Temari and Tsunade must decide on the kunoichi who will be chosen...
Tsunade sat at her desk, her fingers massaging her temples wearily. What she wouldn’t do for some sake right now – maybe...
Shizune chose that moment to walk in and check on her progress. It was like that girl had a radar or something, making it next to impossible for Tsunade to drink while working. Why did she take the job of Hokage again?
“Have you decided yet?” Shizune asked her curiously.
“It’s not like I have much choice in the matter, is it? We need this as much as they do. A stronger alliance with the Sand is exactly what we need right now. It would stop those who think that they can pull something on us just because we have yet to fully recover from the Sound Invasion.” Sure, the invasion had been years ago, but the kind of losses they had faced took generations to recover from, not years.
“Who?” Shizune asked quietly.
Tsunade sighed in defeat. “I don’t know – this isn’t something I want to ask someone to do lightly. The wrong person could be disastrous for us, or for them, and besides – it isn’t an easy thing to ask.”
“When is the Suna delegate coming?” Shizune asked.
“Any minute now,” Tsunade responded.
Speak of the devil, and he appears. At that moment there was a polite rap on the door to Tsunade’s office and a minor official stuck his head through.
“Hogake-sama?” he said respectfully. “The delegate from Suna has arrived. Can I bring her in?”
Tsunade nodded tiredly before straightening her back and gathering up stray materials on her desk. Wouldn’t want other villages to see all that information.
Temari took a deep breath to steady herself before walking into the Hokage’s office. This was going to be an awkward conversation on both sides, arranged marriages, although still practiced, were definitely not the norm anymore.
Walking through, she seated herself in the chair across from the Hokage; it was strange how similar and how completely different this office was from her brother’s. The layout was the same, but it was full of books and scrolls and other odds and ends that made it seem much smaller than her brother’s practically empty office. Maybe she should get Gaara to personalize his space a little more?
“So,” the Hokage began, pulling Temari’s thoughts back to the mission at hand.
“So,” Temari said with a nervous grin. She could see that the woman standing behind the Hokage, probably her assistant, was holding in a grin at two women’s inability to broach the subject.
Shizune cleared her throat.
“Stronger alliance, huh?” Tsunade asked.
Temari gulped and prepared herself to launch into a speech on the benefits for both nations. Tsunade waved her hand at the girl to indicate that she wasn’t finished just yet.
“I’m not going to disagree with you, this is actually a fairly good notion. I just find myself wondering – how the hell did you get the Kazekage to agree to this?”
Temari’s face split into a grin. The ice had been broken and the three women all visibly relaxed.
“It was actually Kankuro’s idea,” Temari admitted. “Gaara – well, he’s so solitary. Kankuro thought it would be good for him to have someone and the whole thing just sort of grew from there...once we realized the political implications, Gaara couldn’t exactly refuse. He’d do anything for his village.”
Tsunade just nodded in understanding. “As long as the Kazekage isn’t completely opposed to the idea. I’d like to be able to hold on to some hope that the girl I send may be able to find love. Consigning one of my kunoichi to a loveless life bound to a man who feels nothing for her is not something I want to do.”
“I understand your dilemma. I would love it if Gaara could actually have a loving relationship. I think that – maybe with the right girl – there’s a chance.”
“Which brings us to the real problem,” Tsunade sighed. “I don’t know much about your brother, but I do know my kunoichi. Let’s compare notes.”
Temari nodded her head and the two got down to business.
When they took a break to drink some tea a while later Tsunade was beginning to feel
this whole thing was a little hopeless.
“My original thought was Hyuuga Hinata,” Tsunade admitted. “For purely political reasons. As a Hyuuga the marriage would carry a lot of political clout and since she’s not the heir her father wouldn’t be likely to object. However, based on what you’ve told me about your brother-”
“Hinata is far to shy,” Temari interjected with a small grin. “I know your kunoichi fairly well, Ino introduced me to most of them and we hang out sometimes when I’m here and Shikamaru’s busy.”
“Of course,” Tsunade said with a slight grin. “Yes. Hinata would be too withdrawn and Gaara would never take the initiative. I can’t ask that of Hinata, and I don’t think it’s what you want for your brother.”
Temari shook her head in agreement.
“So we need someone assertive, yet caring and warm. Someone confident but considerate. Someone who’s stubborn enough to put up with Gaara’s emotionless...” Tsunade trailed off as both women looked at each other in shock.
