Author's note: This story does contain knotting. I thought I would warn for it, in case this squicks some people.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Winter Wolf

Autumn

Iruka had always refused to believe in foresight, or fate. Life was what you made it, right? Despite this conviction, sitting nursing a beer that evening and staring at his fractured reflection in the cracked glass behind the bar, he still felt a prickle of unease eating at him.

Tomorrow's assignment was going to be a difficult one and, while all shinobi knew they could be sent on any type of mission, with anyone, everybody had people they trusted more than others – it was basic human nature, something that couldn't be eliminated even with training. Tomorrow Iruka would be with people he hadn't worked with before, and despite knowing that he'd been in this same situation many times, the thought of it was sitting uncomfortably in his belly.

Or maybe it was something else – the invisible elephant in the room that Iruka had been avoiding for what felt like forever: to tell Kakashi how he felt or not?

It wasn't like these feelings for Kakashi were a new thing; Iruka had been harboring romantic thoughts for him for years. It was just that recently, Iruka was feeling as if he should share, that keeping this a secret was dishonest. Iruka was nothing if not pragmatic; it would hurt deeply if Kakashi turned him down, but it wasn't Kakashi's fault Iruka had fallen in love with him. That was Iruka's burden to bear alone – and a heavy one it was. No, Iruka hoped that Kakashi might return his feelings. Didn't friendship often spark into something else? They were old friends, comfortable around each other, used to each other's habits. So shouldn't Kakashi be given the option of turning Iruka down, even at the expense of their friendship? Would it even end their friendship, Iruka wondered. He hoped not. Part of the problem was timing – it just never seemed to be the right moment to bring it up.

The door opened with a heavy creaking noise and a gust of warm autumn air wafted into the bar, dispelling the smoke and general miasma for a brief second or two. Iruka looked into the mirror, and felt his heart stop for a moment.

Kakashi.

I can't tell him now, he thought. I'm not ready.

"Iruka." Kakashi dropped onto the stool next to Iruka and nodded to the bar tender. "Didn't expect to see you here."

"Mission tomorrow," Iruka replied, staring into his beer.

"Ah." Kakashi paused, as if for dramatic effect. "Same here."

Iruka turned to look at Kakashi. Knowing he couldn't ask, because Kakashi more often than not pulled S-rank solos that were need-to-know only. The fact Kakashi was sharing the information with Iruka was breaking every rule in the book.

"Your captain dropped out at the last moment and requested time off. You're stuck with me instead," Kakashi informed him with an exaggerated eye-smile.

Iruka grinned, suddenly feeling as if a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Well, that's a relief," he said. "Buy you another?"

"Better not, sensei," Kakashi said with a wink. "Have to get up early tomorrow after all, and I don't want to hang around waiting for you to stagger to the front gate sporting a hangover. As your Captain, I'd have to discipline you for that, which you wouldn't like."

"Hmm, I see your point," Iruka laughed and finished the last of his beer.

Maybe he'd tell Kakashi later, when they got back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Iruka had given thought to dying, he had assumed his death would go one of two ways: that he would die of old age in bed, surrounded by Naruto's loud, snot-nosed grandchildren, with the unsteady beat of the heart monitor lulling him into the pleasant darkness of eternal sleep; or that he'd die honorably on a mission, upholding the nindo of the village and the Will of Fire.

Reality was quite different.

It involved blood: quite a lot of it. And pain.

Iruka gasped as his back hit the hard-packed dirt as he fell, followed by his head. Pain sliced up his spine, a hard brand of fire that seemed, for a moment, to freeze time with its intensity. The sounds of battle continued in the distance; the ting of metal against metal, someone screaming before the sound cut off abruptly, the sudden whooshing noise that signaled a fire jutsu or perhaps a vast amount of water being displaced. There was the sharp tang of blood, strong enough that Iruka fantasized he could taste the smell.

He blinked away the sudden tears of pain that beaded against his lashes and tried to focus, to force his eyes to stay open, to watch for threats. There was always a new danger; whether it held a sharp blade, or summoned a jutsu. He had to remain awake, to fight against the sudden blurring of his vision as things swam in and out of focus.

Moments passed: his legs were numb and the pain in his back was a sullen throb rather than a slicing pain now. Carefully, Iruka moved, his fingers scrabbling against the dirt as he searched for his kunai. It seemed just out of his reach; the warmth of the metal teasing his fingertips until he got a solid grip on the linen-wrapped handle. The kunai felt unbearably heavy in his palm, but Iruka gritted his teeth, drew the weapon close to him, the weight of it a comfort rather than a burden. He wouldn't die unarmed; he was a Konoha shinobi, and he would go into death with his weapon in his hand, surrounded by the bodies of his enemies.

Time seemed to pass slowly. There was the sound of a distant explosion, and screaming. Iruka watched a leaf fall from one of the branches above him; it twirled lazily in the air, drifting to the ground, until it was out of Iruka's range of vision. It didn't matter anyway, Iruka decided. He definitely couldn't feel his legs, and his breathing was becoming more labored as his heart tried to force blood through his dying body. Iruka's hand came away coated in warm, sticky blood when he touched the gash in his abdomen.

His blood.

Iruka took another shuddering breath and coughed weakly as the blood caught in his throat.

"Iruka?"

The voice seemed to travel from far away. Iruka hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he struggled to open them.

"Iruka?" The voice sounded anxious, and he was pretty sure he should recognize it. He blinked again, trying to focus on the person leaning over him.

"Kakashi-san?" he tried to say, but it came out as more of a cough than anything legible.

"Shit," Kakashi said. "You're not going to die on me, Iruka."

Iruka felt Kakashi's hands running over his torso, checking for injuries. Then his hands settled just below Iruka's navel, close to the wound, and he felt warm healing energy being forced into his body. Iruka blinked again, and watched Kakashi's face as he frowned in concentration.

Iruka had always liked that frown-line in between Kakashi's eyes, it made him look intense and dangerous. Like when he focused on you like that, you were his sole concern, whether you were friend or enemy. Iruka had been on the receiving end of both of those looks before, and each time it had sent a frisson of delicious warmth down his spine, straight to his balls, making him half-hard.

He gasped as pain raced up his torso again and Iruka clenched the kunai in his hand, blunt nails biting into his palm. That was a different kind of pain, one of his own making, the type he could control.

"Someone get a medic!" Kakashi shouted over his shoulder. Was that a hint of panic in Kakashi's voice?

Iruka grit his teeth as the warmth of the healing jutsu turned ragged around the edges, like Kakashi was trying to force the energy through his body.

I am going to die here, Iruka thought, eyes fixed on Kakashi's face. Even through the mask, Iruka could read Kakashi's worry. Kakashi's eyes flickered up to meet Iruka's, and he saw his own death there, mirrored in the red of one eye and the black of the other.

"Kakashi," Iruka managed to croak out.

"Save your breath," Kakashi replied, his voice radiating concern.

"I have to –" Iruka grasped at Kakashi's vest, leaving a streak of deep red across the fabric. His fingers slipped in the blood and he tightened his grip.

"Kakashi, I – I'm dying. Let me go, don't waste your energy." Iruka's voice was weak and shaky, but he had Kakashi's attention now. He felt the flow of the healing energy falter and then taper off. Pain returned in a violent wave, making Iruka feel like he was going to vomit.

