Leaning Against the Sun

Authors: sub_textual and o0famous_amos0o (LJ)
Rating: M+
Summary: "This, too, shall pass, and beyond it will be themselves. Beyond it will be them and eternity, and their rivalry, because Gai wouldn't let either of them give that up, not until eternity -- or at least, their eternity -- had run its course."
A/N: Set ten years ago, when they were both nineteen, during ANBU, after a particularly bad mission. Reviews appreciated. (Partially written for kannagara_rpg LJ, but in fic style, not RP style.)
Warnings: High modernist stream of consciousness style, tons of prose, tons of subtext, angst, blood, violence, dissociation, emotional numbing, PTSD, dark, sex.

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

He couldn't go to the hospital.

He couldn't go to the hospital, because Kakashi wouldn't go to the hospital, and that meant taking a trip there himself would take too much time. He had watched Kakashi leave, trailing blood behind him as he walked in drips and streaks, an easy path to follow to reach a man too tough to be taken down, too proud to get help. Gai knew better. He had seen the wounds Kakashi had taken. There were just too many of them, ones that ran too deep; it was dangerous to try and ignore wounds like that. Heading home, shrugging them off, and hoping they got better just wouldn't be enough.

That was why he had gone home only briefly, to do what Kakashi refused to: take care of himself. His own wounds weren't so bad, nothing that he couldn't take care of with a bit of patience and a first aid kit. He had himself tended to and bandaged in record time, changing out of his soiled, bloodied uniform and into a fresh one; he stopped only to grab a few essentials -- a refreshed medical kit, for one thing -- before taking off again.

This time, the door he stood in front of was Kakashi's, and he knocked briskly to announce himself; anyone who associated with jounins knew far better than to startle them while they were hurt or upset. "Kakashi?"

A long beat of silence, too long for comfort, before a faint answer returned from within. "Go away, Gai."

Gai shook his head vigorously in spite of knowing that he couldn't be seen, knocking again -- louder, this time. "Kakashi, if you aren't going to open this door, I'm coming in!" There was no answer (of course), and trying the knob proved that the door was locked (of course), which left him no other choice. Fortunately, he had assumed this might happen, and had brought a few tools to work the lock open -- it wasn't his preferred way of doing things, of course, but that certainly didn't mean he wasn't capable of it. Thirty seconds of work produced a satisfying click, and Gai strode confidently inside, pausing to disarm the traps he knew he'd find, before closing and locking the door behind him, and rearming the traps. Then, he turned back to his mission: getting his Eternal Rival some medical care before he bled himself dry or got a nasty infection. Certainly an A-rank mission if there ever was one, if you substituted danger for stubbornness.

The metallic scent of blood lingered in the air, thick like the sweat of night that darkened the interior of the small one-bedroom apartment Kakashi called home.

It was heavy, that scent, and loud like the pitter-patter of water roaring from the bathroom, needles carving staccato against tile and fabric and skin. And the tension, it was palpable, shimmering between the shadows and the blood that dripped across the floor, the armor that lay discarded over weapons carelessly strewn.

It wasn't like Kakashi to be so careless with his gear, to let shuriken spill and splatter sharp over darkened pools that slowly congealed, to drop his face in a space meant for shoes, chest armor half-dangling over it, revealing only a flash of white and red. But at least he'd taken off that face, the one that wasn't really his, the one that didn't have a name, other than the animal it represented. There were times and nights when he'd forget to remove what wasn't really him, but then sometimes he wasn't sure what was or what wasn't, if he still was or wasn't -- when was, wasn't, is, isn't, were all variables that didn't exist to begin with.

(Or weren't supposed to, when he wasn't supposed to.)

But they did exist, even when he told himself they didn't, because if they didn't exist, he wouldn't be going numb under the icy rush that poured itself over him in pricks of cold that soaked through fabric, skin, and into bones, settling deep under tissue and sinew and muscle, stabbing through fresh ravines that opened up along his back and side, dripping hot and dark against the winter that crept inside. (So unlike the heat of his heart when it burst apart in your hand, lightning screaming, screeching, searing in descent.) And it was cold here, but at least it was quiet, and he couldn't really feel the intensity of the chill that sunk into him, or the heat that had been all he could feel every step home after, radiating and pulsing with blood that was and wasn't his.

And anytime now, Gai was probably going to burst in and ruin it, and Kakashi knew this, but really didn't give a shit what Gai did at the moment, when water was filling his ears anyway, and he could simply pretend that he couldn't hear all the fucking endless optimism Gai always tried to stuff into his ears. (But if his ears were filled with water, Gai wouldn't be able to fit optimism in, and if he did, maybe it'd simply drown and disintegrate and Kakashi wouldn't have to listen to any of it.)

The blood was already drying, staining the wooden floors; Kakashi's quarters were never free of bloodstains, or the shadows that danced in every corner. And it was too often tense, the air thick enough to cut with one of the spilled kunai that lay half in a puddle that was already maroon-dark. Gai's own apartment was brightly-lit and well-decorated, scrupulously clean and warmly welcoming. It was too cold in here, and quiet; all he could hear was the pounding of water and the sound of his own breathing. He had never much liked silence, either; too often it implied being alone. And this time, it definitely did -- or at least, an attempt at being alone, a self-imposed isolation within a curtain of pouring water.

He'd have to pierce such a loud silence by being louder still.

Gai smiled, because smiling was what he did, and he couldn't say that he hadn't been expecting something like this. This time it was the bathroom door he knocked on, opening it without waiting for a response. "Kakashi!" The air was moister in here, and the blood on the floor had yet to dry; Gai walked through it without a second thought, moving to go in and turn off the water, tear away the shell he was trying to build around himself, shut off the silence-noise so that he had to listen, if only because there would be nothing else to listen to.

"You shouldn't be doing this." Shouldn't be hiding, shouldn't be freezing himself when it would do him no good, shouldn't be avoiding the hospital, shouldn't be denying himself the care he so obviously needed. His tone was firm, despite his concern.

And of course, Gai would burst in and ruin it, and Kakashi knew this, and should've done a better job keeping him out. If he heard him, he didn't acknowledge it, staying in place with his forehead pressed against cool tile, water dripping slowly as it ran down in rivulets from the tip of his nose, his fingers, the edges of his uniform, his hair, matted down in darker silver tendrils over his face and neck. It was funny how only now when the cold had gone away that he realized how cold the cold had been, when air pricked at the bared skin of his arms, sending gooseflesh to the surface, little tiny bumps forming between drops of water that stubbornly clung to him.

(They didn't want to let go. He didn't want to either.)

He closed his eyes and focused on the cold, and not on the heat that was starting to soak again through his clothes, a different kind of moisture that stung and burned, but if he paid more attention to the chill and not the warmth, he could pretend that it didn't exist, could also try and ignore the fact that Gai was standing there staring at him, smiling in the way Gai always did.

The water trickling down Kakashi's body was clear, Gai noticed as he watched him. Clear, though pink puddles still lingered in the space that his body had mostly blocked. Clear and cold, and he had only stuck his arm into the spray briefly to turn it off. No doubt Kakashi was freezing in there. (In Tsuchi no Kuni they trained dogs in the mountains, huge dogs that carried liquor and sniffed constantly for bodies, digging through dozens of feet of snow to unearth half-frozen people from what could have been their early graves. Those who lay buried would see the first ray of sunlight pierce their icy tombs, feel a breath of fresh air, be pulled out by helping hands to have the warmth and life rubbed back into them. But they didn't live in the mountains here, and Kakashi was the one who summoned dogs.) He'd catch his death from it.

The man wasn't listening -- or at least wasn't responding -- but that was okay, because he couldn't say that he hadn't been expecting something like this, either. He'd pull him out of here, if he really needed to. If Kakashi wouldn't listen and wouldn't move, then he would have no other choice. He wouldn't let his rival have such an ignoble end as leaving him crumpled in a shower stall, with only the water for company. Gai's unseen smile was as firm as the steps that carried him into the shower itself, as solid and unwavering and warm as the arms that moved to wrap around Kakashi's waist.

Kakashi couldn't stop the shudder that traveled through his body the moment Gai's arms locked around him, heat soaking in, this solid wall of it molding against his back, and it felt so good, almost feverish against freezing skin (how had he gotten that cold to begin with? he hadn't been that cold a moment ago, it had only been a pervasive sense of numb, a tingle of gooseflesh and frosty air, but not this bewildering awakening to frostbite that must've leaked inside out, or maybe it was just that Gai was so warm, that it made all the difference he never noticed before -- he's not sure really, and he doesn't care). Kakashi felt his breath catch in his throat as he leaned back against and into the warmth, pressing himself flush against it instinctively, deliriously (Gai smelled as warm as he felt -- spicy and earthy and masculine), shoulder blades pressed against a hard chest, and then the back of his head came in contact with the curve of a shoulder broader and stronger than his own.

It was impossible for Gai to ignore the weight that very suddenly pressed back against him, the way Kakashi shuddered and fit himself into the curves and planes of Gai's body, the minute trembles that raced through the slighter man's form. The cold radiating from him was so intense it burned, and Gai could feel his own uniform start to soak through almost immediately as sodden silver strands of hair plastered themselves against his neck and cheek. He shuddered as well, muscles clenching and shifting as he fought the instinct to move away. Instead, he tightened his grasp, pulling Kakashi closer against him to share his body heat as well as he could.

He took a deep, controlled breath, letting it out in a long sigh. Even through this chill, he could feel the small spots of warmth blossoming again from Kakashi's bleeding. It wasn't unexpected, but it was worrisome, even more so considering Kakashi's reaction. Normally, Kakashi would ever behave this way. He wouldn't get so close, wouldn't allow Gai to do this, wouldn't accept any help nearly so easily. As much as it might make things easier, this instinctive hearkening back to warmth and life, it troubled Gai. This wasn't normal.

