So, it is nearly Valentine's Day, and, what with the recent manga chapters (Yes…I'm current, for those of you who are keeping up…I won't give anything away, but…I know what happened concerning promotions, so you needn't bother telling me that they've changed…), this little story popped into my head about my favorite couple ever.

Dedicated to all the Naru/Saku lovers!

Note: I'm going to be switching between past and present at one point, but hopefully it will be fairly clear when I do. Normally I'd use italics, but this flashback is going to be rather lengthy, so I decided against it. I'm not a fan of putting in the words "FLASHBACK" in the middle of a story, just because…it's distracting.

Anyway, on we go then.


It was a beautiful morning in the village of Konoha, a blanket of fresh-fallen snow appearing as if it had been speckled with diamonds as the sun shone upon it. As it was a Saturday, most of the villagers were sleeping soundly in their beds, not a care in the world. Things were quite different in the Hatake household, however. Mornings such as this one provided ample opportunities for getting into mischief, a hobby that the two who stood precariously at the top of the stairs had perfected over the years. One would think that their parents would have learned by now, but that, apparently, was not the case.

"Should we do it?" Loki asked, though it wasn't really a question. The mattress was already set up to perfection—which had taken quite a bit of time—and there was no way that they would abandon their enterprise now.

Fists on her hips, his sister Rin, one year his junior, flashed him a wide grin. "Course."

And that was that.

A few seconds later, the mattress began its descent, carrying its two passengers with remarkable speed down the staircase.

Quite an exhilarating experience, to be sure. Naturally, it had to be repeated once they had reached the bottom and slid halfway across the hall, only missing a coffee table by a hair.

"That was fun!" Rin giggled, her face flushed.

Her brother snorted. "It could have been better. I'll bet this sucker could make it all the way to the kitchen if we plan it right."

Already getting to her feet, the younger child grabbed one end of the mattress, while Loki took the other, and together, they began to drag it back up to its previous position.

"The kitchen, huh?"

"Hell yeah!"

Rin raised an eyebrow, looking remarkably like their mother. "And what if it doesn't?"

Loki waved his hand, motioning his sister to take a seat behind him. "Bah. You ready?"


"Then here we go!"

Hatake Kakashi woke to the distinct feeling of intense pain, most of which was concentrated on the right side of his face. Still determined to sleep, he burrowed a bit further under the sheets. His wife had a tendency to flail when she slept, so receiving a smack or two was not all that unexpected. He did not seem to remember shaking as being a part of the repertoire, however.

"Wha-aa?" He croaked, eyes cracking open just in time to see Anko's face hovering directly before his own. Not an unpleasant sight, but it startled him completely awake nonetheless. "Wassamatter?"

"Did you hear that?" She hissed, half-asleep herself.

"Huh?" Of course he had heard nothing, being dead to the world only a few minutes before.

"There was a crash downstairs. I can't believe you didn't hear it!"

Oh yes, because I have bionic ears…Kakashi thought dryly, though he sat up, albeit reluctantly, and yawned. "All right, all right, I'll check it out, okay?" Somehow, he managed to drag himself out of bed and shuffled towards the stairs, contemplating the many injustices that life threw his way on a daily basis. Never mind that he had brought most of them on himself when he finally decided to 'settle down' and start a family. He had a vague idea of what this new lifestyle would have in store for him going into it, and he happily accepted that things were about to change rather drastically.

Kakashi had always been the laid-back type, one who allowed life to take him where it would without much complaint. There was the occasional surprise every now and then, his relationship with Anko being one of them. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that she would be the one who would manage to steal his heart, but even the most brilliant of tacticians cannot predict all things in advance. In truth, their relationship began due to a bet, accepted while both were a trifle drunk, and it was the brunt of many a joke among their circle of friends.

At first, Kakashi denied fervently that he felt anything for his violet-haired comrade other than close friendship, though that tactic failed the more time they spent in each others' company. He began noticing tiny quirks that she displayed at random, most of which were absolutely adorable, like the way her tongue poked through her lips whenever she was in deep concentration, or how she always had to tie her hair a certain way in order to be satisfied. Social enough when the occasion called for it, he dropped his guard in her presence, talking for hours about anything and everything. It was just so easy to get along with her, even if her personality was a bit more rambunctious than his. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the 'bet' was not a bet any longer, and he truly did want to be with her. When she confessed the same, it seemed as if time moved faster than he could grasp. In the blink of an eye, he was married, the births of his children following soon after.

His children…

"What the hell did they do now?" He muttered to himself, not paying much attention to his surroundings, which would have been beneficial in the long run. In doing so, he might have noticed that a few pillows, rejected by Loki and Rin when they realized that a mattress would sail along farther, lay scattered in his path. Unfortunately, Kakashi did not make this discovery until he was on his way down, nothing beneath him to soften the impact except skin.

Painful would be a very accurate term to describe this manner of descent.


Rin, sprawled and laughing on the kitchen floor, was the first to hear the screech. The sapphire pools that were her eyes went wide, and her jaw hung slack. "That sounded like Daddy."

Uh-oh…Loki thought, pulling a face. They had in fact made it to the kitchen, though this time, the coffee table came with them. The crash had to have woken their parents, and of course their mother would send their father to investigate…

It appeared as if Loki had made a grave miscalculation somewhere, and things were about to get ugly. Instead of being afraid, however, the wheels in his six-year-old head began to turn, calculating ways to twist this situation to his advantage. Yes, it had not been smart to leave the pillows behind for someone—his father—to trip on, but he was almost positive that he could logically steer away from that tiny factor and present a valid argument as to why he and his sister should not be in trouble. Avoiding punishment, after all, was one of the games that Loki thrived on, and was the reason why he was most often the instigator of the duo's schemes.

Time to get to work.

"I'll handle this," he told Rin as he got to his feet, puffing out his chest ever so slightly. "The old man's gonna be pissed."

Rolling her eyes, his sister reached out her hands for him to haul her up, which he did. "I'd be mad too if I fell down stairs."

Loki's eyebrow twitched. "Never mind that! Come on."

Though it should not have been funny, the sight of their father, the elite Jounin known far and wide as Sharingan Kakashi, in an unceremonious heap on the floor was hilarious.

"Well," Kakashi grunted, lifting his head a quarter of an inch from the ground, "I'm glad that someone is amused." They're devil-spawns, both of them…

Stifling her giggles, Rin was about to help her father up, though she changed her mind when her mother decided to join in on the little party. She jumped out of the way just in time to avoid becoming a human pancake.


Unlike her husband, Anko was provided with a nice, welcoming surface to land on.

"Honey! Are you okay?"

"I give up," the silvery-haired man wheezed, allowing his head to drop back to the floor.

Loki gulped.

Not Mom…anyone but Mom…

"Out!" Anko screeched, pointing to the front door. Once she had seen the mess in her kitchen, she tried all of the calming techniques that she had learned over the years, but none of them worked. Loki's various attempts at explaining failed, and it took Rin stepping in and playing innocent to save their hides. Still, their mother was quite flustered, and she ordered them all, even her husband, out of the house. Kakashi felt this arrangement was unfair, though he made no move to argue. It would be much safer that way.

"Geesh, what got into her?" Loki said, his hands clasped behind his head. "It's not like she's the one who fell."

"Actually, she did. On me, no less." Kakashi sighed, and then fixed his son with an arch look. "You should know, anyway, Trickster. You've got her personality."

Loki had nothing to say to that, so he kept his mouth shut.

"It's really cold out here," Rin observed, pulling her scarf a bit tighter. "Let's go see Naruto and Sakura, can we? I want to play with the baby."

Kakashi's eyebrows shot up. "Actually," he mused, rubbing his chin, "that's not a bad idea. I haven't seen those two in a while." An impish grin appeared on his face. "And, since I was their sensei, they'll feed us."

"Wicked," Loki said. "Sakura's a good cook. Better than Mom," he snickered.

"Be nice," Rin chided, even though her brother knew she agreed with him.

"Don't ever let her hear that, or she'll pummel you." Their father added, still smiling. He watched as his delinquent offspring ran ahead of him, flinging snowballs at each other and exchanging insults—normal behavior for them—and shook his head.


"Naruto! Answer the door! I'm naked!" A pink-haired young woman called to her husband from the tub, pitching her voice so that he would hear.

"I can see that," the Hokage replied, leaning up against the doorframe. "And I'm almost tempted to let whoever's there think that we aren't home, if you understand my meaning." With every word, he moved a bit further into the room, until he was crouched next to the tub, his crystal blue eyes twinkling.

In truth, Sakura had not expected him to be so close by in the first place, figuring that he was in his study with Gaara, who had come earlier to discuss a few matters concerning Onyx, the spy network that linked the Sand and the Leaf. Looking at him, she deduced that her husband had left the Sand-nin to amuse himself for a spell while he went in search of her for obvious reasons.

Figures that Naruto would want to do this while we have company, she thought, feeling rather giggly all of a sudden. I should be responsible right now, though, shouldn't I? One of us has to be, and he isn't in the frame of mind to think rationally about anyth—

Wet or no, in an instant, he had her body held fast against his, callused hands moving slowly, steadily across her skin while he ran his tongue over her lips, a tactic he had perfected over the years. As a youngster, observation had not been one of his strongest qualities, but he learned quickly that the art of seduction required more than a fair share of it. This particular move, for example, he discovered drove Sakura completely wild when he first tried it on their honeymoon, and since then he managed to get it down to a science.

I'm horrible, he thought smugly when he felt fingers tangle in his hair as Sakura threw herself at him, and would have dragged him into the tub with her had he not been prepared for such a reaction and braced himself. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you want me," he murmured as his wife's attention shifted to all of the clothing he wore, yanking at it almost savagely.