"I'm not letting you die." Kakashi sounded absolute in his conviction.

"Let me go."

Kakashi reached out and Iruka felt gentle, yet trembling fingers against his cheek, sweeping up to his hairline. He felt Kakashi rearrange his hitai-ate, tugging it back into place. "Iruka, we can get you back to Konoha –"

"Please listen." Iruka coughed again, the blood welling in his throat, trickling from his lips. This time, the blood flowed thick and freely when Iruka coughed. He felt Kakashi pull him upright, partly into his lap, to ease the pain in his laboring lungs.

Iruka ignored the pain and reached his hand up to touch Kakashi's face. Iruka's bloodied fingers traced across Kakashi's jaw. Kakashi's warm hand folded around Iruka's fingers, pulling his hand gently away and lacing their fingers together.

"I love you, Kakashi."

"Finally," Iruka thought he heard Kakashi mutter and, as darkness closed in limiting his vision, "Please, I need your help."

This time the energy Kakashi poured into his broken body was different; it had a sharp, invasive edge to it and felt wild and untamed. Iruka arched his back, a wordless cry of pain on his bloodied lips.

"Stay with me, Iruka," he heard Kakashi say.

He was fading, despite the energy Kakashi was releasing. He could hear shouting in the background, someone calling Kakashi's name. Still Kakashi continued to channel energy into Iruka's body. And then… Iruka knew he was close to the abyss. Close to the edge of darkness, that death was here for him. He looked at Kakashi for a final time, and there, seeming to lean across his shoulder, as if superimposed over him, hovered the ghostly image of a wolf.

A wolf with grey fur, and eyes the color of ice in the springtime, when the snow starts to melt.

And the wolf smiled, although Iruka wasn't sure how he knew that was possible. It really didn't matter; nothing really mattered other than Kakashi should know how he felt.

"…love you…" Iruka whispered, and let the darkness pull him down.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Iruka, the return to consciousness was like struggling to reach the surface of a placid, but deep lake. When he finally woke, it was with a hoarse gasp for air, fists clenched tightly as if clutching at something just out of his grasp.

"Iruka? Fuck, hold on. Let me get a medic." There was the sound of a chair scraping backward; metal legs on a hard linoleum floor. It was loud and discordant to Iruka's newly awakened senses.

"Wait," Iruka managed to croak out around a dry throat. He cracked one eye open enough to make out a vague outline of a person, standing to one side, staring down at him. "Izumo?"

Izumo nodded and grinned. "Welcome back. Now sit tight while I go find someone with medical expertise."

Iruka blinked slowly, allowing his eyesight to adjust to his surroundings. His head felt fuzzy, and he knew that he should probably be a little more concerned about the state of his health than he currently was. He was also aware of how empty the room felt now that Izumo was gone.

He wondered where Kakashi was and if he'd visited while Iruka was unconscious. There was a small vase of wilting orange daises on the table, obviously from Naruto, but nothing else. No note from Kakashi, no orange book left carelessly on the side. Iruka's feeling of emptiness expanded, although it was tinged with a mild sense of relief that he couldn't quite place.

I should be dead, Iruka thought, and slipped back into the darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Iruka ran faster, trying to keep up with the wolf next to him. He nipped at the wolf's flank and turned. His paws gripped at the dirt of the forest floor, pushing his body along on powerful legs, his breath loud in his ears, the excitement of the chase adding the sweet touch of adrenaline to the game. He ran faster, could hear the sounds of pursuit this time from his mate. This game had meaning; the exchange of power as it was handed back and forth between them, the thrill of the hunt.

He turned and looked over his shoulder at his mate and that was his downfall: mismatched red and black eyes, bright with excitement and hunger made Iruka slow just enough to be caught.

Then the wolf was on him and they tumbled to the ground – and Iruka was no longer wolf but man, and Kakashi dragged him to the ground, all urgent kisses and bruising hands. Iruka arched up under Kakashi's weight, spreading his legs as Kakashi pulled him close and slid inside. They rutted under the moonlight like the animals they had been, or were, or would be. Iruka came quickly, and Kakashi followed, his hips jerking against Iruka's, until he was still. Iruka twisted under Kakashi, felt Kakashi's weight pressing him down, nonsense words whispered in his ear… and then he felt Kakashi's still hard cock swelling at the base, stretching him wide, wider, until he was sure he couldn't take much more –

Iruka woke in a tangle of sheets, his cry echoing around his bedroom. He lay there, taking deep, panting breaths, trying to calm his racing heart. He was so hard it hurt, a deep ache in his balls and between his legs, and he wrapped a shaking hand around his cock and gave two swift strokes. He gritted his teeth when he came, hot come painting his hand, his belly and the sheets.

This is insane.

Iruka sighed. He felt boneless, his body loose and relaxed, but his mind wouldn't settle. The dreams were becoming more frequent, more twisted as time went by. Sometimes he dreamt of his death, sometimes of Kakashi. More often than not they blurred together in a wealth of confusing images, some sexual, some not. None of it made any sense. All Iruka knew was that it was starting to become a common theme; waking in the night, cock aching and hard, his body straining for something, a need he couldn't explain.

Iruka knew something was different, something had changed inside him since that day he'd almost died, but he couldn't place exactly what that might be. It was simply a feeling, and instinct. He placed his hand over the now-healed gash that crossed his stomach, feeling the slight raised ridge of scar tissue, sensitive to his touch.

"Please, I need your help."

Kakashi's words came back to Iruka in a sudden rush of memory, along with the fear of dying. Iruka felt his heart rate skyrocket, along with a sudden punch of adrenaline. He could feel each and every small hair on the nape of his neck rise, and his hands fisted in the tangled bed sheets.

"Stay with me, Iruka."

Dying, Iruka thought. Kakashi pushing ragged energy into me; but there was something not right with it. Not healing energy; something else. That something else is now part of me, cohabiting peacefully at the moment, but will that change? The thought was faintly horrifying, but then Iruka felt a calming warmth spread through his body, and his worries faded away as if they had never been, leaving only his thoughts of Kakashi…

… Who he hadn't seen since…well, since that day. Iruka wondered if Kakashi was avoiding him and a small part of him was relieved. The more time they were apart, the more time Kakashi would have to forget Iruka's words, or so he hoped. Still, that didn't stop Iruka from missing him terribly. They had been friends for a long time, and Iruka could only hope that that part of their relationship hadn't changed, despite his words.

The sound of his alarm woke him fully and Iruka groaned in disgust. He sat up, and began to mentally prepare himself to get through yet another day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Iruka stood before the tree. He'd been drawn here; drawn to this spot by a thin thread of instinct that pulled at him, like a lodestone, the single-minded behavior of an animal that has no choice but to return.

This was where he had died.

Or where I should have died, Iruka amended. Instead, something had happened, something out of the ordinary, beyond the norm. And he had been avoiding thinking about that something, because he also didn't want to remember that during those last minutes, he'd unloaded his soul of the burden of his secret love, and thrust that burden at Kakashi before slipping into oblivion.

It was a cowardly thing to do, and Iruka wasn't a coward. He was a shinobi, and shinobi fought their own battles, faced their own adversaries.

