A/N: So, a quick explanation. I had absolutely no intention of writing more of this, I thought it was done and dusted (although one day I may go through and actually edit the dang thing :P) but then I got this one review:
[Guest chapter 14 . Aug 21
...I'm kinda- scratch that- REALLY interested to see their life after the ending of the Naruto manga...with Gai in a wheelchair and all. Whether it's right after the battle or after the time-skip, I'd be really interested to see their relationship then, especially since they'd be able to get married then (so probably right after, give or take a few months or a year or 2 for Gai to recover enough), have children, and see how Hikari helps Gai deal with his new cripple-ness... :3 If you would, that'd be awesome! X3]
And it got me thinking about the whole thing.
Oh and as a sidenote, I totally called Gai's canon ending back in July last year. From last chapter:
"Privately, Hikari was pretty sure that if Gai survived long enough to retire, he'd be either more crippled than she, or he'd be utterly terrifying to anyone who crossed him. But she refused to worry about such distant things that might never come to be. She knew that each and any one of his missions might be his last, and so was determined to enjoy as much time with him as possible."
But yeah, Anonymous Guest, I have no idea who you may be, but you're the one everyone has to thank for this epilogue thing. The end result probably isn't exactly what you were thinking of, but it was what made the most sense to me as the writer so shrug. I hope you enjoy it anyway.
After the Apocalypse is Cancelled, We Pick Up the Pieces and Life Goes On
When Hikari receives the message that Gai is in hospital, her emotions are complicated.
On the one hand, she is exasperated— once again she is going to have to put up with his moping around the house whilst he heals, and will have to keep a strict eye on him to ensure that he doesn't push himself too hard, too soon. Inevitably, he will be right back into one of his insane training jags the very second that he is given the go ahead from the medic-nin. No doubt Lee will be right there beside him, every step of the way, as per usual.
She loves that brat. Well. She loves all of Gai's students. But Lee, earnest, unintentionally funny and above all conscientious, is easily her favourite. Even though Tenten truly is a girl after her own heart, and Neji, (once Naruto had beaten the stick out of him,) had really come into his own and matured into a dependable shinobi. (Even though he is still a little baffled sometimes at both his sensei and his sensei's taste in women. Hikari, having some experience of what it is like to be scorned by family members, has always had at least some understanding of how his seemingly limitless melodramatic angst arises.)
All of them are the sort of ninja that Kakashi has always described as being who you wanted at your back. She loves all of Gai's students, but she admits that her bias is towards the one that has always worked the hardest to better himself.
Also, he loves his mentor Gai fiercely and unashamedly. It's something that she can relate to. And as silly as the two of them look in their matching green spandex and orange legwarmers— she's amusedly tolerant, not blind – the sheer sincerity of Lee's emulation and admiration of Gai far outweighs any awkwardness that she might have initially felt at seeing a barely pubescent boy copying her lover in every mannerism, and she preferred such a reaction to Neji and Tenten's initial barely-veiled disgust and horror at having such an exuberantly non-traditional shinobi as sensei.
(Though she may have double-checked that it was Lee's and not her lover's idea. She knew that Gai wanted a legacy as a shinobi, but there were limits to what she would refrain from quietly talking him out of if she thought he was over-doing things.)
Beyond Hikari's exasperation, there is a little trepidation. She'll have to tell him now, and she's not sure how he is going to react. She's almost certain that everything is going to be fine, that he will understand why she held back the news when she knew he was about to go out into danger- the last thing he would have needed was a distraction- but they had not thought, after all of these years, that it would be possible.
But the strongest emotion is a sense of profound relief. If Gai is in hospital, then that means that he is back, that he survived the fight that was bad enough that he had expressly ensured that all his affairs were in order before leaving for it. She had only the vaguest of ideas what it was all about- something about tailed beasts, historical Uchiha coming back from the grave, and the possible end of the world- but she knew that this one was serious.
But if her Gai is in hospital, that means he survived.
Thank Kami and all the spirits.
Hikari tries not to think about what she would do if her Gai, her strong, dorky, deceptive, funny, gentle, violent, bright Gai were to leave her alone. She would survive, and she would take solace and support from her friends and family, but…
Surely colours would not have the same vibrancy, if Gai left the world.
She, just like everyone else had been affected by that strange genjutsu that was reflected off the moon. She, just like everyone else had watched her dreams come to life.
Her family, happy and whole and together.
