YAY! Final chapter! (Well, yay for me, some of you guys are probably mad that it has to end!) --My wishful thinking.

Well, you know the drill, I don't own these characters...blah blah blah. Enjoy.

Shikamarureached the wet and slippery training spot, scanning the area for the blonde, noticing her hair waving in the corner, by the punching log.

He strolled up and took cover behind a nearby tree, watching her strike the pole with all her might. Tears were streaming down her face and her knuckles were bleeding, each hit sending a trail of blood running down the pole, mixing with the rain; yet she continued to hit, not noticing the pain it must've been causing.

After a while, she stopped punching and started kicking, each 'crack' of her leg hitting the pole sent a shiver down Shikamaru's spine. She put all her remaining strength into a final kick, the sound of her hit echoing across the training ground.

Ino fell to the ground, clutching her bleeding shin.
"Ino!" Shikamaru emerged from his hiding space and rushed to her side. "What the hell are you trying to do, break your leg!" He shouted, trying to look at her leg.

She pulled away from him, avoiding his attempts to help. "Just leave me alone!" She cried, trying to bolt away from him, falling in the mud.

He grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him. He couldn't stand seeing her like this, soaking wet, muddy, bleeding and tears still streaming down her face. She fell against his chest, continuing to sob and he slowly wrapped a supportive arm around her. He let her cry for a while, then scooped her up, walking back to the village.

"Let's get you home, you're going to catch a cold, if you haven't already."

She sniffled against him, but made no attempt to stop him, Shikamaru figured she was too tired to even protest anymore.
He reached her house and carried her up to her room, leaving so she could change into dry clothes and he could explain things to Inoshi.

"I see, Ino's not very good at letting out her emotions, thanks for bringing her home."

Shikamaru turned go back up to her room, knocking before entering.

He found her sitting on her bed, her knees tucked firmly to her chest.
Shikamaru sat down at the end of the bed and sighed.
"Now, tell me everything. Something is obviously bothering you and you need to tell me about it, you can't just go hit a pole until your hands bleed to feel better."
Ino sniffed, trying to keep from crying again.
"Is it something about the mission? Did something happen after you left us?"
Ino nodded but made no start to tell him details.
"Ino, tell me."
"She didn't want me to do it. In my mind, she told me she couldn't go through with it, that she still loved him."
"Niomi-san? She wanted to abort the mission?" He asked, sounding concerned.
"Yes, but he attacked me again, I defended but my sword cut him, blood was pouring from him, it was unbearable…Niomi was screaming in my head…" She paused. "I can still hear her in my head, all the time. I can hear her crying. After I left her body she…"

Tears were beginning to flow again; Shikamaru took her hand and wiped her face with the corner of his damp sleeve, not making any difference. "What, Ino?"

"She took up my sword and raised it above her chest…that was the last thing I saw before I returned. She killed herself, Shikamaru, all for a man that abused her. He was horrible to her, yet she still loved him!"

She was crying again, Shikamaru held her, not knowing what else to do.
"I knew you shouldn't have taken that mission. I didn't think you'd be ready to kill people yet."
"How can you do it, Shika? Why don't you think like I do? Think about the families and friends that those people have at home, waiting for them… I don't know what I would do if anyone I knew was killed, especially you and Chouji."

"You shouldn't think about that though, Ino."

"It's all I can think about now. Coming home, all I could think about, as you laid there unconscious was 'What if he never wakes up?' I don't know what I would do, Shika."

It had been a long time since she had called him by his childhood nickname…

He understood, almost too well, what she meant. A ninja's life was all too unpredictable. Missions were dangerous and ninja were killed almost daily, hospitals were rarely not busy. What would he do if Ino never came back, if she was gone before he got to tell her his feelings?

He didn't want to live the rest of his life without her…

"I know what you mean, Ino. If you and Chouji were to not come back from a mission, I would go crazy."
Ino nodded against him, signaling that she understood.
"There are so many things that I need to tell you before our time is gone… and I don't want time to pass by me."
Ino looked up to meet his gaze, tears still clinging to her eyelashes.

"Niomi must've really loved her husband, regardless of how he acted. She probably clung to the times they spent together happily before he lost his human compassion. She wanted to be with her husband, even after he died, hoping that he would become his old self in heaven. I think that what you when you love someone, you cherish the good times, and do anything to make them last. She couldn't stand to see him like he was, she loved him too much. She made her choice, Ino, it wasn't your fault."