The sound of a twig snapping behind him sent Iruka into an immediate defensive crouch as he turned, and he felt that something inside of him want to growl in warning. He could feel it in his throat, as much as he could envision imaginary hackles rising along the nape of his neck and his spine.

"I see you came back," said a low pitched, deep voice that Iruka recognized better than he would his own. "We always come back, it's an in-built imperative, you know."

Kakashi stepped from the shadow of the gigantic tree and into view. Hands lax at his sides, his flak vest unzipped to half way down his chest, he gave off the impression of being unarmed, but Iruka knew for a fact through long experience that that wasn't necessarily true. Kakashi was always prepared, always had a backup plan, always had more jutsu than was necessary and always had another weapon hidden somewhere.

Iruka turned to follow Kakashi's movements as he came closer. His fingers tightened on his kunai, eyes narrowing in suspicion. "What do you mean we always come back? Who is 'we'?" Iruka asked. "And why are you here?"

"Because you're here," Kakashi said with a laugh. The sound was soothing, something Iruka had missed without realizing it, and it sent calming waves over him, soothing the prickly something inside him.

"So many questions, Iruka. Just like you; always learning, always wanting to know the truth of things. It's what makes you a good teacher." Kakashi's relaxed posture changed somewhat, a thread of tension running through his frame. "Do you really want to know the truth? What you are now, as opposed to what you were before you died?"

"Did I die? Or was it just another near miss, Kakashi-san?" Iruka stood up tall, tucked the kunai back in his pouch and walked toward Kakashi, who was still a few steps out of reach. Iruka felt misplaced bravado bubbling up from inside him, as if his subconscious had decided that now was as good a time as any to get all the unpleasantness out of the way and move onto the mourning of a cherished friendship that he had destroyed with ill-timed truth.

"So formal all of a sudden, Iruka," Kakashi murmured. He closed his eye for a moment as if thinking deeply, and then Iruka realized why Kakashi appeared vulnerable; he wasn't wearing his hitai-ate, nor his mask. It was Kakashi's equivalent of a cat exposing its stomach, or deliberately sheathing its claws.

Kakashi was showing his vulnerability to Iruka, but Iruka couldn't fathom why.

Iruka bit his lip, worried at the skin for a moment as he watched Kakashi. He was confused by Kakashi's laid-back attitude, at a time when he expected Kakashi to be on the offensive.

Iruka took a hesitant step back, looked behind him, and sat down on one of the enormous tree roots that curled in and out of the ground around them. They grew everywhere, each root covered with a thin layer of springy bright green moss.

Kakashi grinned again, that small scar on his lower lip pulling slightly, giving him a rakish appearance. Iruka felt an unexpected bolt of desire and want pull at him and he licked his lips, imagining kissing Kakashi. It was an old game of Iruka's, wondering what Kakashi would taste like, wondering if he'd be able to feel that tiny pull of scar tissue on Kakashi's lower lip against his own.

This time when Kakashi moved it jolted Iruka from his reverie, and he felt the annoying tell-tale heat of a blush staining his cheeks. He looked down at the ground, hands fisting against his pants. After a few seconds, Kakashi's feet appeared in his narrow scope of vision and when Iruka had tamed his blush and looked back up, Kakashi was sitting opposite him, on another root. He was close enough, Iruka noted, for their knees to almost touch if either one moved.

"I think we need to talk," Kakashi began in a surprisingly gentle voice. "And I think we both have secrets we need to share."

"A good shinobi never shares secrets," Iruka said without thinking.

"Not even amongst good friends? Not even when keeping those secrets would be detrimental to us both?" Kakashi leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands hanging loosely between them. One knee brushed against Iruka's, and that constant, faint burn of desire that Iruka always had when he was around Kakashi flared. He resisted the urge to move – either away or closer, he wasn't sure which.

"You can go first then." I've already shared my secret with you.

Kakashi sighed heavily and looked up at Iruka through his bangs. "Do you trust me?" he asked.

"Of course," Iruka replied without having to think about it. "I've always trusted you, and you've never given me a reason not to."

"Good." Kakashi nodded, his expression pleased. "This will be easier to show you, rather than explain. Will you let me?"

Iruka frowned. "You want to put me under a genjutsu?"

"Yes." Kakashi, when he chose to be honest, was always brutally honest. Maybe it was a byproduct of being an elite shinobi and constantly employing misdirection as part of the job, or perhaps it was simply just a relief to be direct occasionally.

"Fine. How do you want me?" The words were out before Iruka could stop them.

"My, sensei, such a leading question." Kakashi was smiling openly at him now, Iruka noted with mortification. "But you'll do just the way you are." This time the brush against Iruka's knee was more pronounced, definitely more deliberate: was Kakashi flirting with him?

Iruka forced down the stupid optimism that bubbled up inside him and tried to focus, to remain passive and not succumb to useless hope. "Just do it," he grumbled, but didn't move his leg.

He focused on the rapid movements of Kakashi's hands as he formed seals. Part of him was curious about the process; he taught it at the Academy, but the truth of the matter was if you were under a genjutsu it was usually too late to free yourself – and you never remembered the technique being performed.

Iruka blinked once, then twice. "Did you do something wrong?" he asked. "Why are we still sitting here?"

"I didn't want to throw you off," Kakashi explained. "After all, I'm not using this as an offensive technique on you. I wanted to give you time to adjust as it can be fairly disorientating."

"But we are in the genjutsu?"

"Yes. Shall I make it rain flower petals or something for you, sensei?"

He's definitely flirting with me,/i Iruka thought. He only calls me sensei when he's teasing. What am I missing here? Iruka stood up, instinctively needing to have the position of authority, because it damn well felt like he was out of his league suddenly. "Just show me what you wanted me to see, Kakashi."

There was a ripple in the air around Iruka, and he was sure Kakashi had done that on purpose to differentiate between scenes. Not that Iruka needed the clue, it was fairly apparent they were in a very different place than before… or a different season, anyway. The giant tree was still behind Iruka, but the ground was covered with snow, deep drifts against the roots and bare branches. Everything was the stark white of virgin snow, juxtaposed against the black of the tree branches and the heavy gray sky.

Iruka could see his breath, forming as clouds of condensation; feel the chill of the cold against his skin. He turned to say something to Kakashi, but Kakashi was gone. Next to Iruka was a smear of red blood, seeping quickly into the snow. No longer virgin and untouched, the ground was churned up, barren dirt mixed with the snow, turning it alternately brown and in places, pink-tinged from blood.

"Kakashi?" he whispered, and his voice was hoarse, tinged with apprehension.

A small sound broke into the deathly stillness, the sound of someone taking panting breaths; the sound of someone fighting to live and failing. Iruka followed that sound, stepping over the roots in his way, following the trail of lifeblood in the snow.

Lying on the bloodstained snow was a teenager; all long, gangly limbs with startling silver hair, dressed in ANBU blacks. His mask was tossed to one side, and the other mask, the mask Iruka was familiar with, was pulled down around his throat so the teen could breathe easier, although that appeared to be a losing battle.

Iruka's heart felt for a moment like it had stopped beating, as if the shock of what he was seeing was too much to handle.

