The Greenest of the Leaves

It was not his fault. He had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Kakashi had been quietly minding his own business, simply reading in the park, as was his custom. True, he should have been preparing for the mission the Yondaime had assigned him for, but the point is that Kakashi did nothing to start the whole thing. He had done absolutely NOTHING to incite the young jounin who leapt forward to confront him.

"Aha!" Exclaimed the jounin, eyes narrowing as if making an important discovery. "I recognize you! You are Hatake Kakashi, the Copycat ninja!"

Kakashi rolled his eyes. He was really getting tired of that title and of all the fame and adoration that seemed to accompany it. He simply nodded.

"Aha!" The jounin drew back and raised a pair of enormous bushy eyebrows. "Then I challenge you!"

Wait. What?

Putting down his book, Kakashi looked at the man, noting the bowl haircut, the strong jaw, and the (slightly disturbing) green spandex suit. "You wish to challenge me?"

"I insist upon it!"

"… why?"

"Because you are Hatake Kakashi, the copycat ninja, and you are destined to become my eternal rival!" The man clenched his fists. "I have heard much of you and determined you a worthy rival. Therefore…" He drew a deep breath. "…I, Maito Gai, challenge you!"

"Maito Gai?" Kakashi could not recall such a name.

"I am the Green Devil of the Leaf Village! The Konoha Whirlwind! I am the wind rushing through the trees, the fury of passion descending upon the enemies of Konoha and her allies! My body is filled with the explosion of youth and the will of fire! And I am your eternal rival!" He finished dramatically.

"I see." Kakashi's face didn't change. Dimly he recalled hearing Asuma mention this "Green Devil" as an incredibly enthusiastic taijutsu expert. Apparently, the man was attempting to make a name for himself by defeating Kakashi. It shouldn't really surprise him, he supposed. Plenty of glory hounds out there.

Still, it was the first time in a long while that anyone had dared to actually CHALLENGE him. As in, not react with fear or awe to his presence. Kakashi rather liked the change.

Well, best to get it over with. Heaving a sigh, Kakashi stood to his feet, putting his book away. "Very well. As challenged party, I choose the style of combat, right?"

"That is correct, my eternal rival!"

Kakashi winced. That was quickly getting old. "Very well. No seals." He didn't want to kill the poor fool, and however much a taijutsu expert this man was, Kakashi could always bring out the Sharingan to keep up with him.

"Aha, we are well matched, my eternal rival!" Gai rubbed his hands. "Taijutsu combat is the most youthful method of competing! Your confidence in your prowess is daunting, but I shall defeat you, or I shall run two thousand laps around Konoha!"

Kakashi rolled his eyes again. "Whatever." He readied himself in the traditional stance. "Begin."

Looking back, Kakashi decided that he should probably have exposed his Sharingan before starting. That way, he could probably have avoided the enormous beating he received in the first five minutes of the fight. Or in any case, he would have had some idea of what exactly happened. In later years, all Kakashi could remember was getting hit from every conceivable angle faster than humanly possible. And of getting a solid roundhouse kick to the face that sent him flying backwards

Somewhere in the two seconds he had flying through the air before hitting the tree, Kakashi reached up and lifted his headband. Seeing the tree, he braced for it and bounced off quite gracefully, landing in a battle-ready stance. He looked his opponent full in the face.

"Aha! The Sharingan!" Maito Gai's face lit up. "I am pleased you are fully exerting yourself, my eternal rival, but it will do you no good. Yosh!" He dashed forward.

Kakashi had no time to consider what his 'eternal rival' meant by "Yosh," for Sharingan or no Sharingan, Gai was still disturbingly fast. And strong. A Sharingan meant you could see your enemies moves and analyze them, it didn't necessarily mean you could avoid them. At first, it was all Kakashi could do to match his opponent's movements. After a while, though, he fell in with the rhythm of the thing, and soon he was giving as good as he got.

A full roundhouse kick sent Gai flying. Immediately he jumped up again. "Your prowess is well earned, my eternal rival! I am indeed pleased, I would expect nothing less. However…" he reached into his knapsack, "…I too have my special weapon."

