Chapter 109

Love is a sweet tyranny, because the lover endureth his torments willingly.


Hiraku Village

Kakashi sat on his couch with his head back, his feet up on an ottoman, and a cold beer in his hand. His eyes were closed and his body was limp. The only movements he made were the occasional motions of his arm as he brought the beer to his face and ingested small, cool gulps. He was fresh from the shower so he wore nothing but a towel wrapped snugly around his waist; his hair was wet and uncombed and his face was cleanly shaven. A small wet-spot was starling to grow on the back of the couch but the culprit was too relaxed to care. He appeared to be fast asleep as his breathing was deep and regular, and his mouth was slightly open.

The apartment itself was border-line chaotic. It was a typical bachelor nin apartment. The mess was due to its owner being home only sporadically, and when he was home he rarely if ever entertained visitors. Even when friends did stop by they seldom stayed for very long as not only was the apartment not inviting due to its state of pandemonium, but the owner was always very clear in his wishes to be left alone. When Kakashi got visitors, and if they were lucky or smart enough to get past him and into his dwelling, he would offer no hospitality such as food or drink. He didn't want anyone to get any ideas of coming back a anytime soon, so he made himself as inhospitable as possible.

So when a knock sounded at the door he didn't even bother to glance toward it. Never mind getting up. He knew from long experience that if he didn't bother to answer it then whomever was on the other end would eventually just go away in frustration, and leave him to his peace and quiet.

"Kakashi! Open up! It's me, Gai!"

Everyone but Gai would go away, that is. He knew that the Great Green Beast of Konoha was if nothing determined. Many times he caught himself pondering their relationship together. It was a classic love-hate relationship if there ever was one. Not exactly frenemies, but something different. Gai was one of his oldest acquaintances; their relationship spanned many, many years. He was also his oldest and bitterest rival, and if anyone gave him a run for his money it was Gai. As ridiculous and as pontificating as he could be it was merely a disguise that masked a keen mind, a will of iron, and an incredibly humble human being. That man also did not know the definition of defeat. He might temporarily retreat, but only to rally his forces and try again some other way. Like that time he broke into his home in the dead of night and refused to leave until he had gotten out of his system whatever made him show up in the first place. So ignoring the other man was not an option as this was not the first time that Gai had shown up with a bug up his ass and demanding satisfaction. He would just keep hounding and hounding him until he got his answers.

"Gai..." Kakashi said drolly as he opened the door only enough to see little more that half of the man's face.

The moment he got a good look at Gai's somber look Kakashi immediately opened the door all the way. Rarely, and only under extreme circumstances, did Gai ever project such seriousness. A man who had such bountiful wells of good feelings for all could seldom, if ever truly tamper them down. Only during times of great need and graveness did Gai quell his natural vivaciousness. The most recent time had been the night that she had been attacked...

"What happened? Is Ayumu hurt?"

Gai was about to say something, but it died on his lips. His eyes slowly closed and he hung his head down briefly as if in defeat. Looking up at Kakashi with pain in his eyes he started to come into the apartment, but Kakashi's bulk blocked him from moving forward. Gai suddenly found the front of his shirt fisted in Kakashi's steel grip.

"What did he let happen to her now?! That piece of shit...!"

Kakashi was starting to push past Gai, but was stopped by a forearm across his throat.

"Stop it, Kakashi! No one is hurt! We need to go inside and talk. Besides," Gai said looking down at the towel wrapped across Kakashi's waist, " you can't go anywhere like that..."

Kakashi gave a grunt and abruptly let Gai's shirt go. Impatiently pushing the arm across his throat away from him he turned and walked back to his couch. Instead of sitting bonelessly on the couch like he had been previously this time he was sitting stiffly straight and on edge. His attitude let Gai know that sitting near or next to him was out, and as such Gai sat in the only other chair available. It was across the room and wooden. Undeterred, Gai brought it closer until it was a few feet in front of Kakashi.

Kakashi gave Gai a look that quelled him from moving any closer.

"We do indeed need to talk about her, Kakashi, but I don't mean-"

Kakashi let out a rude noise. "No, Gai..." he said through gritted teeth. "We have had this conversation before, and we aren't having it again...ever..."

"No, Kakashi, we started to have a conversation but you cut it off too soon! Now, things have changed and we need to talk, really talk, and I don't care if you want to have this conversation or not. Now we need to have it for her sake, and I am going to say what I need to say. You can choose to listen or not, but that will be your choice and not on me in any way."

