Last chapter ^^ Enjoy!

OOOOOOOOOO

Kioko was gone, but the dreams persisted. Kakashi flopped onto the couch and scrubbed his hand across his face. His brain's subconscious focus on the chuunin was inexplicable but he couldn't seem to get past the other man.

Iruka was…infuriating.

That was the one thing Kakashi was certain of.

The conversation and encounter that had started this whole mess was just one incident in a long chain of animosity between the two of them. Only a few days before the kunai throwing practice that had gone so terribly wrong, Iruka had whipped Kakashi's copy of Icha Icha out of his hands when the jounin and his team had approached the mission desk and had smacked him across the back of the head with it.

The chuunin had started scolding him for reading such 'filth' in front of the kids even before the book connected with his skull.

Iruka was uptight.

And a prude.

And a vindictive pain-in-the-ass if he wanted to be.

Kakashi still had some fading bruises from his practice with Iruka's class.

He squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his head back onto the cushions. An image of his current, unwelcome obsession rose unbidden in his mind's eye, and, as he tried to force it away, his brain ground to a screeching halt.

The memory was of Iruka holding Kioko in his arms and smiling softly down at the furry puppy. He'd seen that same expression on Iruka's face when he listened to Naruto expound on his conquests as a ninja.

Kakashi knew that look. The last time that kind of look had been turned in his direction was back when Rin was still alive.

Lustful expressions, yes. He'd even been propositioned several times, but he figured that most people just wanted to see what was under his mask.

But pride? Love? Not for years.

Kakashi's eyes flew open.

He wanted Iruka to look at him like that.

It was so incredibly bizarre that it was Iruka specifically, despite a large number of available people in his near vicinity. He supposed that it was simply that Iruka was one of the few adults he interacted with on a regular basis – regardless of how juvenile their interactions were. Unfortunately for him, Iruka seemed like the singularly worst person his brain could have settled on for a fixation.

OOOOOOOOOO

"Good morning, Iruka-sensei!" Naruto practically vaulted over the mission desk to reach the chuunin.

"Morning, Naruto-kun. Returning from a mission?"

"Yup, and it was a big success!" Kakashi saw Sakura roll her eyes behind Naruto.

"And so you have a mission report?" Iruka grinned at him.

"Kakashi-sensei has that."

The temperature in the room dropped several degrees as Iruka transferred his attention from his former student to the jounin slouching behind him. "May I have the report please, Kakashi-san?"

Kakashi barely hid a wince. Iruka hadn't yelled, but the calm, emotionless voice was almost worse. "Maa, here." He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. "So, how's Kioko?"

"Fine." Iruka blatantly turned his shoulder towards the jounin. "Looking forward to a new mission, guys?"

Kakashi slunk backwards as his team chatted happily with their former sensei. Iruka hated him. Really hated him.

Shit.

OOOOOOOOOO

Iruka stretched his legs out under the desk, careful to avoid the sleeping pile of fur curled up on the far side. He couldn't help but smile as she rolled over onto her back and sneezed several times in succession. "I can't believe that it's only going to be two more days."

Kioko immediately leapt to her feet and put both paws in his lap, panting happily at him.

"It's going to be lonely without you, kiddo." He ruffled her ears fondly.

Kakashi leaned against the window, pulling back just far enough that Iruka couldn't see him. Iruka's feelings towards him had been so obviously shoved in his face that he wanted to demolish his fixation and had hoped that by, following Iruka around, he might see something that would turn him off of the chuunin. Instead he had seen this.

Kioko was really the biggest link between them. If she went back to the pack, Kakashi would still see her on a regular basis, and if her behavior when she was away from Iruka, he would be tormented with memories of the chuunin. He stepped away from the building, pressed his hands together to form a seal, and vanished.

It was time to torch the bridges between them.

OOOOOOOOOO

His tentative knock went unanswered for long enough that he'd turned away by the time Iruka opened the door.

"Ah, Kakashi-san, can I help…?"

Any words that Kakashi'd manage to prepare died on his tongue at the far-too-neutral look on Iruka's face.

The chuunin's eyebrow arched upwards after a long moment of silence. "Would you like to come in?"

"Maa…that…yes."

Kioko rose onto her back legs the minute she saw him and planted her paws on his stomach. She'd grown a huge amount since Kakashi'd last seen her, and she looked like she was going to reach 80 pounds before she finished.

"Here to pick her up?"

"No. Yes." Kakashi took a deep breath and met Iruka's gaze. "Maybe. Pakkun and I talked to the pack leader, and, if you want, you can keep her."

Iruka's eyes widened.

"Permanently."

"You better not be joking, Kakashi-san." Iruka's voice darkened.

"She's very attached to you, as you pointed out, and the pack has been meaning to expand to different families…." Kakashi trailed off as Iruka bent to tousle Kioko's fur. "Oh, and the leader says 'happy birthday,' by the way."

