Senbon Sakura
by Kayarde

Little Haruno Sakura sat on a small stone wall and started crying her eyes out. They had teased her again for her over dimensional forehead. She tried to hide it behind bangs of her pink hair, but if anything that just seemed to make their teasing worse. She couldn't stay at the playground where all these mean girls were just waiting for her to show up so they could make fun of her again.. Thus, Sakura hid away from the world, in a place where those meanies wouldn't search for her. No one wants me anyway, she thought to herself, I'm just an useless big browed freak.

Her day at the academy had been hellish, and the first thing she had done when the bell rang for the end of the day was to bolt away in the hopes of avoiding her daily bullies.. But they hadn´t even allowed her to flee in dignity. One of the girls had tripped Sakura and the contents of her schoolbag had scattered all over the floor. The entire class had laughed at her, and to make things worse, stupid Kasumi had trampled on her schoolbooks and stolen her half completed homework so now she would have to start anew. "Hey, forehead," had said Kasumi as she stomped away, "Thanks for the homework. You should do it for all of us, you have such a big forehead!" It was a pity that Iruka-sensei and Mizuki-sensei were both talking outside the room at the time, but then, the bullies never struck when the teacher was watching. They were good at that.

Sakura hated that she had been too terrified to defend her work. She hated crying in front of the entire class. She hated being so weak. She just hated it.

Her head dropped, and she stared at the filthy ground and started to cry with a new vigour. The tears flowed down her cheeks in rivers and Sakura couldn't find the strength to move from the cold stone she was sitting on. All she wanted was to hide her overlarge forehead from everyone so they could never tease her about it again. She just wanted the world to leave her alone.

A chilly wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves. It almost felt peaceful, being here all by herself. No one would find her here. Then a gust picked up the fringe of Sakura's hair and blew it out of her face, and the little girl shivered involuntarily, the chill finally reaching her through her anger and sadness. Then she heard a crinkle of grass and leaves in front of her and looked up from the ground, only to flinch backwards in surprise. She found herself staring directly into the curious face of a boy about her age, with sunshine coloured hair and three whisker birthmarks on each of his cheeks. The boy apparently had sneaked up upon her and now he was grinning like a maniac at her reaction. But his blue eyes were shining with good natured mirth instead of disdain, and his smile felt genuine.

"Wow, that´s one big forehead you have," he said, his grin broadening. Sakura started sniffling again. Why did everyone have to go for her forehead? Was there a target painted on it?

"Man, I'm jealous." He pulled a face. "If I had such a big forehead then that would mean I had a big brain and I would understand this stupid math homework that Stupid-sensei gave me!"

Those words made Sakura wonder. Someone was jealous of her forehead. Her tears started to subside, and she began to turn red, embarrassed from the flattery. Scraping together what was left of her self-confidence she looked the boy in the eye and whispered, "If you want, I could help you with your maths."

"Honest?" Naruto asked. Sakura nodded, and found herself feeling better in the boys company.

With a grin, he held out his hand. "I am Uzumaki Naruto, and I´m going to be Hokage one day. Believe it!"

"I..." Sakura began but stopped herself with surprise when the boy´s grin began to falter. Determined she wiped the traces of tears from her face and straightened up before taking Naruto's lowering hand with renewed confidence. "I am Sakura. Haruno Sakura."

Together they sat at Ichiraku Ramen, pouring over Naruto's homework. Teuchi had given them a bowl of Ramen on the house when he saw his favourite customer coming with female company. Sakura had been brushing her hair out of the face the entire afternoon so she could eat without hair in her soup, all while explaining division to Naruto at the same time.

They were still sitting over the first exercise, since Sakura refused to do Naruto's homework. She would help him, yes, but he had to reach the solution on his own. "Naruto how often goes the seven into the twenty-one? Come on use your brain, I now you can do it!"

"Argh! Math is so hard." He scratched the back of his head nervously. "It's not like I don´t try, I just don´t get it into my brain."

Sakura let out a sight and decided to try another approach. "Okay, let´s try it the other way round. What is seven plus seven?"

"Uuhm." He started to count with his fingers and toes. "Uhm, fourteen."

"Yes! Now add another seven."

Naruto glanced down at his feet, then back up to Sakura. "But Sakura, I don't have enough toes!"