"Kakashi!" Iruka raced to Kakashi's side, only to remember this was an illusion when his hand passed through the youth's shoulder. He was a spectator trapped in a genjutsu, here to watch and learn, not to interact.

Kakashi coughed wetly, blood bubbling up to his lips. His hand moved against his chest, and Iruka watched as he winced and coughed again. Iruka followed the movement of Kakashi's hand, noticing that the ANBU flak vest was rent apart by a long slash in the material. If a weapon had done this to ANBU armor, Iruka thought, what must the wound be like beneath? How had Kakashi not been killed instantly?

The air seemed to ripple again, and suddenly, Iruka was Kakashi, lying on the snow, experiencing everything firsthand, rather than observing. Genjutsu or not, as a teacher, Iruka knew that sometimes the best way to learn was to experience something for yourself. That didn't make this any less shocking or easier to bear.

The pain in his chest tore at him, even as he weakened. So many things still left to do, to accomplish, to overcome. I cannot die here, not yet. I will not die here, drowning in my own blood, laid out in the snow like an obscene offering.

He tilted his head back, until he could see the tree. "Please…" he managed to gasp out around his panting breaths.

"All you had to do was ask, Hatake-san," said a voice, laced with amusement. The voice didn't sound wholly human, as if it was speaking through a throat not designed for the task.

Kakashi tilted his head again, until he could see the speaker properly. Sitting before him in the snow sat a large grey wolf, tail wrapped neatly around its paws, as if to keep them warm. Something wasn't right though; Kakashi could see through the wolf, as if it wasn't really there, or only partly there, rather like a ghost.

"What –" Kakashi gasped.

"Think at me, Hatake-san, rather than trying to talk," said the wolf. "As a Nature Spirit, I can read your mind telepathically, if you let me."

[You belong to the old shrine] Kakashi thought at the wolf.

The wolf seemed as if to nod. "Yes, I still reside here, with thanks to you and your clan." The wolf paused, turned slightly to look at something over its shoulder and then turned back, fixing Kakashi with an intense stare. "Which is why I will honor your request."

[My request?]

The wolf huff-laughed. "You wish to live, do you not, Hatake-san? I can see it writ upon your face, that determination to survive. We will make a pact, you and I, here and now. I will heal you, gift you with my abilities, and in return you will continue to honor our shrine, as your clan has always done. What say you?"

Kakashi nodded, not understanding half of what was offered within those cryptic words. He coughed again, and felt the last vestiges of his chakra and strength weaken. Even his ability to think was fading. He watched, helpless, as the wolf loomed over him, breath against his face as it placed a gentle paw against his chest, but he was beyond feeling it./i iThe wolf began to fade out, until it was just hovering energy above him. A tendril of energy seeped out, trickling into his wound. Kakashi felt the pain then, a sharp note amongst the dull and in a rush the energy was gone, into his body.

Kakashi screamed, even as his wounds knit closed rapidly, and the air rippled violently…

Iruka scrabbled away from the unconscious body of the teen lying in the snow. Still bloody, but healed. Still… still Kakashi, or maybe some sort of jinchuriki?

Memories hammered at Iruka of his own death, of Kakashi leaning over him, echoing what he had just witnessed. Once his mental gates opened, the memories came fast and furious. What had Kakashi said after Iruka had confessed his love? Finally, he had said. And, I need your help, right before Kakashi's healing energy had changed to something sharp and wild.

Iruka stood up and glanced down at the teenager that Kakashi had been. Still healing before his eyes. Iruka imagined he would stir soon and wake, maybe sit for a while and thank his good fortune in not dying.

With shaking fingers Iruka managed to form a seal with his right hand. He closed his eyes, cut off his flow of chakra and muttered "Kai!" before channeling a blast of dispelling energy through the genjutsu. It shattered in silence before Iruka's eyes, leaving him standing in the waning golden sunlight of the autumn evening.

No snow. No blood. No lies.

Kakashi looked shocked Iruka had broken out of the genjutsu. "Iruka? Why did you –"

"What are you?" Iruka snapped. "When – when I was dying… you channeled some of that energy into me, didn't you? Oh god, what the hell am I?" Iruka placed his hand over the new scar on his belly and fought the urge to panic at the thought of what lay beneath.

Kakashi moved forward, as if to touch Iruka, but Iruka stepped backward out of range. Kakashi's eyes widened and then he resumed his usual, laid back and half-lidded stare, the one he adopted when he felt the most deeply about something and tried to conceal it. It had always fooled everyone except Iruka.

"Will you let me explain? I was going to, before you broke the genjutsu."

Iruka narrowed his eyes. "How long were you going to keep me in there, Kakashi? Were you going to force me to listen to the rest of your story, even if I didn't want to hear it?"

For once Kakashi looked completely confounded, and Iruka felt a momentary twitch of guilt, along with something else, feelings that clearly were not his own. Disappointment, an echo of pain, heartache. Iruka was confused, but he also knew he was being unreasonable to Kakashi.

"I need time to think," Iruka admitted, trying to soothe the new wound growing between them.

"But you don't know everything," Kakashi replied, voice tight with emotion. "Let me explain."

"Later." Coward, noted Iruka's internal voice. "I'll find you later, I promise."

Iruka made to move away and Kakashi grabbed at his wrist, moving faster than Iruka could react. Kakashi's fingers wrapped around his wrist, tight, but not applying pressure, not trying to hurt. Iruka pulled back, stopping only when it was clear Kakashi was not going to let go.

Iruka glared challengingly at Kakashi, which he easily matched. "Release me."

And just like that, Kakashi let go. Iruka blamed what happened next on the fact he felt off-balance, both mentally and physically. Kakashi leaned in, fingers wrapping around the nape of Iruka's neck, holding him in place. The kiss was gentle at first, a mere pressure of lips against his. Iruka made a noise at the back of his throat, maybe protest, maybe not. He felt Kakashi's lips part beneath his, and he couldn't resist running his tongue across that small scar, feeling it, memorizing it. Then Kakashi's tongue was pushing back and the kiss deepened, becoming something else. Now there was need and desire, and Iruka wanted to surrender to it. It was what he had wanted for so long, wasn't it?

Wasn't it?

Iruka broke the kiss and pushed Kakashi roughly away. Ignored the way Kakashi looked slightly rumpled, with kiss-swollen lips, a hint of color on his cheeks. Ignored how he ran his tongue over his lips, like he was searching for Iruka's taste. Ignored the way Kakashi's eyes flickered down to Iruka's own lips, how his hands clenched into fists, like he wanted to reach for Iruka again. And finally, Iruka ignored the way his own body craved more, how his cock was half-hard already, just from a single kiss.

Iruka formed seals rapidly and vanished, leaving Kakashi alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The problem with the mission office, Iruka noted, was that during every shift there were phases. There was the after-dinner rush to hand in reports, the lull between six and seven, and then 'jounin-sensei hour', when most of the jounin showed up to collect their missions for their genin teams ready for the next day. After that, time stretched slowly until closing at ten pm.

It was currently just after eight, and the sun had already set. Iruka longed for summer, when the light remained so much longer, casting golden beams across the room, instead of the harsh white of the artificial lighting.