Gai shifted to take a step back, using his arms to gently urge Kakashi to follow. "Come on, Kakashi. Come on." Kakashi's head was rolled back against his shoulder; Gai tilted his own head down to smile at him, voice low and encouraging. The name thrummed in his ears like a drum beat, something to repeat, steady and sure. Kakashi needed to hear his name. His own name, not his number, not the name bestowed on his mask. He needed to know who he was, where he was, who he was with. He needed to realize that he was safe, that the danger was over, that he could let himself be tended to without fear.

Kakashi wasn't sure what his body was trying to feel, the heat or the cold or the fading numbness, or the prickles of sensation that started to roar back alive almost painfully as his skin tingled with it. And then they were moving, shifting, step by step, his limbs tugged along by strings held somewhere above his head, or maybe they were just the ones around his waist, or maybe it was this not-cold and not-hot flash of his body telling him too many things at once, synapses firing irregularly through the warmcold currents moving in-- (he'd been here before and it'd always been heat that brought him back to earth, heat like the sun, burning so bright, so hot, he couldn't close himself against it) --and back out of him.

For a moment, the world had shifted, turned, and Kakashi wasn't sure if it was he that was spinning or the room, or maybe it was just sudden vertigo, but then the warmth was gone and the ceiling and Gai was suddenly filling up his line of sight, something both soft and firm cradling his back.

It worried Gai, this lack of resistance and protest, this lack of seeming coherence or even full awareness. Kakashi must have lost a lot of blood. That had to be it. He would recover his senses after he had been cared for and allowed to get some much needed rest. He had definitely taxed himself during their mission, physically and emotionally. Gai's smile softened a little; he remembered his mother smiling at people like that while she tended to them, gentle and compassionate, empathic and almost tender, even as she remained efficiently professional. A human touch, she had called it. Shinobi needed care and consideration even more than everyone else, especially when they were hurt.

"Kakashi, I need to check your wounds. I'm going to take off your shirt, okay?" Gai leaned over the man, slowly taking the edge of Kakashi's shirt in hand to tug over his head. As long as he knew what was going on, then there was no need for him to panic or even be disoriented. He could just pair the words with the actions and sensations, lay back and let Gai do his job. As unsettlingly alien as the behavior was, it would make things easier.

In a flash of motion, Kakashi's hand clamped down around Gai's wrist, stopping the upwards path of his hand and the fabric it held. And maybe for a heartbeat or two, this was the Kakashi Gai was a little more familiar with, the Kakashi that always pushed him away, who always said no, I'm fine, who always refused a helping hand -- who was suddenly yanking him down against a frame seizing with cold, with a well-placed tug and an arm hooked around the back of his neck. This warmth, it was what he needed more than any bandages or stitches, the seismic waves more violent than the cracks in him, shaking up his spine and back down again, pushing its way out of his lips in hisses of breath that tremored unsteadily.

There was nothing steady about this, nothing even, nothing normal or focused like it always was. He'd left that at the door when he'd taken himself off, and had tried to numb into silence Obito's voice and his own, but didn't get far enough for it to matter at all, when Gai was right there, all muscle and strength and heat, and the smell of reassurance and persevering belief. The belief smelled sweet and like something else, so Kakashi tried to hold onto it, tried to drink up the warmth with his body pressed close like this, and it didn't matter to him that this was Gai that he was coaxing more against his chest, ignoring the pain that carved itself in jagged snaps from the weight of the body pulled down on his.

Even his breath felt cold.

Gai immediately felt bad for him. Of course he would be cold. Why wouldn't he, after being pulled straight from a freezing shower? He should have heated up the water first, helped to take the chill away, before getting him out here. But he had been so worried. Hell, he was still worried, and the medical kit sat right beside the bed where he had set it down before. But now he was worried about the potential for hypothermia too, and Kakashi possibly getting sick from staying so cold and wet. He really needed to get him out of that uniform...

In a minute. For now, though... For now, it was obvious that he needed warmth as much as he needed to be taken care of, and that was understandable enough. The cold did funny things to people... Messed with their minds a bit. Gai was the warmest thing in here at present, so maybe a bit of shared body heat would help Kakashi come back.

With that thought, Gai nestled more firmly against Kakashi, curling one arm around the smaller man's shoulders and using his free hand to smooth the wet hair away from his face.

It was too tender, the way he touched him. But the tenderness was warm, and Kakashi was so cold, and he wasn't sure whether to jerk away or to gravitate more towards it when Gai was so hot, and the heat felt so good, solid and muscular against him. He could feel each ripple of a chiseled chest against his own, rising and falling with each breath Gai took, and the scent of forest and earth still clung to his skin, sweat and power and adrenaline. He wanted to lose himself in it, so he raised his hand to his mask and tugged it down to his chin as he burrowed his nose against Gai's hot neck and slowly breathed him in, inhaling this scent he knew so well, the one that remained at the corners of his life, even when all the other ones had gone, evaporated into memory, into dust.

Gai so rarely saw that face these days, tucked up behind a wall of cloth and hidden away. It was just one more wall that Kakashi raised around himself to keep others out, and that he had removed it of his own accord in front of someone else floored him. That damp face was pressed against his neck and nuzzling into him, cold air whispering across his skin. Gai shivered and instinctively tilted his head to allow it, a long, shaky breath escaping. "Kakashi....?"

Kakashi's hands were creeping up the back of his shirt, cold as they smoothed over the strong, muscular planes of his back, as his lips grazed cold, breath hot, against the side of a warm neck. It would be easy, too easy, to slip and fall into this, to lose himself in this familiarity, growing drunk on the heat, the scent of the earth, the muscles that tightened under his fingers.

It was Gai's first instinct to arch beneath those fingers, roll his head to the side to encourage the kiss, press closer against the man as though he could escape the cold. Only after that did his mind return to the waiting medical kit, thoughts buzzing around each other as concern chased the beginnings of arousal away. His expression sobered, shirt already partially removed as he clasped a hand over Kakashi's upper arm. "Kakashi.... Are you sure about this?" Did he really know what he was doing? Did he really want to do this? Was it just the cold, the pain, the mission?

Whatever it was, Kakashi's gaze suddenly focused over Gai's shoulder and he realized, all too acutely, just what the fuck he was doing. Control snapped up, as tenuous and trembling like his fingers as they jerked into motion, bracing in a hard chakra-powered shove against Gai's chest as he threw the man off him. This couldn't be happening, because it wasn't allowed (because Gai was all he had left and he'd gotten too careless) and his fingers flew up to yank up his mask as he scrambled off the bed, then staggered back, one arm directed towards the door as he pointed right at it.

"Get out." The words came out in a sharp snap of sound.

Like something breaking, or the thrum of a trip-wire being triggered. Control, distance, aggressive aloofness. It all came crashing back down, with more force than any mere punch Kakashi could have thrown. Some small part of Gai was disappointed, some was relieved, but most of his mind was focused once more on the task at hand, suddenly made much more difficult again. Gai landed hard on his side, rolling with the shove so he could push himself back onto his feet. That mask again... He almost wanted to pull it right back down for him, but even he knew that wouldn't do any good for either of them. It had to be willingly done on his part for it to mean anything.

Gai didn't even look to see the door, instead shaking his head firmly. "No, Kakashi. Let me take care of those wounds."

"I'm fine." Kakashi insisted, his voice toneless with indifference more frigid than his skin. His arm didn't lower, nor did his stance waver, as he stood his ground and drew a steady breath in. He needed to get Gai out of here, needed to deal with this on his own, because control was fleeting, momentary, and being so conscious of everything around him reminded him again of everything he didn't want to be aware of, didn't want to face at this moment. The blood could soak through his shirt and it wouldn't matter, when he had a ritual, a way of decompressing, and Gai was in the way of him taking care of it, and complicating things more when what hold on control Kakashi had was fraying apart at the seams, threads wildly unraveling.

"Go home, Gai." He tried to make himself sound tired and annoyed, but the demand sounded more like a plea, which made no sense, because Kakashi never begged (except when he did in silence, always internalized).

"Kakashi...." The wall remained up. The draw bridge remained closed. The moat remained icy, dark, and deep.

Unfortunately for Kakashi, Gai had never minded swimming. Cold water was just one more bracing challenge to conquer.

Gai shook his head again, bending and picking up the medical kit; he wasn't (couldn't, would never allow himself to) going home just yet. "Either take responsibility for your own health, or let me take care of it for you." While Kakashi dug his heels in to stand his ground, Gai moved towards him, holding the kit aloft as an offering and (weapon) shield, both at once. The unwanted pleading tone might have softened his heart even further, but it did nothing but harden his resolve. Had Kakashi forgotten how stubborn he could be already? Rivals though they were, in a battle of wills, he felt there could be no doubt on who would come out on top.

But Kakashi was reeling back away from him, his chakra spiking dangerously with intent that never should be directed at a friend. But he needed his space, needed his time, needed to go through the steps that would bring him back, and his mind was still hovering between there and here and what control he had over himself was quickly slipping away -- Gai was in the way, and he needed him to go away -- "I'm fine," he insisted in a harsh breath, his eye moving between the kit and Gai's face. He'd had worse scrapes before and survived, these cuts would eventually congeal in time -- it wasn't going to kill him (even though sometimes he wondered when it would) and what he needed wasn't hands trying to stitch him up when he needed to feel, needed to bleed, because the pain gave him a focus, and reminded him of what human was still left in him, not just a weapon harnessed in war with no name or face except for the one that now lay on his floor.

"I'll take care of it later. Just go." Because the longer Gai stayed, the longer Kakashi's resolve strayed with flickers of a former comrade's face; eyes dark with accusation, the pain had contorted features that could have once been described as refined (they had once trained together in summer, with the sun hot on his back and sweat pricking his skin, the scent of June grass strong and sweet, kicking up dirt as they sparred) and he only managed to get out a breath that sounded like Kakashi's name, but Kakashi wasn't sure because his hand was screaming through the man's chest, and the lightning was loud, the scent of blood too sharp and coppery and suffocating all at once, and if Gai didn't get the fuck out now, Kakashi was going to throw him out by force.

