Maito Gai is a tall girl for her age, pudgy cheeks puffed out and one finger pointing directly at Kakashi. Kakashi blinked at the finger pointed directly at him. "Huh?"

"I told you- I challenge you!"

Kakashi was aware of eyes slowly turning to fixate on the girl standing in the middle of the road, chest proudly puffed out. It was a new sensation, not to be in everyone's eyesight and have everyone stare at him, and she was still waiting for her answer. Kakashi turned and started walking away, uncertain as to how to answer.

"Hey! Don't just ignore me! Get back here you!" Gai chased after him, her footwork clumsy and slow.

It did make sense, Kakashi supposed. She was the slowest, lowest-scoring member of the entire class. She was also one of the nosiest, worst-dressed. Gai was always wearing that stupid green spandex and bright orange legwarmers. She would want to prove herself against him.

"Poor kiddo- looks like it's a lost cause for him, huh?"

"Well, he's certainly not going to beat an elite child with that kind of footwork." Kakashi's shoulders hunched as he caught wind of the soft whispering further down the road. His feet picked up pace, attempting to escape the further whispers that would be sure to follow about his father.

That's when the odd, depreciating thought spun through his head- How can they possibly call themselves elite ninja if they can't even tell Gai is a girl?

Gai was gone when he half-turned to share this thought. The street was empty. Kakashi hurried home.

Rin knew that she was not the only girl in school who liked Kakashi. A lot of girls secretly whispered about it behind his back, and Rin has caught a few others dreamily gazing at Kakashi.

Nobody ever said anything about it though. Most of the girls, herself included, were content on keeping quiet and hoping that he would notice them. Kakashi was cool, and aloof and-

"I lost again!" At Gai's wail, most of the class sighed. Rin watched Gai walk to the window, throwing it open rather over-dramatically. "I will return when my laps are finished!"

Kakashi's head dropped to his desk as Gai leapt out the window, the teacher not even bothering to try to stop her. No- this was normal. Gai would return to school after, pick up the lesson that the teacher had pretty much always set to one side for her, and turn it in at the beginning of the day. The rest of the class thankfully got a few hours off from her yelling.

Rin blinked in surprise as Kakashi seemed to sigh, his eyes seeming to soften for just a moment. Did Gai- Did Gai just pull a smile from Kakashi? It was hard to tell with the black cloth covering his face.

When school ended, Rin went looking.

Gai was found wobbling precariously as she did handstand laps around the edge of Konoha. The palm of her hands were scratched even through the thick bandages that normally protected her. The orange legwarmers stuck out among the cities duller colors. Her face was creased in concentration.

Rin saw her tipping too far to the side, and Gai's over-correction. She winced as the other girl crashed face first into the ground. Gai lay there for a few moments, before gathering her strength and lifting her legs into the air again. Now that Rin was looking, she could see how one leg seemed off, and painful.

Her hands itched.


Gai fell over again, this time in surprise. "Urgh, who broke my concentration?" Rin smiled hopefully as Gai peered up. "Huh? Who're you?"

Gai didn't remember her name? "I'm Rin! You sit right in front of me in class, remember?"

"Huh." Gai contemplated the sky for a moment, before shrugging, "Nope."

Ow. But Gai was very blunt and honest. Rin supposed she shouldn't be too surprised. "Gai, are you still doing your laps?"

"Yep!" Gai grinned, sun glinting off her teeth. "I only have thirty more to do, and then I'm done with all fifty."

"Ahhh- but why handstands? I thought you were going to run them." Rin was a little curious.

Gai nodded, "I thought I would do that as well, but then I pulled a leg muscle." Gai patted her right leg, fingers attempting to assuage a bit of the pain. Rin glanced at it- if Gai knew a bit of medical ninjutsu, she could've healed it by now. Then again, Rin was the top of the class for that kind of ninjutsu.

"Ah, Gai, do you want me to heal you?"

Gai lit up, "Yes please! Maybe I'll be able to finish my laps before it grows dark!"

Rin knelt, laying her hands on top of the leg. She could feel the knotted muscles beneath fingertips, and wondered how Gai was even managing to force it up into the air. "Gai, why bother to finish your laps? It's not like anyone will notice."

Nobody ever paid that much attention- "I'd notice though. And how can I hope to beat Kakashi when I slack off?" Rin glanced up at Gai's tone. Gai was frowning at her, as if she was disappointed by the question.

For someone as serious as Gai, she might be. Muscles unknotted under the glow of chakra, and Rin stood brushing off her knees. "I see. That's very good of you Gai!"

Gai climbed to her feet, stretching and testing her muscles. Rin giggled as Gai flashed her a giant grin and a thumbs up. "Thanks for healing my leg Rin! Now then I must get back to laps!"

"Ah, wait a minute Gai!"

Gai froze in the act of taking off, one foot already off the ground. Rin stopped- she didn't know how she wanted to ask this next question. Do you like Kakashi? Too blunt. Kakashi's really cool, isn't he? It didn't sound right, even too her own ears.

A blush began to crawl up her cheeks as she tried to figure out what she was going to say. "Do you want me to do a lap and you can ask me after the next lap?"

Rin nodded mutely, and Gai took off, her orange legwarmers flashing in the sunlight. Rin stood at the spot for a few more moments, before sinking into a sitting position with a sigh. "Ahhh, how do I ask this?"