Masaru without the shadows she was used to seeing in his eyes, talking to Tenten and Neji, waving his hands about for emphasis.
Natsuko and Souta, sitting together, under a tree and smiling.
Lee playing with Choko and Chori in her back garden, bouncing about with almost more energy than her nieces.
Her mother looking on, older than she remembered, but also healthier, laughing at the antics of her grandchildren and Lee.
And Gai (because of course he was there,) dancing with her, her prosthesis for once not getting in the way. The two of them, together, dancing in the sunlight, laughing, surrounded by people who understood and accepted them in all of their idiosyncrasies.
It had been a beautiful dream, but Hikari had not been sorry when she awoke from it.
Good dreams were aspirational, after all. If she had everything she wanted, without working for it, then what real satisfaction could she have ever had?
(She still misses her mother more than she misses her leg, but that wound has long since scarred over. There is no point in regretting what she had always known she would be powerless to change. She contents herself with the quality of the time she had, and these days the memories mostly make her smile. Just as her mother wanted.)
Hikari shakes her head, banishing these thoughts, and quickly gathers her bag (slipping in a novel that she knows Gai has yet to read from his favourite author) and her walking stick. (Once again silently thanking the closer alliance with Suna for her improved prosthesis- it was so nice to not need the crutch she had used before, the stick was more for when she wanted to test for traps than for balance these days, and it never got old that she chose to carry it.)
Ten minutes later, and she's in the atrium of the hospital.
Everywhere she can see, there are family members of ninja, looking tense and worried, holding hands or pacing on the dull linoleum. A small few delightedly reuniting with those who have been released with only minor injuries lifts the mood, but only adds to the noise of people talking, people crying, people wondering, people demanding answers.
Hikari steps up to the front desk, and the beleaguered receptionist, whose nametag reads 'Kenichi', is one she has met before on previous hospital visits. He looks exhausted, but is, as always, impeccably professional. She hopes for his sake that he is relieved soon, but suspects that this is going to
Hikari is pleased that he doesn't mince words, and simply directs her to the single room where she can find her lover.
When she reaches the ward, she is immediately pulled aside by an exhausted-looking Hatake Kakashi.
Stumbling a little at the sudden shift in her centre of gravity, she is dragged by her lover's Eternal Rival (most awkward friend) into the small alcove where the hospital staff keep their coffee machine.
"Kakashi," she says, steadying herself by grabbing his shoulder. She looks, and sees the grey circle under his only visible eye, and feels the way that he is shaking. It's not the first time that Hikari has seen Kakashi on the edge of chakra exhaustion, battle-fatigued and trying to process horrors that he would declare (Hikari darkly suspects quite rightly) unfit for civilian ears.
But the last time she saw him even half this disturbed was in the period around Sasuke's defection.
He looks terrible. Like he needs more than anything to lie in a bed, and sleep for the better part of a month. Preferably somewhere sunny, and peaceful, with lots of nourishing food and tea.
If it weren't for her seeing him push himself past his own limits hundreds of times over the years, (with every time flagged by Gai putting extra effort into their "rivalry" that made the Konoha gossips buzz for weeks in amusement at Kakashi's "predicament") Hikari would be more surprised that he was still standing.
At least he is dressed in a clean uniform, so that means he has at least been home and showered before dragging her into this corner, rather than getting "ninja dirt" all over her when he pulled into the tight squeeze of the alcove.
(If he looked even slightly less distressed, she might have teased him about making Gai jealous, but now was really not the time.)
"What is it, Kakashi?" she asks him, softly but bluntly. (She doesn't ask him if he is alright. The answer to that question is blatantly obvious at this moment.)
He doesn't speak for a few moments, and a swelling of dread fills her.
"Kakashi?" she prompts, terrified of the possibilities.
He inhales slowly, and she braces herself.
"I have bad news, and worse news," he says finally, "and I am telling you now, because Gai needs you more than he ever has to be strong for him." The expression in his dark eye is bleak.
Hikari nods seriously. "Just tell me." He's still alive, she reminds herself. The important thing is that Gai is still alive. The two of them would not be having this conversation otherwise. "Tell me."
So that I can support him, she doesn't say. So I can remind him that there is still good in the world, and start picking up the pieces. So that I can remind him that I still love him, no matter what, and that there is nothing that the Gai she knows could do (and though he has tried at times to shield her, she still knows what he has done, what he has had to sacrifice for his Village, for Konoha, for her) that would make her stop loving him.