Iruka was sorting mission scrolls when he felt Kakashi's familiar energy. It was faint, but getting stronger, which meant that Kakashi was coming closer. Shit, just what I need right now, he thought nervously.

It took him a moment to realize it wasn't Kakashi's chakra he was picking up, like he would with a normal shinobi, but his feelings, because Kakashi had his chakra clamped down to almost non-existent levels. No, Iruka could feel a tight ache radiating from Kakashi, as if he was angry, and disappointed, mixed in with a small amount of hope and longing.

Iruka's mouth went dry. Somehow he was reading Kakashi's emotions. It felt like the worst sort of violation imaginable. Two months ago he would have loved to have known Kakashi's feelings – to know if he felt the same way about Iruka as Iruka did about him. Now that Iruka was somehow doing just that, well, it felt wrong, like he was some kind of voyeur. The something inside him seemed pleased however; as if it was glad Iruka had recognized what he was subconsciously doing.

Before Iruka could question that knowledge, he heard the handle turn and the door open. He put the mission scroll he had been handling to one side and looked up.

Kakashi crossed the room, his hands stuffed in his pockets, shirt sleeves rolled up, the epitome of lazy jounin. His gaze was piercing though, directed right at Iruka, a challenge that dared Iruka to look away first.

Iruka clenched his hands and sat up straighter in his chair; he'd never been one to back down in front of friend or foe.

"Kakashi-san." Iruka waited until Kakashi stopped right in front of the desk. "Have you come to collect a mission?"

"Yes, Umino-san." Kakashi held out a gloved hand. Their fingers touched briefly as Iruka handed over the scroll, but Kakashi made no further comment, instead tucking it into his vest without reading it.

Iruka frowned when Kakashi turned away. He was surprised to find that he was disappointed Kakashi wasn't going to mention what had happened the other day. "Kakashi…"

"Hmm?" Kakashi stopped, half turned so he could see Iruka over his shoulder.

Iruka froze, not sure what had prompted him to speak out. I want my friend back, he realized. The silence stretched, started to become uncomfortable, and still Kakashi waited.

"May the soles of your feet be firm, Kakashi-san," Iruka said quietly, looking down at the scroll on his desk.

It was only when a single leaf drifted onto the paper before him, followed by a wisp of smoke that Iruka realized Kakashi had already left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kakashi was late back from his mission. Not that Iruka was supposed to know that, but he had handed Kakashi the scroll, so it was only natural that he'd be aware of the duration of the assignment. Iruka was also aware that most mission room shinobi knew a lot of things they probably shouldn't, but that didn't mean they shared that information. Often, knowing was enough.

And now Kakashi was three days over the allotted mission duration. His gut instincts warned Iruka that something hadn't gone according to plan. Was Kakashi injured? Iruka pushed those thoughts away and tried to focus on grading instead. After a few moments he put his pen down and stared out of the window, lost in thought.

Iruka's thoughts always came back to Kakashi, now more so than ever. Before, he'd tucked his thoughts neatly away when he needed to, but now, after Kakashi's genjutsu, Iruka had more questions than ever. More questions, more time to berate himself for reacting like an idiot and not having the grace to allow Kakashi to explain properly.

Because regardless of everything else, it boiled down to the simple fact that Kakashi had cared enough about Iruka to save his life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Iruka was woken by the sound of a trap going off outside his living room window. He slipped his hand under the pillow and palmed the kunai he kept hidden there, before sliding out from under the bed sheets. There wasn't time to pull on a shirt, and going by past experience Iruka would take chilled skin over a potential deadly wound any day.

He moved silently down the hallway on bare feet, aware that he had the upper hand over any intruder. This was his house, his territory, and he knew its shadows better than any stranger could – unless, of course, you were Hatake Kakashi and had had the benefit of spending a great deal of time here.

Kakashi was standing in the living room, fastening the window closed when Iruka approached him. He was moving stiffly, favoring his right side. Iruka couldn't help his reaction; he reached out with his chakra and brushed against Kakashi's, noting the bruised, tender area on the right side of his torso. Kakashi let out a shaky breath and Iruka immediately stopped his examination.

"Sorry," Iruka apologized, dropping the kunai on the table. "It's something I always do with my kids when I think they've hurt themselves. I didn't mean to be invasive or cause you pain."

Kakashi's expression was stiff and unreadable as he stood there. It took a few moments before the tension seemed to drain from his frame. For a split second he seemed vulnerable, before the lazy jounin was firmly back in place.

"Maa, sensei," Kakashi drawled, "You can be as invasive as you like, just be gentle with me."

Iruka flushed, knowing that that was Kakashi was aiming for; he seemed to thrive on making Iruka uncomfortable. "Sit down," Iruka commanded, pointing a finger at the floor next to the kotatsu. "And don't bleed anywhere until I can take a proper look."

When Iruka returned with a med kit from under the bathroom sink, Kakashi was sitting cross-legged on the floor as instructed, with his shirt off. His mask was still in place, which told Iruka that Kakashi wasn't as comfortable being here as he made out. That bothered Iruka, knowing that his behavior and prior words were a large part of the cause of that tension. Still, the fact that Kakashi was here meant something, although Iruka knew he would have to tread very carefully to find out.

"You've been to the hospital?" Iruka asked, kneeling next to Kakashi and starting to unpack the medkit.

"Yes, although they didn't do the bandaging correctly."

Iruka glanced up at Kakashi, whose expression was very much unreadable. After working all day long with pre-genin, Iruka could spot a sulk a mile away. "Oh?"

"Can you fix it for me?"

Iruka ducked his head to hide the smile that tugged at his lips. "Are you going to hold still while I do this, Hatake-san? Fidgeting will only prolong things." He let the humor flow into his voice, letting Kakashi know he was prepared to play along if it signaled a truce between them.

He moved behind Kakashi and placed one hand between his shoulder blades as he settled with one knee each side of Kakashi's thighs. One of the first things Iruka taught his kids during First Aid classes was to always let your partner know where you were, especially if you were behind them. This was doubly true for Kakashi; straight off a mission, any shinobi would be twitchy, and Kakashi was well over his return date. Whatever had happened on the mission could trigger a fight or flight reaction, which was the last thing Iruka wanted at the moment. Not when things were so fragile between them, when they were both tentatively reaching out to each other, trying to re-establish the status quo.

Iruka could feel the heat from Kakashi's skin beneath his palm, and he couldn't resist rubbing his thumb gently over the bandage in a soothing gesture. Kakashi relaxed a little, spine bending as he leaned forward to give Iruka more access to his exposed back. The bandaging was done neatly by someone with obvious skill, but Iruka chose to ignore that and began to unwind the dressing. Kakashi lifted his arms enough for Iruka to lean forward and unwrap the binding, rolling it up as he went.

When Iruka had removed the bandage he leaned back, fiddling with the roll, trying to ignore the smooth expanse of Kakashi's bare skin, littered as it was with scars, some small, some not. Kakashi let out a sigh and pulled off his mask and headband, placing it on the kotatsu, but he didn't turn around.

"I was worried about you," Iruka said quietly to the space between Kakashi's shoulder blades. "You were overdue."

Kakashi shook slightly, as if he was laughing silently. "You aren't supposed to know when I'm due and when I'm not."

