It’s funny, Iruka thinks, how between the two of them, Kakashi is seen as the dangerous one.
He supposes he could not really fault them, with appearances being as they are--after all, his lover is known by many names, and none were coined to strike comfort in those that used them.
Hatake Kakashi is a great man of great power--he can call lightning from the sky with nothing but his hands and when he charges into battle he is just as quick, just as swift, calculating strike after strike aimed for maximum efficiency, unafraid of necessary brutality.
Umino Iruka is a chunin, a school teacher with a post spent babysitting children who can just barely throw knives for hours out of the day. He graduated from the Academy last in his class and had to take the chunin exams twice before he was promoted, and never showed any interest or potential in climbing higher than that.
He was too friendly and did not carry around the disposition of a killer. Often, he is told he is too compassionate, too emotional, shows too much care for the people around him, as if he did not take a blood oath and swear his duty to the village he calls home and the people in it. It’s an oath every shinobi takes, it's the oath Kakashi took.
What people think they know but do not understand is this:
Iruka has a heart full of love and when he loves, he loves fiercely.
He loves with the same heart as his father, Chief of the Umino Clan who had him shadow his leadership as soon as Iruka made his rite of passage at the tender age of six. The same father who negotiated territory disputes and made sure every member of the pack had enough food to eat, water to drink, and wood to kindle their fires.
Iruka loves with the same heart as his mother, Chieftess of the Umino Clan and third in line to the throne of the Uzumaki kingdom. The same mother who showed Iruka the taste and sound of the hunt and the accompanying rush of victory from a good kill.
The same parents, who, the night of the attacks to their island, had fought with everything they had until they were the last standing, their pack, their families, and enemies scattered on the beach surrounding. The same parents who lined up the dead like a morbid matchstick box and lit each one a pyre, praying for the Great Spirit to make peace with their souls.
The same parents who traveled to Konoha in search of amnesty and refuge when they offered shelter during the ensuing war. The same parents who made their best in a tiny shoebox of an apartment, the building cheap and walls paper-thin and the sounds of crying children surrounding them, and told Iruka to always be kind, always be brave, and to never, ever, leave those you love behind.
So when Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura return from a standard B-rank courier mission sans one Hatake Kakashi, needing immediate medical treatment and reporting of an obscure gang out for revenge, Iruka had calmly gotten the rest of his shift covered, escorted the children to the hospital, spoke with the Vice Principal about coverage for his classes for the next week, and left the village with only the moon as his companion.
For any other shinobi, they would see the way the white light would bring the leaves and shrubbery into vision and think it a disadvantage. They would tell Iruka: you’re a goner. There’s no way you can get in and out undetected. You’re just a chunin. What makes you think you can save the great Hatake Kakashi when he can’t even save himself?
But to Iruka--
To Iruka, the moon sings.
It brings his blood to life, pumping it fast and steady in his veins, in his bones. It has his skin itching for a release Iruka starves himself of inside the village, a constant burn screaming at him to relieve, but never does, because with all the wisdom and guidance his parents were able to bestow upon him before their untimely death, twice since avoided, they had also taught Iruka one thing:
Don’t tell a soul. Once they know, they will hunt you down just like they did the clan, the tribe, the pack. They will see your truth, your furs and paws, and want to pull out your teeth for jewelry. Worse, they will use you as something less than human, something more than weapon, with no freedom in between.
So Iruka never did, and lived his days as best he could, not telling a soul, even when the grief gave way to anger after his parent’s passing; even when he got ridiculed for being the last in his class; even when he looked down at Naruto and saw himself in the boy; even when Kakashi had softly kissed him for the first time and said: “You give me peace.”
Now, Iruka sprints through the ancient forest of the redwoods surrounding Konohagakure with silent steps, breathes evenly controlled in his chest and throat. Where he should have two feet, he has two paws, and his arms just the same. Chakra is always easier to manipulate in his natural form, and so he uses it to his advantage, flying through the forest at breakneck speed, faster than any human should be able to.
He can always catch Kakashi’s scent, and now is no different. He finds it five miles westward, very faint and fading, and for a singular moment Iruka feels triumphant, until he catches the scent of his lover’s blood and at least six other unfamiliar human scents, and his triumph warps and twists into hunger.
It makes him thirst to kill.
