Proof of Spirit

R. Winters

Disclaimer: Slavery is illegal in the United States--I don't own Gai or any of his little friends. I did, however, make up those characters that you've never heard of before, and therefore they become intellectual property on my part, which isn't illegal due to a minor loophole in the anti-slavery law and the fact that they don't really exhist in the physical realm.

While looking through the various Naruto stories on FFnet, I came to the conclusion that... there really aren't enough about Gai. I mean, sure, he's a goofy, weird-looking idiot who tries to be as cool as Kakashi but really can't be... but he deserves a little credit, right? I mean, he is Kakashi's rival, of sorts, so the Copy-nin's fame ought to rub off on him a little... right? Besides... when you really think about it, Gai's much cooler than a lot of people... like... um... give me a minute here... ... okay, just read the story.

The ten-year-old stared at the hitae-ate in his hands, mouth open slightly in awe. His teacher watched, a slightly bemused smile on his face as the boy regarded the symbol reverently.

"Gai-kun?" He prompted after a moment, "Go ahead and take it, Gai-kun."

The boy looked up, a grin suddenly splitting his young face as his dark eyes glittered happily, "Yatta! Arigatou, sensei, it's thanks to your skillful demonstrations that I made it this far!"

The man chuckled, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly, "Well, you earned it, after all, Gai-kun."

"This is the proudest moment of my life!" The young boy exclaimed, tying the blue material around his forehead, "Now the fire in my soul will be acknowledged by all! I will be acknowledged as a part of Konoha's proud and youthful shinobi, naa!"

The man laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his head some more.

Gai ignored his teacher's nervousness and was quick to turn from the party of graduating students. He was halfway across the yard when his teacher stopped him again.

"Gai—where are you going?" He called out.

"There is someone I need to show this to, sensei!" The boy called back, "I will show him how far my unbreakable spirit and my unchangeable will has taken me!"

The man didn't have a chance to ask for a clearer answer as the boy continued running from the Academy yard and was gone moments later. He sighed, "Gai-kun... I have to tell you to come here again tomorrow..."

Gai ran through town in a hurry, peeking into food stalls and running past houses. He had to find him! He was sure that the other would be somewhere in the village—he wouldn't be gone on an important day like today!

Running through the market place, Gai ran straight by someone who stopped him abruptly by grabbing the back of his green T-shirt. Unable to stop because of his momentum, Gai tumbled backwards, landing on his bottom, and looked up with irritation at the person who had stopped him.

His narrowed eyes widened in surprise and he immediately felt guilty for glaring, at her of all people!

"O-kaasan!" The boy exclaimed in surprise and dismay as he scrambled to his feet and hastily apologized, "O-kaasan, forgive my impetuous, youthful actions! I was blinded by my euphoric haste!"

The woman rolled her eyes, "Gai, what are you doing out of school—didn't you have a test today?"

Gai straightened importantly, "Yosh! Rendon-sensei dealt with us sharply and pushed us to the limits of our abilities," he adjusted the hitae-ate around his forehead, "But against all odds I valiantly rose above his obstacles and now wear this honorable sign as the symbol of my youthful spirit and hard working attitude!"

His mother blinked, then her expression softened into a smile, "I see, you're a shinobi now, Gai, congratulations! Are you on your way to tell your grandfather?"

The boy's eyes burned with passion and he clenched a fist, thoughts returning to his mission, "I have no time for dallying around, o-kaasan, even for my honorable grandfather! My prideful spirit burns to see him and every second I delay could mean his passing!"

Before Gai could even move his mother's fist came down, boxing him around the ears. The boy cried out, grabbing his head, only to look up into his mother's merciless eyes.

"I don't care if your spirit is prideful, Gai," the woman chastised coldly, "Your grandfather worked hard to help you train and you should at least stop by to tell him that you passed!"

"But, o-kaasan!" Gai began in protest, only to cut himself short when the woman brandished her fist again. Wincing in premonition, the boy quickly backed down, lowering his head in defeat, "Hai, o-kaasan, your gentle reprimands have righted me once again. I will go to sofu-sama directly and thank him for his wise guidance."

"See to it that you don't get distracted on the way, Gai," his mother added as he ran off, eager to avoid any more 'gentle reprimands'.

Gai didn't have any intention of visiting his grandfather, of course. True, he had said he would, but this was more important than truth or lies! He had to find that guy! Before he could leave on a mission or something again! He couldn't risk letting him get away!

"Oi, oi!" Gai skidded to a halt at the familiar voice and looked over his shoulder to see several men, including the person he didn't want to see right now, waving him over.

Gritting his teeth in annoyance, Gai strutted across to them and offered a quick, shallow bow, "Good afternoon, sofu-sama."

"Gai-chan," the man greeted happily, one hand rubbing the small, graying beard on his chin, "How is my most youthful grandson?"

Gai winced, at the rate his grandfather would move the conversation along, it would be hours before he could look for him again!