His hands clenched and unclenched without him even realizing, fingers, muscles, trembling.

Kakashi was seizing up, shaking, chakra forming patterns that Gai had never before had the misfortune of actually facing, only fighting side by side with. This was a dangerous situation even for him, when Kakashi was bristling like a wounded missing-nin trapped by Hunters. (Was this some strange reflection of the traitor they had met in battle, a flicker of the spirit of the man they had once considered a dear comrade and trusted friend? Could the dead breathe one last whisper of loss through those who had taken their lives into their hands?) This was dangerous even for Kakashi, because it was clear that he was not fine, and that he was not in control of himself or the situation -- and if he wasn't, then it had the potential to very quickly spiral into something far uglier than it should be.

Fortunately Gai prided himself on control, both in body and spirit, honed through rigorous self-discipline and back-breaking punishments. If Kakashi couldn't handle this situation, then Gai would do so for them both, even if it became violent. He would not let this (him) go so easily.

"You need to be taken care of now, Kakashi. Calm down and let me help you." Because he didn't want to take care of 'it'. 'It' was something separate and detached, an impersonal wound in a vacuum, rather than the complex human body and psyche of the man he still considered his dear comrade, no matter how many men he had to kill.

No, he would not go. He would, however, move to close the distance between them with unwavering confidence.

But with every single step he took closer, Kakashi only took another step back, shaking his head as he narrowed his gaze at Gai, something hot and dangerous spiking sharp within him, each wave of it cresting higher and higher until it'd filled his lungs.

"You can't take care of it, Gai. You can't handle it," he ground the words out, the lines of his body coiling into a stance that should never be directed at a friend. But he needed his space, needed his time, and Gai was moving in closer when Kakashi was trying to pull back, and Kakashi didn't have anywhere else to go when the wall behind him was closing in, and Gai was right in front of him.

Gai didn't care.

"I can handle anything." They weren't the words of a newly minted genin or chuunin, puffed up and cocksure with their new rank, convinced of their own immortality. They were a matter-of-fact, confident declaration of a man who had gone through plenty already, and intended to go through a lot more before he became incapable of handling it. They were a simple expression of intent -- he would handle it because he willed himself to be able to.

Gai dropped the medical kit as he closed the rest of the distance, threading chakra through weary muscles. He melted into a black blur, and immediately Kakashi began to struggle, fists flying, legs kicking, a full defensive assault that Gai knew he wouldn't have had to dealt with if Kakashi had been in his right mind. But if there was one thing he excelled at, it was taijutsu; their struggle was over in the space of mere seconds, limbs moving so fast that they seemed almost to vanish entirely. Twist, block, block, feint, strike -- now.

Searing heat ripped its way down Kakashi's back when the solid surface of the wall slammed up against his shoulder blades and punched out the breath he held in his lungs as his pulse roared and adrenaline thrummed (and for a moment he couldn't see anything at all, and he's not sure if he was the one who blinked or the world), and he opened his mouth to try and get in a breath, but Gai was moving too fucking fast, and his wrists were captured in large, calloused hands and pinned back on either side of his head (they're hot, those hands, pressing into the fleshy throat of his wrists, his heart racing in their grip) -- before he could push back off the wall, Gai's body was moving in on his, a hard muscled prison closing in, keeping him trapped so his legs were pinned, and all he could feel was this heat, emanating off of him. It flowed through fabric and sank into skin, a sudden shock of sensation that tangled with the heat that flowered from his shoulder blades, spiraling outwards and colliding with what held him in and kept him in place, slicing through the urge to push Gai away when this mixture of heatpleasurepain overwhelmed his every sense--

Before he knew what he was doing, Kakashi found himself arching towards it, wrists straining against the hands that held him, his breath caught in his larynx. And the intent that had been coloring his chakra suddenly flowed into something just as dangerous, something far more primal and visceral, a surge that felt raw, hungry, violent.

It was over as fast as it had begun, too fast for the surge of adrenaline to have even started to subside. Gai hadn't really expected Kakashi to just give up, nor did he quite expect the way that the man was pressing against him now. It definitely wasn't the way someone immobilized would move to try to escape; the same way his chakra wasn't in the same battle-ready state it had been only moments ago. That--

Gai sucked in a harsh breath, instinctively moving to press against Kakashi in return, even as the situation dawned on him; a man could only take so much close contact, after all, before he started to be affected by it. So this was Kakashi's way of reaching out for help...? This was his method of seeking human contact and comfort. This was his vulnerability, his need, his connection to sanity. This was... His chakra still felt so violent...

Gai's tone was softer now, not nearly so insistent as it had been -- he was, he hoped, starting to understand. "Kakashi.... are you sure about this?"

The question steamed itself across the curve of Kakashi's ear, hot through the thin fabric of his mask, soaking in, sending a tremor down his spine as the words hovered between the space of Gai's lips and Kakashi's skin (he could feel them already, brushing in a tease, grazing just barely over the surface of him, challenging him to give in; always a challenge when it came to them, always a struggle between them). He felt the words before he understood them, in another flush of heat that both rose and fell, then collided in a rush of too much needhungerfrustration fueled by adrenaline and something like desperation (but it can't be desperation because he never is, and Kakashi's always in control of the situation) that had him inhaling in a sharp, shaky breath before expelling it in a soft, controlled sigh.

His eye fell shut and the world receded, and he could feel how Gai's strong, chiseled body molded against his, each breath he took rising and falling against him, each muscle taut and rippling under the surface, coiled with strength and heat and passion and everything that made Gai who he was. And Kakashi wasn't sure if he could handle it, wasn't sure if he could let Gai see this; because Gai was all he had left when there was no one else, and Gai had always been there the entire time, and the Kakashi Gai knew wasn't weak, wasn't vulnerable and uncontrolled, wasn't this mess Kakashi brought home when he took off his face and left it at the door with the rest of his armor and his control.

(Kakashi had a way of decompressing, and Gai was in the way of letting him do it.)

He needed Gai to leave him alone, needed Gai to walk out the door, and let him deal with his mess on his own, bleeding out the parts of him he needed to excise from within, when he forced himself to forget an old friend's face, and the way his lips formed Kakashi's name. It was easier when he was taking those parts in his hands and crushing them to dust until they were erased from the surfaces of him everyone could see (because it's the outside that counts, no matter what they say), until he couldn't recognize his face when he looked at himself in mornings after the missions. After the silence and quiet had ended. After the blood had coagulated, and wasn't running, running, running out of him in rivers too deep to navigate, too wide to cross, too dangerous; tides that only ever fell in the hush of night that held all the whispers and secrets and lies about heroes and legends.

But Gai was all he had left when there was no one else, and Gai had always been there the entire time, and Gai would never give up on him, would never judge, because Gai knew Kakashi wasn't infallible, wasn't nearly as invincible as Kakashi wanted him to believe. And Gai had made a promise so long ago, and he never broke a promise that he made with his Nice Guy Smile because Gai believed in the honor of promises and what they meant, the sacred oath that he made, and Kakashi was Gai's Eternal Rival, and it would take both of them dying to undo that promise.

There was nothing steady about this, nothing even, nothing normal or focused like it always was. He'd left that at the door when he'd taken himself off, and had tried to numb into silence all the pieces of him that were far too damaged, too broken to fix, but Gai refused to let him slip into that space he always did, keeping him centered with strength and heat and all his reassurance and endless belief. And the belief smelled sweet and like something else, so Kakashi didn't just shove him away, fighting him out of his personal space, choosing instead to respond in quiet tones. "If you're not going to do this..." he began as his wrists strained against the restraints that held him in (he's not sure about this and he never will be). "Then get the fuck out, before I kill you." The words were so soft, they were almost a whisper, but Kakashi's preferred mode of violence was never loud, always silent.

Everything about Kakashi was silent, subdued, held in. He was a moonbeam swathed in darkness, hidden beneath layers of black. The uniform, the gloves, the mask -- all of it neatly concealed him, held in and hid what was inside, provided a conveniently smooth, steady facade to focus himself and everything Kakashi wanted people to see. But Gai had been there the entire time, longer than anyone else ever had or ever would be. He had been there, and he had seen him, seen him with eyes that nobody else could boast, even the renowned Uchiha or the noble Hyuuga, because he had seen him from all angles and times, inside and out, with and without the mask -- both masks. He had seen Kakashi the Little Fang, as some few had once considered him, and he had seen Kakashi the genius, and he had seen Kakashi the hard worker. He had seen Kakashi teammate and student, and Kakashi the Copy Ninja, and he had seen Kakashi the ANBU -- Wolf, always Wolf, but what was a wolf (except vulnerable, alone, crippled, piteous) without a pack to acknowledge and be acknowledged by? He had seen Kakashi healthy and wounded, on missions and off-duty, eating and training and fighting and sleeping and unconscious.

But most of all, he had seen Kakashi the Eternal Rival, because that was one thing he had been since the day they had met. And he knew his Eternal Rival better than anyone in his life. He saw even without seeing, knew even without knowing so much of what Kakashi didn't want anyone to see or know about. Whatever his temporary state, Kakashi would always be Kakashi (his Kakashi), would always be the rival he opposed. (Because what was rivalry, other than an endless struggle against each other and themselves? To work and sweat and fight and strive to be better, become better, do better than each other and each past accomplishment? To be a constant counterpart, circling endlessly around each other, held fast by the bond they shared? To be a rival was to always be a solid rock that the other could steady themselves on; a mountain to surpass, a constant presence to brace and ground and anchor with, one's most trusted adversary and friend, one's most beloved comrade.) All of those parts that made up the whole, he could and would take them, because he always had, and always would. There was no question of whether or not he could handle him. He would always be there, to help him along and clean up any messes that Kakashi couldn't manage on his own, because he believed that he and Kakashi could continue to surpass all obstacles in their way -- if not alone, then together, relying on each other as true friends and rivals should.

