Shikamaru stared calmly at the innocent, wooden door, groaning loudly. Why, he wondered, did it seem that he always got stuck doing things no one else wanted to do?

Why did he have to be the one to go find Naruto when the blonde was three hours late for his own welcome home party? He should have won that last game of rock, paper, scissors. He should have. He'd been so sure Ino was going to pick rock; she'd picked it 83% of the time in the other rounds. He should of won, but he hadn't. She had to go and pick scissors.

Another frustrated groan issued forth from his mouth as he none too hesitantly knocked on Naruto's front door, calling to the boy he knew had to be inside.

"Naruto, open up. If you haven't noticed, you're horrendously late for your own welcome home party."

Shikamaru waited , becoming even more frustrated with his situation when he didn't receive an answer.

"Come on Naruto, open your door!" Shikamaru called even more loudly, rapping on the door even sharper.

When no one answered a second time, Shikamaru had a feeling that Naruto might really not be home. As he was turning to walk away, the door opened, a partially blanket covered head peeking out.

"Sorry I didn't answer the first time Shikamaru; I was in bed and didn't hear you."

Shikamaru looked closely at his peer's face. His eyes were rimmed red and bloodshot, hair greasy and unwashed. Put simply, the poor boy looked like a hot mess.

"You're missing your party you know. It started over three hours ago."

"I know, I'm sorry I kept you guys waiting. I don't feel very good right now, so maybe you could tell them I'll come another time, ok?" Naruto sniffed at this point, rubbing his red, overly bright eyes.

Shikamaru, unlike you or me, had what would be considered odd natural instincts. While any normal person would have tried to figure out immediately what was wrong with a friend the second they sensed their distress, Shikamaru had to build up the courage to even begin asking the first question. The young genius was of the opinion that other people's emotions were just that; their own. If it didn't directly affect him, Shikamaru would do his best to keep his distance from said distraught emotions and what not.

This, however, was not one of those times. It was defiantly not one of those times when he could ignore the pain, it was too clearly etched into his friend's features for him to even try and ignore.

'Just ask him, it's not a big deal. Just ask if he's fine. Just ask. Just ask. Come on, just ask him!' Shikamaru mentally coached himself.

"Naruto, are you ok?"

There, he'd managed to say it. Oddly enough, he found that when he did get involved in consoling others, once he got past the obligatory question of 'Are you ok?', he found that it wasn't so hard to continue asking the questions.

Naruto stiffened a little at this, pulling the blanket more fully over his head.

"No, I'm fine. I'm just tired and I don't feel so good. You go and have fun with everyone, I'll go back to sleep. I'll be better in no time, you'll see."

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes a little as the blond tried to close the door. Quickly catching it, he pushed it open even wider than it had been before.

"Then I'll make sure you get settled back in. You don't mind if I come in, do you?"

Once he got past the initial, natural repulsion towards dealing with others' and their emotions, Shikamaru got right down to business. He wanted to know what was wrong now, and he wasn't about to let Naruto try and shy away from him. So, without waiting for any response, Shikamaru pushed open the door as wide as it would go. Shoving past Naruto and finding himself within the apartment, what met Shikamaru's eyes was a little less than to be desired.

Broken water glasses and coffee mugs littered the floor, dents and fist sized holes littered the dry wall, the kitchen table was overturned, one of its chairs was missing two legs, and all the drawers were pulled out, contents spilled onto the floor.

Shikamaru turned back to Naruto, blanket now pulled completely over his head.

"What happened?"

Naruto just kicked the front door shut with his heel, walking without caution across the glass covered floor to his bed. As he flopped onto the bed, Shikamaru spoke again.

"Naruto, what happened?"

Dragging the blanket off of his head and opting to wrap it around his shoulders, Naruto pulled what looked like two harmless sheets of paper off of the bed's windowsill.

"I got these today." Naruto answered, holding the papers out for the brown haired boy.

Maneuvering carefully and quickly around the glass on the floor, Shikamaru snatched the papers out of his hand.

None too surprisingly, he found that the papers were actually letters. But as he read, it became obviously clear that these were more then just letters.

"Which one do I read first?" Shikamaru asked, daring to look away from the letters to have a glimpse at his friend.

"The shorter one." Was the simple reply.

Pulling the small, impersonal looking letter from beneath the one on top, Shikamaru read.

