Anniversary

Forgive me if this seems derivative of my last fic. It popped up in my brain fully formed so I couldn't help but go ahead and write it... perhaps you can think of it as 'variations on a theme'. ;) Vague Kakashi Gaiden spoilers.

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Kakashi is sitting on his bed when Gai walks in.

It's the middle of the night, but Kakashi's still mostly in his uniform. His green vest is slung carelessly over a chair and his gloves have disappeared somewhere. His hitai-ate is hanging loose around his neck; he is slouched, staring down with his usual half-lidded, blank gaze at the object held before him. It fails to look quite as uncaring as usual with the Sharingan exposed.

The familiar broken blade of a long dagger is clutched in one hand, Kakashi's elbow resting on his knee, his forearm dangling out lazily over the floor. His hand is wrapped completely around the blade and Gai winces a little, more with foreboding than anything, as he notices the blood dripping slowly and steadily onto the wood below.

Kakashi does not so much as look up as he enters. Gai waits at the door for a moment before walking into the apartment proper, slowly and deliberately padding over to join Kakashi on the bed. He notices the dagger's hilt lying next to him, between them, atop the comforter.

They sit there for a few long moments in silence, Gai's presence still unacknowledged. As always, the moon shines straight through Kakashi's window and makes everything in the room look pale and strange. Gai wonders if the other man ever bothers to turn on any lights in here.

"Gai."

He finds Kakashi's face. The other man is turned slightly toward the window, gaze now focused on the wall at the far side of the room. He never looks over at Gai.

"Go away."

Gai stifles an unbecoming sigh. He always hopes against hope for a different reception. But his eternal rival is, as ever, a stubborn creature.

"No," he says at last, "I don't think I will."

They are both silent again for a moment.

"Go away," Kakashi repeats dully. The single eye Gai can see from where he's sitting, the normal one, closes briefly in something that might be irritation but is probably another feeling entirely.

It was how many years ago now, today? He can't remember. But he is sure Kakashi does.

Hell, it wouldn't surprise him if Kakashi knew down to the minute. The day that Uchiha Obito...

But that's his father's dagger blade he's clutching so tightly at right now. Gai occasionally thinks that it must all get a little mixed up in Kakashi's head sometimes. So much guilt trapped in there that the faces, the names, all those beloved ones and all those he barely even knew, blur and mix together and create some sort of grotesque amalgamation for him to torment himself with.

His eternal rival is nothing if not good - nay, expert - at tormenting himself.

"You're bleeding," Gai says, by way of explanation. His voice is determined. "I'm not going to leave you by yourself right now."

Kakashi lets out a single tired, rather incredulous chuckle, and actually turns to look at Gai for a moment. "What do you think I'm going to do, slit my wrists like some histrionic teenage girl?"

And Gai takes a moment to wonder at the fact that Kakashi is being so verbose all of a sudden.

They sit there for a while longer. He watches Kakashi, and Kakashi watches the blood dripping onto the floor, and then rises after a while to pad over to the windowsill. He stands there and watches the moon, and if Gai leans back a little he can see the Sharingan eye, and watch the way it catches the moonlight. And then Kakashi turns his head slightly and his masked face is entirely obscured.

"Gai," and his voice is shaking a little, just a little, but that's all it takes, "go away."

Gai smiles a little, just a little, and rises and walks out the door. He closes it quietly behind him and leans back against it. The inside of the apartment is utterly silent save for Kakashi's breathing, and even that is faint.

Gai closes his eyes and makes use of his Jounin's hearing, so he will be able to tell when the sobbing stops.

When he dares to venture in again, the blood has been cleaned from the floor. Kakashi has returned to sitting on his bed. His hitai-ate is once more hanging down over his eye, and one hand is gloved; the other is in the midst of being bandaged. He gives Gai a single unreadable glance as the latter walks back over to ease himself down onto the bed.

