The Suna Chronicle: Chapter 4by Juturne
The sun was only beginning to rise when they reached the area where the last few rocks led to a landscape of endless sand. This was the point from which they would begin their sprint to Suna.
Ino gazed over the wasteland, her stomach forming into a tight ball as the reality of her situation flashed before her eyes. Here she found herself, standing beside Shikamaru, about to take the first of the last steps that she knew would change their relationship forever. It made her nervous but that feeling couldn�t overshadow the much stronger impression of it all seeming just so right. This mission was offering her the opportunity to use skills and talents which she had never truly exploited in Konoha. For once, instead of standing on the sidelines she was a valuable player.
Shikamaru could nonetheless sense her hesitation. �Are you ready to do this?� he asked, his smile meant to urge her on.
�Yeah, I think so, but��
�But what,� he cut her off, hoping she wasn�t about to back out somehow.
�But, I want to thank you first.�
�Yes, to thank you. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, this mission. I can�t remember the last time I felt so, I don�t know, �important� maybe, or just �needed� on a mission. These past few days, traveling with you, looking for plants and all; I mean, it�s seemed like nothing but it�s truly been special to me. I�ve been doing something I love and you�ve been right there beside me.� She paused momentarily. �I�m sorry if I seem all mushy and whatnot, but it�s not easy to put it into words. And I�m sorry if I just seem to be rambling,� she watched her feet nervously.
She didn�t need to apologize. He knew exactly what she meant. He had seen it all along their ten day journey. She wasn�t nearly as bitchy and insecure as he had known her to be on many an occasion. It was as if she was finding her niche, finally coming to terms with the things that gave her meaning, and therefore defining herself as the kunoichi she was and could be. Though he still couldn�t help noticing�
�But you�re still nervous, eh?�
�Does it show that much?� she twitched nervously in her sandals.
�Look, don�t worry. Everything�s gonna go just fine. Don�t forget, like you said, I�m right here beside you.� He offered out his hand to her. She accepted it gladly, giving it a hard, appreciative squeeze.
He would have flinched at the pain of her clutch but was struck motionless instead as she placed a quick but meaningful kiss on his lips and turned without delay, emitting a courageous cheer of �let�s do this,� just before setting off over the sand.
It took him only a second to collect his breath from the pleasant shock before he began to dash, right at her heels. He was so filled with happiness that he could not fully understand the wave of panic that was now tying his stomach in knots.
Taking their first steps through the highly guarded passageway leading into the city, Shikamaru understood the premonition of nervousness he had felt as they left Fire Country behind. No less than five of the guards, at his last count, had shirked their duty, turning their attention more to the blonde stranger than ensuring the defense of the village walls. That�s when it sank in for the young chuunin. He could be as optimistic as he wanted, taking Ino out of Konoha, hoping to spend some time alone with her; but Suna was inescapably filled with just as many hot-blooded men bent on causing unnecessary distraction for the couple he was hoping more and more they would become. He realized how na�ve he had been and cursed his own stupidity all the way to Baki�s office, the place where they were now being escorted to.
Baki welcomed them with genuine respect. Having played a large role in the infiltration of Konoha at the hands of Orochimaru�s treachery he understood the importance of making amends and earning Konoha as a valuable ally. He also owed them the great personal favor of returning his most prized, although originally feared (even by him) student, Gaara, who had brought great peace to Suna, ruling with a hand governed by, of all things, love and clemency. Never had the warmongering society lived under such a caring Kazekage. They had all come to realize and appreciate that a firm rule could be accompanied by a strong heart.
Baki sat back down at his desk and took the letter Tsunade had prepared for Shikamaru. As he read it over, Shikamaru took careful notice of the two figures standing behind the desk to the man�s left and right. Back to Baki�s right there was a girl he didn�t recognize, possibly his assistant, but to his left stood a young man that he recognized only all too well - Temari�s younger brother, Kankurou. He attempted to avoid all eye contact with the puppet master as he waited for Baki to finish reading but couldn�t help but notice that Kankurou wasn�t going lightly on the eye candy that Ino�s presence offered before him.
�Well everything appears to be in order,� Baki said as he rearranged the papers. �Yamanaka-san is a welcome bonus to your stay in our village and I am sure that she will bring great things to our collaboration here.�
Ino let out a deep sigh of relief. She hoped that it hadn�t been audible but she had been holding her breath the entire time, fearing that Baki would find some reason why she shouldn�t be there. She was so worried that she didn�t even notice Kankurou�s rude stare.
Baki stood. �Let me present you to Matsuri. She will be your guide while you�re here.�
�Hello. I am pleased to meet you. I trust that we will get along well,� she bowed in friendly but customary form.
