"How can you feel like smiling?" she'd wanted to know, and she'd gotten her answer: "Because today is today," he'd answered.
A/N: Way, way, waaaaaay beyond the end of the series. So far beyond that some of what I write may prove to by AU. I don't care.
Temari watched them. Half awed, half delighted, and eyes wide with the shock of it all. As if they hadn't been told by their older brothers and sisters that this would happen. As if their parents hadn't told them. She hid her amused smile carefully, well aware that a kunoichi of her standing wasn't supposed to smile. As if that hadn't ever happened before. As if she wasn't experienced enough to keep a handle on her emotions when she needed to, which was rarely, these days. As if she - pushing forty, with grown children, and grandchildren who might be standing here in a decade or so, like the gaggle in front of her now - hadn't seen enough to wipe the smile from her face long ago.
What she'd seen, had, for a long time: she'd watched neighbors, friends, even her brother walk away into death, leaving broken promises and aching pain in their wake. As if she didn't have little enough to smile about; yet the elders - so bent on tradition, and solemnity - insisted that she hide hers now.
Inside, she rolled her eyes.
One student - one who had been so close to hopeless that his teachers had started a betting pool on how long, and if he would ever manage to graduate - stammered out his thanks, ducking his head shyly.
Temari's grin threatened to split her face. It was the eyes, she knew, and the smile. More than once, she'd been forced into speechlessness by that smile.
It had been what had broken her out of her unhappiness as what would have been Kankurou's birthday passed - for the first time since Gaara's defeat at Naruto's hands - had gone by without any need for celebration. Instead, she'd put a small doll - destined to be buried within afew days - on the empty grave he'd left behind, and cried until the sun had set and her skin was burned as bright a red as Gaara's hair.
Then Gaara had arrived. He, too, held a doll. His eyes bore into her for a long minute, flickering over her tear streaked face, and sun burned arms, before he set down the doll beside hers. He shaped a small wall around them, to protect them from the blasting sands that would assault them, and clenched his hand into a fist. The sands compacted, tightening themselves into an unbreakable shield.
Temari found, to her horror that she was crying again. Gaara watched, waiting until she was done. And when she was, he smiled; not like he had used to, the terrifying grin that signaled death to anyone who saw it. Nor was it the tight press of lips he often used in council meetings just before whoever had just annoyed him found themselves kicked out of the room -occasionally permanently, if they were a repeat offender.
It was small, and... happy. As happy as Temari had ever seen Gaara, and though she should have been happy for him - that he had found a way to express himself, that he had found the humanity he'd been looking for, for /years/, that he had found a balance between what he was, what he had been, and what he needed to be - she wasn't.
She was angry; because Kankurou wasn't there to see it, because he should have been, and even because Gaara shouldn't be allowed to smile on that day of all days. She struck out, with her fists, because even if she could get words past the lump in her throat, she couldn't think of them. He'd caught her hands before she could really connect, and jerked them down, his smile fading into a puzzled frown.
"What's wrong?" he asked. And she'd stared.
"Kankurou is dead, and you're smiling!" she shouted, not even caring that even without Shukaku he could kill her, that he was her only living relative left, that he was her boss, and her leader.
"Yes," he said, slowly. "But he's been dead for a long time, and I feel like smiling today."
"How can you feel like smiling?" she'd wanted to know, and she'd gotten her answer.
"Because today is today," he'd answered.
She wasn't sure she understood, even now. She was fairly certain he meant that holding on to the memories of waiting - first a day, then a week for him to come back, before finding out he never would - and of grieving wouldn't help at all; would just leave her old before her time, and broken like Elder Chiyo had been.
She'd recalled vaguely, at the time, saying something to that effect to Sakura and Hinata, when Naruto had died.
The next time Gaara had smiled at her, she'd found the strength to smile back, and the time after that, the courage to ask him when he had learned.
"Naruto," he'd answered - another puzzler, because it had been even longer since Sakura, Lee, Shikamaru and Chouji had returned without him, and she hadn't seen a hint of a smile until now. Her puzzled expression had brought another smile - just as stunning - to his lips, and he'd continued.
"It suddenly occurred to me that Naruto didn't just know he was going to die" - /of course he had/, Temari remembered thinking angrily, /all shinobi die. It's part of the job description. /Not that knowing that helped those left behind, but Gaara was still speaking,"he lived as if he was going to die in a minute. He accepted everything that happened, no matter how unfair, because that's the way life is. And if he managed to be happy..." Gaara paused, putting a hand on her shoulder in one of the few touches he had ever managed to bring himself to initiate"then we can too."
And Temari had changed. She'd stopped looking back, looking forward instead, and eventually she had found that looking back wasn't painful anymore.
She watched Gaara move on to the year's number one rookie -a student usually so stoic as to be heart-breaking - who blushed in the face of Gaara's smile, and accepted his forehead protector in stunned silence, and thought, fuck the elders.
She felt the grin on her face grow, and her hands found each other as she applauded - more enthusiastically than was strictly necessary -along with the rest of the retired jounin instructors.