Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto in any way shape or form. Although I wish Garraa or Kiba were mine… or both…

To late to say "I love you"

You never realize how much you truly love a person until they're gone. She certainly hadn't known. He probably had seen that she had deep feelings for him, and that's why he had never given up. But now, now she would never be able to forgive herself. Even though she knew that's what he would have wanted the most. Even though he had told her to never cry because it made him sad too, she did. Her tears littered his grave, wetting the freshly dug earth. Was it really just yesterday she had seen him? Spoken to him? Hugged him? She supposed it was, though to her it felt like an eternity. Her thoughts wandered to when they had first met as children…

Flashback

A little boy sat silently on his couch, wishing he could be outside, watching the clouds. But he wasn't. He was stuck in his house because his mother didn't want him running off.

'Troublesome woman,' he thought to himself. Unfortunately, Choji couldn't come over because he was sick. 'Probably ate too many potato chips again.' The young boy sighed. Today just wasn't his day.

"Hello!" The chipper voice made him open his eyes. What was a girl doing in his house.

"Hi," he said in return, wishing she would go away. How he disliked women!

"What is your name?" She asked him.

He decided he couldn't just ignore her, so he said, "I'm Nara Shikamaru. And you are…?"

"Yamanaka Ino!" Immediately Shikamaru knew she was the type of girl who would always be bossy and loud. He knew he shouldn't be, but he was drawn to her.

Ino, on the other hand, thought that Shikamaru seemed boring and reclusive, so she decided being his friend might change him for the better. So Ino, thoroughly convinced she was doing the world a great favor, and Shikamaru, somehow drawn to this girl who was making his ears ring, became friends.

End Flashback

"How silly I was back then, thinking I could change him. He was the same way, reclusive and melancholy and boring, all through his life. But maybe that's why I liked him so much, even if I didn't realize it." Sadly, the blond kunoichi shed a few more tears for her fallen comrade. She had never realized how she had felt for him. Had never realized that he was always there, a silent shadow to lend a shoulder or offer comforting words. She remembered that day, the worst day of her life. "Actually, I think this counts as the worst day of my life." She smiled, thinking back to that day…

Flashback

Ino had just become a ninja. She couldn't have been more proud of herself if she convinced Sasuke to go on a date with her. She was planning to throw a party to celebrate with everyone who had graduated. She would even drag Shikamaru into it and, even though she knew he would say it was too 'troublesome', he would come.

As she was planning it all out, Sakura came and stood in front of her. Sakura had become Ino's best friend, so she couldn't believe what happened next.

Sakura had given beck the ribbon. The ribbon that Ino had given her on the second day of their friendship, to let Sakura 'flaunt what she's got'. The ribbon that they both seemed to think was tying them together. The ribbon Ino now held in her trembling hand. All for a stupid boy. Sakura had given up the best friend she would ever have because of Uchiha Sasuke. A boy who would never return the feelings of any of the girls in their village.

Ino's vision blurred and she felt wetness on her cheeks. She didn't reach up and brush her tears away, though. She just stood there, staring at the ribbon, letting her face and shirt be drenched. A strong pair of arms had encircled her. When she noticed this, she looked up and saw Shikamaru. He looked down into her eyes.

"Crying doesn't suit you."

She immediately stopped crying and dried her face. Shikamaru didn't say anything else as he walked her home. Once she was inside he left, never speaking of that day.

End Flashback

He had told her later on that was the day he had realized he loved her; that he never wanted to see her hurt again. She had laughed at him on that day and oh how she regretted that now.

Flashback

Shikamaru and Ino were cloud-gazing as they normally did on they're time off. Shikamaru seemed restless, and only someone who had known him since they were five could have caught it.

Ino turned to her right and propped herself on her elbow to get a better look at him. "What's on your mind? You seem bothered."

"Nothing you need to worry about," Shikamaru replied, not even glancing her way. But she persisted.

"Come on, Shika! You should be able to tell me anything! I'm always here to listen when you want to talk, and you're always there for me! Please tell me! I…"

"Okay, okay," the shinobi sighed, cutting her off on her rant. "But I don't know how to go about this."

"Go about what? If it's a girl problem, I'm here to help." Shikamaru raised his eyebrows at her.

sigh "Well, I guess I'll just come right out with it then. Ino, I love you. I realized it when you cried that one day. I never want to see you cry again. I want to protect you forever, if you'll let me."

Ino just gaped at him. Love? He loved her? How could he love her? They were only fifteen, they didn't need to be thinking about love yet. She didn't need to be thinking about love yet. It was so sudden and unexpected that she thought she'd have a heart attack.

"Ino? Are you okay?" Shikamaru's voice broke through the trance she was in.

"Huh? Yeah, I'm fine. It's just so sudden and…" A thought struck Ino. She grinned. "Someone put you up to this, didn't they? Choji or Naruto or one of the other shinobi." Shikamaru just shook his head, astonished that she would ever think such a thing. "We're too young to love, anyway. And, even if you are telling the truth, I don't think it would work out between us. We're just too different."

Shikamaru surprised her yet again by getting up from the grass. "Love knows no boundaries, Ino. Remember that." And he left her lying speechless on the grassy hillside, thinking of all the words he said.

