Am I ready, Shika:

I don't own Naruto. I am a very poor college student so please don't sue me. Besides, I am not making any money off of this. Thank you and have fun reading this.

This is set in the future. Everyone is around 17-18 yrs of age.

The clouds appear to have taken on Shikamaru's personality-rolling so very slowly across the blue canvas of the sky that they appear to be stationary unless you stare at one for hours on end. Which is what the two best friends have been doing for three hours. It was a very nice summer day in the Hidden Village of the Leaf, the kind that begged even the most determined of ninjas to take a breather and just relax and enjoy.

Shikamaru heard some shuffling beside him and let out a sigh. "What are you doing, Ino?" He closed his eyes as he felt his cheeks slowly heat up. "A little warning next time?"

"I knew you weren't going to peek, Shika," teased Ino. She readjusted her bikini top before laying flat on her stomach and pillowing her head with her hands. "I had to untie the string or else I'll get tan lines." She turned her head and faced the shadow-user. "This is so nice. I should go cloud watching with you more often."

"I'm cloud watching. You're not." Shikamaru opened his eyes and turned his head slightly to face Ino. His cheeks turned a brighter red and he quickly whipped his head back to stare at the clouds. "Um…so troublesome."

"What's wrong?" Ino looked down and frowned before turning her attention back to Shikamaru. "Is there some stain on my side?"



"If I say something, you'll beat me up. If I don't say something, you'll beat me up too!"

"If I'm going to end up beating you up, might as well say something then," Ino pointed out wryly. "Otherwise, you'll be enduring all that pain for no reason."

"Or you could just not beat me up."

"Then spit it out. Shika, what's…." Ino's mouth dropped open as a brown shirt came flying towards her and hitting her in the face. She sputtered as she took the shirt off her head. "What the hell are you…" Ino's face turned red as she stared at her best friend.

However, the genius of Konoha had his eyes closed. His bare chest had a single long scar going from the left side of his pectorals and ending up on the right side at the end of his rib cage, making a diagonal slash. But that wasn't what had Ino flustered. It was the first time she has seen Shikamaru's chest in five years and that was when the whole gang went swimming. And his chest didn't look like that before. It was covered with muscles, not the bulky kind, but the long lean kind that somehow looks just perfect on the shadow shinobi. Ino couldn't believe that Shikamaru even developed muscles at all, considering how lazy her best friend is. Also, his chest was very nicely tanned. It seemed like Shikamaru sometimes watches clouds without a shirt on.

"I can't look at you," grunted Shikamaru, "because the side of your…um...breast…is showing…and no matter how much a gentleman a guy is, it is impossible to keep his eyes on just a woman's face if her side…bre..breast…is showing like that."

"Oh…Well, don't look then. I don't mind talking without you looking at me. You do it all the time anyway." Ino shrugged her shoulders but inside she was sighing with relief. Damn, I can't believe I'm blushing like this. This is just Shikamaru. I hope he doesn't look this way…I can't have him see me all flustered like this.

"Ino, tuck the shirt on your side that's facing me so I can look at you."

"No, no, it's fine. And don't you dare turn your head Shikamaru!"

But it was too late. Dark brown eyes clashed with light baby blue ones. Ino could feel her cheeks heating up again, not with embarrassment due to her indecent exposure but to Shikamaru's indecent exposure. It was so hard to keep her eyes on his without wandering down to his chest.

"You look like you have heat stroke." He frowned. "I guess we have to stop." He sighed before sitting up. "So spill it Ino. What's your hidden agenda? You don't normally ask to go cloud watching with me. Did Tsunade put you up to this?"

Ino gingerly put on Shikamaru's shirt. She was careful in not exposing anything, even though she knew he would never try to look. But since they were in a ninja village, she can't be too sure that there weren't any perverted shinobis in the tree tops watching and spying on her, like the Sennin Jiraiya. It was a miracle that Naruto didn't turn out that way, considering that Jiraiya trained him for three years.

