Title: What Remains Unmentioned
Rating/Pairings: PG. Gen.
Summary: Kakashi keeps accepting Gai's challenges because he likes to pretend that they still make a difference in the tally of their Eternal Rivalry. (Because, really, he knows that he's already lost—Gai is too kind to bring up the worst challenge of them all.)
Notes: Written Nov. 2007, edited Sept. 2014. The first italicized section's dialogue is from Ch. 177.
"Kakashi, my rival!" Gai puffs between push-ups. "You're doing well! But we'll see who rejoices most!"
"As you say," Kakashi replies. Two hundred eighty-one, two hundred eighty-two, two hundred eighty-three… He's almost at the three hundred mark. He doesn't wonder about Gai's count; it's all about counting for himself, seeing how quickly he can reach five hundred. He was reading when Gai appeared in a brilliant blur of green and loudly announced his newest challenge. In answer to Kakashi's unspoken question, Gai flashed his teeth at him and said, "Oh, my young ones—they're with Lee at the hospital to encourage his youth!"
Ah, Kakashi had thought. Although he doesn't really need encouragement in that aspect…
Two hundred and ninety-six—
Kakashi looks up as well in curiosity. Neji stands some ways off. "Aren't we training today?"
"Neji!" Gai leaps up, grinning broadly. "I am proud to see how eager you are to blossom!"
Neji has clearly learned over time to ignore this kind of exclamation from Gai. "Lee told Tenten and me to go train some more," Neji says. "Tenten's at the field. But I'll let you finish—"
"No, no, no," Gai interrupts without hesitation. He turns to Kakashi. "I'm willing to sacrifice my victory!" he proclaims dramatically. "But do not worry, Neji," he continues, clapping a hand to Neji's shoulder. Neji winces ever so slightly. "My Eternal Rival shall not have the upper hand for long."
"Of course, Gai-sensei," Neji says, a faint smile sneaking across his face even as he fights to keep himself looking stoic and unaffected.
Kakashi watches Gai, who stands next to Neji with his hand on the boy's shoulder, and Neji, who stands next to Gai and looks calmly accustomed to his teacher's antics, and is inexpressibly jealous.
Think hard on whether you can or cannot hold true to what I've said, he says, staring down at him.
The boy remains silent, black hair hiding his face. He does not look up to meet Kakashi's eyes, and Kakashi feels the yawning gulf between them.
He's browsing through stock at the weapons store. A whetstone for my kunai, Kakashi thinks, and maybe a new weapons pouch, because the old one is wearing thin, and I don't want my shuriken to tear it in the midst of a battle—
Someone bumps into his back, and he drops the bag.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" An apologetic voice; the girl reaches down and retrieves the fallen object.
"Ah, it's fine," Kakashi says. "You sound excited—it's understandable that you ran into me. Just watch where you're going next time." He smiles and looks at the girl. She has her hair tied up in buns, and regards him with a steady, gray-eyed gaze. It's Gai's weapons-user, Tenten.
"Well," she confesses, "I am excited. I just had an idea for a new sealing jutsu, and Gai-sensei's helping me with some of the logistics. But I'm sorry for running into you, Kakashi-sensei."
He crinkles his eye cheerfully. "Don't be sorry—it's good that you're so happy about improving your jutsu."
She beams. "Yes," she says. "And Gai-sensei's picking out weapons for me, he insisted on it." A rather more anxious expression crosses her face, half exasperation and half fondness. "He's already knocked down one rack by accident."
"Tenten! Where are you? I have found the perfect shuriken! The size will match you perfectly! You will inspire everyone with your beautiful weapons techniques!"
Tenten would look more apprehensive if the corners of her mouth weren't twitching up. "Excuse me, Kakashi-sensei." She hands him the weapons pouch and rushes off.
Kakashi stands and looks after her. "Have fun!" he calls.
Tenten's brightness and Gai's delight echo back to him mockingly.
You look happy, he says. His one visible eye creases with amusement at the way the girl bounces toward him, green eyes wide and pink hair flying.
She smiles back under the stack of scrolls she carries in her arms. Oh, guess, sensei! Tsunade-sama decided to take me on as her apprentice, so now I can learn more and get stronger! And—her face hardens imperceptibly—I'll make sure that none of my friends will be hurt again.
He nods, very slowly. I see. He continues to smile. I'm glad for you.
"How is Lee? I hear the Hokage's been quite hard on him about not training too much," Kakashi says, one day after they have finished seeing who can eat the most tempura. Kakashi has won by a tray. Gai has praised Kakashi for his endurance and has promised that he will endure even more tempura next time.
"Oh, Tsunade-sama should know by now that nothing can keep Lee from his training!" Gai laughs, and gives Kakashi his nice-guy pose. "He's always eager to learn more taijutsu. Besides," and for a moment a shadow drops across his face, of fleeting concern and worry, "he wants to work on how to better deal with sand jutsu. Just because he did not win against Gaara does not mean he gives up."
Kakashi can't help but smile, and feels the fabric of his mask stretch along the curve of his mouth. This is what makes Gai Gai. He has never, ever been discouraged, nor has he ever lost his—oh god, he winces at the phrase, but really, there's no other to describe Maito Gai—springtime of youth, indeed.
He recalls the twisting bandages as Lee launched into his Primary Lotus, and the multi-colored flames around him when he opened his Gates. "You've taught so much to Lee," he says. "How much time did you invest in him?"
Pride, written all over Gai's face. "The time does not matter," he replies, waving a hand. "What's important is that Lee has become strong."
Kakashi looks at Gai. "You've been a good sensei to him," he says.
Gai smiles, and the light reflects blindingly off his teeth. Then he says, "Well, my Eternal Rival, the count is currently sixty-one wins for you, sixty for me—you have the honor of picking the next challenge—"
"Ah, it doesn't matter to me. You can go ahead and decide."
Kakashi keeps accepting Gai's challenges because he likes to pretend that they still make a difference in the tally of their Eternal Rivalry.
(Because, really, he knows that he's already lost—Gai is too kind to bring up the worst challenge of them all.)
He watches the boy, bright yellow hair over a bright orange outfit, the boy who has been Jiraiya's official apprentice for three months and is now walking away from Konoha, away from him.
Just wait, Kaka-sensei! I'll train every day, and when I return I'll bring that bastard back!
He raises one hand in a gesture of farewell, and continues to stand at the gate as the boy disappears into the distance.
He walks by the training field and sees them sparring: Tenten darts away from Neji's kick while she fans out shuriken in her hands and throws them in a flurry of jagged edges—Gai and Lee are unrecognizable smudges of green as they run circles around each other, looking for openings to attack with a powerful jab.
He wonders if he should wave in greeting, but decides not to. For now, Gai is with the team, and the team is with Gai.
So Kakashi goes home instead, to a bare apartment and a solitary dinner and a framed photograph: two boys and a girl who are not his students anymore.
Once you have a genin team, the Sandaime says to the jounin in the room who have just received their team assignments, your duty is to make them strong. To make them trust each other. To make them a team.
That is your responsibility as their sensei.
Kakashi does not acknowledge it, but knows, silently, that he has always failed in the things that matter. And something ominous curdles in his stomach.
Kakashi is really hard on himself.