At that she let her head fall on the table with a loud thud. "Don't worry girl," said Teuchi, who was stifling a chuckle. "Naruto just isn't interested in Maths. He's more interested in ramen." Teuchi smiled as he placed another bowl of ramen in front Naruto, who started digging in a soon as it touched the counter.

"Naruto, you really like ramen, don´t you?" Sakura smiled slyly.

"Sure! Best food ever invented. I like all sorts of ramen. Instant Ramen, Cup Ramen, Shoyu Ramen, Shio Ramen, Miso Ramen, Tonkotsu Ramen. But truly, heaven sent us Ichiraku's Ramen, Gift of the Gods. Stupid I can´t buy ramen from here all the time." As soon as he said it Narutos face turned bright red. But Sakura didn´t notice, she suddenly had an idea.

Sakura laughed, and Naruto's face started to turn red. "It's not that funny," he grumbled, but Sakura ignored him. She just had an idea on how to get math to work for Naruto.

"Let's say you have twenty-one cups of instant ramen and that´s all you have for an entire week, Naruto. How many cups can you eat each day?"

"That's only three cups of ramen each day! That´s mean!" Naruto whined.

Shannaro! It worked! Sakura smiled. "That´s the answer to the math question."

"Honest?" Naruto looked dumbfounded at his new friend.

"21 cups for 7 days makes 3 cups a day." She smiled proudly at him. He had it in him, she had known it.. I'm not useless, she thought. I have a friend, and I helped them! Already she could feel the tears starting to fill her eyes.

"Sakura-chan, are you alright? You're crying." Concern was written in Narutos blue eyes.

"I'm fine. Just happy you finally got it, idiot." She grinned like a maniac, even as tears of joy fell from her face. She brushed her bangs from her face again, grumbling to herself about them. What had she thought to gain by letting them grow?

Naruto laughed, either because of her bangs or his sudden mathematical ability, she could not be sure. The laughter was so infectious that Sakura immediately joined in, and soon they were followed by Teuchi and his daughter Ayame.

Sakura made it home just in time for her curfew and dinner. It had been a fun day with Naruto, once they figured out how to deal with the math problems. In the end she had promised Naruto to help him again with his homework when it had become apparent that he had problems with the other subjects as well.

"Mum, I'm home!" Sakura called into the flat with a cheery voice. She was still happy and proud that Naruto had understood his homework.

"I'm in the kitchen, sweetheart." Her Mother called back. "You've been out longer than usual," Her mother commented, smiling at Sakura's suddenly cheerful attitude.

"I helped a friend with his homework." Sakura grinned at her mother, happy with the subtext that she now had a friend.

At that Haruno Mebuki's smile deepened. She was happy to see that her daughter finally talking about her friends at home. She had thought that Sakura never talked about her friends out of embarrassment, not knowing that Sakura simply did not have any before. "It's always right to help a friend in need," She said as she slid the last pot off the stove." Come sit down, dinner is ready."

Sakura's father wasn't home yet, which was not uncommon. He worked as a clerk for a small trading company where he often stayed late into the night discussing the books with his boss. Sakura and her Mum ate by themselves most evenings, and this one would be no different. Her mother Mebuki had been a Chunin before she had been taken from the active roster to have a baby and marry. Although Mebuki had been away from active duty some time now, she had kept her body in shape in case she was called up for service again.

The first thing Sakura did after dinner was to go to her parent´s bathroom and dig around in the drawers for one of her mother´s hairbands. She was tired of her bags getting in her way.

Tying her hair into a ponytail was far more difficult than she had imagined, and no matter what she tried, it never quite looked the way she wanted it to. One time it was too low, then it was too far on the right side, then she had the same problem with the left side. She huffed in frustration.

Her mother walked into the bathroom and took in the scene playing in front her with a gentle smile. She pulled the hair band out of Sakura's hair and carefully started to brush the girl's hair before binding it into a ponytail that captured all of Sakura's wayward pink strands. Only a few bangs were left out to frame the girl's face on both sides.

Sakura glanced into the mirror and saw that she almost looked like a completely different person. The girl that stared back at her looked … cute, something Sakura never thought about herself as in the past. Sakura smiled at herself in the mirror. She could finally see the world around her properly, and she was happy for it.