Iruka's head whipped around to focus on him again. "How..?"

Kakashi gave a vague shrug. "Naruto was talking about it." He looked around. "Actually, I'm kind of surprised he isn't here."

"Well, after this long; it'd be kind of strange to not be alone." Iruka laughed self-consciously. "Sorry, that's kind of odd, isn't it?"

Strange? Kakashi wanted to shake him. How many times had Kurenai and Asuma tried to drag him out whenever he wasn't on a mission or training with his students? He'd gone once and had felt so incredibly awkward that he'd come up with excuses even more random than the ones he used for being late. Of course, being more comfortable alone did not make it any less lonely. "Iru…"

Something started beeping deeper in the apartment, and Iruka jumped. "I need to get that." As he started down the hall, he called back over his shoulder. "Thank you for letting me keep Kioko."

Kakashi paused and then trailed after the chuunin. "Iruka-san, for what it's worth, I'm sorry for all of this."

"Heh. If you hadn't done what you did, I never would have met Kioko." Iruka smiled softly at him. "You have nothing to apologize for. Well, except maybe being a downright jerk about my teaching methods. And probably scarring poor Tsuki for life."

"In my defense, I didn't expect her to hit you."

"Haven't taught many pre-genin's have you?"

"Well…." Kakashi waved his hands around in front of himself. "I've had at least three. Memories, you know, get fuzzier the farther down the road of life I venture."

A look of blank disbelief crossed Iruka's face for a long moment before he pressed a hand to his mouth and chuckled. "Remind me to believe Naruto the next time he tells me a story about you."

Kakashi felt the color rush to his cheeks and was instantly glad for the shadows in the hallway and the dark cloth covering the majority of his face. Iruka looked so completely different when he smiled. "I, uh, you having any luck communicating with Kioko?"

Congratulations, Kakashi, you've officially perfected the use of a crowbar to change the topic.

"Actually, it's not too bad as long as she keeps the memories short and specific." Iruka stepped over a braided, well-worn rope that was discarded in the center of the floor. "Oh, did you know that Kioko can transfer memories to inanimate objects? I picked up that squeaky toy yesterday, and I can still taste it."

"Inanimate…" He stepped into the kitchen and fell silent. This smell. He knew this smell. "Did you make this while Kioko was here? I mean, before I took her back the first time?"

"Probably. It's kind of a staple. Why?"

Kioko must have left that damn memory in his couch. Several weeks ago, he would have been furious. He would have chalked it up to some scheme Iruka was using to get back at him. But whether Kioko had planted the memory was irrelevant now, something was drawing him to Iruka. Even if Kioko's memories may have been the catalyst, his couldn't deny his own reactions.

"…and she can transfer emotions." Iruka didn't seem to notice his little diversion or the fact that he hadn't answered his question.

"What?"

"Yeah, Naruto was over a couple of days ago, and after he left, Kioko decided to take over my lap while I was grading." Iruka switched the rice cooker off and upended the contents onto a large plate. "I swear, I was on the verge of killing someone for ramen."

Kakashi chuckled, and Kioko chose that moment to scamper around the island in the center of the kitchen, banked off the back of Iruka's calves and fired directly into Kakashi's chest, knocking him over.

"Kioko! Iruka scolded sharply.

An overwhelming feeling of solitude enveloped him.

When the darkness lifted, he met Iruka's gaze. The chuunin was seated on the floor, his arm draped over the oven door, and had a look of infinite sadness plastered across his face. Kakashi recognized that emotion; it filled him everytime he stood at the memorial stone. Kioko sat halfway in between them, her tail thumping back and forth against the linoleum.

"Iruka, I…" Kakashi started.

"Would you like to stay for dinner?" Iruka offered in the same breath.

OOOOOOOO

A series of happy barks broke the crisp morning air as Kioko flounced through the gathering snow.

"I really don't see the fascination in it!"

"Maa, you're the person who claimed that you made it all the time."

"Yes, in the summer, when we could get the vegetables." Iruka shook his head. "Why are you so set on having it?"

"It's your fault."

"How could it possibly be my fault?"

"You wouldn't let me stay last night!"

"Er." Iruka blinked, feeling rather stupid. "And, so that has to do with this, how?"

"I had to sleep on the couch and Kioko's memory's still there! I was smelling it all night! Well…most of the night."

"You didn't have to sleep on the couch…What? Most of the night?"

"Maa, I, uh, you know how you can influence the memories? I may – or may not – have done something to stop you from cooking. Or not."

"Kakashi!"

"What?" He laughed as Iruka put a hand on his shoulder and shoved.

Outsiders would have taken Iruka's expression as overt irritation, but Kakashi caught him glance back and offer a brief, soft smile.

OOOOOOO

Fin

Thanks so much for reading and I hope the story was enjoyable.