Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Carefully Make Believe

When Chouji, Ino, and Shikamaru were younger ("young" being a relative term in the life of a shinobi), they would play pretend. As stealthy Jounin, they'd sneak past squadrons of incompetent guards who looked suspiciously like their parents lounging with cocktails. Other times, the dark space behind the Yamanaka couch became a dragon's cave, though the best terrifying-dragon impression Shikamaru ever managed was the impatient flaring of his nostrils when Ino and Chouji bickered over who'd scored the killing blow.

Ino mainly called the shots, of course. One of her favorite games was to play the brilliant and crafty kunoichi who saved her helpless teammates from a rogue nin with a long greasy mustache (played by a coat rack draped with a ragged wool scarf.) In her less charitable moods, Chouji was a cow, and Shikamaru a donkey, and she worked them mercilessly until one of the parents inevitably intervened.

Very rarely, she'd let the others choose the game. Shikamaru's fledgling grasp of the shadow bind jutsu made for some interesting and usually unfair bouts of Simon Says. Chouji, on the other hand, preferred to play Noble Samurai and Fair Maid in Distress. On her best days, Ino would humor him by fainting (with only one eye kept open) and falling into his arms from great heights (like the kitchen counter tops) after he'd vanquished the demon, or tengu or old pervert bent on "having his way with her" (whatever that meant.)

Those games were the only times Chouji ever felt handsome or dashing or brave, even if it was only for the few minutes before Ino decided she'd had enough rescuing and banished him back to chewing imaginary cud.

Ino knows how to disarm all of Chouji's traps and so she can appear in his room at all hours of the day and night. Tonight her hair is elaborately coiffed and she smells of perfume that he'd have to save a year's salary to buy her.

He hasn't seen her in eight months.

"I got married today," she tells him in a carefully measured voice. "And the money I made for Konoha off this mission will pay all of our salaries for a year."

He knows from experience that it's best not to say anything at times like this.

She brings a perfectly-manicured hand to her throat, staring at nothing. "I guess that makes me a widow now, doesn't it?"

Her makeup is still flawless.

That night, Chouji takes the pins out of her hair. She washes her face in front of his mirror, using some of the white goop she always seems to have with her no matter what. He gives her one of his t-shirts. It swallows her up and, walking from the bathroom door to the bed, she looks very much the image of the little girl who rescued him from a menacing coat rack. She lies with her back to his chest, resting her pretty head on one of his massive arms. She won't look him in the eye until morning.

They are still young (relatively), and they still play pretend.

She pretends she's a maid.

He pretends he can save her.