A/N: . . . you know, I told myself that I would never write this pairing unless just tacking it onto a Narusasu for subplot or something. But then Hi No Tori suddenly tells me she'd like to see me do Kakashi/Iruka (or Zabuza/Haku, but I haven't read anything about them yet, so it's kind of a moot point there), and the next thing I know, there's a teeny tiny little ficbunny scratching at the inside of my skull and a fic that was supposed to be about Naruto suddenly looks suspiciously like Iruka in fox ears. -_-;; Technically, it's mostly about Iruka, but there is a lil' bit of fluff, both family-oriented and Kakashi-oriented. ^_~

This would be set relatively early in the series . . . I can't say specifically when- I'm really not familiar enough with the timeline, seeing as I only get the actual story as it comes out in Shounen Jump and from whatever I find online. Roughly, though, would be after the kids have managed at least a few moderately noteworthy missions. It's also probably seriously messing with the canon backstory since I pretty much pulled all of it out of my ass. ^_^;;

Bit o' shounen ai, of course. And the lyrics are from Dar Williams's "February" off the CD "Mortal City."



"Small Heroes"



First we forgot where we planted those bulbs last year,

Then we forgot that we'd planted at all,

Then we forgot what plants are altogether,

And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and

The nights were long and cold and scary,

Can we live through February?



It is February. The snow is grungy and half-iced over.

Iruka is cold, and not just because of the temperature.

But Iruka is always cold, except when he is with Naruto. So that is all right. It isn't as if he is not used to it.

He feels . . . lonelier, somehow, since Naruto has finally become a shinobi. Before that, he was the only one who Naruto really talked to, but now, the boy has- if not friends- at least companions.

How stupid, he thinks, to be jealous of two adolescents over the attentions of a twelve year-old.

Naruto will be better off with people his own age anyway. What is the point of it all if he never finds acceptance among his peers? Iruka knows how terrible it feels to never be quite "right"- to never find a soulmate.

Nothing had ever hurt more than watching soulmates together. So of course, he had gotten very good at recognizing them.

It isn't hard, really. Even if they are not talking or touching, they simply stink of belonging. They are perfectly at ease, perfectly content, as long as they are together. They share each other's fears and grief and love.

Iruka has never had that with anyone. Not even before his parents' deaths. He has never had a friend like that, a lover like that, an anyone like that.

Naruto . . . Naruto is not quite a soulmate, but he IS a kindred spirit. And that is important too. Not quite the same, but no less precious. Naruto had given him a purpose again.

It was so stupid, really. At first, he'd hated the boy as much as the others. At first he'd picked on him and mocked him and ignored him just as they had . . . at first.

But then, one day, he'd found the stupid brat crying under somebody's porch. And God knew why, but he'd picked him up, taken him to the nearest restaurant, and bought him a bowl of ramen- the only thing on the menu that he'd been able to afford. The really sad part, though, had been the awed way the brat had been staring at him the whole time, like no one else had ever fed him in his life.

He didn't want the brat to be grateful. The last meal Iruka had seen the kid eating had been his parents, after all. And he'd rather liked having parents.

But he had been crying . . . just a baby, barely four years old. And he'd been crying, and alone, and . . .

And Iruka's parents probably wouldn't have liked to see him picking on a little boy. Even if that little boy wasn't quite what he looked like. Even if that little boy had, in another form, killed them.

But Iruka's parents had been like that.

And it seemed that he was too.

The past is the past, though- Naruto is older now. He is learning how to get along with people, at least to a certain extent.

. . . well, in a way. At least he is better than he had been.

A little better. Maybe.

Iruka is getting distracted. He doesn't like this weather. It is wet and cold, and the ground is covered in slush. The clouds overhead are also beginning to look suspiciously like they've just heard about rain and are carefully weighing the pros and cons of the idea, with a definite leaning towards the positive side of the spectrum.

And yes, here it goes: a lovely drizzle, just heavy enough to soak any fool out in it to the skin and back again.

Iruka sighs, but does not bother to go inside. There is no point. No one is waiting for him, and he does not have class tomorrow. If he gets sick, he can take the day to recover.

No one will miss him.

He closes his eyes and tips his head back, letting the rain run into and back out his mouth uncaringly, like a rather depressed gargoyle might. Maybe he'll drown. He's heard that turkeys do it- stare up at the sky in a rainstorm and kill themselves without even realizing it, too stupid to connect the water in their throats with the sudden need for air.

He doesn't really want to die, but sometimes he thinks that it would simply be more . . . well, more practical to just lie down somewhere and stop breathing. More practical to get out of the way and let someone else be the responsible one.

When Iruka was young, he would've been disgusted to see what he was going to grow up to become. Would've seen himself as weak, and boring. And he was a little boring, he knew: but he was not weak.

