To many, the Mizukage appeared to be a woman that was relatively laidback, but ultimately capable, professional, and reasonable in all aspects of life.

This fell apart the second one came into contact with any application of her love life… or anyone else's, for that matter.

Mei was several things, and one of those things happened to be "very sensitive to jabs, intentional or not, to the fact that she is still unmarried, so try not to say anything at all unless she asks first, boy; she's terrifying."

Ahem.

However, Mei was also the type of person that saw romance around every corner, and did her very best to do what she could to get the cute little couples together as quickly as possible.

When, during a visit to Konoha after the war, she accidentally caught sight of a rather forlorn Chouji staring at Ino's back, well

She found herself a new project to mess around with while in town.

o.o.o.o.o

Ino blinked. She rubbed her eyes. She blinked again. She pinched herself.

Nope. The image was still there.

Confused as the dickens, she turned to Shikamaru. "I'm not seeing things, right?"

Shikamaru, leaning against a tree, opened one eye halfway to look at Ino, and then glanced past her. "No."

"…Okay, is that a 'no, you're not seeing things,' or a—"

"No, Ino, you're not seeing things." Shikamaru rolled his eyes, then closed them again.

"But…" Ino's eyes slid back to Chouji, her forehead furrowed in consternation. The poor boy was uncomfortably pink under the Mizukage's flirtatious gaze, and the woman simply wouldn't let him slip out of the conversation.

o.o.o.o.o

Several days later, after a number of instances where she'd caught Mei flirting with Chouji in increasingly obvious ways, Ino could only wrack her head for some explanation as to what had happened. After a while, she decided to seek out Naruto, a person with whom she was sure the Mizukage had interacted with before regularly enough that he had a grasp on the woman's character.

"Mei? Yeah, she's okay." Naruto slurped up the ramen that Ino had used to bribe him for information. "Bit crazy about marriage, though."

Ino's brain screeched to a halt. "What?!"

Naruto looked at her rather strangely. "Well, yeah. Mention anything that even sounds like marriage, engagement, boyfriend, whatever… yeah, so long as it's near her, she goes nuts. Threatens to kill whoever said it."

Ino's mind raced. Just what was a woman like that doing around Chouji? "Do you know why?"

"Uh…" Naruto's face was screwed up in concentration. "Well, I think part of it is just that she's really pretty, but old enough that people think it's weird that she isn't married yet, so… oh! And I heard some rumors that she was with Zabuza before he died."

"And… and do you know anything about what she does know, in concerns to men?" Ino prodded, trying to figure out just what was going on. "Her tastes?"

Naruto blinked. "She flirted with Sasuke and Gaara, I think. She's mentioned liking younger men, but I don't—"

Ino was already gone, leaving just enough money for the ramen before she left the door swinging.

Naruto stared after her, confused.

Maybe I should ask Shikamaru what's going on…

o.o.o.o.o

That woman was not sinking her claws into Chouji!

Ino seethed as she walked through the village, unconsciously scaring people away with her unfocused killing intent.

The woman was obviously just looking for some fun before she had to go back to Kirigakure, and Chouji was her victim. Not like she'd bother with someone that would actually understand and play along, like… like Kiba. Kiba would have been a better choice. He could understand the idea of a short fling and not care. But Chouji?

Chouji was too sweet. He was nice, and plump, and cared so much about everyone that Ino was not about to let some… some foreign floozy mess around with his head and leave him behind with a broken heart!

Ino marched straight to the hotel where she knew dignitaries stayed, if only because of how often Shikamaru visited for Temari. She took a deep breath, calming herself and slipping an ingenuous, pleasant smile on her face, one with just the right hint of steel that would make the guards assume she was there on official business.

It paid to be one of the best psychologists and infiltrators in the village. It made manipulating people much easier… allies and enemies alike.

o.o.o.o.o

Mei blinked and frowned as she heard a hard knock on the door. There wasn't supposed to be anyone visiting at the moment, so why was there someone at the door?

When she opened it to find the blond teammate of that rather cute Akimichi standing there with a nasty frown marring her pretty little face, Mei didn't let her shock show on her face.

However, she did let her smile grow bigger as the girl began to yell at her, spewing obscenities and accusations, ones that Mei would have probably objected to if she hadn't done her best to cultivate such thoughts in the girl's head over the past several days.

"Just what are you smiling at?" The girl finally demanded, furious and out of breath.

"It's cute, how much you care about him." Mei spoke lightly, leaning to the side in order to rest against the wall. "So quick to defend him, too."

Ino stared at her in disbelief. "W-what?"

Mei chuckled. "Tell me, did you notice that he likes you?"

"I…" Ino blushed slightly, embarrassed by the insinuation, and by the fact that, if it was true, she wasn't happy to find out that she hadn't noticed. She finally decided to just brusquely push her way towards answers. "What's your angle? Why are you doing this? Chouji doesn't need to get his heart broken b—"

"I know." Mei held up a hand and grinned. "I heard you earlier. And my angle? I saw him staring at you, and the look on his face was just so adorable that I had to jump in and help prod things in the right direction."

"I… huh?" Ino could understand the framework, could tell where this was heading, but her brain just refused to compute and accept it.

"I flirted with that sweet young man in order to see if you got a little… jealous." Mei's head tilted to the side, and she smiled knowingly. "And it seems to have worked. Quite well, at that."

Ino's face burned, and she turned around and stalked off, intent on finding Chouji as soon as possible, to figure out just how much of Mei's story actually checked out.

Mei couldn't resist from calling after her. "You know, in most cases, you would have been in serious trouble for yelling at a Kage like that!"

Ino's face flushed further, and her pace sped up.

Mei just chuckled and went back into her rooms.

o.o.o.o.o

Ino finally managed to corner Chouji alone in one of the training grounds. "Was she telling the truth? Do you actually like me?"

Chouji blinked and blushed and oh kami Mei had been right.

Ino stepped back as Chouji began to stammer out an affirmative, and then held up a hand to request silence.

Chouji was nice. He was from a good family. He could support a family. He was young. He was, despite the extra weight, strong and fairly attractive. He was an old friend.

…Maybe Mei had been right about her, too.

"…Barbecue tomorrow at seven?" Ino suggested tentatively.

Maybe they could make this work.