Summary: [NOVEL] Yamato's particular brand of hell shows up blonde, blue-eyed, and oozing femininity. Someone please help his poor soul. Yama-centric. Yama/Ino; Yama/Kakas. An epic-level romance, updated Saturdays weekly.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Rating: M, for language, yaoi, sex, and crackedness.

PLEASE READ!A/N: First things first, I'm writing some Kakashi/Yamato action. So, for those of you uncomfortable with yaoi, you may want to avert your eyes.

Secondly, I've never written yaoi…except for now because it works in the story and with my perception of Yamato and who he is. Having said that, most of the story is Yamato/Ino.

Hatsuburi is the official name (or so I've been told by a knowledgeable friend) for Yamato's face-guard thingy.

I hope you enjoy.

~ Behind the Cat's Mask ~

Chapter One: A Reintroduction

He didn't see why Kakashi couldn't do this. Yamato ran a hand over his face, sighing. He remembered his meeting with Lady Hokage crisply. She had summoned him to her office late in the afternoon yesterday, the stalwart desk clear of papers, the vista of Konoha spread out behind her through the galleria windows, and the floor glossy with fresh polish. It'd been a while since he'd been invited into her office.

"I'm putting Naruto under Kakashi's full supervision and am giving you a new assignment." Her eyes had flashed. He'd seriously thought he'd be back in his ANBU Black Ops uniform within the hour, but she'd continued, "I'm putting you in charge of training and preparing Yamanaka Ino for full service in the ANBU. You begin her training tomorrow, 4 AM sharp at the ANBU training grounds. Shizune!"

Shizune, who'd he'd always been a little sweet on, entered the office. She'd smiled, friendly, as she handed him a manila envelope labeled 'Yamanaka Ino' in bold, red letters. Lady Hokage had explained, "That's her file. Review it and draft up a training schedule by six tonight. Questions?"

Yes. Many. "I don't mean to be impertinent, milady, but I'm better suited for monitoring and protecting Naruto. Why not have Hatake Kakashi train her?" He had known she hadn't been pleased when her brows had furrowed. "Or better yet, Morino Ibiki? He's head of the Interrogation Squad, and surely with her being of the Yamanaka clan, his skills would best suit her style of jutsu."

She had smirked. "I've picked you for a very specific reason," she'd started slowly. "You're the only member of the ANBU that will keep your eyes in your head and a civil tongue in your mouth when she tests you. And she will," Lady Hokage had added. "You will keep her on track without becoming emotionally compromised by her…shall we say…feminine wiles."

He'd understood what she'd been artfully saying. He was a man who kept to himself, who was polite, and who didn't womanize. She didn't want anyone sexually involved with Yamanaka Ino, and he was first pick because he was well-known for his nonexistent affairs with women…and men. In fact, Yamato was pretty sure everyone thought he was antisocial outside of his team and the miniscule interactions he had with the human race at the bar or grocery store.

His early morning reverie dissipated when his ears picked up low, female murmurs. A giggle, from more than one- -and he recognized Sakura's voice. Lady Hokage had not said anything about Sakura being there…but he recalled Sakura talking about Ino in a friendly-rival capacity, so maybe Sakura was there for moral support?

The two girls materialized in the dim pool of light cast by the overhead lamps outside the entrance to the ANBU training grounds…and he suddenly understood Lady Hokage's warning. Yamanaka Ino had not made any impression on him in the past, but the siren that walked alongside Sakura certainly impressed upon him a woman who could sweet-talk any woman or man into doing her bidding; a woman who could turn from gentle and submissive to a throat-slashing demon in a blink of an eye. He saw he'd have to tread carefully with this one.

As they approached, Ino said something, too low for him to hear, but he did see Sakura's eyes flick to him and the disbelief that twisted her features. Sakura whapped Ino's arm, as Ino covered her mouth with the back of her hand to laugh. They came to a stop in front of him.

"Good morning, Captain Yamato," Sakura greeted, smiling. The light cast shadows over her face. "Captain, this is Ino. Ino, this is Captain Yamato. You should remember each other from before."

"Yes." He nodded. "But I've heard a lot about you since then."

Ino's mouth curved- -not friendly, like Shizune's and not sweetly, like Sakura's- -but wickedly. A predator's grin of sharp fangs before jumping to the kill. Her smile put him on high alert. "All bad, I hope. Master."

Yikes. Buyer beware. He remained a cool neutral, turning his attention back to Sakura. "Thank you for reintroducing us. We'll be getting started, if you want to say goodbye."

Sakura and Ino embraced, and he heard Sakura whisper something to Ino, who giggled, and then they released.

