Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishi.


When they reached the bedroom, Kakashi was suffered to do nothing besides sit quietly on the edge of the bed while Naruto rustled around beneath it for the medical kit and sorted through the supplies it contained. He straightened up with a roll of bandages in one hand and a jar of salve in the other. He stared at Kakashi's shoulders. A blush spread over his cheeks, and he turned away. "I guess… the shirt needs to come off."

Kakashi eyed his student. It might be better, in light of Naruto's recent confession, not to involve him in an activity that involved the removal of clothing. It would be kinder, at any rate. But, Kakashi's burns were killing him, and he was rapidly becoming convinced that if he tried to bandage himself, he'd simply pass out from the pain. He didn't like his chances hobbling to the hospital, either.

"I guess you're right," he answered lightly.

Naruto's blush deepened. "Right. Um. Put your arms over your head."

Kakashi thought about it for a split second. "No thanks. That would hurt rather a lot. Can't you just cut the shirt off?" He smiled slightly. "You've already burnt holes in it…"

"Oh. Right. Sorry Kakashi-sensei, I wasn't thi…"

"Thinking. I know." Naruto looked more miserable than ever, and Kakashi regretted his comment. "Now who's the one not thinking?" he reproached himself silently. He wanted to apologize to Naruto, to reach out and give him a reassuring touch, but Naruto was already cutting away at the cuff of one sleeve with the little scissors included in the medical pack. Besides. Reaching out would hurt.

He settled for watching Naruto as he worked, and pretending not to notice his long pause and conspicuous swallow as the last of Kakashi's shirt fell away. Naruto shook his head and continued bravely on with his task, inexpertly dabbing salve onto the burns. For a while, Kakashi was distracted by the pain of Naruto's clumsy fingers prodding the raw wounds. Naruto was trying to be careful, but his specialty had always been breaking things, not fixing them.

When the ordeal was finally over and Naruto had moved on to the less painful process of wrapping him up, Kakashi was free to think again. He found there was a lot to think about; first and foremost, what to do about the fact that Naruto was in love with him.

Well… there was no question that he loved Naruto. He'd been living largely for Naruto's sake since the deaths of Sasuke and Sakura… No, if he was completely honest with himself, Naruto had been the unmistakable center of his life even before then, and that had been part of the problem. If he'd just tried harder with Sasuke… If he'd just paid more attention to Sakura… But all that was in the past now. For better or worse, Naruto was all he had, and had been for a very long time.

What he wasn't sure of, was what kind of love he felt for his student. It had always been absurd to think of romantic love between them, so naturally he'd never thought about it. And there had been no need. There was always something else to tie them together, some other reason to devote himself to Naruto's care. He was Minato's son. He was the village's ultimate weapon. He was the village's ticking time bomb. He was a student. He was a young, inexperienced Hokage with young, inexperienced advisors.

But Naruto was a 32 year old man, now, and he'd outgrown all those reasons. He didn't need the kind of care Kakashi had been giving him anymore. What he needed now, apparently, was to care for someone else… as a lover. It had never once occurred to Kakashi that he could be that person, but… why not?

Why not? Because he was about to be dead.

He'd lost sight of that fact in the shock of Naruto's confession, but he remembered it now, and nothing had changed. He still couldn't allow Konoha to be destroyed, and he certainly couldn't allow Naruto to be responsible for its destruction. He still had to take this mission, and he still had to die.

Well, something had changed. Now he felt bitter regret at having to die so soon, and he realized that life as Naruto's lover was something he really wanted. A lot.

While Kakashi was lost in thought, Naruto had finished bandaging him. He'd tied the last knot and tucked in the ends in an attempt at neatness. His hands had hovered indecisively for a few seconds before they were drawn inexorably back to Kakashi. Now they rested lightly on his shoulders, carefully avoiding the injured areas.

"Um… You never answered my question. Is it OK if I kiss you? Kakashi-sensei?"

Hearing his own name called brought Kakashi out of his dreary thoughts.


In lieu of a response, Kakashi found himself being kissed with the infectious fervor of youth.


Thirteen minutes before the meeting that would decide the fate of Konoha and Kakashi, Naruto stepped out into the street. He turned to wait for his teacher, who was still sitting on the step, pulling on his sandals. Kakashi finished, but remained seated, hands draped over his knees, as if the effort of getting to his feet was just too much. The mask was back in place, but the dark circle under his right eye showed clearly how tired he was.

Well, of course he was tired. Naruto was, too. The two of them had stayed up all night, arguing. At first, when Naruto had kissed him, Kakashi seemed to give way, but after only a minute, he cut it all short. Naruto had been afraid he was about to be rejected. He didn't doubt Kakashi cared about him in some way or other, but probably not in the way he wanted him to. He hadn't really planned on telling Kakashi that he loved him in the first place. Well, He hadn't had much of a plan at all when he showed up at Kakashi's door. He'd just needed to see Kakashi, needed to ask him that question, and then things just… got out of hand.

