Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishi.
The office was silent. The hokage sat behind his desk, dumb-struck. The only parts of him capable of movement were his brilliant blue eyes, which were growing slowly wider and wider.
At last, he came to himself a little, shook himself like a dog after a swim, and laughed. "That's not funny, Kakashi-sensei." It really wasn't. His laugh had been weak, and his hands clutched the edge of the table in a white knuckled grip.
"I'm being completely serious, Naruto."
And despite Kakashi's careless pose and the fact that his one visible eye was arched in a smile, Naruto knew it was true. His eyes fell to the desk. He stared hard at it for a while, then lifted his gaze to his old teacher's face again. "There's no way I can let you do that, Kakashi-sensei."
The edge in his rough tenor dragged across the silence like a saw-tooth blade. Everyone's heart beat a little quicker as they were thrown back, for a moment, into memories of the time when the Kyuubi's chakra could run wild. But Naruto was the Hokage now, a (relatively) steady man of thirty two. It was unthinkable that such a thing could happen now, and everyone breathed easy again.
Naruto was completely unaware of all this. His eyes were fixed solely on Kakashi. The latter met his stare with a bland, almost bored, expression. "Ohh? And why not?"
Naruto blinked and scowled. "What do you MEAN 'why not'!"
"I mean, Naruto," Kakashi explained patiently, "that you have to send someone, and it might as well be me."
"Kakashi-sensei! That's…" Naruto turned to his strategic advisor for support.
Shikamaru, looking very much as though he'd rather be somewhere else, sighed and shook his head. "Kakashi-sensei's right, Naruto. Someone's gotta go, and looking at the situation logically, Kakashi's our best option. He's the only man we can spare that actually has a hope of pulling this off."
There was something very, very, wrong about what Shikamaru was saying.
'The only man that we could spare.'
Kakashi-sensei… a spare?
Naruto felt hot, bubbling outrage building in his stomach.
He glared fiercely at Shikamaru. The ninja to either side quailed. "There's gotta be some other way! I can't send Kakashi-sensei to die!" he growled.
Shikamaru held his ground, even under the blistering blue heat of his hokage's gaze. He simply crossed his arms and gave a deliberate shake of the head. There was no mistake. Glimmers of a thousand possible plans shot through his head, but there was no mistake. This was the one that carried the least risk for Konoha, at the least cost. Kakashi, starting to slow down in the latter half of his 40s, and never having been particularly well endowed with chakra to begin with, had become expendable, …looking at the situation logically.
Clearly Naruto wasn't prepared to accept that reality, though. If anything, he was taking this much harder than expected. His face was darkening, and his voice carried the feral edge of a cornered animal. "Shikamaru, teme…"
There wasn't going to be anything that Shikamaru could say to convince Naruto. If someone were to convince him, it would have to be… He glanced at Kakashi. Naruto's old sensei caught his eye, and Shikamaru could see that he understood what he was asking. The heavy lid slid closed over Kakashi's eye, and his shoulders drooped as he gave in to a momentary expression of utter exhaustion. He pulled himself together, pushed off the wall he'd been lounging against, and stepped up to stand straight across the desk from his former student.
Naruto transferred his glare from Shikamaru to the man standing in front of him, not registering that Kakashi had called him by his title rather than his name. He opened his mouth to object to whatever Kakashi was about to say, but he stopped dead at the cold, distant look in his teacher's eye. Kakashi had never looked at him like that before, not even on that first real mission, when Naruto had been too scared to move. "Rokudaime Hokage. Your village is in danger of being destroyed. Your military advisor is telling you that sacrificing me is the surest way to protect it. I'm telling you that I'm willing. What are you waiting for? Are you going to disregard you advisor's council, disrespect my resolve, and put your ideals over the lives of the people you swore to protect?"
He stopped to watch his student's reaction. Naruto had started guiltily when Kakashi mentioned ideals. For a moment he looked almost lost, and Kakashi couldn't help relenting a little.
He sighed, leaned over the desk, and ruffled the hokage's hair. It was a silly thing to do to a thirty-two year old man, but it was nostalgic to see Naruto looking—and acting—more like the kid he'd first met 20 years ago, than the man who'd been Kakashi's own greatly admired teacher. His body slipped unconsciously into the old habit. He paused with his hand still resting on the beloved yellow head.
He found himself reluctant to break that contact. He'd been saying that his era was over for almost as long as he'd known the kid, but now it was really true. Present behavior not-withstanding, Naruto had grown into a fine hokage. He was absurdly powerful. He was absurdly kind. He had won the complete confidence of the people of Konoha, and their affection as well. His wisdom was the sort that was frequently indistinguishable from idiocy, but with Shikamaru by his side to temper his idealism, Konoha was in good hands. There was no need—no place—for Kakashi anymore.
He withdrew his hand from Naruto's head, shoved it into his pocket, and smiled. "Naruto. This is something I want to do."
Naruto had clearly been distracted by his own thoughts. He hadn't even noticed Kakashi's touch. Now, however, his eyes snapped back into focus on Kakashi's face.
"…Something you want?" he repeated incredulously.
"That's right, Naruto."
Astonished blue eyes searched Kakashi's face, and finding nothing there, fell to rest on the hands still clenched on the edge of the desk.
"Shikamaru. Just think it over one more time, OK? Isn't there something else we can do?" His voice was still rough, but there was no more bite to it. It just sounded strained.
Shikamaru grimaced. "I've been thinking it over. Look. I don't want to send somebody…" Shikamaru stopped as he caught a strange flinching motion of the hokage's eyes at the word "somebody." He filed the odd reaction away and continued on. "I don't want to send somebody on a suicide mission either, but that's the only plan I can think of with acceptable risks for Konoha."
"Alright, I get it." The hokage leaned forward to prop his elbows on his desk. He lowered his face into his hands and rubbed his temples. "Then there's nothing more I can say. We'll go ahead with your plan. Tomorrow at 0600 we'll meet here again to discuss the details. Dismissed."
People began to file out of the office. Kakashi lingered a little while in front of the hokage's desk, but Naruto didn't look up, and he, too, turned and shuffled away. Shikamaru had been one of the first to start towards the door, but seeing Naruto refusing to look at his teacher, he thought better of it. He leaned up against a wall and waited until everyone else was gone.
Naruto jumped in surprise and looked wildly around. "Shikamaru!" He managed a wobbly grin. "Don't scare me like that. I thought everyone'd left…"
"Ah, my bad. Naruto, about Kakashi…"
"Sorry, Shikamaru," the hokage interrupted. He was smiling, but his face was tired and drawn.
Shikamaru winced inwardly. Seriously, who did he think he was fooling with that expression?
"Sorry, but could you just leave me alone for a while?"
Shikamaru couldn't argue with that. "… Alright, Naruto." He shuffled to the door. "See you at the meeting tomorrow."
It had begun to drizzle outside. Shikamaru stopped at the bottom of the town hall stairs, and dug something out of his pocket. He fingered the little lighter, flipped it open, closed, and open again, lighted it briefly, snapped it shut, and ran his thumb over the lid. He tilted his head back and stared up into the leaden sky.