Gai didn't bother to answer Kakashi's threat, empty as he knew it would have to be, in the end -- Kakashi would never strike him down, just as he would never do so to Kakashi, because he knew that neither of them would ever allow anything to come to that. Instead, he leaned in to close what little distance remained between them as he released Kakashi's wrists. The cloth mask was damp still, and quite thin; he could feel Kakashi's breath through it as he captured Kakashi's lips with his own, through and in spite of the barrier the mask presented. Kakashi's lips were softer than he expected, and their mouths moved against each other slowly through the fabric, a kiss that was almost chaste at first contact, but quickly grew deeper and more heated with Kakashi's lips parting under the mask against his, the warmth and moisture of Kakashi's tongue flicking through the barrier against his.

Gai caressed Kakashi's cheek through the mask, fingertips skimming just over the line dividing cloth and skin without moving it. This too was a part of Kakashi, a necessary though not entirely healthy one, something he clung to because he was not yet ready to let it go. And though Gai could wish and worry, though he could hope and encourage, he could not judge, nor could he force the issue -- he wouldn't pull it down. He wouldn't remove that mask until the entire shirt was removed, and he wouldn't force their bared faces and lips together in such intimacy before Kakashi was ready to take that step himself. But still, the fact that it was even needed in the first place, that Kakashi would cling to his last shreds of protection and invulnerability, even though he so desperately needed this contact...

It was difficult to say, just by knowing Gai, whether he had never learned to restrain his emotions, or whether he had learned to let them run free all over again. Either way, the tears (these were not tears purely of sorrow, defeat, or despair, but rather the bittersweet tears of pain and regret, of empathy and healing and hope for the future -- and yes, even of love) began to flow soundlessly down his cheeks, uncontrolled and unashamed, as his hands slid beneath Kakashi's shirt and rose over hard, rippling muscles. He wept for their comrade where Kakashi would not, and wept for Kakashi when Kakashi could not. For the way his innocence had been stolen and his heart had been broken, for the humanity that had been twisted and savaged and the trust and emotions that were almost (almost, because Gai would never give up on him, never stop believing, never acknowledge that defeat was a possibility when it came to this) broken beyond repair. Maybe (hopefully, eventually, definitely) someday, they would be able to cry together, but until then, Gai would simply have to be enough for them both. Enough to shoulder the weight of the world.

But when would it ever be enough? Kakashi had wondered for years, still wondered what enough was, and when it would come, or if it ever would, or if there would ever be a point when enough would be enough, when he didn't even know what enough was. Or if it even existed. (It's thin, that idea, not full like the scent of blood or the spark of adrenaline. The kind that leaves you hungry for more, when the hot thrum of life whispers under your skin and reminds you just what you really are; when it's so easy to forget, easy to be subsumed by the world that controls you.) The battle drums were loud in the distance, rhythmically rumbling in their silent echoing through the emptiness he held in with a mask so it wouldn't leak out and erase him.

He lived his entire life in a state of constant erasure (there's nothing constant in this world except for the constant that never is), filling the emptiness in with the lives of other people, letting their stories and their talents define him, exiling himself into the blankness of margins.

But Gai always reached past him and yanked him out. Always with a promise and a Nice Guy Smile. And sometimes Kakashi just couldn't bear to see the infinitude of hope and honesty that always rose in his eyes, or how it sometimes glittered down his cheeks in streams that tasted like the sea, even through a layer of mask. He could taste the salt each time the heat of their mouths collided, the wetness of tongues warring against a barrier of separation, seeping through the fabric with each rough brush. He kept his eyes closed so he wouldn't have to see it, fingers finding traction in the hemline of Gai's shirt as he violently yanked him against his body. It was hard enough to bruise ribs and cut up lips, forcing a soft grunt out of Kakashi when the solid, hard weight of Gai's body slammed him back into the wall, sending another flare of heat that clawed its way up as the sharp taste of copper drowned out the salt.

There was nothing gentle or tender about this because this was a war.

There was always a war. A war against Iwagakure, a war against Kumogakure (narrowly averted, by a sacrifice both terrible and noble), a war against letting the bijuus wipe out all they had strove and struggled for, a war against pain and wounds and death, a war against madness and utter numbness, a war against losing yourself as a person -- losing who you were and why you existed, what you believed in, what you felt, why you lived. That was the most personal war of all, to be true to yourself and those you cared for, who cared for you. And could you even be true to yourself, if you couldn't be you? If you allowed yourself to fade away, hide in the background until you became a part of it? If there was no longer any you to be at all? If it were up to Gai, then no! A hundred thousand times no, never, not at all. That was the deepest betrayal of all, the one that cut deepest into the heart, because it was your own.

(And wasn't that the wisdom that his father had in his dying breath bestowed upon him? He had made his last moment on earth, his final words, a wish, a prayer, a plea to his only son. To make this into a sacred vow -- to your own self, be true. Live each day not as though it were your last, but your first. Embrace it all, prosperity and adversity, head on and face to face, and make it a part of who you are. Be an inspiration. Be joyful, and a joy to be with. Laugh. Love. Learn. Live.)

He wouldn't allow that to happen. To himself or anyone else, especially his Eternal Rival. It tore at his heart to know that it was necessary, to see the violence in the storm of chakra raging through Kakashi. But if that was the way it had to be, then so be it. He would pull Kakashi back, out of the margins and into the rush and vigor of the great story of life. He would ground him solidly on earth once more, held steady by these two strong arms until Kakashi could stand on his own legs again. And if there needed to be a certain violence to pry him free, then...

Well, Gai was no stranger to violence.

He could taste something that definitely was not tears, and his hands moved to give them a bit of space -- to let him grasp onto the bottom of Kakashi's shirt and pull. Hard muscles rippled, temporarily straining against the tough cloth before it gave way, allowing him to tear straight through, rather than just pulling the shirt off as it ought to be. He pushed the ruined shirt down over Kakashi's shoulders, moving to press their bodies tight against each other once more. His lips moved too, gliding down a sharp jawline to reach the other man's throat, his tongue flowing over Kakashi's pulse before his teeth scraped across skin, sucking, licking, kissing harshly to leave a mark, claiming Kakashi as his. Because if he wasn't his, then whose was he? Gai had been there. He'd always been there. He had made his claim first, well over a decade ago, right when he was beginning to understand what kind of implications the act of claiming someone had. (This is my Eternal Rival. This is the worthy man I will carry with me through the rest of my life. This is the one who will always be in my heart, who I will strive with and against and for, who I will never be able to abandon. This is my promise!) Kakashi was his, and after all this time, Gai refused to let him slip away.

He wouldn't kiss him on the lips now, not with the mask gone. This wasn't what love and intimacy should look like -- this was a necessity, a mercy, a retrieval, a release. He wouldn't kiss Kakashi with nothing between them unless he was Kakashi, really Kakashi, and choosing this -- not from necessity, not from pain, but choosing it himself and of his own free will, simply because he wanted to.

And even with Kakashi's pulse roaring under his tongue, even with Kakashi's breath leaving him harshly, even with Kakashi's body rippling against him as his fingers grappled at the hem of his shirt, pulling, tugging, stripping with such urgency, the fabric tore straight up the back -- none of this was because Kakashi wanted it. This wasn't about desire or pleasure or passion, but hunger and violence and too much need.

He needed to be broken down, needed to be destroyed, needed to be taken apart with unforgiving hands, to remind him that he still could feel and need and gasp with breath. Feel it on him, in him, around him, let it tear right through him -- sensation too overwhelming to deny their existence. Plunge him in and let him choke, make him breathe it in so it's all he knows -- what it means to be alive and that he is. That he can still live and breathe like anyone else, that he can still feel and scream like anyone else, that he's still human like anyone else (and somewhere buried deep within him is a boy who once could and did smile openly, accidentally; but a smile was still a smile and Gai had seen it then because they were only six, only children, not yet men -- even now they weren't quite men, but boys who'd grown up far too fast -- before he disappeared behind a mask), and can need and fuck and come like anyone else, so he can put himself back together after the storm. Scrape up the pieces and rearrange them into the shape of a man that never needed anything other than a mask and a colorful book of porn to hide himself behind.

(Because Kakashi was always strong, always confident and proud. Except when he wasn't. Like now.)

Gai had made a promise to him when they were six, that they would be Eternal Rivals for the rest of their lives -- and Kakashi hadn't believed him then, and didn't care; but there wasn't a year that passed after when Gai wasn't there to challenge him, wasn't there to rival him, wasn't there to force him to work harder and faster and better, or to remind him with blinding smiles and bright eyes that he'd never leave, never leave, never leave like everyone else. And there were times when Kakashi couldn't, wouldn't believe him, because there was nothing permanent in this world, nothing that ever lasted; not sunrises or rivalry or even Nice Guy Smiles. There would only be memories of two boys who wanted to believe in the promise of forever; in an eternity that was only ever a myth and legend.

But there were times he wanted to believe in hope, in dreams and faith and promises made so many years ago, in this man who just didn't know how to give up, not on his promises or someone who didn't deserve to have him in his life -- he never knew how much he'd always needed him until now, with rough fingers carding through his hair and yanking his head back, lips burning hot on his throat in scorching open-mouthed kisses that left his skin tingling and red in their wake, forcing him to swallow down sounds that threatened to break past his lips. Gai's other hand closed around his ass, dragging their bodies tight together in a violent grind that sent fire through blood that had him shuddering. And then he started to fight back, a hand fisting in black hair to tug Gai's head back, as his own lips rained down vicious kisses against his throat, lapping his tongue across the beat of a too-strong heart, mirroring their stances with his other hand circling around to clench around a muscular curve, undulating hard heat against heat -- not as a friend, or an Eternal Rival.