She loves him, because he isn't perfect, but he tries so, so hard, and because he loves her for the same reasons. She would give up another limb before she gave up on her long-term lover.
She is almost definitely not ready to hear whatever it is Kakashi feels is so important to convey before she sees Gai, but she will listen, process, and then do whatever is in her power to do to take away her lover's pain.
(Oh kami, oh kami, oh kami, please let him be okay.)
She knows that Kakashi can read her resolve in her expression, and he nods seriously, acknowledging her. They have known each other long enough to respect the roles that each of them play in Gai's life, he as the "rival" and her as the not so much secret, as unadvertised and rarely spoken of relationship. (Some might remember the early days of their courting, and some are aware of the fact that she and Gai have been living together in her family home for years, but few miss the way that though Gai often makes himself a spectacle, he rarely talks about his Beautiful Bougainvillea to anyone who does not bring her up first, and absolutely never outside of the village. And no Konoha civilian is fool enough to give personal gossip about a Jonin's loved one to outsiders. Those who might consider it tend to be dissuaded by the cautionary tales.)
"They say he will never walk again," Kakashi says finally. "He used the Eighth Gate to fight Madara, and-"
"He used the Eighth Gate and he's still alive!" Hikari gasps.
Kakashi nods. "Yes. Naruto did…" he grimaces and waves a hand awkwardly, "something. I don't know how, but he pulled some insane jutsu out of his ass and Gai is still alive, even though his career as an active shinobi is-"
Hikari feels her eyes sting with tears as she cuts Kakashi off with a wobbly smile.
"He might be initially conflicted about whether he owes Naruto his thanks, but I'll do what I can. He was saying, before," she shudders a little and exhales, forcing the tears back. "He was saying before that he was thinking about cutting back, and teaching at the Academy, ever since Lee has started to surpass him in Taijutsu, and he's started to feel himself slowing down."
Kakashi blanches, and he mutters something disbelieving to himself. Hikari catches the words "slowing down" and "I knew he was holding back" before he comes back to himself.
Hikari waits until she has his attention back, before she continues. "Tell Naruto for me that I cannot express how grateful I am that he saved my Gai, and that he still owes me a catch up over tea, now that he's back from saving the world."
Kakashi snorts. "You have no idea how right you are about that, honestly, but I'll pass the message on." He sobers. "There's something else you need to know before you go in there."
Hikari bites her lip, then nods.
Kakashi grips her shoulder, as though to brace her.
"Neji was killed in action."
The tears that Hikari has been holding back begin to flow. "Oh Kami," she whispers, "and just as he was starting to really make something of himself… Gai and the kids must be..." She swallows hard, and looks Kakashi in the eye, unashamed of how her eyes and nose are running. He wordlessly passes her a tissue taken from a box conveniently stashed on a shelf behind him.
"He died well," Kakashi stated firmly, and as much as some might have thought that to be a platitude, Hikari knew that Kakashi, blunt, rude Kakashi, would not bother with such things to someone he trusted. (As one of maybe four living people who had ever seen Kakashi without his mask, Hikari knew and was humbled by the fact that this man trusted her, mostly on the strength of her relationship with Gai.) She knew that when Kakashi said that the stubborn Hyuuga had died well, he absolutely meant it. "He took a hit to protect Hinata and Naruto." He pauses briefly. "Before Naruto saved Gai's life."
There was never a question that Hikari would have mourned Neji.
That poor, lonely, brave boy.
She had watched him grow from an angsty brat, into a reserved, genuine, strong young man.
She had not always enjoyed his company, but in the last few years especially, she had spoken to him and realised that he was starting to become a student that Gai could truly be proud of.
It hurt that she would never see him again, and she knew that Gai, Lee and Tenten would be inconsolable.
But Kakashi's information would make her forever grateful for his sacrifice.
Just as she was grateful that Kakashi, despite being clearly a hairsbreadth from collapsing from exhaustion, had made this point of pulling her aside and ensuring that she had the important and necessary intel to help her in supporting her Gai.
"Thank you," she told him, and abruptly pulled him into a hug.
He tensed momentarily, but then relaxed almost bonelessly into her arms, tentatively holding her in return.
"You should go," he said quietly after a moment. "Gai needs you."
She released him, wiped her tears, and blew her nose.
"Take care, Kakashi. And we had better see you at the dinner next Wednesday, unless there's a mission."
Kakashi gave her a half-sincere eye-smile, bowed silently, and shunshined away.
