Disclaimer: You should know this by now. If you need me to say it, take the effort to PM me about it.

Author's Note: For those of you that recognize me from the Soujiro/Kaoru Rurouni Kenshin fandom, I'll have you know… I have no intention of updating those stories again.

Do tell me if I have any typos or grammatical errors. I'm not new, but I'm rather rusty, me thinks. Also, if you have any requests for Ino pairings, please let me know. I'll try my best. I need some motivation.

A Penny For Your Thoughts

"The light that lies in my lady's eyes, has been my heart's undoing." –Irish Melodies, Thomas Moore

Insomnia has found me again. I think I have taken for granted the previous nights when sleep claimed me swiftly in its gentle arms.

Goosebumps formed on my skin. I still haven't gotten accustomed to the chilly atmosphere of Konoha's night air. I admit that I miss the desert climate of Sunagakure a little. Only a little. I imagine that when this vacation is over I will be caught between mentally rejoicing and mentally sobbing.

But I digress my thoughts. I must get going. My feet led me atop a hill, where I awaited the nightly performance. I watched it every time I had insomnia ever since she first showed it to me.

I walked down the empty streets, the yellowish glow of the street lamps illuminating my many shadows. There were no stars in the sky tonight, but I guess it's because night in Konoha is very bright. Much brighter than Suna.

"Gaara! Gaara!" a small, whispered voice breathed out from the shadows of an alley. "Hey! Psst!"

Ah, it's that blonde-haired girl from the Konoha flower shop. Oh, that's right. She's a woman now. Our generation has grown from the days of our first chuunin exam.

I didn't say anything, but I merely walked toward her, my unspoken question lingering in the air.

"I wanna show you something," she said. She grabbed my wrist to drag me off; it was a surprise to both of us that I didn't reflex by beheading her with my sand.

"What is it?" I asked finally.

She continued dragging me off into the direction opposite of where I was walking. "It's something I think you've never seen before," she answered.

I've experienced insomnia in Konoha many times before this. What could I possibly haven't seen?

Her flowing blonde hair swayed behind her when she turned her head to me, still dragging me along. It was like she heard everything I said, be it out loud or in my head.

"Twilight," she smiled. (1)

And as we continued walking, I could see traces of crimson and orange shoot out from behind the hill, coloring the black night like stained glass.

I wonder when she stopped being afraid of me. I think it was after I decided to join in with Konoha's festivities. There was a festival that night; the annual explosions of fireworks and the loud chatters of the crowds fell upon my ignorant ears as we both had our first conversation.

Sitting against the sakura tree, I observed the people making merry, running to and fro only stopping to linger about the scattered food carts. I felt the corners of my mouth twitch downward at the sight of little children holding their little dolls, dragging their guardians all over the place. It was depressing.

"What's up?" a curtain of blonde hair fell down on my face," You look angry."

It was that annoying blonde who runs the flower shop. I believe she's the best friend of Shikamaru, my sister's boyfriend.

She violently whipped my face with her golden locks (that was when I concluded that even hair can become a weapon), gathering it into her signature ponytail.

"…" I replied, looking at her blankly.

"Not very verbal, are you?" She leaned to the side and placed a hand on her hip.

I replied the same, "…"

She remained silent and sat next to me, looking at the firework-glistened lake. Subconsciously, I leaned toward the warmth radiating beside me. I think she noticed this before I did.

"Are you bored?" she spoke up.

I replied verbally this time," Hn."

"Then why'd you come?"

"Naruto forced me to-" I instantly caught myself. A mere village outcast actually forced me, the Kazekage, to go somewhere against my will? What the hell was I trying to do? Ruin my reputation?! I was about to make an excuse on how Naruto's excessive hyperactivity can wear out even the most skilled jounin (which was true by the way), but she interjected my words.

"But he's happy to see you here," she said, her eyes looking beyond me.

I turned my head to see the subject of our near-nonexistent conversation running and shrilling towards me.

"Gaara! Gaara! GAAAAARRRRAAAAA!" the other annoying blonde screamed.

He shoved a plastic cup into my face, its contents splashing little raindrops onto my cheeks and into my eyes. Dammit. Why is my face suddenly the target of other people's unnecessarily audacious greetings?

"Wha-?" was my only reply before I was once again rudely interrupted.

"Gaara!" he screamed again.

You know, I thought he would've outgrown that childlike voice by now. Perhaps he's a late bloomer?

"I got you some orange juice!" He shoved the cup to me, this time into my hands.

