Iruka’s heard fluttered away in his chest as he raced through the forests. He wasn’t far from the boundary of the Hatake estate, only having crossed it a few minutes ago. He’d been running a bit late trying to finish grading all of his students’ homework before heading out for the night. The grass was soft and the fallen leaves crunched under his paws. He couldn’t help a happy chirp as his fur flattened against the wind from the speed of his run.
Running while shifted was definitely one of his favourite things in the whole world.
He slowed down to look as he heard the familiar sounds of little paws running up beside him. Naruto chirruped away happily, golden fur sparkling under the fading sun, blue eyes ringed with orange as Kurama also experienced the fun from within the confines of Naruto’s seal. The seal lines weren’t immediately visible on Naruto’s own fox form without Naruto channelling his chakra to the seal intentionally, but Iruka knew instinctively where they were – he had been the one to alter Naruto’s seal to allow the young boy to complete his shift, after all.
Naruto barked out a challenge, streaking away at Iruka’s acceptance. Naruto was almost faster than Iruka. Almost.
Iruka reached the clearing before Naruto, much to his kit’s dismay. Naruto made a series of grumpy noises until Iruka came over to scent him, rubbing his muzzle on the top of Naruto’s head. Naruto pushed into it, chittering happily.
A quiet huff drew both their attention to a nearby tree, where a dark shadow lay perched on a branch with its tail swishing back and forth. Naruto made a quick, happy howl and raced over and up the tree, claws leaving scratches in the bark. Sasuke huffed again but allowed Naruto to scent him, even pushing back into the underside of Naruto’s neck to return the gesture. Iruka watched them fondly from where he sat on the forest floor. Despite how much he would deny it later, Sasuke was clearly purring at Naruto’s attention.
Another cat entered the clearing after them, coming up beside Iruka to press herself against him. Sakura’s fur was a light peach, lighter than her actual hair colour, but spotted in the exact places Sakura’s human body had freckles. Iruka greeted her warmly, before Sakura bounded up the tree towards her teammates, her ascent much more graceful than Naruto’s. Iruka watched with amusement as Naruto eagerly welcomed her, but how Sasuke barely allowed her to touch him before he was pressing himself back into Naruto. Sasuke certainly knew how to pick favourites.
Iruka barked up at them, gaining their attention. They made their way down the tree and encircled him happily, before allowing Iruka to lead them further into the forest. The four of them ran at a much more subdued speed than Iruka had run with his kit brother, even though Sasuke and Sakura were more than capable of keeping up. But the sun had nearly set, the forest was beautiful, Sasuke and Naruto were running pressed together, and they all wanted to enjoy it.
None of them questioned the direction that Iruka was leading them – Iruka didn’t even need to question himself. All of them had heightened senses when shifted, but Iruka’s senses were attuned to one person in particular, in either form – the scent of home, of comfort, of safety. The scent of mate.
The moment the sun was no longer visible in the sky, a howl ripped through the air. It shook Iruka to his very core, yet filled him with warmth. The howl came from nearby, and the thought had Iruka running faster and faster until silvery-white fur came into sight. With a spark of mischief, he launched himself at his mate, sending them both tumbling into the grass. Kakashi growled as he righted himself, gracefully adjusting into an attempt to pounce at Iruka – but Iruka was quick, and jumped out of the way, chattering. He jumped at Kakashi again, landing on his neck and starting a playful fight between the two of them. An amused bark from behind them broke them out of their game, and Iruka pressed himself into the front of Kakashi instead. Kakashi bent his head over Iruka, enveloping him in warm fur.
Iruka was eventually forced away from Kakashi when the young ones joined the embrace, Sai moving around from behind Kakashi to join his friends. The little coyote rumbled happily from where Naruto and Sakura allowed him between them. Iruka trotted around Kakashi to where a chocolate-brown wolf, identical in size and shape to Kakashi but not in colour, was pressed up against a dozing bear. Sukea lifted his head to briefly scent Iruka – he wouldn’t dare replace his twin’s scent with his own – before allowing Iruka to do the same to Tenzo. Tenzo grumbled, yawning. This would be Tenzo’s last shift for a few months, as his bear hibernated to rejuvenate for next year. He would spend their full moons with them still, as part of Kakashi’s pack – Kakashi being the Alpha, their mentor and protector, despite how all of their species may have different names for the collective – but as a human watching over them instead. Bears are supposed to hibernate over the cold winter months, but it rarely if ever gets cold in Konoha, so his bear spirit merely goes dormant instead.
Their little makeshift pack, or skulk, or band or sleuth or clutter, was the best thing that had happened to Iruka, no matter how they got there.
Kakashi eventually motioned for them all to follow him, Tenzo and Sukea getting up rather sleepily, and together they ran. They ran and they ran, bumping each other and playing and rolling through the leaves. Kakashi kept close to Iruka, which Iruka always found sweet of him.