He glances down at the comforter. The dagger hilt is gone. Who knows where the blade has gotten off to.

"I thought I asked you to go away," Kakashi says quietly.

Gai just smiles at him for a moment.

"Feel like getting a snack?"

The other man gives him a very long look, but finally, slowly nods his assent.

He dresses fully again before they leave. They would hardly be expecting trouble at some random ramen shop, and it would be doubtful if any of the Jounin equipment in that green vest would be necessary for any they did run into, but Gai occasionally thinks that Kakashi wears as much clothing as he can get away with just to put that much more space between himself and others. If you're nothing but a faceless, expressionless ninja in a generic Jounin uniform, maybe people won't go and get attached to you or anything stupid like that.

There isn't much open at this time of night. They stop at a bar, and Gai wants to order some good strong sake, but knows he doesn't dare tonight of all nights. He sips tea and nibbles on some appetizer which he's thoroughly forgotten the second after he's finished with it. Kakashi has water, and drinks it through his mask. They say nothing to each other the whole time.

Gai follows Kakashi back to his apartment again. They trudge toward it in silence. Either of them could be there in half the time if they wanted to, by various methods, but Kakashi just keeps walking slowly down the main roads and Gai follows, matching his pace. He thinks of it as a mini, unofficial duel between himself and his rival. He wins if he gets back inside the apartment without Kakashi managing to annoy him into going away.

Kakashi won't win, because he isn't trying hard enough.

Or so Gai thinks until they get to the door. Kakashi fumbles for his keys and steps inside before suddenly, pointedly closing it in Gai's face. No words spoken.

Gai stands in front of the door silently again, and smiles against the tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.

He can hear Kakashi moving around inside, making no attempt this time to be quiet. A drawer thunks, or maybe the closet door. Clothes are pulled off and scattered.

He waits a very long time, until it is completely silent again, before giving the door a nudge.

Kakashi has left it open. As always.

Gai lets himself inside and walks calmly over to the form huddled on the floor. The blood spatters on the wood are bigger this time. The cuts run up and down Kakashi's arms and across his bare chest, dribbling down onto his uniform pants. His hitai-ate is discarded next to him; a little bit of blood has dripped onto the metal and pooled in the grooves of the Konoha leaf; it will have to be cleaned. The mask is gone. The expression is still as blank as ever, turned partway down toward the floor.

Gai reaches over and curls his hand firmly around his rival's slightly shaking grip, and gently pulls the dagger blade away from Kakashi's scarred eye.

"Bandages still in the bathroom?" he asks quietly, just to have something to say. He already knows they are. Just as they always are. Kakashi looks at the blade in his hand in Gai's hand and says nothing, expression unchanging.

Gai nudges the hand down with his own, until it is resting on the floor. With his other, he reaches out to wipe a small smudge of blood off Kakashi's cheek, and then goes to find the first aid kit.

They sit in silence as he cleans and bandages Kakashi. Once the wounds heal, no one will notice a few extra scars on a battle-hardened Jounin. Perhaps next time Kakashi lands himself in the hospital, the medics might see a few they don't remember dealing with, but they will doubtless say nothing. As long as the outside is healed, it doesn't matter to them. The inside is not their job. Not anyone's job, really.

Gai is not sure exactly when it became his job.

Kakashi sits on the bed and watches him with those half-lidded eyes as he wipes off the floor. He sneaks a glance back as he works, because he is only ever privileged to see Kakashi's face once a year.

It's as strange as it ever is. Kakashi is very pale. Perhaps it's the moonlight, or blood loss.

He places the hitai-ate carefully on the desk, and does not clean the spatters off. It's not his place to meddle with another ninja's emblem. He rises, and gives Kakashi a wan smile, and turns and hesitates and takes a deep breath and steels himself. And walks out the door.

And he has failed, and it's over.

Until next year, when they will do it all again.

He can only hope that some year will be the year he finally gets it right.

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