She paused in her work to give him a look that could have shattered glass. "You're a clever bastard, I hope you know. Shut up and help."

Naruto gaped at her for a second or two, before he recovered enough to laugh out loud. "Trust me, I know. And you love me for it, babe, don't deny."

The corners of her lips quirked. "Did I, fox?" She arched one of her delicate brows. "Now are you going to help, or do I have to start ripping? I'd hate to see such nice clothes go to waste."

His response was to shut up and help.

To say that Gaara of the Sand was irritated would be an understatement. Not only had Naruto decided, in the middle of their meeting, that he wanted to 'check' on his wife, but he left Gaara with his infant son, Alex. Though he would never admit it out loud, the Sand-nin was rather fond of the baby, so that part did not bother him as much. When it came down to it, he could even tolerate the abrupt pause in the discussion. After being Naruto's spymaster for so long, he had grown quite used to the Hokage's mannerisms, and taught himself to be patient. Onyx also had something to do with his change of temper, he was sure, as most of his subordinates only felt it necessary to be serious when on duty, and some not even then.

No, what irritated him was the fact that the doorbell had been ringing for at least a minute, and no one had made any move to see who waited on the other side. Usually the housekeeper would get it, but she was home sick. Clearly, she had not chosen to fall ill, and so remained blameless. Naruto and Sakura, however, were a different matter entirely. It was their house, and their door which required answering. Being a guest himself, it seemed rather ridiculous that he should have to do it, though at this rate, he really had no other choice. Whatever they were doing—and he had a fairly good idea as to what—he was almost positive that they would be at it for a while.

Like a couple of teenagers, Gaara thought, a cross between annoyance and amusement on his face. Hitching Alex up in one arm, he said to the baby as he strolled leisurely down the hall, "Your parents are menaces."

The little boy was too young to understand the irony of his adopted uncle's statement, but he giggled in the nature of babies, his little pink hand reaching out and patting Gaara on the cheek. The Sand-nin had not been expecting such a show of affection, and was not sure how to react to it. The old Gaara would have calmly dismembered any being that dared touch him, but the part of him that had once been a psychopathic killer had lost its edge over time. Granted, he could still commit murder without hesitation, and did so when his profession required it, though now, he had a bit more control over the bloodlust, having managed to seal Shukaku away for good.

For moments such as these, he wished that there was some sort of handbook that he could refer to, particularly one that specialized in dealing with sudden flares of emotion pertaining to certain children over whom he was responsible. How was he to know that what he felt was one of the most natural of human instincts, when he had been less than human most of his life? Determined not to panic, he settled for awkwardly ruffling the boy's hair, and then focused on the task at hand.

I'm acting like an idiot. He's a baby. Good lord. The spymaster of Onyx, afraid of a kid who isn't even a year old…

"Yo! You old pervert! Open up! We're freezing!" Loki shouted, giving up on the doorbell and pounding on the door instead when the former proved ineffective. "I know you're in there! I can sense the chakra, damn it!"

I guess I never taught him tact, Kakashi thought, giving his son a light cuff on the back of his head. "Watch your mouth," he said absently, and tried peering through the window for any sign of either of his former students, though when he caught a glimpse of red, his eyebrows shot sky high. Gaara?

Incensed, Loki rubbed at his head, calling his father all manner of unpleasant names under his breath, which earned him another cuff for his efforts, this time from his sister. "What'd you do that for?" He exclaimed, glaring.

The little girl stuck her tongue out at him.

Before an all-out brawl could ensue, the door finally opened.

Taking one look at the group on the porch, the Sand-nin snorted. "I should have guessed it was you," he intoned, his eyes settling on Loki in particular. "Always have to cause a ruckus wherever you go, it would seem."

Lifting his head, the boy met the gaze that once terrified all who crossed it with confidence. "And what's it to y—"Abruptly, he cut himself off when he noticed that Gaara was not alone. "Are you…the babysitter?" He chortled, unable to hold back. "Mr. Sandman, the huggable, lovable—"

A hand clapped over his mouth, muffling any words he might have said. Perhaps the man who stood before them had changed during years past, but that did not mean that Kakashi was about to take any chances. Gaara's right eye had been twitching a moment ago—which was never a good sign—and he was positive that Loki's mockery had done nothing to aid the situation.

Naturally, Rin decided to try and lighten matters by shifting the attention to someone else. Despite the fact that she was only five, her shrewdness could have belonged to one much older. "Well there he is!" She exclaimed, holding out her arms for the baby, whom Gaara relinquished gratefully.

"Come on in," he said, and stepped aside for the others to enter.

"Since when did this job fall to you?" Kakashi asked once he had removed his jacket. "And where is that rascal, anyway?"

"Do you really need to ask?"

Understanding dawned. "No, I suppose not," the Jounin replied with a wolfish grin. "That guy…he never ceases to amaze me."

"That's putting it very lightly."

"I try to be kind whenever possible."

"You're full of hot air, Hatake."

"Better than being full of sand."


Without missing a beat, the Sand-nin drawled, "You know, in some countries, children are considered a delicacy." A flick of the wrist produced a custom-crafted dagger, which he twirled lazily around his finger. "I wonder why that is?"

Taking one look at the curiously pointed knife, Loki prudently decided that he would be much better off keeping any more comments unspoken. Choose your battles, his father once told him—however long ago that was…he forgot—and this was definitely one that he could not win. Admitting defeat was not something that he was very good at, but he could make an exception this once. "Whatever," he muttered offhandedly, and, just as a precaution, quickened his pace until he had caught up to his sister.

"Brilliant," Kakashi chortled, clapping his companion on the shoulder. "He didn't even offer any resistance! And that is a rare thing, let me tell ya."

"For some reason, I'm not surprised." The dagger returned to its sheath. "Well, I'm positively ravenous, aren't you?" Gaara gave the silvery-haired man a sly grin. "Since our hosts are…occupied, I believe we should take advantage of that and rummage."

"Rummage, eh? Fancy term for stealing, isn't it?"

"If you wish to think of it that way."

Typical Gaara…

"Fine, fine, let's go. I am hungry, after all."

Sakura was relaxed, more so than she had been in quite a long time. Onyx had been running her ragged the past few weeks, assignments pouring in faster than anyone could keep up with. As she was the leader of the Special Interrogation Unit, and a Healer to boot, her talents were in high demand. Affection for her brass knuckles earned her the nickname Spike among her fellow spies, and with that name came a reputation of cool ferocity in the battlefield. Rarely did she lose her temper to the point of insanity, and her treatments of the injured were executed without flaw, earning her the respect, and the jobs, that she deserved.

It was rather nice to have finally found her place in the world, though, in all honesty, a girl needs to have a break every now and then!

"You are the most wonderful man alive," she murmured, voice sated, and leaned back against her husband's firm chest. The bathwater had since grown cold, but neither noticed, nor cared.

"And to think that before this little escapade, I was a bastard," Naruto drawled, wrapping his arms around the pink-haired woman whom he loved more than life itself. He buried his nose in those tresses, a scent that hinted lightly of strawberries filling his nostrils. "You change your tune pretty quickly, Spike."

While it was rather difficult to slap in her current position, Sakura managed it somehow. "I do not! I—" She laughed suddenly when he winced. "Oh, you baby. I didn't get you that hard."

"Wanna bet?" A nice, red welt was already beginning to form on his arm. "Look at that!" He tried to pretend that he was angry, though pride in her ability soon won out, and the mask cracked. "Geesh, Woman! Some days, I swear you're stronger than me."

"Only some?" Sakura turned to him and blinked, a very child-like expression on her face. "But I thought it was obvious who wears the pants in this relationship."

The muscles of his jaw worked, though sound production was limited. If he could have spoken, he would have defended himself using the tiny fact that it was he who had just spent the past half-hour making love to her—in a bathtub, no less—and she seemed to enjoy being the submissive one quite a bit then!

She watched him struggle with his emotions for as long as she could handle before submitting to the helpless giggles that had been waiting—very impatiently—to be let free. "Oh Naruto," she gasped, tears streaming from her eyes, "I love you."

He blinked once, then twice, attempting to appear stern, but he knew that he was failing. Whenever his wife said the "L" word, he melted like butter, every single time without fail, and she was well aware of it. "That was insanely unfair, you realize."

"Of course." Her cherry-red lips pressed against his in a lingering kiss that sent shivers dancing up and down his spine. When she pulled away, he pouted, looking very much like a little boy who was denied candy. "You are so adorable!" Sakura squealed, pinching his cheeks. "Alex is going to be devastating when he's older, just like his daddy."

Whether it was because of the pinching, or embarrassment, Naruto's face flushed crimson. "I'm nothing special, babe," he mumbled, wishing that he could vanish. At the mention of their son, however, he remembered what he was supposed to be doing. "Speaking of which, I think I've been up here a bit too long. I should go down and make sure that Gaara hasn't spontaneously combusted."

"You left him with the baby." It was a statement, not a question.

"Well…" he faltered under her steely gaze. Uh-oh…I might be in trouble... "Yes."

Calmly, Sakura stood up, stepped out of the tub, and slung her robe over her shoulders.

Immediately, he sensed danger. Forget trouble! I'm going to die!

"You left our child with Gaara."

Surprisingly, her voice was even. Perhaps he was in the clear?

"I really didn't think I'd be gone this long, th—" Another icy glare. "Y—yes."

What she did next completely baffled him.

She laughed.

"Oh, that poor thing! He probably doesn't even know what to do with himself!" When her husband continued to stare at her, she raised an eyebrow. "Don't just sit there. All of this is your fault, fox. Hurry up!" Flouncing out of the bathroom before he could get a word in, Sakura went to their bedroom to dress quickly, and tie her hair up in a loose knot. It was still wet, but that didn't matter. Satisfied with her appearance, she went back into the hall, nearly colliding with a fully-clad Naruto.