"I was still worried. Worry makes people creative."

"Worry makes shinobi creative," Kakashi answered. He paused, and then said, "Couldn't you tell I was alive? We are both linked by the spirit of the wolf. I can tell when you're upset, when you hurt and when you're happy."

Iruka fiddled with the medkit for a moment, pulling out a roll of new bandages. "I know," he admitted. "I only figured that out right before you left on your mission. The knowledge took me by surprise."

"Have you thought about what I showed you in the genjutsu?"

"Of course I have. I still think about it – seeing you lying there on the snow, dying – experiencing it like it was my death, all over again! Do you really think me that devoid of feeling?" Iruka couldn't stop a thin thread of hurt coloring his words.

"I think you're good at hiding your true thoughts. You kept them from me long enough before your confession."

"That's unfair," Iruka snapped. He opened the bandage and pulled, until he had a decent length to hand. "I didn't want to embarrass myself, and I certainly didn't want to embarrass you."

"You didn't give me the opportunity," Kakashi remarked blandly.

Iruka took a deep breath, knowing Kakashi was poking at him in an effort to expose his true feelings. He forced himself not to rise to the bait, instead he checked under the gauze pad, wincing at the long gash in Kakashi's side. The reddened skin was held together with a row of careful butterfly stitches. It wasn't bleeding, so Iruka replaced the pad and started winding the bandage, holding it in place with his other hand.

"This nature spirit, the wolf, what is it exactly?" Iruka asked instead. "I've been having, umm… dreams about it, lately." Dreams that I am definitely not going to share with you. Iruka pulled the bandage tight and smoothed it out with his free hand, ignoring the blush that heated his face. "What I said before still stands – does this make you, no – us – jinchuriki?" Iruka's heart hammered uncomfortably in his chest. Half of him wanted to know the answer, the other half didn't. He wondered why Kakashi's answer now meant so much when he had come to terms with the idea of the bijuu inside Naruto a long time ago. Was he being hypocritical?

Kakashi chuckled, but didn't turn to look at Iruka, preferring to stare straight ahead. "No, the wolf is a nature spirit, as you saw. Not a spirit formed of chakra, like the bijuu." Kakashi lifted his arms again so Iruka could wind the bandage around his torso. "My family has been guardians of the wolf's shrine for generations, long before the founding of Konoha."

"Shrine? I didn't see a shrine." Iruka paused and then resumed winding.

"It's been almost overtaken by the tree. Even by Konoha standards that tree is old, and its size shows that. The shrine is almost buried within the tree now, but to remove the tree would be as destructive as moving the shrine. So they cohabit the same space in harmony, much like my clan and the spirit of the wolf."

"So… the wolf I saw, that now inhabits us both, it's done this before?"

Kakashi nodded. "It's a symbiosis of sorts. In return for my clan protecting and honoring the shrine, occasionally under extreme circumstances the spirit will inhabit a body, lending some of its powers to the host."

Iruka forced himself back to the task at hand, finishing with the bandage and tying it off, tucking the ends in so they wouldn't come loose. Something occurred to Iruka. "Your father… did he make the same pact as you?"

Iruka was sure Kakashi wouldn't answer, knowing like everyone in the village of the downfall of Hatake Sakumo.

"He earned the name White Fang for a reason," Kakashi said gruffly. "The spirit of the wolf was proud to be one with my father, to share his deeds and his name. But all that is forgotten now, along with the reason why."

"I'm sorry," Iruka said, leaning forward, resting one hand on Kakashi's back.

"Don't be. I'm not ashamed of my father."

Iruka nodded, realizing that Kakashi couldn't see him. Without thinking, Iruka leaned forward further and a slid his hand around Kakashi waist. He could feel Kakashi's body heat, and when he pressed forward carefully, the echo of his heart beat. Without thinking, Iruka rested his cheek against Kakashi's back, then moved his head slightly. The smell of Kakashi's warm skin was addictive and Iruka closed his eyes, breathing in his scent. He pressed his lips against the soft skin at the nape of Kakashi's neck… and froze.

Iruka made to pull back, but Kakashi moved his arm, holding Iruka in place. "Don't pull away from me." Kakashi was tense, but not from killing instinct. "Why don't you give in, Iruka?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Yes, you do." Kakashi's expression was intense as he twisted to look at Iruka. It sent a jolt of hunger through Iruka's system, and Iruka watched in shock as seconds later Kakashi's cheeks heated, as if he'd read Iruka's sudden desire through the link. Moments later, Iruka felt Kakashi push back at him through their connection, and Iruka was overwhelmed with Kakashi's feelings: warmth at their friendship, happiness that they were on speaking terms again, disappointment that Iruka wouldn't act on his own feelings, need, want, lust, longing, desire, love.

Iruka sucked in a shaky breath as his body responded to the barrage of feelings Kakashi sent his way. Kakashi twisted further in the circle of Iruka's legs, until they were almost face to face. "I'm not going to let you back out again," he said huskily. "If you want it, take it."

Iruka searched Kakashi's face, looking for the lie, but could find none. Instead, Kakashi's face was writ with challenge, just like in the mission room. Suddenly some of Kakashi's behaviors in the past made sense; as if he was trying to push Iruka to react. It worked: some deep, hidden part of Iruka responded to that challenge and he leaned forward, sliding his hand under Kakashi's chin, tilting his head up and capturing his lips in a kiss.

"Yes…" Kakashi breathed against Iruka's lips. "Claim me, like I want you to."

"Fuck," Iruka said eloquently, pushing Kakashi backward to the floor.

"My thoughts exactly, sensei." Kakashi's voice was husky, this time with passion, not hurt, and his emotions through the link echoed that, ramping up Iruka's desire.

As Iruka leaned down to kiss Kakashi again, he murmured, "This isn't going to last long if you keep doing that."

"Then give me what I want –" Kakashi slipped his hand inside Iruka's sleeping pants and closed around Iruka's cock, "– and maybe I'll stop."

Iruka thrust into Kakashi's fist and managed to gasp out, "Manipulative bastard."

Kakashi grinned and Iruka decided then and there that he was going to wipe that look off Kakashi's face if it was the last thing he did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Winter

Iruka ran, like all the denizens of the underworld were chasing after him. Usually, he managed an easy jog, or if it was a weekday, he ran a fast circuit around the walls and outlying farms of Konoha. This morning, Iruka was running in an effort to escape from himself, his thoughts, and the constant, battering need for Kakashi that was eating at him.

He dropped to his knees beside the stream and leaned forward, out over the water, resting his weight on his palms, which sunk into the soft, damp earth.

I can't do this anymore, he thought at his reflection. His double frowned back at him, disapproving. I can't do this – can't go on feeling like I'm stretched thin, like my skin itches and my belly is tight, like something is watching me, and I am watching it back. What is this feeling?

He pulled off his shirt and plunged his hands into the stream, scooping up handfuls of cool water, letting it glide over the heated skin of his chest, across his shoulders and run down his back. He was just contemplating submerging himself entirely in the water when something made him look up. Some six sense, his heightened instincts maybe, because the person watching him from the tree line had most definitely not made a sound, or announced his presence like any polite (or smart) shinobi would.