To a Mr. Naruto Uzumaki,

I am sorry to inform you of the passing of my daughter, Hye Su Tanko. The other letter I've enclosed with this was written by her before her death and was addressed to you. If you wish to attend her wake or funeral, please RSVP as soon as you are able.

Thank you for your time.

-Jae Tanko

"How did you know this girl?" Shikamaru asked, looking up from the letter.

"I met her not too long ago when Jiraiya and I were still traveling. We decided to take a month's worth of vacation in a small town before we finally came back here and I got to know her pretty well."

"How did she die?"

"Read the second letter."

Shikamaru's brow furrowed slightly. He didn't like the strained tone Naruto's voice had taken on. It just didn't…suit him. Shrugging off the feeling for the moment, Shikamaru flipped back to the first letter, re-reading the few lines he'd already read.

Dear Naruto,

I'm going to do it. I'm finally going to do it.

I know you told me to not give up, to never give in to the stresses in my life. But I can't. I just can't. I thought I might be able to. When you were here, I felt like I could do it. You're so strong, Naruto. Much stronger than I've ever even thought someone could be.

In the month that I got to know you, in the month that I got to be your friend, I had more fun and more laughs then I can even remember. If you hadn't shown up, I would have done this sooner.

I'm so sorry I couldn't keep my promise Naruto. When I told you that I wanted to die, you didn't laugh at me or call me weird like I thought you might. You blew my expectations out of the water and told me how you live life.

I can till distinctly hear you yelling at the top of your lungs "Never give up! The world wants to get you down, so piss it off by sticking your course!" in my ears when I think hard enough. I promised I wouldn't. I know I promised you I wouldn't kill myself, no matter how bad things got.

But I realize now that I wasn't thinking straight when I made that promise and I'm sorry. I was still happy that you hadn't called me some name, still happy that you still wanted to be my friend. For a while, I'd forgotten just how heavy and tiresome life can be.

I'm so sorry I couldn't keep my promise. I'm so sorry I accidently lied to you. I jut wanted to make sure that before I go, that you knew how sorry I am.

I'm sorry, but I don't know how to fix myself. I'm so messed up, and I just don't know how to fit it all back together.

I'm rambling now aren't I?

Hoping you know how sorry I am for letting you down,

Hye Su Tanko

P.S.: Don't you dare blame this on yourself. I'm the coward who can't deal with life, not you.

Shikamaru swallowed, sitting onto the bed as he finished reading. There was a long lapse of silence as Shikamaru looked from the letter to Naruto, head flicking back and a forth every few seconds.

"Is this why your apartment is trashed?" He asked eventually, folding the letter back into the creased form it had been when it had fit into an envelope.

"I…I got really upset. I didn't mean to, but I did." Naruto swung his legs over the side of the bed, sitting next to Shikamaru.

Another long bout of silence stretched out between them, neither wanting to brooch the subject at hand.

"Do you blame yourself? She seemed pretty convinced in the letter that you would blame yourself." Shikamaru finally asked.

Naruto sighed, cradling his head in his hands.

"She told me how she felt. She told me what she'd thought of doing to herself. And I didn't tell anyone. I didn't tell anyone who could have gotten her actual help. I just gave her my own advice and look how far that got her. She's dead. Now no one can help her."

"It was her choice, she said it herself. You tried to help Naruto, that seemed to matter to her."

"But I should have done more! I could have done more! I could have helped her more! I could have…could of…"

Naruto voice trailed off as his voice had become even more strained, more anguished, until it came to the point that Shikamaru realized the only reason Naruto had stopped talking was because he was crying.

Biting his lip, wondering what would be an appropriate thing to do, Shikamaru hesitantly and almost awkwardly placed a hand on Naruto's shaking shoulder.

No sooner had he done this did Shikamaru find Naruto flinging his arms around his waist, burying his face into his shirt.

Again, Shikamaru had to ward off his instincts to throw the weeping boy off of him, had to fight the urge to run away from the strong guilt and pain that rolled off Naruto like waves. Once he'd gotten past the instincts, once he forced himself to relax, he returned the embrace as best as he could.

Shikamaru wondered why it always seemed to be that he got stuck dealing with the least desirable tasks. But just this once, Shikamaru didn't feel that this situation was that troublesome.

If the one person who had never seemed to need a shoulder to lean on was all but begging for a friendly face, so be it. He'd be the shoulder to lean on.

But only just this once.


*pouts* I feel bad for Naruto…