"Your livelihood comes from scolding me," he said as they took the stairs together. "I'm almost sure of it."

The smile she gave him was radiant. "Someone has to keep you in line, love. I happened to be the one who volunteered." Even though I don't always do a very good job of it…she thought wickedly.

"Lucky me," he replied dryly, grinning and kissing her forehead. "But I'm glad you did."

"So am I."

She did not need to say more.

"I'd make a good spy. I think you should hire me, Sandman."

After pilfering through the goods in the pantries, Gaara, Kakashi, Loki, and Rin, who still held Alex, all gathered in the family room to talk until their hosts decided to grace them with their presence. Naturally, the subject turned to Onyx, as it usually did whenever Loki and the Spymaster were in the same vicinity.

"That's what you always say," Rin chimed from her place on the floor, where she worked on building a castle out of blocks with the baby in her lap. "But you like attention. A spy's not supposed to be flashy, silly."

Loki waved his hand in dismissal. "I'm not called the Trickster for nothin' ya know. Besides," he added huffily, "at least I don't summon swords out of my hands."

Rin cocked her head to the side, puzzled. "Where else should they come from?"

A series of strangled squawks issued from her brother's mouth. Finally, he managed, "I don't know! The ground, maybe?"

The little girl's nose wrinkled. "That'd be too slow."

As he listened to the children argue back and forth, Gaara found that he was quite amused by their banter. They both had it, the tiny spark that he often searched for in a candidate, and he sensed that, as a team, these two would be unstoppable. From the way that they responded to each other, he knew that they were close in a way that only siblings could be, that their levels of understanding one another stretched far beyond the norm. In spite of himself, he smiled, a genuine smile that reached his eyes.

Kakashi noticed.

"What's got you so happy?"

Startled, the smile vanished as quickly as it appeared. "Nothing," the younger man replied, leaning back in his chair. "You're a lucky man, Hatake," he said suddenly after a few moments had passed. "Very lucky."

The silvery-haired Jounin followed Gaara's gaze. Loki and Rin had obviously come to some sort of agreement, because the former now entertained his sister and the baby by reading from a storybook that had been left on a nearby table. His expression softened as his daughter laughed, as his son's voice changed in pitch and timbre while he breathed life into the characters he played…How had he ever been able to exist without them?

"I want to strangle them sometimes," he grinned, remembering his misadventure that morning, "but they've got good heads on their shoulders." He paused, reflecting on the few years that had passed since their births, then continued quietly, "At least I know that I did something right."

Naruto and Sakura leaned against the doorframe, having heard the conversation from beginning to end. Sakura's fingers tightened around her husband's, and her over bright eyes met with his. No matter how long it had been since that day, the pain of loss, though dulled, had not disappeared.

"Da!" Alex's tiny voice rang out as he caught sight of his parents. "Ma!"

The moment of melancholy passed.

"Well, look who the Sandman dragged in," Naruto said cheerfully, ignoring the glare he received from his spymaster. "What brings you here on this fine day, old man? And with the rug-rats, too!" He grinned shrewdly. "I smell trouble."

Sakura, now sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Rin, cocked one of her brows. "Did you get kicked out again?"

"It would've been fine if Dad wasn't such a klutz," Loki claimed, arms crossed over his chest. "It's his fault Mom came down."

Laughter was stifled on all fronts.

Rin's attention, held briefly by her father and brother's heated discussion on the matter, soon began to wander. There was another book lying on the table, one with a very pretty violet cover. Naturally, she could not resist the urge to pick it up and flip through the pages. There were no pictures, disappointingly, only writing in a very delicate hand. Eventually, she decided that it had to be a diary of some sort, which quickly improved her opinion of the book. Diaries were supposed to contain all sorts of secrets, and Rin loved those. As she was about to turn a page, a few dried, blood red petals spilled out, which she caught on her palm. Eh? She brought the petals to her nose. They smell good! How long have they been there? Her eyes lit up. Maybe these are a secret!

The adults and Loki were still talking while Rin pondered over her new find. Her vivid imagination conceived of many possibilities as to how the petals got there, each one more fantastic than the next. As fun as it was to imagine, however, she soon became frustrated. I'll bet Sakura knows. This has to be her diary. It's too girly for Naruto. The thought of the Hokage writing in a purple diary every night made her giggle so much that the conversation, which had died down some, stopped completely, and five sets of eyes fixed on her.

Well…I guess I should ask now then… "What're these?" She asked, holding out her hand to Sakura, who had a very strange expression on her face. It was almost as if—Rin struggled to define it—all of the pink-haired woman's emotions tried to get out at once, though they ended up crashing into each other.

"My rose," she answered, almost in awe.


"It's a special kind of flower." Sakura explained, reaching for the petals. "They're hard to find around here, so I saved this one." She glanced mischievously at her husband, and then back at Rin. "Our Hokage over there gave it to me for Valentine's Day."

Loki made a gagging noise. "Can I barf now?"

He was ignored.

"I remember that," Kakashi said, the fingers of one hand tapping against the arm of his chair. "That was the year Naruto nearly got dumped, wasn't it?"

Instantly, Loki perked up. "Oh? The old pervert almost lost his girl, did he? I gotta hear this!"

Gaara snorted. "He got completely trashed that night, too, and then went off to grovel. I don't know why you bothered putting up with it, Spike."

Meanwhile, the man in discussion had stood, lifted his son out of Rin's lap, and cradled him against his chest. "These people are so cruel, Alex," he said in a dramatic voice. "At least you love me, don't you?" The baby laughed, and then yanked on a piece of Naruto's blonde hair.

It did not tickle.

"Traitor," he muttered, and then sighed theatrically. "I suppose I'll just have to explain everything then, so that the children are not tainted by lies."

"Tell!" Loki and Rin shouted simultaneously.

Satisfied, Naruto went back to his chair, moved it to the center of the room so as to have everyone's undivided attention, and began.

"All right, all right, quiet down, you animals." The room fell somewhat silent as a red-haired man entered the meeting hall of Onyx headquarters, carrying a standard scale rucksack under one arm. Once he had reached the desk in the middle of the room, he dropped the sack rather unceremoniously on top of it, and then used an edge of the desk for support to lean against.

Naruto, who, out of curiosity, had decided to sit in on this meeting, occupied his customary seat in the front row. I pity the poor sap that's going to be made an example of today…

Next to him, Sakura already had her eye on one member in particular, a large, gruff man with a sense of humor that would make even the most vulgar of people pale. "I wonder what it was this time," she whispered offhandedly, a ghost of a smile barely dimpling her cheeks.

"I guess we'll find out, eh?"

"It's funny, but I could have sworn I said to be quiet," Gaara mused amidst laughter. Naruto blushed, and shut his mouth. Hokage or no, he was on the spymaster's turf now. "Anyway, I think it's about time we had a discussion about what should and should not be found in one of these," the Sand-nin motioned to the pack, smiled, and upended it over the table. A variety of items tumbled out, including bandaging, food rations, kunai and shuriken, a book, and…

"Can anyone tell me what this is?" The spymaster held out his hand, the questionable object dangling from two pinched fingers.

The laughter this time around was deafening.

"Someone got lucky!"

"Does she have friends?"

"Give me a piece of that!"

Sakura rolled her eyes. "Men are such pigs."

Her blonde companion barely registered the comment. His mind was far more agreeably engaged in imagining what the woman sitting so close to him would look like wearing nothing but—

"It's a bra," a female voice rang out among the din.

"Very good," the spymaster nodded. "And can anyone tell me what a bra is used for?"

"Frustrating a fellow when he tries to get it off," Someone joked.


"Pigs," Sakura repeated, though she could not keep the amusement from her voice.

Again, Naruto did not hear her. Bras are pesky…

"True, but not the answer I'm looking for," Gaara replied dryly.

"Supporting breasts," Sakura supplied, examining her nails.

"And there it is. Supporting breasts. This is not some…new fangled…five thousand caliber sling-shot, mmkay? You know, just so we're all on the same page, here," he looked around as if examining a group of small children, and smirked. "Now, I'm not going to name any names—" the Sand-nin interrupted himself with a very false cough that sounded remarkably like Bear, "but we do have a bit of a reputation to maintain. What you do on your own time is none of my business, and frankly, I don't even want to know. This is going a bit too far, though, guys. I mean, if you're going to cross-dress, at least be smart about it and leave the evidence someplace where I can't find it. You wouldn't believe half the crap that gets pinned on me because of you jackasses."

The hall echoed with the spies' howling.

Bear, the man that Sakura had pegged earlier, stood up and took a bow, receiving a round of raucous cheers. "And how do you know so much about lingerie, Red?" His booming voice carried over the crowd.

"Wouldn't you like to know," Gaara retorted, lazily twirling the bra around his finger. "I'd think the lady you stole this from probably misses it," he added as an afterthought.

"I doubt that. She had plenty."

The twirling stopped when Gaara realized what he was doing. "You're a prick," he pointed out with a grin, and then flung the garment over his shoulder. "Anyway, back to business. I need a team to take care of those renegades near the border…"

An hour or so later, the meeting adjourned.

"That was interesting," Naruto said as he clapped his spymaster on the back. "You've actually managed to develop a sense of humor! I'm in shock."

"Try working with these guys all the time. It's rather hard not to."

Sakura nodded her agreement. "Well, boys, I'm going to head home. Since Gaara doesn't believe it's necessary for me to have a break, I need to get ready for my mission."

"Wait! I'll walk with you, just gimme a sec." The Hokage said as his hand brushed over hers. "Please?" He mouthed, and after a few moments, she shrugged.

