Disclaimer: The characters and the main plot of the Naruto universe do not belong to me.
A/N: After nearly two months, A Marriage of Inconvenience is finally up and reposted and revamped. Yes, revamped. My apologies to the reviewers for mercilessly deleting it in the first place but I sincerely hope I did better in this, umm, new version.
Between Sand and Leaf
It had been raining nonstop for three days and the streets of Konoha gave testimony to the fact by sucking on the slippers of those souls courageous enough to brave the weather. With the chilly demeanor the weather donned, it was no wonder that one of the more prominent coffeehouses was especially busy as more civilians and ninjas flocked to the inviting warmth of the sights and smells contained therein.
As Kage of a large Village, he had never found the time to enter a coffeehouse for his daily rousing beverage. Besides, he liked his coffee black and strong and he was already well-versed in its preparation ever since he was old enough to distinguish between sugar and salt. As to why he currently found himself beyond the swinging glass doors and into the cozily lit interior of the shop, he had no certain idea.
Nonetheless, he ordered his coffee with precise instructions on its preparations. The staff gave him funny looks before they hastened to fulfill his requests and he was on his way to a hopefully empty table when a flash of light peach collided into his figure and spilled an ice-cold beverage into his chest. He touched a finger to the icy substance splattered all over his nondescript shirt and brought it to his lips.
"Gomen nasai!" the figure mumbled in apology as he helped her scramble up from the floor. She smiled sheepishly at him, completely unaware of his prominent status, before hastily wiping at his shirt with a napkin with the printed logo of the coffeehouse.
"That is enough," he enunciated quietly as he gently held her hand off his person by the wrist.
"It's a good thing you weren't bringing your coffee or I'd have to buy one for you, too," she joked with a sheepish grin.
"That is not necessary," he intoned. "Now, if you will excuse me."
"Oh. Sure. Sorry."
Her movements were precise and graceful as she moved away and he wondered if she was an active kunoichi. Such movements, no matter how clumsy, were only achieved through training.
"Ice latte for Sora!"
"Black coffee for Shinn!"
"Shinn-san?" a voice asked him, holding a cup up in his face. He frowned when he recognized the cheerful blue eyes looking up at him in apology. "I paid for the coffee as an apology so we're quits."
"That was —"
"Not necessary, I know," she supplied hurriedly. "But I wanted to do you good this turn so here." She shoved his cup into his hands and smiled brightly. "Black coffee for Shinn-san."
He accepted the coffee with a murmured word of thanks before he stalked off in the direction of his table. A scarred Jounin was about to occupy it when he noticed the blank, green-eyed stare directed at him. The taller man immediately vacated the seat without further ado.
Amazingly, the coffee was just the right taste he wanted but with a little something extra he could not place. Cinnamon, perhaps? He had specifically ordered that marshmallows were not to be found in his cup or any of the other frills they might have planned for his coffee. This one, however, was a welcome change.
He looked out the large windows and vaguely realized that an abundance of flowers spilled from the flowerboxes in the window sills. Flowers were a rarity and a luxury in his homeland where water was scarce. He had already spearheaded a committee to work on the underground river they found on the border of the Village to take care of that problem. Once they could tap into the source, water may not be much of a problem in Suna anymore.
Once they had a source of water, he would like to see flowers in Suna. The previous leaders of the Village had disdained the trivialities to focus on the dwindling strength of their domain. With his birth alone, he accomplished that one endeavor but the rest of the Village had fallen into abandon as a result of their efforts. He vowed to change things in his years as Kazekage and he would begin with flowers. Flowers in the middle of the desert would be a symbolic display of their growing power, not to mention an extravagant one. The world would be amazed.
But first, he must have a talk with the resident florist of Konohagakure no Sato — Yamanaka Ino.
Ino had not been very hard to find. She had stuck in the warmth of her family's shop with a magazine exclusively for the modern kunoichi — or so the title said. Her feet tapped the floor to the rhythm of soft music that whispered from a battered blue and silver radio that bravely played out the ballad from its precarious position atop a shelf crammed full with vases and pots and arrangements of different colors.
When he stepped into the cozy establishment, he was vaguely reminded of his previous stop in the coffeehouse. The small shop seemed to reverberate with the same homey vibes.
"Yamanaka Flowers, can I help you?" she asked him automatically when the jingling bells signaled his entrance. Her eyes widened for an instant before they creased in a smile. "Kazekage-sama."
Strangely, he was the one more surprised by the meeting.
"The girl from the coffeehouse," he muttered. "You."
She laughed softly. "Yes, Shinn-san."
He frowned briefly at her teasing use of his alias. She had seen through his façade and seemed not the least bit dazed by the fact at all. That struck him as a refreshing change. Most people tended to regard him in awe and fear upon recognition.
"I would like to know about flowers, Yamanaka-san," he intoned curtly, rendered mildly uncomfortable by the laughter lurking in her blue eyes.
"May I ask why, Kazekage-sama?"
"We are working on an irrigation project in Suna at the moment," he explained. "Perhaps in the next year, we could grow flowers more tolerant to the climate in our Village."
"That is wonderful news, Kazekage-sama," she agreed. "Very well, what varieties do you have in mind?"
He frowned. "Something that doesn't die easily."
She laughed. "Of course. But your description could fit a lot of variations of cacti."
"I do not want cacti."
She frowned. "Well, you could grow herbs for the time being just so you can at least benefit from the harvest. Then you can add evening primrose or desert marigold because those two might probably tolerate the climate best."
Ino noticed that the Kazekage was an exemplary student who committed her words to heart. Such thoughts made her vaguely wonder if he was brilliant as an Academy student but with the tales Sakura relayed to her, she doubted he was even admitted into an Academy. Besides, Genin selection in Sunagakure was probably different from the methods of Konoha.
More out of whim than anything else, she also told him the various meanings a single stalk could contain. She wisely reasoned that this was just so he refrained from using the wrong flowers to convey a message in his diplomatic conventions. Some people tend to be quite sensitive to that kind of thing.
Gaara, on the other hand, was enjoying himself immensely for the first time in nearly two decades although it could hardly be derived from the stony expression on his face. Unbeknownst to all, he had a strange inclination for learning new things and ever since Naruto changed his pessimistic and narcissistic philosophy, the emotionless Kazekage had endeavored to find out more about the world.
"This used to be my favorite," Ino murmured wistfully as she reached for a blossom with a single layer of petals. "Akizakura."
"And now?" he asked with a skeptical eye.
She laughed. "Now, I favor this one." She held up a clutch of star-shaped blooms. "The columbine. What about you, Kazekage-sama? Any particular favorites from among these?"
He picked up a lily from the batch. "This one."
She smiled and explained more about lilies as they whittled the rainy afternoon away in quiet conversation. Occasionally, a customer or two would interrupt their talk and Ino would have to bustle about as Gaara stood to one side in quiet inspection of a range of blooms but they would always resume their soft discussion on the various properties, uses, and quirks of the plants.