There was something they all weren't telling him.
He knew the story about some of the island's beasts having Kyuubi's chakra was false. For one thing, he knew Killer Bee had tamed all the animals there, and for another...
The guards – all highly experienced shinobi – wouldn't be so tense if it was a matter that simple.
And whatever that was, it was bad.
Naruto drew in as much nature energy as he could in that moment, and smashed out of the temple. His hitai-ate came loose with the impact and fell to the ground just as he was caught in a shadow jutsu, but those things barely registered on his mind because –
"What... what the hell is this?"
Whatever he had expected to find out there, it wasn't... this. The sudden influx of chakra signatures – flickering and flaring and fading and dying – in his moment of frozen horror was almost enough to overwhelm his Sage senses. He could almost see ghost images of people he knew and people he didn't, but despite it all nothing made any sense. With the chaos came a sudden feeling of déjà vu, and he wrenched himself free of the binding jutsu because it was obstructing his chakra sensing and he had to find to check to make sure—
"Naruto." Firm hands landed on his shoulders, and he stopped trying to escape. "It's alright," that same voice said, calm and achingly familiar. "I'll talk to him."
"Kakashi... sensei." Naruto closed his eyes briefly, allowing himself just one moment to feel the man's chakra and the proof that he was alive. He opened them again, and yellow-golden eyes stared intently at Kakashi who returned his gaze with the same deadly seriousness. "Tell me what is going on out there."
"War," Kakashi replied grimly. "Akatsuki has declared war on the entire world in order to capture the last two Jinchuuriki. A shinobi alliance has been formed in response, and now... we are at war."
Naruto's eyes narrowed. "Then why didn't anyone tell me about something so important? Why is everyone else here trying to keep me out of it, to make me hide?" He flicked his gaze to the surrounding shinobi and back, well aware that the jounin's eyes tracked his – and knew what he was already planning.
"You were not informed because the Five Kage knew, too well, that you would want to join the battle. They decided that the risk of your capture was too great." Kakashi paused. "Tsunade-sama ordered me to come and check on you in case you grew suspicious from the lack of communication, or tried to leave this place."
"Lack of communication, huh." A wry grin pulled at the corner of Naruto's mouth. "I know I get really focused when I train, but it didn't feel quite right without you there," he said suddenly. "It was weird, I guess, to have just Yamato-taichou supervising... but things began to feel very fishy when he didn't show up for so long."
"Captured," was the short reply, and he could see the tension in Kakashi's shoulders.
"Not quite. Yakushi Kabuto was the one who took him, and he appears to have allied himself with that masked shinobi."
"...Damn it. Nobody's found him yet?"
"No. It seems like his Mokuton chakra has been used to increase the enemy's numbers. They're keeping our hands full with an army consisting entirely of the plant-like Akatsuki member's clones, and another force provided by Kabuto: shinobi revived via the Edo Tensei."
"I... see." That explained the oddness of the chakras he could sense, Naruto thought, releasing his Sage chakra to clear his mind. "Is that why you're injured?"
Kakashi blinked. "Ah." He glanced down at the slash wound in his abdomen. It had stopped bleeding a while ago but still twinged, at times, even after first-aid treatment. "We ran into shinobi with kekkei genkai and Kiri's Seven Swordsmen," he admitted, rather reluctant. "You know how strong Zabuza and Haku were."
Naruto jolted at the mention of those two names. "Then—"
"But that's more than enough talk," Kakashi cut him off, firm and faintly apologetic. "You have been changing the subject, but I know what you intend to do."
"Are you going to stop me, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, blue eyes sharp and angry and determined. "Will you really put me in a cage and call it a fortress and expect me to just hide in here when everyone's risking their lives, for me?"
"If Akatsuki captures the Hachibi and Kyuubi, it would be the end and everything we've done so far would be pointless." Kakashi's voice was grim, unyielding.
"If Akatsuki kills everyone who's out there fighting this war..." Naruto's voice shook with fury and frustration. "Everything I've ever wanted and everything I've ever done and everything I've ever learnt would be pointless, damn it!"
"If they extract the Kyuubi from you," Kakashi said slowly. "You would be... dead."
Naruto's temper exploded. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO FINALLY RETURN TO KONOHA AND FIND ALMOST THE ENTIRE VILLAGE DESTROYED?" He roared. "DO YOU KNOW HOW IT FELT TO SUDDENLY GAIN THE ABILITY TO SENSE CHAKRA AND THEN DISCOVER THAT HALF THE PEOPLE YOU'VE EVER KNOWN ARE DEAD? DO YOU KNOW HOW IT FELT... DO YOU KNOW HOW I FELT WHEN I SEARCHED AND SEARCHED AND SEARCHED FOR YOU AND YOU JUST – you just... Weren't... there." He didn't know when the tears had begun to – he wasn't crying, dammit dammit dammit – fall and he didn't know why except it hurt, and Kakashi...
"Did I ever say... that I was going to stop you?"
And Kakashi gently wiped the tears from his eyes.
"But – " he said and stopped, utterly confused now, then thought really hard about what Kakashi had been telling him all this while.