A slate gray eye narrowed dangerously at Gai. Teeth barred in a feral snarl, and a low growl rumbled up from Kakashi's chest.

"What now? What has he done to her now, Gai" Kakashi said threateningly. "I swear, I am at the end of my rope with his incompetence!"

Gai ran his hands through his hair and heavily massaged his scalp. When he was done his hair stood uncharacteristically up on end, and in all directions. He would have looked comical if not for the solemn look on his face.

"Let's go back a few steps first, before we talk about what he has done. Let's first talk about what you have done," Gai said grimly. "Why, oh why, would you kiss her, Kakashi? You know she is involved with Morino. I know that the two of you have never seen eye to eye, but this is something beyond the two of you! This is playing with someone's life; another persons happiness and well-being could be in jeopardy, and all because of some childish rivalry between you two! You should be ashamed of yourself-"

Kakashi slowly leaned forward and stared coldly into his oldest friend's face. "This has nothing to do with Ibiki, Gai. Or, at least only as an after thought. I couldn't give two shits about what he really thinks. And as to a rivalry? Well, we all know that there is no competition between Ibiki and myself," he said with a sneer. "Ibiki can't compare..."

"Obviously with her he does," Gai said baldly.

Kakashi ground his teeth together and bared his canines like an enraged wolf. Both men glared at each other in silence for a few moments. Kakashi broke the stare first as he got up and started to pace back and forth. Now he was the one making runnels through his hair with impatient fingers.

"I couldn't help kissing her, Gai, I really couldn't," Kakashi said quietly. "I have held her close to me, both clothed and unclothed, and I just needed more..."

At Gai's wide-eyed stare Kakashi shook his head and waived a hand in the air impatiently. "It wasn't what you think. We were in the same bath house together and in the middle of having an argument. It would take too long to explain, but just know that it isn't what you think," Kakashi said ruefully.

Gai looked skeptical, but nodded his acquiescence.

Kakashi looked down at his hands as if he could almost still feel her flesh in his own. "Each time that I have held her she has been at her most vulnerable, her most open. Not that Ayumu has any guarded moments, but these were times when her soul stared back at me in those beautiful eyes of hers," he said softly. "Those were moments when all we needed to do was feel. Yet you sell me short, Gai. Irritating but understandable. If our positions were switched I would think the same thing. She and I have just talked, you know," he said with the ghost of a smirk. "I know what is behind that beautiful gaze, and her quick mind, sweet sense of humor, and nurturing nature are things that also draw me to her like a lodestone."

Kakashi looked at Gai with no pretense or caution, and for a moment Gai's breath sat unmoving in his chest. The vulnerability and love pouring from his friend stopped his heart for a brief moment. All of a sudden a wave of such empathy and deep pity rolled over him so that his chest felt like it was in a vice, and tears threatened to spill. But he took a calming breath and steadied his emotions. Kakashi would not want any emotional outpouring from him at this moment, and certainly not of the kind that he was currently feeling.

"So, can't you see, that it was only a matter of time before I kissed her? For months, if not the moment when she first came in to the Tipsy Kunoichi looking for Genma, I have wanted her. Morino had nothing to do with any of it. I wanted her long before I knew anything about her and Morino. I just wish that I had been more aggressive in pursuing her in those early months. If I had been..."

Gai nodded as if in understanding, and in many ways he did understand, as once he too had been in the same position.

"But you weren't, and now she is with Morino...and now things have become complicated, Kakashi," Gai said quietly. "Very complicated."

Kakashi gave a snort. "Things only become complicated if you make them complicated, Gai. You know that. That is how people blunder and make fatal mistakes. That is why Morino keeps getting Ayumu hurt," he ground out. "A good Nin knows to keep things simple. He is trying to play too many angles and -"

"She is pregnant, Kakashi," Gai broke in quietly.

Kakashi stopped his pacing and turned to Gai with a pitying look. "You think that I don't know that, Gai? I knew that the moment I held her last time."

Gai looked at Kakashi with astonishment. "How?! Even I didn't know until she told me, and that was only after she threw up all over the place. How? How did you know? I don't believe you," he said squinting disbelievingly at the other man.

Kakashi gave half a smile and shook his head. "When I held her it was obvious by the way she acted that her breasts were tender and her stomach felt different."

For a brief moment Gai looked apoplectic, but then he threw Kakashi a speculative look. "Oh Dear Gods Above, that doesn't mean squat! You are bluffing... Besides, it could have meant that she was having her monthly," he said turning deeply red with embarrassment.

