For Ariel, who is absolutely winning.

She was beautiful when she fought.

Shikamaru knew that the world found her to be beautiful in all circumstances. She was pretty when she smiled. She was lovely amongst the flowers that occupied her days. She was alluring in everything from a skirt to male apparel, and she knew it. She was pleasant to look at, and confidence radiated throughout her very being; the spring in her step and the sanguine sparkle in her eye made her no less than irresistible. The world could gaze as much as they wanted, because she thrived on the attention.

But Shikamaru had seen more sides of her than the rest of the world. He had seen her anger, her determination, her trepidation. He had seen the Ino that knew that there was no hope, and even so, in her own way, strove to keep them going. He had seen the fear of the enemy, the brave self-sacrificing proclamations, and the disappointment when he told her 'no.' He had seen her tears; when the world would find it hard to look at her face for its contorted agony, he had to look away because it was not something he could stand. And he had seen Ino fight.

When her self-confidence bled through every pore and she was so concentrated that she didn't have time to offer the world that enchanting smile; when her effort was rewarded by becoming stronger, by winning. When she lost, and she yelled and screamed and hit things, tears of bitter frustration wetting her eyes and cheeks.

When a thin sheen of perspiration shone on her slick skin as she danced. When she allowed herself to fall into his arms; when she entrusted her body to him while her soul dwindled elsewhere.

When her eyes narrowed in pure and utter rage, a fire so passionate and real that it sent a hot wave of shock through his system.

It was more beautiful to him than when she spent hours looking in a mirror, trying to make herself lovely for some boy with a nice face and a cold tongue.

Her tenacious attitude that made him want to throttle her and protect her and just look like the rest of the world could.

She is almost like a rose; too much time spent closed and coy, too little time in completely open. She blossoms when she fights, and he doesn't know whether to consider himself lucky or troubled that he will always be the one to see her in full bloom.

Her kunai sinks into the enemy's chest and he falls, unable to match the raw fight that rages within her. She looks back for the next opponent, panting and sweaty without complaint, and Shikamaru spares a grin at the lack thereof.

Lucky. Definitely lucky.

I suppose I was just incredibly inspired by pitting Shikamaru and Ino against each other in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes. She really is quite lovely.