"Don't take too long."

"I won't."

As she headed off to wait outside, he chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip, trying not to stare at her behind, which was accentuated by the form-fitting dress she wore that day.

Their relationship was hard to define using only one word. It did not fit into a neat little package like the fairytale couples in romance novels. Hell, he wasn't even sure if they were a couple at all. Yes, she enjoyed kissing him, and admitted it often; yes, she claimed that his bed was far more comfortable than hers, especially when he was in it; yes, she came up with a new excuse every time she knocked on his door, and it had become a daily habit…

It was unspoken knowledge that neither was about to go out and search for someone else, but making that fact spoken was the difficult part.

From the time he was twelve years old, the bumbling, hotheaded Genin with a dream to become acknowledged, to earn the highest rank a ninja of Konoha could ever hope to hold, he had loved Haruno Sakura. While his personality had undergone a few adjustments since then, his heart never changed. She was the only woman he wanted, the only woman who could set his soul on fire…the only woman who didn't hesitate to call him an asshole when he acted like one…

In other words, perfect.

Now, if he could only figure her out, his life would be much less troublesome…

Did she love him? Did she hate him? Did he frustrate her like she frustrated him? Did she sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and want to scream because she didn't understand what was happening? Well…perhaps not that one, since she slept in his bed every night, and he would surely know if she woke up screaming…

But all of that was beside the point. The point was, he had grown tired of waiting, grown tired of the fear that she would suddenly decide that he wasn't worth it because his communication skills were in need of repair…he was just so damn tired.

Why he decided to tell all of this—in under a minute—to Gaara of all people, was a testament to his mental and physical exhaustion. Talking to the spymaster was similar to taking a pound of salt and pouring it into an open wound.

"What am I supposed to do? I know that Valentine's Day is coming up and all, and…I want it to mean something. I don't want to lose her before I find her, Gaara."

"I've always thought that Valentine's Day was a stupid holiday," the Sand-nin said while crossing his arms. "It's an excuse for singles to mope and eat gallons of ice cream while the couples gloat and parade their status around like prize dogs."

An accurate description, yes, but not exactly what the Hokage needed at the moment.

"Look, I'm asking you as a friend, man to man, to give me some advice. Please."

Gaara appeared to turn his thoughts over in his mind for a moment or two. "Tell her."

Naruto waited patiently for the rest, but when nothing else came, he was filled with the overwhelming urge to kick something.

"Gee, thanks, Gaara. I really appreciate it." He growled through clenched teeth.

"I never claimed to be a motivational speaker."


"I'll figure it out on my own, I guess."

A hand rested on his shoulder. "You always do. Since when have you needed help, anyway?"

He could not come up with an answer to that. "Yeah…well, I'd better be going. She's probably getting antsy."

"Good call. And, for what it's worth…good luck."

"I'll need it," Naruto replied sullenly, and took his leave.

Watching his retreating form, Gaara hummed a funeral march. "Brave man," he said under his breath.

The Hokage pretended not to hear him.

"What took you?" Sakura inquired as soon as he stepped foot outside headquarters. Linking her arm through his, she proceeded to drag him along beside her, and he obediently allowed her to.

"Oh, just had to clear some stuff up, that's all."

Their steady pace came to a screeching halt. "Some stuff?"

"Hey, hey, don't look at me like that!" Shit…she's suspicious…I can never keep anything from her…

"And does this stuff have something to do with me?"

Double shit…

"Of course not! What gave you that idea?"

Sakura's brow wrinkled, though she began walking again. "You stayed behind to talk to Gaara instead of me. If you were in my shoes, wouldn't that strike you as odd?"

…I have to work on being more subtle…

"When you put it like that, I suppose it would."

A companionable silence, though a trifle strained, passed between them as their minds wandered. When they walked by Sakura's apartment without her tugging on him to stop, he blinked. "Wasn't I bringing you home?"

The slight flush that appeared on her cheeks was barely noticeable, and she did her best to conceal it. "Most of my things are at your place."

Another excuse.

But he didn't mind.

That night, as she lay in his arms, he stared out the window at the moon. There was something…peaceful about it, knowing that no matter how often the seasons changed, the moon would remain the same. It always gave off that eerie light, a light that drove away some of the darkness, so that it was never truly dark.

The light never wavered.

"Sakura-chan," he murmured into her ear, lips so close that she felt them brush against her skin.

"Mm?" In the world between sleep and consciousness, her responses were not as sharp as they normally would have been.

Tell her. Tell her now. Tell her the truth.

"I…" The words were there, at the tip of his tongue, but… "I want to take you out tomorrow. For dinner." He couldn't do it.

Her eyes, two large, emerald orbs, fluttered open.

His heart caught in his throat. How was it possible for a woman to be so inhumanly beautiful?

"I have to write a report for Gaara about the mission," she said softly. "And I'm on duty at the hospital." When his face fell, the corners of her mouth turned up, and she snuggled closer. "I'll make time. Tomorrow night?"

"Only if you can."

Those eyes that he could easily drown in locked with his. "I can."

The way she said it was a reassurance for herself and for him, and they both knew it.


I'll tell her then. I have to.

The moon shined.

"Meet me at the restaurant around seven, okay?" Naruto grinned and kissed Sakura on the lips. "And don't work too hard. I'd rather you be coherent tonight than in dreamland."

In spite of herself, she laughed. "I'm only teaching a few beginners the basics today, so I should be fine, promise." Patting him fondly on the cheek, she allowed him to open the door for her. About to leave, she turned suddenly, wrapped her arms around his waist, and held him tight. Surprised—and more than a little pleased—Naruto clung back, one hand stroking her hair. "You're a sweetheart," she said into his chest, voice muffled.

Was she crying?

"Sakura-chan?" Gently, he lifted her chin with a fingertip. Tears sparkled in her eyes, though in her eyes they remained. "What's wrong? Are you sick?"

"No," she whispered, and hid her face against him again. "I don't know…I just…I don't want to go…"

She doesn't…she wants to stay. She wants to stay…with me.

As much as he wanted to sweep her up in his arms and whisk her back inside, tell her that she could stay with him for as long as she wished…


he didn't.

Instead, he leaned down and kissed her nose. "Chin up, Spike. I know that you'll pine without me, but we'll just have to bear it the best we can."

"And Jiraya's a saint," Sakura snapped, herself once more.

He smirked, looking positively impish. "You're going to be late."

A quick glance at her watch confirmed it. "Shit!" Spinning on her heel, she bolted out the door. "See you at seven!"

The Hokage watched until her back was a tiny dark spec in the distance. A part of him was disappointed that she didn't turn around and decide to skip work that day, but only a small, deviant part. He had his own work to do, work that could not be completed in Sakura's presence.

In his study, Naruto sank into one of the armchairs he'd inherited from Tsunade—the former Hokage insisted that he'd appreciate them once his real duties began, and she had been correct—eyeing the grandfather clock that stood tall and proud as a sentinel in the corner. It was eleven now, which gave him eight hours. That should be enough.

But then again, one never knew with Naruto.

I'm psyching myself out. I need to stop that.

If he'd survived a head-on attack from Orochimaru and Akatsuki combined, such a trivial little thing as finding a Valentine's Day gift couldn't be that hard, could it?

The area that the villagers had dubbed 'Downtown Konoha' was thriving. Naturally, it seemed as if someone had loaded the largest basket in existence full of people—mostly harried males with the same intentions as he—and dumped them right in his path. To make matters worse, since his shock of blonde hair was painfully recognizable, all five hundred and two of those people felt the need to seek him out and chatter about anything and everything.

On any other day, at any other time, mingling was enjoyable.

Not today, not now.

Eventually—three hours after being dragged about hither and yon with the tide—he managed to duck into the first store he saw with its doors wide open, and no one followed. This puzzled him a bit at first, but when he realized the nature of this quaint little shop, he immediately understood.

As he was Hokage, he did not have to worry about his reputation being on the line. If one cared enough to research Rokudaime's predecessors, one would discover an ongoing trend among Konoha's Hokages that excused the current holder of the title for browsing in this place. An average villager, on the other hand, did not have the luxury of diplomatic immunity, and therefore must deal with the consequences that would inevitably follow.

Far too risky for the less daring, but for some, however…

"I rather like this one," a young ninja whose voice Naruto recognized said, pointing to one item in particular.

"Word of the wise, those shed," another familiar voice warned. "And it gets annoying fast, I promise you. Now the one next to it is high quality goods."

Attention piqued, Naruto followed the voices until he reached their owners. Oh, you have got to be kidding me! That Kakashi was in this store came as no surprise whatsoever. But his companion, on the other hand…

"Lee?" The blonde choked, trying not to snicker. "Are you…buying lingerie?" The laughter would no longer tolerate being held back.

Lee's face changed color, going from pale to beet red in under a second. He mumbled something unintelligible, wishing that it were possible to sink through the floor and disappear.

"Go easy on him. This is his first time." Kakashi informed his former student with a smirk.

Once he'd calmed down some, Naruto allowed himself to look around, finding that his state of mind slowly began to corrupt. Sakura would look incredibly hot in that, he thought when his eyes fell upon a tiny red number complete with lace and frills and an almost non-existent neckline. Such a piece was obviously meant to enhance more than it would conceal…

The pressure on his shoulder told him that he'd been staring for a bit too long.

"Sakura'll kill you if you give her that." Kakashi said bluntly.

Naruto went on the defensive. "I wasn't even thinking of getting it!"

"Yes you were."

Strike one.

"Well…how do you know? She might appreciate that I want to—" He cut himself off.

Strike two.

"To have her wear it for, oh, point five seconds before you rip it off her?" Lee supplied, finally having recovered somewhat.