Need, want, hopes, dreams, beliefs -- were any of them really different? How could you distinguish them? Should you distinguish them? What was the point of even trying, when they tangled together so thick and fast that they were about as hard to untangle as the proverbial Gordian Knot? There was no need to, anyway--as far as Gai was concerned, that was a good thing. As long as you were still capable of one, then you were still capable of the others. Beliefs and desires could tear a man up just as passionately as any carnal need could. Hopes and dreams were just as necessary as any need could ever be. Because Kakashi needed it, Gai would tear down these walls he had erected around himself, just for a little while. Because Kakashi needed it, Gai would forcefully push him back into his humanity. And because Gai had hope, because he believed in him, because he dreamed big dreams of them both going far -- well, Kakashi had to have (need, need me, believe in me, I'm not letting these dreams of ours die) him for a friend and Eternal Rival, because he damn well said so. He had said so for years, and he'd say so for years more -- forever, as long as forever lasted. (Because he needed it too, more than Kakashi seemed to realize.)

The torn shirt hung uselessly from his shoulders; Gai didn't bother with it. He was more concerned with the hand in his hair that pulled his head back, the way the blood roared in his ears as they moved against each other, the gasp that slipped out with Kakashi's mouth hot on his throat. This wasn't supposed to happen. This was about Kakashi. Gai growled quietly, moving to slam Kakashi -- roughly, harder than he needed to, but wasn't this what he wanted? -- against the wall to crush their bodies together once again, hips rolling deep and hard and tortuously slow, forcing out a half-sound that Kakashi strangled off with teeth coming down hard on his lower lip as his body arched against Gai's in a motion that felt almost uncontrolled. Kakashi's head was pulled back once again, and he kissed and licked a hot trail up Kakashi's neck and jaw, interspersed with punishing nips, each one dragging out a short pant of breath from Kakashi's lips, before he took Kakashi's earlobe into his teeth and sucked hard, before letting it go.

"I'm the one doing this," he commanded in a low growl against Kakashi's ear. (I'm the only one who should be doing this. I don't know who else is, but it can't be healthy if they aren't here for you now. It can't be healthy if they won't help you outside of the bedroom. Do they care like I do? Do they know you like I do? We're rivals. I'm your friend. I'm the one doing this. For you.)

Kakashi's breath hitched on the final word, head falling back in supplication. Gai could feel the trapped jerk and twitch of Kakashi's need through his pants as the fingers in his hair loosened and slid down to the back of his neck, before traveling to clutch his shoulder. His hands wandered over skin and scars, deliberately working their way down Kakashi's chest and stomach, caressing the curve of a hip, before palming the bulge at the front of Kakashi's pants and slowly grinding the heel of his palm against it. Kakashi was already so hard, the fabric of his pants pulled tight around him. His hips bucked, pressing more of himself into Gai's hand, as a moan caught in his throat, where it remained stubbornly trapped. Everything within Kakashi was trapped. That was it, wasn't it? Not even so much a matter of hiding as it was caught, stuck in this fortress-cocoon he had built-spun for himself, the towering walls not only hiding his heart, not only keeping others from entering, but keeping him from reaching out to them as well. He needed to be set free. Gai ran his tongue around the rim of Kakashi's ear, firmly kneading and stroking his length through the cloth, and Kakashi's fingers tightened around his shoulder as hums of smothered sound continued to vibrate in his throat, breathing heavily, instead, through his nose.

He wasn't ready to let go.

Gai's hand was swallowing him up and each pulse of fingers sent his body into small paroxysms. Soft lips smoldered along his ear, then his throat once more, teeth vicious, tongue wet, scorching-- "Fuck." Kakashi ground out the word between his teeth when Gai's strong fingers mapped the shape of him through his pants, thumb finding the hard ridge of his cock before giving the head a squeeze that shot through his body in a surge of sensation, melting somewhere deep within him, at the pit of his stomach. And his fingers grappled around to slide down Gai's back, trying to clutch, to grab for control; for something, anything, to hold himself in place. To grasp at strings of silk he kept himself cocooned within, drawing up the walls closely, so they wouldn't fall, crush them both, when he was struggling to keep them from crumbling with straining arms.

And he couldn't let go of it, refused to give in, even with this onslaught of sensation pouring down on him, filling him up, forcing all thought to flee his mind as something far more primal overtook him (he remembered the first time that this happened three years ago, when he was only sixteen and a fledgling captain, how hard the earth trembled under his knees, when he was pressed down into the mud, into the muck and the dust, with a hand placed at the back of his neck, pressing his face right down in it so he would understand the hot earth-pulse and what it meant -- the smell of blood and dirt and death so strong -- heady and violent like what split him, filled him, made him remember what he was when he was so torn up, and coming, coming, coming apart in perfect silence; with only harsh breaths and the lewd, wet fucking noise the only sounds that they made; no moans, no groans, no grunts -- only silence and breath, blood and come), he still held onto it with both hands, sealing it up inside of the cage of his chest with teeth clenched.

It was jailed up, that kind of passion. Walking the tenuous line between sex and desperation. And sometimes it was one and the same, but still Kakashi kept himself held in, drowning every noise, every sound of weakness he could make. And sometimes when he was fucked up enough to let them take him dry, with spit and blood the only lubricant, it was easy, too easy, to keep it locked up. He'd learned how to let go just enough for it to count. Just enough to remake himself after the sweat and blood and come had dried, long after they'd finished and left him there to pick up the pieces on his own. (And sometimes he did it too, when they needed to be reminded like that, as well. There was a madness to it all, how they lived only to erase lives. How easy it was to lose yourself behind a painted mask.) But never completely.

And Gai wanted him to let go, wanted to break down those walls. Kakashi could feel it in the way that Gai kissed him, with an intensity he'd never experienced from all the nameless, faceless men he let fuck him. There was need in each kiss, roaring between each breath, and it scared the fuck out of him, how it soaked into his skin and tore at the strings he held. Gai never did anything in moderation, always pouring himself completely into any situation, and Kakashi had almost forgotten how Gai was made of passion, and here it was sweeping over and into him -- so much at once he could barely breathe, because each time he did, he only breathed Gai in. This scent that was so thick and sweet, filled with so much trust, faith, belief; spicy in its earthy, woodsy masculinity; a scent that was so uniquely him.

Overwhelming, like everything else Gai did. That was what they called him. Overwhelming. Overwrought. Overdoing it. Over the line. (He hated lines, borders, boundaries, walls -- he always had. Give him wide open spaces and limitless possibilities. Give him the forests and plains, the depthless oceans, the blue sky without end. Give him the majesty of freedom and opportunities unfurling into forever. Eternity existed, and he would hold it in his hands, cupped close and careful against his heart, splash it over his face, drink it in, seize the-moment-the-day-eternity and throttle it with both hands.) And maybe they were right. Maybe he was overwhelming. Maybe people had difficulty handling the way his heart and spirit and dreams, his mind and ideals and emotions ran wild and unrestrained, so often unfiltered and uninhibited.

But if the truth were to be known, he was really the one overwhelmed. (Inebriate of air am I, and debauchee of dew) There was beauty out there, marvels of nature and civilization and humanity that so many people seemed completely blind to. Why was that? It was all there, right there in front of them! The sun, the sky, the sand, the sea, the earth, the forest, the flowers. (Reeling, through endless summer days, from inns of molten blue) It was there for the taking, to just drink up and roll around in, to let it soak straight down into your skin and melt into the very marrow of your bones. You could take the world and make it a part of you, and you would become part of the world. You could grasp the eternal youthful beauty of nature's endless cycle, of spring and summer and autumn and even frost-delicate winter, and become it -- it would be a shining fragment of who you are, in all its gloriously passionate variations. There was so much to life, so much more than this, so much more than blood and pain and madness, so much more than fighting and war and murder, so much more than death and despair and betrayal and sorrow. There was beauty here. Glory and goodness, hope and happiness, love and laughter.

He wanted everyone to know it. He wanted Kakashi to know it. To have and hold and appreciate, to accept and understand. He wanted to be the one to give this precious, priceless gift to him (everything that's good in this world I offer, always and forever for you), to show him the world beyond their job. But you couldn't wrap spandex around the world, and you couldn't force it between graphic, colorful covers. And how else would he get Kakashi to open his eyes (yes, both eyes -- the friend that meant so much to him certainly deserved to experience the wonderful world, too) to what was right in front of him? That was why he wanted so badly for Kakashi to allow those walls to crumble, to crawl out of this chrysalis (what will you turn into, once you emerge with your wings?) and let him in.

Just let go already. (Why don't you trust me? Why do you never believe?)

Kakashi was shaking with the effort to keep holding on, hands scrabbling against Gai's bare back for purchase. But he would find no handholds with him, not now. Gai gave Kakashi another slow squeeze that pulled out another hitch of breath from his rival, as his lips and teeth seared down his throat again, leaving a hot, wet mark on the opposite side of his neck from the first. (Rivalry was an endless duality.) And then he was tugging, pulling, yanking Kakashi back step by step, fingers moving, fabric rustling as it was divested, revealing the scarred topography it hid, no longer cold, now hot -- still wounded and bleeding but that could wait, would have to. He didn't have to look down to know what he'd see -- he could see it in the way Kakashi looked at him.

Without his hitai-ate covering that eye, both of Kakashi's eyes were trained on him with the same kind of look he always had in his eyes before a kill. Dangerous. Focused. But different, too. There was something hungry about it. Something hot. It wasn't cold like the way Kakashi's eyes usually became when they grew dangerous like that. This was a kind of look that burned, right into eyes, a feeling that shot straight down to the heavy weight of Gai's cock in a twitch that dragged Kakashi's eyes from his face down to it. Gai watched as Kakashi drew in a slow, shaky breath as he stared, his gaze darkening exponentially. Knowing exactly what was going through his head. What he was imagining.