Fists clenched at his side, Gai took a step out, falling into a bold, loud stance, "Sofu-sama!" He said loudly, "You can't treat me so casually anymore! As of today, Maito Gai, the Great Beast, is one of Konoha's proud shinobi! My youthful flames have been fanned and I have become a roaring fire!"

The man chuckled amiably, "Hai, hai, I see you have earned the proud symbol of Konohagakure. Your youth and fire make me proud to be your honored grandfather, Gai-chan, but you will still be my Gai-chan."

The boy deflated in disappointment, then he straightened again as he remembered his mission, "Sofu-sama, please excuse the brash rudeness of my youthfulness, but there's something I need to do!" He turned to run, but his grandfather's voice stopped him again.

"Hold on, Gai-chan," the older man said, "Wait a moment and meet my friends, we may be old, but we burn still with the fire of Konoha's will."

Gai reluctantly turned back, "But, sofu-sama! It's very important! He might leave if I don't find him quickly!"

The old man sighed, "Hai, hai, leave your dear grandfather all alone if that is what you—" he broke off, a large sweat-drop forming on the side of his head to see that the boy had begun running off the moment the second "hai" had left his lips. He turned back to his friends with a chuckle, "My grandson," he said, "The fire of his passion is inspiring, ne?"

The others laughed as well, but Gai didn't notice, determined as he was once more on his task. He had to be around here somewhere! He just had to!

Gai ran through the park, but the other was nowhere in sight. He searched around the Hokage Monument, and at the bridge where he had first met the other, but both turned out useless. Still, Gai wasn't the kind who would give up so easily.

"I'll search for him until there is no more daylight!" The boy vowed to himself, "And if I don't find him by then... I'll work twice as long with sofu-sama tomorrow!"

He cringed at the thought and redoubled his efforts. He just had to find him!

Gai wasn't paying enough attention as he walked past the Hokage Tower, so he didn't notice the silent form of a shinobi until after he'd run into him. This time, instead of falling back, a pair of hands caught the boy by his shoulders, steadying him.

"Careful, there," a voice said.

Gai looked up and his eyes widened in surprise. He took a step back, pointing an accusing finger at the figure, "You!"

"Eh...? Do I know..." The shinobi's bemused expression suddenly lightened with understanding, "Ahh! You're Kakashi-kun's friend," the man said pleasantly, "Gai-kun, ne?"

"And you are my rival's youthful teacher!" The black haired boy declared, "Where is my rival today? Has he left on a mission already?"

"Kakashi?" The blonde clarified, shaking his head, "No, he's at the training grounds with his team..." The man's words died out as the boy bolted away again, calling a hasty thank-you over his shoulder.

Smiling to himself, the man shook his head in amusement before continuing on his way. His smile grinned as he thought of the numerous ways his protégé would want to slay him once he found out he'd given out his location to that boy.

Gai raced to the shinobi training grounds, and only after he arrived did he realize his mistake. There were dozens of training grounds in Konoha, and his rival could be at any of them! But it was too late to go back now, when he was so close.

"You're slow," an arrogant voice drawled.

The twelve-year-old boy clenched his fists in the dirt, mouth twisted into a mix between a scowl and a grimace—this is why he hated that brat! Throwing himself back onto his feet, the dark haired boy spun to face his companion once again, black eyes glaring.

Kakashi stood at the other side of the clearing, stance relaxed and hands shoved into his pockets.

"At this rate," the Hatake said coolly, "You'll never become a Chuunin, idiot."

"You bastard!" The Uchiha cried, racing towards the other boy again.

As Obito ended up on the ground once again, the third member of the team sighed, "Obito, I know you're really motivated, but you aren't going to beat Kakashi just like that. He's just way better than you."

Obito's glare flashed to the girl—why couldn't she be even a little supportive of him once in a while? Of course, if Kakashi wasn't such a jerk all the time, it wouldn't matter—so in the end, it wasn't Rin's fault, just Kakashi's! His glare turned back to the boy in question.

"And Kakashi... everyone already knows you're better than him," Rin continued, "It would be nice if you'd go easy on him sometimes so he could actually learn something."

Kakashi returned the girl's gaze coolly, arms crossed across his chest.

Obito snorted, "You expect that bastard to actually do something nice?" He asked in disbelief.

"Why bother with a loser like that?" Kakashi asked coldly, "It's ridiculous that someone like him could become a Genin at all."

Obito snarled at the younger boy, shaking with anger. He didn't retort, however, because at that moment, a fourth figure burst from the trees.

"I have finally found you, my rival!" A young boy shouted, pointing a finger at Kakashi while he struck a dramatic pose—finger out stretched from a straight arm and feet staggered solidly, his rear hand planted dramatically on his hip and an intense expression on his face.

Obito's attention was completely stolen by this new character and he gaped at the other boy. His clothes weren't unusual, save for the dirt and burs that seemed to have accumulated all over them. His black hair was amazingly well-rounded for having so many sticks and leaves sticking out of it. Perhaps the most surprising was the hitae-ate he wore above a pair of thick, black eyebrows.