Kakashi shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not...but she also smelled differently."

Gai looked at Kakashi as if he had lost his mind(and in fact which he deeply believed the other man had), shook his head and waived his hands in the air. "Whatever...but beyond those bizarre, as well as extremely disturbing, observations of yours aren't you even slightly going to respect the boundaries of propriety? For the love of all, Kakashi, she is another man's woman! You do not poach! To do so would be dishonorable," he said firmly.

"Do you think that this is how I want things to be," Kakashi asked quietly. "Do you think that I want to have these obstacles in front of me? Do you think that I like listening to Morino talk about her like he does? Do you know how I barely tolerate the smug looks that fucker gives me? But do you know what frustrates and pisses me off the most? Having to watch her be beleaguered by one fuck-up after another through Morino's incompetence. He has done nothing right! When I heard from Genma that not just once, but twice that Morino has allowed Ayumu to be kidnapped...I almost lost my fucking mind! Are you serious?! With all the resources that he has available to him, and he lets that kind of shit go down...I went to The Hokage about him, you know."

Gai looked genuinely surprised. "You did? What did you say? What did she say?"

"I told her that if he couldn't even protect one woman how in Hell was he going to protect an entire Village?" As to what Tsunade said to him in return he would never tell Gai.

Kakashi stopped his pacing and walked quickly over to where Gai sat and stared down at him with such deep pain in his non-Sharingan eye that again for a second time it momentarily took Gai by surprise. The depth of the other man's feelings was almost too difficult and disturbing to process.

Oh, my old friend, my heart breaks for you, Gai thought to himself. But nothing good will come from your pursuit, can't you tell?

"You know as well as I do Gai that Morino is sadistic, and not just run-of-the-mill sadistic either.. This is a man that has devoted his whole life to honing his skills in torture and mind-fucking people. I understand where he works and what he does. For shit's sake we both have friends that work in T and I, but no one is like him. But all that aside, Gai, just her knowing him has caused her to be put into harm's way time, after time, after time! You can't in any way dispute that, now can you?"

Gai gave a slight exhale and looked to the side. No, he certainly couldn't. And if he was a truthful man (which he certainly was) he couldn't help but agree with his friend. But still... "I understand what you are saying , Kakashi," Gai said in a low voice, " I honestly do, but maybe there are things that we don't know about. Maybe-"

"No fucking maybe's about it, Gai! He. Fucked. Up!"

Gai put his hands up in a conciliating manner. "Whether he fucked up or not what remains is that she doesn't believe that he has, and her opinion is the only one that really matters, Kakashi. She chooses to be with him. She choose to be with him, Kakashi, not you..."

"I just don't think that she has had much choice in the matter," Kakashi said almost under her breath. "I will give the bastard credit for knowing an opportunity when he sees one, but most probably it wasn't anything more than just blind luck that got him that opening... "

Squaring his shoulders Kakashi gave Gai a calculating look. I fully admit dropping the ball on this one , Gai, but I intend to make up for it."

Gai's eyes went wide. "You can't mean what I think that you are meaning...You just can't, Kakashi!"

Raising an eyebrow arrogantly Kakashi looked at Gai coldly. "And why not? It ain't over until it's over. You know that, Gai. And the best part about it? Morino will be the one to willingly concede to me as well as give his blessing."

"Kakashi," Gai said slowly and quietly, "there is the precipice and then there is the abyss...and it is very obvious to me which one pertains to you right now."

Kakashi smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I believe it was once said that: when love is not madness, it is not love."

"Said by a playwright who wrote tragic dramas!" Gai almost screeched. Gai jumped up and faced Kakashi. "Kakashi, if you plan on doing what I think that you are going to do can't you see how badly it will end? So what if by some bizarre miracle she leaves him for you, would you really want that? More so, would you want what would be left of her? At best it would be a Hollow Victory, and at worst...well, at worst you would be getting a shell of a person who would be in the throes of losing what she thought was the love of her life. I don't know if I could allow that, Kakashi. She is my friend too, and I wouldn't want her hurting in such a way."

"I know that there would be a grieving period, Gai, and I know what I might be faced with, but in the end it would be worth it, and for both of us."

"I don't understand this, Kakashi. I truly don't. And more so, I don't even know if I want to understand it! It sounds suspiciously like lunacy...No, not lunacy but more like a death warrant..."

Gai grabbed Kakashi by his upper arms and gave a tight squeeze to make sure the other man was paying attention to him. "Kakashi, do you know what Morino will do, and I mean really do, if he finds out that this is what you have planned? He will use everything and anyone that he can get his hands on to put you down. And I wouldn't put it past the man to try and make it permanent," he finished warningly.

