Disclaimer: I would love to take credit for Naruto, because I think it's absolutely brilliant, but sadly I own nothing except Shuurai no Jutsu and the current incarnation of Inuzuka Kiyame. And this story, of course.

Author's Notes:

The catalyst for this fic was the distressing (to me) lack of good Kakashi pairings. Since I firmly hold to the belief that Kakashi is het, and since I firmly dislike most OC pairings, I had to do some digging to find a real canon character I thought Kakashi could get along with. Thus enters Inuzuka Kiyame, Kiba's older sister, who appears briefly in the manga in Chapters 137 and 235.

Warning: spoilers up to Manga Ch. 244 (through the end of Kakashi Gaiden). Also violence, angst, and shinobi who don't always follow Rule #25…

Wolf Mask

Chapter One: Too Late

When Hatake Kakashi arrived on the scene, most of the ANBU squad was already dead.

He was no Inuzuka, but he still smelled the battle before he saw the break in the trees and the smoke lazily spiraling up to the clouds. Someone had used a good many explosion tags, and several someones had spilled a great deal of blood. More than blood, by the stench. Kakashi rubbed the hilt of the kunai in his hand and tried to prepare himself for a sight that should, after fifteen years as a Leaf Village jounin, have been as familiar to him as the well-thumbed pages of his favorite book.

Somehow it never was. Enemy deaths didn't faze him—he had too much blood on his hands, after years of war and service in the ANBU, to worry about something like that—but when he saw the smashed masks and broken bodies of those he'd once called comrades, if not friends, the old ache came back and tore at his chest. Hatake Kakashi didn't cry, not anymore, but his left eye—Obito's eye—began to water. The sturdy cloth of the forehead protector he wore slanted over the Sharingan eye absorbed the useless tears, and his face remained as dry and cold as a shinobi's should be.

The battle had torn an unnaturally large clearing among the towering forest trees, and the edges were still smoldering angrily. Kakashi held his breath and sprang through the barrier of smoke, landing in a solid three-point crouch in the center of the clearing. The smoke drifted sideways, thick and greasy and heavy with the reek of seared meat. His mask filtered out most of the ash, but it could not hide the stench. Death was not pretty—especially not so gruesome a death as these shinobi had died.

Three of the mangled corpses were Leaf Village ANBU. At least, he thought there were three, although some of the pieces were too shredded and scattered to sort out who they had belonged to. Two more, he was almost certain, belonged to the missing-nin the ANBU had been sent to destroy. But hadn't there been five missing-nin, three from the Hidden Village of Cloud who'd teamed up with two from Leaf and thus rendered themselves Konoha's problem? And where was the fourth ANBU?

He scouted around the clearing, finding a few unsprung traps (he disarmed them easily), the second ANBU member's missing head (he closed his eye and said a silent prayer before moving on), and the fourth ANBU mask. It was cracked down the center and spotted with congealing blood, but he could tell that originally it had taken the shape of a snarling wolf's head. Rather like his own old ANBU mask, come to think of it… There hadn't been another wolf in the ANBU when he'd left, so this one must be fairly new.

Fairly new… Kakashi snorted. It's been eight years, and I haven't been keeping tabs on ANBU since then. The kid could be anybody!

And the kid could be anywhere, which was more to the point. He—or she; the mask was a little too small for a man's face, although it might easily fit an adolescent—wasn't in the clearing, but that didn't mean much. Maybe the wounded shinobi had staggered off to die. Maybe he'd followed the absent missing-nins in a desperate attempt to finish the mission for which his teammates had died. Maybe he was facing those renegade ninjas right now!

Kakashi didn't hesitate any longer. He slashed the ball of his left thumb shallowly with the kunai in his right hand and flashed through the seals. "Kyuichose no Jutsu!"

The blood-soaked soil under his hand grew soft and warm with fur. Kakashi pulled his hand away, smiling grimly down at the small nin-dog crouched on the ground. "Oi, Pakkun. Got a mission for you."

Pakkun scratched himself behind the ear with a hind foot as he looked around, slowly taking in the carnage. When the dog finally spoke, his deep bass voice sounded unusually strained. "They don't play around, do they? Took out three ANBU and only lost two…"

"One of the ANBU got away," Kakashi said flatly. "And three of the enemy are missing too." He held out the cracked pieces of the bloody wolf's-head-mask. "Can you pick up this scent?"

Pakkun gave him a dirty look, but the dog could sense Kakashi's urgency. He sniffed the bloody mask, cast around on the ravaged forest floor for a moment, and then set off through the smoke at a hurtling gallop.

Kakashi sprinted after the dog, whispering a fervent prayer that he wouldn't be too late.

He almost was.

His ears had just caught the faint murmur of running water when Pakkun stopped abruptly, his black-button nose in the air and his stubby tail clamped to his hindquarters. Kakashi slid another kunai out of his belt pouch, just to be on the safe side, and dropped into a crouch beside the nin-dog. "What's there?" he demanded in a low whisper.

"Your ANBU girl," Pakkun growled back. "Three dogs. Blood."