End Flashback

She should have realized then that it was not a joke, but she didn't. She had continued to be blissfully ignorant to his approaches. Until that one day. That day was etched into Ino's mind forever. She had wanted it to go away before, but now she treasured it.

Flashback

"Hey Shikamaru, Choji!" Ino had come running toward them. There had been no training that day because it was freezing out and they wouldn't have been able to move under all of their clothes. Besides, there was a Christmas party that night and everyone, with the obvious exception of Gai-sensai and Lee, had taken the day off. They were waiting for he because they were all going to the party together. "Ready?" She asked, and, without a word, took their arms a pulled them all the way to the party.

It was pure chaos inside as everyone danced, drank, and made out under the mistletoe strategically placed around the room. Face flushed with excitement, Ino made her way over to some of the other kunoichi, who were talking about who they'd like to meet under the mistletoe. Ten-ten had just revealed to the girls that Neji would most likely be a great kisser, with many squeals and giggles, when Ino arrived. She had been there no more than two minutes when Shikamaru appeared at her side.

"Care to talk outside? I don't much like parties." Feeling an obligation to her friend, she was the one who dragged him here, she followed. It was a beautiful view from the balcony, the moon shining bright and many of the houses still had their lights on in the town.

"Wow. This view is amazing."

"Yeah, it is," Shikamaru replied. But he hadn't been looking at the town or the moon. It was too dark for her to notice that he had been looking at her out of the corner of his eye. He suddenly turned to her. "Ino?"

"Yes?" she asked, turning to face him, too. Then, as if it were magic or some strange magnetic pull, his lips met hers. It took her a moment to realize that she was kissing Shikamaru, her best friend and definitely not her love interest. She pushed him away.

"What do you think you're doing?" She said this quietly, hoping not to draw attention to them. Shikamaru sighed. So she still hadn't realized that he loved her. Ah, well. Good things take time. She was bound to realize she liked him too, even if she didn't know it now.

Ino was wondering why the kiss felt so good, so right. This was Shikamaru she was thinking about! Had she gone mad? She pushed the thought away. Shikamaru is like a brother to me, nothing more. Shikamaru had left the dance immediately after that, and Ino left not long after, unable to find any joy in it because her mind was preoccupied.

End Flashback

How could she have been so stupid? She had something good walk right up to her and she blatantly ignored it. She remembered how he wouldn't talk to her for days after the incident. "Served me right. I thought I was too good for him. I never realized it was the other way around. That he was the one too good for me." More tears fell to the ground. She felt like a part of her had died with him. Only after it was too late did she realize they belonged together. That night was when she had figured it all out…

Flashback

Ino had seen Shikamaru off that morning. He told her the mission was very dangerous and that he might never see her again. She hadn't believed him. He always made it back safely. She knew he'd be fine. Wasn't he the only one who had gone after Sasuke and not had to spend days in the hospital?

Ino hadn't felt worried about him until she lie down to go to bed. She began to have this strange feeling in her stomach, like part of her was disappearing. Her mind drifted to Shikamaru. He just had to be okay. He was her best friend. He couldn't die like some of her other friends had. Tortured, beaten, bloody images came into her mind. She ran to the bathroom and retched.

'No,' she thought. 'Not Shikamaru. Never Shikamaru.' The strange feeling had turned into pain. Horrible burning pain that made her cry out into the night. It left just as soon as it came. Left her panting on the floor of the bathroom. That was the moment she knew he was dead. Her head told her it was impossible, how could she know if he died before anyone else did? But her heart overruled. It was love. She loved him all these years and hadn't known it. Hadn't figured out why every touch had made her shiver or why his kiss felt so right. She rinsed out her mouth and quickly got dressed. She had to know, had to find him and bring him back. Even if it was only an empty body.

She had followed his chakra trail. Only she had memorized it, no one else. That didn't consolidate her as she ran through the trees, turning every way he had, until she ran into a clearing. It was a mess. His blood was everywhere, on the trees, the grass. His body was lying, broken and bleeding in the middle. His shallow breath told her he was still alive, but for how long he could hold out she didn't know. She bent next to him, resting his bloodied head in her lap. He felt her touch and opened his eyes slightly.

"Ino, you heard me call you, didn't you?"

"I guess I did, Shika." She tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall. "But you're going to be okay now. I'll bring you back and you'll be better in no time!" She tried to sound cheerful, but it was forced and made her throat hurt.

He shook his head. "I've seen you one last time. I love you Ino. Goodbye."

"I love you ,too," she whispered, but he was already gone, his last breath taken with the wind.

End Flashback

His funeral had been the next day. Ino had brought him back and no one had questioned how she knew to go out after him. His funeral was big, the exact opposite of how he would have liked it.

And now Ino was the only one left standing there. She had wondered many times that day if he had heard her last words to him, her confession of love. There was nothing left for her here anymore. Too many of her friends had died. Choji, then Sakura, and now Shikamaru. She had nothing left to live for.

Many would remark afterward that Ino hadn't really taken her life. But those were just empty words, failed condolences to her poor mother and father. It was her mother who found her, just coming over to lend a shoulder so Ino could cry. Ino hadn't answered her door that day, nor her mother's calls from the entry. Her mother had gone to Ino's room, wondering if she had fallen asleep, and found her daughter on the floor with one hand grasping a kunai and congealed blood around her which had come from the grief-stricken girl's heart.