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Kakashi shrugged off the soot that had gathered in his hair and on his shoulders. The air smelled of burnt flesh. It had been another of those, once considered fairly unpleasant but surprisingly you got used to it. At least this time there was none of the guilt. For Kakashi, those were the ones he had the most difficulty coping with.

"Captain. Bear and Tiger are ready."

"Good." Kakashi stared into the crackling fire for a few more seconds before turning to his masked companion. Cat stood at a distance, respecting his privacy, and though this was one operative whose presence Kakashi did not mind he nodded to convey his appreciation of the gesture. "Let's go. The Hokage and Konoha await us." Though truthfully, there was one individual whose opinion he had come to depend on more than that of most.

Iruka... At this time of the day the chunin would probably be on his way from the Academy towards the mission room or home. If they hurried Kakashi might still make it back before it was too late for the day. Hopefully Iruka wouldn't be going to sleep too early– That, at least, was one thing the brats were good for.

 

Iruka knew long before Ibiki contacted him that Hound's appreciation of him was unhealthy. Appreciation– Ibiki had called it quite accurately an obsession and Iruka was quite surprised they'd decided to allow it to continue. Iruka didn't know whether to be glad or terrified. Though his role was purely clinical he had come to value his regular visitor and found an ANBU could give you an entirely new outlook on life. Also, though Iruka was reluctant to admit it, he also felt a sense of tentative pride to have someone so valuable covet him. It had not been spoken of, but it had taken Iruka little time to realize that even among ANBU Hound was considered special.

The visits, in nature, were sporadic. Sometimes weeks would pass without sight of Iruka's ANBU visitor, at other times Hound would come around almost daily, going as far as interrupting Iruka in class or sending him odd notes at the mission desk– Iruka's colleagues naturally thought it was the doings of a lover and had teased him endlessly. Though the rules expressly stated he shouldn't look into who was behind the mask, Iruka could not help but cherish these little peeks into the personality of the person.

Iruka could always tell when Hound came from one of the difficult ones, those were the times when the ANBU would not speak. He'd merely take up position, often on the handrest of Iruka's couch, and watch Iruka doing ordinary things, sometimes for hours on end. It was quite unsettling.

Most of the time when Hound came it just felt like home. Iruka was reluctant to use the comparison, but having Hound around was almost like owning a dog– A dog that appeared sporadically and could kill you at the slightest misstep. A nindog?

 

To Kakashi's poor luck Iruka was asleep by the time he'd debriefed and had left the Hokage's office. He let out a disappointed sigh. It was all Tsunade's fault for demanding longer explanations than the Third had. Probably due to her being a woman– From man to man a few grunts were enough to convery the most important points of any message and though Kakashi had never been particularly close to their previous Hokage, he found himself missing the man now.

Damn busty hag for busting his nice-time. Iruka was a nice man– Nice enough to entertain Kakashi as long as he appeared before the brunette had gone to sleep.

Tonight, Kakashi settled for watching. He slouched down on a conveniently placed branch outside of the chunin's window and waited for his vision to get used to the darkness. Since he already knew what to look for and was keyed in to the chunin's personal signature, it did not take long. There– Kakashi took a long, deep breath and let the last of the tension run out of his battered form.

It was qurious, for though he'd used other opiates before this was the only one that increased its potency as time passed by. It was almost as if Iruka was his trigger for a calm and relaxed, human, state.

Yes, that was it. Iruka made him feel so very human. As a youth he had feared the notion, thinking it would impair his judgment when the situations got dire. He'd thought being human was a weakness– How laughable!– and had done his best to smother that part of him. Later he had gone on for years doing almost anything to feel human again. Alcohol, drugs, women, you name it. All to feel human, which Iruka did so easily.

He had yet to crack Iruka's secret, but he thought he was starting to understand it a little. There was something Iruka did with his breathing and his smiles... Kakashi didn't know quite what it was, but if he stared long enough using the superior capabilities of Obito's sharingan eye he was certain he would figure things out eventually.

He had time.