To Hold the Wolf's Ears
Auribus Teneo Lupum
"When you know what a man wants you know who he is, and how to move him."
-George R.R. Martin
The fire in the hearth lit the man from behind, throwing his face in shadow and rendering it impossible for Lord Kazekage to see his expression. Lord Kazekage prided himself on his superior body language reading skills and liked to use them to manipulate those around him. The fact that he couldn't see his eyes bothered Lord Kazekage, but at least the stance and movement of the body was still discernible.
At the moment, the man was standing confidently, his feet in a firm, wide stance and his shoulders thrust back with a cocky air. One of his arms hung by his side, while the other rested almost bored-like on his waist.
The man was a challenge, and Lord Kazekage enjoyed challenges. His eldest children Kankurou and Temari were easy to control. The last challenge he had had was his son Gaara, but he knew he was on the path to finally controlling him.
Gaara would soon be one of his biggest weapons, once he could be controlled. Lord Kazekage knew that his son was strong and talented. He would strike fear in the hearts of his enemies and Lord Kazekage smiled at just the thought.
"You agree with the plan, then?" the man asked, misinterpreting the meaning of his smile. This man, too, would be honed into a deadly weapon.
"Don't be so hasty," Lord Kazekage chastised with an easy tone. Yes, now that Gaara would soon be fixed, he anticipated the start of a new challenge. "I will need time to consider it. I wouldn't want to hurt my kingdom by rushing in."
The man shifted his weight in a manner that suggested he was annoyed.
"If you take too long, my attention is bond to drift. I have my own ambitions and things to attend to," the man said.
"I'm sure you'll find the patience," Lord Kazekage said, unlatching a box that had been sitting next to him on the table and withdrawing a small bag of yellow raw opium. He dumped the contents of the bag into the end of a long pipe and walked over to the hearth to heat the bowl of the pipe before turning and holding it out in offering to the man, "Would you like a smoke?"
"No thanks," the man said, stepping away from the vapor rising from the pipe. Inhaling it, even accidentally, would affect him. "I can't lose my alertness…too many people want me dead."
Lord Kazekage shrugged in a way that said suit yourself, and took a seat next to the heat source.
"I'll be leaving, now," the man said, watching him with distaste. Lord Kazekage knew that the man didn't like him, but he also knew that the man needed him for his aspirations to be realized. "Don't forget my condition while you consider."
"I won't," Lord Kazekage assured him. His white smile gleamed with the reflection of the fire and then he was gone.
"Roiyaru," Lord Kazekage said once the tread of the man's boots could no longer be heard.
"Dorei is making sure he leaves, Lord," a young man with short, light blonde hair said, stepping out from behind a curtain.
"Good. We can't have our guest getting lost on his way out," Lord Kazekage commented, already feeling the relaxation and alleviation of pain that he associated with opium. "Call for a servant to fetch my daughter, Roiyaru. I have someone I need to discuss with her about."
"That color doesn't agree with you at all, Lady Ino," the maid said, looking at me critically with her chin in her hand. "You have the ability to pull off many colors, but I'm unsure about this one. You look like you rolled around in the pig pen."
"It is a rather repulsive brown. Or…would you call it green?" the other maid pitched in. "And, the cut is so unflattering. Your shoulders look so broad."
I looked at their faces in the mirror, "You think so?"
They both nodded vigorously.
"I've never seen you look so unattractive!"
"The pattern is positively hideous."
I sighed, my shoulders sinking, "Do you think it's too obvious?"
"No, maybe we haven't gone far enough," the shorter maid said after a moment of silence, clapping her hands together with a sudden idea. "Wait here!"
She returned a moment later with two sheets in her hands, beaming as she instructed, "Turn around, Lady."
I was puzzled until she started shoving the sheets up my skirt and into the bodice of my dress. The other maid joined in and there was a lot of violent pushing and pulling as they adjusted the sheets to look natural. I had to grip tightly onto the edge of my vanity to keep from falling over.
When they were done, I checked their work in the mirror. They had done well. I turned sideways and inspected from several different vantages. There were no unnatural bumps or indents and I now appeared to be triple my size.
I poked my padded stomach and frowned uncertainly, "I don't think this is right…"
Someone rapped their knuckles on the door, cutting off my thought. It was Kankurou.
"Are you decent?" he called.
I shook my head and started to say no, distractedly leaning in to examine my figure closer in the mirror. The sheets were pushing at the seams of my bodice in a way that made me nervous that I would break out of it at any moment. I definitely didn't want Kankurou or anyone to see me like this.
"Come in," the shorter maid shouted with a devilish smile I could see from the reflection of the mirror.
I swung around to face the maids, my jaw hanging open in shock. The taller of the maids shrugged and said, "She's new."
Without hesitating, I sprung on her like a lion and caught her head between my arms. She yelped at the same time Kankurou and Gaara entered the room. They paused in the doorway with looks of amused bewilderment.
"The Princess…she's hurting me!" the shorter maid gasped around my tightening chokehold.
