Okay, I have no idea where this piece of morbidity came from…

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Dedication: To Jeremy, my real-life Kiba, messy hair, leather jacket, and all. I love you!

There's a girl in the mirror, Ino thinks, who looks exactly like her. She has blonde hair, and blue eyes, and she's just so (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty that it almost hurts to look at her.

But Ino doesn't know her. She has grown up with the image there, the one with blonde hair and blue eyes, right from the time when she was very small, and sort of looked like the quintessential cupid.

But the girl that's standing in the mirror now… Ino doesn't know her.

She doesn't know the dark circles under her eyes, nor does she know the lack of make-up. She doesn't know the tussled-up hair, and she doesn't know the lack luster skin. She doesn't know the bruises, either. She's not sure she wants to, but not knowing yourself is hard, she guesses.

Ino is (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty. She always has been, and she always will be. She craves her own beauty like the way she craves perfection; just so (hungry-hungry-hungry) wanting for something she can't have.

But now, well, she's not really 'Ino' (because you're beautiful-beautiful-beautiful, and the bruises hiding just under your skin mar that beauty like paint on canvas) anymore; she's more like… damaged goods.

Damaged goods aren't the perfection she so desperately craves. Damaged goods aren't (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty.

So she can't be the girl-in-the-mirror-who-is-Ino-but-not, because she is not damaged goods. Damaged goods are not strong, and Ino is (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) strong. Perhaps not perfect (even though it's really perfection you crave, isn't it?), but strong.

And for now, she supposes, strong is good enough.

But being strong does not rid her mind of the dying thoughts of those she kills. Ino is genjustu-based, but even so, she knows that she can kill without even thinking about it. It is muscle-memory, ingrained into every kunoichi's being; self-preservation above all else. Ino is kunoichi, and kunoichi have, if nothing else, a self-preservation instinct that shinobi do not.

This is also why kunoichi are valued as much, if not more, then shinobi. Because kunoichi can be useful in other ways, ways that Ino does not like to think about. It makes them seem… just so… used. It makes them seem like their accomplishments are nothing more then… then… Ino does not even have a word for it.

But Ino knows that the fact that she is (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty is useful to Konohagakure. She thinks this is lucky, because if she was not pretty, really, what else can she do for her village?

She is also strong. Mentally and physically (but the bruises around your neck refute that, darling-darling-darling), she is strong. But torture does take a toll on a person, especially when a (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty person has to dirty their hands to do dirty things.

And Ino feels just so dirty that it almost makes her sick (because it's not perfection, and you wantperfection more then anything).

So she turns away from the mirror-that-tells-the-truth, and finds refuge in the shower. And she scrubs-scrubs-scrubs her skin raw, until the blood and dirt and tears of the day are washed away.

The bruises are still there, though, no matter how much Ino tries to wash them away. She is stubborn, though. She was always been so, so stubborn, almost so much that it hurts.

So she keeps at the bruises, but they do not wear away. She gives up, eventually (so much for perfection, you little slut).

The heated water hits her face, and it almost burns it is so hot. It hurts, in a way, too, because she just can't put her finger on where those bruises came from.

And then she hates herself for lying.

Of course she knows where those bruises came from, but she'll never admit it. She refuses to admit she even got hurt from that absolutely pointless fight. She refuses to believe she is that weak.

Sakura had raised an eyebrow when she'd come home, beaten and bruised and so, so (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty. Then she declined going to the hospital, in favour of simply going home to get cleaned up.

It had almost not happened, especially when she nearly fell over; Sakura had protested, worried over her oldest friend's well-being; but Ino simply wanted some time alone. And the best way to get that was to be allowed to go home, and get some sleep.

What Ino hadn't expected was the fact that Kiba (beaten and bruised as you, from that pointless mission) had carefully wrapped an arm around her waist, and had told Sakura that they would be fine; he would Ino home without too many problems.

And Sakura believed him, so Ino supposed she owes him, now, because he got her out of a painful interrogation.

Sakura's interrogations are always painful, Ino thinks, because they probe too deep, too dangerous, too close to the heart for comfort.

That is the problem with having a best friend that is one the best med-nin in the world (Sakura isn't weak, is she? But she doesn't have your beautiful-beautiful-beautiful-ness); she always knows exactly what to say to get under Ino's skin.

After Ino slips out of the shower, her skin red, raw, and (clean-clean-clean) dirt free, she staggers to bed, and closes her eyes. It has been a long day, and she's just so tired… She will have to clean her weapons tomorrow.

She is too tired by this point, she wants to think, but she's already asleep.

It is early morning when she wakes.