"Kakashi." Iruka was surprised; his voice sounded husky, Kakashi's name escaping almost as a growl.

Before Iruka had time to process his actions, he was up and running, chakra carrying him dryshod across the fast-moving stream, onto the far bank. Kakashi simply stood there, hands loose at his sides, unthreatening, as Iruka raced toward him.

Iruka tackled Kakashi, fisting his hands in his t-shirt, pulling as much as forcing him to the ground. Surprisingly, Kakashi rolled with Iruka's movement, let himself be borne to the ground in a flurry of frost-rimmed leaves. Iruka felt the adrenaline surge through his body, a heady cocktail of triumph at cornering his prey and lust mixing together until he was almost dizzy with it.

Iruka rose up, straddling Kakashi's hips, hands pinning his shoulders to the forest floor. Kakashi jerked, rolling his hips up into Iruka's, both of them releasing a moan at the contact.

"What the hell is this?" Iruka panted, fingers tightening in Kakashi's shirt when he felt him shift beneath him. "I can't – I can't function like this. My senses are overloaded; everything is either a threat or a challenge."

Kakashi was breathing hard, his body no longer relaxed beneath Iruka's. Iruka could feel the tension in Kakashi's lean frame, like he was holding himself back, forcibly. "You –" Kakashi's hips jerked upward again, sending hot, tight lust through Iruka's veins. "You're feeling the full effect of the wolf, Iruka."

"I'm what?"

Kakashi swallowed, eyes fixed on Iruka. Iruka suddenly couldn't tear his eyes away, watched Kakashi's Adam's apple bob, pale skin over a pale, exposed throat. It was almost submission, enough for Iruka to surge forward, capturing Kakashi's lips in a deep kiss, pushing into Kakashi's mouth, demanding entrance. Iruka felt Kakashi's hands clench on his hips, dragging him forward over his erection, and then again until Iruka felt drunk on desire. Iruka gasped, and was suddenly on his back, their roles reversed as Kakashi took control of the kiss.

After a long moment, Kakashi broke the kiss and moved away, until he was crouching next to Iruka, safely out of contact.

"You can feel the wolf," Kakashi repeated, although this time his voice sounded strained and hoarse. "Both of us are feeling it," he added, attempting a smile, although it came out anxious rather than reassuring. "Spirit animals, being part of the natural process, respond to the cycles of nature." Kakashi took a shuddering breath and fixed Iruka with an intense stare. "It's almost the winter solstice, and the spirits of nature are at their strongest during the equinoxes, both winter and summer."

Iruka stared at Kakashi open-mouthed. "You mean to tell me you deal with this twice a year?"

Kakashi nodded. His posture relaxed a little and he sunk to his knees next to Iruka. "I usually arrange to be away from the village. This time it's worse, with both of us feeling the effects and channeling it back and forth between us. I didn't anticipate it being this overwhelming."

"So why didn't you leave, or take another mission? You should have told me, we could have figured out a way to cope with this."

Kakashi licked his lips, and glanced off into the forest. "I couldn't leave you to deal with this on your own, not recognizing it for what it is."

Iruka laughed a humorless, dark laugh and levered himself up onto his elbows. "I'm a grown man. I've almost died twice, Kakashi. I think I can handle a run-in with my overactive libido."

"Can you?" Kakashi reached out a hand, his relaxed posture gone, putting Iruka on guard. "What if someone unsuspecting touches you; brushes against you?" Kakashi moved over, until he was leaning over Iruka. He brushed his fingertips over Iruka's belly, a light caress that made Iruka grit his teeth, trying to resist the urge to push into Kakashi's hand like a spoilt cat.

"Right now, as the equinox gets closer, you have two ingrained, instinctual behaviors, Iruka. Fight or fuck." Kakashi stroked his palm over Iruka's skin again and this time Iruka couldn't stop himself; he pushed up into the touch, jerking his hips upward as Kakashi's hand slid over the jut of his hipbone and back up again, along his bare flank. It was teasing, maddening, but it proved Kakashi's point nicely. Iruka wasn't sure whether to kill Kakashi for teasing or fuck him senseless. Either one had its merits.

"We should fuck," Iruka gasped.

Kakashi's grin was almost feral, hungry as he tightened his hand over Iruka's hip. "Oh?" he murmured, nuzzling into Iruka's neck.

Iruka tilted his head back in invitation, gripping Kakashi's bicep when he felt teeth nipping gently at his neck, a promise of things to come. "Fuck me, Hatake," he moaned, tightening his grip, digging blunt nails into Kakashi's skin. "Stop holding back – Mmpf!"

The kiss was short and intense, enough to wipe Iruka's mind of everything, including speech. He felt Kakashi pulling at his pants, tugging them over his hips, before flipping him over onto his hands and knees.

"Is this what you want, Iruka?" Kakashi asked. "This is what I want."

The sound of Kakashi's voice, deep and rough, made Iruka harder than he'd thought was possible. Coupled with the fact he was bare-assed, in the forest, exposed to view and still not getting fucked threatened to turn Iruka momentarily insane. He arched his back and spread his thighs in invitation. He glanced over his shoulder, surprised to see Kakashi's lips parted as his breath came in short gasps, his cheekbones dusted with the pink of arousal. Iruka rolled his hips again, and hung his head, revealing the long line of his spine to Kakashi's gaze.

He felt Kakashi grasp his hips firmly, the tip of his cock, slicked generously with spit and precome, sliding along the crack of Iruka's ass.

"Fuck yes," he heard Kakashi exhale, almost reverently as he pushed in.

Iruka released a heated moan as Kakashi slowly, and very deliberately, penetrated him. His eyes flickered closed as the sensation of being filled completely intensified, felt Kakashi's hands move from his hips to his ass, squeezing, his thumbs pulling Iruka open, exposing him further. The thrill of that shot from Iruka's spine straight to his balls, making his breath come faster and his erection jerk against his belly, slicking his own stomach with precome. Iruka clenched tightly around Kakashi's cock, reveling in the noise Kakashi made; part protest, part hitched breath. Then, Kakashi's hands were back on his hips, clamping down, blunt nails digging into Iruka's bare skin as he pulled out and thrust back in, pushing Iruka forward with the force of it. Iruka couldn't help the whimper of pleasure that escaped his throat.

Kakashi fucked Iruka hard, like he'd promised, in an unrelenting rhythm that forced Iruka down onto his elbows. His knees slid apart and he braced his body. Iruka could do nothing except take what Kakashi wanted to give, to feel every thrust of his strong body deep inside his. Kakashi's hand slid up Iruka's spine, pushing his hair to one side. He draped himself over Iruka's back, hand resting on the nape of his neck. Kakashi's weight could have been commanding, overpowering. He could have bent Iruka to his will, taken what he wanted, but instead it was comforting, conveying both trust and reassurance while acknowledging Iruka's submission.

Iruka pushed back onto Kakashi's cock, arching his back as Kakashi angled his body. Every thrust dragged over Iruka's prostate, Kakashi's ragged breath hot in Iruka's ear, every touch a new torturous pleasure. His hand swept down over Iruka's hip, palm flat against his skin, dragging his fingers down and then up Iruka's inner thigh. The touch was so close to Iruka's balls, he ached from want, from the need for Kakashi to touch him.