Does she like Kakashi? Rin figured the answer was probably a 'yes'. Who didn't like Kakashi out of the girls in her class? Even the girls who might like someone else liked Kakashi. The only one who was a question mark was Gai, and that was because no one really considered Gai to be a girl. The boys all acted like she was another boy whenever she was around, and the teachers had accidentally sent her to the boys side more then once.

But Gai was always blunt, and…

Rin contemplated the different times she had seen Gai interacting with the other girls in the class, and came up empty. Except when it was required, Gai was chattering with the boys with her usual smile and personality. She was never intimidated by the guys. Not even Aburame, who was scary with his bugs. Ah- wait, what was his name again?

When Gai came around ten minutes later, Rin was deeply immersed in her attempt to remember the name of the Aburame member. She had completely forgotten what she was going to ask Gai.

"Figured it out Rin?"

"Ummm- Wh-What do you think of Kakashi-san?" The blurted out question surprised Gai, her face betraying her surprise in a rather comical way.

"Kakashi? He's my eternal rival of course! I'm going to beat him in something if it's the last thing I do!"

Rin giggled- she supposed she shouldn't of expected a different answer. "Kakashi is really amazing, isn't he?"

"Yep! He's always so hip and cool- he hardly ever reacts to anything I say! It makes me so mad at times!" Gai was off, complaining about Kakashi- about his hairdo, about little habits Rin never knew existed, and most interestingly- his 'hip' and 'unyouthful' personality.

It was interesting, Rin admitted, to listen to a person who actually knew Kakashi talk about him. Where all of the other girls, including herself, were willing to watch him from afar, Gai had put herself out there and kept coming back despite facing rejection more then once.

"You're really brave Gai."

Gai blinked, her ramble cut off by Rin's soft voice. "I am?"

"Yeah. You talk to Kakashi all the time…"

"How else am I supposed to challenge him unless I talk to him?" Rin giggled at Gai's confused tone. Darkness was beginning to creep across the sky. She was surprised at how much time had passed.

"I decided Gai! I'm going to do my best as well."

"Okay! May our springtimes of youth blossom and flourish! Now then- I must complete my laps!"

Rin watched Gai take off, putting her full heart into the task that nobody would ever know about.

Genma and Ebisu stared at Gai. Gai stared back at them.

The three of them turned as one to the teacher, their voices chiming together, "Sensei- isn't there supposed to be a girl on our team?"

Kakashi was seven when he killed his first person. His teacher and teammates knew because they are there to see his wide eyes, and see his hands shake as he stands over the still, fallen body. Minato claped him on the shoulder and told him softly, "Good job."

Obito glanced at the dead body, swallowed hard, and looked at Kakashi. "L-Looks like you finally took your first kill." It doesn't come out half as sneering as it should. Rin was there immediately though, scolding him.

"Kakashi, are you okay?" Rin's hands are soothing, calm. They are clean though- her hands aren't covered in the blood of killing. They probably wouldn't be, with her specialization.

Kakashi didn't say anything, quietly following his teammates home. If he watched Gai doing her training for hours afterwards, nobody will ever know.

Gai was seven and a half when she kills her first person by smashing in their head with her bare hands. Kakashi is the only one who knows when he finds her curled up on a park bench, exhausted, pale and trembling.

She had already done several hundred laps, she explained to him in a dull voice, eyes unfocussed. And she still couldn't get the feeling of a head crumpling beneath her hand out of her mind to let her rest.

Kakashi said nothing.

They both ended up sitting outside for a long, long time as daylight creeped into night, and stars shone brilliantly.

The two separated when midnight came. The next day Gai bounced to her team with a bright smile, and Kakashi slunk to his team with a lazy, carefree look. Those hours were never talked about.

"How big do you suppose the boys are?" Kurenai asked one evening, idly. There's a bit of a flush on her cheeks- Rin half suspected that Kurenai somehow managed to get into alcohol.

But as it is now, she can feel a hearty blush crawling up her cheeks. The gathered girls can hear the boys shouting on the other side of the wall- Obito was yelling at Choza to move his fat rear over to the side and allow others into the bath. Shikaku Nara was yelling back about how Choza's weight was perfect for an Akimichi.

Yoshino growled, "Does it really matter? They're all stupid morons."

Mebuki self-consciously laughed, fidgeting in the water. "Don't say that Yoshino!"

Rin sank further into the water as she watched Gai wander closer. Gai had a wooden bucket in hand, ready to begin washing her hair. "I mean it. What does it matter? It's not like size means much."

Gai paused in her walk, turning back with a slightly curious face. Rin jumped slightly as Gai crouched down next to her. "What sort of size are we talking about? If it's the size of their hands then-"

"No, no." Yoshino snapped, "The size of their pe-"

"Yoshino!" Rin wailed, "Do we need to talk about this while the boys are on the other side of the-"

"If it's size, then Aburame is the biggest." Gai supplied with a thoughtful, knowing look. The entire wash house fell silent, boy and girl sides. Gai picked up her wood washbasin and walked over to the showers to begin scrubbing at her bowl-cut.

Yoshino's mouth was still hanging open when the boys finally broke into an outraged roar on the other side, yelling for Shibi. Mebuki's voice dropped into a whisper, "How does she know?"

"I don't want to know." Rin muttered back, hiding her crimson face in her hands. "I just- I don't want to know."

Kurenai glanced at the wall, before sinking further into the water. "Eh, it was worth the thought."