There is sun filtering in through the huge windows, and she can almost hear birds, she thinks. But it is early, and so the fact that Ino is awake is odd. Ino has always liked her sleep, and, given a day off, as she has one today, there is no chance of her being awake before noon.

But Ino is awake early, because there is someone else in the room.

Ino's eyes are still closed, and she reaches for the kunai under her pillow. So maybe she has learned something from Tenten, or maybe it's just that self-preservation instinct kicking in, again.

And then Ino feels someone gently cup her cheek, the way her mother used to do when she was sick (but she hasn't done that since you were twelve, and that's a long time ago). Ino freezes, and carefully analyses the hand.

They are rough hands; large and strong. Rounded fingertips, thick knuckles, calluses. A boy's hand, she thinks. Or, wait, no, not a boy's, a man's, because they are too large to be a boy's.

"Oh god, Ino," comes a rough whisper, and Ino smells a hint of leather, musk and the woods. "You don't even know what you look like… do you?"

She opens her eyes, and stares Kiba in the face. "Good morning," she says. "What are you doing in my house?"

He just grins, and Ino is forcibly reminded that they aren't twelve anymore. Even though she's still a bossy, loud bitch, and he's still immature and rude, they are not awkward pre-teens.

After all, she is seventeen, has boobs, and has been comfortable with the fact that she is (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) pretty for three years. He is almost eighteen, tall (so tall), and built on rugged lines that Ino can feel pressing against her. And his hand is still on her cheek when he says "I was worried about you. You were pretty beat up yesterday."

Ino shrugs him off. "I'm fine," she says. (But you aren't fine, so why are you even trying to hide it? He knows, idiot! He knows!)

His eyes darken, and she can see the stubborn twelve-year-old boy she knew re-emerging (there you are). "You're not. What's up, Ino? You're… never like this."

She shakes her head, and almost backs away from him. She's just so scared, because she doesn't even know herself, and she doesn't even want to. She wants to retreat into her bed, into the safety of darkness and sleep, but his eyes - so dark - don't let her.

She is trapped, and she is shaking she is so scared.

"Ino?" he asks, and she can hear the worry in the decibels of his voice.

"I- I-" she stops and starts, again and again, because she just can't get the words out, even though they're curling on the tip of her tongue. This must be what it's like to be Hinata, around Naruto, Ino thinks.

Kiba presses a finger to her lips. "Ino, you have to calm down. You're shaking," he says.

Yes, she's (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) shaking, because she needs to get those words out, but she can't, and it's killing her.

She takes a deep, shuddering breath, and tries again. "K-Kiba, there's s-something wrong with m-me," she manages, but then freezes, because she can feel his fingers stroking through her hair.

"Your hair is beautiful," he whispers, and the feeling calms her some. The shaking mutes itself, and Ino is able to sit back, close her eyes, and simply enjoy the fact that she isn't alone.

Not alone, not perfect, not beautiful, and she jumps away from him like he is a heated brand.

He stands back, and holds his hands up. It is a gesture of surrender, of humility, but Ino does not these words, because she is kunoichi, and an imperfect kunoichi is nothing.

"Sorry," she whispers, and wraps her arms around her blanket-covered knees. She hugs them to her chest, and ducks her head down. No, she will not cry, she will not (because that just makes you moreimperfect, just like they always say).

He sits down next to her again, and he very gently touches her. She knows she doesn't know what's causing her to act like this, and she tries to explain it again, but he shushes her.

"Ino, there is nothing wrong with you. What gave you that idea? You're perfect the way you are."

In Ino's eyes, the whole world freezes for a second, before it restarts again. No one has ever told her she is perfect. No one.

"I'm not perfect," she says, her voice a shaky whisper. Does he know what perfection is, to her? Does he? No, he can't, he can't

"You are," he stares at her, the look in his eyes screaming that he doesn't know this broken, damaged-goods girl who is curled into a ball in front of him.

Ino almost laughs bitterly, because she doesn't know the broken damaged-goods girl, either. She doesn't want to.

"Ino, what happened? What did they do?"

She freezes for a second time, and she almost sobs. Almost. She was able to control herself yesterday, and she will not let the tears leak out now. She will not.

But it breaks free anyways, and when she feels a pair of leather-clad arms encircle her waist and pull her towards a well-muscled chest, the levy breaks, and Ino looses all control.

She cries and cries. It is like there is a sea of tears that was drowning her, deep in her chest, and now it is all she can do to let them out while they have their way with her face. Kiba croons softly, his voice husky and deep and calming.

She does not know how long she cries for. She does not want to know how long she allowed herself to be weak, but she knows that it was a long, long time, because Kiba's shirt is soaked with tears.

She does not want to look in the mirror, because she knows what she will see; a (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) blonde girl covered in bruises with blue eyes rimmed in red that is just imperfect that it hurts.