But what Kakashi actually said was worse than the "sorry, I don't feel that way about you" that Naruto had been expecting. What he'd said was, "Sorry, Naruto, but I stand by my decision. I'm going on the mission." As soon as Naruto's kiss-clouded mind could process what Kakashi had said, he objected. He'd decided the moment Kakashi had started spouting bullshit about not being needed anymore that there was no way in hell he was letting him go on a suicide mission, and nothing Kakashi could say now would change his mind. Unfortunately, Kakashi was every bit as stubborn, and the two remained hopelessly deadlocked. They called a temporary truce only when they realized that they had a meeting to get to, and had to somehow get Kakashi into a shirt.

So, sleep deprived, injured, and in pain, it was no surprise that Kakashi was at low ebb. Naruto stepped back into Kakashi's entryway and stretched out a hand to his teacher. Kakashi looked at the hand with an unreadable expression in his eye, but took it and let Naruto help him to his feet.

The two of them just stood there in the open doorway. Kakashi, now that he was up, was ready to get moving, but Naruto was blocking the way.

He was struck by how cold and lifeless Kakashi's hand felt in his. After a thousand pats on the head, he knew Kakashi's hands. They were supposed to be warm and comforting. Suddenly, something clicked in his head, and he finally saw what he'd failed to understand through all the hours of arguing; Kakashi didn't want to die. He'd changed his teacher's mind just enough to make him suffer as he stuck to his sense of duty.

His grip on Kakashi's hand tightened. He cursed and glared at the ground. "Kakashi-sensei, I…"

"Ahhh-ah. It's even worse than I thought." a voice drawled from somewhere outside. Naruto dropped Kakashi's hand like a hot potato, and sprang away. He looked around frantically, until he spotted Shikamaru stepping out of the shadow of a building across the way.

"This is… um… We were just…"

"Shikamaru," Kakashi cut in calmly, "Was there something you wanted to tell me? Or did you come here looking for Naruto."

"Both, actually. I thought he might come talk to you… although unless I'm reading the situation wrong," he raised an eyebrow and looked from one to the other of them, "there's even more to this than I thought."

Neither Naruto nor Kakashi said anything, and Shikamaru shrugged. "Anyway, I came to tell you two that there's a new plan. Kakashi-sensei's off the hook."

Naruto gaped and Kakashi stiffened. Finally, Naruto stammered out, "O-oi. Really? This isn't a joke, right Shikamaru?"

"No joke. Hell, what do you take me for? Why would I come all the way out here just to make a tasteless joke like that?"

A broad grin spread slowly over Naruto's face, and then immediately faded. "Shikamaru." Naruto fixed his advisor with a challenging stare. "Just so we're clear, I'm not sacrificing anyone else, either."

Shikamaru sighed and rolled his eyes. "You don't have to sacrifice anyone at all. And before you ask: No, I'm not joking this time either."

The grin reappeared with double force on Naruto's face. He covered the ground between himself and Shikamaru in a few long steps and clapped him on the shoulder with so much enthusiasm that Shikamaru nearly lost his balance. The next moment Naruto was back on the other side of the street, giving Kakashi's hand a squeeze, and before he had chance to notice that Kakashi wasn't smiling, he was bounding away, calling back over his shoulder, "ALRIGHT! Let's get to the meeting and put this plan of yours in action, Shikamaru!"

Naruto disappeared around a corner. Shikamaru started to walk after him, but Kakashi remained where he was.

"Shikamaru," he said quietly. Shikamaru stopped and half-turned. "Yesterday, you said sending me was the best option we had."

Shikamaru paused, met Kakashi's eye briefly, and looked away. "Forget what I said yesterday. The decision to use one plan or another is a cost-benefit calculation. I realized that I was miscalculating the cost. That's all there is to it."

"If you're talking about Naruto being in love with me,…" Shikamaru looked up sharply, but Kakashi continued, unabashed. "…He'd get over my death soon enough. If this new plan of yours is less likely to succeed, then please reconsider."

Shikamaru eyed the older man with a frown for a while before saying, "I dunno about that, Kakashi-sensei. Yeah, I suppose Naruto would probably survive the experience, but get over it…" He shook his head. "I think we both know better than that." He fished something out of his pocket and tossed it to Kakashi. Kakashi's movements were a little slow and stiff, but he managed to catch it. He opened his hand and looked down.

"Ah… Isn't this…" Kakashi looked up at Shikamaru.

"Yeah. Asuma's lighter. And when I think how much more there is between you and Naruto…"

Kakashi walked over to return the precious memento, and Shikamaru slipped it back into his pocket. "I won't lie to you. This plan's riskier. But I've decided the risk's worth taking, if it means Naruto doesn't have to go through something like that again. Besides. You saw Naruto just now, all pumped up and raring to go. No matter what happens, he'll make this work, Kakashi-sensei."

Shikamaru turned and started walking again, but stopped after a couple meters to throw a lopsided smile over his shoulder.

"Your era is over, Kakashi-sensei. It's time for you to sit back and let Naruto look after you."

Kakashi stood stock still, long after Shikamaru was out of sight. Finally, he bowed his head and laughed.

The end! I hope you've enjoyed Kakashi's midlife crisis. Critique is very welcome. Something strike you as off? Please let me know.