I hesitantly raised it to my lips, all the while staring at him with pensiveness.

"Yeah, yeah. It's not orange juice; it's powdered water," he waved off my tentative look like smoke," but it's a festival. You gotta drink it." (2)

Before Ino, I thought Naruto would be the only one who could read my mind through my actions. Later, I find that she could do more than just read my actions. She could read my mind. Without her family jutsu. Period.

Sakura called for him in the distance and he said a quick "See you" to both of us, not before glancing to Ino then giving me a mischievous wink. I made a mental note to confront him about that later.

I wasn't sure that she caught Naruto's message until she turned to me with a sly, yet coy, grin. (I believe she is the only person who can make that action possible.)

"Well," she started," Naruto's not the only one who's pleasantly surprised that you haven't killed me yet."

Now that I think about it, that surprised me too.

Twilight finished its show quickly, the remaining black of night diminishing into the west horizon. Has summer arrived so already?

I jumped onto the balcony of the room where my beloved always broke from the spell of blissful slumber. I opened the glass sliding door quietly; using the key she had given me a few weeks before. I'm still getting used to the fact that she trusts me this much despite my repulsive past. Which led me to my next flashback.

It was her first visit to Sunagakure. I was a little ashamed that she arrived without my servants greeting her at the gate. The guard was even foolish enough to give her a hard time and send her to jail for losing her passport papers. Though she assured me that the entire thing was her fault, I still fired that guard and handed him to Konoha's top interrogator Ibiki as a sign of peace.

Ino pitied the man so much that she gave him a comforting pep talk before he was placed under the mercy of Ibiki, telling him that it wasn't all that bad. It actually helped him a bit, knowing that she worked under the interrogator's supervision so she knew exactly what she was talking about. Dammit. Hoe is a punishment supposed to teach that wretch a lesson when the cause of the punishment is showing him mercy?

I had an inkling of a feeling that things were going to change drastically once she lived here.

Wait. Live here? Where did that come from?

I shook my head from that thought and proceeded to give her a tour of my village.

Even after I had been named the Kazekage, people still looked at me with fear. What's worse, they regarded Ino with suspicious, as if she'll burn down their small houses and pitiful fruit stalls without warning. Burn? Ino? Without warning? Ha, knowing her she'd probably give them the fanciest formal letter six months in advance. Once she becomes my wife they better treat her with respect.

Dammit. Why do my thoughts keep leading me here?

A gentle hand curled around my wrist, snapping me out of my reverie.

"Gaara?" she said to me, an arm full of fruits native to Sunagakure.

Strange. I expected her to have a truck full of clothes, shoes, and jewelry. Then I glanced behind her to see, not quite a truck but, a mini cart filled to capacity with, not only clothes, countless shoes, knick-knacks, and et cetera.

I eyed her slight skepticism whilst taking my wallet from within the folds of my robe. I glowered tiredly at her from the corner of my eye before handing the merchant a wad of Suna currency.

When he wasn't accepting the money, I looked up to scowl at him. He was gaping like a fish.

"Old man-" I growled in the back of my throat.

I stopped myself when I felt a relaxed hand settle upon my back.

Ino glanced at me then took the money form my hands, waving it in front of the merchant. "Haha, excuse me, sir," she laughed goodheartedly," Here is your money. Would you like us to leave it here, on your merchandising?"

"Oh- oh, no! I'm terribly sorry, friend of the Kazekage's," he stuttered out, much to his chagrin. He accepted the money with shaky hands. "Thank you for buying from my humble shop."

I was already walking away from him, feeling a bit irritated. Was it really that astonishing to be seen with someone who was biologically or politically related to me? I observed the other faces gaping at me from the sidelines. That would be a yes.

I wanted to berate them for their blatant facial expression towards me, but when I felt Ino's warm presence return by my side I decided it could wait.

"Oh, my God, it's so hot!" Ino exclaimed, wearily pushing her feet on the ground to move the swing. We had gone back to my mansion to unpack her shopping bags and let her rest, and then we went to the park.

She stared at me with disbelief. "Aren't you hot?!"

As I explored the crevices of my mind to provide her with a witty answer (for I do not want to look incompetent in front of he, now do I?) I took this time to observe her face: Her eyes reflected the azure glow of the bright, cloudless sky. Her cheeks flushed pink from the Suna heat she wasn't quite used to yet. Her plump, rosy lips form an eternal pout that makes me want to… When did I start thinking of her in poetic prose?!

"I'm used to it," I said finally.

