a little fairy tale

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Yuuhi Kurenai. She was a student in at Konoha's ninja academy and already convinced that life was really, really crappy. She even managed to make this conclusion before she reached her teens, too. Kurenai was always quicker than the other kids her age. She was a model student. Her test scores were the best in her grade, actually. But the other kids still slapped her in the back of her messy head whenever they walked by and called her Bloody Eyes.

Her fourth year at the Academy was the most awful yet. It just so happened that Kurenai's class that year, 4-1, had no kids in it that were more easily detectable targets for bullying than she.

You all know how that goes. There's one kid in every class who gets it. Kids start early, almost right at the beginning of the school year, the formation of an in-group and an out-group. Maybe it makes the other kids feel better about themselves if there's one person who is out. All anyone who feels insecure in his own belonging has to do is beat the social pinata. Usually Kurenai could count on there to be someone else. Anyone else. A kid who was really fat, a pants-wetting kid who smelled bad, a stupid kid who couldn't do henge to save his life. An Aburame full of creepy bugs. But nope. This year there was just her.

And Kurenai had quite a few strikes against her already.

Kurenai was smart. Her parents had taught her how to read at the age of three it would seem they couldn't stop her since. She'd read just about anything. She would read the dictionary just to look up long words to use later when she wanted to. She liked vocabulary words. She liked thinking them just to hear the sound in her mind. It sounded distinguished. Her favorite thing to do was to stay up late into the night, reading under her covers with a flashlight.

Mr. and Mrs. Yuuhi were very proud of their little girl and were sure that by teaching her early, they were helping her out. The girl herself had come to believe that it was possibly the opposite that was true. Because it seemed to her that her performance in class was directly proportionate (another vocabulary word) to her classmates' dislike of her. It could be expressed in a ratio. Kurenai liked ratios.

She was pretty. Her face was, that is. Her features were balanced so perfectly. Too perfectly, the other girls said. They often said that she looked like a weird sort of doll. Her skin was like porcelain, fair and clear and smooth. Her lips had a blush to them that just looked too sweet for her unsmiling face. Kurenai didn't smile much. But she did like dolls. In fact, she liked dolls better than people.

But it wasn't simple jealousy that was the problem. The nine-year-old girl had a few physical problems, too, that made her an easy target for teasing. One, her hair was always frumpy. Kurenai's mom's idea of fashion was combat gear. She wasn't good at styling hair and she definitely didn't see the importance of it in a little girl's life. So while all the other girls came to school every day with arrangements of cuteness atop their little craniums, pigtails and bows and hair clips and such, Kurenai's mess of dark hair was usually in a sad poky topknot on top of her head. Kurenai didn't like her hair the way her mom cropped it. Her dream was to grow it long. Not only would it be like the pretty princesses in her fairy tale books, but she would be able to use it to hide behind. That would be very nice indeed.

Two, Kurenai's eyes were shockingly red and she was no one special. Clan members like Uchihas and Hyuugas have the prestige, power, and money to back up those weird features. Kurenai's family had branched off from Uchiha a long, long time ago. Her father's eyes were red as the blood he usually came home from work splattered with. He passed this on to his children. Her mother's eyes were blue. Kurenai had read all about genes and dominant and recessive traits, of course, and she could tell you that blue eyes were caused by recessive genes. Kurenai often found herself wishing her mother had had brown eyes. That would mean her mother was carrying a dominant brown-eye gene that might have canceled out her father's and made her eyes brown or at least hazel. There was nothing Kurenai wouldn't give to have normal brown eyes, the color of chocolate pudding. Kurenai liked chocolate pudding.

Three, Kurenai already had boobs at the age of nine and that meant trouble. Girls were jealous of her and asked if she was a slut. Boys teased her and asked if they could touch them. Teachers worried about her and asked if she knew about how to bind them up properly. The only people who weren't worried were Kurenai's parents, of course. Kurenai's mom had been a rather flat-chested gal and she was actually happy for her oldest daughter to have not inherited her own problem. Kurenai's dad just got his weapons ready, because he was sure that eventually the boys would need to be beaten off his oldest daughter with sharp objects.

Unfortunately, Kurenai's parents were quite obviously idealists to a fault.

As far as the girl herself was concerned, there was nothing, nothing worse in life than going to school and facing those other kids. She was miserable by this point. She had started with a positive attitude and rational thinking every day for the past three years and it wasn't getting her anywhere. It wasn't like she expected things to just happen nicely for her, of course. She was no spoiled brat. She put in her fair amount of effort. Kurenai was a good girl, a smart girl, and a level-headed girl. But even the best kids have a breaking point.

And today was just the absolute crappiest ever.

Kurenai knew that she needed to make herself a friend or two. She had decided to give up on this ever happening by itself. It was time for the girl to take matters into her own hands. She would go right to the top, starting with the most dominant boy in her class. She didn't remember his name, but he was a Hyuuga, a branch of a branch of a branch. And as most Konoha people can tell you about Hyuugas: the more distant they were from the main family line, the worse their temperament.

Unfortunately, the little red-eyed girl had never read this helpful piece of information in any of her books. Maybe someone should get to writing a book like that.