Naruto opened his mouth.

And closed it.

Strike three.

Head hung in defeat, he sighed, looking up sharply a second later.

"Wait a minute! What about you two? You're both walking contradictions!"

"We are married men, my dear, misguided friend. The dating game has been played and conquered." Kakashi said with a sly grin. "We've already done the whole 'testing the waters' deal."

Naruto still did not see how that made them qualified to present their significant others with lingerie while he wasn't, though he chose not to press the matter any further.

"I've been through practically every store up here, and so far, I haven't seen anything that strikes me as…Sakura." Exasperated, he plopped on the floor, not caring where he was. "I'm taking her out to dinner tonight, and I wanted to make it special, you know? Argh!" He raked his hands through his already disheveled hair. "Candy is too…stereotypical, she doesn't like to wear jewelry because she's afraid it'll get ruined on the job…she never has time to read…I highly doubt she'd appreciate kitchenware…How is a guy supposed to please the girl that he's not sure is his when he has no idea what'll make her realize she wants to spend the rest of her life with him?"

That last sentence flew out of his mouth in a jumble, so that he barely had a chance to think about what he was saying.

He blinked once, and then groaned.

Lee crouched down, resting his hands on his knees, and flashed Naruto a knowing smile. "Flowers. Try giving her flowers."


By Kami, Thick Brows was a genius.

"Lee, you are my hero." For today…

"One does one's best," he replied piously.

As Naruto left with a bit of a bounce to his step, Kakashi and Lee exchanged glances.

"Do you think he'll be all right?" The younger inquired.

Kakashi seemed to ponder for a moment or two. "Let's hope so, or we'll have an angst-ridden Hokage running our village. I'll leave it to your imagination all the horrors that he could inflict on us then."

Lee gulped. For all our sakes, I hope you knock her socks off, Naruto.

Out of all the flowers in the Yamanaka Flower Shop—and there were plenty—not a single one fit the mental description of what he was looking for. After prowling through the shop at least seven times, Naruto believed that every last ounce of his sanity had drained out through his ears. All that was left was for him to start ripping hair out of his head one strand at a time, and he probably would have gone that far had Ino not chosen that moment to wander over.

She'd been observing the Hokage since the tiny bell strung up over the doorway gave off the customary tinkle that alerted whoever was in charge that business had arrived. At first, Sakura's best friend had been content to allow Naruto the leisure of strolling through the shop in peace, since she knew first-hand how irritating it was to be tailed by an unwanted salesperson, but by the seventh go-around, she decided that he might benefit from the assistance.

"Naruto," she said, poking the middle of his back.

Completely startled—where on earth had she come from?—he jumped about a mile high. "AUGH!"

"A bit wound up, are we?"

Closing his eyes, he counted to ten. "Ino, for the love of all things holy, don't ever do that again, okay?"

One of her brows snapped up in amusement. "I'll try to remember not to, but I can't guarantee anything." When the danger signs appeared, she changed the subject. "You've seen my store. New flowers don't magically sprout from thin air every time you walk by." Before he could respond, Ino grabbed his hand and towed him to the front desk, which she took a seat behind, motioning for him to do the same.

He did.

"Now, describe to me what you want, and I'll see what I can do." Ino ordered in a businesslike manner, leaving no room for idle talk.

Unnerved, Naruto attempted to explain what he needed, though the more he spoke, the more obscure his phrases became, until he trailed off completely, having confused even himself.

Ino studied him for a moment, and, for a reason unknown, he felt as if her calculating eyes, the color of a bright summer sky, could see straight through him.

A most uncomfortable feeling, indeed.

"Ah, one of those, I see," she said finally, steepling her fingers.

Naruto let out his breath in a whoosh. "Did you really have to draw that out?"

When she smiled, he swore that she could have passed for a demon. Ignoring his question, she chose to forge on ahead. "Let's switch tactics, shall we? Tell me why you love Sakura."



"That's why you're here, isn't it?"


"The girl's been my best friend for years, so I know her inside and out. I can probably make a good guess right now what she'd like, but then the gift would obviously be from me." She paused to chuckle at his baffled expression. "The way you see Sakura is completely different from the way that I do. If you want this to be personal, then you have to let me see her through your eyes."

Oh. Well.

The way that I see her…

Did Ino have the faintest clue of how difficult a task she'd set him?

"Sakura…" Not just a name, not just identification. A whirlwind. "We've never had your stereotypical, crashing waves, singing birds, sugar coated love fest type of relationship, I can tell you that straight up." He grinned as Ino snorted. "It's more like…turbulence, and euphoria, and frustration all jumbled together. When we're high, the stars are a breath away, but when we're low, the hell fire's scalding." He chewed thoughtfully on his lip. "Why do I love her? I love her because she's a fighter. When everyone else told her to quit, she had the balls to go to the Hokage, of all people, and demand to be taught. I love her because she'll always tell me when I've pissed her off, or acted like an idiot, or overstepped my bounds…maybe I rely on that too much…or maybe I anticipate it, though I don't consciously change a thing. I love her because she looks better in my shirts than I ever will.

"I love that when I walk into my house, I'm assaulted by traces of her: a towel on the bathroom floor, a half empty glass of wine on the kitchen table, her scent…I love how she shows up on my doorstep and gives me that look I know so well, the one that says 'move, you're blocking my way.' I love when she crawls into my bed and burrows under my arm…she's clingy when she sleeps, so more often than not, she uses no other pillow but me. I love the dimples in her cheeks when she smiles; I love how she twirls her hair around her finger when she's concentrating; I love her laugh.

"There are days when all memories of the past, all the ghosts who live in my dreams, all the echoes of things said and unsaid threaten to tear me wide open…and then I remember her, I remember why I wanted to become who I am. Oh, sure, I know that I prattled on about being acknowledged by every single person who only saw Kyuubi and not me when I was a kid, and I don't deny that I truly believed that was the reason for striving. Now I understand what was 'underneath the underneath.' More than anything else in the world, I wanted Sakura to acknowledge me, I wanted Sakura to speak of me with pride, I wanted Sakura to understand that no matter what the circumstance, she could rely on me to protect her, to lift her up when the ground crumbled away beneath her, to draw out all of her pain and make it my own…"

Pausing, brow wrinkled, he tapped his fingers against the mottled surface of the desk. "She's more than a woman. She's….fire…the fire that I would risk my skin to touch, even for just half a second. Some days, she rages like violent storm, and I'll be burned, but others…the flames are as gentle as a caress. I love that fire, whether it hurts me, or it soothes me, or it leaves me wanting…I need it like I need air to breathe. That's all there is to it, really. Despite how clichéd this may sound, without her, I'm nothing… a wanderer in an endless desert, searching for water that I'll never find." His voice became soft, almost a whisper. "Sakura…Sakura is my reason, my conscience, my friend, my…" The whisper gave way to silence.

"Lover," Ino finished, the expression on her porcelain face unreadable. Gently, she reached out her hand and placed it over his, giving it a light squeeze. "Roses."

Emotionally drained, Naruto stared at her uncomprehendingly. "What?"

"Roses. Red ones."

And then he remembered why he was there in the first place. "Roses?" Fleetingly, he recalled reading about that particular breed of flower some time ago. Women, apparently, found them quite appealing, which was a plus for his side, although he had an odd premonition that he was forgetting something important…


"Are you positive?"

"Of course I'm positive!" Ino snapped. "Do you realize how often I have to sit down with clueless blockheads like you and try to decipher their rambling? I'm a professional, thank you. I'd better be positive." She let out an irritated humph.

Well, that stung just a tad. Perhaps Naruto was not the most eloquent of speakers, but he certainly did not think that his efforts should be classified as 'rambling.' He'd just laid out his emotions raw, here, and all she could say was that he rambled?

"Excuse me," he grumbled with a surly tone, nose in the air. "I'll take the damn roses, then, smart ass."

Summer sky eyes rolled. "You really are dense, aren't you?"

Temper frayed, he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from lunging over the desk and wringing Ino's pretty little neck. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he replied evenly.

"I figured that."



"Roses aren't native around here. We import them every now and then, but they cost a fortune, and they don't keep for very long unless they're stored properly."

At first, the implication of that statement evaded him. "You…don't have any." He stated blankly, a dry voice in his mind insisting that it would be a good idea for him to abandon his chair for the comforts of the hardwood floor, and he was beginning to look upon such an action with favor.

"Sorry, sugar. The well's dry."

Naruto's jaw hung slack. That was it…roses don't grow in Konoha…

Forget calm.

"You should have said that from the beginning!" He flailed his arms. "I have to get her roses now! Nothing else is good enough!" Bracing his hands on the desk, he leaned forward until his nose touched Ino's, a mad gleam in his eyes. "There have to be roses somewhere." Closer. "Right?" Closer still. "Right?"

"If you want to take a trip to Grass Country, then yes." Ino replied in voice as cool as ice.

"Grass Country? That's… two days away!" Seized with a sudden inspiration, the Hokage glanced about for something to break. Such as glass. Or perhaps even Ino's head…

"Why, I'm so pleased to see that you know your geography. Congratulations."

Yes, Ino's head would do.

"Harpy," he snarled not quite under his breath.

The blonde girl smiled and batted her eyes. "And so charming, too. Now, I'd suggest you get your Hokage ass out the door and start searching. You're time is running out rather fast."



Unleashing a string of colorful expletives, Naruto leapt to his feet and tore out of the shop without bothering to say goodbye. It was three o'clock. That only left four hours. Four hours in which to tear Konoha apart.

"Wherever the hell you buggers are, I'm gonna find you, so help me!"