Along the way, Naruto caught a rabbit, which he shared first with his mate and then with Sakura and Sai. Kakashi and Sukea hunted down some deer (nowhere close and not belonging to the Nara lands, even Kakashi wouldn’t dare hunt on another clan’s territory) which were shared with the whole skulk. As a human, Iruka would never be able to stomach any kind of raw meat, but while shifted there was nothing better than tearing into a fresh kill.
Finally, they reached the temple, located in the very centre of the Hatake lands. Iruka slowed, chirping for the rest of his skulk and pack to follow suit, allowing Kakashi as the Alpha and Sukea as the Alpha’s Left Hand to enter the temple before the rest of them. This was the temple that their father and the many Hatake pack Alphas before them came to offer gifts to their goddess, their Mother Moon, for it was she who recognised their animalistic instincts to protect their lands and their families and gave them a gift to help them achieve that goal.
A noise from Kakashi from inside the temple had Iruka trotting forward to join his mate. He was once again awestruck by just how lovely Kakashi’s fur looked under the light of the full moon – he glowed like the moon itself, or perhaps his fur was made of silver. Kakashi let him come forward until he was standing to the right of him, then reached down and rubbed their muzzles together oh so gently. Kakashi huffed, ticking Iruka’s fur and making him but his head up in retaliation. Sukea shook his head at their antics, tongue lolling in amusement.
A small bark from behind them caught their attention. They turned to see Naruto peering in, impatient but waiting permission to enter. Sasuke was beside him, black-turned-yellow eyes flicking from Kakashi to Iruka as he tried to tug his mate back by the ear. Kakashi barked in response, lying down in front of the centre alter and thus giving permission for the rest of his pack to enter. Iruka lay down next to Kakashi, leaning against his side. The kit, pup and kittens came in first: Naruto tucked his head under Iruka’s muzzle and Sasuke placed himself on the other side of him, Sakura made herself comfortable on Kakashi’s back, and Sai pressed himself against Sukea who welcomed him with a lick. Tenzo always had the most difficulty squeezing into the temple while shifted, and when he’d joined the pack they’d had to rearrange the temple slightly to allow him entrance. Tenzo was originally worried that this would anger his mate’s Mother Moon, but Sukea had spent the time reassuring the bear that the Goddess would not be angry if it was for the sake of their pack. It had taken some time, but Tenzo eventually accepted this, much to the relief of his Alpha.
F or a while they all lay together under the light of the full moon, letting her and the lingering spirits of Hatake packs of the past (Sakumo whose pack either died or abandoned him, and his wife who died so Kakashi and Sukea could live) rejuvenate them for the rest of the month until they would see her again.
The next morning found them all back at the Hatake estate, lying on the floor of the main lounge all curled together. Just by looking, one would lose track of whose limbs were whose because of the way they were all tangled together. Naruto, as usual, was the first one awake – he was always overly energised after a full moon, the night’s run exhilarating him to the point of seemingly endless energy even for him. Iruka was the next, awoken by the happy flaring of his kit brother’s and Kurama’s chakra through their skulk bonds. Iruka and Naruto had always been close, both being foxes in a village who despised the animals. They were the only two fox shifters currently living within the bounds of Konoha, the remnants of a village long lost to war and time.
Unlike Naruto, Iruka made no move to get up from where he was happily curled into his wolf’s now human arms. I nstead he burrowed his nose into Kakashi’s neck, causing the man to shift into consciousness. Kakashi’s hand came up to run through his hair, loose and curling down his neck and back. Iruka hummed happily, pressing up into the contact. He heard the rest of the pack slowly returning to the land of the living around him, and he giggled at the regular groans of protest.
Thank the Goddess they’d shifted back and gotten some form of pyjamas on before all falling asleep, because Anko decided that the break of dawn was a wonderful time to burst in through the door, causing Sasuke and Sakura to jump ten feet in the air and Sai to flail around as he bolted upright. He heard Genma’s laugh in the background and looked over at the kids. Sakura was rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and Sasuke looked murderous.
(Sasuke’s murderous look was a clan trait, Iruka had determined. Mikoto and Fugaku had both been shifters, and Itachi must have been too though Iruka never knew for certain, and the kill-you-with-a-stare was almost certainly passed down through the family of cats.)
Iruka would be forever glad that Anko and Genma became part of his skulk long ago, for they always made breakfast for everyone the morning after a full moon shift. Well, actually, Genma made breakfast and Anko stood around laughing at Naruto’s energy and Sasuke’s grogginess. But eventually, food was made and they were all gathered around the dining table, talking and eating and laughing together. Normally Gai would have joined them this morning, but t he oldest human member of Kakashi’s pack had the misfortune to be sent out on a mission on this particular full moon.
Iruka looked around at his pack, his skulk, his family by bond rather than blood. In a world where shifters were considered inhuman and untrustworthy, and in a village where his fox shift caused people to spit and hurl insults at him and lead their children away from him and away from his little brother, whose only sin was being the child of a jinchuuriki, this was all that mattered. For the world outside may be a dangerous and horrible place, but for this house and the people it contained, he would face every day of it.