He follows the trail, easily identifying false trails. With each mile run, his blood burns hotter, the moon shining down on his cinnamon and chestnut fur, urging him on and offering her strength.
When he finally finds him, his bloodlust only grows. Protect those you love. Honor your bonds. Fight like a warrior of your tribe, the voices of his parents echo in his mind, his heart, and before he makes his move after an hour of keeping watch on the small camp, Iruka asks his parents for forgiveness, for he had promised to never reveal himself.
When he opens his eyes, he straightens out from his hiding place and releases a long, loud howl.
Below him, down at the slope of the hill, the camp site shifts. “Just a wolf,” he hears a scout call back to the group of bandits, and Iruka inwardly grins.
He is not just a wolf.
When he strikes, they don’t expect him. The surprise element of his attack enables Iruka to take down three out of the twelve outlaws in quick succession, the taste of their jugulars sweet on his tongue. The enemy begins to fight back, then, but Iruka dodges their attacks easily. After his sixth kill, they release their first jutsu attack on him, a lazily uncoordinated thing. They don’t expect Iruka to eat the giant fireball, and they certainly didn’t expect him to throw it back towards them twice as large.
“Stop! Stop or he dies!” the last outlaw says, holding a knife to Kakashi’s throat from where he is tied and pinned to a wooden pole dug deep into the ground, chains, rope, and chakra wire alike wrapped around his kneeling body. Kakashi has been divested of all his weapons and mask, leaving him in nothing but his pants and undershirt. They’d even taken his headband and in its stead had inked a seal over his eye as an extra precaution to keep the Sharingan subdued.
What makes the growl in Iruka’s chest more menacing, what has his teeth snapping in the air, ready for more, is the sight of the sewing thread tying his lover’s eyelid shut.
The outlaw has the wild look in his eyes that screams the desperation of a final act before death. He draws the kunai closer to Kakashi’s neck, and the scent of his lover’s freshly spilled blood spurs him into action.
His clone appears from behind them and tears the enemy away by the meat of his shoulder. Iruka himself immediately darts forward, jaws open wide and bloody from his kills, and joins into tearing the man that dared harm what was his apart.
The man tries to fight back but he is no match for Iruka’s much larger form, his weight and teeth combined making enough of an advantage. He is dead within minutes and Iruka dissipates his clone with a soft pop of smoke, the bloodlust spiking with the added memories. He howls up to the moon again, closing the circle he opened, and exerts the rest of his energy by running around the camp in circles, now more wolf than human, his instincts driving his paws forward.
After a few laps he slows, trotting through the carnage to check on Kakashi who watches him tensely, his face carefully blank, but it hardly registers in Iruka’s wolf-brain, too focused on protect and kill and kin and lover. He walks right up to him, his chest well above the top of Kakashi’s head, and sniffs him all over, checking for more injuries as he always does when Kakashi comes home from a mission.
He finds nothing life threatening, only bruising and scratches and some slowly healing flesh wounds. He licks at blood seeping through the chakra wire wrapped around his lover’s wrist, growling when Kakashi shifts, forcing him to be still.
His ears perk up, catching the sound of movement, and across the camp he sees one of the outlaws trying to drag his body away, legs torn and broken from Iruka’s powerful paws.
Iruka is on him in seconds, teeth digging into the back of the man’s neck and jerking him back and forth, one leg pawing at his torso and creating an even greater bloody mess of himself. The man screams, high and voice catching, until he’s limp and unmoving between Iruka’s jaws. Iruka shakes him once more to make sure and drops him, blood and saliva dripping from his mouth.
He checks on Kakashi again, trotting softly back to him and licking at his neck, his ear, before circling around the camp to double-back and make sure all of his kills were just that: killed.
When he finishes, he lays down next to Kakashi, panting, tongue hanging out on the dewy grass. The bloodlust has begun to fade, and as the adrenaline goes with it, the pains of his battle show through: a stab wound on his right flank, a deep gash on his back left leg. He bears many slices on his face and muzzle where some of the bandits had attempted to scratch out his eyes.
Next to him, Kakashi shifts, making a terse, quick inhalation of breath. Iruka rolls his eyes over to him, noting now the stress-inducing position the outlaws had bound him in, a common tactic in kidnappings and torture. Iruka shifts his body back up with a grunt and huff of breath, rolling up to quickly snap the ropes and wires with his teeth. The chains take a harder bite to break, but he is careful not to draw any more of Kakashi’s blood.