“Ino,” they both said at the same time. It was the obvious conclusion; Ino usually got her way through sheer will-power. If she wanted the Kazekage to fall in love with her he’d have a hard time resisting. Even if it was the emotionless Gaara.
“She might still be hung up on Sasuke though,” Tsunade said. She wasn’t sure she was ready to sacrifice one of her strongest kunoichi to Suna. On the other hand, Ino definitely wouldn’t be afraid of Gaara and was one of the few kunoichi, probably the only in her age group, who wouldn’t refuse the idea.
Temari shook her head. “Shikamaru talks about her a lot, they’re best friends. The way he tells it, she never really liked Sasuke to begin with.”
Tsunade furrowed her brow in thought. Now that was an interesting idea.
“I’d like Shikamaru’s opinion on this actually. No one knows Ino as well as he does.” She decided not to add that if she sent Ino off without his permission then he would probably resign in protest and Konoha would be screwed without their strategist.
Shizune went and told the guard outside the door to bring Shikamaru to the conference, and the group sat in silence as they waited for his arrival.
When Nara Shikamaru entered Tsunade’s office not ten minutes later he was shocked to see his girlfriend sitting across from the Hokage. He’d had no idea that she was going to be in town. His gaze narrowed as he slouched into the room and occupied the vacant chair. Something was going on.
“We are entertaining an interesting request from Sunagakure,” Tsunade said to Shikamaru, deciding to get right to the point – well, sort of.
Shikamaru just stared at her, waiting for her to continue.
“It has come to our attention that a stronger alliance between our two villages would be beneficial.” Shikamaru nodded but his gaze narrowed further as he tried to figure out where this was going.
“Due to this, we have decided that the Kazekage will marry a leaf kunoichi,” Tsunade finished and Shikamaru’s eyes widened and he almost fell out of his chair in shock.
Temari suppressed a giggle. Shikamaru spared her a quick glare before redirecting his gaze to the Hokage.
“And I’m here because?” Shikamaru asked, and then his brain finally caught up with the situation and he realized what was going on.
“You want to send Ino, don’t you?” he asked, but it wasn’t really question.
The women were a bit shocked at how fast he had cottoned on to their plan.
“How-?” Tsunade asked, temporarily forgetting that he was a genius with a 200+ IQ.
“It’s the only viable option,” he shrugged. “If you weren’t going to send her you would be making a stupid decision. Besides, it’s the only reason you would have called me here. I know Ino better than probably anyone – except maybe Choji,” he conceded.
“So, you think she’s the right choice?” Temari asked, curious.
“Yes,” Shikamaru said simply.
“What about Sasuke?” Tsunade queried.
Shikamaru snorted. “What about Sasuke?” he asked.
“Doesn’t she have a thing for him?” the Hokage asked. After the Uchiha traitor had returned things had quickly slipped back into the age old routine. It didn’t seem to matter that years had passed since his fangirls had last seen him, or that he’d betrayed them and his village. Admittedly, he had atoned for those sins, but still.
Shikamaru just raised an eyebrow at her as he held her gaze. “Do you really think Ino would spend all that time chasing a boy who didn’t like her back – actually, do you really think that she wouldn’t have gotten him already if she really wanted him? You seem to be forgetting that this girl is the master of masks and deception. You really shouldn’t forget, you’re the one that sends her on all those missions.”
The disapproval in his tone was clear. Tsunade had the grace to look a little embarrassed. She might have taken a little bit of an advantage when it came to Ino’s absolute dedication to her village, but she was Hokage and she did what she felt was necessary to protect her people. Ino’s good looks and natural flair made her perfect for – well, it just meant that compared to some of the other things the Hokage had asked, this might not seem so bad.
Sensing that Tsunade acknowledged his disapproval, Shikamaru continued. “Her and Sasuke have an arrangement. It goes back to the Academy. There’s nothing between them and there never was. Despite her outgoing nature, there are things that Ino views as personal. She knows it’s in her best interests to not let people see how she really works. Isn’t underestimation supposed to be a kunoichi’s greatest weapon?”
“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point,” Tsunade grumbled. “So will you-?”
Shikamaru just snorted again. “I’m not going to ask her. I like my eardrums intact thank-you. Besides, you know she puts too much weight in my decisions. If she goes, it’s going to be based on a personal decision.” The veiled threat was clear. If Tsunade attempted to pressure Ino into this, Shikamaru would make sure she had hell to pay.
