Disclaimer: Naruto and the characters therein belong to Kishimoto. I make no profit from their use. This is strictly for entertainment purposes.

No matter how hard he struggled, it didn't seem to be enough. The bonds chaffed as he pulled at them yet again. The hard leather was just loose enough to allow some movement, the edges rubbing and tearing at his skin. The pain was hardly noticeable. The hands were still there, the mouths still there.

He screamed and cursed into the cloth covered bit in his mouth, body straining to get away and at the same time yearning for more of what was being done to it. The hitai-ate over his eyes was soaked with tears, and he could feel salty tracks at the corner of his eyes, running down toward his ears.

And then, suddenly, the hands were gone, the mouths were gone. He knew better than to think it was over. His lungs screamed as he held his breath against the labored breathing he'd been reduced to. He tried to use his instincts, his hearing or anything else to determine just what they had in-store for him next, though he was sure he already knew.

For a man who knew pain intimately, through training, missions, and the style of fighting he use, nothing had ever felt like this. The ripping, searing, stabbing pain tore a scream from his lungs that even the bit couldn't fully muffle.

Gai woke screaming, his body strung tight, and disgustedly half aroused, as his eyes darted around the dark room. After a moment, he sighed bitterly and sat up, running a hand through his hair. That mission had been six months ago, but every night it felt like yesterday. He'd tried all the coping methods ninja had, and then some. Everything short of talking to someone about it; he'd even left it out of his report, regaling some fanciful battle in the time span he'd been trussed up and…

Logically, Gai knew he had to start admitting what happened, first to himself and then someone else, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Every day he continued on as he always had, full of youthful vigor and enthusiasm, inspiring his peers and others to do the same. He would go out for a drink with some of the others when asked, train for hour upon hour with Lee, challenge Kakashi, and everything else that he'd always done.

Then, at night, once he finally allowed, or rather forced, himself to go back to his small apartment, he'd spend an hour or two in a scalding shower and then attempt to get some sleep. That was when the nightmares would start, usually to be followed by another searing hot shower.

Logically, Gai knew he couldn't keep going on like this. The only time he ate was with Lee, who deserved to be treated for all his hard work, or when someone else asked him, out of obligation to not be rude and refuse such a generous offer. He ate enough to not be suspicious, but he was losing weight.

If no one else, he knew Kakashi had noticed. That single grey eye would look at him lazily, but after so long he knew how to read what the look really meant. The other jounin was accessing him, like a puzzle. Of everyone, though, Kakashi was the last person he wanted to know.

The lack of sleep was also wearing him down. Missions were taking longer, and it was becoming harder to keep up with Lee, who he easily diverted from noticing by praising how much he was improving and becoming a great nin. It was a dangerous gamble, but Gai didn't think it was possible to make Lee overconfident. The boy had been born that way.

Slipping out of bed, Gai padded into the bathroom and started the shower. As he attempted to scrub away the memories, the ghostly feel of the touches and pain, he closed his eyes and focused on total nothingness. By now, the routine shower was so routine that his body did the motions without thought. It was meditative in its own right, even if it left his skin red and raw by the time he forced himself to stop, which was becoming harder and harder. One day, he knew he'd not be able, that he'd finally scrub his skin off. Part of him longed for it, hoping then he'd no longer be able to feel his skin crawling as it remembered.

Logically… Logically, Gai knew a lot of things about what was going on were wrong and needed to change. He was going to get himself killed, or worse, because he didn't really care anymore about himself, he was going to get someone else hurt or killed. But, logic was something you knew, not something you felt, and how Gai felt… That was something entirely different.

Three hours before dawn, fresh from the shower and only two hours after he'd finally been able to go to sleep, Gai was running laps around the village. The only people he saw were the nin covertly hidden around the village keeping watch or those coming in late from, or leaving early for, missions. He knew faces, but rarely did he see anyone he was overly familiar with, and rarer still those he considered friends. Three laps in, he nearly plowed over Kakashi, who appeared right in his path so suddenly and fast there was barely an inch between them as Gai skidded to a halt. As casually, and quickly, as he could, Gai put distance between them.

"Rival! What has you up so early? Some youthful training or are you off to a mission?" He asked enthusiastically, grinning brightly. The stern set of Kakashi's jaw and the way his eye was open and clear informed Gai the other man wasn't buying it.

Kakashi stepped closer, invading the personal space Gai had just created. The green clad man couldn't help but flinch as he fought the urge, the need to back away. He was certain Kakashi had seen the slight tell because he stopped, tilting his head just a little and the lines around his eye softening slightly.

"Gai," he spoke softly, voice serious and laced with concern. "What is going on?"

The question was simple and open for many interpretations. Even if Gai knew what Kakashi wanted, it would be simple to give any number of answers from the weather to any current events. With some people, that would have worked, but not with his rival. Kakashi knew him better than anyone.

Still, he couldn't stop the, "I'm taking a youthful morning run," that poured out of his mouth. He knew, immediately, that had been a mistake. A soft sigh passed the copy nin's lips, and then Gai felt the presence of another person behind him, as large physically as not. Their gaze was heavy and deep, leaving him feeling exposed and vulnerable. Only one man could pull that off, and Gai nearly bolted then and there. If that wasn't enough, another person stepped up to his right, calm and somewhat soothing.

