Ino wonders about Sakura's obsession with strength.

When Ino looks at Forehead Girl these days, she wonders at the changes in what her best friend turned rival turned best friend again has wanted over the years. First it was to fit in (and have people stop laughing at her forehead), then it was Sasuke-kun, and now…now Ino isn't sure. But judging by the fact that the most common places to find the girl is at a training field with Tsunade-sama or in the hospital with Tsunade-sama, working nonstop no matter where she is, it seems that what she wants now is to be as strong as she possibly can. It's no stretch at all to say that Sakura's obsessed with it. And oddly enough, it's not even a contest with anyone. It's not like Naruto and Sasuke, wanting to be stronger than someone else, it's just some vague statement, some unspecified goal…a pole that constantly seems to keep being raised.

"I want—I need to be stronger, Ino-chan."

Never mind that she can split the ground, shatter bodies and damn near heal the dead; apparently there's still room for improvement. (Ino privately wonders if Sakura will ever reach her elusive goal of 'strong enough', if her strength will ever be great enough to satisfy her.)

Ino is glad that it isn't a contest, because she has a feeling that she might have already lost if it had been. (Although if there was a contest, it didn't count, 'cause Forehead Girl sure as hell didn't mention anything to her, and she better not be competing with anyone else.) She hates to admit it, but Sakura really is getting stronger than her, in almost every way.

Physically, it's obvious; for Kami's sake, she was trained by Tsunade-sama, one of the Densetsu no Sannin and the strongest woman alive. Ino, however, has muscles of the smallest acceptable size for a kunoichi, because big muscles are unattractive, and why strain herself when she's got boys to do the heavy lifting for her, and the curves and wiles with which to encourage said heavy lifting?

Sakura has a stronger stomach, too; she spends hours in the hospital, surrounded by wounded and dying shinobi covered in blood and torn flesh and things that can hardly be identified, and she can be calm, collected, and heal it all without losing her lunch. Ino, however, tends to get…queasy at the sight of the oceans of crimson, the organs escaping from the bodies, and was sick to her stomach for ten minutes straight after a patient's pain-induced spasm caused his kidney to slip from the gash in his body and land on her shoes.

(She burned those shoes.)

Mental strength is in Sakura's favor as well. It all has to do with that enormous forehead, Ino tells her; of course she's going to be smarter than everyone else (except Shikamaru, because Ino is sure that's basically impossible) if she's got so much extra brain that she had to be born with a freakishly large forehead just to fit it all inside her skull. Ino is content with her knowledge of all her family jutsu, the male species and all the ways to make them do what she wants, and her knowledge of how to be the best kunoichi possible.

As for emotional strength…Ino would like to think that she at least bests Sakura there, but she knows that area is a toss-up. Yes, she survived watching her sensei die while she watched (and screamed) and cried (and couldn't do anything), but Forehead Girl survived having the boy she cared about, her crush and teammate, leave her behind for being weak and then try to kill her other teammate.

Ino chalks emotional strength up as a tie.

Part of her thinks it's a little unfair (to both of them) to be comparing her strength with Forehead's; after all, being strong on Forehead's team is worlds away from being strong on anyone else's team, especially Ino's. After all, how hard is it to be stronger than a lazy-ass genius that refuses to train because it's 'too troublesome' and a glutton that prefers eating to training? When she thinks about it, they've both become strong, just in their own ways.

After all, strength on Forehead's team is much different.

When Ino thinks about Team Seven, she realizes that it's no wonder Sakura feels so desperate to become strong; it has to be so easy to feel weak when surrounded by titans.

First there's Kakashi-sensei; for crying out loud, he's Hatake Kakashi, the man with as many notorious nicknames as he has stolen jutsu and Icha Icha books. He's Sharingan Kakashi, Son of the White Fang, the legendary Copy Ninja. He was trained by the Yondaime Hokage, the greatest Hokage Konoha has ever seen. He was a chuunin at the age of six, jounin at thirteen and ANBU at fourteen. He'd been a terror among the black ops group, an organization comprised of walking nightmares, and was spoken of in fearful, awed whispers all over the continent (at least by those who didn't know of his chronic tardiness and unhealthy preoccupation with gaudy, obscenely-written porn novels).

To put it simply, he had big tracks to fill. However, Sasuke and Naruto didn't seem the least bit intimidated by their sensei's exploits, and for good reason; they were budding terrors as well.

Sasuke had been the prodigy of their class, the best student, the Uchiha genius. He was smart, and talented, and activated his Sharingan at the age of twelve. He managed to wound a blood-crazy demon vessel, and caught the attention of one of the Densetsu no Sannin (even if it was the crazy, evil, creepy one). His talent was known throughout Konoha…and outside of it as well, once he defected.

And Naruto…even surrounded by geniuses, he was, in Ino's mind, the strongest. Or at least, he'd turned out that way; Kami knew he sure as hell didn't start out the strongest.

Naruto was terrifying. He could fight for hours on end and come out no worse for the wear; he could even wear out Lee, for crying out loud! He could heal from almost anything, no matter how big. He was also taught by one of the Densetsu no Sannin (the perverted one) and mastered a technique only three people in the world could use, and in a week, no less. He had stamina and chakra in spades, enough to scare anyone with any sense. And to top it all off, he had a demon inside him, and access to and control of its chakra. He could level nations if he wanted to, but all he wanted to do was protect his precious people and get Sasuke back.

…On second thought, it was easy to see where Sakura's obsession with strength had come from. On Team Seven, it was easy to feel like a failure, what with being on a team with a legend, a genius, and a powerhouse. On Team Seven, it was either keep up, or get left behind.

Ino at least liked to think that she was partly responsible for Sakura becoming who she was today, stronger and the complete opposite of that scared little girl who thought her forehead was unattractive. After all, if they hadn't become friends all those years ago, Sakura might never have come out of her shell. She might never have become sure enough of herself to compete with Ino for Sasuke's affection. She's proud of her friend. Really, she is. And okay, when she hears people talking about the Hokage's apprentice and how smart and beautiful and strong and talented she is, maybe sometimes she's a little jealous, but it's only a little. Really.

Besides, even if Sakura was stronger now, she was stronger first.


A/N: Whee!! Another little one-shot finished. I had fun with this one, just kind of looking at the changed relationship Ino and Sakura. Their rivalry (now that it's no longer a matter of who can get Sasuke first; I couldn't stand them when they were like that) is interesting to write about. Now, before any Ino fans out there get up in arms, I like Ino. Okay? I think she's an interesting character, now that she's been developed a little more and isn't as shallow as a puddle. I wasn't trying to make her seem bitchy or anything like that, but you have to admit that that is a big part of Ino and Sakura's friendship and their attitude towards each other; they're competitive, that's just how it is. I'm just having fun playing with the different characters and viewpoints in the Naruto-verse as I try to convince myself to get going and write a big story for this fandom.

(Oh, and PS: if my dates are off for Kakashi's exploits…sorry! I did the best I could.)

So! There ya go. I hope you guys like this, and please R&R. Arigatou!!