"Do you think I could've saved her? Should I have tried harder?"
"It's what she wanted, Ino. If anything, you gave her her final wish, you let her be with her husband again. I'm sure she's happy now, with him, in heaven." Shikamaru settled
After a few momants, Ino smiled weakly, beginning to understand.
"Since when were you so deep, Shikamaru?" She asked, snuggling into his arms.
He blushed and cleared his throat, "Shut up, I just want you to feel better. That's close to what my mom told me after my first kill. I felt just as horrible and she told me that this is the life I chose and I should always fight for it if I want to live to see people I care about again."

"Have you ever been scared that...you were going to die, Shika?"
"Only a few times, but I always think about the ones waiting for me and how much I want to just get home."

Ino paused to think for a while, enjoying being held like she was. She loved feeling Shikamaru's chest rise and fall as he breathed, hearing the beat of his heart ever so faintly beneath his damp chuunin vest. She thought about how unbearable her life would be without him being there to comfort her whenever she felt sad. He had always been there, supporting her as a friend and teammate…why had she never noticed before how reliable he was?

"Shika?" She looked up at him, meeting his relaxed eyes for a moment.
"What was the thing you wanted to tell me? You know, before our time was gone, like you said?"
Shikamaru fidgeted, running his hand over his pulled back hair, nervously. "Couldn't that wait till another time? It's a bit too troublesome to talk about right now…" He managed to say between stutters and voice-breaks.
"Well, you said that you didn't want to loose time…So why not now?" She moved to face him, staring into his nervous eyes determinedly.
Shikamaru made a move to get up, but he was halted by Ino taking his hands and forcing him back down again, continuing to stare at him.
"Shikamaru, you made me talk to you, now I want you to talk to me too."
The man sighed and sat silent, contemplating his words.
"We've been friends for a long time, right?"
Ino nodded.
"Well, I've watched you fall over Sasuke for a long time and I wanted to know…do you still, you know…love him?"
Ino sat back and crossed her arms. "I think I only liked Sasuke for a short time, really. After that, it was just a competition between Sakura and I. I don't love him. He'll always be hot, but I think that it's time for me to move on for good. But I don't see what that has to do with you…" She glared at him.

Shikamaru smiled, ever-so-slightly. "You'd be surprised…You see, since you've always been in love with somebody else, I kept my distance from you, thinking nothing would come from my troublesome efforts." Shikamaru leaned back against the wall, slouching, trying to hide his nerves. "It sucked…watching you hang all over him, when I wished you would pay even a little bit of attention to me. I think there's always been a part of me that liked you, since we were little kids. I tried to make the feelings go away, but nothing seemed to work. When I would see you falling all over Uchiha, there was a part of me that wanted to…crawl under a rock and just stay there, forever. It was miserable knowing that you'd never feel the same way about me as I felt about you."
He looked up, to see her gazing at him and another blush crept onto his face as he turned away again.
"Well, that's it. I told you it was too troublesome." He scooted to the edge of the bed and stood.
"I'd better be going, I'm cold in these damp clothes…and-" He felt fingers entwine with his own, pausing his words.
"Shika…I'm sorry that I never noticed...I think there's always been a part of me that thought about you too. Maybe that was why I never felt right hanging on Sasuke-kun. It still felt…empty. You've always been there, beside me, Shikamaru. I was just too stupid to notice."
He turned to face her again, surprised to see that she was smiling, despite her still-teary eyes.
Silently, she stood and hugged him, squeezing him gently around the neck.
"We've already wasted so much time, huh?"
Shikamaru returned the hug, wrapping his arms around her waist.

"Let's do things right, from now on." She kissed his lips tenderly and leaned her head back on his shoulder.


Life continued after that, Ino came to cope with her mission and decided to wait for her induction into the spy unit for awhile. The three received many more mission together, they were THE Ino-Shika-Cho after all! Chouji noticed that Shikamaru and Ino were different, sleeping slightly closer together, arguing much less, even sneaking little smiles at each other from across the campfires.

One not so very special mission, Chouji was finally able to pull his friend aside from the blonde, claiming to have something important to talk about.
"Well, What is it Chouji?" Shikamaru asked, shoving his hands into his pockets casually.
"So, you and Ino have been getting along pretty well lately, huh?"

Shikamaru was silent for a moment, eying his friend suspiciously before he closed his eyes and brought his arms up behind his head, trying to stay casual.
"Yeah I guess so. It's just been too troublesome to argue anymore."
Chouji chuckled slightly.
"I see."
He started back towards the camp.
"About time you told her, congrats man."
Shikamaru didn't even bother to act surprised, damn, it was impossible to fool that guy.

Well, that's it. THE END (unless I get bugged to make a sequel again...I don't even know where I'd start!)

Please let me know how you liked it! Reviews are like food for the writers imagination and motivation!