She groaned loudly in exasperation as she hung her head in defeat. I knew her groan was from a completely innocent cause but I couldn't prevent myself from letting my thoughts wander. I probably would've thought of something extremely… naughty, if I hadn't notice her glare at me.

"What?"

"Hmph, nothing," she turned her head away from me.

I observed her, trying to figure out how I ever upset her in any way, when I heard her sigh almost inaudibly. I caught her glance longingly at the nearby ice cream stall and immediately knew what she wanted.

I stood up and stalked over there. She looked up at me with a questioning look before resuming her sulking.

I returned with two dripping ice cream cones, frowning because of the sticky substance coating my palms. But when her face lit up at the sight of me (well, most likely the ice cream) I found that it was all worthwhile.

We abandoned the swings to sit on the shaded grassy patch under the biggest tree in the park. Ino instantly devoured the cone and was already licking her fingers when I was only able to finish the tope half of my ice cream.

"Wow! Thanks, Gaara!" she exclaimed happily," How did you know what I wanted?"

I snorted," Who said boys are stupid?"

She poked me in the side. "Well, you guys can be smart but really stupid in the matters of loooovee." She said the last word especially girly as she dramatically bat her eyelashes at me.

We had a moment of silence as we had an awkward staring contest. Usually, I'd stare down even the strongest jounin to tears with a mere glare, but, for some unknown reason, I just can't stare at her with a serious mind.

I choked on my own spit in the back of my throat, trying with much difficulty to suppress the laughter threatening to erupt. There was another awkward silence.

And she burst into a fit of giggles.

"Hahaha, I love you, Gaara," she grinned, squeezing me in a sideways hug and rocking side by side.

I froze. Did she really say that? Did she really mean it?

She put her mouth close to my ear, holding down my shoulder. I could feel her breathe tickle it as she whispered," You wanna know a secret?"

I groaned inwardly. Ew. Will this be one of those girly, romantic secret drama things that I see Temari watching on soap operas?

I didn't consent, but I didn't say "no" either.

She continued. "You're one of my best friends."

I looked at her incredulously. Was she serious? My mind went completely blank when I robotically handed her my remaining ice cream, subconsciously responding to her request for it.

Ino continued chattering on and on, completely oblivious to the fact that I wasn't paying much attention.

I forgot how to think. What was it that she said again?

"You're one of my best friends."

I think I stopped breathing at that point.

I slid the glass door close, making sure to keep quiet. I untied the sash holding my sand gourd to my back and placed it in the empty corner of her room.

Pulling and tying back the curtains of her glass door, I watched with childlike amusement the new day's light dancing on her golden tresses.

Dawn is arriving and going fast. I think it's summer already. Konoha villagers are lucky; they have four seasons. Suna is summer year-round.

I sat on the floor next to her mattress, putting my elbows on the cool comforter and taking her hand into mine. I kissed her palm softly as I rubbed the back of her hand with my thumb.

I like Ino's hands. It's like they have a mind of their own, a personality too. They can throw one hell of a punch (is that how she qualified for ANBU interrogation?), but they can be one of the softest things you will ever feel.

This, I think, will be the first (and last) time I will be as nervous as I am now. I've been to Konoha many times before, and I've seen and talked with her for countless times already. I've only experienced a small increase in my heart rate when I'm with her. So why am I about to have a heart attack now?

Sweat trickled down the side of my head. My hands shook; albeit invisibly but I could feel the repercussions vibrate throughout my entire body. Each step forward became an agonizing journey. Slowly, but surely, and with a bunch of wildflowers in hands, I made my way to the Yamanaka flower shop.

For once, I'm glad that the mere sight of me scares people away. I don't relish the thought of people seeing me this way. I bet people would die of laughter if they saw the Kazekage, sweating a waterfall with nervousness, stomping down the street like a little boy. Only if I didn't kill them first of course.

"Gaara?" a familiar voice popped up form behind me.

"Ya-yamanaka-san," I stuttered. I mentally slapped myself. Way to go, Mr. Suave.

"Aw, I told you to just call me Ino," she lightly scolded, affectionately rubbing my shoulders," So why are you here? I thought you guys were supposed to go to Suna once you were done with the mission. Is Tema-neesan here too? I hope so. I wanna go shopping with her. But Shikamaru would probably steal her away. You know she lets me call her nee-san because-"

"Ino?!" a tanned boy shouted from down the street, running towards us with a small white dog tagging alongside of him.

