Her mind barely registered the harsh cutting wind blow sand across her bare stomach and limbs. Dull eyes the color of the never ending sky took in the vast land in front of her. Mountain sized dunes of sand were going as far as the eye could see, exaggerated by the heat waves rising up from the ground and distorting her vision. The sun was an overwhelming orb of brightness, creating rivers of sweat that ran down her neck and forehead.
"I hate the sun."
The response came in the form of a throaty chuckle from the woman next to her. Ino glance over with poorly veiled envy, taking in the perky quad of ponytails and dry skin of the tall broad kunoichi.
Bitch didn't have a single bead of perspiration.
"How do you do it?"
It was a whine and she didn't care, why the hell did Tsunade think she was the one for this mission? Sure Sakura was overloaded with all the main hospital duties and the whole Sasuke trauma and she was the next one in command when the Hokage, Shizune and Billboard Brow were gone.
But she hated the damn heat.
"I've lived here my whole life, I'm use to it."
Feeling yet another strong wave of defeat, Ino didn't hide the resignation on her face as she frowned unhappily at the smiling Temari. The ninja had been sent to Konoha to ask for a highly skilled medical ninja that could fill in the unexpected gap that one of their lead surgeons made. Stupid fool had to go and have a fatal heart attack where no one would find him till days later.
Now Ino was stuck here for who-knows-how long until they could find or train a replacement.
Sighing again, she reached down to pick up the two meagerly packed backpacks that she brought. After being assigned (unwillingly) she had been informed that her wardrobe would be useless in the disgustingly hot climate and that she'd be given a budget to replace her clothing while staying there.
"You'll get use to it Ino, don't be such a downer."
The blonde found herself smiling blandly at her newly acquired friend, Temari was a cool woman to be around; independent, sassy, strong, ruthless, opinionated and still sensitive. She was the only thread that Ino had in the new and extremely foreign land that she'd be living in.
"Maybe but I doubt it Temari, I'm just not into sweat."
Temari just laughed again as they started forward, the big dome like buildings growing larger as they walked closer.
"You will acclimate I promise, besides being a kunoichi usually means extreme amounts of sweat right?"
Shaking her head in a slow motion she answered.
"No, I sweat while training or on an active mission, not when I simply step out the door."
Ignoring the shrug that the ninja gave her, Ino glanced again up at the sky.
"Does the temperature change much? The sun's lowered but not the heat."
Her tone had purposively lost the whiny twang, showing her friend that she had gotten over the recent complaints and was simply acquiring facts. She'd save the pangs of homesickness until she was alone and wouldn't affect anyone else. It wasn't their fault Tsunade was a mean old woman.
"It will drop during the night but the wind won't stop, it never does."
Nodding absently to show she was still listening, Ino inwardly sighed. She had guessed that much.
"After you meet with the Kazekage, me and Kankuro will show you to your apartment."
Moving her eyes away from the small dots on the horizon, she was assuming they were the gate's guards; she looked at the woman in confusion.
"Are you not allowed to call him by his name, despite being related?"
It was on the line of being too personal, but Ino knew that Temari was a blunt knife with her own thoughts and wouldn't take offense. In fact that the girl threw up a crooked smile before shrugging awkwardly.
"I am allowed, just thought it'd sound more…professional if I called him that to a leaf kunoichi."
That startled her and before she could stop to think, Ino was laughing. It felt good to let loose, having been focused on being miserable the last couple days she had started to feel as if she wasn't going to find anything enjoyable at all in the new place she'd be staying at.
Temari chuckled with her as she waved to the guards.
"Oh that did sound very professional..and weird."
Then she paused in front of the gates, a new thought occurring coming to her as she looked at Temari's back, waiting for the girl to stop and look over her shoulder quizzically.
She pushed away the newly bundled nerves to the back of her mind, keeping her voice even and cool.
"What do I call you in front of him? Do I call him Kazekage or.."
