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The Flower That Blooms Only Once

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Her favourite part about these Kage Summits, Ino concluded, would always be the looks of surprise when she sat down in the Hokage’s chair.

She understood it. Well aware of the fact that she didn’t appear to meet any of the stereotypes associated with her position. She wasn’t over the top with chakra reserves, and she certainly didn’t have a fancy kekkei genkai. Although Ino had several specialities, each less nice than the one before, none of them would be easily found on a battlefield. Ino would never be able to beat any of the other Kages in a fair fight.

But she didn’t need to. Not when one of those less than nice specialities was breaking a mind without lifting a perfect fingernail. And everyone with the title Kage knew it.

Not that fighting would be needed- this was a new era. Ushered in by a war between Gods and Monsters and if the peace was truly to last it was going to take more than awe-inspiring jutsu and rousing speeches on a battlefield.

No, if this was going to work, if this was going to last, it was all about the people skills.

Out of everything, this was just another another battle. One of allies made and kept. Of sly words and careful discussion and posturing. Of impressions made and never corrected.

So Ino donned a figure-hugging black dress with slit sides for both fashion and function, let her silky straw hair down, and wore the flame cloak like an accessory over her shoulders. Open and flared around her to show off her hourglass figure. Manicure and pedicures were her norm before a summit- she usually bought a new lipstick and eyeshadow collection to match a killer set of heeled sandals. Her smile was practiced to perfection and iron clad in keeping her emotions hidden.

Red wasn’t her colour but Ino made it work. She absolutely refused to wear the hat and no advisor had presented her with a good enough reason to don it.

This summit promised to be fun. There was a new Tsuchikage- thank the Sage, she was so done with the other one, the ornery old man with no sense of humour or fashion- and Ino relished having a opportunity to make an impression. It would start the same- the unimpressed looks, snarky comments. Then there was the awe when they realized Yamanaka Ino was just like the rumours said. That she had earned her title through blood and bones.

This trip started the same way most trips had. The semi-annual summit was held in hot spring country- a pleasant bonus- and Ino and her entourage made good time. She prowled her way down the hall to the elevator lifts on the first day of meetings.

Shikamaru followed her now, a careful three steps behind to her right with slouched shoulders. One of her many advisors- like Ino was going to let him get away with dropping the position on her and disrupting her carefully laid plans- but the only one that wouldn’t immediately appear threatening. Bringing any member of Team Kakashi was tantamount to wielding a club on the negotiation process- heavy-handed and not a good way to keep the peace. 

He had never forgiven her for killing Hidan.

Ino had never asked for it either. She had loved Shika like a brother and, knew in her heart of hearts when Asuma stilled for the last time, that if he tried to get his revenge he would lose part of himself in the process.

Selfishly, she also knew that if she got the revenge herself it couldn’t possibly damage her any more than working in TI already had. Ino had pulled herself together after being broken so thoroughly often enough it was practically second nature.

Shikamaru didn’t see that though. Had, despite knowing better, bought into her act of being a mostly harmless Chunin. Had forgotten that, unofficially, she was the Jounin running T&I.

Had forgotten her vindictive streak ran a mile wide and that forgiveness was not in her dictionary.

(Hidan learned that the hard way. Told her that she was a whore when she found him.

Ino met his gaze head on, and ripped his mind apart in less than ten seconds. A new Jutsu of hers she had been keeping under wraps. Eye contact and nerves of steel. It was a forbidden jutsu now. She still used it anyway.

She might have only burned his body for killing Asuma. But he had called her a bitch and only friends got to do that. Instead, Ino brought it back in a scroll- vacant but alive- and gave it to Sakura for experiments.

Though Kakuzu hadn’t fared much better than his partner by the time Ino was through with him. He at least had been polite if dismissive. Maybe Ino had just been in a bad mood that day.

She had broken a nail.)

If that resentment had carried on after he maneuvered her into accepting the title or finally settled to a low simmer, Ino didn’t know. Shika didn’t show it. Her Jounin commander was too good a shinobi and would never undermine his Kage with dissent at a summit.

After all. She had never forgiven him for drawing the council’s attention to her. Ino had gotten her revenge- there was no need for the world to know. Her plans to just leave the bodies for a patrol to find were useless in the face of a particularly stubborn Nara who stumbled across her and her crime.

(The first time she heard through her carefully crafted network in Konoha that she was a Hokage candidate Ino had snorted- or not because she was a goddamn lady and could express her surprise in a civilized manner.)