Who the hell is he and how dare he interrupt us? I've got something to say, I'm stuttering like hell, Ino's chattering away, and now HIM?! Damn, I'm itching to kill someone right now.

I didn't notice I was crushing the stems of the wildflowers until Ino's cool hand wrapped slowly around my wrist. I relaxed a bit.

"Hey, Kiba," she said calmly," Why don't you go to your team? I'll come by later."

After I kill you first, I added sourly in my head.

He stammered," B-but I-ino! Don't you know who he is?"

She scoffed. "Don't be stupid." I'm afraid he can't help what he is. "Just 'cause I'm blonde doesn't mean I'm dumb." You go tell him, Ino. "He's Gaara, Kazekage of Sunagakure." Damn straight, biatch.

The dog-boy scratched his head and twitched his nose in exasperation. "Well, duh. I'm not calling you stupid, but don't you know what he's done?" He pointed one of those disgusting, grimy appendages at me; I think he calls them fingers. "Don't you know that he's-"

The cool pressure of Ino's hand suddenly disappeared and I witnessed Kiba fly halfway across the street, a ribbon of blood soaring in an aerial trail from his nose. I sort of felt lucky that "gentle" was all I experienced of Ino's hands.

The fist loosened as it spread against her hip.

"Hey! Don't talk about him as if he can't hear you! If you're gonna badmouth him, do it to his face!"

Mutt-face took one look at me and instantly poofed away. And somehow I don't blame him.

Ino turned to me and smiled apologetically, putting a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "I'm sorry, Gaara. I should've made him apologize to you first."

"N-no, it's fine-fine." Oh no, I think my nervousness is coming back to me.

"So why are you back in Konoha? Are you here to visit me?" she teased.

"Yeah, actually, here." I held out the flowers to her.

The look of utter surprise on her face would've amused me greatly if it weren't for the fact that she was not taking the flowers and that my hand was shaking uncontrollably.

"Erm, Ino?"

"What's the occasion?" Still not taking the flowers and I'm still holding them out.

"Well, I, um, you know, we…" I couldn't get the words out and my hand was having a seizure.

"You're not making any sense, Gaara," Dammit, woman! Stop making this harder for me than it already is!

"C-can you just t-take the flowers from me?" She took them hurriedly.

"Ah, sorry." Oh, this was one of her blonde moments.

"I want you." That cam out in a defeated sigh and unexpectedly fast.

She probably only stared at me for a total of 5 seconds, but it was en eternity to me. I could feel all the blood rush to my face and my stomach doing the entire Chinese Olympics gymnastic routine.

The next thing I know, she grabs the side of my head in her silken hands and ruggedly pulls me down into a deep kiss. I'm not sure where my blood is going, north to my face or south to my-

A quick, exhaled moan woke me from my reminiscing. My beloved stirred, turning to me and opening her eyes slowly.

"Gaa…ra?" She looked in my direction. A veil of sleepy haziness covered her sky-colored irises so she could only see me as a vague silhouette. She stifled a yawn with the hand I wasn't holding.

"Yes, I'm here."

She could see clearly now, the remaining bits of sleep rubbed out from the sides of her eyes. "Is Suna not so busy this week?" She made space for in the bed as she held out the blanket.

I slipped in reluctantly. "Yes."

Sometimes, I wish I weren't the Kazekage. Maybe I could spend more time with her. Maybe we could have a normal relationship. There are a lot of maybe's in life.

Ino once told me that I shouldn't dwell on things I can't change. I should be thankful for what I have because there are people out there that have never experienced love in their entire life.

Once I got in, she cuddled next to me, snuggling her face in the crook of my neck and draping her arm across my chest.

"Gaara?"

"What is it?"

I couldn't see her face, but I felt her smile and warmth spread throughout my entire body.

"Welcome home."

I'd trade many things to change the aspects of my life. I'd trade the life of a Kazekage for a simple chuunin. I'd trade the life of a powerful figure for a peaceful villager. But Ino? No, I would never trade her for anything else in the world.

End.

(1): If this scene seems similar to you, it's because you've probably read it in chapter 3 of Sorry For the Pain by TopazDragon. I don't take credit for this scene, just give it to her/him.

(2): Japanese food is usually healthy in some aspects and powdered drinks aren't exactly nutritious. Powdered drinks at festivals were especially suspicious but people don't really mind because it's a festival and it's tradition.

Thunder: This was intended to be part of my Ino fan collection, but I decided it's been too long since I've submitted a fanfic. So, well, here you go. I hope you like!