“Fine. Make my life difficult,” Tsunade grumbled, as she hid a small smile. It always made her feel good to see the strength of the bonds between her ninja, even if sometimes it meant they gave her trouble.
Yamanaka Ino, the kunoichi in question, was spending the day working in her family’s flower shop. Something about working with flowers always soothed her, and she liked knowing that she could care for these pretty plants, and arrange them and make them more beautiful.
Beauty was important to Ino. Not because she was vain – well, she was a little vain. Mostly though it was because she knows that no matter how much people deny it, appearances do matter.
The bell on the door rang and she quickly gave the flowers she was arranging a final touch before turning around to greet the customer.
“Hello and welcome to-” the professional tone switched to one of easy going friendliness when she saw who it was. “Oh, hey Sakura. What’s up?”
“Hey Ino,” Sakura said. She sounded worried and a little sad, so Ino immediately knew that whatever it was, it was important. Ino walked to the door and flipped the sign to ‘Closed’ as she led Sakura to the back room and they sat down on empty crates.
“’kay Forehead-girl,” Ino said. “Spill.”
Sakura looked uncomfortable and refused to meet Ino’s eyes. Concerned, the blonde moved to sit next to her friend and tentatively placed a hand on her back.
“What is it? You can tell me Sakura,” she said.
“I-it’s just – probably not any of my business, but I saw-” Sakura begin to fumble her way around the topic she had come to discuss.
Ino waited patiently, not having a clue where this conversation was going.
“I was looking through your medical files,” Sakura finally said after a pause to collect herself. “And I noticed that some things were marked as Confidential...I realize now that I shouldn’t have looked, but-”
Ino restrained herself from yelling at the pink-haired girl. She hadn’t meant to intrude, and if she didn’t completely wig out, it might be nice to have someone else to talk to. The only people who knew as of now were the Hokage (obviously) and Shikamaru – and Choji had probably guessed.
“I didn’t think – I didn’t know – I’m so sorry, Ino,” Sakura bawled.
“It’s okay forehead,” Ino said comfortingly patting her back. “It’s okay, seriously.”
“But how do you do it?” Sakura asked, wide-eyed. “If Tsunade sent me on a seduction mission – I don’t think I could...”
“And that’s why you weren’t asked,” Ino said bluntly. “Look, sometimes it’s the only way to get information, or get close enough to kill someone. I’d do anything to protect this village. If you had to, I’m sure you could too, but you don’t so don’t worry.”
“I thought those types of missions were a myth,” Sakura admitted.
“They mostly are,” Ino shrugged. “It’s a last resort, and to be honest there aren’t many who can pull them off.”
“So does that mean you’ve...” finding no polite way to phrase her question Sakura’s voice trailed off.
“Nope.” Ino said, with a bit of a grin on her face. “I’m good, and my mind control jutsu really helps. As soon as they make the mistake of getting me alone, BAM” and here she slammed her fist into the palm of her hand, “they’re mine.” Abruptly, the grin fell off her face. “I’ve been really lucky,” she admitted.
Sakura grinned weakly back at her. “I – that makes me feel better,” she said. “The thought of you sacrificing that – no one should have to do that.”
“Well, now that we’ve got that mess all sorted out, how about you cheer up a bit, hm?” Ino asked cheerily.
“Yeah,” Sakura said, wiping her eyes with her arm. The girls walked back to the front of the shop. Before Sakura left she turned back to Ino.
“Ino,” she said quietly. The blonde looked at her curiously. “If you ever need to talk to someone, you know, about those things, I’m here for you.”
“Thanks Sakura,” Ino said softly. “That helps. Shikamaru’s not the greatest confidant for that kind of stuff.”
“Shikamaru? Seriously?” Sakura asked her small smile spreading to a full-fledged grin.
Ino nodded and the two girls burst into giggles before Sakura raised her hand in a final farewell and left the flower store.
Well, today had certainly been an interesting day, Ino reflected as she closed the shop up for the day and began to head to her small apartment. She hadn’t really planned on anyone else finding out about that particular aspect of her life, but she had to admit she was sort of glad Sakura knew. It meant one less person she had to lie to, and although lies are apart of any shinobi’s, and to an even greater extent every kunoichi’s, life she still hated them.
A few blocks before she reached her apartment complex she heard a familiar voice call out her name. Turning to confirm her suspicions she saw Temari running through the crowded streets. Ino paused as she waited for her fellow blonde to catch up.