The sight of me manhandling my maid, in a horrid brown (or was it green…?) dress stuffed with sheets, and flushed with embarrassment and anger was too much for Kankurou. He collapsed on the ground, holding his stomach and laughing so hard no sound was coming from him. Even Gaara laughed.
I loosened my hold, caught between wanting to hide and wanting to attack Kankurou. It was a mistake, because the maid swept her leg under my feet and I went straight down.
"Katsumi! You can't knock down the Princess!" the taller maid exclaimed, tutting and fretting as she leaned to help me up.
I shook her off with a laugh, "No, it's fine. We were just playing around. I don't want to be treated like a glass doll. I attacked her first and I deserved it."
To be honest, I was glad for it. With Matsuri and Temari gone, there was no one to pick on or torture me. There was a hole in my life that I was content to let the maids fill temporarily in their absence.
There was a ripping sound as I moved to stand up on my own, and then the hole wasn't only in my life, but also in the bodice of my dress. The sheets were spilling out and I, mortified beyond anything before, was struggling to push them back in. Kankurou burst out laughing again, this time sinking to the floor and banging a fist on the rug covered stone.
"Kankurou! Stop laughing this instant! Or, I'll banish you!" I shouted to be heard over his loud guffaws.
Gaara's lips turned up in a small, amused smile and he knocked Kankurou over with a little kick to the raised behind. He went over with a surprised yelp, his voice cracking, and it was my turn to laugh.
Kankurou scrambled up and, once everyone had settled down, said, "We came to talk to you about your trip. Are you free?"
"Let me change and I'll be right out," I said, trying to hold the sides of my dress together and protect my dignity. They left, but I could hear them conversing on the other side of the door. The maids didn't even wait for my order, but started in on helping me change immediately.
"Maybe we should rub grease from the kitchen on her face so her complexion isn't so clear and beautiful," the shorter maid Katsumi said, continuing brainstorming ideas on how to make me appear unattractive for when I went to meet with Lord Shino.
I spaced off, not really listening to their ideas, staring out the window and wandering what Gaara and Kankurou had come to talk to me about. Had Gaara decided to come after all? I understood that it would be insensitive to break the engagement with the person I was going to marry instead in my visiting company, but it didn't stop me from wishing he could go with me anyway.
When they finished, I was back to looking like my usual self, dressed in a flattering, stylish cut that was my customary purple shade. They had only touched up my hair, pinning back the strands that had fallen out earlier.
"Thank you," I said, hurriedly skipping out of the room. Kankurou and Gaara were leaning against the wall just next to the door.
Kankurou smirked at me, "What were you doing exactly?"
The sun was shining in through the window, casting rectangular slants of light against the opposite wall. I could see a million tiny dust particles floating, and I swished my hand through them before answering, "I was trying to make myself so unattractive that Lord Shino would be glad that I was breaking off the engagement. The maids were helping me."
"Oh," Kankurou said. I could feel them watching me, but I kept swishing the dust. I knew what they were thinking, because I had been thinking it myself.
"I don't think I will, though," I continued. "I feel like that would be cheating him. I wouldn't want to be disrespectful. He's really a nice person."
"What are you going to do, then?" Gaara asked. I turned to meet his eyes and smiled.
"I'll just go as myself. I won't dress up. I'll just wear plain, unadorned clothes, but I won't try to trick him. He doesn't deserve that. I don't want him to see me later on and realize that I had pulled the wool over his eyes. Or, worse, have my sheets burst out when I was with him."
"That sounds like a good idea, Ino," Gaara commended.
I nodded and then asked, "What was it that you wanted to speak with me about? Have you decided to come with after all, Gaara?"
"No, I still think it wouldn't be prudent for me to go along. Kankurou and I actually wanted to talk to you about Suzy," Gaara answered. "I think she should go with you."
"Would that be okay?" I asked.
"She has nightmares a lot, right? She doesn't like to be away from you, so she would be miserable the whole time you were gone. You're the only person she has now, and leaving might give her a sense of abandonment," Gaara said.
"Besides, she's your adopted daughter, not a biological daughter. The adoption had nothing to do with Gaara, so it wouldn't be rude to Lord Shino. I also think she should go, too," Kankurou added.
Originally Kankurou was supposed to take care of Suzume in my absence, for her safety and out of politeness to Lord Shino. I was glad that they were giving me permission to bring her along, because I was uneasy about the prospect of not having her with me. Our bond had only grown stronger as time passed from when I found her among the wake of the havoc caused by the Akatsuki. I loved her so much, like I had given birth to her myself, and it was hard to imagine life without her.
"I'm glad," I said, clasping my hands to my chest happily.
"Where is Suzy anyway?" Kankurou asked, looking around.
"She's with my father. He went to show her the birds singing and which berries are safe to eat." I said, fondly, "Suzy has him wrapped around her little finger."
"She has everyone wrapped around her finger," Gaara said with equal fondness.
We were all silent as we pictured Suzume running through the trees, pointing excitedly and singing back to the birds.