Before giving him a chance to think too much, Gai pushed him down onto the bed with a hard shove. Weights left behind in the tangle of clothing on the floor, his body easily blurred into motion as he settled between Kakashi's legs, fighting a groan as the action drew his hips forward against Kakashi's, their cocks sliding against each other, slick. And then his hand traveled down the length of Kakashi's body to his hip, his lips falling back into the juncture between his neck and throat -- sucking, kissing, licking, mouth voracious in descent. Kakashi's breath was coming out in hard, shaky bursts, and Gai could feel his hands sliding down his sides, before one attempted to slip between their bodies -- almost succeeding in wrapping around the doubled circumference of their cocks, grasping to hold them together. (Was that his solution, then? Touching them both, holding them both together, as one? Did he want to just unite them in pleasure, since he couldn't bear to unite with anyone in love?)

Gai grabbed his wrist before he could manage, nipping his throat sharply before pulling back, hovering over Kakashi so he could gaze down at him more fully, take in his face, look him in the eyes. "If you want me to do this, then let me do this. You can trust me, Kakashi." The words were rough and firm, but still held an undeniable warmth, an underlying tenderness that couldn't entirely be masked by the brusqueness he was putting on for Kakashi's sake. And it was that brusqueness that had made him able to look Kakashi in the eye like that, so challenging and defiant, so commanding and dominant, holding him down and stripping him bare with such rough passion. He had to know who was in charge here, who was taking care of him, who was going to fix this whole mess. He had to know that he could just let go, give in, put it all in Gai's hands. He needed to look, but more importantly, he needed to see.

(It was true what all parents told their children, when they did things for their own good -- this hurts me more than it's going to hurt you. A part of him cringed to look at Kakashi at all like this, to look down at his fine-boned, scarred, hidden, beautiful face, so shockingly open and bewilderingly vulnerable as he'd never seen it, gazing into his mismatched eyes and seeing two souls in them instead of one, twined together in a single, shining life that thrummed to the drum beat of his heart. He looked into his eyes and saw strength there, strength and genius and courage. Capability. But he also saw weakness too, the exposure, the cracks running every which way and threatening to shatter completely under the weight of the world. He looked through the cracks and saw something tenuous and brilliant, an exquisitely fragile, precious thing that made his heart hurt to look at, that made him want nothing more than to bring Kakashi back to earth with gentle, steady hands and down-soft kisses. He saw all of this and more, and he saw himself and what he was actually doing, and was ashamed that he could not find another way.)

Kakashi looked up at Gai and saw hope filling the depths of warm brown eyes. It soared in his irises, effervescent. Open and honest and filled with promises. It was strange looking up at his face like this, without a mask and with Gai's cock pressed against his. He could feel the hot pulse of blood under Gai's skin as acutely as the belief in his eyes. Kakashi shuddered under the weight of what he saw, wanting to close his own eyes in denial. And if he tried hard enough, he could pretend that this wasn't Gai, but another man whose name and face he'd never know; another man who'd press him down and fuck him raw. But other men wouldn't touch him quite like this, wouldn't look at him with such gentle eyes, wouldn't take his face in a hand and softly caress the high line of his cheekbone in such a tender brush. As though he was something that should be cherished. Protected. Loved.

So he kept his eyes open on Gai's face instead, struggling with himself to not look away, reconciling the fact that this was Gai, looking down at him with such hopeful eyes. This was Gai, reclaiming the hot pulse of his neck with a mouth so skilled, it immediately sent shivers rumbling down his spine. This was Gai, grinding his hips against his own, cock sliding against his as he fought moans, breathing in the scent of sex and earth and need and warmth. This was Gai, whose large hand engulfed them both, cutting his breath in half as Kakashi's fingers clenched, arching and straining against this hot muscled body whose hips pumped slowly against his own, sending searing pulses of sensation through him as the fire within him grew, burning quickly through the walls and the ropes of control.

(They never touched him quite like this, never kissed him quite like this, never cared quite like this; and each stroke, each brush was maddening, pleasure so great he never knew anything like this even existed. His breath came out of him in little bursts, panting out his frustration, body trembling with too much overwhelming sensation.)

And Kakashi wanted to believe in the hope Gai had, in the heated promise-plea when Gai said, "You can trust me." So when Gai's fingers, slick with viscous substance, finally stabbed into his body, parting him with such slow careful dedication, it ripped a gasp from his lips he couldn't hold back, with the sun, hot, violently expanding within him, tingling through his entire body. They plunged and thrust and parried in and out, striking deep within him at his molten core, scissoring and twisting, spiraling; building up raw need within his body -- and he was struggling to fight those needy sounds, vibrating deep at the base of his throat, but when those fingers finally stabbed in and curled with such precision as another slick hand grasped him at the root and stroked, a hoarse moan broke out from the prison of his lips, crumbling the first wall that held him in. And then a second one came soon after, when Gai started fucking him with his fingers, his body clenching around him, hungry, wanting more than what Gai was currently giving him.

(He has always been in control, mind and body. Never without the strength and calculation that composed him. But here in this place with Gai surrounding him, one hand on his cock and fingers buried deep within him, breathing in nothing but his rival who's forcing him to let go of himself and the world he's always kept out, he can close his eyes and let it surround him, this pleasure that's filling up his body, this hunger that's so consuming, leaving him so breathless, needy. He's not sure what it is he's hearing, these sounds of vocalized desperation, it sounds like him, but it can't be, looks like him, but it isn't. Because Kakashi is always in control. Kakashi is never uncontrolled. And this man with a face no one ever sees is arching his spine, groaning as he rocks his hips, looking up at Gai with mismatched eyes, unfocused, glossed, inebriated by the heat that's burned out the winter, melted all the ice he'd tried to freeze himself in.)

He never knew that this could feel so good; always associating pleasure with a dose of pain. It always felt as good as it hurt, and sometimes it was the pain that he focused on more, believing it was what brought him back, what shot through him and forced him to feel this visceral something that made him real; that reminded him of what he was, not only a shinobi but also a man, who could still feel pleasure and need, even if it was laced through with pain. But the only hurt he could still feel were the open wounds that lined his back, a pain barely noticeable with the slick heat of Gai's cock pressing into him, slowly driving in, choking out the breath from his lungs, as he opened up to him.

Other men didn't know, couldn't see, wouldn't care. How could they, when Kakashi walled them off? Gai had been there, had gotten there before Kakashi's walls were strong and high and impenetrable. He had vaulted them when Kakashi had only started to build them, and even then, had decided that he'd wanted to stay -- perhaps that hadn't worked out so well, but it had put a foot in the door that few others could claim to have. It was enough for him to see what everyone else had been missing -- and he did like what he saw. Nobody ever got to peel the layers back. They saw the sharp angles and planes of muscles, and saw strength instead of determination, power instead of perseverance. They wouldn't see the devotion or sacrifice his scars held, but merely their aesthetic presence. Those calloused hands and too-clever fingers -- there was genius there, but also too much toil and strife, too little innocence. Nobody ever saw those hands shake. Nobody ever thought to consider and question Kakashi's pallor, wrapped up and hidden away under all that cloth. Nobody ever thought of how suffocating it must be, to live and breathe under a mask, to hide and be restrained forever. Gai liked what he saw, telling as it was to eyes like his.

So he lost himself in Kakashi, buried himself in, pushed straight into the heart of who Kakashi was, knowing that he might not be able to find his way again. (He knew this terrain like he knew his own, but then, had he ever made it out since he had first come in? Or was he just forging ever onwards, deeper still?) He was easy to get lost in, for all the shadows and convoluted twists and turns, the covered walkways and labyrinthine corridors and carefully hidden passages. Kakashi himself could have gotten lost in here, if he hadn't been already. Was he haunting this place right now, a ghost of himself, waiting to be found and returned to his rightful place? Or was he pacing endlessly, trapped and hardly realizing it, much less why? Was he wandering in the darkness like a sleepwalker, too far gone to even try anymore? He never tried. Not for himself, anyway. He would strain and sweat and bleed for everyone else, would hover near death to save a comrade, but since when had Kakashi last raised a hand to save himself? (Or to save himself from himself? He never raised a hand against himself. But then again, he never had to, when he could do things so much more damning by doing nothing at all.) He let his life, his health, his happiness slip away like sand through his fingers, unaware or uncaring that the glittering grains were really gold dust.

Lost like this, it was up to Gai to be a guide, for both of them. He sought for Kakashi, reaching out to him to lead them both back to the light and open air, spun guideropes to hold him close, through what he saw and smelled and felt and heard -- even Kakashi was making all these sounds now, noises of need and desperation as he arched against him. It stirred the heat within Gai to an almost unbearable fever pitch, to see Kakashi so open, so unrestrained, but he kept tight control over himself as he slowly eased in, forcing himself to take it slow and steady -- even if Kakashi had rough inclinations, he didn't want to hurt him, not like this. He'd said Kakashi could trust him, so he had to be trustworthy; a good guide would never knowingly lead someone into danger. Pain was not the goal here, but helping him, showing him he was human, that humanity, vulnerability, weakness, imperfection -- none of this had to be painful. To acknowledge yourself as only human meant to know your flaws, and to strive to mend them, even as you accepted them... The journey mattered as much as the destination, and the journey could be very pleasurable indeed, now that Kakashi was allowing it.