"Gaara is fine."
The new voice came from the shadows of the wall, sending her nerves flying out of the coop as she slowly turned to face the speaker.
"Kazekage I didn't know you were there."
Suddenly remembering her manners, she bowed respectfully towards the tall redhead, taking in the obvious growth spurt. He was tall, though not as tall as his siblings, nor was he as broad as them both. He had remained more on the narrow side, developing lean lithe muscles instead of bulk like his brother who slouched by him.
Straightening up she looked straight into his eyes, absently admiring the pretty jade color that looked like it had darker flecks among them.
"Alright, then call me Ino, please."
He nodded as they took a moment to measure the other up. It had been a few years since he had last seen the blonde and was not surprised that she had grown prettier. The shiny locks she had ruthlessly cut during the exam had grown back, swinging low by her hips in the ponytail she customarily wore.
Glancing down quickly, he also took note that her dark purple outfit hadn't changed either all that was absent were the form tight bindings that she must have lost long ago; revealing tones limbs that were tanned lightly, showing off distinctly feminine muscles. Looking back up he met swirling blue eyes that were daringly staring back without any hint of fear or disgust but with stark intelligence.
She didn't look afraid at all.
"Yeah I'm Kankuro, nice to meet you too blondie."
The sarcastic drawl had her breaking the impromptu staring contest. Blinking once, she turned her body towards the tall broad shinobi that had been leaning against the shaded wall of the gate.
And blinked again.
Sakura had briefly described the teen without makeup once when they were talking but it had been a dodgy sketch. Her friend had been too busy trying to draw the fast acting poison out of his body to take in a complete inventory of her patient.
Clearly she had missed much.
He wasn't as outlined as somebody like Sasuke or Neji, lacking the absolute beauty that both naturally possessed, but he made up for it with a rough edginess that could easily appeal.
She smiled impulsively at him, receiving an automatic one in return.
"Without the gunk on your face it's a major improvement."
She smiled again in amusement as his expression went blank with surprise. She was serious too; he had eyes that spoke volumes, serious one moment and sparkling mischievously the next. Though, she paused, that did seem to be a family trait. All three siblings could speak sentences with their eyes without ever opening their mouths.
"I don't know if I should label that as bitch comment or a compliment."
Seeing Temari smirk from her peripheral version, Ino figured that Kankuro was the same type; easy to speak outright with.
Stunning him again with another genuine bright smile, she waved a nonchalant hand.
Seeing a speculative light begin to shine in his oak colored eyes, she turned to face the red head. That was one road she did not want to travel while staying here.
"I didn't know you were meeting us here."
It was an opening really, she was throwing the conversation control out in the middle for someone else to grab. Usually she didn't mind carrying the weight of social necessities but the week had been long; all she wanted to do now was wash and rest.
"Yeah Gaara what's up?"
Seeing the weary look pass on the blonde's face, Temari easily took hold of the situation.
"I wanted to meet her."
That was all, nothing further to add, she almost sighed out loud at the lack of elaboration from her youngest brother. It was habit that nothing would ever get him to break and she would be satisfied after all; he wasn't spouting out sand coffin funerals at every irritation at least.
"We just got the message actually so we decided to skip out of some gay meetings and meet you at here."
Ino watched intrigued as the tall blonde growled menacing at her brothers.
"You. Guys. Skipped!"
It wasn't so much a shout as a series of throaty snarls that sent the gate guards stepping several feet back. In fact, she resisted the urge to do so also, too busy watching the amusement on Kankuro's face and the blank slate of the Kazekage.
"Oi! You only think you can get away with yelling at us because you got out of it easy."
She knew he had won that one when Temari opened her mouth for another set of snarls when she paused before closing it.
"Point for Kankuro?"
The two blinked at Ino as she shrugged with a smile before unconsciously bringing a hand up to wipe the pouring sweat from her forehead. It was so fucking hot!