So, instead, she buries her face in the crook of Kiba's neck, and breaths out and in, deep and slow, the oxygen permeating her brain and allowing her to think. Things are clearer, now, that she has cried.

"Ino," he says, "Look at me."

She does, albeit reluctantly (afraid of seeing the truth in his eyes, are you?), tipping her head back and looking him straight in the face, exactly the way she did earlier.

"Feel better?"

She nods, silently, afraid that if she opens her mouth, the story will pour out of her, and she will bare her soul to a boy she barely knows.

"Do you want to tell me exactly what brought this on?"

She pauses before saying anything, and she studies him. He is beautiful, she thinks, in a rugged sort of way. His face is all sharp lines, from the harsh line of his jaw to the blood red tattoos on his cheeks. For a moment, she allows herself to wonder if he has any other tattoos, then she shakes it off, and goes back to studying him. His hair is a deep, messy dark brown, and his lips make her think they are always about to break into a smile.

But it is his eyes that convince her to explain exactly what happened. They are plead-plead-pleading with her, to tell him, because he is worried, and he has never seen the untouchable Yamanaka Ino in such a way.

So she takes another deep, shuddering breath, and begins.

She tells him not to interrupt, because she may not be able to start again if she stops, and he nods silently. She is shocked by this, not because she expected him to interrupt, but because he seems to take it to heart.

And she almost allows herself to smile, but her facial muscles aren't working. They don't seem to remember how to smile. Oh well, she thinks, and begins her tale.

It is a wonderful story, she thinks. Full of lust and want and death and, in a desperate way, full of truth. She does not want to believe that she lived it.

She tells him of the lord's son who wanted her, and from the way Kiba snarls, she has a feeling he knows where this story is going. She stops though, after she explains how she ended up trapped in a room, alone.

"And then-" she tries again, but she can not get the words out. She refuses to say it. It will make her sound so very, very weak.

"That bastard," Kiba snarls, and pulls her just a little bit closer. "So that's when you got the bruises?"

She nods, and self-consciously touches the finger-shaped bruises around her neck. With them, she is not (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) herself. They are reminders that she doesn't want; why else would she have tried so furiously to wash them away?

"I'm going to kill him," Kiba hisses, and keeps her close. It is all she can do to clutch at his shirt, and shake her head. No, no, no, she does not want him to leave, because if he does, she will be alone, and she thinks that she will die if she is alone, right now.

How did she ever think she could manage this on her own? She whimpers softly, and he is right there, rocking her softly back and forth, so careful-careful-careful, because she thinks he thinks he might break her, if he is careless. And really, in a way, he is right.

"Kiba?" she whispers.

"Yes?" His voice is a husky murmur of dead leaves over dry pavement.

"Am I dirty? Is it my fault?" she asks, so, so, so terrified of his answer.

The harshness in his voice when he says "No!" shocks her. But it - it was her fault, of course it was. Wasn't it?

"How could you ever think you're dirty? You're wonderful. You're beautiful. You're perfect. You're Ino. No one is ever going to take that away from you. No one."

He is so vehement in his statement that it scares her. She has never seen this side of Kiba before, this protective side before, and she hates the fact that she likes it. It is a dangerous side, she thinks, one that would walk into Hell for the one he was worried about. She wonders if he is willing to walk into Hell for her. Then she is not sure if she wants to know.

She does not often allow herself to be coddled by her friends, because she is stronger then that.

And then his words sink into her brain, and she almost wants to gape at him. No one has ever said something like that to her before, and she wonders, quickly, if this is what trusting someone is like.

She gently cups her fingers (slender fingers, beautiful-beautiful-beautiful fingers) around his face, and she wonders why there is heartbreak in his eyes.

When she asks him this, it is all he can do to pull her close, and keep her close. "You deserve so much better, Ino. So much better then - then this. So much better then me…"

She does not like the way he says this last sentence, and so she does something she has always been afraid of doing. She pulls him a little closer, and whispers, softly, so softly, "What do you mean, better? I'm damaged goods, now. Not pure, anymore."

"No, you're not."

"I am. Do you think you can get over that fact?"

He keeps her close, and doesn't reply. She knows he is feeling her heartbreak worse then she is, which is somewhat strange, she thinks, because shouldn't she be the one who is crying and dying inside?

Ah, but of course, she thinks, she's already done that, so it would only make sense that it belonged to someone else now. That made no sense, really, but she decides to just go with it, and to see where it takes her.

She closes her eyes, curled up against him on the bed, and she allows herself to rest.

Ino is (beautiful-beautiful-beautiful) broken. Damaged goods. Not perfect.

But for now, she thinks, it may just be enough to keep her alive.