Kakashi was impossibly, tortuously tight, and each thick inch that sunk in stole both of their breaths. And they were both panting with need by the time he buried himself to the hilt, sheathed in strength and slickness and heat that clenched around him in pulses so strong, he could barely control himself, or his breath. He kept his gaze locked with Kakashi's glassy, mismatched one as he waited for them both to adjust, watching the vulnerability that flickered across Kakashi's face. It was... a lot to adjust to. A point only fully driven home to him now that he had driven himself home. He was doing this. He was really doing this. This was him on top of Kakashi. Inside Kakashi. This was really happening, he was opening him up and pouring in. He was tearing down the walls, melting the ice, unknotting the ropes -- bringing him back. Liberating him. (And Kakashi was letting him.) It was terrifying and overwhelming and exhilarating and impossible to believe, all at once. Maybe Kakashi would finally get a glimpse of the passion Gai had always tried to show him, would understand a little of the hope and pleasure he wanted to impart, would get some sense of the world that awaited him beyond his self-imposed incarceration. Maybe someday, Kakashi would finally realize he could be free, any time that he wanted.

This was really happening. After thirteen years of fighting and rivalry, years of circling endlessly around each other, balancing each other, helping each other, needing each other... There was finally a real connection. Kakashi was reaching out to him, just the way Gai had been reaching all this time, was finally acknowledging this bond they had and how necessary it was. Even if it wasn't a direct acknowledgment, it was there. Kakashi was opening up to him willingly, desperately, letting him fill him, body and spirit. This was their rivalry, complete and mutual, at its highest, striving against and with and for each other. This was a challenge issued and accepted without words, to be completed together as one, a victory that went far beyond the running tally Gai kept for them. Now, they were truly pushing each other to become better and stronger, moving together to heights unknown.

His gaze remained fixed on Kakashi's, steady but blurred; wavering and glass-bright; tears pattered from Gai's cheeks, widening the mismatched eyes looking up at him, filling them with concern and surprise, when hot tears hit the surface of cheeks and slid down the sides of Kakashi's face. (And it looked like they were both crying the same tears, except Kakashi hadn't cried for years, and couldn't remember the last time he did, or if he even still could. But Gai always cried enough for the both of them. Felt enough for the both of them. Loved enough for the both of them, when Kakashi couldn't and wouldn't.)

Kakashi stared up for a long moment at his rival's face, taking in his broken expression, as his body clenched around the hard length splitting him, filling him, throbbing inside of him, and that was what he wanted slamming into him, not this sudden something rising swift inside his chest with a sharp pang of guilt and a twist of regret, strong enough to send his fingers flying right up to cover Gai's eyes so he wouldn't have to see the tears or feel them on his face and taste them at the corners of his lips. And before the moisture could seep through the cracks of his fingers, he reached up and pulled Gai down against his chest, wrapping his arms around the other man, holding him there so he wouldn't pull away. One hand slid up the back of a strong neck and carded swiftly into Gai's hair, his breath coming out in shaky bursts as he struggled to compose himself and reclaim control.

He almost wanted it to hurt, because pain gave him focus and made him forget, and could drive out the taste of the tears sharp on his tongue and clenched inside his chest. But there was only this heat, and the incredible sensation of being stretched so wide and filled so deeply, pleasure shivering down his spine, throbbing through his slick arousal trapped between their chests, dripping against his abdomen. And he could feel Gai's heart racing against his chest as he slowly gave a rock of his hips, the thickness of Gai's cock driving further in with a groan, and it was almost enough to make Kakashi ignore the moisture drying on his cheeks and trickling down his neck. (It scared him, those tears, the way Gai looked at him with so much soft intensity, with so much emotion he didn't know how to read and wasn't sure if he should because of what he might find if he looked too deeply or read too closely. And if he could pretend that this was just a challenge, if he could believe this was just their rivalry, that Gai was fucking him and crying because Gai always cried when he was too overwhelmed by living life with too much passion, then maybe he could ignore what he saw when Gai looked down at him with tears in his eyes and his cock buried deep inside of him.)

But the way Gai trembled -- the way they both did -- Kakashi couldn't ignore that no matter how much he tried. And he didn't want to think of what it meant, so he tightened his fingers in Gai's hair and turned his face to press his lips against the shell of the other man's ear and forced out a low demand.


Because if Gai started moving, started fucking, they could lose themselves in it -- in the heat and the need and the desperation, lips parting and opening and gasping for breath. Skin against skin, scratching against cotton sheets going damp with sweat. They could fight and war and struggle for control, rising towards the heat of the sun, losing themselves in the very act. And it wouldn't be the same as losing themselves in each other, because if they lost themselves like that, they'd never find their way out again, and Kakashi knew it was dangerous inside of him and he couldn't have Gai lost in him, even if Gai believed he could find a way out for them both. But they could lose themselves in this, because this would eventually end.

But Gai didn't want it to end. Not like this. A rose was a rose was a rose, and sex was sex was sex, but this -- this was so much more. This was not about sex. This was not about the heat and warmth and friction, or the way Kakashi shuddered and pulsed around him, warm and responsive and alive, swallowing him up and drawing him in as completely as he was filling him. (Kakashi had always had a draw to him, no matter how he tried to push Gai away, a magnetism and certain charisma that could not be denied, no matter how Kakashi muffled it or how deeply buried it became. Even back at the beginning, even when he was six, he had recognized it -- an air about him that simply could not be explained, but merely accepted and understood at an intuitive level: this person is unique.) This was about their hearts, battered and chipped and cracking though Kakashi's might be. This was about healing. This was about being there for each other, as friends, and as Eternal Rivals. Because wasn't that what they were for? Wasn't this camaraderie, this care, this intimacy what true rivalry was really supposed to be about?

(And this, too, shall pass. But when it passed, what lay beyond it? Kakashi would recover. His wounds would mend and his heartache would die down to the dull throb that always lingered, and he would recover. He would rise above and hide behind and beneath, would move ahead and stay behind. He would get dressed and wrap himself in his mask once again, pull out his little bright books and hunker down behind their covers. And everything would be back to the way it always was and should be, even if he could see how that way was wrong-wrong-wrong. This, too, shall pass, and beyond it will be themselves. Beyond it will be them and eternity, and their rivalry, because Gai wouldn't let either of them give that up, not until eternity -- or at least, their eternity -- had run its course. And if he could do that, if he could just keep that promise and make sure that their Eternal Rivalry really did last for an eternity, then he would have won. Win or loss, whatever the final tally read, he would have won. He would have been right, and it would have been beautiful -- he would make sure of that -- and all eternity was surely enough time to make Kakashi understand these things so they could see eye to eye, even as they stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back.)

So Gai would lose himself in Kakashi, because this was a vehicle, not a destination or even a journey. He shifted between Kakashi's thighs and finally did as he was told, beginning to move, starting tortuously slow; a gentle tempo that tore the breath out of him as his heart began to race. Strong hands held Kakashi steady as he started to thrust, driving himself faster and deeper only as he became certain that both of them were ready for it; his face was tucked against Kakashi's neck, breath gusting against his pulse in heated gasps, lips moving feverish and indecipherable over pale skin. Kakashi would have what he needed, but it wasn't going to be fucking -- because Gai had known from the moment he'd started pushing in that he would not, could not give Kakashi the kind of violence he wanted. He wouldn't break him like this, couldn't do this, not to Kakashi, not to his Eternal Rival, not to the man he'd never intentionally hurt. (Not even during their challenges at their most intense, when water roared and lightning sizzled and Gai moved so fast the very wind itself seemed to be trying to flay the skin from his bones.)

Gai refused to be what other men were, refused to do what they had done -- when they gripped those slender hips so hard, they left dark, angry bruises the morning after; or when they held Kakashi down against the ground and took him fast and dry, not caring that they tore him apart in the process. (They broke each other because they were broken, because if they had ever known what it was like to be whole, they had long since forgotten -- and ruins were all they had ever known, how could they ever hope to be rebuilt?) Because they needed it as much as he did, needed to be reminded that they could still feel something so visceral, so raw, undeniably human -- needed to find their way back from the edge of the cliff they lived too close to, dangling over the precipice, fingers grappling at their roots, trying to hold on so they wouldn't lose themselves and fall. (They lost themselves because they hid themselves, faceless beasts skulking in the shadows, hiding behind such fragile porcelain masks.) But Gai knew that he would never fall, would never lose himself, because he had never hidden himself to begin with; he stood tall in the full light of the sun. He would never fall -- he reached, climbed, soared! (He had wings, and rather than struggle for a better grip, he flung himself to the high heavens, rising safely above the turmoil as soon as it had ceased.)

And he would take Kakashi with him, wrapping him in his arms securely before taking flight.

Gai would not be like those other men, would not fuck Kakashi the way the others had, so fast and hard and brutal and unmerciful. He would take his time, he would take it slow, mouthing kisses along Kakashi's neck as he plunged himself deeper and further into his Eternal Rival with steady rolls of the hips, one hand sliding down to wrap Kakashi's leg around his waist.

The very act aligned their hips and Kakashi couldn't hold back the hoarse sound of need that found its way out between clenched teeth when Gai plunged deeper in, filling him with slow, steady deliberation that sent tendrils of heat and sensation through his body with every plunge. And when he tightened that leg around Gai's waist to draw him further in, he had to press his lips against the hot curve of Gai's shoulder to muffle a moan when pleasure stabbed through him and filled him so intensely, it shook him to the bone. (He hadn't expected, hadn't known, that every time Gai drove in and filled him up, the sensation would shoot right up inside and form itself into unexpected emotion that felt as full and hot as what split him, and just as thick. It clenched up his lungs and made it hard to breathe, that feeling of coming apart while being filled in, and it made him struggle harder for breath, breathing Gai in with each gasp, filling up his lungs with him, until Gai was all he breathed.)