"She wanted me to talk to you about an opening in the Strategic Division in the Intelligence Unit." Ino took a deep breath and couldn't help but notice that the brown shirt smelled just like Shikamaru-light and musky-and it sent a shot of warmth through her entire being. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and gave a slight smile to her best friend. "I was her last resort. She said she was desperate and was pulling out the big guns."

"I have to take the Special Jounin Qualification Exam." Shikamaru stood up and dusted his pants off. "It's too troublesome. I am already a Jounin." He offered his had to Ino and couldn't help but admire how good she looked in his shirt. She was wearing a two piece orange bikini before, but now that she had his shirt on, her creamy legs seemed more inviting and her orange bikini bottom peeked out and appeared to be orange underwear. He cursed his troublesome hormones and started mentally counting the days when he could have his body back under his control. From the way things were going, it looked like he had to endure this sort of thing for another two to three years. Feh, how troublesome… He cleared his throat. "What did she offer in return for you to do this?"

"I…I…" Suddenly, Ino went quiet.


"I can take the Jounin Exam. She would be my third sponsor."

Shikamaru shook his head and stuffed his hands into his pocked. He eyed Ino critically before turning around and slowly walking away.

"Why won't you take the Exam? Everyone wants you to do it!" Ino jumped up and ran to him, catching him by the wrist and forcing him to stop. "Why? You would be so great at it. You…you're great at everything you do. Nobody can beat you now, not when it comes to strategies. It was hard when we were twelve for Asuma to even beat you in Shougi and Go…now it is impossible. It would be such a great asset to the village. And…" Ino paused and slowly let go of Shikamaru's hand, "I talked to Temari. You made a promise before, right after the Sound incident when we were just genins and you just became a chuunin. You said you would try your hardest to not let anyone down, to not let your teammates down. You have the best record out of anyone for having your teams come through intact from a mission, no matter how bad the odds are. Everyone, even the ANBU squads, feel safer with you in the team. They trust you and your judgment."

"But you don't." Shikamaru stated flatly. "You don't trust my judgment. I told you I didn't want to be a Special Jounin and you don't trust my decision. You think it's the wrong one. It doesn't matter what I want, does it? Also, I told you that you shouldn't try out to be a Jounin yet. And what do you do? Go find another person to sponsor you in your madness."

Shikamaru raised his hand and blocked the fist that Ino was throwing at him. He caught her other hand in the air and using her momentum, he pulled both her hands towards him and enveloped her in an embrace. "Why Ino? Why does it mean so much to you?" He lifted one of his hands when he was sure that she wouldn't try anything funny and gingerly stroked her blond head. He felt her tears on his bare shoulder and tried to hush her. "It's okay. I just want to know."

Ino was quiet and just laid her head on his shoulder. The sun was slowly setting in the background, bathing the hillside that they were on in hues of rosy gold. "Shika…"

"Yes, Ino?"

She pulled her head back to stare straight at him, into his deep dark eyes. She can never tell what he's thinking. His eyes were the exact opposite of hers. Her blue eyes were too expressive for her own liking while his was just dark and mysterious. But he wasn't really mysterious in Sasuke mysterious. Just his eyes. Other than that, he is just plain old Shikamaru…her best friend.

"I only asked you to be my sponsor. Nobody else. When you said no, I felt so bad at first that I…um…pigged out on ice cream for two whole days." She slowly pushed Shikamaru away and hugged her arms to herself. "But I came to realize that you must have a reason for saying no. Maybe I wasn't strong enough. Maybe I wasn't skilled enough. So I trained. I knew you would come and tell me if I was good enough. It has been almost a year. But still I kept on training. It was Tsunade who came to me. She said Neji and Sakura have seen me train and came up to her and told her that I was ready to take the Jounin Exam and that they would sponsor me. I told her I wasn't ready to take the exam. Then she struck a deal with me. She said if I can get you to take the Special Jounin Exam, it would prove that I am ready and she will personally sponsor me. She said ten people have already tried to persuade you and you turned them down so easily. Not even your mom could persuade you. If I can persuade you, then I am ready…at least that's what the Hokage said. But…she said she would still sponsor me even if you say no." She turned around and clasped her hands in front of her body. "Do you think I'm ready, Shika?"