"Goodbye. And good luck!" Sakura said, stepping off into the darkness with a small wave.

Ino returned the wave, and he waited as she watched Sakura disappear into the early morning night. They were alone. She faced him, flicking the long ponytail over her shoulder. "So, Master. Where do we start?"

Being addressed as Master felt…odd, different, when he'd been forever labeled as 'captain' or 'commander'. "Let's enter the training grounds," he replied, gesturing to the open chain-link gate.

He'd had Anko, the usual ANBU Groundskeeper, unlock the heavy lock and links across the single entrance; the training grounds were the Forest of Death, if it had been watered with steroids. Only ANBU knew where it was in Konoha and only ANBU knew how to get in. The aura of the place seemed to give her pause. Ino looked up and down the tall fence, into the deep, black shadows beyond the safety of the entrance.

"I never knew this was here," she said, reaching out to run her fingers on the hanging chains. "Is this gate jutsu-based as well?"

That she could pick up residual chakra without using jutsu perked up Yamato. "Yes," he answered, "there are some sealing jutsu on the entrance. Can you tell what kind of sealing was used?"

"No…but this chakra signature feels like"- -her mouth quirked in the corner- -"…Anko's. And yours when you dispelled the seal."

When would she have had time, intimately, to memorize Anko's chakra signature? But he left the question unasked. "You are correct again. She's in charge of sealing the entrances after each usage, but I can do it as well."

"I see," she answered. She tilted her face to him and he felt, more than saw, her eyes intent on him. "You weren't expecting much of me, were you?"

He couldn't be sure if she was guessing or if she knew. "I expected what had been recorded on your file."

"Hm," she responded. To his surprise, she grasped his wrist and lifted his arm. Her hand opened his, and as she held his hand palm-up, she squinted in the light at it. Scrutinizing, he supposed, when one finger traced the long creases and the curves between his fingers. Her touch alternately tickled and stilled his breathing. Before he could pull away or even admonish her, she closed his fingers and patted his fist. "Did it hurt?"

"I'm sorry?"

"When the kunai cut your hand. Did it hurt?"

Now he pulled from her grasp, recalling the old kunai wound across his palm. It had been so long ago. That quick slice of steel cutting the skin. He felt it afresh. The promise binding him…and breaking him. Those pain-filled eyes he could never heal.

"Master?" Ino's voice startled him. "What's wrong?"

"I'm…nothing, Ino. We've wasted enough time. Let's get started." He gestured at her to enter the training ground, but she ignored it. When the wings of panic fluttered in his chest, he understood that he needed to redirect her attention. "You wanted to know what we're doing?"

Her chin notched up an inch. "Master has a secret," she said, in a smugness that sickened him. "You know, secret-finding's my specialty."

How'd she done that? The balance of power had shifted, and Yamato had to scramble to shift it back. She wanted a rise out of him, some indication that she'd hit a sore point with him. "And we're here to work on areas that aren't your specialty. Enter the training grounds, recruit."

Her brows jumped, but the tone of his voice and his exertion of rank seemed to quell any rebellion stirring inside her. The balance had shifted back, temporarily. Too much spunk, in that one, he thought. Like Naruto, but with attitude and a…well, and female assets. Then, as he walked behind her through the front gates of the training grounds, he finally realized why she'd taken his hand. The file had not mentioned her astuteness with physical features, and she'd wanted to prove her point. Tread carefully, he told himself. Careful.

She continued forward in the darkness for several more minutes, when she turned to him. "Is this far enough?"

"I think it's a good start," he answered, drawing up beside her. "Are you ready?"

"Tell me what we're doing."

Yamato understood her impatience. "I'm carrying an important scroll that you need to secure. Or, land a hit on me, if you can."

"That's it?" He felt her examining him, and when her finger traced the inner-edge of his hatsuburi, along the sensitive skin of his face, he couldn't help but track the progress of that light touch, from over his eye, down the side of his cheek. His throat tightened. "What're your dinner plans tonight, Master?"

The sound of her voice had lowered, pinging off something buried so deep inside that Yamato instantly felt threatened. And angry. She laughed, again, in her throat, and said, "Get it? Land a hit on you? I just hit on you?"

He moved, snapping his hand to her arm and twisting around, bringing her elbow with him up and away from her back. It was a cruel thing he did, disjointing her shoulder from its socket, but she had to be shown her place. She was the student; he, the master. He kept a tight grip on her arm, listening to the breath hissing through her teeth. She had not cried out.

"Understand this, Ino. I am not your plaything. I am your master. I am to be cruel, aggressive, unrelenting. I have no heart. The sooner you learn that," he released her arm and she crumpled to the ground, "the longer you survive. Come find me when you've finished healing yourself. You have one full day to secure the scroll."