"Any of the Cloud nin?"

Pakkun shook his head and sneezed. "Can't smell any. But…there's a lot of blood."

"Yeah." Kakashi rose again, jaw clenched. The Cloud nin hadn't already attacked the injured ANBU—a girl, was she?—or Pakkun would have smelled them, but they could be closing in. He'd have to move fast.

He was about to dismiss Pakkun when another thought struck. "Three dogs? Could they be using a transformation technique?"

Pakkun snarled softly. "Henge no Jutsu doesn't change smells. Those are Inuzuka dogs."

Inuzuka? Well, that would explain the wolf mask. And it would also mean that Kakashi and the ANBU wouldn't be fighting alone. He'd watched the match between his former student Naruto and Inuzuka Kiba in the preliminary finals of the Chuunin exams last year, and he'd seen the extraordinary partnership of an Inuzuka and his dog. They fought almost as one entity in two bodies. With three nin-dogs to protect her, no wonder this Inuzuka ANBU had survived!

"Thanks, Pakkun," he murmured. "You'd better clear out now. Follow my trail back to Konoha and tell Tsunade-sama where I am and what's happened. Go!"

Kakashi didn't wait to watch Pakkun follow his orders. Clenching the kunais in his fists, he slipped forward to see what remained of the Konoha ANBU squad.

He saw the dog first. It was a shaggy, wolf-like grey and white male, with a scarred nose and a scorched shoulder. Snarling and bristling, the dog paced a narrow circle on the edge of the stream bank upwind of Kakashi, his brown eyes raking the forest for any sign of enemies. Behind him, another dog licked her bleeding leg and cast worried glances at the third dog, which lay still on the pebbled bank. The rocks were red with his blood, and the ANBU girl kneeling over him was swearing fiercely enough to make Mitarashi Anko blush.

From the crimson triangles tattooed fang-like on her cheeks and the skilled tenderness with which her hands moved over the dog's body, the girl was definitely an Inuzuka. She wore the standard ANBU uniform, but the black bodysuit was now shredded and scorched. Blood stained the entire chest of her silvery-grey vest. She'd discarded the armored black gloves, and her hands were red to the elbow. One of those hands held together the raw lips of a gaping wound in the dog's belly, while the other drew a threaded needle from the aid-kit at her belt. "Hold on, Katsu," she murmured in a low, desperate voice. "Just a little longer, brave one, you can make it…"

The dog whined as the needle bit into his torn flesh. The Inuzuka girl swore again—then her nose twitched, her head jerked up, and her dark eyes widened. The first and second dogs drew close together, hackles bristling and lips curling back to bare gleaming white teeth. They faced upwind, away from Kakashi's concealed perch high in the branches of a nearby tree. Kakashi held his breath. The missing-nin?

A low chuckle cut through the dogs' savage growls. "Very nice," the Cloud shinobi mocked, stepping out of the trees. His grey vest and trousers were scorched and bloody, but he moved with an easy, unwounded grace. "Now, if your pets had been this observant when we first met, maybe the rest of your team would still be alive, eh?" Smiling coldly, he adjusted the Hidden Village of Cloud forehead protector he still wore, although the engraved lightning symbol was marred by a single deep crack, the mark of a missing-nin.

Kakashi's visible eye narrowed as he scanned the woods around him. If this missing-nin was here, where were the other two? Maneuvering into more favorable positions around the Inuzuka girl and her dogs, no doubt…

"You—" the young woman choked, rising from her knees and reaching back for the katana sheathed over her shoulder. "How dare you—"

Kakashi saw the flash of movement on the other side of the stream bank just as the kunoichi unsheathed her katana. He didn't pause to think, to weigh his options or to consider his position. He simply launched himself from the tree branch, interposing his body between the ANBU girl and the second Cloud nin. The man dodged Kakashi's sweeping kick, but the blade of his kunai caught the whirling edge of the missing-nin's fuuma shuriken, and the two of them landed with a splash in the shallow waters of the stream.

Second time's the charm, Kakashi thought grimly—didn't this already happen with Zabuza?

The Cloud shinobi sneered. "Another Konoha dog decides to come out of hiding, eh? You'll be sorry…" He forced the shuriken down another two centimeters, and the tip of one blade kissed Kakashi's shoulder. The missing-nin was taller and heavier than Kakashi, and if he pressed just a little harder—

"You're the one," Kakashi breathed, "who's going to be sorry." His left hand came up, guiding the second kunai towards the missing-nin's heart—

"Shuurai no Jutsu!" a third voice roared, and Kakashi's world exploded in white fire.

Author's Notes

Thanks to my terrific beta reader, PhoenixOfEternity, who addicted me to Naruto in the first place.

Inuzuka Onee-chan is also on the Chapter Cover for Chapter 198, if you want to take a look. I confess, I did make up her personal name and her status as an ANBU member, but I've done my research, and you shouldn't find any discrepancies with the (shreds of) facts Masashi Kishimoto gives us about her. And given that this fic is set sometime in the 2 years after Naruto leaves Konoha, why shouldn't she have joined ANBU in the interim?