When Obito died, Rin hugged Kakashi tight and sobbed into his shoulder. The funeral was cold and somber, as the empty jar was buried.

The fight after that was thick, heavy, and Gai didn't hold back any punches. Her lithe form sped through the air, helping Kakashi not think. Her low grunts as she twisted and ran, as well as the fiercely burning eyes helped Kakashi forget. Forget that his friend was dead, forget that his father was right, forget that two important people to him were dead, cold, buried, and it had happened right in front of him.

When Rin died, Gai was beside him, holding a bouquet of flowers. It was Rin's favorite flowers, she murmured to Kakashi. Kakashi didn't look at her as she solemnly placed the flowers on Rin's grave. He didn't look at her when she cried- not huge wracking sobs, but tiny, muffled noises.

Gai challenged him to a fight, just like she always did on the anniversaries of the deaths of those important to him. Kakashi turned her down. He could still feel Rin's chest caving in beneath his fingers, still remember her smile, and her last words- his name. He can still hear her saying his name ringing in his ears and-

"Eternal rival." Gai's voice is calm and strong as he turned away. "Fight me."

Gai's voice can't be mistaken for Rin's. Where Rin was soft, Gai is loud. Where Gai is firm, Rin was calming.

The two aren't anything alike, but he wonders why he can hear Rin's voice chiming in the back of Gai's. Gai took up her customary position, feet spread, one hand out to beckon him on, and the other tucked behind her back. It's a normal pose for her. It's normal and right and it hurts so much. How can Gai be so causal when Rin's dead, and war is starting?

When Gai stared at him with red-rimmed eyes, Kakashi took up position against her, sinking into a battle position.

They battled until they couldn't get up, and nobody is there to see them sob.

The Third Shinobi World War continued on, despite the grief and pain.

Gai stared at the blood staining her thighs with a blank look. "What the- blood? I don't remember getting injured…"

Her voice trailed off as her memory kick started. "Wait, blood, stomach pain… I must have a kidney stone! Maybe I should go see Rin-" Gai cut herself off, eyes briefly dipping close. Rin was dead. Gai would have too take care of this herself. She stood- and her knees wobbled as more pain flowed up through her. "Isn't this too low though?"

Gai sat back down, frown growing. "Hmmm, it's only supposed to last for sixty minutes, so if I wait it out, then it should subside, right?"

Sixty minutes later, Gai had to admit- not only was she late for her usual morning training, but the pain wasn't subsiding. "Maybe I should talk to sensei." The rough, gruff man should be able to help… right?

By the time she managed to drag herself to her sensei, and explain what was going on, she wasn't sure whose face was redder. Her teachers, or her teammates when they realized what was going on. Gai was just relieved when she finally knew what was going on.

Gai took the rest of the day off, and wasn't very surprised when late at night Kakashi broke into her apartment. She didn't tell him why though- some things were too embarrassing to share. When her fellow girl classmates started theirs, they started sharing tips and tricks on how to fight even with the pain.

The bonding paid off during the war as they guarded each others backs.

When women reached the age for a monthly flow, they were required to report into a sex-ed class. It was better they learn from friendlies then to have it ripped from them in the battlefield or on a mission. When the guy's voices started cracking, they would go through the exact same thing. Gai shifted from foot to foot as she stared at the man, who was staring at the paper with a puckered frown.

Teachers were off-limits. There was just too much that could go wrong there. Teammates were also off limits- not that Genma or Ebisu wanted to get with Gai in the first place. They were too scared of her accidentally hurting them in the middle.

Gai wasn't very surprised when he finally signed her off to some unknown person. He made sure to ask if she'd prefer male or female for the first time. She'd go to both, eventually. Shinobi must be through and all. Gai replied male first.

She does go off to challenge Kakashi until she's exhausted and trembling and her minds terror has fallen a little quieter.

Her teammates concerns echo in her head when she reports in, freshly showered and incredibly nervous.

It wasn't as bad as she believed it would be, but it wasn't as good as civilians claim. When she reported to the other, calmer now, the woman goes about the same as the male. It leaves something unsatisfied and cold. But it's enough.

It's not until she challenged Kakashi to a fight, her legs still sore and he turns her down did she realize that she felt most alive on the battlefield. So when he turned her down, she sought out another battle. Ebisu obliged her once. She went looking for another. And another, until she's finally smiling again.

"It seems as if the villages have come to an truce." Gai announced idly one day as she did pushups. Kakashi, up in a tree and reading his book froze. His shoulders went stiff and taunt.

"Mmm, is that so?" His voice was casual in direct opposite of his body language.

Gai didn't look at him as she counted the pushups under her breath. "Yep. Just this morning."

Kakashi closed his book, staring out across the empty training field. He can name each of their classmates and teachers that fell during the war. "That's… rather abrupt."

"Yes, it is."

Gai glanced up from her pushups, staring out across the deserted training field. Once upon a time, it was filled with laughter. Once upon a time, their classmates had fought and trained here.

Many were gone now, names carved on the memorial stone.

"I'm glad though." Gai murmured. She returned to doing pushups.

Kakashi asked the question that thrums through both of them- "And now what?"

They are children of war- neither can remember a time when they weren't being told to kill someone. Gai took a deep breath, bounced to her feet and gave him her Nice-Guy pose. "We live of course!" She made it sound easy. Kakashi doesn't think it will be so easy, but when she smiled, and said proudly, "I'm sure that with a good deal of work our youthfulness will prevail!" Kakashi can almost believe it.