�And this is Kankurou. He is brother to the Kazekage and Temari as you might remember. I believe you have met him before,� nodding to Shikamaru.
�Yes, we have met; but speaking of Temari-san, is she not here? Not that I am not pleased to be guided by Matsuri,� he added reassuringly, �but I had assumed that she would be here to meet us as well.�
Ino cringed, just slightly. Why did he have to mention her?
�Your Hokage must not have mentioned that this is an ambassador exchange. While you are here, Temari will be in Konoha training your Uzumaki Naruto. It appears that he is a strong wind element talent. We are most certain that she will help him to drastically improve his techniques as she is our greatest wind prodigy. Tsunade-sama was of the same mind. There is no one, at present, in Konoha able to manipulate this element as well as a shinobi from Wind Country.
A feeling of relief spread throughout Ino�s body, happy to know that Temari was nowhere around, sparing her that battle.
�Matsuri will accompany you to your living quarters for your stay. I trust that they will be to your satisfaction.�
Ino and Shikamaru entered what would be their apartment together for the next three months. Once inside, Ino�s jaw nearly dropped. She hadn�t been expecting such fancy lodgings. Suna was pulling out all the stops for the Konoha ambassador turned ambassadors. It made Ino realize the importance of their position.
The apartment consisted of a large double living room with a dining area set to the left as you entered and walked in a ways. A small but well equipped kitchen was sectioned off just behind the dining area by a bar style countertop. There was an outdoor terrace on each side, one adjacent to the living room and the other placed before the kotatsu. A ladder led up to a trap door for accessing the roof which served as another, larger terrace. In the back of the apartment were two bedrooms, each with a private bathroom. Unusually high ceilings only confirmed the feeling of spaciousness. The couple would learn later that the architecture allowed for a maximum amount of ventilation, keeping the rooms cool despite the high daytime temperatures outside.
It was all very nice but Shikamaru couldn�t help but curse missing out on the �just one room in the inn situation� he had anticipated they would face. He hadn�t counted on the red carpet treatment. He would have been more bothered though if he hadn�t have noticed Ino�s awe. She looked so happy.
During this time, back in Baki�s office, Kankurou was busy planting the seeds of doubt in Baki�s mind. It had taken him a while to remember where he had seen the blonde kunoichi before.
Who were the Konoha girls he knew? He pondered, trying to place the girl�s face. Well there was Sakura, to whom he was ever grateful for saving his life after his pitiful defeat to Sasori. Hmmm, Sakura� He remembered having seen her fight in the preliminary rounds of the chuunin exams. She had gone up against a blonde from Fire Country. Yeah, that had to be her. What was the name? Yamanaka? That sounded right. She�d grown up a lot since then but he definitely remembered the cute girl from then. She had used a mind transfer jutsu on Sakura and almost won. Hmmm� mind transfer jutsu. Now that could pose a threat or, at least, that�s what he needed to convince Baki of.
�You don�t find it strange that Konoha would send a second chuunin with no warning?� Kankurou suggested.
�She has all the qualifications for what we need.�
�Perhaps, but what do we really know about her? What are her techniques?� He paused to give Baki the time to contemplate the question. �You know, I�m pretty sure I remember her from the preliminary chuunin fights. She made a mess of Sakura.�
Kankurou grinned inwardly at the association he had built in Baki�s head. If Baki respected Sakura for having saved him, he�d be more suspicious of the other girl�s abilities. �Yeah, I remember she had a mind transfer technique. Even back then it seemed pretty dangerous. Appears she can enter the mind of her enemy, take total control and do anything she wants with the body. By now I�m sure she�s turned those powers towards reading other people�s thoughts. She�s probably a damn good spy.�
�A spy you say?� That was the word Baki didn�t want to hear and it forced him to make what he thought was a voluntary decision.
�I would like to think that Tsunade-sama would not betray us, but it would be too careless to let this kunoichi wander alone amongst our people. Matsuri can�t be a guide for two shinobis at once. I�m entrusting you to be Yamanaka-san�s escort, but for now, this stays between us. There�s no need to worry Gaara about things we have no proof of, but you are not to let that girl out of your sight.� (No problem, Kankurou hadn�t intended to anyway.)
�As you wish, Baki-sensei,� he bowed with a low sigh, hoping to give the impression that this was not a job he wished to take on. With that he went to join the couple at their new abode.
Matsuri was just about to take her leave when there was a knock at the door.
�Kankurou-senpai,� she said with surprise, finding him at the door.
�I�ll explain later,� he whispered lowly, making his way past her to the couple behind.
There, he let it be known that he would be Ino�s escort from this moment forward, much to Shikamaru�s disdain and disbelief.
Shikamaru and Ino are copyright to Kishimoto Masashi. This is simply a fanlisting/fansite.