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Yours, Always

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The sound of a child crying was something that Iruka could never ignore. He wondered at himself sometimes; wondered at how he was apparently hard-wired with all of the mother-hen instincts that a man wasn't expected to have. A few of his friends claimed that was why he was having so much trouble advancing to chuunin rank, that his soft heart left no room for the killer instinct regarded as necessary to be a good shinobi.

Iruka personally thought that theory was bullshit. He didn't lack a killer instinct; okay, yeah, he wasn't any sort of hardened ANBU assassin but he had killed before. Besides, nowhere in the one hundred rules of conduct did it say you had to enjoy death and destruction! Iruka liked to think that he was just better balanced, emotionally, then a lot of his friends and comrades.

But a fair portion of that balance flew out the window in situations like this, so with no hesitation Iruka followed the sound until he came upon a young boy sobbing in the middle of the road. He noticed how most of the people passing by gave the child a wide berth, and that irritated him to a ridiculous degree. But when some of the crowd cleared and he recognized the blond hair and whisker-marked face he almost understood people's reluctance to get involved.

Almost.

He could have continued walking past; no one would have blamed him if he had. This child was the container that held the Nine Tailed Fox spirit and as such was vilified and ostracized by nearly the entire village. But Iruka didn't share those feelings. He despised the Kyuubi for what it had done to his home and his family but the boy had played no part in that. This child – Uzumaki Naruto, his memory reminded him – was as much an innocent victim of the fox as anyone else in Konoha.

He was also an orphan, and for that reason alone Iruka couldn't quite turn his back on him. He knelt in the road at the boy's side and laid a comforting hand on his back. The sobs ceased for a moment as brilliant blue eyes blinked in shock, staring at Iruka, who simply smiled in return.

And the next thing he knew a pair of small, but remarkably strong, arms were wrapped around his neck and Naruto's back was shaking as the crying returned in full force. He could feel something tickling the side of his face and neck and when he turned his head Iruka saw a beautiful sunflower, its vibrant color a match for the blond hair on the head tucked against his chest. In between the sobs he heard occasional words, managing to decipher lonely, valentine and flower. That told him everything he needed to know.

Iruka pulled slightly away so he could see those blue eyes again. “You haven't asked me,” he said softly, ignoring the sounds of disgust from a passerby. “I'd be honored to accept your flower and be your Valentine.” The arms flew back around his neck and the crying started up again, but this time it held a note of happiness.

“Ummm.”

Iruka glanced up at that and met the eye of a tall, lanky shinobi, maybe a few years older than him. The other teen had a shock of messy silver-white hair, a tilted hitai-ate that covered his left eye and a mask pulled up over his nose. A bouquet of red carnations was just visible behind his back.

“I, uh. . .” The stranger coughed. “I seem to be too late.”

“Late?” Iruka asked, his confusion plain in his voice.

“To, ummm, ask you to be my Valentine.” He coughed again. “I. . . I've seen you around the village and, well, I kind of, sort of. . .” There was a long pause. “I like you,” he finally finished, the part of his face that was visible turning a delicate shade of pink. He pulled his hand from behind his back and regarded the carnations, then he glanced at Iruka, who was still holding Naruto and the sunflower. “I can get you sunflowers and come back,” he said, and made to leave.

Iruka rose to his feet in the blink of an eye, now balancing Naruto on his hip. He held out a hand to stop the silver-haired teen, a flush of his own staining his cheeks. “No, that's not necessary.” He took the bouquet when it was all but shoved into his hand. “I. . . I like these just fine.”

**~**~**~**~**~**

“. . . and that was the first Valentine's Day we shared, and I've been his ever since,” Iruka concluded, smiling a little to himself as the memories unfolded.

“And he's always been yours, right Iruka-jiji?” Himawari asked, grinning as she looked over her shoulder to where Kakashi was reclining on the sofa, two of his ninken curled up with him.

“Always,” Kakashi muttered in his sleep.