If Gai ever joined the ANBU with Kakashi, nobody ever knew. There's a few rumors, immediately discounted by anyone who knew Gai. "She's too loud- she wouldn't fit in!" One says.

"She only knows taijutsu, she wouldn't be part of an elite team."

Only three people know whether or not she was ever part of the ANBU- Gai herself, Kakashi, and the Hokage. They weren't telling.

Kakashi stumbled into the building, hair crusted with blood, every muscle aching and chakra just about completely exhausted. Pakkun tugged him along- Kakashi trusted the dog summon knew where he was taking him. The traps set up for unwary intruders were quickly and mindlessly disabled. He knew them like the back of his hand.

It was odd though, his fogged mind couldn't quite remember setting them up.

There was a bed, carefully made and a familiar, comforting scent drifted into his nose through the gore encrusted mask. Without thinking much about it, Kakashi dropped into the bed, pulling down the mask. If he kept it on, he risked suffocating himself with how much blood soaked the cloth.

Pakkun vanished with a pop as his chakra finally ran out. Kakashi grabbed a pillow, and went to sleep.

He woke up briefly, his one good eye searching the room when someone walked in. But the sight of green spandex and orange legwarmers reassured him and he mumbled, "Hi Gai."

She grinned, her smile glinting in the darkness. "Hello Kakashi!"

"What're you doing here?" Kakashi was vaguely certain that somewhere this familiar should be his own home.

"Just getting a few things. Go back to sleep rival, you look like you could use it- I'll set up some more traps."

He dropped off back to sleep, reassured.

When he woke up a second time, he finally recognized where he was. Gai's bedroom. Her closet was cracked open, and a note was pinned to the ceiling with a kunai. Kakashi reached up to pluck it off and scan it quickly.

Eternal Rival! I see that you are exhausted so I will let you slipping into a young maidens bed unbidden go! But I insist that you wash the sheets. If you want, there's an extra pair of clothes in the closet that you may help yourself too if you wish to toss your clothes into the washer with the sheets! May your sleep be peaceful!

Right. Kakashi glanced up, looking towards the closet. Even from here, he could see mostly mens clothing lined up. Gai's body structure meant most female clothing ended up ill-fitting. A door closed in the small building.

Gai was home. Kakashi considered slipping out the window and leaving her to deal with the dirty sheets when his wounds not-too friendlily remind him that he was in no condition to do that. Kakashi sighed as he picked up some civilian clothing nobody knew that Gai even had, and slipped into the shower.

There was always a fully stocked first-aid kit underneath the sink. Kakashi shed his clothing like a blood-encrusted shell. Wounds were quickly patched up- except for the few that are in an awkward spot. A knock came at the door- "Kakashi, you awake?"

"Mmm, yes. But I can't reach."

Gai let herself in. There was no blushing, no stammering as she helped him patch up. They both have been here before, injured and only having each other. War had cut them off from everyone but each other many times. Even in this time of peace, they fall back into old habits.

"There you go." Gai gathered Kakashi's clothes from off the floor, bearing them away with the look of someone trying to decide whether or not to burn them. He knew she wouldn't as he picked up a washbin and starts scrubbing at skin not covered in bandages.

When he emerged, Gai was cooking her normal breakfast of enough food to feed a small army. He eased into a seat at the table and watched her- she in turn hummed softly.

And a week later, when Gai stumbled into his bedroom to his small apartment that he had rented to escape from the Hatake home, he allowed her to snore on his bed as he took the couch. When she shuffled out of his bedroom, dressed in loose clothing, and picking at a scab, he had breakfast cooking.

Neither remembered when exactly they started leaving clothes in each others houses in an attempt to make things easier.

"Kakashi-" Kakashi glanced up from where he was staring at the map. Gai was decked out along a tree stump, too exhausted to move after opening the gates. A large gaping wound up one arm slowly fed the bloodthirsty ground through the makeshift bandage. She needed medical attention. She needed it badly, but their teammates were all dead, and they were far from Konoha.

"Rest up Gai. We still have far to travel."

Gai nodded, but one hand weakly fluttered. "I know that. But I was wondering if you could do me a favor and rewrap my bandages."

The loose, unraveling bandages that protected her hands had practically fallen off during the gates opening. Now they lay in a crumpled heap. Kakashi glanced at them, before looking back at Gai. Her eyes were only half-focused on him. She wasn't quite all there, not quite realizing their escape was a little more important then her hands being covered.

He got up, picking up the bandages. They were stained with the blood of enemies. The slight chakra caught him from discarding the bandages out of hand. There, carefully stitched into the bandages were charms that he could recognize. These were meant for Gai, so Kakashi brushed off the dirt and got the worst of the blood off, noting the charms that repelled the blood.

Her breathing was ragged and uneven when he crouched next to her. Kakashi shot a worried glance at the wound. He fixed it first, winding white around until red vanished. Then he worked on her hands.

Gai's hands were big. Large, thick fingers were covered in callouses and tiny cuts. Nails were ragged and perpetually caked with dirt. Her palm was a bit better, normally covered in bandages. But there were blister scars in the center of her palm. There were still a few blisters along the edge, oozing puss into the ground from where they had ruptured during the fight.

But when Kakashi wound bandages around her hands, he could feel heat in his cheeks. Gai's palms were always covered. This was the first time he had ever seen them naked. And Gai was trusting him- not just with her life as she trusted him to come up with a way out of this situation, but with her hands. Her hands which were her number one way of fighting.