Sakura whistled a lilting tune as she walked among her students, who were practicing incisions on the dummies she had created some time ago for this purpose. Infused with chakra, a dummy could restore itself up to fifty times, and, once cut open, provided an up-close visual of the chakra system, including the locations of all 361 tenketsu, or chakra holes. The dummies had proven so innovative that every medical training facility was now required to use them, and Sakura could not help but feel proud of herself, especially when her students told her how helpful they were.

"You seem cheerful today," a teen with her hair tied up in a scarf remarked as Sakura neared her. "That wouldn't have anything to do with our esteemed Hokage, would it?"

"Be careful there," Sakura advised as if she had not heard the comment. "Don't cut so close to the tenketsu."

"Eh?" The girl looked down. "Oh. How careless." Focusing on her dummy, the corners of her mouth turned up. She changed the subject, just like she does every time I ask. "You're blushing, by the way," she pointed out coyly.


How troublesome…

"And you don't have time to badger me, Kaya," the pink-haired woman sniffed, brushing past her to check on the others.

Kaya choked back laughter. "Of course not, sensei."

Eyebrow twitching, Sakura did not offer a reply for fear of drawing more attention to blood that had rushed to her cheeks. Patronizing, ungrateful floozy…she thought, her own lips curling into a smile.

It took too much effort trying to be angry when she knew that Naruto planned on spoiling her that night, anyway.


I wonder what he's doing right now…

He looked everywhere.

In every meadow, every wood, every single solitary place that a rose could think of to hide in.


And what had he found?

Weeds, leaves, flowers that he did not know the names of—many of them had been very pretty, mind, but not what he needed, which infuriated him—a few woodland animals, dung—discovered after he stepped in it—and, to top it all off, a bramble bush that he had the misfortune of falling into, earning him scratches in all shapes and sizes.

Needless to say, Naruto was on the opposite end of the happy camper spectrum.

"Why me?" He implored to the sky. "Why does this always happen to me? I'm not such a horrible person, am I? Yeah, I guess I've done a few stupid things in my lifetime, but so has everyone else!" He flopped on his back, miserable. There was a quarter of an hour remaining until seven, and if he wanted to be ready on time, he would have to leave now. That is, if he had any idea of where he was to begin with. Somehow, he'd managed to get lost, and was now sitting—lying, more like—at the base of a mountain that he'd never seen before. If that wasn't a sign that the Big Guy was irritated with him, he didn't know what was.

"I hate Valentine's Day," he declared as dark clouds rolled overhead, harbingers of the rain to come. "Worst holiday ever invented…"

Sighing, he was about to get up and try finding his way home when a hint of red caught his eye.

Cautiously, he turned his head.

It was as if the heavens had opened up, emitting a beam of light that shone upon one particular spot on the mountain, one tiny, glorious spot…

Naruto let out a whoop.

He had finally found a rose.

Sakura swilled the contents of the glass around, trying very hard not to cry. She had been waiting for almost an hour, telling herself that any minute he would walk through the door with that silly smile on his face and apologize over and over for being so late. But as the minutes ticked by, she realized that he would not be coming.

"Miss? Would you like some more wine?" The waiter inquired, his face sympathetic.

"No, thank you." She replied, not in the mood for sympathy. It was her own damn fault that she got her hopes up, and now she paid the price for her foolishness. "I'll take my check, please."

Her more rational side insisted that Naruto most likely had a reason for standing her up, but she was not in the mood for rationality, either. It was Valentine's Day, and instead of being with the man she loved, she was alone.

"Idiot," she muttered, a few traitorous tears escaping from her eyes, which she angrily swiped away. "Stupid, stupid idiot."

A few more heartbroken tears.

"Happy Valentine's Day," she whispered.

By the time Naruto arrived, looking much worse for wear, the coveted rose in his hands, Sakura was gone.

"She left about twenty minutes ago," the harried waiter whom Naruto had accosted informed him. "She appeared quite upset," he added disapprovingly as he took in the Hokage's appearance.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no," the blonde groaned, his stomach in knots. This was bad. Very bad.

Climbing up the mountain had proven much more difficult than he anticipated, to say the least. More obstacles had been shoved at him than he cared to remember, including a painful encounter with a bear, but he did come away with his prize in the end. He understood why roses were held in such high regard as he dug one out of the ground, taking care to make sure that the roots and the bud, a beautiful, deep red hue, remained intact. He was cultured enough in plant lore to understand that the flower would live much longer in water if it still had its roots as opposed to just a stem, and he was determined that this flower would live a long time.

He had not intended to be so late, had not intended to leave her in a fancy place such as this by herself, humiliated and alone.

Of all moments for him to fumble, this was the worst possible. So much hinged on this night…so much…

It had all gone wrong.

Instead of returning to Naruto's house, the place she unconsciously considered home, Sakura went to her apartment.

As soon as she walked through the door, it felt…wrong. Backward.


"Oh knock it off," she said out loud to the darkness, flicking on a light to banish it back to wherever it was darkness retreated to. "I lived here for years until I started staying with him, and this wasn't a problem then."

But you didn't know any better then, did you? A dry voice in her mind spoke. You thought that you'd be fine on your own, especially after his betrayal.

Even the voice of reason could not speak his name, the name of the boy who had been the survivor of his clan, the boy who had been consumed by his desire for revenge, the boy she believed she loved…

Uchiha Sasuke.

Feeling the strength leave her, Sakura sank trembling onto her couch, knees drawn up against the pain in her chest.

Silly girl, you were wrong, weren't you? That person never loved you, never loved anyone, and it tore you apart.

"Shut up," she whispered, trying to drown out the words. "I'm stronger than that, damn you! He—" No, she would not fear a name. "Sasuke is as good as dead. His soul is as far into Hell as one of the living can go. I pity him."

That may be true, but it still does not erase the fact that you allowed yourself to be made a fool of.

"Shut up!"

Sakura hated this, hated reliving her past, hated having to face that failure.

Failure? No, not failure. You were young, the voice became soothing. Easily influenced. You would not have gone to Tsunade if you did not want to change that.

"No," Sakura admitted. "I wouldn't have." There was a large, worn pillow near, and she picked it up, hugging it close. "But I was so selfish…"

The tears returned.

Most children are. You aren't a child anymore, you know. Those feelings you had for that person were a child's feelings. The feelings you have now, those belong to a woman. The real question is, though, are you going to face them, or are you going to pretend as if they don't exist?

"It's more complicated than that," Sakura squeezed her eyes shut, trying to make herself believe what she was saying when she knew, in her heart, that it was just the opposite.

There is nothing complicated about this situation, Haruno Sakura.


Naruto has always shown you kindness, has always gone out of his way to make sure that you were protected, that you were happy. He will continue to do so until he dies. He loves you. He has always loved you. Obviously that doesn't bother you, or else your apartment would be much more crowded than it is, since most of your things would be here instead of there.

It was true. All of it.

"I don't want to think about this now."

You'll have to eventually.

"Eventually isn't this moment."

The voice did not speak again.

Someone else did.


Outside the window.

"Sakura! Please, I'm sorry!"

Naruto. The first and the last person she wanted to talk to.

She considered not moving from the couch, and allowing him to stand out there without receiving any response, but she couldn't bring herself to be that cold, even if he had stood her up.

Going to the window, she flung it open. "Go away!"

Seeing her at the window, Naruto allowed himself a tiny bit of hope. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be so late! I was—"

"Look, whatever your explanation is, I don't want to hear it! Just go."


"Go!" Her voice cracked, and the window slammed shut.

Naruto stood there as the rain began to fall, numb.

He'd lost her.

Gaara had just drifted off into a nice, relaxing doze when his phone rang. Being a light sleeper, he was awake in an instant. How very typical.

"I shouldn't even bother," he muttered darkly as he flung out an arm and groped for the phone, knocking a few random papers and the channel switcher off the coffee table in the process. "Hello?" He winced at the croakiness of his voice, though was too tired to clear his throat.

On the other end, there was a slight pause. "Gaara?"

Oh dear…

"Naruto," he said the name almost as if it were the plague.

"I'm coming over."

Gaara immediately grew wary. The Hokage sounded more than a little frantic, which meant two things: one, his date with Sakura did not go well, and two, the responsibility of making sure that he did not try anything stupid had fallen to Gaara by default.

"Why did you call me? Why couldn't you have bugged someone else?"

"Because I knew for sure that you'd be home."


For the first time, the Spymaster was having second thoughts about his single status. He'd shied away from any sort of committed relationship until now because he wasn't sure how comfortable he was with the idea of sharing his personal space with someone else, particularly a woman. From his experience, women were nothing but trouble, demanding attention and expecting to receive it on a constant basis, their moods jumping from content to hysterical in the blink of an eye…just like his sister...and he couldn't handle another Temari. One was enough. Granted, his mental state was not exactly what one could classify as stable, and living with him would be difficult, he was sure, so why even bother trying?


If he did in fact have a significant other at this point in time, he would not have gotten stuck babysitting a distraught Hokage.

The entire situation was a double-bladed sword, hell in one hand and hell in the other.

I hate Valentine's Day.

"Oh fi—"

"I'm almost there."

The phone went dead.

Gaara stared at it, trying to decide whether or not to chuck it against the wall, but settled for a happy medium of tossing it back on the table instead. "I'll kill him one of these days if Sakura doesn't."

A minute or so later, Naruto appeared, eyes red rimmed and bloodshot, water-logged clothing hanging off of him in tatters.

"You look like shit," Gaara stated bluntly, a tiny flicker of sympathy crossing his face. Maybe Sakura really will kill him…

"I know. I feel like it, too."

The Sand-nin's brow wrinkled. That last remark was calm, too calm to be natural.

"Damn, Naruto, what the hell did you do?"

