The sun was as unrelenting as it had been when she first got here. It seemed so long ago, a sweat soaked memory of trepidation and determination.
Thank god she was in the shade this time.
Baring her teeth like an animal, Ino ignored Temari's smile as she slumped against the wall. The shadow it created was unsurprisingly thin, giving only two feet to hide out in in. The taller girl was more business, standing close but not leaning, next to her; arms crossed and gaze shifting as they looked out. The message has arrived earlier that day, stating that the rest of team ten would arrive shortly before noon.
Ino wasn't sure if she was nervous enough to puke, or grumpy enough to punch something.
It had all started with Kankuro's comment. The dude's inability to keep his trap shut was a growing surprised; one that Ino was afraid she would have to surgical fix before she left. What did he know, blabbing about how Gaara and her would have to stop this "shenanigans" now that Shikamaru would be there to keep her in line.
Besides the fact that he had used the word shenanigans, Ino was amazed he and several other ignorant older shinobi all assumed that the young Nara was something akin to her keeper. As if.
It made her want to start throwing people.
"Do you think …
Glancing over she caught Temari chew the rest of her sentence out on her bottom lip, eyes focused like a hawk on the horizon. She held back a grin.
"Shikamaru is going to roll up in here complaining about everything. I'm more worried that Chouji will have wilted away to nothing from the heat."
Quirk of the mouth, lopsided joy, but Ino didn't need her Jutsu to know what Temari was really worried about. Straightening out from her slump, rolling shoulders, she kept her eyes on three dots that appeared on the wavy sand in front of them. Almost noon. Lazy bastard didn't like being late on missions.
"Would you feel better if I told you that he talks about you all the time and never goes on dates?"
Laughing rather inappropriately when the sand kunoichi whipped her head around to glared at her, she danced back a few feet.
Seeing her impending death in the glare Ino backed up into the sun, flinching at the sudden scorch of heat.
"They are here."
Both girls jumped, Ino feeling her sandal slip in the sand as she swirled towards the gate entrance. Standing in the middle as if he was getting ready for a photo session, Gaara's hair fell enticingly across his forehead and arms were crossed. On the whole, it would have been an attractive picture.
She frowned at him, irritated at the surprise and feeling the urge to kiss him.
"You're creepy, sneaking up like that and saying such a horror story line."
Eyes, color darkened by the shadows, drifted over her body before looking back out towards the distance where her teammates were closing in. Ino felt that look in spots she didn't want to acknowledge existed. Temari smirked before going to stand by her brother. Ah, the offical welcoming committee was formed.
Ino kicked a little sand in their direction before turning to meet the biggest parts of her life.
Chouji got there first. Sliding the last few feet, his friendly face had matured into a more adult looking friendly face. Ino tapped danced in place as he bowed respectfully towards Gaara and Temari. When he turned her way, she squealed like a little girl and launched herself at him.
His chuckled rustled her hair, his eyes bright as they met hers. Backing off she didn't say anything else, just soaked up comfort. Almost whole.
Turning, she side stepped the large shinobi, to walk towards the missing piece. Shikamaru didn't meet the sand shinobi's eyes, dark searching gaze on her face and hands out of pockets. When they were a foot away, those surprisingly slender hands came up to cup her face, voice a scarce whisper.
Nodding, not trusting herself to speak past the lump in her throat, Ino wrapped her arms around his neck. Arms tightly wrapped around her waist and she felt the hurt of what had happened, and what might happened ease away as Chouji's shadow covered him along with a hand on her shoulder. Burying her face in Shikamaru's neck, Ino felt whole. This was her family, her brothers; tried and true.
The two men knew what she meant, after so many years and trials together, it wasn't hard to understand each other. Now that team ten was together, it would be okay. This wasn't weakness, this was strength.
Stepping back, she smiled widely at both of them before turning around to meet a shuttered Kazekage and a blank faced Temari. Well shit. Of course it would look like that moment was a bit more of the sexual intimate instead of the familial intimate. she wasn't sure if she felt disgusted or astonished at the fact that both Sand siblings were exhibiting jealousy. It was Chouji and Shikamaru for pie sakes!