Hikari was unbothered by his lack of response. He would come if he could, and that was all that she would or could ask of a stray like him.
She stepped out of the alcove, to see a young med-nin not even bothering to hide her gape.
Hikari rolled her reddened eyes. Even at a time like this, the gossip mongers never rested.
"He's a friend," she stressed, answering the obvious question in the med-nin's eyes. "Who was helping out his friend by telling me some of what my lover has been through, so I can avoid upsetting him if at all possible. And considering what he told me about his condition, it's important that I know."
"But, but, but," the med-nin stammered, "you just hugged Sharingan-no-Kakashi!"
Hikari snorted and didn't dignify that with a response, stumping her way down the corridor. She had more important things to worry about than how her actions might be interpreted by little girls, even ones with hitaiate.
She stopped outside the room she had been told of, and took a deep, calming breath before opening the door.
As much as Kakashi had tried to prepare her, Hikari still burst into fresh tears when she saw Gai lying prone in the hospital bed, one leg elevated in a cast, looking older and paler than she had ever seen him. There was another bed in the room, but the curtain around it was closed.
"Hikari," Gai said quietly, reaching out a hand for her.
She took the hand between both of her own, dropping her cane in the process. She ignored the clatter it made as it hit the floor, and carefully seated herself on the edge of Gai's bed.
"Hikari, I…" he hesitated, and it was so out of character for him. Even if she had not had Kakashi's attempt to prepare her, she would have instantly realised just how badly her lover was hurting. Hurting in a way that no painkillers could help.
She grasped his hand tightly.
"Kakashi already told me some of what happened," she told him. "I know about, about-" she shook her head as her throat closed, robbing her temporarily of speech.
She sniffled, and Gai waited patiently for her to finish.
"Neji's sacrifice," she whispered finally. It was the easier of the two topics to breach, as much as it was, in the short term, the more painful.
Gai nods, eyes glazed from a mixture of grief and heavy-duty painkillers.
"He was a good student. I am very proud of him," he said, the tears flowing freely, unashamedly down his cheeks.
"I'll miss the little shit," Hikari states bluntly, startling half a laugh from Gai before he groans in pain from strained ribs.
She watches this, but delays asking the obvious question. "Tenten and Lee?"
Gai flicks his eyes towards the bed behind the curtain. "Alive," he responds softly. "They will be able to return to the active roster very soon. The nurse pulled the curtain around them when they started sleeping. Tenten is almost unscathed, physically." Hikari does not need him to tell her that there is little doubt that the girl will almost certainly have screaming nightmares. She has comforted Gai after enough of them, after all. "Lee needs rehabilitation again," Gai continues, "but not as much as after his first chunin exams."
Hikari bites her lip. "Well that's a relief," she states.
Gai must see something in her expression, because he closes his eyes.
"Kakashi already told you then," he says dully. "He told you that…" he trails off, and doesn't continue, but even if Kakashi had not told her about how badly he was hurt, Hikari has known him and loved him long enough now to be well aware of how he thought.
Hikari grips his hand harder.
"I'm just happy you came home," she retorts, and kisses his callused knuckles. "You can blame it on me being a civilian if you like, but I'm not sorry you didn't die like your father. You hear me? I'm not sorry that you didn't die in battle. I know you wanted a warrior's death, and I've always done my best to accept that, but Gai," her voice breaks, "I can't be sorry that the Shinigami spit you back out, no matter how badly it chewed you up." She ignores the fresh tears. "I never want to lose you. We've lost Neji, and that's bad enough but…" she breaks off, sobbing.
Gai raises the corners of his mouth in a melancholy rictus, a parody of his usual cheesy grin.
"I'm sorry I've made you cry," he whispers, extricating his hand from hers so that he can wipe away her tears. "I knew you would mourn me, but…" he stops himself from explaining further. He doesn't have to. She knows.
Hikari bites her tongue to avoid calling him selfish. To say the words out loud would be cruel, and unnecessary. She knows that for him, to be so incapacitated, to live in pain, unable to be on active duty as Konoha's foremost taijutsu specialist, this is hell.
To live to see one student surpass him, and one die for his comrades, this is hell.
To be trapped in the broken ageing shell of his body, with no further opportunity to go out in his desired blaze of glory, this is hell.
But she refuses to be sorry that he's alive and with her.
Things are going to be hard. Desperately hard. She knows that Gai is looking down a long and horrible road.
But she is going to be there every step of the journey, and she knows that she can count on a number of things to help them.
