Sakura is smart.
She is sure of this, because it's one of the few strengths she can be sure of. She knows that she might not be all that pretty, all that strong, but she knows her strengths.
Knowing is her strength.
Knowing the answers to every exam question, how to use every scrap of her chakra so it counts, the right thing to say (never mind what you really think). She knows all this.
She also knows that Ino is the best friend she'll ever have. And that Ino likes Sasuke; she knows this even before Ino will admit it to herself.
A small voice in her wails at that. She'll never stand a chance against Ino! She's too pretty, too talented, too charming. But she's not ready to give up; she can't give up a fight like this.
Ino taught her that. Ino, who fought for her when she was too weak to fight for herself.
Ino, who will not admit she likes Sasuke because she knows Sakura likes Sasuke.
Sakura knows that she may never be as good as Ino. Sakura understands that she has to try anyway.
Some fights, you can't run from. You can only make them as fair and clean as you can.
Ino is her friend, and she is Ino's. But Ino cannot see this, and the fight is not fair to her. She is trying to protect Sakura when in the end, it will hurt them both.
Sakura can see this where Ino can't.
This time, she thinks, it is her turn to protect Ino. To give her the fair fight she deserves.
"I know you like Sasuke."
Sakura watches her eyes widen, her lips part in instinctive denial.
"Don't deny it."
The wind rises, so that she has to grip the ribbon in her outstretched hand tightly.
"From now on, we are rivals, not friends."
Betrayal, hurt, flickers in Ino's eyes before she can hide them. Sakura sets her chin, refuses to let it fall, and Ino's fingers curl around the ribbon, take it back.
Because Ino is the best friend she'll ever have.
And Sakura knows.
One day she will understand.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, Sakura, etc etc.