It wasn't a statement but a quiet command from the sand leader. She watched as he didn't even wait to see if it was followed, he just turned and began walking slowly back inside the city's limits.
The two other siblings exchanged glances before Temari ushered her through, leaving Kankuro to take up the rear. Looking over her shoulder as she walked, Ino glared at the tall man, taking in the casual long sleeve and pants.
"How the hell do you people wear so much clothing in this weather?"
She knew she had mentally promised herself not to complain, but everything but her most outer layers were soaked through with salty sweat and it didn't help that she had been forced to greet her host looking like she had just been drown then drugged through dirt, or sand.
"We live here."
She frowned at the answer.
Ignoring the deep chuckle from behind her, Ino turned to watch the red head as he led the way through the streets.
"Why do they do that?"
She hadn't meant to whisper it out loud but the reserved look on Temari's face told her that it wasn't unnoticed. As Gaara walked ahead towards people there were two different types of reactions; those who waved or said some kind of greeting and those who abruptly turned away.
It hadn't come from next to her, but right behind her where Kankuro was. It was a tone that Ino knew well enough; the tone used when there was a delicate line about to be crossed.
Without acknowledging the subject, she spoke.
"So where am I staying exactly? And the tour of the hospital?"
The truth was that she hadn't gotten a lot of information from anyone back home about the details of the Sand village, just the basics of her mission and small details. Seeing the large buildings about her, mostly made of clay or stone, she felt oppressed. Where were the billowing branches of trees? Quiet breezes and tinkling of creeks?
"We've set up a place in the main house, that's where we stay."
"So you can kill me if the need arises? Or to make sure I don't kill anyone?"
Temari shrugged at the raised eyebrow she sent towards her. As if saying that it wasn't her doing. Ino didn't bother pointing out that arrangements were usually handled by the Kazekage's suggestions, the girl's brother.
"I won't be giving you the tour actually; I have to check in with the council after I settle you in."
Nodding with understanding, Ino took another long look around her before casually asking.
"Who is going to give me the tour?"
She wasn't scared or nervous really but a little apprehensive at the thought of entering new surroundings without something familiar with her. A childish feeling that she tried to banish.
She kept her mouth from falling open when the answer came from ahead of them. Glancing over at Temari, she knew that this wasn't preplanned from the shocked look on her face. She had figured it'd be some genin or Kankuro but Gaara, the Kazekage?
"Please Gaara; I do not want to take too much time out of your schedule. A lower shinobi would be fine."
That's when she knew she made an error.
Thick silence followed her statement; all three siblings had stopped walking. Something she didn't notice until she was a foot away from Gaara.
That's when her mind caught up. Thinking of the citizen's reactions to him and what she knew about his past, she mentally berated herself before speaking.
"It's not because of the fact that you use to host the Shukaku Gaara, I just don't want to intrude on the Kazekage's time."
She knew it was a bold and slightly dangerous statement, but Ino felt like she had to openly put it out there and get it over it. If she had to stay in this god forsaken desert with this lot, she was going to make her opinion known. Turning away from the red head's back she caught the other sibling's eyes, ruthlessly daring them to contradict her next sentence.
"I'm not here to judge you people by your past, okay? I'm here to improve and help in the medical facility. What's done is done, so don't be so uptight about it."
Bringing out a grin, she watched their dumbfounded expressions.
"It won't take much time."
The low gravelly tone had her spinning around. He had turned to face her, his expression still as blank as before. Had he even heard her? Shrugging it off as part of his personality, she nodded in submission.
"This is your room."
They had reached the Kazekage tower, or dome, sometime after walking in the heat. When they had reached the entrance, Gaara had merely nodded to them before making his way down a separate hallway.
"Where's he going?"
She hadn't been terribly interested, though her eyes seemed to follow his back on their own accord.
"Don't know Kazekage business probably."
