Chapter Five


The hot winds of Suna were doing quite a number on her system, Ino decided, as a young girl brought her a cooling drink made from crushed almonds and strawberries. Gaara had introduced her to the delicacy yesterday and she developed quite the addiction to it. Luckily, being the fiancée of the most powerful man in the village meant she had an unlimited supply of the stuff for free.

She cast her fiancé a veiled look from beneath her lashes and tried to hide a proud smile as he conversed with the laborers working on the aqueduct. He was the epitome of a young and powerful leader. His features were cast into his usual stoic expression as he issued commands quietly with an air of authority. She could not help but feel something blossom in her chest, knowing he chose her.

Behind them, the rest of the party fanned out in various degrees of sunburn and heatstroke. The Lady Sayuri did not look too well and she bit back an evil smile at the thought that there was no serving girl to wait on the conceited noblewoman.

"Is something bothering you, Ino-chan?" Gaara's voice interrupted her reverie. His lips quirked into a small smile that did funny things to her pulse rate. "Is the drink not to your liking?"

She shook her head vehemently. "No, Gaara-kun…I was just wondering on why Sayuri-sama was not offered a drink."

Gaara's lips thinned into a stoic expression that had more experienced Jounin backing down. "I was not pleased with her activities last night."

"But to deny her courtesy," Ino murmured, respectfully keeping her eyes down as she placed a hand on his arm, "She could take it as an insult and report to her father. A war with the Grass nin could set back your plans for the aqueduct."

She was not unaware of the battle that took place outside her room the night before. As soon as Gaara had announced their engagement, the Lady Sayuri wasted no time in trying to take Ino out of the equation by sending one of her Jounin aides to attack her in the dead of the night. If she caught the slightest whiff of an insult from the Kazekage, she would no doubt demand retribution in the form of war.

"As always, I would be lost without your counsel," he replied in a low whisper, pressing a soft kiss to her knuckles. At her surprised reaction, his eyes shifted to their entourage. "They were watching," he explained.

Ino nodded mutely as they continued their tour of the aqueducts. He was doing it again — that thing that made butterflies come to life in her intestinal tract. Only, they seemed like fully matured birds taking wing at the moment.

Good grief, no wonder the man has a fan club. He was capable of charming the quills off a hedgehog if he put his mind to it!

Sayuri watched the brief exchange between the Kazekage and his fiancée, the thrice blasted Yamanaka Ino. The Village was in quite a stir over their Kage's recent announcement and his unusual behaviour towards the woman he had just brought home. It seemed like this was one of the rare moments the Kazekage actually displayed affection for anyone.

And he was doing it more often than they were all accustomed to.

Not only was he clearly enamoured by his fiancée, he was also fiercely protective of her, as the unfortunate Shotaro found out the painful way last night. Sayuri had sent her largest henchman to disable her rival in the cover of darkness, believing everyone to have been asleep, only to find out that the sand that formed the Kazekage's nearly impenetrable defense was also guarding Yamanaka Ino's room.

Based on reports from the rest of her entourage, Shotaro was lucky to still be alive. Sayuri inwardly rolled her eyes at the thought of it. Men tended to exaggerate their injuries into glorious feats of heroism.

However, one thing made itself clear to Sayuri: Yamanaka Ino was not a kunoichi of the Hidden Leaf. If she was, she must be long out of practice for she slept clear through the entire debacle that took place just outside the door of her suite.

Either that or she was secure in the knowledge that her fiancé would pull out all the stops for her protection. Sayuri preferred to believe the former.

She smiled bitterly as she watched the Kazekage motion for the party to move on with their tour. A young serving girl ran up the steps to retrieve the glass from Ino before the Kazekage took her slender fingers and tucked them into his arm before moving on.

It should have been her with her hand on his arm. Ino's hands were slender, yes, and feminine but they were tainted by the work she did in her flower shop and her stint at the Training Academy in her girlhood. Hers, on the other hand — pardon the pun — were soft and clean as the hands of the baby. They were the hands of a noblewoman, carefully groomed to sit only on the arm of powerful men like Sabakuno Gaara!

Was the Kazekage too blind to see that?

And yet, despite her impeccable upbringing and education by the most intellectual beings in the Village, Sayuri's eyes refused to see the truth as it glared at her. She would rather plot Yamanaka Ino's ruin than believe that the powerful Kazekage of Sunagakure no Sato had chosen a plain girl from Konohagakure over her, the daughter of the head of Kumogakure no Sato.