He left her on the forest floor, curled around herself in agony. When he perched on a nearby branch, close enough to maintain a visual without her seeing him, she'd already popped her shoulder back in place. He shut down his emotions, the anger and the tiny nibble of guilt, so he could concentrate on his own mission.

His objective was to observe her at first. In the field, she'd have to locate the target. Since she'd already revealed her ability to detect days-old chakra signatures, his fairly fresh chakra trail would be easy for her to pick up. He'd set up a false trail then had suppressed his chakra signature so he could circle around to watch her without being detected. There she went, as he predicted, along the false trail. Easy, almost…too easy.

He followed, a shadow among shadows. Years of honing high awareness of his surroundings warned him that anything was amiss. Nothing about Ino's demeanor had changed as she tracked his chakra signature, but his perception flung his attention sideways to a tiny movement on his right. And so he shot chakra to the soles of his feet, narrowly avoiding a slew of shiruken. Her approach was direct, succinct. Almost impatient.

He reciprocated the attack, forming and sending off a wood clone to distract her while he found a decent hiding spot. The fight escalated from there, each participating as the cat, each participating as the mouse. She, too, was relentless, using traps, a vast and complex array of jutsu, which was all what he'd seen on her dossier, and what he could only describe as heavy application of ingenuity. Not bad. He could work with her skill.

But after twenty-four hours of constant, aggressive battle, the toll on her had become too high. Yamato, used to the hard pace, knew her chakra was running out, she was exhausted, and she was at the end of her rope. That she'd lasted this long seemed to impress upon him her desire to do great things and survive them all.

Regardless of her will, Yamato could now visibly see her exhaustion. In the next day's fading light, her skin gleamed with sweat, mottled with dirt, and her hair fell in wisps about her face. Shoulders rose and fell, mouth slack, as she struggled for oxygen. Dark smudged under her eyes. Her movements had become increasingly sluggish. It was his job to teach her that exhaustion was an annoyance to be ignored. He would not go easy on her.

Forming the signs in rapid succession, he grew from the ground twisting wooden beams, spiraling them towards her. She was quick, but she could only dodge for so long before one smacked her right in the chest. She flew back from the impact, crashing into the ground at high speed. As she skidded, dust rose, obscuring his view of her. The sound of a body flopping along stopped. Silence descended. Dust cleared. Yamato first saw the pale hair. Then he noticed how she remained slumped in a pile of limbs.

He hesitated. She'd played opossum before and had tricked him into approaching within her range, close enough that she'd slipped a hand in his flak jacket for the scroll. To be sure, he twisted some roots around her, holding her fast. She didn't struggle or attempt any jutsu. That's when he got concerned.

Oh, shit, was his first thought, I've killed one of Lady Hokage's favorites. Jogging over to her, Yamato allowed himself to imagine his punishment, but when he knelt and touched a couple fingers to the damp skin at her throat, he felt a strong pulse. He'd seen her fake unconsciousness, and this wasn't fake, it was very real, and she was spent, not dead. He breathed out his relief and released the wood technique used to hold her in place. Carefully, he slipped his arms under her, feeling a sense of responsibility for her, if only because if he left her in the forest, vulnerable, Lady Hokage would roll his head. He'd take her home, since his house was close by, to let her recover and regain her strength.

She was all limp and malleable in his arms, unconscious, and didn't stir even as he set her down to reseal the gate to the ANBU training grounds. He lifted her again and carried her the minor distance through the trees to his self-made home. He went in through the sliding doors in the back since his living room was there and placed Ino on the couch. Her hair dripped like liquid white-gold over the armrest.

Gently, Yamato unzipped her flak jacket, leaning her forward and manipulating her arms through the arm holes. He tossed it over the back of the couch then reached over to pick apart the knots in her boot laces. Her toenails matched her fingernails- -electric blue. Tiny hands. Ankles he could encircle with one hand. This was what Lady Hokage considered ANBU material? Slender thighs, narrow hips, and a swell of breasts? Nothing more than a pretty girl that weighed as much as a bird.

He covered her with a blanket, tucking the edges in and settled back into an armchair to write his initial report, listing her displayed skill-set and jutsu, and of course, her projected improvement in weaker areas. To give her credit, she'd gone toe-to-toe with him, who'd graduated Academy at age six and trained for ANBU from that age until his twelfth birthday. And there was his…DNA. The odds had been stacked against her, but, then, they always were and forever would be.

A shock of internal static-electricity drew his attention- -someone had stepped on his land-sensors and that same someone landed with a nearly inaudible taptap on his back porch. The sliding doors were still open, and Yamato didn't need to see who it was.