Her hands that were always covered, secret, and she was sharing this part of her with him.

Gai wandered the streets numbly, stunned at the level of destruction wrought. The Nine-Tailed beast had practically destroyed their village. And she hadn't been allowed to fight. To be fair, none of the teenagers had been allowed to fight.

It made no sense, she thought as she stood on the destroyed wreckage of what once was her home. She had crushed the skulls of children the same age as her in battle during the war. She had torn out the entrails of adults when she barely came up to their chin. What was different between that and fighting against the Nine-tails?

She crouched in the rubble, fingers tearing apart the wood and cement that covered her home. Nobody noticed the single woman throwing aside beams bigger then her in her search. Gai breathed a soft sigh of relief as she found the chest.

It was broken and splintered, but the contents were safe. Especially her mother's yukata that had been handed down to her. Mother had always wanted to see her in the beautiful, delicate fabric but…

Gai half unfolded it, callouses and bandages snagging on the delicate fabric. She was too big and rough. She couldn't possibly fit into the yukata. She never even tried to fit in it. No, her mind scolded her, that was a lie. She had tried it on exactly once, and realized she was too wide across the shoulders. She had too many muscles. She was too manly to fit into her mothers yukata.

Gai smiled sadly as she tucked it back into the broken chest.

She could never fulfill her mother's dreams.

Kakashi stood numbly at the funeral for his teacher. The last member. He was the very last.

He wasn't even allowed to go help during the fight.

He was a member of ANBU. He had killed so many. Children, adults… they all blurred together and yet haunted him. And he wasn't allowed to fight, deemed too young. It wasn't fair. It just… wasn't…

The funeral finished.

Kakashi remained there for a few hours longer, staring up at the sky. He crouched before the gravestone, a tiny babes wails echoing in his ears. Then, he wandered his way to Rin's grave, grief pouring out to her cold stone.

When he found Gai at their customary fighting arena, her eyes closed, body poised for the fight to come, he wondered darkly, When will she die as well?

Her eyes were dry, but he could see a touch of red among the white. "Let's not." He suggested, voice cracking. "I don't want to kill you too."

Her thick, heavy eyebrows rose. "You think you can kill me? I'm disappointed in you- by now you surely know that if I die, I will do it on my own terms. Not anyone elses'." The promise in her words were underscored by her Nice-Guy pose and smile.

Gai doesn't break her promises. It was an irrational thought. Nobody could decide their deaths. But somehow… it was a little easier to believe when it was Gai promising.

Kakashi pushed his headband up, and took up position.

Gai unwound the bandages, staring at the charms carefully etched in there. Charms against broken bones, charms for healing. Charms to help when she punched through skulls.

These charms were completely dead- they had worn out long, long ago. But they were stitched with care, the last gift from mother to her. Gai glanced down at her hands, rough and chapped. They didn't look girly, and when she was younger half the reason she put them on was too cover them up.

Fingers traced the charms, wondering if she could revive them. With her inability to mold chakra very well, she doubted it. It would take hours. Hours that she thought she didn't need to spend.

The bandages were folded, and carefully placed next to her mothers yukata. If she had a child, Gai thought offhandedly, she could give it to them. She had no children. She had no plans for children either.

Sometimes Gai had nightmares about opening the gates for the first time. She can remember the pain pounding through her, heavier and sharper then anything she had ever experienced. She can remember the faces of her teammates as they backed away from her, fear and disgust written as clear as day.

She can remember her commanders face when she staggered in, entrails decorating her hair. She remembered his face when she reported how many she killed, at a mere twelve-years-old.

Gai can also remember how he had relaxed when she started shouting about youth.

Sometimes she has nightmares about drowning in red.

She doesn't know who starts calling her the Noble Blue Beast of Konoha, even when she clearly dresses in green. Gai doesn't know what to think when an enemy force rerouts to avoid facing her, or that they decide to go up against the infamous Copy Ninja instead. When during the war teams felt safer around her rather then annoyed. It was nice, just a little.

Gai sometimes has nightmares about those she's killed.

It isn't often, something tucked away and hidden. Nobody really knew about the dreams. She allowed the nightmares to come, and when she wakes up before the sun has risen, she lets the sun chase them away.

And if Kakashi challenged her to a fight on the nights when she woke up with a scream on her lips, nobody knows.

They are far too used to the two making some kind of ruckus in the village.

"Kakashi, I challenge you to- WHAT IS THAT?!"

"Icha Icha Paradise. It's a new series all about-"

"I know what it's about eternal rival! What I mean, is why do you have it out here in public?!"

"Mmm? Well, it is pretty good." Flip.

"Don't read it while I'm talking too you!"


"Don't just ignore me either! Why must you be so difficult all the time? It makes me fear for your youth!"

"Isn't reading books like this considered youthful? I mean, look at this paragraph: Her bosom heaved as she stared up into his eyes. 'I- I-' She started, stammering and blushing-"

"Is she going to punch him?"

"…Yep. Her fist drew back, slamming into his midriff. Ribs cracked. 'Bodice-rip that bastard!' Huh. This sounds like it was from experience…"

"Interesting. Wait a minute! Just because she has proven herself to have a good punch doesn't change what the novel contains! How is this supposed to be setting a good example to the youth of Konoha?!"


"There are more children being born rival! Soon a new generation of shinobi will rise!"


