Last chapter! You may be interested to know that part of Iruka's date was inspired by a sketch on DeviantArt by BesideQuietWaters. The scene in the picture doesn't match the one in my story exactly (or at all), but it inspired the concept. To see it, just copy the link below, and replace the "(dot)" with an actual dot "."
And once you're done here, you may want to check out Taryn Streambattle's fics. You'll find a link to her profile in my "Favorite Authors" section. I love her stories. For instance, after reading "A Mere Pawn," I've never looked at Sakumo's suicide in quite the same way again...
Iruka dutifully performed his morning katas. Every twinge of his sore muscles reminded him of last night's fight, which in turn reminded him of how disastrously the date had gone. Ignoring the ache, he grit his teeth and pushed himself through his exercises. However his thoughts lingered on Anko.
The most rational thing to do would be to cut his losses and give up on her. It was true, there were other women in this village. And most of them liked flowers.
Yet Iruka wasn't willing to give up- even despite all that he said last night about not standing a chance (or perhaps even because of it, stubborn man that he was). Everything good was worth fighting for, right? He just needed a strategy.
The sensei slid into a low stance, then lunged up, swinging his arm into the air for an uppercut. Extending his right arm caused the muscled on that side to seize up, and he hissed while clutching his ribs. Okay, moving too fast was not a good idea right now.
A tactical retreat, he decided, as he resumed his katas in a slower, more deliberate fashion. He would give Anko time to cool off, as Kakashi had suggested, before attempting a second, more subtle, strike.
The sensei completed his exercise just as the sun began to peek over the horizon. Ready for his morning tea, he entered the kitchen and set a pot of water to boil. Finally, he turned to glance out the window, and was surprised to find a large, scraggly clump of plants dangling in front of the pane.
"What the…" The sensei slowly approached the glass, wary of his students' tricks. After cautious investigation, he deemed it safe to open the window and examine the anomaly up close.
Ragweed, bundled together with a sheet of paper and secured with a length of chakra wire.
The prickly clump of weeds dangled on another line of wire, which in turn was attached to a shuriken embedded above his window frame. The sensei examined the arrangement suspiciously. Tentatively, he withdrew his kunai and prodded the bundle. He tested the wire in a similar manner, ready to react at the sign of an activating trap. Nothing.
At long last, he retrieved the weed, laying it on his counter and unwrapping the sheet of paper. A note was written inside, and the paperwork ninja smiled, immediately recognizing the large, loping scrawl.
You still owe me dango!
Meet me at the Dumpling Shop at 1800 hours.
P.S. The stupid flower shop was closed.
Iruka chuckled, rereading the note a third and fourth time before turning his attention back to what he supposed must be his "bouquet." The wild ragweed was flowering, as evidenced by its prickly yellow protrusions.
Grabbing a tall, wide-mouthed jar from his cabinet, he filled it with water and placed the unpleasantly coarse plants inside. Ragweed pollen was extremely allergenic, the sensei recalled, and a prime cause of hay fever. How fortunate, then, that Iruka didn't suffer from allergies. However, when Kakashi came over next, he'd be sure to stow it away in his room. The poor man had such a sensitive nose, and was terribly allergic to certain types of pollen.
The stove flame hissed as the forgotten pot of boiling water bubbled over the edge. Iruka quickly turned it off, chiding himself for being so distracted. Still, as he wiped down the spill, he couldn't help going back over the note in his mind, wondering if this meant that Anko wasn't as put off as he thought. Or it could just mean that she really wanted that promised dango.
Glancing back at the plant he wondered…do ragweed flowers have a meaning?
Iruka fully expected Anko to discover his flowers had a message in them. She may not be the most feminine woman in Konoha, but she was certainly a shrewd kunoichi. It was really only a matter of time until she realized.
Could this, then, be her response?
With a hint of trepidation, the sensei made his way to the bookshelves lining his living room. His fingers skimmed over the spines until they rested on his newest addition- a botanical encyclopedia, courtesy of Yamanaka Ino. The large leather bound volume provided valuable insight into identifying species of plants and their uses. However, it also had an extensive section on the language of flowers. Ino had gifted it to him the same day he bought the daises. Now that Iruka was dating, she claimed, he needed to know these kind of things.
"Ragweed…ragweed…" Iruka murmured to himself, taking a seat on the sofa and flipping pages until he lighted on the entry. What sort of message could such a prickly, disagreeable plant have?
Ragweed – See Ambrosia
With a sigh, he flipped a few pages back to the "A" section. Finally, the sensei found and read the appropriate entry. His eyebrows furrowed uncertainly. Turning back to "Ragweed," he double-checked the technical name, and then returned to "Ambrosia," rereading it.
Slowly, the creases in his brow smoothed out and a grin overtook his features. The chunin laughed wholeheartedly. The ache in his muscles miraculously gone, Iruka hurried to shower and get ready for the day. Six o'clock would not come soon enough.
The Encyclopedia Botanica lay abandoned on the sofa cushions, pages open to "Language of Flowers: A-C." There, between Amaryllis (Pride) and Anemone (Refusal), Anko's message was disclosed.
Ambrosia – Love is reciprocated.
Note: The flower meanings used in this fic are legit. I was utterly delighted to discover that the "flower" representing returned affection was actually a nasty weed ("That's perfect!" I exclaimed aloud, to no one in particular). Not sure what genius decided this, but it worked well for my purposes.