Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor the characters and places therein. …And the world is, unquestionably, a better place because of that fact. 

Chapter 1

Kakashi sat listlessly in his hospital bed, slowly clenching and relaxing his fists under the covers. Not because he was angry at anything in particular, but because, even after a several days' rest, his hands and feet were all that he could move without serious effort. Chakra exhaustion, he had long since decided, was one of the cruelest ailments known to man. Memories flashed, unbidden, through his head. Memories of being carried, fed, clothed, and other even more egregious indignities that no grown man should ever have to suffer-- even under the care of medical professionals-- all at the hands of well-meaning friends. The shame was inexpressible.

Just what I get for trying that extra Raikiri…he thought bitterly for the hundredth time that day. But if I hadn't used it…that chuunin would have probably died… he answered himself, also for the hundredth time.

Why he was running A-rank missions with new chuunin… that was the real problem at hand. Even though it had been nearly a year since Orochimaru's attack had stripped Konoha of its Sandaime Hokage and scores of it's best ninja, the village was still struggling to recover its place in the delicately balanced economy of the hidden villages. With shinobi numbers still low, Kakashi, and other jounin like him, had to complete a number of missions under less than ideal circumstances.

It was not the only close call he'd had in the last few months. Thankfully, this time nobody had gotten hurt…well, he looked at his own immobile body in disgust, almost nobody. He let out another noiseless sigh and tried to think of something else.

And at precisely that moment, without warning or announcement, Konoha's Beautiful Green Beast burst into the room.

"Chansu desu!" the ever-flamboyant Gai exclaimed, pointing at Kakashi. "My eternal rival, alone and vulnerable! Finally, I shall even up the score!" He poised himself for some unknown manner of ridiculous attack.

Kakashi rolled his eyes. Gai had done this at least once a day since he'd arrived and his lines hadn't changed in the least. "Janken," Kakashi said before Gai could get any further and do something unforgivably undignified.

"Ahhhh…" said Gai in frustration. "Sasuga, ore-no Rival! Alright, Janken it is!" He made a few more superfluous gestures as Kakashi slowly extricated his hand from under the sheets. "Saa SHOBU!" Yelled Gai, and Kakashi rolled his eyes once again.

"Jan-ken-pon!" they recited.

As usual, Gai went with 'rock'-his hands were already bunched into fists, after all. Kakashi went with paper--it required the least effort by far.

"Wuaaa!" moaned Gai in mock despair, making a hideous face as he did so. "Not again!"

Kakashi snorted in disinterested aversion and turned his head away.

And with that, Gai promptly seated himself down in the chair beside the bed, changing his dramatic affect into one of thoughtful gravity in one disconcerting instant.

Kakashi, however, was used to the change and determined as ever not to dignify it with a response.

"So, how is the healing coming along?" Gai asked, now with the pointed interest of a concerned friend.

"Alright," was Kakashi's response. He would have shrugged if he'd had the energy. "Not much change."

Gai frowned at him, apparently weighing something in his mind.

"Yes I know," Kakashi beat him to the punch. "I really over did it this time. Thanks." He gave his friend just a moment to realize that he's been minorly insulted before continuing. "So, any news?"

"I…huh? No…" Gai answered, clearly distracted, "…I mean, not from the other teams anyway. They haven't reported in yet."

Kakashi nodded fractionally but didn't say anything.

"Well you know," offered Gai, cheerfully, "no news is…"

"good news," Kakashi cut in, in a flat tone. "Yeah, I've been told that one."

"Hmph," said Gai, rather deflated. "Well anyway, here's a newspaper." He tossed the thick Sunday volume on Kakashi's bed. It appeared to be a lazy throw but the paper landed, very precisely, by the copy ninja's right hand. "So you can see what's going on in the village."

"Thanks," returned Kakashi, not insincerely, as he made the effort to hoist the heavy periodical to eye level.

"No problem," answered Gai as he turned to leave. But a parting glance at his rival made him pause. Kakashi was staring at the front page of the newspaper- his one eye open wide in shock and his face (what was visible of it) uncommonly pale. Gai walked back around the bed and bent down to look inquisitively at the paper, hoping to discover what had caused Kakashi so much surprise. But nothing on the page seemed worthy of the reaction Kakashi was giving it.

"Something wrong?" he turned and asked Kakashi, searching the man's face as he had the newspaper.

"No," the masked ninja replied tonelessly.

Gai looked back to the paper.

"This is today's paper?" Kakashi asked with masked urgency.

Gai checked the date just to be sure. "Yes," he pointed at the top of the page, "November 4th, see?"

Relief washed over Kakashi's face, but "Good," was all he said, and he did not bother to elaborate. Nor did any amount of verbal prodding from Konoha's Green Beast prompt further explanation.

Kakashi continued to sit and look pensive in his usual, if slightly more pallid, way.

Gai waited for a while, trying stolidly to ignore the air of awkwardness that was permeating the room. But before his impatience got the better of him and he made his muttered excuses and left.

"Whew," Kakashi exhaled as soon as Gai was well and truly gone. It had taken longer than usual to get rid of his friend, and in this case, that had cost him valuable time. Still, he would have to remember to thank Gai (in some suitably understated way) for accidentally reminding him. To think, he had almost missed the most important day of the year. Kakashi summoned all of his strength and sat up in bed. The effort left him unable to move for the next several seconds. Then he turned a determined eye to the small pile that had been made of his clothes and equipment. It was on the other side of the room. He sighed once more. Well, I'd better get started.