Nunchuks? The man was planning to match his Sharingan with nunchuks?

Apparently so, Kakashi decided several moments later, while dodging a flurry of sticks and chain. And it wasn't a bad plan, either. Sure, he wasn't getting pounded like before, but he took a number of hits nonetheless. And there was no WAY he could get any substantial blows of his own in. Perhaps Chidori… but no, this was a match, not a duel.

Finally he hit upon an idea. He leapt backwards, and as Gai charged at him, roaring, he looked his 'eternal rival' straight in the eye.

Gai froze in mid-run and toppled over.

With a sigh of relief, Kakashi lowered his headband over the Sharingan. He had only recently learned genjutsu, and he hadn't been sure if that would work. Not his favorite method, certainly, but it had done the job.

Gai came to life with a groan. "You… said… taijutsu only." He whispered.

"I said no seals." Kakashi shrugged. "Sharingan genjutsu doesn't use any."

Incredibly, a smile broke across Gai's face. "Ah… very clever, my eternal rival."

Strange as the incident was, Kakashi shrugged it off and finally got around to preparing himself for the mission. True to form, he arrived at the gate a few moments too late. "Yo." He waved to the two irate jounin. "Sorry I'm late. There was this crazy serial killer, and I had to…"

"Save it, Hatake." Jiraiya grinned. Kakashi blinked in surprise. Though the Sannin still occasionally helped out, he did not usually lead teams. "You're always late these days. I don't know where Minato got the idea that you were this picky punctual guy." He scratched his chin. "Now that leaves just the last member of our team. Funny, he's usually on time…"

"Another?" Kakashi blinked. Usually, he was the last to arrive.

"He should arrive shortly." Stated the other jounin—Genma, as Kakashi recalled. "Ran into him just outside. Was a little busy at the moment, but he should be done by now."

"Done with what?"

The answer was cut off by a sudden green blur and a gust of wind and suddenly, standing in front of them, was an exhausted version of the bowl-haired psycho Kakashi had met earlier.

"Ah, Gai." Jiraiya nodded. "You're the last. All set to go?"

Gai made a valiant effort to salute. "Yosh!"

"Good." Jiraiya nodded. "We've got a long run ahead of us, and we need to move fast." He started to move away, and then stopped. "Oh, and before I forget… I remember you saying how much you wanted to meet Hatake Kakashi."

To the end of his days, Kakashi would swear there was an evil glint in the Sage's eyes as he pulled Kakashi forward. "Well, it's your lucky day. Kakashi, meet Gai. Gai, meet Kakashi. There's no real time for proper introductions now, of course, but don't worry…" Jiraiya snickered. "We'll be together for WEEKS."

Kakashi could do nothing but stare in petrified fear as a pair of bushy eyebrows came up and widened in surprise.

"YOSH!" The green-clad madman sprang to his feet in sudden enthusiasm. "I am happy, my eternal rival, of this chance to prove the undying power of my youth! I shall kill three times as many ninjas as you on this mission, and if not, I will do five thousand upside-down one-handed push-ups!"

Kakashi felt a bead of sweat roll down his head. He had a feeling this was going to be a LONG mission.

A/N: Hey! You know what're great things? REVIEWS! Reviews come from the laughter of little children. REviews are what help little angels to fly. Every time a reader submits a review, a puppy dog gets a treat.

So... for the puppies. Review.

Back on topic. I've always wondered how Kakashi felt when he first met Gai and their "eternal rivalry" started. Obviously it would all be Gai's doing, with Kakashi pretty much just confused at this bizarre creature, much like when Sasuke meets Lee. Still, I have to think that Kakashi might be vaguely interested in it, and even somewhat impressed.

As far as the fight goes... yes, I realize that realistically, Kakashi would probably beat Gai into next week. But recall, this is a young Kakashi, and a part of me has to think there's a REASON why Kakashi respects Gai, however marginally. I like to think their skills are more or less on the same level, at this point in their lives at least. Plus, I really, really like Gai.

Cover Credit goes to OsirisMaru of Devart for his picture "Konoha."