AN: Honestly, I've been thinking about this one for a couple weeks but I just haven't felt quite ready to write it down. This isn't going to happen in canon, being that the show is named Naruto and all, but it's something I can't forget about.

When Yamato opens the door to the hospital room, he is surprised by how peaceful it is inside. It is quiet, except for the slow and almost uncertain beep of the machine by the operating table and the buzz of chakra from the hands of the two women that stand beside it. Closed curtains block the sun, but the room is bright with fluorescent lighting and he can hear the chirp of birds from outside.

It's been two days since the Akatsuki were defeated, but the price is still being realized.

Sakura stands over the table with her eyes closed, her glowing hands half buried in the Godaime's stomach. Yamato can see tears glistening on her pink eyelashes.

"Kakashi?" The whisper comes from the trembling body on the table, and Sakura's eyes snap open in concern.

"It is Yamato, Hokage-sama. I have organized ANBU to guard the village walls, as you ordered. There's no sight of h- it, yet."

"Ah. Good," Tsunade says softly, aged eyelids fluttering weakly. There is a pause where he wonders is she has fallen asleep, or worse, during which Yamato feels a fierce urge to return to his men on the wall.

"Stay," Tsunade tells him when Yamato turns uncertainly to leave, and he nods and takes a protective position beside the door.

She's made choices in her life, ones she can almost come to regret here at the end of it. They would have shut him up in the village like some dangerous animal, kept under leash and watched as if he were the enemy, instead of the ones he sought to destroy. They would have waited until Akatsuki came for him, and wasted a hundred more lives for it.

And she could never have done it, not to the boy that carried all her hopes for the world. He was to be her replacement, born and raised for the job. She remembers what she told them, angry and pressured but meaning every word. If that places Konoha…Places the Fire Country in danger…I will put my life on the line to save it!

She has, as she knew she would when Jiraiya first asked her to take the position. She just never thought she would fail, and she never guessed whom she would lose her life to.

"I'm sorry, but you're sure he's completely gone?" asks Yamato. He sounds as if he has been struggling with silence for some time.

When Tsunade does not stir, besides the persistent shaking of her fingers that Yamato's trained eyes cannot help but notice, Shizune answers, "She said…there's nothing left of Naruto." She sighs, then as if she cannot believe it herself, "There's nine tails. You better than the rest of us would know what that means. Fighting the Akatsuki was just asking too much, even with Sasuke."

Yamato wonders if he's being blamed for failing to prevent this, then forgets it as Sakura lets out a restrained sob.

"Maybe it won't come here," says Shizune half-heartedly. Neither Sakura nor Yamato replies; because one is crying and the other wonders if his secondhand techniques will he enough.

When the door opens again, Tsunade stirs.

"Late as usual, Kakashi," she says with a wry smile, wincing as she struggles to turn her head and face him.

"You knew I was coming? I only realized it when I walked through the hospital door." Kakashi's voice is light and calm, even as he walks to Tsunade's side over still wet droplets of blood. If he is surprised by the state of her old and withered body, his exposed eye does not show it.

"How long?" he asks Shizune, not meeting Sakura's wet eyes.

"An hour at most. All they can do now is hold back the pain," answers Tsunade ruefully, and they can tell how hard it is for her to speak. "Damn, I really thought I could do it Kakashi."

"It's my failures as a teacher. We'll do what we have to make up for it. Don't worry," says Kakashi, but he's never been good at voicing compassion so it's hollow and they can all feel it.

"I'm making you the Sixth Hokage," she tells him, "no arguing."

Kakashi chuckles, and he doesn't sound as frightened as Sakura feels, but indignant instead.

"You thought to guilt me into it? I would have done it anyway, for Naruto," Kakashi says with a smile wrinkling his mask.

"Not guilt, Kakashi. Because you deserve it, and I know how much you love Minato..."

Kakashi's smile disappears, but Sakura stops following the conversation when she feels Tsunade fading below her.

"Tsunade-sama, please. You can do it," she sobs, finding her voice quavering uncontrollably.

"Make me proud, Sakura."

Soon after, she takes her hands from the body of her sensei and wipes unsuccessfully at her eyes.

"She's gone."

Kakashi turns to the silent man by the door. "Tenzou, you will be the Seventh. Then Sasuke, if he will take it. If not…Shikamaru."

"Yes, Hokage-sama. I will go to the wall." Yamato leaves, his voice toneless with forced detachment.

"Where is Sasuke?" asks Sakura then, tears being replaced by fear.

Kakashi leans across Tsunade's still body to kiss her on the forehead.

"He's watching at the wall. They'll need you there, when you're ready."

"At the wall? With his injuries he should be in the hospital! He shouldn't even be conscious."

Sakura moves jerkily to the door, limbs stiff with grief and exhaustion. She embraces worry easily, finding it so much easier than grief. But Kakashi stops her with a strong grip on her arm.

"If you stop Sasuke now he'll never recover. If you stop him, you'll kill him."

Sakura meets his gaze fiercely, then looks away and hangs her head, not bothering to try and pull away. "I can't lose him too, Kakashi. Promise me I won't lose him too."

"I promise."

Kakashi leaves Sakura to grieve over the body of the woman who was her teacher and mother.

He has a job to do, and it's one time he cannot be late.

- . - . -

Bleeding from fresh and reopened wounds, Sasuke is conscious long enough to watch Kakashi face the Kyuubi on the back of a giant canine. He is not wearing the costume, but somehow Sasuke is aware that this will be the only battle of the Rokudaime.

There is a rush of hand seals, too fast to follow without his Sharingan, but through his drooping eyelids Sasuke realizes what is happening.

The Sixth Hokage dies, and the journey ends where it began.

AN: This is one of the few Kakashi deaths I will be able to accept, since his awesomeness deserves an equally awesome death. The second part's already starting to piece itself together in my head.