The stitching on his eye he can do nothing for in this form, but he gives it a small, gentle lick, Kakashi frozen underneath him, knowing his saliva would provide some pain relief. It is the best he could do for now. He pulls away with a small whine, nudging Kakashi underneath his jaw with his nose.
Kakashi is still for a moment before he sags against him, body sore and full of the new pain of blood rushing back into his limbs and nerves reawakening as he falls forward, releasing his body of the stress position. Iruka catches him against his chest effortlessly, maneuvering them so Kakashi lays on Iruka’s side, cushioned from the cold ground.
Iruka stays alert despite his own lax position, ears trained on the forest around them. Too soon, he catches the scent of forest predators closing in on the blood bath from miles away, and has to regretfully nudge Kakashi awake, the man having fallen asleep from days spent fighting, interrogated, and chakra pathways burning from where they had been trapped.
He moves so Kakashi understands that Iruka wants him to climb on his back, keeping low to the ground and only moving when Kakashi is fully seated, tufts of Iruka’s fur fisted between his hands. “Wait,” he stops Iruka before he can walk much further. “My weapons.”
Iruka sniffs the camp, easily catching the small trail of Kakashi’s scent that leads him to a broken tent where Kakashi’s belongings had been kept. Kakashi slides off of him carefully before entering and sliding back out with his bag and weapons, sliding on his flak vest and tying his weapon pouches to his legs. They both breathe a sigh of relief when he straps his sword to his back, where it always should be.
(It was under a wolf moon, too, that Iruka had asked for her to bless the iron of Kakashi’s sword with her protection, praying in secret by his window, sword open just enough for the glint to catch the moonlight, Kakashi snoring softly behind him from his bed.)
They head out of the camp, Iruka careful of his path as to not jostle neither of their wounds. He knows they could both fight for much longer and endure much more, but Kakashi is rarely gentle with himself, so Iruka holds the responsibility himself with pride.
Iruka takes them far enough away to rest for the night, finding a small space between a set of trees near a small creek. They stop at the creek first to wash away some of the blood and dirt caked onto Kakashi’s skin, Iruka’s fur. He knows it's more of a lost cause on his part, but he at least tries to clean his muzzle and has Kakashi lean against him for support when the man almost twists his ankle trying to bend down to the water.
He would shift into his human form, but it has been too long since the last time, and his wolf-brain still hasn’t completely faded. It feels so right to be like this, and if Iruka were honest with himself, he knows he couldn’t turn back right now even if he tried. So Iruka just flops down on the ground to rest when they finish, watching Kakashi with one eye open as the man slowly steps towards him, a considerate look on his face.
The silence stretches between them, and Iruka begins to feel the first stirrings of doubt and old insecurities, his humanity filtering through his animalistic haze--will Kakashi be afraid of him now? Would he still want to be with Iruka, or will he decide he was too different? These worries and more have circled his mind for months, since the beginning, and they spark brightly with pain in his heart. He knows one thing for sure, even now: Iruka loves him, and he will never regret saving his life.
Finally, Kakashi speaks. “Iruka?” he whispers, stretching out his hand tentatively. Iruka perks up and gives out a small bark in his excitement and surprise that Kakashi had figured it out so quickly but, then again, the man was one of the smartest shinobi in the village, and was known for his aptitude and intelligence. He should not have been surprised. It had been, after all, one of the reasons Iruka had been hesitant to accept the first date when Kakashi had asked him a year ago, afraid the other man would find out somehow.
Iruka makes a show of wagging his tail and rolling onto his back, paws in the air, to show Kakashi his belly. Kakashi gives out a startled laugh, running his hands over the exposed area, well used to the behavior from his ninken. Iruka stretches out contentedly, enjoying the heavy petting. After a few more moments, Iruka feels himself fall into a doze and shifts, nudging Kakashi until he is lying on the bed cot he’d taken from his camp scroll so Iruka could curl around him.
“When you turn back, will you tell me?” Kakashi asks him, voice low. Iruka licks his cheek in response, releasing a small huff of breath with his nose in affirmation. It seems to satisfy Kakashi enough for him to let it go for now, body relaxing as he idly scratched at Iruka’s paw, the size of it almost as big as his head.