"Don't walk away from me when I'm talking!"

Gai crouched outside of Kakashi's window, fiddling with the chakra trap set along the sill. Fingers quickly traced out the countermeasures, the pitiful amount of Chakra she could command unlocking the seal.

The room was cold and empty- Kakashi was out on a mission. She spun a silvery glint of metal in her finger, searching the room critically for where she could hide it.

The bed was the best bet- he was hardly in it. She flattened against the floor, eyes doing a quick sweep of the underneath. There were no charms, except those that decorated the bottom of the bed.

Carefully she tucked the thin slice of metal into a corner. She rerouted the chakra at the bottom to mask the presence of the metal. Then she stood up, mission accomplished. It took a minute to reseal the room behind her.

When Kakashi let himself into her house with the key she had hidden a year later she could feel her chest swell with pride that she had actually managed to hide it for that long.

She never did find the key Kakashi hid for her though.

Kurenai moaned, folded over onto her desk. Asuma darted a glance at her, but it was Gai who spoke up- "What's the matter Kurenai? You didn't drink too much again, did you?"

"No, no. I just pulled a few muscles. The medic-nin's are refusing to treat me. They say maybe I'll cut back on my drinking. NEVER!"

"If you want, I can give you a massage." Gai offered- "I've done it before." As a taijutsu master, she knew all about muscles, and muscle relief.

Kurenai perked up a little- "Really? How good are you?"

"Hmm, well, the people I did it on were always struck silent by my ability!"

Mebuki snorted indelicately on the other side of the room. Gai ignored her, beaming a hopeful smile at Kurenai.

"Fine I guess, but if I call it off, then you have too stop, got it?"

"Understood! I will do my best to make your sore muscles go away my friend!" Gai bounded over, easily reaching Kurenai's back.

A pained gasp escaped her lips at the first knuckle against sore muscles. Then, blessed relief began to trickle in, Gai's large hands easily working out the knots. "Looks like you have stress knots. You might want to get those looked at."

Kurenai didn't say anything.

But after that, there were always a few girls hanging out by Gai's desk, asking her about muscle massages.

Gai stared at the little boy ignored by his class. His fellow students flowed and ebbed around him, avoiding him. Her heart clenched, a thick, choking feeling clogging up her throat for just a moment.

She could remember this feeling.

She could remember when people had avoided her.

She could remember those cruel looks and whispers about how she could never amount to anything.

"Gai, are you coming or not?"

She blinked, tearing her attention from the student still standing in the courtyard. "Ah, Kakashi."

Gai shook her head, trying to clear her mind from the young boy. "What are you doing here eternal rival?"

One eye narrowed at her suspiciously. But his voice was carefully casual as he stated, "Mmm, I was just remembering the challenge you gave me."

Gai's mind scrambled for a moment. One bandaged hand came to slap herself at the back of the head. To forget such an important thing! "Of course! A challenge! Kakashi I challenge you to an race!"

Maybe during the exercise she could forget about the boy who reminded her of herself.

"Kakashi- have you ever thought about teaching?"

Gai didn't look at Kakashi as she asked the question. She had often returned to the school. She had spotted and perhaps stalked(only a little though, she promised) the child with the long hair, big eyes and the face that reminded her of herself.

Kakashi hummed noncommittally as he turned the page to the newest Icha Icha book. Gai sighed- why was she asking him anyways? This was a question for herself.

"I've been thinking about teaching." She confessed, pretty sure he's paying attention.

"You? Teach? Are you sure that's a good idea?"

Teachers weren't on front line. Teachers weren't assigned S-rank missions that could take months. Teachers wouldn't be able to guard Kakashi's back when he ran out of chakra. Teachers wouldn't be at the scene to help wrap wounds and to stagger out, exhausted and tired.

"Yes." Gai murmured. Teachers could help keep students alive. Teachers could smile and joke. Teachers could wake up early and train. Teachers could share a bond with their students. Teachers could shape the youth of tomorrow.

Teachers could create a legacy that would last beyond their death.

Kakashi said nothing.

He was still there when Gai puts in the paperwork for becoming a teacher with the exact same paperwork.

Gai failed the first group she gets. She wished she didn't have too, but none of the three can even stand to look at each other let alone get close enough to fight her. Her test is pretty simple too, she thinks- they just have too get close enough to scratch her. It's not that hard. She doesn't go all out, and she doesn't pull open the gates.

She took the second group when the three of them appear with their lunches and actually sit in a circle. They all regarded each other silently. Gai watched them for a few moments- her eyes were first on the child that she noticed in the school, the one she had wanted to teach from the very beginning. Then she noticed the genius boy from the Hyuuga clan and can't help but frown a bit. A genius was on her team? What were they thinking? He would probably outstrip her pretty quickly…

No, she still had a lot to teach him, and she wouldn't loose sight of that.

Gai glanced at the girl, fidgeting silently at the edge, glancing between the two boys. Her body type wouldn't lend itself very well for taijutsu. She would probably be a long-range fighter.

Gai dropped into their circle with a brilliant, sparkling grin and a toss of her bowl-cut hair. "Very well then! I see you are to be my new students!"

The three of them flinched, the Hyuuga boy taking an attack pose already. The other boy tripped over his own feet, as the girl darted back a few steps, kunai in hand. Gai laughed heartily- "Then I suppose we should start with introducing ourselves!"

