Title: Touch
By: Midnight Unicorn

Disclaimers: all recognizable names, faces and places are Masashi Kishimoto's, and I'm making no money from this.

This can be read in the same verse as Sickness, but you don't have to read that to get this.

Naruto wasn't very familiar with contact with others. The ninja who dealt with him only brushed his arm to direct him if he strayed from following him. Parents flapped their hands at his face, not actually striking, but close enough that he feels the wind and flinches back. Like their parents the children don't hit him, but they jerk away from him and sneer if he gets close.

So when Iruka, laughing at a funny story Naruto told him, ruffles his hair, the boy is startled and stills. Not understanding, Iruka frowns. "Naruto? What's wrong?" The boy doesn't move or respond. The older shinobi removes his hand and kneels in front of the blond. "Naruto?"

Finally he ducks his head and takes a step back, confused and uncertain. "You put your hand on my head."

Iruka tilted his head, eyes slightly narrowed. "I did."

"Why?" Naruto's own irrepressible nature makes him looks up again, blue eyes burning with curiosity. "No one touches me."

Now Iruka is the one unnaturally still, considering how to respond. "I…didn't know that. Usually a pat on the head is approval; I liked what you told me."

"Sometimes I see parents go like this:" He whipped his hand violently through the air between them. "And they are yelling at their kids. I know that is not good. They move like that at me sometimes, but they do not hit."

Iruka straightened, scratching the back of his head, wondering how to go about this. "Let's get some ramen, maybe Teuchi can help me explain."

"Explain what?" Naruto asks, hurrying after him, taking two steps to every one of Iruka's.

Noticing, the young man slows down a bit. "Touching; sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's not."

"I know that," Naruto scoffs. "When it hurts, it's bad. Why doesn't anyone touch me?"

They had reached Ichiraku's, and judging by his briefly tense expression, Teuchi had heard. Iruka shot him an imploring look over Naruto's head as the boy scrambled onto a stool. The old man put it off a bit by asking, "Why do you ask, Naruto?"

He shrugged, eyeing the cooking ramen hungrily. "Iruka put his hand on my head. It…" his voice faded and he looked away with another half-shrug, leaving the sentiment unfinished.

"I suppose…" Teuchi rubbed his chin thoughtfully, catching Naruto's curious eye when he paused. "I suppose they feel it isn't their right. You are not their child, to praise or to berate. Perhaps that is all."

He was lying through his teeth and both the adults knew it.

"Hm." said Naruto, accepting the bowl Teuchi placed in front of him happily. "Okay."

He didn't pursue this line of questioning, filling his mouth with noodles, for which Iruka was profoundly grateful.

When they were done, Iruka paid for the ramen as Naruto hopped down, scuffing his feet in the dirt. As Iruka turned around, scrawny arms wound briefly around his waist and squeezed, and then released him before he could react. Naruto smiled up at him, brightness a little shadowed with unrealized fear. "That's a good touch, right? I wanted to do that."

Iruka bit the inside of his cheek to keep from gaping at this unstoppable little boy. "Yes it is, Naruto. You can do that whenever you like."

I was trying to get across Naruto's impulsive attaching of himself to others, but I don't think I did that very well. Ah, well, all in an hour's work.