"Ah, Kakashi, please," Iruka gasped out. He let his head drop, taking the full weight of Kakashi's hand on his nape, surrendering completely. Letting Kakashi have everything, let him take it all; his open, willing body, his trust, his desire, his passion.

Kakashi kissed his shoulder and Iruka could feel the ghost of a smile on Kakashi's lips, against his skin. Another caress, fingers stroking across his belly, and Iruka squeezed his eyes shut, a protesting moan escaping him.

"Please," Iruka whispered urgently.

Kakashi's kiss turned suddenly feral, teeth on the skin of Iruka's shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark, but not to break the skin. Iruka squirmed as the pressure built, inner muscles clamping around Kakashi's driving cock, and suddenly he was coming, the hard, tight release of pleasure almost too much. His hands fisted in the frozen deadfall, blindly grabbing for anything to anchor himself as he rode out his pleasure. Kakashi didn't slow his pace, kept fucking Iruka through his orgasm.

Iruka dimly heard Kakashi gasp, "Fuck," against his shoulder, felt Kakashi's cock pulse deep in his ass. Iruka knew what that felt like, to fuck the hot, clenching heat of a partner who's already coming, to have the orgasm almost pulled from you. Kakashi's body shuddered with pleasure, grinding his hips against Iruka's ass, pressing deeply, making Iruka arch back into it, to chase the promise of more, deeper, harder, even as his body relaxed into pleasant aftershocks.

He felt Kakashi shift behind him, rolling his hips, pressing deep as he wrapped his arm around Iruka, pulling him upright against his chest. Iruka rested his head on Kakashi's shoulder, body still trembling from release, and then he felt it: a slight thickening at the base of Kakashi's cock, stretching him pleasantly until he started to feel… full. As the feeling intensified, he remembered the dream he'd had weeks ago, the one where he was running with the wolf, and Iruka's cheeks flushed hot at the memory of how he'd woken, achingly hard, his body tight with arousal.

Kakashi's hand slid down from Iruka's chest, across his belly, fingers tracing over his hip. "Kakashi," Iruka gasped, even as he wiggled, trying to ease the growing pressure in his ass. Flashes of the dream returned, of being fucked hard, and Iruka felt his cock start to fill out again, even as he rocked his hips, settling on Kakashi's still hard cock. Kakashi grunted, other hand tightening around Iruka's waist, his lips nuzzling into Iruka's neck, tongue sweeping across the newly-formed bruise he placed there minutes ago.

Iruka ground down onto Kakashi's cock, the constant pressure against his hole intensifying, a mixture of pain and pleasure, each sensation feeding off the other until Iruka was drawing panting breaths, his hands fisting, even as his back arched and his cock throbbed.

"Shhh," Kakashi soothed, his fingers tracing over Iruka's belly, his inner thighs.

"Can't…" Iruka moaned. "It's intense…fuck."

Iruka felt Kakashi wrap his hand around his erection, start to stroke him slowly. Iruka grit his teeth as the pleasure intensified and he began to rock back gently on Kakashi's cock, his body adjusting to the fullness, craving it at the same time. He could feel Kakashi's body trembling beneath his, his ragged breathing, the way his hand trembled as he stroked Iruka, faster now, longer strokes, twisting his hand at the tip, making Iruka shudder with the sensation.

"Ngh…going to come," Iruka gasped. Until Iruka voiced it, he hadn't been sure. Now he could feel that tightness in his belly, the curl of pleasure that signaled that, yes, he was going to come again.

Iruka turned his head, seeking out Kakashi's lips, the kiss hungry. Iruka fisted his hand in Kakashi's hair, fingers tangling, pulling him closer, wanting to fuck Kakashi's mouth like Kakashi was fucking him. Kakashi flexed his hips, grinding into Iruka and the feeling of full and tight and too much was overwhelming, and Iruka came with a cry that Kakashi's kiss devoured.

Iruka slumped to the side, Kakashi following him down to the ground. He pulled Iruka onto his side and wrapped his arm tighter around Iruka's chest, resting the other (now sticky) hand against Iruka's belly.

Iruka could feel the pressure against his hole receding and his body began to relax, until he felt boneless and sated. "You forgot to mention that last part," Iruka grumbled, too satisfied to bother sounded annoyed.

Kakashi rubbed his nose into Iruka's nape, placing gentle kisses against his skin. "Didn't know that was going to happen," he replied, voice husky. "Hasn't before. Maybe because of the link between us, how our feelings feed off of each other, coupled with the solstice. You don't seem too surprised," Kakashi added.

Kakashi raised himself on one elbow and Iruka felt Kakashi's' cock slip from his ass, sending a shiver of pleasure through them both. "Um," Iruka began. Kakashi placed a finger under Iruka's chin and turned his head, until they were facing each other. Kakashi had that intent look on his face again, that look, and Iruka was sure if he could get it up again he would be sporting another damn erection. "I may have dreamt about something like this before," he admitted, when Kakashi's gaze started to become uncomfortable in its intensity.

"Oh? Care to share, sensei?"

Iruka shook his head. "No. Not really."

Kakashi sighed dramatically and looked skywards. "You know, it's still about two days to the winter solstice. Lots and lots of time to fuck sense into your sweet ass."

"If you even think about it Hatake, I will punch your sweet ass into next week, thereby skipping all the fun."

"I will find out," Kakashi goaded. "I can tell when you're having perverted thoughts, you know. Link," he singsonged.

"Get off me." Iruka pushed Kakashi back, trying to keep a straight face as Kakashi started to laugh.

"You started this. You pounced on me."

"I'm going home," Iruka replied in his best teacher voice, standing up and pulling up his pants. He paused for a moment, evaluating the deep ache in his ass and the way his legs felt pleasantly like rubber.

"Something wrong?" Kakashi asked, climbing to his feet and fastening his own pants.

Iruka flushed. "I may need help getting home," he muttered, glaring when Kakashi started to laugh for real, a deep belly laugh that sent the nearest flock of birds squawking into the sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~x~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Summer

Iruka bowed to the giant tree and the shrine hidden within it before stepping back. Kakashi had hung new prayer tags around the trunk and through the branches and they fluttered softly in the warm summer breeze, the sounds mingling with the scent of incense that wafted through the grove.

"This is how it should be," Kakashi said in a satisfied tone. "This is how it was always done, before my father…"

Iruka reached out and took Kakashi's hand, twining their fingers together and squeezing reassuringly. "And this is how it will be," he replied, turning to kiss Kakashi.

"Love you," Kakashi added with a grin and a raised eyebrow.

"M'love you," Iruka mumbled. He still managed to feel embarrassed, no matter how many times he said it. It just never seemed to get easier.

"Almost summer solstice," Kakashi remarked in a blasé tone, staring up at the prayer tags. "You know what that means."

Iruka felt a jolt of lust race through his body at the thought. Even remembering last winter was enough to heat his face to burning levels and it definitely didn't help when he could feel the same excitement coming from Kakashi through the link. Iruka smiled, watched Kakashi out of the corner of his eye.

"You may be the winter wolf, Kakashi," Iruka said mischievously, "but you are mine during the summer. Don't forget that."

Fin.