When the test began, her mind noted how they start falling into patterns. Lee darted forward, clumsy but determined. He is their primary distraction. Neji attempted to circle around, as their main source of attack. Tenten attempted to backup Lee beside him, instead of from the back.

Tenten passes when she catches Lee as he's sent flying from a single kick. Lee passes when he takes a blow meant for Tenten. Neji passes when he forcibly takes control of the situation to drag his two teammates out of the way of one of her punches. Neiji is the only one to manage a slight touch, the mere glancing of his elbow against her palm.

If she was going all out, she could of clenched her hand around his elbow and shattered it. Instead she laughed as she announced they passed.

Kakashi failed his students once more.

Kakashi stared at the three children in field nine. There is one boy that has rather creepily adopted Gai's haircut, and he's giving the Hyuuga child a rather passable imitation of the Nice-Guy pose. A shiver crept down his spine at the sight. The girl with the twin bun hair sighed as she practiced tossing kunai. She doesn't hit the target as often as she should.

"You passed that lot?" He can't keep the disbelief out of his voice.

Gai grined at him as she leaned against a tree trunk. "That's right! Aren't they adorable and precious?"

No, they aren't. They're ugly little things that are fighting far too much to be relied upon. The genius was brushing rudely past the other boy, and the girl was yelling at both of them. There's nothing there to say that they could support each other when the time came.

There's nothing there to say they could rely upon each other.

Kakashi wondered how fast the three of them would die, when they inevitably broke apart. There was no way they could mesh their separate fighting skills into something workable.

"They're going to fall apart."

Gai frowned at his deadpan tone. "Such little faith rival! They are still in the springtimes of their youths- I have no doubt they will learn to grow beyond what the skills they have now."

"Mmm. The child that's trying to copy you. Lee, is it? He isn't going to be able to become a shinobi. Not with that skill level."

There's a long moment of silence, Kakashi watching the children as they argue and bicker in the field. Gai was silent, and was still silent when Kakashi finally leaves.

When Tenten glanced at Kakashi, asking curiously who he is, Kakashi realized for the first time that Gai might be a little mad at him. Or something along those lines. It's a bit of a surprise, considering how professionally and quickly they fall into old habits when working together.

The exams are a bit chilly- Kakshi was still reeling from this revelation, and Gai doesn't do anything to bridge the gap.

Her voice raised to cheer on her students is vibrant and full of her determination. In contrast her normally flung out challenge is surprisingly dull.

Kakashi wondered how he hasn't noticed this in two years. During missions (however few and far inbetween they were) Gai had never treated him any differently. She was there with her usual cocky grin, and nobody had gotten through her guard to Kakashi's back. And she still visited him after teaching was done. Except- she hadn't stumbled into his house too exhausted to realize it wasn't hers once in the two years. If that wasn't a red flag, he didn't know what is.

He doesn't know what he's supposed to apologize for- not until he watches Lee rip open the gates. When memories rush back of Gai standing on the battlefield, glowing and in pain but fighting past the pain to protect her group.

Then thoughts of apologizing are out.

Gai had taught Lee a forbidden technique that she knew full well the dangers of? She had taught Lee a technique that had made her heart stop, and sent Kakashi into a full-blown, but completely silent, panic as medic-nin's desperately fought to revive her? And she dared be mad at his actions?

Teaching Sasuke the chidori was surprisingly easy, and there is a bit childishness is mixed in there.

Kakashi hated to loose as much as Gai does.

And, it's in Sasuke's best interests as well. Gaara is a scary child to face off, though Kakashi knows if it was Gaara versus himself he would win. But Sasuke would be the one to fight against him, and Kakashi swears to Obito's grave that Sasuke would win.

It's not until mid-battle during the Chunin Exams, does Gai speak to him her mind on Lee. "I had too. I knew how much it hurt to be called scum."

Kakashi was hit with the memories of his harsh words, and murmured in return, "I wanted to make Obito proud."

They fall into each other's space, Gai's back straight and proud. Kakashi was hunched, ready to attack. But they don't worry about their backs.

They know that the other has it covered.

And when shortly after the exam she stumbled into his home covered in blood and exhausted, Kakashi knew all was forgiven and forgotten.

Gai was hovering over him. Kakashi slumped further in his bed, attempting to avoid her as she gave him a brief check over for injuries. He was in the hospital- his mask that was still on proved that.

All other visitors were gone when Gai finally settled down.

"What happened to Itachi?"

"Pulled out the second I arrived and I haven't been able to track him."

Kakashi nodded slowly. Gai sighed, "And here I thought I would get to fight against another Sharingan."

Only one person in the world could face that eye without flinching. And she was sitting at his bedside looking frustrated and angry. "Gai- thanks."

One thick eyebrow rose. "What are eternal rivals for?"

Kaksahi wondered if eternal rivals was a secret code word that only Gai knew the real answer too. It was drowned out among her loud chatter and promises to bring him food.

When Tenten came up to her with a panicked expression, Gai panicked as well. "Tenten! What's the matter? You look most unyouthful!"

"S-Sorry Gai-sensei. I-It's just. I don't know what's going on! I started bleeding this morning and..." Her voice trailed off miserably.

Gai remembered her own confusion, and wondered why this wasn't covered in class. Even if it was though, Gai acknowledged, it's a bit easier to deal with it with a trusted person at your side. Gai nodded- "Tenten- come with me. Lee! Neji!"