It... was nothing like what an order should have been. In fact, more than anything else it felt like some kind of roundabout mission briefing or status report or something like that and it was crazy, yet it made sense.
He wouldn't have said all that if he really wanted to make me stay here, Naruto realised.
"Is that really okay?" he grinned crookedly, and hiccupped an awkward laugh. "You said you were on orders, after all."
"Maa~" Kakashi smiled back. "I've told you before, haven't I? You are the only person who can surpass even the Yondaime Hokage. I truly believe in that... and in you."
Warmth flooded his chest (and, most embarrassingly, his face as well) and Naruto fumbled for something to say in reply. Protests rose from the other ninjas present, but they fell silent when Kakashi turned his gaze on them, his dark grey eye harder than steel and his other eye a hidden threat.
"I believe in you because you are Uzumaki Naruto who never gives up, and you are my student who has already surpassed me, and you are the shinobi who will become the greatest Hokage Konoha has ever known." Kakashi bent down to pick up the fallen hitai-ate, and Naruto thought he saw a faint flush on the tips of his sensei's ears. "As a shinobi I must do what is best for the village, but even as a shinobi I do believe – I do know – that you can do this." He leaned over to tie it onto Naruto's forehead. "And you will."
"I promise I will," Naruto said immediately. "I won't let you down. And if anyone comes after you for going against direct orders, I'll beat them up!"
The weight of the promise was somehow heavier than Kakashi expected, and what had only been a lingering sense of apprehension suddenly grew. "Aa," he said distantly. "It was never possible to keep you out of this war in the first place. It's too important, and you are too important. So... don't charge in all alone and get yourself into something you can't handle, hmm?"
"Don't tire yourself out and collapse again, sensei." Naruto countered, making a face at him. "You're always doing that, so don't try to deny it! ...And that's why I want to go out and fight as well. Because I don't want people to die for me – I know it's impossible but I have to try – and because I want to do something about all the death and suffering out there. Whatever it takes."
Kakashi suddenly felt very cold.
"I will protect Konoha and the Alliance and this world at any cost," Naruto declared, and Kakashi's heart sank.
At any cost... was what he had feared the most. Because as a loyal shinobi he had always been willing to die for his village and the people he cared about, should there be a need, and he knew that Naruto would do the same. But even so...
"Kakashi-sensei," Naruto smiled at him, like he was truly happy, yet to Kakashi it felt too much like –
(like something he did not want to think about)
He turned to go, and it felt too much like goodbye.
Kakashi's hand moved of its own accord, catching Naruto's arm just before he could leave. He met the astonished blue gaze with just as much surprise at himself, and...
Could not think of anything to say.
What remained of his self-restraint was shredded by the sudden sharp silence between them, and in that moment of weakness he pulled the boy—man—boy – Naruto towards him, and.
Hugged him desperately tight, wishing that he could remember that feeling forever, of solidness and warmth and home, and wishing with gritted teeth that his arms would stop shaking as he tried to just hold on.
Naruto froze, and Kakashi closed his eyes to avoid seeing the other's expression, yet leant closer still.
"Sorry," he whispered against Naruto's neck, bracing himself for the inevitable response. "You can... shove me off any time you want. Ask me to leave, and I will, aa, leave." (Permanently.)
Hands trailed tentatively up along his back, crossing over to opposite sides and perhaps-maybe-almost hugging him back, then paused. "Sensei," Naruto murmured, his voice sounding surprised and vaguely thoughtful, with a hint of a smile which must surely be nothing more than over-imagination and wishful thinking. But then fingers plucked at Kakashi's sleeves, the force behind them light but certain. "Sensei," he heard Naruto repeat.
Kakashi released him.
"...What is your answer?" he finally managed, forcing himself to meet Naruto's eyes, forcing himself to ask and forcing the words out because he had to know. Because either or both of them could die – and as much as he wanted to violently reject even the thought of Naruto d— ...of that happening, he knew it was not impossible.
But then Naruto smiled. "Can't tell you now," he replied, and his eyes were warm and bright. "You'll have to wait until after we win, when you're alive and safe and just there... to, um, maybe carry me home again. But still..." he surged forward without warning, hooking one finger in Kakashi's mask.
"What do you think?" Naruto asked, yanking down the cloth and pulling Kakashi in for a fierce, fierce kiss.
"Come back alive, Naruto," he whispered after they finally pulled away from each other, flushed and breathless. "You have too much to live for to die on the battlefield before you've even fulfilled half your dreams. And I..."
He closed his eyes.
"I don't want you to die."
Naruto breathed against his neck, and even through the cloth it felt so very warm. "I know. I promise. So don't fall unless I'm there to catch you, you hear me?"
"Mmph," he smiled. "I suppose it's only fair."
"We've probably spent too long talking," Naruto remarked thoughtfully. "Want a lift, sensei?"
He grabbed him.
"Oof – what the – Naruto! When did you get this fast – hey! Put me down—"
And both of them vanished in a bright yellow flash, with Naruto cackling wildly.
He'd never seen Sharingan no Kakashi so surprised.