standard disclaimers apply. (for the series and for the song)

The sun is shining, and the sky is blue when Ino realizes Sakura will always be the stronger one.

The battlefield is bloody with corpses strewn all around; the pungent stench of death permeates everywhere, suffocating Ino in its severity.

Sakura does not so much as flinch.

-

-

-

-

Daisy

-

-

-

-

It was supposed to be a simple mission: eliminate a wayward group of rebel ninja skirting the edges of the Wave Country. There were, supposedly, only about five men, meant to be easily handled by the two Jounin-level kunoichi.

They encountered ten times more.

But they fought anyway.

Perhaps the smarter thing would have been to run away. At least in Ino's opinion. The battle seemed too great for her, too big for her. But when she saw the gleam of an easy challenge in Sakura's eyes, she knew she could not let herself lose face. Would not allow herself to lose to Sakura, she repeats to herself, as smoke and glowing kunai pass through her mind's eye.

So they began their dance, waltzing in and out of pattern. Gracefully, they started to weave through the lines of life and death.

--

By her seventh kill, Ino is exhausted beyond belief. Sakura is on her twenty-third, not a hair out of place.

Left and right, like a beautiful, vengeful goddess, she wreaks havoc and destruction. Five rebels' hearts have stopped beating, yet there is not a wound nor a bruise on their bodies. Three nervous systems have gone haywire, right legs swooping up when left forearms were summoned. Another two have bled out through every possible pore, every possible escape root in their bodies. Ten were wiped out simultaneously, lost to an illusion. Three have simply been shattered, a mess of blood and organs seeping into the earth.

Seven more are about to be lost to one of Sakura's genjutsu. Ino struggles to plunge a kunai through one.

The skirmish is finished in under ten minutes.

Sakura alone would have finished it in twelve.

Ino alone would never have.

--

The trip back is quiet and uneventful, save for the occasional banter.

Sakura was unharmed, and all of Ino's injuries she'd healed.

Ino's jealousy is disguised under Ha, if I were tired, I could easily sleep on your forehead. Sakura has not even realized that Ino has undergone an intense epiphany, –

Ino is that good at deception, tricking even a master of perception like Sakura

and wittily retorts back.

Sakura is stronger; Sakura will always be stronger.

Ino cannot claim intelligence; Sakura has always been the brightest. She cannot even claim beauty, for to compare their degrees of which would be to compare summer and spring.

Ino can only claim lies and deceit, ---

get into minds and unravel the pieces; seduce the weak with flirtation and dances --

but what good is trickery compared to the sincerity of Sakura's eyes? What good is trickery compared to true power, power that does not need the cover of shadows?

Ino wonders what happened to the broken, frail little girl hiding futilely under curtains of pink. She wonders what happened to the girl who had no defining characteristics to speak of. She wonders what happened to the girl who was left crying and broken on a bench.

--

When they have arrived home and gotten the report on Naruto's desk, they go out for dinner and drinks.

Naruto is too busy with running the village (and pretty much the freaking country, for Naruto's influence holds no bounds). Sai is on a mission. Sasuke is, well, not an option.

So Shikamaru and Chouji serve as their company for the night.

Ino laughs loudly at a joke Chouji tells in between mouthfuls of food. She laughs even harder when Shikamaru backs it up with a witty retort. She is happy; she is content. She has her boys, and she will always be able to rely on them.

Especially now that she needs them, in her jealousy and bitterness. Especially now that she sees the competition between her and Sakura has long died, the latter having always been the victor.

But in between her boys, she forgets. There is no joy in the world that can compare to hers, here in the company of those who love her. Those who complete her.

In the corner, Sakura shrinks away, glassy eyes intensely concentrated on her martini.

And, like so many years before, Ino breaks out of her world of concentrated happiness, just for a moment, and sees.

Years ago, Ino had helped her because she'd thought Sakura looked a little like a fairy, and, then, Ino loved fairies. Or perhaps she looked like a bud, as Ino had once told her, on the verge of blooming.

Now, Ino sees a fallen goddess, abandoned by all she governs. Ino sees a wilting daisy –

(for loyal love, for beauty, for patience, she recites to the teacher, who smiles approvingly) –

And she cannot be jealous.

Sakura may be beauty and strength and healing and intelligence combined, but her heart has been broken too many times to count. Too many times has she been left alone to pick up the pieces.

And Ino... Ino is surrounded with love and kind arms. She may not be strong enough by herself, because she is only a part of a whole: InoShikaChou, the winning combination. Ino could be healing; Shikamaru is intelligence; Chouji the brute strength. And in that, they are something (beyond) beautiful.

Sakura has to do it all alone.

But no, Ino decides, determined, as she gently moves away from Shikamaru and Chouji. She'll never be alone.

Sakura will always have me.

Just like so many years before, Ino picks Sakura up, and lifts her wilting frame into the sun.

--

You're a wreck and, you know, you've got me wrapped around your finger.

fin.

author's notes

Because I love Sakura, and I love Ino. Both so, so very much.

yay, edited. please review!

(and i'll be taking requests for my one-shot collection, pamumulaklak ('blooming'), so don't be ashamed to leave one in a review! ;) )