Turning away from the retreating figure, Ino raised an amused brow at the older teen. He was surprisingly easy to get along with, which hadn't been her first impression at her first Chuuin exam years ago. Then, he had been a weird looking, cocky jerk who had puppets and creepy siblings.
"How knowledgeable you are."
He met her teasing with a smirk and shrugged as he turned in the opposite direction of where Gaara went and led the way down a dizzying spiral hallway. Temari had only walked with them halfway before departing to go speak with the council, Ino secretly thought that she just wanted to go shower and clean up but chose to remain quiet as the girl waved before leaving. Kankuro had then replaced the vacated spot by Ino's side and took over the small tour.
Surprisingly Ino was enjoying herself with the puppet shinobi. He was sarcastic and relaxed in his manner, and she found herself bantering playfully with him as they walked through the streets. Gaara had remained in front of them the whole time, and she could only guess that he was listening to their conversation.
"Yeah I'm pretty knowing when it comes to a lot of things."
She laughed lightly at his suggestive wagging of his eyebrows, not bothering to take the bait he was obviously setting up.
"I'm sure, so am I going to be provided with a map to remember how to get here?"
It wasn't that hard to follow, there were no turn offs or loops, just one long ever going curving corridor. The walls on either side of her were lined with door after door of what she had been told were rooms for VIP guests or ambassadors, so right now most were unused.
"You won't get lost, and besides, someone will always help you find your way, just remember which door is yours."
Kankuro smiled pleasantly down at her, she responded with an unladylike snort while wryly responded.
"If most of these are unused why not give me a room that wasn't in the butt crack of this building."
The deep infectious laugh resounded off the walls as they finally stopped in front of a door. Watching him reach out and open the door, Ino felt a shiver of anticipation. This room was going to be her makeshift sanctuary for a while.
"We put you here because the rooms in this area seem to suit you Hidden Leaf ninjas warm blood."
Mockingly glaring at him, she didn't hide the laughter in her voice.
"Warm blood? As oppose to you Sand people's cold blood?"
He only laughed before throwing the door open to reveal her apartment. Stepping inside, Ino intently took in her surroundings. It was spacious but not exaggerated with finery but with simple furnishings. Hearing Kankuro follow her, she glanced back to smile at him before turning around to take in what seemed like a moderately sized living room.
It was plain, the walls matching the color of the sand that seemed to infiltrate everything. There was a small couch against one wall with a side table that held a lamb. Walking in towards a door off to the right, she didn't stop to scan the books and scrolls that lined a small bookcase.
"Not a reader?"
The question was followed by a loud tsking sound that made Ino smile as she opened the door to show the bedroom.
"Oh I am, but it has been put on hold while the Fifth Hokage is making me study extensive scrolls that are about certain surgeries."
The bedroom was the same as the living, except instead of a couch there was a medium sized bed covered by a thin brown blanket and single pillow. Walking towards it, Ino pushed away the disappointment as she tossed the two backpacks before turning back to see an open doorway leading to the bathroom. She spotted the curve of a tub and her mood lightened considerable.
"Surgery, huh? That's pretty intense stuff I hear."
He paused as he caught the look of lust on her face as she tried to inconspicuously peek at the tub and shower unit. Her voice was slightly distracted as she answered and he bit back a smile.
"Yeah, mostly research, actually on possible surgeries on the brain."
Kankuro inwardly raised his brows at that, this chick fixing someone's brain? Weren't doctors supposed to be unattractive and boring? At least in Suna they were, he couldn't even remember if they had any female doctors yet alone kunoichi ones.
Not wanting to keep her from her shower and rest, Kankuro turned and made his way to the bedroom door, grabbing the handle as he spoke.
"Well, shower and rest for now. Later someone will come get you for dinner so don't worry; our host skills are just as good as Konoha."
Finally tearing her eyes away from the temptation of being clean, Ino brought her wide eyes to meet Kankuro's.
"Who will be getting me?"