So there they were. Ino hoped that Shika regretted any part he played in making her Hokage. For any part he played in spreading the rumours.

Ino had been resourceful and flourished under the sudden attention. Making her presence known at all opportunities as a cheerful Chunin who loved the people of her village. Always making time for them, helping with groceries or decorating or choosing an outfit. Lovable, but ditzy. Whatever it took to make people forget she took down two S-Class Missing-nin on her own. That the council wasn’t out of it’s mind suggesting she could wear the hat.

She lost that battle overall but earned her people’s love as she did.

(Danzo didn’t know what hit him when Ino finally moved against him. She did so hate loose threads.)  

It was mostly silent between them as they turned the corner to the lifts and her lips quirked closer to a real smile when she realized the Kazekage was waiting. He always looked stunning in maroon- the red of his hair and pale green of his eyes always seemed brighter. Fit and trim as only living a shinobi life can make a person.

Gaara noticed, of course he did, and he murmured something to Kankuro that had the taller man backing up to stand at the wall behind his kage. The redhead glanced at her and gave a slight nod. Cool. Professional. She did so love breaking that mask. His voice was soft, “Hokage-sama.”

“Kazekage-sama!” Ino greeted back far more sunnily, arms open to embrace the man. He allowed it and Ino kissed both of his cheeks. She pulled back, and set a hand on her hip, “It is so good to see you, Gaara. I hope you had a good trip.”

She was not surprised when he didn’t return the kisses- most of the other kages didn’t. Expect Mei. But Mei understood Ino in a way only other women could.

“It was pleasant.” Gaara gestured to the elevator doors hissing open, his expression bland, “Going up?”

“Naturally.” Ino smiled and stepped in, flaring out her flame cloak as she turned around to wink at Shikamaru. “You can catch the next one, right Shika?”

His eye twitched. Whether it was because Ino was stepping into an enclosed space with a foreign-nin or the fact she had forbade him from smoking during the trip, she wasn’t sure. “Yes, Hokage-sama.”

Kankuro didn’t even acknowledge the fact his kage was stepping into the same enclosed space, staring straight ahead to the bland wall and not letting any expression cross his face. He knew then.

The doors closed with a sliding sound and Ino let her fake smile fall into a more real one. Gaara’s lips slid up in a corner, amused. “Your advisor seemed a little upset.”

“Let him be upset.” Ino scoffed, folding her arms, flicking her bangs out of her sight with sharp nod. “He’s been a wet blanket the entire trip. Wouldn’t let me stop and pick up a few things.”

Silence fell, comfortable between friends, as the elevator began its ascent to the upper boardroom. “How is Inojin?”

Ah. The real reason he waited for her. Ino glanced at Gaara with a smile. “He’s getting big. Takes to jutsu like water with the chakra reserves to back it up.” She sighed fondly, “His control leaves much to be desired, but Sakura is tutoring him.”

“Hmm.” It was probably just a trick of the light, but her companion’s shoulders seemed to relax. Near the top Gaara pulled out a scroll from his sleeve and offered it to Ino. This was the routine. Begun years ago- before Ino became the Hokage- but after she had Inojin.

Ino accepted it, purposefully brushing her hand against his, and loved the shiver it sent down her spine. Memories danced in her mind about those hands, “You know,” she added quietly, tucking the jutsu scroll away to give to her son on her return, “Konoha would be honoured to host our friends and allies from Suna.”

Gaara said nothing and Ino didn’t press. She could do that later. Right now, she had Kages to impress and their advisors to intimidate and woo in equal measure. Ino pulled out a hand mirror and double-checked that her makeup hadn’t smudged. She had yet to meet the new Tsuchikage but you could only make a first impression exactly once. She could only hope the new Kage landed on ‘ditzy’ first- it would be so much easier to manipulate him if that was the case. “I’ve book a reservation for a local restaurant after this. I hope you’ll join me.”

The Kazekage was mulling it over- he was hard to read at the best of times but Ino was one of the best when it came to people. Finally, just was the lift’s bell rung, Gaara clarified, “Eight o’clock?”

“See you there.” She straightened, fake smile back in place and confidence that wasn’t feigned, not any more, filled her. For better or worse, she was the Nanadaime Hokage and this was her opportunity to secure peace for her village. She strode through the doors, heels clicking, hips swaying, and prepared to take no prisoners.

(Or at the very least subtly punish the Raikage for testing her patience around his expanding border patrols. Loose threads and all that).