The Hokage laughed, the last bits of his sanity splintering into shards. "I traveled all over bloody Konoha for a rose, that's what I did. A rose! And when I did find one, it was out in the middle of nowhere at the top of a mountain, and I had to fight a bear for it. But I didn't care, because I was doing this for Sakura." While he explained, he paced a solitary line across the floor, back and forth, each repetition more intense than the last. At this rate, Gaara was not sure how much of the story was true, but he figured it would be best for Naruto to finish before he suggested anything…like sedatives… "And of course, of course, because it's me, even though my intentions were good, I screwed myself over. I told her to be at the restaurant at seven, and she was, but I wasn't." He raked his hands through his hair. "And now she hates me. She doesn't want anything to do with me, and I don't blame her. I don't want anything to do with me!" The pacing stopped. Naruto turned to his spymaster, a crazed gleam in his eyes. "I need to get drunk."

Novel solution to a problem, that. Still, a part of Gaara felt obligated to keep his friend—he supposed that Naruto could be considered as such now—from drowning his sorrows in alcohol, since that really wouldn't accomplish much besides a killer hangover later, but…

"All I've got is hard stuff," he warned, the closest thing to a conscience screaming murder at him, though he ignored it. Better Naruto be here and inebriated than out in public somewhere, right?

"I don't care. Hand it over."

After polishing off a bottle of vodka, Gaara decided that the Hokage was finished. "No more. You can barely see two inches in front of your face."

"But…but…that's mean!" Naruto protested, or tried to. His thought processes were rather jumbled at the moment, so forming coherent sentences with his tongue in the way was difficult.


"I don't like you."

"Good. The feeling's mutual."

Naruto's bright blue eyes shone with tears. "You…you hate me, too?"

Oh good lord…

Breathing deeply, the Sand-nin managed to leash his temper. "No," he said in as calm a manner as he could. "I don't hate you."

"Then why did you say that?"

"I didn't."



That was enough to satisfy Naruto. "Oh, okay, then."

"So, are you through running away, or are you going to go back and explain what happened?" Gaara said once a few moments had gone by.

"I can't," Naruto replied softly. Reality was often the quickest way to sober a man, even if he tried to fight it. "She doesn't want to listen."

"Perhaps I don't know her as intimately as you do, but I've worked with her enough to be able to say that she does want to listen. Underneath that thick hide, she's very vulnerable." Gaara paused, and looked his friend in the eye. "Before, you asked me for advice. Well listen up, because I'm only saying this once. Right now, the thing she needs most is to know that you want her to listen. Yeah, she's pissed, and she'll probably stay pissed for awhile, but she will forgive you. Trust me. She wants to have a reason to forgive you, so why don't you give her one?"

The blonde blinked. He couldn't have heard that right. It must be the alcohol making him hallucinate. "Gaara…did you—?"

"Yeah…I think I did…"

"Okay…just making sure…"

An awkward silence passed between them.

"Leave," Gaara said finally. "Or my foot'll show you out."

Naruto wisely chose to exit of his own accord. The spymaster wouldn't hesitate to do what he said, and they both knew it. At the door, he stopped and angled his head over his shoulder. "Thanks…for everything."

"And thank you for waking me up from my nap and drinking all of my vodka."

The Hokage paled. "Oh…boy….uh…sorry about that…"


He went.

Gaara sighed in relief, nerves frayed. "I need a vacation."

Sakura had cried. As soon as he left, she flung herself on the couch and wept, emptying herself completely. By the time the sobs tapered away, her eyes stung and her head hurt, and she did not feel any better.

She felt worse.

"But I'm the one who got stood-up! I'm allowed to be angry with him! I'm allowed to be hurt, aren't I?"

Then why did that expression on his face, that haunted, pain-filled expression as he looked up at her in the rain…why did that expression make her feel like a beast? Like she was the one who held the knife and gouged out his heart?

"I shouldn't have yelled at him," she whispered, the urge to cry yet again barely held in check. "He's more sensitive than he cares to admit, and I know it." Reaching for the box of tissues she'd dug out of her bathroom, she grabbed a handful, using one to blow her nose with, and the others to provide some comfort by shredding them apart. "He must be frantic by now, the poor thing." A tissue was torn into quarters. "And it's my fault." Eighths. "I should have let him explain." Bits of tissue fell from her hands and rained to the ground. She worked on another, rage bubbling to the surface. "Why do things always have to be so difficult? Why can't I just have a normal relationship like everyone else?" The tissue obliterated, she decided to tear at whole bunch together. "Where are the rainbows and the birdies and the beach scenes? Oh, wait," flinging tissue everywhere, she shouted, "They don't exist! All those romance novels I wasted my time on were lies! Lies, I say!"

Well…that feels much better…

A layer of tissue coated the area around her like demented confetti.

For some reason, she found the sight quite humorous, and laughed until her sides hurt. Once the amusement faded, however, the only thing left to do was cry. Again.

No…no…I have to stop…I need to pull myself together and…and find him…But I'm still angry! I'm angry with him! No…not just with him…with myself could he do that, though? How could he just leave me there and then expect me to forgive him like that? How…no…he has to have a reason. He has to. That's why he came to see me. He hurt me though…does he know how much he hurt me? How much I wanted him to be there, how much I wanted everyone to see us together, see what a wonderful man he is, and what a lucky woman I am to have him…I hate him!

As conflicting emotions battled with each other, Sakura slowly picked herself up and moved towards the door, knowing but pretending not to know where her legs were about to lead her.

She would let them. There were things that needed to be said, and she understood that if they weren't said soon, she could kiss whatever the future may hold with the troublesome blonde burr in her side goodbye.

As much as she hated to admit it, that burr had become a part of her, and she was damned if she was about to let it go.

Naruto threw stones at her window. He went inside and banged on her door. He came close to using the key she'd given him a while ago, but he decided not to at the last minute, knowing that she would not appreciate the invasion of her privacy. Sighing, he waited for as long as he could handle before the pain of seeing that closed door became too much, and then trudged home, the rose tucked in his pocket.

"This has to be the worst night of my life," he said in a dead voice as he entered his house, the dark emptiness that greeted him doing nothing to raise his spirits. "I think I'm going to find a hole to crawl up in and die."

Down the hall, a light flickered on.

Already unstable, Naruto assumed the worst. "The Big Guy's finally decided to strike me down with lightning for being a worthless waste of space…I knew it…He's in my house…"

And he has pink hair…Pink hair?

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Sakura came into the hall, staring at him as if he had sprouted three heads.

Speechless, Naruto stared back.

The grandfather clock in his study chimed, a loud, slow peal that echoed through the silent house. In the time that followed, Sakura examined him from top to toes, her heart constricting at what a pathetic sight he made. His clothes were torn and muddy, his hair hung lank in his face, his normally bright eyes were dull and bloodshot, and his body was covered in scratches. Oh Naruto…you can be so careless! What on earth happened to you?

"Come on, fox," she finally broke the silence, grabbing his hand and towing him up the stairs. "You're a mess."

"Sakura." He said her name as if he had no idea who she was, though he did not resist the gentle tug. When they reached the bathroom and she began pulling off his shirt, however, he snapped to attention. "Woah! What—"

"Shut up and lift your arms," she ordered, the piercing glare she directed his way when he hesitated enough incentive for him to obey.

"I'm perfectly capable of taking off my own clothes," he grumbled, part of his dignity bruised. She ignored him.

"Good lord…did you roll around in shit?" The question was more of an observation to herself, but Naruto felt the need to respond to it anyway.

"It's not my fault there are woodland critters that leave their crap out for anyone to step in!"

One of her eyebrows snapped up, though she made no comment. Why Naruto was in the woods while he should have been at dinner with her was one of the things she'd rather talk about after he was clean. Speaking of which…

"Sakura!" The Hokage squawked when her hands moved to the button of his fly. "That's going too far!"

Another icy glare made him tremble. I'd forgotten how scary she could be when she's pissed…

"Not another word," she growled, and, her eyes never leaving his, she undid the button. "I'm irritated with you right now, so be a good boy and keep your damned mouth shut, got it? I'm giving you a bath."

Naruto could do nothing but gape at her as he lost his pants, realizing with horror that, today of all days, he had decided not to wear boxers.

Oh my…Sakura tried to avert her eyes, but pure fascination and a little bit of something else kept them glued to the spot. He's…oh my…

Biting the inside of his cheek to try and prevent becoming aroused by the way she stared with obvious approval, Naruto said dryly, "So, like what you see?"

"Yes," she breathed before she had a chance to stop herself. A blush the color of a ripe tomato spread across her cheeks.

Don't react, don't react, don't react…Naruto chanted mentally, though physically, he wasn't sure if his body felt like cooperating. He was positive Sakura did not realize what that simple phrase had done to his ego, let alone his hormones, and controlling either now would be tricky.


"I said not a word, didn't I?" Sakura snarled through clenched teeth, and went over to the tub to get the water going. It was bad enough that she'd embarrassed herself by admitting out loud that his…endowments…were more than pleasing. She wasn't about to let him crow over his triumph on top of that, no sir!

But was it possible for a room to shrink so much in only a few seconds? And why was it so unbearably hot all of a sudden?

Look at the water. Don't look at him. Just look at the water. And you're mad, remember?

When the tub was full, she angled her head over her shoulder, focusing only on his face. "Get in."

Naruto, whose mood had much improved since he came home, noticed that the dangerous spark had returned to Sakura's eyes, and did as she said out of fear for his own hide, which was quite exposed. However, that fear did not stop him from deliberately brushing up against her as he plopped into the tub. After all, there was really no point for modesty now, was there?