Kakashi threw his head back and gave a loud bark of laughter. He laughed so loud and hard that he had to grab his towel and re-tie it due to his body shaking so hard from the effort.

"Me be afraid of Morino?! Of that second-rate Nin? Morino was average-at best- in the field but smarter than most at finding and creating a special little niche for himself. I will give credit where credit is due," Kakashi said arrogantly. "But I too am a force to be wary of. We are Konoha's elite, and for a reason Gai. I don't know if I can say the same about Morino."

"You know nothing about that man, Kakashi. And I mean that in every way possible," Gai refuted in a quiet voice. "Ibiki is a man of many facets and talents, and one who has suffered greatly for his village. It is a real pity that you and he cannot be friends."

"Suffered for the village? You think that he has been the only Nin to suffer or give something up for this village?! He can step in line. Greater men and women than him have given up more for this village...My students have suffered more for this village. Sacrifice is part and parcel with the job," he sneered.

"And no one knows that more than Ibiki, I would guess."

Gai gave Kakashi a stern look, and which was returned with just as much grimness. It was apparent by their stiff posture and steely looks that neither man liked what the other had to offer, and neither was going to move in their opinion.

Finally Gai threw his hands up in defeat. "There is nothing that I can say to you to change your opinion. I understand that. I can even respect your opinion. I even might be more on your side than you think, yet that doesn't mean that what I think that you are doing is right. I just can't agree with any interference at this point. However, I will say though that there could be circumstances that should they arise I would even go so far as to aid and abet in your scheming. But that time is neither here nor now."

Both men stared silently at each other.

Kakashi went back to his seat and took a long pull off his beer. "Well, for now we can agree to disagree," he said lowly. "And since we are on an agreement on our disagreement let's move off the subject, shall we?"

Gai shook his head. "No, there is one other important matter to bring up, and that is the one that you have been studiously avoiding. What about the child that she possibly carries? A child that was made between her and Ibiki? That is a strong and lasting bond, and one that I doubt could ever be broken."

"Have you heard nothing that I have said," Kakashi snarled. "Did you think that I was just spewing nonsense?"

Gai smartly kept his opinion to himself.

Kakashi stood and jerked his chin angrily toward the door. "Get out, Gai. I am getting pretty pissed at your condescension, as well as your interference on something that has nothing to do with you. Just get the fuck out and leave me the Hell alone!"

Turning away Kakashi stormed into his kitchen and threw the empty beer bottle into the sink, and where it bounced and shattered. Kakashi gripped the sink's edge with such violence that his whole body bent and shook from the force. His muscles showed in high relief along his back and arms. With eyes tightly closed and teeth bared in a silent snarl Kakashi was the epitome of frustrated rage.

"By the Seven Hells you really do love her, don't you," said Gai quietly from the doorway.

"I won't dignify that comment with an answer," Kakashi said tightly.

"You know as well as I do that you have in the past gone through women like water through a sieve," Gai said with a snort. "So don't you, and of all people, get all high and mighty on me. Just your dumb-ass luck that when you think that you have found The One that she is with someone else. Man, karma really did bite you hard in the ass," chuckled Gai.

"Go fuck yourself," Kakashi said wearily. "And really, get out. Us standing here and talking heart to heart together, and especially with me in just a towel, is just too gay for my taste. In fact, I can't see you being anyone's taste..."

Kakashi's harsh words were softened slightly by the small yet sincerely friendly and contrite smile that he gave his oldest friend.

Gai gave a heart-heavy sigh and turned to leave. After all the years of knowing Kakashi he knew when enough really was enough. There was no way that at this time he would be able to push Kakashi to see reason. His friend could be a stubborn son-of-a-bitch, and when he set his mind to a task there was nothing or no one that could deter him from his path. All he could hope for now was that things wouldn't get too ugly. Just as he was about to open the front door to exit he was brought up short by Kakashi's quiet words.

"Even if I wasn't so in love with her, I would still want nothing but the best for her. I just happen to know that Morino isn't what is best for her."

Gai had nothing more to say. With a great sigh and a shake of his head he quietly shut the door behind him.

A/N: sat on this for a was hard because writing about Gai and Kakashi was very hard for me for some reason. Gai especially! He is not an easy nut to crack! He has more depth to him than most people give him credit for having I think. And sorry about the long wait. Work has been never-ending...! But back in the groove again!