Seeing him shrug she turned to the bed to start digging in one of her bags.
"I don't know; me, Temari, or possibly Gaara. Don't worry; we won't forget you on purpose, even if you kinda stink."
Glaring at him, Ino took the pillow and threw it at his head. He dodged it easily by closing the door behind him as he left his laughter loud and obnoxious in the quiet rooms. After hearing the front door close, Ino turned to get her bathroom supplies before practically dancing towards her long awaited shower and bath.
The bathroom was a completely white room with a tiny sailor window in the shower stall. Dumping her stuff on the ground, she walked towards the shower, slowly pulling the tie that held her mass of hair out. With a sigh of relief from releasing the tension caused from the tight ponytail, Ino roughly scratched her hands on her scalp. Long hair had its downsides even if she liked it more than having short hair.
With the object of desire in her sights, she quickly began to take her travel worn clothes off with a silly smile on her lips, thinking of hot water and shampoo.
The sand swirled around his ankles, like a pet searching for some attention; a habit he hadn't been able to kick after being brought back from the dead. Standing outside on the building's roof, he stared into the sunset.
Why were sunset's so beautiful, but sad?
Gazing at the painted tones of orange and yellows, he felt the tension ease from his shoulders. It had been a long day that consisted mostly of reading; sitting in a chair for hours on end was not something he practiced. Especially when it was in a cramped room with scrolls and books stacked so high that the shelves blocked out the sunlight.
He needed the sun. It was like oxygen, the baron deserts beauty. It called to him, begging him to let the sand take him away, to become part of the terrain. The land wasn't covered with trees or plants, no; it was completely open to the sky. A beautiful desolate land of emptiness.
No, he shook his head at that last thought. He was not lonely anymore.
He knew without looking who they were; Temari and Kankuro. They probably just got back from checking in with the council and showing the Konoha guest to her room. They always checked on him first thing when they got back from doing anything. Once it was in fear of finding destruction, now, he hoped it was because of something else.
"Do you think she'll do okay here?"
Temari's face appeared beside him as he continued to watch the village. Despite the heavy fan, her back was straight, her eyes quickly accessing his expression. Her emerald eyes were the only ones that could see through the impassive look. Glancing at her, he admired the tan face, with freckles scattered under her eyes and across her nose. His sister really was pretty, when she wasn't yelling.
"The Hokage chose her."
A deep timbre on his other side.
"I think she'll do fine with the other shinobi, she's likeable but hardworking and I bet she can be a bitch when fighting."
Turning his head, he took in the color free face of his brother. He never really understood why he wore it in the first place but never really cared enough to ask.
Facing straight, he felt a small easing in his chest. It always formed when they left and vanished as soon as they made their routine appearance. He never understood what it was he felt until after the fight with Naruto. Now, he knew it was concern.
He was concerned that they wouldn't return to him.
"I wasn't worried about that; I'm more concerned with how those assholes at the hospital will react to her. Our medics aren't known for being gender open minded."
That last part sounded bitter and he knew why. Temari had spent her whole life training so she can show every close minded, (and in her opinion arrogant) male that Kunoichi's can be good if not better than any shinobi.
Suna wasn't known for its equality for woman and male ninja, the council was still old fashioned. He had been working on a plan to force them to accept more girls into the new academy, maybe even replacing some of the old windbags.
"I'm dealing with it, that's why I'm giving her the tour."
He knew the young woman was going to have an incredibly hard time finding friends on the doctoring staff since they were all males who had been against the idea of a foreign female invading their territory. Which was why he had taken the entire day off to give her the tour so she wouldn't be glared at or ignored.
"That's a good idea, those jerks wouldn't dare do or say anything with you there Gaara."
Kankuro nodded as Temari spoke, showing his approval for the plan. It had taken a few years and some terribly awkward 'family' talks but his baby brother had really changed.
A/N: I know I haven't finished my other two posted stories, but one is close to being done so I jumped the gun..