When it Counts

Noooo clue where this came from. But I've been meaning to write actual GaiKaka forever. So, uh. Here you go. Enjoy.
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Gai had never really been planning on having one of those tragically unrequited loves.

Now Kakashi, being all cool and hip and modern, that seemed like something he might have been into. But Gai really was an old-fashioned romantic at heart. As a boy, he'd always dreamed of growing up and meeting some nice young girl (a pretty one would be great, but he'd settle for kind and gentle), wooing her with his manly charm and gentlemanly spirit, and settling down somewhere with a nice little house and 2.5 kids and maybe a dog.

The fact that he had ended up chasing after Kakashi for nearly a decade instead was more or less an accident, really.

ANBU was a place he felt unequipped to follow -- it was perhaps the one cowardly action he had allowed himself in his life, not to venture into that darkness that some people never returned from -- and so he was forced to watch from afar as his Eternal Rival disappeared behind another mask and a pair of dark soulless eyes. Every ninja in the village was busy in those days, mourning their dead, taking up the slack of the soldiers they had lost, rebuilding their home in the aftermath of Kyuubi; the ranks of shinobi available to complete the missions that were what really put food on the table of Konoha's families were pared down to people like Kakashi, only the most elite hunters and killers, weapons whose skills the village could not find a single use for beyond destruction. The ANBU worked for those first few horrible months with an intensity no sane man would willingly endure (and indeed many of them were not); Gai remembers once walking through the autumn-colored woods at dusk hauling lumber, and catching a glimpse through the trees of one tired dark eye, a glint of red, a bloodspattered white uniform. It was gone almost as soon as he turned to look.

Even battered and weary, Kakashi was one of the most masterful shinobi he had ever known, and Gai could only assume he had meant to let himself be seen. It gave him hope, of a sort.

But that was not when he fell in love. Truth be told, Gai was never quite sure when it happened. Just that it did, sometime during those dark days, when the loss of everything Kakashi had held dear, the nights and days of an endless, self-chosen torture still chipped away at his rival's soul.

Such poetry as there was in Gai's, it was only for Kakashi.

It was Gai who offered that first time, on the exceedingly rare occasion of meeting his rival in the street one evening, in plain clothes for once instead of ANBU's uniform; he gave Kakashi a single glance -- assessing the blank expression, the smudges under that dark eye -- and cheerfully invited him over for dinner. Much to his surprise, Kakashi did not refuse; or at least, that was to say, he offered no protest when Gai took him by the arm and bodily dragged him home. He'd just had a shower, Gai thought, and smelled nice with his damp hair; though Gai was willing to bet if he had been Kakashi, with that well-trained nose, he could have detected a twinge of blood-scent underneath that would never go away.

Gai was sure he made a fool of himself that evening, moreso than usual perhaps, stumbling around under the uncaring gaze of his Eternal Rival; but it didn't matter, since Kakashi's mind was so obviously elsewhere entirely. He ate while still somehow keeping on the mask, as was his habit -- portions of food would disappear when Gai turned his back, rising to grab a glass of water or put away the soy sauce, carrying on an upbeat conversation that was for the most part one-sided. He told Kakashi about his day, described the work of rebuilding and the progress the village was making, shared his hopes about what kind of team he would get when he was able to start teaching Genin...

He wasn't sure when Kakashi's eyes turned on him at last, but even his loud mouth could be exhausted; and when the well of Things to Say had at last run dry he simply sat down, smiled at his rival over the little table and the remains of their dinner, and asked how Kakashi was.

"...Busy," came the quiet reply.

His Eternal Rival had always had a great talent for understatement.

He excused himself not too long after that, and Gai was left to sit alone in his rather quiet and empty apartment and ponder whether he had done things completely the wrong way; but a couple weeks later, one night as he was preparing for bed, a tap on his window proved him wrong.

Gai's apartment was on the sixth floor. It was and was not a great mystery to find Kakashi crouched on the other side of the sill, wearing ANBU whites soaked with gore and hanging in a posture that suggested he had been five seconds from turning around and immediately running away. Gai coaxed him inside and went to find a pair of clean pajamas.

The mess was in Kakashi's hair, too, and Gai would have liked to help him scrub it out -- there was something unnerving about it as always, the contrast of stark red, sticky and slowly drying, against those silver locks; and he had seen firsthand how it stuck in Kakashi's hair, the stained spots that took extra scrubbing -- but now did not seem a good time to brush against that particular boundary. He felt muscles stiffening under his hand when he nudged his rival's shoulder, pointing him to the bathroom; he set the bundled clothing on the floor next to the shower and left Kakashi to himself for a while, making up a pallet near his bed while he listened to the slap of water against the tiles.

It was over an hour before the bathroom door opened again. He busied himself with puttering around, picking things up and making tea, until he heard the slight squeak of hinges and a hesitant, "...Gai?"

Gai turned around with a questioning expression, only to find his Eternal Rival peeking shyly out at him from a sliver of open doorway, the edge of his bare cheek just visible in that small crack between wall and door.

"...um," Kakashi ventured eloquently.

Gai couldn't help smiling a little, realizing what he'd forgotten, and went to dig through his drawers for a bandana.

After that night it became almost a routine, once every week or two; to come home and find someone waiting for him, to hear a tap on his window late in the evening. Some nights Kakashi even talked to him, and though Gai would have kept happily welcoming his rival into his home either way, those were the nights that made it worthwhile. He didn't worry for Kakashi quite so much anymore -- save for the times when he went a month or two without those quiet visits, without passing his rival on the street; and it was then, he knew, when things were truly bad, that Kakashi would isolate himself from everyone. Hatake Kakashi was a great man, but not without his flaws, not at all.

So it passed, for a number of years. And Gai awoke one morning wondering whether he would see his Eternal Rival that night, and somehow it came to him that his world had changed.

He gave his rival a challenge the next day.

Kakashi looked vaguely surprised to be cornered on the street and called to engage in a contest of manly strength and daring; not at all without cause, since their last challenge had come when they were thirteen years old, before Obito, before Kyuubi, before the world turned upside down on top of them. Since then there had seemed no time for such things, or perhaps Gai had just gotten out of the habit -- but he stood there now and did not take back his words, and Kakashi, with a sigh and a nod, at last obliged him. He was at the height of his prowess as a member of ANBU; but kind and gentle enough not to leave too many bruises. Gai returned the favor as best he could.

Honor satisfied, he felt he could be content with things as they were -- or perhaps resigned was a better word, for he knew Kakashi, and knew 'love' was a word that would kill him were he forced to hear it uttered again. But then, gradually, the days of their evening visits drew to a close. The midnight taps on Gai's window came fewer and farther between until they stopped altogether. And Gai could only worry for his Eternal Rival, and go on with his life.

His first Genin team never met Kakashi. If they knew of him at all, it was from tales spoken in whispers about one of the nameless ghosts of the ANBU, a silver-haired bloodstained spectre who haunted the forests at night; an assassin known as the perfect shinobi, a beautiful untouchable weapon. Above all, a mystery.

A mystery that Gai had touched once, had pulled away, just a little, to see the person underneath: and he could not, would not forget it.

And then one evening, three weeks after Kakashi turned twenty, there came a knock on Gai's door. Gai opened it, and stared at his visitor for a very long time.

"The Jounin uniform suits you," he murmured, with a small smile.

Kakashi came in, sat down at the little table, and asked how Gai was.
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