Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.

Notes: Written for the Cotton Candy Bingo challenge, prompt "desert."


Shikamaru raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. Domes of rock in shades ranging from light tan to brick red stretched away to the horizon. One such dome, in the center of the village, towered over the rest of the buildings.

"Hey." Shikamaru turned around to see a young man with purple lines marked out on his face approaching him from a side street.

"Hello, Kankurou-san." Shikamaru didn't see how the Sand-nin could possibly wear his long-sleeved, hooded, black outfit in the merciless heat. Or how he kept sweat from smearing his face paint, for that matter.

"So, you're the poor bastard who got stuck coordinating the Chuunin Exams on Konoha's end, huh?"

Shikamaru sighed. "It's troublesome, but there's no use complaining about it. Our chuunin took the heaviest losses out of any rank during the war: they were strong enough not to be kept away from the front lines, but not strong enough to survive a lot of the attacks Obito and Madara were using. As team captains, chuunin are also the backbone of a shinobi force's organizational structure, so we need to promote new chuunin as soon as possible to help get the villages back on their feet."

"Well," Kankurou said, "at least you'll be happy to hear who you'll be working with here." He waggled his eyebrow ridges. "Gaara picked Temari to take care of the preparations here in Suna."

"That'll make it a lot more bearable," Shikamaru acknowledged. Kankurou laughed and began leading him through the maze of streets.

Shikamaru sighed with relief when they stepped into the cool air and shade of the Kazekage Dome. He followed Kankurou to a door marked, "Chuunin Exams Central Coordinating Office." "Well, see you around," Kankurou said and turned to leave.

"That's it?"

"What do you want, a farewell present?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "I guess I expected you to threaten my life if I make Temari-san unhappy or something."

Kankurou grinned. "Nah, there's no need for that. If you piss her off, she'll crack your skull open with her fan herself."

The long day of organizing papers, drawing up lists, and answering questions would have been much more tedious if not for Temari's presence. She didn't hesitate to vent her frustration at stupid requests and meaningless minutiae, often in ways that reminded Shikamaru of his mother. "Kiri wants to send how many students?" "What is that old fart Oonoki-sama thinking?"

Finally, Temari shoved the last of the papers aside. "Want to go get some dinner?"

Shikamaru's stomach had been rumbling for the better part of an hour, so he greeted this suggestion with a great deal of enthusiasm. Temari suggested a noodle place. (Shikamaru didn't think it was as good as Ichiraku Ramen, but he wisely kept this opinion to himself.)

By the time they left the restaurant, the sun was setting. Above the roofs of the houses and shops, the blue sky was being invaded by tendrils of pink and orange.

"Hmph. You look silly, staring at the sky like that."

"I was just admiring the sunset. It's even more colorful than the ones in Konoha."

"It hasn't even really got going yet. If you want to get a real look at it..." Temari unfurled her fan, letting it hover in midair beside her, and hopped on. She extended one hand to Shikamaru. After a moment's hesitation, he took it and climbed up beside her.

"Will this thing carry both of us?"

"Would I have invited you on if it wouldn't? What kind of shinobi doesn't know the capabilities of their own weapon?"

They soared over the village walls and out into the desert. The rolling dunes reminded Shikamaru of the hills in the countryside around Konoha. Hardy cacti sprouted up everywhere, some of them sporting brilliantly colored flowers.

They set down on a particularly high dune, and Temari folded up her fan. Shikamaru flopped down on his back, heedless of the sand that was no doubt infiltrating itself into his clothes and ponytail, and Temari reclined beside him. She had been right: the beginning of the sunset he'd glimpsed inside the village was nothing compared to what was happening now. The sky was like a canvas on which a painter had dumped every shade of orange and lavender paint he had. The riot of color was only broken by a few fluffy white clouds, and even those were tinged pink around the edges.

Gradually, the sky began to darken, and a few faint stars appeared. In concert, the temperature began to drop, and cool breezes swept across the dunes. From the corner of his eye, Shikamaru watched as Temari slowly inched closer to him. As the arc of the sun disappeared below the horizon, she closed the last gap between them, her hip resting against Shikamaru's. He shivered when she took his hand.

"It does get awfully cold in the desert at night," she said with a smile. "It can be dangerous to be caught out here without shelter." Even in the diminished light, her deep blue eyes glittered. "Unless you have someone to share body heat with, that is." She turned onto her side and put a hand on his chest.

Shikamaru gulped and reached up to lay one hand against her cheek. Another breeze stirred the sand, and he felt it shifting around him. An unwelcome thought entered his mind, and he removed his hand from Temari's face. "Uh, I just remembered we're lying on sand."

Temari's brow wrinkled in confusion. "So?"

"Well, your brother does have that jutsu that lets him sense through sand..."

Temari laughed. "Don't be silly, it's not like Gaara's going to spy on us way out here. He's the Kazekage, I'm sure he has better things to do." She leaned down and brushed his lips with hers.

Kankurou came out onto the balcony and saw Gaara standing by the railing. "Oh, there you are. The elders want to know-" He stopped when he saw that his little brother's arms were crossed over his chest and his eyes were narrowed. Gaara seemed to be glaring past the village walls, out into the darkening expanse of desert. "What's wrong?"

"Nara Shikamaru."

"What about him?"

"If he ever makes our sister cry, I will kill him."

Somewhere out in the desert, Shikamaru sneezed.

A/N: ...Hey, at least he wasn't using the Sand Eye.

In Japan, there's a superstition that if you sneeze, it means someone's talking about you.

Pereskia is a genus of cacti that often have colorful flowers (but like most cacti, they also have long, sharp spines).