Bounding towards Gaara, she threw her arms around him like a demented monkey, planting a purposefully wet kiss on his cheek Ino grinned at her teammate's shocked expressions. No time like now to get everyone's panties in a bunch. She only wished Tio was there to be exasperated at her antics.
Shikamaru's face froze and then seemed to rapidly shrink inside of itself; already calculating and deducting all the reasons for her action while poor Chouji just looked plain shocked and a bit afraid. Slipping away, she ruffled Gaara's hair - really just to feel it - and smirked. He looked at her with what she hoped was a bit exasperation but probably more resignation.
"I think they are waiting for you to sand coffin me."
Temari snorted loudly before stepping forward to do a better welcoming.
"Welcome to Suna, was there any problems on the way?"
The older woman's eyes slid over Shikamaru in a way that made Ino a little nervous.
"None, Tsunade wasn't very specific about this mission."
The deer boy's own eyes were doing a little bit of wandering themselves. Chouji'd brown eyes met hers with slightly raised brows that probably echoed her own.
"We can go over the details later, once you have rested and fed."
Ino grinned with Chouji at the prospect of food, but felt it slip away as Shikamaru met the Kazekage's offer with a cool gaze. It was that silent assessing look that made her shift away from the man next to her, disliking the guilt he made her feel at being so close to Gaara.
"Food would be wonderful, like maybe some barbeque? Do you guys have that here?"
Leave it to Chouji, sweet brilliant tension defusing Chouji to lead the way out of awkward moment zone. He was already walking towards Gaara like there had never been a problem between the two; one hand sprawled across his stomach and the other gesturing openly as if the world was full grand foods to find and taste. Grabbing Gaara's arm she fairly dragged him along as the three of them left the other two to trail behind them.
"Don't let Gaara pick any of your food, he's dangerous."
Eyebrows lifted at this, but a smile lessened the expression.
It was said with a joking manner; and Ino felt her self relax as the easy manner of her big teammate.
"She wanted to play a game."
Ino gasped in outrage before running a couple feet in front of them so she could turn around and walk backwards; both men in her vision as she pointed a dramatic finger at the smaller one.
"Lies! I wanted culture and food. He gave me a mysterious Suna meal that turned out to be flames and animals parts!"
Chouji was already laughing in the full belly ways of his, and there it was, a beginning tilt at the end of one side of Gaara's mouth. She felt her heart constrict and continued.
"It was lizard tongue! Tongue Chouji! And it was stuffed with Hell!"
Ah! She almost stumbled as Chouji laughed louder, a large hand coming up to settled on Gaara's significantly smaller shoulder. The Kazekage seemed frozen, as if he didn't need to know how to respond to a friendly gesture,and the hand was gone.
"Oh I wish I could have seen that! Good one Kazekage, she probably made the biggest scene."
The mouth was definitely tilting upwards as he nodded.
"It was a truly ...grotesque performance. The children were scared."
This time she did trip. Grotesque? That jerk.
"I bet she bitched the whole time afterwards."
Temari and Shikamaru had finally joined them, bringing along a tenseness that was settled along their shoulders. Which were a bit closer than propriety would have deemed necessary. Ino shrugged with girly flourish before turning around to face forward.
"You remember that time when Sakura dared her to eat that weird pepper that Genma has brought back from a mission?"
This time, Shikamaru barked a laugh.
"Yeah he had warned her to take one small bite, but Ino never does anything how others tell her, so she ate the whole thing at once. Spent the rest of the day sweating buckets and puking in my deer field."
Now there were three laughs behind her, causing her shoulder to hunch defensively, and shoot glares back at them. Revenge would be sweet; they seemed to have forgotten she had also been there for some of their own embarrassing moments.
The sand siblings eventually led them to a off-the-wall diner that had something like barbeque, but that had been twisted into something more Suna befitting. Chouji's face was an interesting show to watch as Gaara quietly recommended or pushed plates in front of the Leaf shinobi. While not as dramatic as she had been, there were a few moments where the pleasant face had frozen before slowly swallowing whatever it was.
A few times she even caught him slipping some off his plate into a napkin when he thought the Kazekage wasn't looking.
Gaara caught her eyes every time he did it.
The fact that he had succeeded in having Chouji try to hide food was almost terrifying.