet that scowl of yours frightened them all away.”
Shikamaru made the aforementioned scowl. “Actually, I was annoyingly popular. Everyone wanted to dance with the boy. It was such a drag.” Inside his head, he set up his rook for a counter attack. “It sounds like you were pretty popular too... Who is this Gorou guy?”
Temari stared off into the darkness, and for a moment, he thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then she turned and flashed a too wide, brittle smile, and her voice was hard like glass. “Gorou? Oh, he was just some boy I dated. I thought he was the cutest guy in the world, once.”
They walked for a few steps, and she continued in a softer voice. “Do you know how hard it is when your father is the Kazekage, and your brother is a monster? Everyone walks on eggshells around you.”
Temari studied the stars in the sky; he could see a younger, softer version of this woman in profile. “When Gorou started paying attention to me it was wonderful. When he asked me out on a date I was in heaven... and then when he kissed me goodnight...” He could see the sweet glow of memory on her smiling face.
Then Temari gave a little pained laugh and looked away from the stars. “He bragged about it to all his friends. How he took the first kiss of the Kazekage’s daughter... I was nothing more than a prize to be won.” Bitterness like orange pith coated those words.
Shikamaru found himself regretting this last foray. He never meant to... “So...what happened?” he asked quietly.
Temari sighed, but her eyes gleamed darkly. “Oh...a few nights later I knocked him out, stripped him naked, and rolled him around in poison ivy. Then I hog tied him and left him hanging from the main gateway to the village.” She gave Shikamaru a sidelong glance; there were heavy granite walls behind those eyes now. “He had to spend two weeks in the infirmary, wrapped in gauze and ointments. As you can guess...I haven’t had many dates since.”
Temari stopped outside a large tent. “Anyway,” she said forced brightness. “I wanted to thank you. I had a very nice time.”
“Um.... Me too,” said Shikamaru, extending his hand. “I really enjoyed myself.” Temari looked at that hand for a moment before reaching out and squeezing his fingers. Shikamaru’s next move was supposed to be a simple nod, before walking away. The dance had been a surprise attack, as much for him as for her, the challenge of it was enough, but his endgame had always been a quick end to night’s entertainment, and a long night staring at the roof of his tent with the shogi tiles moving in his mind.
She gripped his hand tightly, and her green eyes flashed a challenge. “You know,” she exhaled in the smallest whisper, “If you did want to kiss me... I... wouldn’t mind.”
Without thinking, he found himself leaning in and giving her a peck on the cheek. Temari glared at him, with one eyebrow raised. “What the hell was that?”
“I- I’m S-sorry... but I thought you said....” he stammered as he flushed in embarassment.
“What do I look like, your grandmother?” Temari snapped, her fingers flinging his hand away. “If you’re going to kiss me, put some passion into it!”
“Well excuse me!” Shikamaru said with an eyeroll, throwing an arm out to gesture. “Maybe I’m a little bit concerned I’ll get knocked unconscious and stripped naked for my trouble!”
“Ha!” Temari laughed scornfully, hands on her hips. “In your dreams!” She folded her arms. “You’ve never kissed a girl before... have you? You don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re...”
Shikamaru rocked forward and kissed her. Hard. His initial thought was “I’ll show her!” On his little mental shogi board, it was all planned out. First the kiss, leaving her breathless and then the casual stroll off into the night... the epitome of cool.
Only it didn’t quite happen that way.
Both of Temari’s arms slipped around his neck, and she kissed him back just as fiercely. Suddenly his hands were around her back pulling her towards him, the heat of her body blossoming through his shirt. Her tongue gently prodded his lips open and then danced against his. She tasted like fresh mint. One of her legs wrapped around his in a feverish repeat of the tango. As his fingers began to trace the taut muscles in her back, she lifted her head and shivered with pleasure. Shikamaru kissed her jawline and slowly moved down her neck.
Temari half fell, half pulled him in through the tent flap. They stumbled around in the darkness for a bit, pulling at each other’s clothes, jumping with each unexpected touch of bare skin. At some point, the cot caught Shikamaru across the back of the knees, and he fell, pulling her down on top of him. Her heard her fan clatter to the ground.
Temari paused, straddling him and cupped his face in her hand. Slowly, delicately she leaned down, kissed the bridge of his nose, the tip, and then lingered, just barely brushing his lips with hers, breathing heavily on his cheek.
Shikamaru’s mental chessboard was in complete disarray. It was overturned, pieces strewn everywhere, the little chess player scrambling to put the shogi tiles back in some sort of defense. “So,” he muttered as Temari leaned over and nibbled his earlobe, “was that goodnight kiss acceptable, or am I going to be stripped naked and tied up?”
“That depends," Temari whispered breathlessly in his ear, “Do you want to be?”
Shikamaru’s lips curled in a smile. “Remind me to hand over my king later,” he muttered. Before her confused look could become a question, he kissed her once again as those mental shogi tiles were thrown into the air with abandon.