Kankurou was the first to break the silence, drumming his fingers against his arms, "Have you figured out what you're going to give to Lord Shino?"
I shrugged and looked back out the window. I had spent hours pondering what I should bring Lord Shino, but I couldn't think of any gift good enough. He had lost his father in the war against the Akatsuki…a war he wouldn't have been a part of if he hadn't been promised my hand in marriage. His alliance had been sealed over that betrothal, and here I was hoping to break it off so that I could marry the man I really loved.
"You're leaving in two days, you had better come up with something soon," Kankurou chided.
"I know, I know. Giving me a hard time about it will only make me anxious, though. So, leave me alone. I have enough pressure as it is," I said.
"You'll think of something," Gaara said with a confidence that made my own confidence swell and my back straighten.
"Ah, Ino's got that mushy look again, I had better run," Kankurou teased, smirking when I stuck my tongue out at him. "I have things I need to do anyway. I'm going to meet up with Konohamaru in town. See you at dinner."
"Good bye," I called after him. "I hope he's being a good influence on Konohamaru. That kid's a rascal enough already."
Gaara smiled, "Konohamaru is probably a better influence on Kankurou."
I laughed, "That's true."
We started walking, naturally gravitating towards our favorite perch: the bench by the window over the garden my mother used to always sit by. When we sat down, Gaara said, "I had two other things I wanted to talk to you about."
"Firstly, I've found someone to go with you in my stead. I want to make sure you're safe, especially since my father has shown an interest in you."
I frowned, "Gaara, you've trained me. I'm capable of taking care of myself."
"I know, but I want you to be as protected as possible," Gaara said. When I continued to frown, he added, "Please, Ino. To placate me."
"Who will you be sending?" I asked, my pout melting at his unmasked concern.
"Konohamaru," Gaara answered.
"Ah, that explains why you two have been spending so much time sparring with him lately."
"He still feels guilty about contributing to your kidnapping and being the reason you have to break the engagement off with Lord Shino in the first place," Gaara said. "And, he will go as a servant. It will be perfectly polite."
I huffed in annoyance. Seriously, that kid. How many times did I have to tell him he had nothing to feel guilty about? If he hadn't pointed out how spoiled I was acting by being overtly picky about suitors, sure I wouldn't have agreed to marriage with Lord Shino, but I also would not have met Gaara. "I keep telling him that I was thankful for what he'd said, but he won't listen."
"Guilt is hard to shake," Gaara said with a small shrug.
I huffed again before asking, "What was the other thing you wanted to talk to me about?"
"My father's letter," Gaara said. He leaned back against the bench, lacing his fingers together in his lap. I was struck suddenly by how tired he looked. I ought to start messaging his temples again; the dark circles that had nearly vanished before were back with a vengeance. Ever since I had told my father I was in love with Gaara and fully intended to marry him or not marry at all, he had kept a closer eye on us. He wouldn't allow for me to be in his room after dinner, even when it was for innocent things like temple messages with lavender to encourage fuller sleep.
There were servants stationed outside of my room like guards at all hours of night. I had nearly died from surprise the first night I left my room and a servant materialized out of a deep shadow along the wall. He had giving me a straight look with no hint of a smile when he said, "Princess, you had better stay in your room. You need your sleep."
"I've been thinking about my father's request for a visit from us a lot," Gaara continued, pulling me from my thoughts. "We ought to go."
My eyes widened with surprise, "But…isn't that too dangerous?"
"If my father wants to harm us, he'll have people after us no matter where we go. Everywhere is dangerous. I think it'll be best to appease him and go," Gaara said, rubbing his fingers tiredly against his forehead. "But, not without conditions. I'll tell him that I will visit him only if he allows me to marry you."
I pressed my hand to my lips, a smile growing behind my fingers. "You mean it? You are certain?"
"Of course," Gaara answered without hesitation.
Eyes glossy with emotion, I leaned towards him and kissed just above his elbow, "I love you."
I giggled and kissed a bit higher on his arm. Then a bit higher…and, a bit higher…higher…until I had trailed kisses up his arm and over his shoulder When I passed the collar of his shirt and kissed the bare skin on his neck, he caught my face between his hands and lifted it. The intense expression on his face made me bite my lip.
"When we go…you have to be with me always. You can't ever leave my sight," Gaara said, his eyes moving back and forth as he studied my face.
Breathless, I could only manage a whisper, "I'll stay by you."
"Good," he said, pulling me closer and kissing me. It was sweet, gentle, and entirely too short. "I love you, too."
"I love you more."
I could hear the amused smile in his voice as he rested his head on mine, "Impossible."
"All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me."
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 43
Notes: You have no idea how much research I had to do to write the opium bit at the beginning. My mom would be majorly concerned if she took a look at my internet history. xD
Also, if you haven't read the first part of this story (Please Don't Hurt Me), I encourage you to please do, but I will do my best to make this story readable as a standalone as well.
I've got big, big plans. Be prepared, reader. Muhaha!