Twenty minutes after the race across the desert started, Kakashi murmured his friend's name, trying to get Gai's attention.
The first time, Gai didn't hear him.
"Gai," Kakashi murmured again, his voice barely rising above the wind and Gai's pounding footfalls.
"Hai?" Gai kept his gaze trained on the horizon line.
"I'm getting motion sick." Kakashi plucked at Gai's vest weakly. "This is worse than the ocean. Let me down."
Gai skidded to a stop, spraying clouds of sand into the air. He set Kakashi down as gently as he could.
Kakashi fell to his knees, pulled down his mask with clammy fingers, and vomited onto the sand.
Gai knelt beside Kakashi, wide-eyed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think –"
Kakashi wiped his mouth and pulled his mask up. He squinted at Gai, his expression changing. "Do you want to lose?"
"Huh?" Gai was confused by the rapid change in conversation.
Kakashi stumbled to his feet.
Gai rose as well, catching Kakashi and steadying him.
"Because I don't," Kakashi muttered. He was shaking with exhaustion, and he was pale, but he looked determined. "And now I'm part of this challenge too. I'm not going to lose to your student. Stop procrastinating and pick me up."
Gai didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Kashi…"
"Pick me up," Kakashi said. He smirked. "Make it back first to Konoha's borders, or else…I'll make you do 500 more laps for my sake while I'm in the hospital."
Gai sweated just at the thought. "Ah, hai!" He hoisted Kakashi onto his back.
Kakashi clung on weakly. "Let's go. I think that dust cloud in the distance is Lee."
"Let's go!" Gai took off, running as fast as he could.
Kakashi bounced against his back helplessly, but Gai was at least reassured that Kakashi was an active participant in this race. And 500 yards later, he had proof of that fact when Kakashi muttered in his usual lazy, needling tone, "Is that all you've got? I thought you were faster than this."
Gai laughed and redoubled his efforts. "Don't encourage me, Rival! You might have to puke again."
"I'll puke as many times as I have to," Kakashi said. "Besides, eventually nothing will come up. And that will be better for me overall. I hate to travel with an upset stomach."
Shortly thereafter, it felt as though Kakashi passed out. Gai wondered what a med nin would have to say about their collective ignorance. It was nothing good. He prepared himself now for chastisement to come.
To his credit, he stopped at regular intervals to make sure they were drinking and eating.
Kakashi did vomit up everything he was given, sooner or later. But this seemed to Kakashi to be acceptable, so Gai wasn't going to argue.
By the time they reached Konoha, Kakashi was in thoroughly rotten condition, semi-conscious and moaning.
Kakashi's students, predictably, thought Gai had been deliberately trying to murder his best friend. Gai, more bothered by that than he liked to admit, delivered Kakashi to the hospital at a slower pace.
And there he got chastised, and then shooed out of Kakashi's vicinity for the next three hours, until they stabilized him.
The first thing he said when he was allowed back in Kakashi's hospital room was, "We won."
Kakashi smiled tiredly up at him and uttered a half-hearted sounding, "We did it." But he used some of his last strength to flash Gai a thumbs up before falling limp and closing his eyes.
The med nin shooing Gai out of the room couldn't dampen Gai's grin.