I've finally gotten around to doing this piece. This is dedicated to Aqualoner, who celebrated her birthday recently. Sorry it's late Aqua, but enjoy it anyway!

Disclaimer: Is this happening in any of the recent chapters of Naruto? Or at all? No, I thought not.

In all honesty, Nara Shikamaru doesn't even think Ino is pretty until they are eight.

Shikamaru is, above and beyond all else, smart.

He's also the laziest student the Ninja Academy has seen since his father, but that has nothing to do with the story.

Shikamaru can plot any graph, solve any equation, figure out any variable down to the last decimal place in the span of time it takes for him to yawn. In fact, that's actually what's happened, more often than not, in class. It's just that Shikamaru is too lazy to pick up the pencil lying a mere ten centimeters from where he's resting his hand, apply it to the paper, and scritch scratch the answer out.

So Shikamaru, by the time his father placed him in the backyard with Choji, had long since figured out that the way their fathers were plotting the lives of their children to go. The Ino-Shika-Cho is something of legend in Konoha, a group of nigh-unbeatable ninja who flow together seamlessly from the get-go, attacking, delaying, questioning, stopping, eliminating.

Their fathers are closer than friends, closer than brothers, and though wives and children have taken them elsewhere, they still found the time in their busy schedules (the Hokage's head strategist; the deputy head of the Interrogation Team in the Intelligence Department of the Black Ops; the most requested assault shinobi in the village) to get together for drinks and food and memories, and Shikamaru knows – from watching, from listening, from seeing (all the things a good shinobi knows how to do) – that they planned the births and planned the children and want nothing more to see their offspring thrust onto the same genin team and face the perils of the ninja world together.

(Shikamaru also understands that they have no choice, that he and Choji and Ino have no say in what they want, because if Ino wanted to run the flower shop, or Choji wanted to become a chef like his cousin, or Shikamaru wanted to go into lab research at the Nara facilities up in the mountains, the cries and hurt looks of their fathers would change their minds for them. Shikamaru will, sometimes, in the dead of night, while Choji lies in the hospital and Neji is getting sewn up and Naruto is staring at a scratched hitai-ate and Sasuke is in darkness, wonder if it is fair.)

So when Shikamaru and Choji meet the pale haired, blue eyed, fair skinned, bossy little girl who is Inoichi's spawn, Shikamaru knows immediately what is going through their parents' heads.

A girl in the Ino-Shika-Cho formation.

(The perfect chance to unite two of the clans.)

This, Shikamaru decides within an instant of meeting her, is going too far. He wants a some choice in his life, some say in what he is doing (he never believed in fate. Hence why he knew Neji wasn't going to win), and having a girl thrust in front of his nose without any warning irritates him more than he liked.

So, out of pure spite, Shikamaru decides that he will marry a girl who is neither pretty, nor ugly, just to show his parents that he can make his own decisions, with or without their approval.

So he plays with Choji and argues with Ino and the three change and grow and fit together like the puzzle pieces their fathers meant them to be, and if it weren't for their physical differences, everyone they met would've sworn they were siblings.

And then, at age eight, Ino announced she was in love with Uchiha Sasuke.

And Shikamaru felt and irrational, impossible stab of jealousy.


In all honesty, Yamanaka Ino decides to marry Shikamaru the day she meets him.

She's small and cute and young, with pudgy cheeks and bright blue eyes and gleaming white-blonde hair that falls over her face on one side. She's got her father's eyes and her father's hair and her mother's alluring smile, and Ino, even age four and a half, knows she is destined for great beauty.

(This is the Ino before kunoichi lessons, the Ino before popularity, the Ino before ikebana. This is the Ino before Sakura, and this Ino is unsure, is quiet and frightened when confronted by two boys. This is the Ino the Ino-to-be sees in Sakura that day bathed in the red sunset.) This Ino carefully approaches the two boys, shifting quietly from the safety of her father's legs and her mother's arms and walking slowly towards the boy with the bored look and the other who is munching on chips and smiling up as butterflies flutter past.

And then, the Yamanaka in her rears it's proud head, and her uncertainty is shoved away, vanishing like a leaf in the swift breeze, and she marches up with a confidence she half feels and sticks out her hand.

" I'm Ino!"

Her voice is strong, even if she is fighting to keep the hand she has offered from trembling.

The bored boy looks over from the sky.

" You're being loud, and it's troublesome."

And then she shouts, and he sighs, and Choji tries desperately to keep the peace, and a friendship is formed, broken, repaired and solidified in the span of an hour.

But it isn't until they are playing tag in the last rays of the dying sunlight, and the hair blows in her eyes and she trips and falls and cries, that Ino realizes Shikamaru is the one for her.

He helps her up, and dries her tears, and he and Choji carry her into the house and fix up her scrapped knee – with Yoshino's help of course. And Ino stares down at the small bandage on her skin as her father lifts her into his arms and starts to carry her home, wondering how she will ever be able to be a shinobi like her father if she can't even handle such a small amount of pain.

And then Shikamaru comes running after her, and presses a red ribbon into her hand, telling her that she should tie her hair back if she when to play with boys, because that can get rough, and even though she can handle it, she should think things through a little more, the troublesome girl.

And Ino clasps the ribbon to her chest, her cheeks flushed and heart beating too fast, and watches him dart off home, deciding right then and there that she is going to marry the boy who gave her the beautiful ribbon and made her feel strong.

(She keeps the ribbon in her jewelry box after she decides to wear her hair short. And then she gives it to Sakura, who needs confidence and courage far more than Ino. If Shikamaru recognizes the scrap if silk in Sakura's hair, he makes no comment.)

When she proclaims to the world that she loves Uchiha Sasuke, Ino's eyes drift, almost unnoticeably, to Shikamaru's face, and she is rewarded with narrowed eyes and a scowl where impassive features should be.

(Ino may be a Yamanaka, but she's her mother's daughter. And the courtship of Yamanaka Inoichi and Mebae Natsuko has been summed up in one sentence around Konoha: " He chased her until she caught him.")


In all honesty:

Nara Shikamaru doesn't even think Ino is pretty until they are eight.

Yamanaka Ino decides to marry Shikamaru the day she meets him.


Akimichi Choji isn't sure who made the first move, but he's inclined to believe both his teammates finally hit their breaking point on the morning he came to the training field, and found them dirty and sweating from a spar, and kissing as if their lives depended on it.

And there you all have it. And note, I named Ino's mother (because I don't know if she has a canon name) Mebae Natsuko. Mebae meaning 'budding' and Natsu means 'summer', and I think ko, when attached to a name, means child (ko as in kodomo). When you attach it to an animal at the front, it becomes the word for the baby animal. (ex. ko + neko cat koneko meaning kitten). So I guess I was going for her name to mean 'Budding Summer Child'. It seemed appropriate, seeing as how she seems to be the one working in the flower shop a lot.