"Ino, that has never worked on me before and it never will." Shikamaru sat down and assumed his thinking position, connecting his fingers and making an upside down triangle and closing his eyes. A few seconds passed by before he opened his eyes. He was surprised to see Ino's face so close to him.

"Wow," Ino smiled. She sat back on her heels and continued looking at him. Shikamaru started feeling uncomfortable and frowned at her. "Well, it's just that you used to take longer. Now, it's just mere seconds before you plan out a hundred moves in your head." She reached out and brushed a stray hair back from his eyes. "Shika, is my question that hard that you have to go into that pose?"

He could only stare at her, stare at her eyes that remind him so much of the light blue sky when the day is just perfect for cloud watching. Stare at her blond hair as it fluttered in the light breeze. Stare at her as if taking many mental snapshots to store for later use. "Ino, you are ready. I'm just not ready, okay?" He hoped to himself that she would just leave it at that and be happy with his somewhat vague answer. But Ino, being Ino, is unpredictable.

"What do you mean you are not ready? Not ready to be a Special Jounin?" Ino paused and took a deep breath, slowly letting it all out. She missed how Shikamaru's eyes were drawn to her chest before he snapped it back to her face. "Or not ready for me to be a Jounin?"

He marveled at her insight, at how she can read him so easily and doesn't even know it. He swallowed the lump in his throat and decided that the least troublesome course would be to tell her the truth. "It was hard…that one time when Chouji almost died and I was his team leader. I vowed to train harder and be better so that there will be a lower probability of something like that happening again. I can't change the fact that we are ninjas. I can't change the fact that we can be killed in missions and battles. But what I can control are the chances of my friends returning safe and sound back home. Contrary to popular belief, nobody pushed me to become a Jounin so early. I chose to take the exam six months after the Sound incident. I didn't have any trouble finding any sponsors, hell, they were all scrambling and begging me to let them be my sponsors. I did the whole troublesome exam so early so that I can protect my friends better. Chuunins only get assigned B/C missions, unless there was a shortage of Jounins, such as the case of the Sound Four. For the B missions that border on A and do sometimes turn to A rank, a Jounin is always placed with the Chuunin team. And a Jounin will map out the strategies for that team. I have been mapping out the strategies on the missions that our friends have gone on. You probably noticed that shortly after my becoming a Jounin, some mission scrolls would have two to three contingency plans attached to them, just in case."

Shikamaru leaned forward and took Ino's wrist, slowly pulling her towards him until her head rested against his shoulder and she was partially laying on him. He wrapped his arms around her and set his eyes to the horizon. He was determined to tell her almost everything, and even though it was cowardly, it was definitely easier if he didn't look straight into her eyes for she might see something else he wasn't ready to reveal. "If you become a Jounin, your missions will be harder and not even my planning can guarantee your return." He felt Ino trying to struggle, trying to refute what he was saying, but he refused to stop. He slightly gave her shoulders a squeeze to let her know that he was not done. She slowly sank back and relaxed into his arms. "Ino, I'm frightened. Not for myself but for you. I don't doubt that you are ready to be a Jounin. You would make an excellent addition to the Spy division considering your family's jutsus. But I will be distracted. I cannot work and think up the strategies for all these mission if I know that you are one of the Jounins that are going to be executing out the A-rank missions. I am going to go out of my mind thinking that you are out there with only a fifteen percent chance of survival and returning home safely. Some of these missions are like that, with a low degree of success no matter how skilled the Jounins are but yet these missions need to be done. Some shinobis will be sacrificed for we are just tools. But Ino, I cannot think of you as a tool. I cannot think of you as just a Shougi or Go piece that can be discarded in order to win in the long run. Do you know why medic nins are not allowed to operate on their own family members unless it is extremely necessary? It is because they are too attached and thus their feelings will compromise that outcome of any operation. Think of me as being selfish, as a jerk…and yes, I am just thinking about myself. I cannot perform well as a shinobi Ino if you are a Jounin. It's already hard enough with you being a chuunin. My…feel…my feelings will compromise the way I plan out strategies for whichever Jounin team you get put on and that is not fair to me, to the village, and most importantly, to you."