Iruka takes the first watch of the night, listening to the ambient sounds of the night and Kakashi’s even breathing, feeling the man’s warmth next to him and taking comfort in his lover’s slowly regenerating and regulating chakra. He stays awake until he can no longer keep his eyes fully open about six hours later, and carefully shifts his head to lick Kakashi awake.
Kakashi scrunches up his face, a hand coming to his closed eyelid before he wakes fully, wincing. Iruka falls asleep immediately after making sure Kakashi understands the shift change and, when he opens his eyes again, the sun is streaking through the canopy and Kakashi is reading his book next to him, a familiar sight. He moves forward to lick the man’s ear and neck, teeth catching onto the face mask Kakashi had slipped on in his sleep.
Kakashi tries to slap his muzzle away, but Iruka is persistent and excited. He’s in his true form, and Kakashi is right here and he hasn’t run away yet. He woke up to his lover laying beside him as if it were any other regular day. It was a good way to wake up.
Finally, he gives up and gives his body a long, big stretch, yawning loudly and trotting his way to the creek for a morning drink. Kakashi follows him after packing up the little supplies they had for their camp, and Iruka watches him intently, noticing the stiff way he holds himself, an obvious sign of his pain he is trying and failing to hide. Nevermind his eyes catch it easily--his nose smells it on him even more so.
“Are you going to...turn back, soon?” Kakashi asks him as he fills up his own canteen and washes his face, careful of his eye. Iruka gives him a small bark in response, nudging Kakashi’s ear with a small whine. The eyelid is crusted with blood and in the morning light Iruka can see it bruised quite badly. He feels a rush of indignation and pulls away agitatedly, huffing his breath and scenting the air as he walks around his lover in a tight circle. He almost wishes one of the bandits were still alive just so he can kill them all over again.
“I’m fine,” Kakashi ambles his way towards him to rub around his left ear. Iruka tilts his head into the petting, the action serving to calm him down. He knows Kakashi will be fine--as soon as he grabs his own storage scroll he’d hidden in a tree, Iruka will turn back and with his human fingers remove the stitching and seal. He may be even able to heal some of the damage, but considering it was so close to the eye, they might have to wait until they reach the village.
Iruka shakes his head with a bark and crouches down, indicating Kakashi to climb on his back. “No, I’ll travel on foot. Let’s go,” Kakashi tries to walk away from him but Iruka stops him with a low, rumbling growl, curling his lips to reveal his full set of wicked teeth. Kakashi turns back to him with an eyebrow raised. “Iruka. Iruka, no.”
Iruka stops and perks his head, wagging his tail and giving his best impression of the puppy-dog look. Kakashi sighs. He then walks over and hauls himself up on Iruka’s back just like the night before. Iruka barks happily and begins to make his way to his tree.
They travel silently for a few miles, Iruka at a steady enough pace to make good timing but not too fast to jostle Kakashi on his back. When they finally arrive, Iruka crouches down for Kakashi to slide off. He sniffs around until he finds the right pile of underbrush and starts digging, flinging dirt and leaves behind him until he uncovers the scroll.
It is then that his earlier trepidation comes back to rear its ugly head, and his nervousness makes him pause. He looks back to Kakashi, ears flat against his head with a small whine in his throat. Kakashi looks up from where he’d been running his hands through his dirty, leafy hair. “What is it?”
Iruka looks down at the scroll then back up again head bowing down low. Understanding seems to dawn on Kakashi, because his gaze softens and he gestures for Iruka to come closer with his hand. “Come here.”
Iruka goes, staying low to the ground, walking forward until he’s laying on his belly with his head between Kakashi’s open legs. Kakashi puts his hands on Iruka’s large head, rubbing softly underneath his eyes with his thumb, where his scar shows through even in this form. “You told me once you loved me no matter what, scars and past and all. Do you still?”
Iruka whines louder, shifting slightly to lick at Kakashi’s chin and face, making the other man smile. “I know...I know I didn’t say it then, but...” Kakashi looks into Iruka’s eyes and pulls his face down enough so that he can lean forward and press his forehead against Iruka’s. “I love you the same. Ok? I love you the same.”
Heart swelling, Iruka closes his eyes and let’s go of his wolf skin. Steam rises and rolls off of him in wispy swirls, much like the way smoke from an incense stick would, leaving him nude and kneeling before Kakashi, their foreheads still pressed together. Iruka brings his hands up to grip his lover’s wrists before opening his eyes again.