Strength is not a thing to be simply classified. It is the ability to surrender, to fight forever, to never give up, to kill yourself.

Not to kill yourself because of your own pain, but to kill yourself protecting another. To step between a loved one and a knife instinctively: to not care about your own fate if it means that they will be all right.

This is Iruka's strength. It is a selfish one, he knows- he would rather those that he cares for live without him than the reverse. He does not mind, though. He raised himself, so he is allowed to be selfish: allowed to love people who wouldn't miss him if he just vanished into the night like he had so often dreamed of doing.

But he had stayed. This is another of his strengths.

And it is such a strange strength. He will never know what it did; will never know that his presence was all that kept Naruto the Nine-Tailed as Naruto the ninja. He will never know how much hate, how much pain was stirring in the boy's heart.

Iruka, at least, had known love once. Naruto had never felt it at all. Not until that day under the porch, crying and scared, and so, so ANGRY . . . and skin crackling with a chakra he hadn't known that he possessed.

The seal on Nine Tails would've broken that day, if not for Iruka's oblivious interference. And no one had ever known, had ever realized that they were beckoning back the death of so many of their comrades and rejecting the child's own power.

Even Naruto never really knew. He was barely older than an infant at the time, after all. All he was aware of was how bad he had felt and how scared he had been and how much he'd wanted someone, anyone, to come and save him and make everything be okay.

"Someone" had almost been the kyubi inside him.

But then Iruka had appeared, crawling awkwardly under the porch and mumbling curses, hands and knees grass-stained and fumbling; and he'd pulled him back out into the light and yelled at him a bit for crying and dragged him off to get dinner. Iruka, who had been just as bad as the others, was there to save him.

That was the first time that Naruto Uzumaki could even pretend that he belonged somewhere.

And Iruka, like so many small heroes, had never even known what it meant. He'd thought, "damn, that's the last of my money," he'd thought, "what the hell was the idiot doing back there anyway?" he'd thought about the cute girl in the corner and the pretty boy behind the counter and wondered why both were batting their eyelashes at him. But he'd never realized quite what his actions meant.

And Naruto, like so many small children, had just eaten his ramen and stared up at Iruka adoringly, thinking that the older boy must be the most amazing person in the entire world, that no one could ever be better.

In a way, no one ever would.

So it's wet, and it's raining, and Iruka pushes his headband up and unzips his vest and lays back in the snow and slush and oh, he remembers, he remembers, he remembers! And the rain is in his eyes and his hair and his mouth, and he's suddenly so ridiculously happy.

He's never this happy.

Only, he is. And he's laughing at nothing and maybe crying a bit, though the rain makes it hard to tell for certain, and he suddenly knows why.

"Good morning," Iruka says warmly, and hears the sound of his own voice spilling over with affection and loves knowing that he can feel like this.

"Good morning," Kakashi greets him, detaching himself from the shadows silently. Iruka cannot hear him move. He doesn't need to, though. Not now. Kakashi reeks of belonging, of confidence, and that speaks of his presence far more clearly than any noise. Iruka has never seen the other without also seeing this nearly indefinable air of contentment, without seeing how perfectly at peace he is.

It irritated him, once. Worried him at other times. Made him feel like he'd missed one of life's more important secrets.

Right now, though, it is exactly the way that he feels.

So it's all okay. It's all how it's supposed to be. Because Naruto is kind of fitting in and Sasuke is not exactly killing Naruto and Sakura is, in an unwilling sort of way, hating Naruto at least slightly less . . . and Kakashi is very . . .

Never mind, he decides. There are no words for what Kakashi is.

Kakashi is not a small hero. He is wild and fierce and alive under his lazy exterior, like the great heroes who save swooning ladies in tight dresses from loss of virtue at the hands of the bad guy and wind up taking it themselves by the end of the day anyway.

He also has beautiful eyes. Even though they aren't quite normal . . . And anyway, to be frank, Iruka gave up on normal a long time ago. To him, it is pointless and a betrayal to those that fought to get him here alive. Normal is, quite frankly, boring; and Iruka has no desire to waste his life seeking it.

Which is a good thing, since it's not there to find anyway.

So it's just as well that, when Kakashi moves to sit beside him, Iruka leans over and asks him something that he's been meaning to for a while now.

The answer is the one he wanted.

It is February. The snow is grungy and half-iced over.

Iruka has forgotten what it is like to be cold.



And February was so long that it lasted into March

And found us walking a path alone together.

You stopped and pointed and you said, "That's a crocus,"

And I said, "What's a crocus?" and you said, "It's a flower,"

I tried to remember, but I said, "What's a flower?"

You said, "I still love you."



* ende *



. : flores para mi amor : .