"Shika…" Ino pushed her way out of his embrace and looked deep into her best friend's eyes. Suddenly she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. At first, it was the briefest lightest of touch, like a butterfly landing on a flower before flying away. When Ino leaned back, face all red from embarrassment, Shikamaru shook his head. "Troublesome," he muttered before he nudged her back his way and this time, kissed her with all the pent up passion that had been storing up for years. He lightly stroked her back through his own shirt and felt her own hands touching his bare chest tentatively before sliding up to his shoulders and pulling him even closer to her. Even though the night was cool, for indeed the sun had already set, he felt warm as the heat between Ino and him increased. Suddenly, he couldn't get enough of her and hesitatingly nudged her lips open to taste her with his tongue. She shyly followed his lead. Soon, they were both on the grass, exploring each other with the lightest of touch and silent whispers in the night. It was minutes before Shikamaru pulled himself away, too afraid to take things too far too fast. His heart broke when he realized that it was already too late…and that his friendship with Ino will never be the same.

"Shika," she whispered. A smile was on Ino's face as she turned towards the shadow genius of Konoha. "I'm going to take the Jounin exam. And you'll be the third sponsor, not Tsunade."

Shikamaru remained silent and refused to look at her. He thought that she was punishing him, making him suffer for what had happened…blackmailing him. He can't refuse to be her sponsor, not after what he had done to her. He almost jumped when he saw her alabaster arms wrapping themselves across his front as she pressed herself to his back. He blushed as he realized that he could feel how cold she was through his shirt as her breasts were pressed against him.

"And you are going to be a Special Jounin, Shikamaru." Ino lay a feathery kiss on his neck. "We will both train harder, in fact, you will train me yourself so I can be more prepared. If you become a member of the Strategic Division, you will have more say on the missions, thus ensuring that more shinobis will return safely to the village." She lay a kiss on the other side of his neck. "Genins can die too Shikamaru. Any shinobi's life can easily end." She kept on putting light kisses around his face, first on his cheek, then on the underside of his chin. After every sentence, she would kiss him. "As a Special Jounin, you would be one of the examiners of the Jounin exam. And you will have a hand on which team I would go in. Do this for me Shika, please?" Ino moved her way around so that she would be facing him face to face. "Think about me. It's my turn to be selfish. Don't you think it's hard for me to be a chuunin knowing that you are a Jounin and taking harder missions than me? If you are a Special Jounin and get into the Strategic Division, you would be too important of an asset to lose and you be assigned less field work missions. I won't have to worry so much then. Do you know how many nights I lay awake when I hear that you volunteered yourself to go to those A-rank missions? Don't you think I know that you have done so, Shikamaru? No team has turned you down, even though Tsunade had at times been tempted to pull you out for fear of losing you. That's why she wants you to be part of the Strategy Division. You worry so much about your friends, about Naruto and Neji and Shino going on those missions that you manage to tag along whenever they get assigned a particular hard mission. If I become a Jounin, I would be less helpless…be able to protect you instead of the other way around. Even if you are not going to be a Special Jounin, at least with us being on the same rank, we might be placed on the same team and I can watch your back. I can't stand it if I lose you…"

Ino leaned forward and gave Shikamaru a kiss on his forehead. "You are precious to me." She then kissed his nose. "Who will protect you if not me?" She kissed his left cheek. "You protect me too much." Then the right cheek. "You are everything to me." She looked deep into his eyes and then leaned in until her lips were millimeters away from his. He could feel her, smell the strawberry scent of her lips, the feathery touch… "Am I ready, Shika?

He could only nod his head as he continued to look into her eyes, hypnotized not just by her beauty but also by everything about her. And then, for once, his brain stopped working as he felt her lips on his once again. Everything faded away and it was just she and he and nothing else existed. His last coherent thought was another vow, to replace the vow he made all those years ago when Chouji and Neji almost died. I vow to be ready for you Ino. To be wiser and stronger for you…so that you will always be ready for any mission…and always be ready to come back home…to me.