Every hope and dream, every plan, every moment spent together looking toward the future...it was all just unspoken prayers to time that we'd be able to fulfill them. Our lives are too unpredictable to ever look forward to growing old.

The realization dawned on him slowly as he stared at the tiles between his feet, sinking in gradually, like the smells of cleaning fluids over blood and secretions that had saturated this place over the years. He took a slow breath and rubbed the heels of his hands into his closed eyes, idly wondering if he'd taken more breaths than he deserved today. A soft, rhythmic beeping came from a room down the hall that some doctor had left open, mesmerizing in its repetition, almost hypnotic to his sleep-deprived state.

Each descending beat from that machine feels like it's taking you a little farther away from me...

He stood slowly, shaking such thoughts from his mind as he stretched and walked a slow circle around the room, passing softly humming vending machines and small tables stacked with year-old magazines that no one ever read. There were other people here, sitting on the soft-but-not-quite-comfortable chairs. One middle-aged man is sitting in the corner, hands folded in prayer before him as silent tears ran down his cheeks. As Gai passed by him he heard him whispering, "Please...please not them too...not after I've lost everyone else...please let me tell my wife and child how beautiful they are, instead of saying goodbye..."

We're so fragile, like flickering candle flames, even when we think we're so strong...all it takes is a strong wind to blow us out. All these memories we've made hurt now, when...when you might be gone at any moment. It makes all my words for the future, your future, and mine - ours - feel like lies.

But I always knew, from the first moment I met you, that you were a truth I'd rather lose than to have never known at all.

There's an old couple leaning against one another over the armrests of their chairs, hands clasped and eyes shut as they slept; scattered around the room are other people, silent, shoulders hunched with weary tension and eyes glued to the ground. No one even seemed to register the television that chattered quietly to itself in a high corner of the room.

There's never any comfort in the waiting room, he thought as he sat once more. Just nervous faces bracing for bad news.

A nurse walked into the room, her shoes clicking loudly by comparison to the buzz of the TV and vending machines and the steady beeping in the background. Everyone's head came up, even the man praying in the corner, whipping toward her as if she were their entire world. She steps in front of me and I bring my eyes up from the floor to her face; tiredness is showing through her layers of makeup. Her curly blond hair is sagging from where it had been artfully pinned behind her head. For some reason he remembers what Kakashi had said while Gai was leaving for the hospital.

"I know it hurts, Gai. Like you want to tear your heart out just to stop the pain." Kakashi's hand twitched, as if he wanted to reach out, and a few moments of silence later he let it come up to rest on Gai's shoulder. "...That's what it is, you know. It's...the surest way to tell." He looked away, taking a breath that for an instant dropped every one of his guards; tiredness and pain and lonliness so great showed through, making his shoulders sag and his eyes close. He turned toward Gai again, one visible eye looking through him as if he weren't only speaking to Gai, though they were the only ones there. "...Love is watching someone die."

The nurse's lips are moving and he realizes she's speaking to him, but he's not listening.

Kakashi wraps him in a tight embrace and an echo of thought - some side-effect of proximity to Sharingan, probably - moves like a will-o-wisp through Gai's mind.

There's a boy with spiky black hair before him, right half of his body crushed by rocks and left spattered with blood. A pale hand appears on his good shoulder and the half-dead boy has enough strength to grab it and pull it's owner down.

"So who's gonna watch you die?" he whispers into his ear, silver hair tickling Gai's cheek as the memory fades away.

The nurse's face is trained to blankness as she recites what she's been told, not realizing that the man she's speaking to isn't hearing her.

Gai slides his fingers through the dark hair, brushing it away from round eyes and back onto the crisp white linen covering the pillow. Lee's eyes are slipping shut as the anesthesia takes hold. He has a small smile on his face and his hand comes up slowly, wrist limp, to brush against Gai's; Gai slips his fingers around Lee's without a second thought. It doesn't register that he'd been speaking until Lee mumbles, "So...who's gonna watch you die...?" as the boy's eyes slip shut.

Gai doesn't realize he's crying until he hears the soft pitter-patter of tears hitting the pressed sheets.

He follows her mutely, and only when she's gone does he kneel next to the bed, taking Lee's hand in his. He can't stop the tears that are flowing over his cheeks, and wouldn't even if he could. His head is gently resting on Lee's chest as his body shakes with sobs, the bleary image of the boy's peacefully closed eyes the only thing he can see. "So who's gonna watch you die?" he whispers between sobs.

The soft, rhythmic beeping from the other side of bed is his only answer.