He never knew, never suspected that sex could ever be like this, filled with so much intensity and raw passion, licking up over all the surfaces of who and what he was and stripping him bare with soft hands and slow, smoldering kisses that were as sensual as the way Gai claimed him. (Not violent, because Gai wasn't trying to break him. Gai was trying to fix him, like he'd been trying for the past thirteen years, to put together pieces that just didn't want to reform no matter how he challenged them or rearranged them.) And it was too much, these sensations that were growing within his body, spiraling hot and fast; a furious river raging and rising as it swept through him, uncontrolled like the sounds he made each time Gai drove himself home, clenching tight around him as their bodies strained against each other, with Gai's mouth hot on his throat as his hips pumped slow and hard, in long, deep thrusts that had Kakashi going, "Hahh... hahh-- ahh--"

And then Gai's hands were coming up under the hollows of his knees and pushing his thighs back as he leaned back and plunged in, deeper and harder with steady thrusts, grunting each time he slid all the way in. It felt so fucking good that Kakashi was shaking, trembling with too much pleasure that was overwhelming, his cock heavy and dripping with need. His fingers dug into Gai's shoulder and hip and held on fast because it was all he could do with Gai holding him down and splitting him apart with the hard heat of his cock and an expression that was as soft as it was colored with lust. Gai watched him with dark, knowing eyes, drinking him up with a look that rocked right into Kakashi's chest, stabbing deeper than what filled him. It was a look that he knew too well, the kind of look only Gai gave, one that was as understanding as it was unconditionally accepting.

(A look like that was dangerous, with how hard it could cut, into the eyes and right down to the heart.)

Kakashi didn't know what it was Gai saw in him when he was so flawed, and he couldn't understand how Gai could look at him with an expression that soft, when what they were doing was so fucked up and wrong. But Gai took it and made it beautiful, erasing the violence with tenderness that Kakashi didn't deserve; tenderness that was as forgiving as it was merciful, as accepting as the look in his eyes. It shook him as much as the pleasure soaring within him, as his world came apart and reformed around Gai, this man that had given him everything he had and everything he was, all because Kakashi needed him. It wasn't a panaceatic remedy because such a thing didn't exist, but it was honest and sincere and everything Kakashi had forgotten was also a part of being alive. (It's easy to forget what makes you human, when what you're doing is slowly driving you insane, when what you're doing is killing the parts of you that makes you human to begin with.)

But Obito's voice was loud in his head, telling him this wasn't what friends did to friends, as loud as his pulse roaring in his ears, and the sound of his own voice filling the air; as strong as the sensations and emotions that were filling him up, growing far too large for his body and raging out of control-- it's too much and he can't control it, too much, and it's overwhelming, the heat that twists in his chest as sharply as the pleasure that fills him; and he's not sure what it is he's feeling, this emotion that stabs right through him, when Gai's looking at him with eyes too warm, too forgiving and accepting-- it tore through him, unmerciful, hot like the sun expanding too fast, scorching as the fire spread. Gai's fingers were wrapping around his cock, stroking in tandem with every thrust, sending him into crazed paroxysms that were as maddening as this feeling that was too large-- it's too much and he's choking out these sobbed moans, clawing at Gai's back as the trembles grow uncontrolled, with his body spasming around what filled him, with Obito's eye filming with salt, leaking down the left side of his face-- and it all culminated and converged on this very moment, as everything within him broke apart with a hoarse cry, and he was coming, coming, coming apart, spilling out between them.

And it was better this way, beautiful this way, the raw passion that engulfed them, the heat that coursed between them like the ebbing and flowing of a tide, faster and faster and harder still, plunging and crashing in Gai's gut and heart, wildly tossed waves in a stormy sea. And the sea wept from Kakashi's eye, a shining stream that could not, should not be there, a release pouring out everything that Kakashi would never admit to keeping inside him. This was something Kakashi never was, never did, a frenzy of motion and trembling and energy too intense to be contained, emotions Kakashi just didn't show. Had Gai ever seen Kakashi cry openly before? In all their thirteen years of rivalry, had there ever been a time when tears had shone uncovered on his friend's face? No, he didn't think so. Never would he have been so open and vulnerable, so easily read, even as a child. It twisted his heart to look at, this rushing free of everything Kakashi had held bottled up inside him for so long, and he buried himself completely one last time--

It came with a rush and a roar of blood in his ears -- surging, tremulous heat exploded in the pit of his stomach, radiating outwards in waves so intense it blasted the breath out of him with a deep-throated shout. (Since when did he do anything quietly, after all? He never went into anything without passionately applying his full 110%, even and especially to love.) And all he could feel was Kakashi pulsing and clenching around him, hot and so, so damned tight, writhing beneath him and driving Gai in further still, pulling him deeper and deeper until he had nothing left to give, filling him with everything he had, and everything that he was, until all he could hear was his heart racing in his ears. He collapsed, his face falling into Kakashi's neck, breathing in the sweat-sex-blood-lust-need that hung in the air, heavy and sizzling like ozone after an intense thunderstorm.

Kakashi's heart was racing as fast as his.

(There was power here, in this connection, the kind of magic that made miracles possible. Emotions wrought power and strength, energy to do the impossible for the ones you cared about, forging bonds that could never be broken. You fed them and fed them, invested time and energy and care, blood and sweat and tears, life and love and shared experiences that you could never, ever take back, whether or not you would ever want to. You gave it everything you had, everything inside your heart and soul. And finally it took on a life of its own like this, humming and crackling between you, no longer taking but giving, giving everything you could have wanted from it, so much more than you could ever have expected, everything you realized you really needed most of all.)

For a moment, Gai only lay there still buried so deep, drinking in the other's warmth before he picked up his head and looked, gazing down into Kakashi's eyes with too many emotions surging through them to name or identify, twisting tight and hot like the bond crackling through them, linking them in their rivalry too tightly to tease anything apart -- especially them. It felt good, this closeness without words or labels. (This was beautiful. Kakashi was beautiful.) His own eyes glistening, Gai reached up to cup Kakashi's cheek and jaw with his hand, thumb brushing away those rare tears as it slid into place.

Like it was always meant to be there.

Kakashi turned his face away, what he saw in Gai's eyes rocking through him in uncontrolled waves. He didn't want to be touched like this, didn't want Gai to see him like this, with Obito's eye wet and burning, a dam too weak to control the flood behind it (he never did know how to control his emotions, and Kakashi's not even sure why Obito's crying now, even with his voice echoing in the back of his mind, telling him that this was wrong, wrong, wrong), leaking hot through his lashes. So he tried to dip his face behind the wall Gai's hand provided, his eyes sliding shut so he didn't have to see the way Gai looked at him, with so much hope and too much raw emotion glittering in his eyes.

But even with his eyes closed like this, he could still feel Gai's eyes on him, heavy like the hand on his face. And he knew without seeing that the glitter Gai held in his gaze streamed openly, unabashedly down his face.

(Wrong, wrong, wrong, but it feels so right, and Kakashi doesn't understand why.)

"Thank you..." He whispered after a moment, soft and uncertain.

Gai didn't respond to the thanks verbally.

(There was no need to thank him, now or ever, and Kakashi was always, always welcome.)

His gaze, his touch was eloquent enough, the curve of his hand warm and strong as it caressed Kakashi's cheek, thumb drawing gentle circles over a still-damp cheek; his other hand framed Kakashi's head as it moved up, fingers running through messy silver hair as he smoothed it away from Kakashi's face, stroke by patient stroke. He felt no need to interrupt such a tender moment or tear away what little privacy Kakashi wanted to try and preserve right now -- he knew there was no need to.

Kakashi didn't need to hide, but he still wanted to in this moment of vulnerability, even though Gai could see, could feel straight through the flimsy barrier he was sliding between them.

There was no need to hide (from him) like this, because Gai understood him. But because Gai understood him, he understood this, too. And so he would let him hide in plain sight, because Kakashi hiding with Gai was better than Kakashi hiding from him. (And maybe, just maybe, it felt good to be able to protect him like this. In a space where their rivalry's tally was meaningless, it felt right to be the stronger one, the one who would always be there to provide a safe harbor. Maybe Kakashi was meant to always be one step ahead, so Gai could always stand behind him, always be there to catch him when he fell.)

Gai's gaze was soft and fond, but undeniably serious as he studied Kakashi's face. (Unlike those blessed with the Sharingan, Gai has to work to remember things. But Gai has never been afraid of hard work, and he wants to remember him, remember this. And so Gai works to memorize Kakashi's face, so the moment and the man can be engraved into his mind and heart forever.) He wasn't often silent for this long, but he broke the silence eventually, tone gentle in spite of the underlying firmness in his voice.

"If this ever happens again, Kakashi, come find me."

He said it with the same kind of authority with which he made his promises. With the same kind of passion, even if it was quiet. And even if he said it without a Nice Guy Smile, this, too, was a promise; one that mattered just as much as the one he made to Kakashi when they were six, when he lifted up his thumb towards the sky that held witness above them and swore to him an eternity that only belonged to them. No one else (should) could touch him quite like this, could take care of him quite like this, could care quite like this. Because when they touched him, they only ever touched skin.

(Gai is the only one who knows how to reach in. And Kakashi doesn't know how to stop him.)

The sun was rising through the windows, soaking up the shadows. It was slow, the way it stroked itself through the panes of glass, the slices of blinds stubbornly holding onto darkness, clinging to night.

Kakashi didn't want the sun to rise like this, not with Gai still buried so deep, filling him in ways he never thought he could be filled in. He'd never seen the sun rise in the mornings after missions when he wasn't alone, bleeding out the last of what made him what he was. But Gai had tangled himself in so deeply that Kakashi wasn't sure where he ended and where Gai began. He didn't know how to untangle them, and didn't have the energy to make an attempt.

(They've always been tangled like this, but Kakashi's never noticed.)

He watched as the golden patch of light painted itself in a strip across his floor, then spread, glorious and bright across his room, spilling across the tangle they'd made of themselves.

He wasn't bleeding anymore.

Gai would forever look forward, while Kakashi couldn't stop looking back -- and though they would never be able to see the same thing, they would always be able to see each other.

And in that space between their gazes, eyes and hands and hearts could meet.