"Hello, Kakashi," he called.

"Yo." Kakashi crossed the floor to stand over Ino's prone form. He rubbed the back of his neck. "This is Yamanaka Ino? She's certainly easier on the eyes now."


"How'd she do?"

Yamato finished the report and folded it. He'd send it to Lady Hokage immediately- -she'd want a full update. "Not too bad, considering."

Kakashi stepped from the couch to Yamato's side, where he reached down to rest a hand on his shoulder. Yamato felt the delicious heat and weight of that hand to his bones. His breath hitched.

"How're you?" Kakashi asked. "You look beat."

He nodded. "I need to get this report mailed and then take her home. I don't want her getting any ideas."

"Hm. What kind of ideas would she get?"

"Let's just say Lady Hokage warned me not to get emotionally compromised by Ino's quote-unquote 'feminine wiles'." Yamato sighed as he recalled twenty-four hours ago. "She's already hit on me." He considered a moment the palm-reading. "Twice."

Kakashi's hand squeezed gently. "Doesn't waste time, does she. May I see the report?"

Yamato handed it to Kakashi and waited in silence when he sat on the arm of the chair to read the document. Every once in awhile, Kakashi's head would bob. The proximity was killing Yamato, the hair on his arms prickling, saturated with Kakashi's presence. The crumpling of paper indicated Kakashi's progress on the report. Yamato took it back, refolded, from Kakashi; their hands brushed, and it felt like a current of electricity had jumped through their skin.

Kakashi twisted to lean across the arms of the chair, ducking his head, fingers on his free hand tugging down the cloth covering his mouth. Yamato inhaled with sharp anticipation as Kakashi's mouth pressed against his. The heat burned him, his blood surging in a temperature response to the soft lips of the man who was his oldest friend and lover. Kakashi's tongue broke the seam of his lips, and Yamato relaxed, melted in bliss when the kiss deepened, allowing Kakashi to take what he wanted. Kakashi could always take what he wanted.

Yamato's brain ceased to be concerned with such trivial matters as breathing and seeing, and instead chose to concentrate on the hard-beating heart, thumping away under his ribs and the rough calluses of Kakashi's hand through the fabric at his neck. He gasped, a little, when Kakashi's teeth dragged across his bottom lip and was left reeling when Kakashi pulled away. The sudden absence and crash of emotion stunned Yamato into silence.

Kakashi covered his mouth and hopped off the armrest. "You really are beat. You've never let down your guard so easily," he added, moving over to the couch and Ino. To Yamato's surprise, he flicked off the blanket and slipped his arms underneath her body. "I'll take care of the new recruit. You can mail that report in the morning. Take a shower. Get some sleep."

And before Yamato could utter a goodbye, Kakashi had stepped through the door and disappeared amid the tree branches into the twilight, Ino draped in his arms. Yamato got up and closed the door, wondering if Kakashi would come back tonight to finish what he'd started, but reason suggested he would not. When Yamato turned back to the living room, he noticed Ino's flak jacket and boots had been left.

No worries. He'd drop them off at Ino's apartment when he went to mail the report. He'd slip in, slip out, and she would never be the wiser. Tossing the folded report to the end-table, Yamato moved through the hall in the back-corner of the living room, up the stairs to the master suite. He had no idea why he'd created a house so spacious, with the entire top floor dedicated to a single bedroom and bathroom, and then with three bedrooms on the bottom floor, plus the open kitchen, dining room, and living room areas.

As the house's skeleton formed many years ago, he'd known it would be too big and too lonely. He should've rented a place downtown, but the Third Hokage had insisted on giving him the land.

Please, accept, the old man had said, pleading. Please, accept. It's only right, he'd said as Yamato signed the papers, never able to tell the Third no. You've already lost and given so much, it's good for you to receive.

Yamato broke from the melancholy. Whenever he was tired, long repressed memories seemed to take advantage. The weather was good sleeping weather, and so he opened the windows upstairs to allow in a cross breeze. His home nestled between a thick grove of maple trees, a forest, yet not a forest, separated from the busy Konoha bustle, and the quiet that greeted him outside was one he savored. Yes. He liked quiet. He liked undisturbed.

Yet, as he stepped into the bathroom for his shower, he had a nagging thought that his life would no longer be undisturbed and quiet, but would be thrown into chaos. Chaos with electric blue nails and shining white-gold hair, penetrating blue eyes and forward attitude. Chaos named Yamanaka Ino.

A/N: I certainly hope my dear readers enjoy the new direction. As always, let me know thoughts, comments, or concerns. Next Saturday, expect Chapter Two: The Breakfast of Champions. Until then! =)