“Hey Temari,” Ino said with a welcoming smile. “I didn’t know you were going to be in town. Shikamaru never said anything, he probably wanted you all to himself,” she teased.
Temari flushed a little but shook her head. “No, it was pretty last minute. He had no idea. I had to come talk to the Hokage.”
Ino immediately tensed. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Temari laughed a little nervously. “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong. We were just – working on strengthening the alliance,” she said.
Something seemed out of place to Ino, but she quickly pushed that thought aside. “That’s good. Want to grab some dinner with me? I’ve got some decent leftovers at my apartment.”
“I’d love to, but the Hokage wants to see you, it’s pretty urgent,” Temari said apologetically.
“Fine,” Ino said sulkily as her stomach grumbled in protest. The two kunoichi turned to head to the Hokage’s office together.
Ino walked into the Hokage’s office and was only slightly surprised when Temari followed her in. At least that meant it wasn’t one of those missions. As lightly as she had spoken of them around Sakura they still really bothered her. Maybe she’d get to go to Suna for a while? Or maybe Temari would be staying here? Either could be fun. She had to admit that going to Suna might be interesting. She could do with a change of scenery and Temari’s brothers were kind of cute. Not that she’d ask out the Kazekage, but Kankuro was fun to hang out with. He was constantly propositioning her and it had become something of a game between them.
The two blondes sat across from the Hokage and waited for her to begin the meeting.
Tsunade had to hold back a sigh when Temari and Ino sat down across from her. A part of her had hoped that maybe Temari wouldn’t find Ino until a bit later – then she could have put this off, not that that would have been particularly beneficial.
Mentally taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Tsunade filled Ino in on the situation.
“First I need to stress that this is a request Ino, not a mission,” she began. Confusion filled Ino’s blue eyes as she tried to figure out what Tsunade was about to ask her.
“In order to strengthen the ties between Konoha and Suna, it has been decided that we will arrange a marriage between the Kazekage and a leaf kunoichi.”
Silence greeted her as Ino stared at her blankly.
“Okay... so what do you need me for?” Ino asked carefully.
Tsunade held in her look of incredulity. For a bright girl Ino sure missed the obvious some times. Then again this wasn’t the sort of thing one ever expected to be asked. Tsunade settled for just arching an eyebrow at Ino and waiting for her to catch on. Something’s were so much less awkward when explained non-verbally.
Ino stared at her Hokage as she tried to process what she had just been told. An arranged marriage? The poor girl. Those were almost never practiced any more! Who did she say it was again – right, a leaf kunoichi - ...hey, wait a minute.
“WHAT?” Ino shrieked. Fortunately the other occupants of the room knew her well and as soon as they had seen her open her mouth their hands were quickly placed over their ears. Even so, her volume was almost painful. That girl knew how to yell.
Looking at the wincing faces around her Ino drew in a steadying breath, shock still clearly written across her features. Reminding herself that she was in her Hokage’s office and now was not the time, Ino promised herself a nice, long ranting session later. Right now she needed to think.
“Would I be correct to assume that you intend to send me?” she asked, playing the role of the professional kunoichi perfectly.
Temari couldn’t hold back a slight frown. She didn’t want Ino to do this if she was going to be like that about it...
Tsunade read Temari’s facial expression and turned her attention to Ino, who was practically standing to attention – well, as much as one can while still remaining seated.
“You aren’t being forced to do this Ino. We only want you to do this if you honestly think there’s a chance it might work out,” Tsunade cautioned.
Silence filled the room as they gave Ino time to think things through. Ino was torn. She bit her bottom lip as her mind quickly started to organize itself around this new thought. If she decided to go through with this, nothing would be the same ever again. On the bright side she would get to go to Suna, just a little bit more permanently then she planned. Also, it would mean that she would be free from the seduction missions she hated. Well, mostly free. She’d have to deal with Gaara but he didn’t strike her as the type to take advantage. She wouldn’t be able to flirt with other guys anymore, and that was a fun part of her life that she would miss. On the other hand, she would be faced with a bit of a challenge. Did she want to test her skills against the emotionless Gaara of the Desert? It could be fun. And if not her, who?
“Hey, no sweat,” she said with a small grin. “Who better for the job? The Kazekage won’t know what hit him.” Her lips twisted into a small smirk and her voice was once again filled with the confidence everyone had come to associate with Yamanaka Ino.