Gai felt betrayed, and he looked at his best friend with an expression that said as much. "Kakashi…" he breathed, voice pained and weary.

"I'm sorry, Gai, but… I don't know exactly what is wrong, but we're worried. I'm worried." He stepped as close as he could without touching the taijutsu master. "We're just trying to help."

He felt caged. Three men, surrounding him, just like… His body reacted on its own. He lashed out, having to get away. No one was forcing him to do anything, never again, and that was what it felt like the other men were trying to do. In his panic, he was vulnerable enough for large, strong arms to wrap around him from behind and pin his arms to his sides. He bucked and kicked, but the blows went ignored as hands framed his face.

"Gai. Gai, look at me," a soft, calm voice commanded. It took effort, but he forced his eyes to focus forward, meeting calm, sea blue depths. He knew those eyes, and what was going to happen next, as evidenced by the apologetic gaze.

It only took a moment; Inoichi was nothing if not good at what he did. Gai stared at him as the blonde's face struggled to stay schooled in a neutral, calm demeanor. Finally, his hands slid slowly away from Gai's face, and his gaze moved to the man holding the taijutsu master firmly from behind. Kakashi shifted, oddly impatient, and Gai glanced in his direction.

"Will you stay calm?" A deep voice rumbled softly in his ear. Though he'd known who it had to be, it was reassuring to hear the older man's voice. Nodding slightly, he had to catch himself from falling back as the tokubetsu let go of him.

Inoichi now knew, and Gai was certain he'd tell Ibiki, if the other hadn't already surmised the gist of it, out of obligation due to his position as Ibiki's subordinate, if nothing else. Gai could live with that. Ibiki had been through a lot himself, and was a man who tortured people for a living.

But, seeing Kakashi there, waiting on answers, he felt his stomach turn to cold lead. The only thing worse would be for the kids to know, for Lee to know. He looked to Ibiki, eyes pleading, and he must have understood because he looked at Kakashi. The copy nin looked back defiantly.

"I'm not leaving," he responded to the look. "Gai, however annoying, is important to me. You know how I feel about those important to me." Everyone knew, and Gai stared in wonder to hear Kakashi admit that he was important to the aloof jounin.

Ibiki looked at Gai. "Let Kakashi take you home. Come and see me no earlier than noon. I want you to try to get some sleep." The larger man stepped away from him and nodded Inoichi to follow him, the two leaping up and over rooftops toward ANBU headquarters.

His eyes followed them longer than necessary, not wanting to face the silver-haired man at his side. Kakashi's gentle hand on his shoulder finally broke his gaze, making him turn to face his rival. "Come on, Gai." Kakashi caught his wrist gently and led him off.

It wasn't until they stopped that Gai realized they were at Kakashi's apartment and not his own. "Kakashi?" He asked softly, looking at the other.

"We can go to your place, if you really want to," he answered, not even unlocking his door until Gai chose. Finally, Gai shook his head, reminding himself this was Kakashi and he could be safer with no one.

The other man unlocked the door and motioned him in before following and locking the door back. Gai walked over and sat on the edge of his rival's bed, there no where else to really sit. Weary from lack of sleep and what had just happened, Gai took a deep breath, fighting a yawn. His senses were overcome with the scent that was purely Kakashi, weapon oil, dog, soil, and pure energy. It shocked him how comforting it was.

Gai started when he was pushed gently back on the bed, looking up at Kakashi with wild eyes for a moment. "Easy. You were dozing off sitting up. Lie down and get some rest. You're safe here." Nothing sounded better, and he let Kakashi lay him back and tuck him in.

Logically, Gai knew he would be safe and watched over. For once, his feelings agreed with logic, and soon he had dozed off, praying that, if only once, he'd not have the horrible memories turned nightmares.

Kakashi watched Gai sleep, face set in deep lines as he worked over all he'd noticed over the last few months. He wasn't a simpleton. He'd figured out some time ago what had to have happened to the other man. It made him sick to his stomach to know that someone had reduced Gai to the mess he was, and it made his blood run hot with righteous, vindictive anger.

He was aware that Gai had no idea how important he was, either to Kakashi or a lot of other people. To know that someone had broken Gai, no matter what the other man wanted to world to think, was a horrible feeling. Gai was the type of person that should always be spared such ugly realities.

He wished he could take it away, like he wished he could take so many other things away, especially for Naruto. Sighing to himself, he stood up and walked over to his window, putting his hands behind his back and staring out over what he could see of the village.

Wishing had never gotten him anywhere, it never fixed things. He vowed to himself that he would do his best to see Gai better, no matter what it took. He wasn't going to lose someone else; he wasn't going to let his best friend down.

Opening the window, he took up a comfortable position on the sill and waited. He'd sit there for however long he had to, for however many nights it took, and keep the demons at bay, sooth the nightmares that were sure to come. He'd done it before, and he could do it again. While Gai's demons were so much different from Naruto's, demons were demons. Kakashi had faced tougher foes with weaker odds.

AN: I'm leaving this open for another part, but I'm not sure when, or if, there will actually be one.