His remaining students. His remaining friends. His remaining comrades.
But apart from simply being there for him, there are two things that she knows for sure that she herself can give him.
She just hopes that it will be enough.
(It has to be. It just has to be.)
"Gai, there's something I need to tell you," she says to him, holding his gaze.
Gai, eyes reddened by grief, pain and exhaustion whispers hoarsely, "What is it?"
Hikari smiles, and manages to keep most of the waver out of it.
"I have a challenge for you. It will be the greatest of all of your challenges."
Gai closes his eyes. "Kakashi already challenged me to live well," he says flatly. Hikari barely restrains herself from cringing at the light sarcasm. She will not let his pain drive her away. Not now, not when it's still so fresh. Not when there's a chance of recovery.
Hikari takes his hand again, and places it over her belly.
Gai opens his eyes, and initially blinks confusedly.
But then realisation dawns, and his eyes widen.
Hikari lets herself feel a glimmer of hope, and smiles, shoving her worries aside.
"I'm pregnant, Gai. We're going to have a baby."
Gai stares unblinkingly at her.
He stares long enough that she starts to feel doubts creep in.
She forces herself to continue.
"So my challenge to you, is to be the most beloved father in the Elemental Nations," Hikari says. "Because I want to raise our child together."
Gai opens his mouth, and then closes it.
And then suddenly, like the sun coming from behind clouds, he smiles.
It is a far smaller, and shakier smile than she could ever have hoped for, but it is nonetheless entirely genuine. Gai's eyes shine, and this time, it's not only with manly tears.
The relief nearly takes Hikari's breath away.
"If I cannot fulfil that Challenge," Gai says, cupping her face with one shaking hand, "then I will Die Trying," he vows.
Hikari leans down, and, carefully avoiding putting pressure on his injuries, kisses Gai passionately, trying to express to him with her lips just how much she loves him in this moment. It's not exactly the sentiment she hoped for, but she will take what she can get.
"YOSH! I PROMISE I WILL BABYSIT!" comes a sudden loud voice from behind the curtain.
Hikari and Gai break apart, startled.
"Shhhh! Lee!" hisses a second feminine one. "Don't ruin their moment!"
Hikari can't help herself. She starts laughing.
To her delight, Gai laughs too, even as he groans a little from aggravating his injuries.
Things are not okay, yet, Hikari knows.
It is going to be a long, difficult recovery process, with setbacks, and challenges, and she knows that there will be times when she feels like she wants to give up.
She might have managed to bring back Gai's smile today, but there are going to be many days ahead when there will be nothing she can do to help. She's said her piece, and now the hardest part of Gai's recovery is up to Gai. She can only be there for him. She can only love him, and support him.
For now, she hopes that that might be enough.
Six months later, Hikari gives birth to a baby girl, and has to dissuade Gai from naming her "Bougainvillea".
"No, Gai," she chortles, exhausted from labour, watching with delight as her lover cradles their daughter against his shoulder.
(The one upside of him being in a wheelchair, he concedes later, is that he has little fear that he will drop his baby girl, seated as he is.)
"Oh? And What Better Name do you have for Our Little Bougainvillea, My Beautiful Bougainvillea?" Gai asks her, playing up his characteristic melodrama for the benefit of the watching bemused medical staff.
Hikari grins as one nurse visibly cringes. "I was thinking 'Aimi'."
The name means 'beautiful'. She already knows that many will shorten their daughter's name, but Hikari doesn't mind. She knows that Gai has not missed how their daughter will have the option of one day calling herself "Maito Ai".
Gai's eyes, already gooey at the sight of his newborn daughter, soften even further.
"I love it," he says quietly, gently kissing the baby's head before reaching up to hold Hikari's hand.
And it's at that moment that Hikari sees something that she barely dared to hope for.
She sees the moment that he lets go the last of his serious regret for not dying beside Neji.
She sees the moment that he fully realises that the vow she extracted from him six months ago is more than abstract.
Hikari sees the moment that he looks from Aimi to her, and realises that he's going to have to reword his vow.
His Challenge is to be the Best Father and Husband Ever.
And he's going to Dedicate His Life to Trying.
Bringing up Aimi, and living their lives will be a lengthy and at times arduous challenge, and the two of them are going to have to work hard to reach their goals.
Both for themselves, and for their daughter.
But the thing that Hikari loves about Gai, is the same thing he loves about Hikari.
They both know they wouldn't have it any other way.