The Uchiha blinked and slowly turned his head to his white-haired teammate as the newcomer's words sunk in, "Rival?" He echoed in disbelief, "Kakashi, you know this kid?"

Kakashi glanced over the disheveled black-haired boy coolly, then averted his eyes, "I've never seen him before."

The effect was instantaneous. "What?!" The other boy cried melodramatically, "How can you say such a cold thing, Kakashi?!" He demanded, at the white-haired boy's side, revealing himself to be taller by nearly an inch, "After I came all this way and surpassed so many trials, just to find you!"

Kakashi rolled his eyes—why did he always attract the idiots? "Well, you found me," he said grumpily, "Now what do you want, Gai?"

The strange boy's mood did a completely turn-around again as he straightened, a blinding grin crossing his face as he reached up to tighten his hitae-ate. "I came to tell you, my rival, that today marks the brilliant dawn of a new rivalry! Konoha's Great Beast finally joins his rightful place as a member of our Hokage's brightest young flames! A shinobi on equal footing with all those motivated men before him!"

Obito stared at the boy as though he'd grown a second head, "What did he say...?"

Kakashi didn't appear to have any trouble deciphering the other boy's speech as he leveled him with a dull look, "So?"

"So cool, Kakashi!" Gai lamented dramatically, fist clenched and tears in his eyes, "As always, my rival has such a way with words!"

"But... he didn't say anything..." Rin muttered, watching with a kind of horrified wonder.

"Nonetheless! I will not tolerate such cool behavior from my rival any longer!" The dome-haired boy declared boldly, "Now that we are both hard-working comrades in arms, you will offer me respect, Kakashi! Your fire is strong, but mine is also, as I have come here today to prove to you!"

"Gai..." Kakashi said slowly.

"Yes, my rival?" The boy asked eagerly, a smug smirk on his face, made up of shining white teeth. It was time—time for his esteemed rival to bestow upon him his attentions and admiration.

"... Any idiot can pass the Academy exam," the Chuunin finished, jerking a thumb towards his idiotic teammate, "Even he passed."

Obito bristled angrily, "Oi! What's that supposed to mean, you little jerk?!" He demanded angrily.

"You forget, my rival," Gai said, "You're only a Chuunin yourself. At the next exam, I will be a Chuunin as well, and then there will be nothing to stand between our passionate rivalry!"

"Hey, Kakashi!" Obito interrupted angrily, "Is this guy really your rival?!"

Kakashi glanced back at his teammate, then smirked under his mask, "He's more of a rival than you are, idiot."

"What?!" Obito cried, shooting the black-haired freak an aghast look, "Take that back, you bastard!"

Gai, on the other hand, was practically sparkling, "I knew you would acknowledge my fiery passion when I showed you the fruit of my labors!" He declared boldly, "And now, my rival, to commemorate today, let us see which of us can complete twenty laps around Konoha first!"

Kakashi stared at him blankly.

"Unless my rival is too intimidated by my formidable youth and passion!" Gai taunted.

Obito couldn't help but laugh at the expression on his teammate's face, "What's the matter, Kakashi, scared of your rival?" He may have still been a little bitter over the other boy's jibe a few minutes earlier.

"On three," Kakashi said simply.

Obito gaped, "He's actually going to do it?" He asked, turning to look at Rin.

The girl shrugged.

"One...!" Kakashi and Gai started in tandem—the latter with noticeably more enthusiasm than the former, "Two...! Three!"

Gai immediately took off towards the village while Kakashi's tense stance relaxed back into nonchalance as he turned his back on his disappearing, self-proclaimed rival. His teammates, not long out of the Academy themselves, couldn't have noticed the slight tenseness that remained in his shoulders.

"You're not even going to go with him?!" Rin asked incredulously, "You're going to make him run all that way alone?!"

Obito snickered, "You're such a jerk, Kakashi. Is that how you treat all your friends?"

Kakashi shot the other boy a loathsome look, "He's not my friend."

"Oh, yeah," Obito snickered further, "He's your rival."

Kakashi ignored him, looking irritated.

"Ah... I take it Gai-kun has been here already," the three students looked up to see their teacher entering the clearing, amused smile on his lips, and bright blue eyes almost glittering with mirth, "Am I right, Kakashi?"

The youngest boy glanced away from his teacher, frowning at the tree tops, "It's 13-13, sensei." His teammate's didn't notice the slight twitching of his hand, but the miniscule movement couldn't go unnoticed by an experienced Jounin.

The man's lips twitched into a wider smirk, "Then you'd better hurry and catch up, Kakashi."

"Huh?" Obito looked at his teammate in confusion only to see the white-haired boy racing off. He shared a look of surprise with Rin.

"I thought Kakashi didn't like him, sensei?" The girl asked in confusion, "He really didn't look like he wanted to race with him."

The Yellow Flash smirked, "The thing about Gai..." He started slowly, "He's annoying when Kakashi's in the lead... But he's completely impossible when he's in the lead..." He grinned, "Or so Kakashi tells me."