The two who had been watching from the sidelines like a hawk perk up. They're probably already thinking about the training Gai was about to assign them as she took Tenten to the hospital. "You're off for the rest of the day! Go out and enjoy your youth."

"I-Is Tenten going to die?" Lee asked, eyes watery. "Gai-Sensei!"

She gave him one of her soft punches. "Of course not! This is something that will take all day! So you may choose what to do with your time without me here to watch."

They are both studious. Neji doesn't need much correction, and his misplaced anger at the Hyuuga clan is shattered from Naruto's intervention. Lee is still recovering from his surgery, and cannot push himself as much as he would like. But the two stand in solidarity as Gai lead Tenten off.

Gai took Tenten to her own home, and showed her the different ways to stop up the blood. She showed her the seals to cover up the scent of blood so an enemy couldn't find you. She gave her recipies to ease the pain, and what to avoid that made the pain worse. Gai gave her all of the information that she has painstakingly gathered over the years. A lot was trial and error, but she knew they work.

She quietly told Tenten about the sex-ed class that will soon come. Tenten listened with a red and white face, but there's no wavering in her eyes. She will do it. Gai told her to take the day after off- Gai would work the boys to keep them from questioning Tenten's dissapearence too closely.

The gratitude is enough to put her into tears again. She doesn't hold back.

When darkness falls and conversation has at last run dry, they started the trek out. They swung past Training Field Nine, noting how it was completely empty. Tenten walked close to Gai, hands on her chest, questioning, "Will it throw off my aim?"

"I'll show you how to fight around it." Gai promised loudly, her grin bright in the cool night air. "It'll be hard, but with the power of youth and determination, you will fight just as well as you did before!"

Gai wept manly tears when she took Tenten home to chocolate cake and treats and two waiting children wanting to help their teammate. She still can't believe how lucky she is too have this team. Her most precious students.

Gai grinned as she slung a friendly, companionable arm around Kakashi's shoulders. The wine bottle in one hand sloshed loudly. "You should come and drink as well!"

Kakashi pushed the bottle away, and attempted not to sigh. Tenten and Neiji were off in the corner, dragging Lee away from the alcohol. Gai laughed again, as she waved the bottle. "C'mon! It's a celebration!"

Sakura self-consciously giggled from where she sat.

Tenten, Neji, Lee and Sakura had graduated to Chunin, and this was supposed to be their celebration party, but the teachers were already off in their own world. The alcohol was flowing freely, as they compared their own graduation exams.

Still, Kakashi reasoned, taking a small shot glass and filling it up, a little alcohol couldn't hurt.

When Gai and Lee punched a hole through the wall, Kakashi took back everything he said, and sliped out the door before he could be landed with the charge.


Gai sighed as she leaned against a tree, looking out across Field Nine.

She could feel a familiar presence in the tree. "Want to pick up our old competition?"

Who could kill the most in a pitched battle.

"Mmm, won't be fair this time around. Besides I lost track." The loosing track was a lie. She let it slide, where once upon a time she would've yelled at him for it. She doesn't want to keep close count either.

"Commander of the entire Third Division huh?"

Gai wondered distantly if that will mean they won't be sharing a tent like they had planned when the first rumors of war began. Kakashi was certainly high up there with becoming the commander. He would probably have ANBU guards, and Gai wasn't part of ANBU.

"I wanted to know if you'd be my second." His voice was soft, as he stared out across the field. "If you do, then we'll share the command tent."

She's certain he's remembering their fallen comrades, and how Obito and Rin would've protested Kakashi becoming the commander. Gai has no such protests. She's just happy that their half-talked about plans would continue unabated.

But- "Of course Kakashi. I will always be willing to help you out! Between your brains and my fighting prowess, we will drive out the enemy!"

Kakashi says nothing, and they continue staring at the training field. The voices of ghosts haunt their dreams, as they lay side by side. It's an automatic comfort gesture- backs touch as they stare at opposite walls, and listen to the voices of their friends who died in the last war.

Maybe it's in preparation for the war, maybe it's because she knows how many die during the war, Gai pulled out the things her mother left her. The yukata and the bandages.

It takes all night to revive the charms on the bandages, making them clean and white.

The yukata she carefully, carefully wraps for Tenten. "I'm sorry that I can't give you anything more useful Tenten." Just a pretty thing, but Tenten would look very pretty in it, unlike Gai herself.

The bandages she separated for Neji and Lee. Mother had given her plenty, and Gai knows there's enough to wrap around their wrists and fingers at the very least. Whether or not the two choose to use it is up to them.

Gai doesn't have biological children, but she does have students. And those students were her children without a doubt.

Gai had dreamed about red before. She had dreamed about what it would be like to open the last gate, to burn in a fiery blaze.

It has haunted her dreams since she opened the first gate.

She couldn't imagine the events that would lead up to her opening the gate. But she stood there, remembering the promise she once made a friend about how her death would come.

Gai took a deep breath, knowing that her student and friend were staring at her back with a mixture of terror and horror. She squared her back.

She is Maito Gai, the once-looser. She is Maito Gai, the exotic Blue Beast of Konoha. She is Maito Gai, one of the strongest shinobi in the world.

She is Maito Gai, a woman willing to die to protect those precious to her.

"It's the end of the Blue Beast of the Leaf. The time has come for me to become a Red Beast."

She is Maito Gai.

She has no regrets.

a/n: I'm sorry. I promise KakaGai, and give you fem!Gai instead. But it was a lot of fun to write. Hope it was fun to read!