Solemnities

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So, Kakashi insisted that not only did he have a bunch of other stuff besides angsting that needed doing, he definitely owed Gai for putting up with his nonsense. Thus, this little postlude. Won't make much sense if you haven't read Anniversary. This story is not properly punctuated because Fanfiction dot Net is a cranky whiny bitch, so I suggest you read the version at TONFA instead: finalknight . net / naruto / viewstory . php ? sid (remove these parentheses and add an equals sign) 280

Please take out all the spaces. Sorry for the ridiculous formatting of the URL, but as we've previously established, FFN is a cranky whiny bitch.

In addition to the modern meaning one would take out of the word, 'solemnities', in Elizabethan times, referred to a formal event or a celebration. I will leave it to you to decide what meaning is intended.

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The morning after, Kakashi does not go to the Monument.

It's been years since he first started visiting every morning (after that day that he recalls not with memory but with the dull ache of the gashes underneath his bandages) and as far as he can remember, this is the first time he's ever willingly skipped it. Mika-san always comes around this time of week, to put down fresh flowers. She'll wonder where he's gotten off to. Probably conclude he's just on a mission or something.

Perhaps he is, in a way.

He thinks (hopes) Obito, and everyone else, will forgive him for just one day. Most of them, if they were standing next to him, would probably say something about taking care of the living before the dead.

He doesn't think he's ever been very good at that, but maybe he's learning.

The air outside is just a little crisp, and it's still early enough that all of the many green things in this Village Hidden in the Leaves are shiny and wet and sparkling with dew. He trods along quietly in his usual uniform toward one of the training grounds, and settles in the trees to watch Gai's unit at their morning spar.

He smiles a little behind his mask as Lee defeats Tenten and pumps a fist into the air, shouting his joy at his win, before quickly and smilingly rushing to help her up. The boy seems to him, as ever, a combination of Naruto's exuberance and Sasuke's cool competence. Gai looks on at the scene with his usual impossibly huge grin, giving them both a thumbs-up and and praising Lee with some typical remark about the springtime of life that Kakashi could easily make out from his position, but doesn't bother to.

Neji is rising to take his turn, though it looks like he's already had several; but Gai raises a hand to stop him, declaring that they've warmed up enough for today and advising them to all go home and clean up. Perhaps they have a mission to get to.

Kakashi doesn't know why that makes him feel disappointed, since this is, after all, a ridiculous idea and he should be glad of any excuse to call it off.

After the students are gone, Gai turns his gaze toward Kakashi's spot behind the leaves - they're both Jounin, after all, there's no reason to really try to hide from each other - and raises his hand in greeting, a slightly hesitant smile on his face. Kakashi doesn't think he's ever seen Gai wear an expression like that in the daylight before.

"Good morning to you, my fearsome foe and eternal rival!" Gai declares, summoning some of his usual bravado. "What brings you here? A contest, perhaps? A match of our mighty wits or our shuddering, manly strength? Oh, has my rival finally come to me for once?"

He is in the middle of making a dramatic pose as Kakashi drops lazily down to the ground and approaches him, hands shoved in his pockets. He watches Gai's eyes as they catch on the bandages peeking out from under his sleeves and one glove, and sober slightly.

"Thought I'd treat you to breakfast," Kakashi says levelly. "Make up for last night."

Gai is staring at him now. They don't ever talk about it, afterward.

Kakashi summons up a smile from somewhere, his visible eye crinkling a little. A few moments later, Gai smiles back.

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'Breakfast' isn't really all that breakfast-like, as the first place they happen to pass is the Ichiraku, and neither of them expresses any interest in looking for somewhere else to eat. Gai has miso ramen, slurps it loudly, and enjoys it as heartily as he does everything. Kakashi sips water through his mask. He'll have something to go.

They don't talk about anything important in the restaurant, but it's a pleasant enough conversation. Gai asks after Kakashi's students, and Kakashi asks after Gai's. They trade stories of the odd and oddly funny mishaps of running low-ranked missions with young Genin. They wonder about some of the shops down the street, and whether the old tailor's place will ever finish being remodeled. Gai teases Kakashi about the bookstore next to it with the generous rack of porn. Kakashi replies with a good-humored sniff that Icha Icha Paradise is a romance novel.

When they are finished, Kakashi picks up his bag of takeout and they go together to drop it off at his apartment. In the daylight they are both the ninja they are supposed to be, gliding swiftly and silently along the rooftops. Kakashi does not so much as jostle his ramen. When they get to his window, he undoes the secret outside latch and the wards on the handle, and slips the bag inside to cool on the windowsill. He closes it again and walks over to plop down next to Gai, who is sitting at the edge of the next roof waiting for him.

"Thank you," Gai says, smiling at him again. "That was delicious."

Kakashi shrugs a little and smiles back, not feeling quite comfortable accepting the gratitude.

They sit there in silence for a few moments longer. Kakashi can feel an "are you all right" hovering in the air between them, though he knows Gai will never insult him by voicing it.

"I didn't really have anything I was planning on saying," he admits quietly, glancing off at some distant clouds. The sky is, as always, a cheerful blue over Konoha. Perhaps it looks a little wistful today, as well. "I just..."

He pauses. Gai is waiting expectantly and Kakashi really, really doesn't want to say this all of a sudden, even more so than before, but Gai deserves it so he will find a way to push and shove the words out of his mouth.

"...It just always ends that way... you going home by yourself, and I don't want you to think that I'm not..."

Grateful. He gives up and leaves that part to hide inside his head, knowing Gai knows him well enough to get the idea anyway. Sure enough, the other man beams at him, and gives him a manly clap on the shoulder that is nonetheless careful to avoid jostling any bandages.

The voice that accompanies it, however, isn't daylight-Gai. It's nighttime-Gai, the one he is usually only ever privileged to hear once a year.

"One of these years, I will convince you that there's a better way to remember him."

Kakashi sighs a little.

It isn't as if he ever planned for it to be like this. It isn't as if he wants it to be like this. But somehow, every year, it happens the same way. A ritual of sorts.

Perhaps he is just too afraid to give up one of the few things in his life that he doesn't have to worry will ever disappear. Perhaps he... Perhaps he doesn't want Gai to stop coming. On that night of all nights.

He knows Gai would come anyway, if he asked.

But he can't ask.

"Maybe," he agrees without agreeing, and they sit together for a short while in more companionable silence. Gai is the one to break it at last, rising from his seat. Perhaps he does have a mission to get to.

"...You're late to meet your students, aren't you?" he wonders, raising thick dark brows.

Kakashi's eye crinkles again, a mischevious smile spreading wide underneath the mask.

"Very, very late."

For a moment, Gai gives him a confused glance. And then at last he starts to laugh.

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