Kakashi smiled crookedly at him. “Hey, you.”
“Hi,” Iruka says back, feeling very shy and exposed despite Kakashi having seen him nude plenty of times already.
“Thanks for the rescue,” Kakashi runs his hands over Iruka’s long, tangled hair, and tucks it behind his ears, thumbs sliding over his cheeks just as he had when he was holding his wolf head.
Iruka stares at a spot on Kakashi’s vest, nervously scratching at the insides of Kakashi’s wrists. “Are you mad?”
“Mad? Why would I be mad? My super hot boyfriend just rescued me in the most badass way I could ever think of. I feel like I’m in Icha Icha.”
Iruka startles himself with the laugh that bubbles out of his mouth, and he finally meets Kakashi’s eye with a grin. “I’ll come save you any time, princess.”
Kakashi chuckles slightly, staring at him before sighing and leaning back. “But for real...how? Does anyone else know?”
“Just Hokage-sama...but I haven’t changed in years. It’s been so long--I would have turned back sooner but I was stuck and I didn’t want to damage your eye even more and--”
“Iruka, Iruka, it’s okay, I’m not--I know you would have if you could have. But--you were stuck? Are you okay?”
Iruka pauses, taking a deep breath and stock of his body. His wounds were mostly superficial, and luckily kept portional to his human body, but there is an undeniable heavy ache in him. It feels much how a body becomes sore, skin sensitive to touch, the way it does during a high fever. Even now, in the broad daylight, Iruka feels the call of the moon pleading him to change back, as it does every night. Before it was more of an itch under his skin he couldn’t quite scratch, the sense of something being not quite right, not this low-burning sensation that reaches down into his bones and makes him want to cry a little.
“It hurts,” Iruka admits after a moment of silence, leaning into Kakashi’s palm. “But I’ll be ok. Let me get dressed and we’ll make our way back--your eye...”
Kakashi lets him go as he stands to reach for his scroll and unlock it’s contents to begin getting dressed. When he finishes and turns, zipping up his vest, Kakashi is watching him, head in one hand with his legs spread and bent at the knees. “You’re kind of amazing, you know that?”
Iruka blushes, hurriedly tying his hair back with his spare tie. “It’s true,” Kakashi continues, standing stiffly and coming to loop his fingers into the pits of Iruka’s vest to pull him forward. “Every day I think--wow, can he get any better? No, right? This man has got to be some brand of crazy to stick with a guy like me--” Iruka glares at him, well used to reprimanding his lover for the negative self talk. “--but you just...you just do things the way you want to, knowing it’s right. You stay with me because you want to. You stay with me because you love me.”
Iruka smiles and wraps his arms around Kakashi’s neck. “I do love you. You’re pack--I’d do anything for you.” He tilts his head just so, lowering his eyes with intent, brushing the tips of his lips against Kakashi’s own.
“Pack,” Kakashi breathes out, his warm breath ghosting over Iruka’s lips, before they move together as one to share a kiss.
How beautiful, Iruka thinks. How beautiful to be here right now kissing the man he loves. It settles his bones, the burn in his skin. It leaves him warm and tingly in a different way, wanting more but also perfectly content to stay here forever.
His body sags against Kakashi slightly, a tension releasing from his shoulders. He breathes in Kakashi’s scent, and it serves to soothe him further. When they pull apart, he sees the same, soft, dazed look reflected in Kakashi’s eye. They share a small, soft smile between them.
“Let’s get you home, ne? The kids were worried about you.”
Kakashi sighs, pulling away just enough to start walking again. They are close enough to that even if they walk on foot instead of jumping through the trees, they will make it to the village by lunch time. “I’m never going to hear the end of it. They’re going to fret for months...”
Iruka laughs, intertwining their hands together and walking side-by-side with his lover. “They were worried about their sensei, don’t be too harsh on them.”
“Still, it’s a good lesson to learn...”
Their voices carry on, making light conversation about this or that, hands warm where they press together, hearts light in their chests as they make their way back home.
And when they get to the village, Iruka ignores the looks of surprise at his success in bringing the legendary Copy-Nin home on his own, no back-up or team needed. It doesn’t matter what they think, it doesn't matter if their assumptions about him, because he knows his truth, Kakashi knows his truth, and he loves him still.
He loves him still.