Kurenai waited for said Hyuuga after recess, in the hallway by the coat rack. And she struck him a proposition. It was a good one, or so she had thought. If he'd be her friend and help her out a little when she needed someone to stick up for her, she'd give him the delicious lunches her mom packed for her every day until the end of the school year. Her mom made delicious chicken salad, and her onigiri were to die for. Not to mention, every day she put a piece of fresh fruit and a cookie in.

Unfortunately, Kurenai's plan backfired. Apparently Hyuuga clan members already had rather fancy lunches and didn't need handouts from commoners. Or so he said as he dumped her mother's carefully made lunch over her pretty, messy little head.

And with that, Yuuhi Kurenai, age nine, snapped.

"GRRRRRRRYAAAAAARH!" With the cry of a furious jungle beast, the little girl closed those red eyes tight and threw herself at the Hyuuga boy. Her fists flailed, raining down hits on his shoulders, face, and chest. She hit and hit and hit and hit.

It was then that our young heroine had an unfortunate realization. She had trained a lot, and she had read quite a few books about how to fight, but had never really actually gotten into one before. This wasn't happening the way she had imagined it should. For some reason, the boy didn't even flinch. Her strikes didn't seem to be causing him any pain. In fact, you could say that she was having no effect whatsoever on him.

Kurenai's punches and hits began to slow, and her ruby red eyes blinked, trying to comprehend why she was hitting this person and nothing was happening at all. Finally she drew to a halt, perplexed. And that was when her young adversary decided it was time to take the offensive.

A grubby bandaged fist flew at the girl's middle, and she heard a soft squishing sound. Gush. It took her a second to realize that it was the sound of her own stomach being punched. The pain made her see white, white like the boy's eyes were. The girl realized dryly somewhere behind the shock of the blow that her plan had gone oh-so-awry. There was nothing she could do now but fall windless to the hard linoleum floor.

She didn't cry. Kurenai wasn't a crier. She just lay there quietly and hoped that he would finish and go away. She had read once that this was what you should do if you ever encountered a bear in the forest. Perhaps it also worked on boys as well. But the Hyuuga whose name she didn't remember wasn't finished. Kurenai figured he must have had some kind of resentment issues. She guessed this from the way he sat on her and kept the hits coming at her weird little doll face.

Until.

"What the hell you doin'?" A stuffy voice rang out in the empty corridor. Surprisingly, the punches paused in response. Kurenai tried to look up and was surprised to find that she could only open one eye. With her one eye she spied another boy standing in the hallway. This boy was stocky and tall, bigger than the boy sitting on her. He wasn't in her class. She thought, if she remembered correctly, he was from 4-3.

"Shut up, Sarutobi. Get lost," the boy sitting squarely on her chest spat.

"No," the newcomer replied, coolly. His name happened to be Sarutobi Asuma and he happened to be cutting class yet again. Asuma liked cutting class. It would appear (and correctly so) that he had been climbing trees, for he was carrying a stick and had a few leaves stuck in his unruly black hair. He liked trees, too. They were fun and smelled nice and best of all, they were good for hiding from everyone in. "You."

"Make me," the Hyuuga shot back.

"Okay," the Sarutobi boy shrugged. He put down his stick. And then he pulled back one big, suntanned fist and decked Young Master Hyuuga. He had secretly always wanted to do that. Asuma hated Hyuugas. Especially Hyuugas who fought dirty and picked on tiny girls.

Our heroine heard a groan, and then the weight pinning her down was gone. Then she was relieved to hear the heavenly sound of feet running away. It would seem it was safe to breathe now. "Uck," was all she could manage to say. There was something wet and warm running down from her nose. She licked her lips and tasted copper. Blood.

"Hey. Girl. You okay?" The second boy asked, peering down into her face.

Kurenai blinked her blinkable eye in disbelief. Standing above her was a boy with hair as messy and unkempt as hers. Was that even possible?

"I think so," Kurenai replied. He was big, a lot bigger than her, and he looked strong. The other boy had called him Sarutobi. And yes, there it was on his sleeve, the family crest of the great Sandaime Hokage himself.

Holy poop. Kurenai couldn't believe her luck. Someone had come along and saved her. Not only that, but it was an extremely fortuitous someone. The wheels in her head were already turning, of course.

He had big fists. He had status. And most striking of all, his eyes were the most beautiful chocolate pudding brown Kurenai had ever had the pleasure of looking into. Somehow he seemed more perfect than all of the princes in all of her beloved fairy tales combined.

"I'm Asuma," the boy announced, helping her up. He didn't say his last name. He didn't like to. He brushed rice out of her sticky, poky hair instead.

"I'm Yuuhi Kurenai," she reported.

Asuma nodded casually. "That's a cool name." He wondered offhand if she liked trees.

"I need a friend," she told his deep brown eyes, point blank. "I'll give you my lunch if you take the job."

"No, you need a bodyguard," the boy joked. He wiped her dribbling nose with his sleeve. "And I don't need your lunch. It's all over the floor anyway."

At this, Kurenai heard herself giggle for what felt like the first time ever in her morose little life. "You're right, it is."

And from that day onward, they were never, ever apart.