I'll kill him…Sakura glared just long enough to receive a cringe, and then got to work. While she scrubbed him, all of the pressures of that day began to take their toll, and Naruto closed his eyes, exhausted. He didn't care what she did, didn't care that he was being treated like a naughty child. It felt good to be pampered, and he was not about to put up a fight. The amount of energy he had left wouldn't be enough to go up against her, anyway.

As he was about to fall asleep, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a washcloth was shoved in his face. Eyes cracking open, he looked up at Sakura, the expression he wore pitiful. "I was so comfy…" He mumbled.

Sakura, for the first time that night, smiled warmly at him. "I could have started washing there," she pointed in the direction of his groin, "while you were asleep, but I figured I'd give you the option of doing it yourself." The mischievous twinkle in her eyes completely contradicted the smile, leaving Naruto under the impression that she would go on ahead while he was disoriented unless he stopped her.

What have I gotten myself into? Plucking the washcloth from her hand, he said primly, "You are a cold, cruel woman, and I despise you."

"How kind," Sakura replied with a grin, and sat back to wait.

"You don't need to stay, you know," the blonde pointed out, an eyebrow raised. "I can handle this myself just fine."

Reaching out, Sakura patted his cheek. "I'm sure you can," she nodded, though showed no signs of leaving.

Stubborn little minx…Naruto thought, glowering at her. He was about to make a catty remark, but changed his mind when he saw the opening. "Taking a leaf out of Jiraya's book, eh?"

The blush that had disappeared returned. "What?"

"He likes hiding out at hot springs. You know that," Naruto clucked his tongue, and then leaned forward, his voice a seductive purr. "But you aren't so secretive about looking, now are you?"

Sakura, caught off guard and breathless, only stared for a moment or two before regaining control. She too leaned forward, and rested her forehead against his. "Maybe I'm not," she said, stroking his hair with deceptive tenderness. "And there's nothing you can do about it, either." The fingers of her hand moved through his hair, and stopped at the back of his neck, making him shudder. "No more dilly-dallying, fox. There's quite a bit that I have to say to you, and I'm getting impatient."

Naruto decided that he did not want to find out what Sakura would do to him if he stalled any longer. In the blink of an eye, he was out of the tub and toweled down—by Sakura, of course—and then led into his bedroom, where she shoved clothes at him, taking the liberty of keeping some for herself. Once they were changed, she herded him back downstairs, sat him down at the kitchen table, and put a kettle on for tea.

"So," she said as she handed him a steaming cup and settled across from him.

"So," Naruto responded lamely. The interlude in the bathroom had taken his mind off of the real reason the pink-haired woman had come, but he could not pretend that everything was normal any longer. He had been dreading this conversation, convinced that she was about to tell him that she needed to move on, that she wanted to find someone else…

"I want to be mad at you, fox," Sakura jolted him out of his thoughts. "I want to scream at you, and throw things at you, and call you an asshole, and do all the things that a woman is supposed to do when she's pissed off," she took a sip of her tea, chuckling. "Instead I tore up a bunch of tissues and flung them around my apartment. Tissues. How lame is that? Plates would have been much more satisfying," she humphed.

The mental picture that popped into his head when he imagined Sakura whipping tissues around was so hilarious that Naruto could not help but laugh, even though he felt like lead had settled in his stomach. "You could've hurt yourself with plates, though," he replied solemnly.

"Oh…" Sakura wrinkled her nose. "Well…whatever. The point is," her eyes met with his, "The point is you make it so damned hard to stay mad! I had every intention of tearing you apart," Naruto paled, "but I kept seeing that pathetic look you gave me when I told you to go, and it broke my heart." Slamming the cup on the table, she raked her hands through her hair. "But I was still pissed, so I came over here to force you to explain, and then I saw you looking like you had just dug yourself out of a grave, and," she snapped her fingers, "poof! I wasn't angry anymore. Well…that isn't true. I was mad, but not for the same reason." Her emerald eyes narrowed. "I'm seriously thinking of buying one of those invisible fence things people use to keep tabs on their dogs and slapping one around your neck. Then I'll know if you're doing something stupid because you'll yelp when it jolts you."

Out of any of the possible replies he could have gotten, Naruto did not expect that. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved that she cared enough to worry so much about him or terrified of this 'invisible fence' contraption. "Is that like…a collar?"

"That's exactly what it is. I'd be able to put limits on how far away you're allowed to go before you get zapped."

He definitely did not like the sound of that. "Why don't you get me a nanny too, while you're at it?" He could not resist saying, and instantly regretted it when she grinned.

"That's not a bad idea. Maybe—"

"I didn't mean it! No nanny!"

Sakura's grin spread. "Only if you can prove to me that you don't need one."

"I've already got you," He shot back. "You're enough of a nanny as it is!"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "I could just walk away and leave you, if that's what you want." Heh…no I couldn't…But he didn't need to know that.

His expression changed in under a second to one that made her breath catch in her throat…it reflected pain and it reflected love, a love so intense that it transcended human understanding. If she were to try and put what she saw in the depths of those blue, blue eyes into words, she would fail. It frightened her.

"Wait here a minute," he said softly, and disappeared, returning soon after with the object he'd put so much determination into finding, the object he'd convinced himself existed somewhere in Konoha… "I know it's just a flower, and it's a pathetic excuse for being late, but," he placed the rose next to her teacup, "Happy Valentine's Day, Sakura-chan."

Sakura could not speak. She could not move. A rose…he…but roses don't grow here! How did he…One fingertip traced the velvety, blood red petals, so beautiful in their perfection. Even blurred, the rose did not lose any of its radiance. That's why…The tears flowed freely. "Oh Naruto…I don't deserve you…I don't deserve you at all."

"Shut up," his voice was hoarse as he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her hair. "You deserve more than I can give you." He clung tighter. "But I don't want you to find someone else. Selfish, huh?"

From the moisture that dripped onto her neck, she could tell that he was crying, too, which only made her tears fall faster. "No more selfish than me," she whispered, placing her hands on either side of his head and forcing him to look at her. With the pads of her thumbs, she stroked his tears away, and kissed each of his eyelids, his cheeks, his mouth… "There is no one else, Naruto. There never has been." Say it…say it… "I love you."

He yanked her against him in a fierce hug, the words repeating over and over in his head…I love you… "You don't need that apartment anymore."

She laughed a watery laugh. "No, I suppose not."

He pulled back and cupped her face, searching. "You forgive me?"

"I thought that was obvious."

Satisfied, he smiled and kissed her long and sweetly. "I like how this feels," he said when he released her. "All those excuses to dance around the subject were getting old."

Sakura laughed, and cuffed his shoulder. "Oh hush, you."

"I love you."

She smiled. "I know."

"That was so sweet!" Rin gushed once Naruto had finished the story. She sighed happily. "I love romances."

Her brother snorted. "The old pervert got off too easy. If it were me, I would've beaten the snot out of him."

"He was finding a rose for her!" The little girl protested indignantly. "I'll bet you wouldn't do that!"

Loki spluttered. "Wha—wha—Says who?"

"Says me!"

As another argument erupted, Kakashi pretended not to notice, though the smile he hid behind his hand suggested otherwise. "Well, now that you've entertained us with such a harrowing tale, I think it's safe for us to head back. Anko's probably simmered enough by now."

"Are you making fun of me?" Naruto asked his former sensei while avoiding another yank to his hair from Alex.

"Yes, I believe I am."

Gaara snickered, though said nothing.

Naruto glared at all of them, and then sighed. "You people are mean."

"But we love you," Sakura grinned as she placed the petals back in her diary and relieved her husband of their son.

"It doesn't seem like it," he sniffed.

"Baby," Sakura teased.

He stuck his tongue out at her. She did the same.

Kakashi grinned. They never change…

"I'm sorry for being so snippy earlier," Anko apologized once things had settled down and Loki and Rin were in bed—well they were supposed to be in bed. Whether or not they actually were was up in the air, though Kakashi had a feeling they weren't.

"I've had a lot of time to get used to your 'snippiness,' so it's no big deal," he replied with a smile. "It was rather unfair of you to kick me out too, though," he could not resist adding as she burrowed under his arm.

It had gotten chillier as the night wore on, so Anko decided it would be nice to have a fire. Their supply of wood had been low, however, so almost as soon as he returned home, he had to turn around and get some. Rin had tagged along because she wanted to try out the new sword she'd succeeded in summoning the day before, and of course Kakashi couldn't refuse her. Because Rin had a tendency to become a tad…enthusiastic…whenever she used her weapons, they ended up with enough wood for at least two years worth of fires, and it had been hell getting all of it home, but now that he was actually enjoying the benefits of a fire on a cold night, he was glad to have gone through all the trouble.

Anko raised her eyebrow. "I couldn't just let our children run around doing who knows what without any supervision. There are innocent civilians out there, you know," she explained with a wolfish grin, and patted her husband's cheek.

Kakashi stared at her, and then thought of all of the chaos that would ensue if the two monsters that they'd spawned were allowed out with no one around to check them. "I see your point," he conceded finally. "But it still wasn't fair."

"Life isn't fair," Anko replied without any sympathy, and laughed at Kakashi's pout.

"Why did I marry you? I'm beginning to forget."

"Because you love me," the violet haired woman said in a little girl voice, and batted her eyes.

In spite of himself, Kakashi laughed. "Is that it?"

"Mm-hmm," Anko's arms circled his neck, and she leaned in to kiss him.

A loud crash came from upstairs.

Kakashi sighed. Here we go again…

OH MY GOODNESS. FINISHED:dancing: Um…yeah…I'm aware that Valentine's Day has long passed, and I really intended for this to be out earlier, but it just kept getting longer and longer and longer…so I apologize for the delay! I hope you enjoyed it! This story has been a labor of love from beginning to end (three weeks in the making!) and I had a fantastic time writing it. I hope it shows!