Author's Note: Part 2, Gai's POV.

More Than Losing

Kakashi had always been Gai's dearest friend. Or, that was what Gai liked to think, anyway. He knew he had never been the most popular child – being loud and outspoken about his ninja way seemed somehow to have alienated him from his classmates and genin peers – but he had, at least, caught Kakashi's attention.

Not that Kakashi had been willing to acknowledge that fact.

At first, Kakashi tried very hard to make him go away.

Unfortunately for Kakashi, Gai had had lots of experience with people who wanted him to go away. And that experience continued beyond meeting Kakashi, including the man assigned to be his genin sensei. The old man had repeatedly asked him to go away, in spite of Gai's lengthy explanations that he was part of the team that included Genma and Ebisu, because they were a four person team, with three genin, not two. And eventually the old man had allowed him to stay during training sessions and go on missions with them, in spite of the fact that he never seemed to quite believe Gai belonged.

Gai was excited when his team collided with Team Minato during the Chunin Exam, because that meant that he could show Kakashi how much he'd grown. And he had, he'd taken down Obito easily and proved that surely if Kakashi paid attention to Obito, then he could spare time to pay attention to him, too…

But it had still taken Obito's death to somehow force the issue.

He'd gone to the hospital because he'd heard that Kakashi was injured and he'd wanted to cheer Kakashi up. He'd just heard over the radio that the war was over, and Sandaime was preparing a keynote speech on the subject to be delivered tomorrow at noon.

Surely, he'd thought, that will cheer Kakashi up, and as soon as Kakashi is well, I can challenge him to a fight and he won't say, he won't say, for once, that he is too busy because of the war to take me seriously.

Seeing Kakashi with one eye bandaged, strapped to the bed like a mental patient, had been an unpleasant surprise. Gai had entered the room and found Kakashi alone, but it wasn't two minutes before Minato-sensei came in, rested a hand on his shoulder, and explained about Kakashi's condition.

Minato's explanation hadn't included why Kakashi was strapped to the bed.

Gai had pushed, and prodded, and done all of the things he normally did to people who didn't answer his questions, and it worked. Minato was tired, so it worked even faster than Gai's interrogations usually worked.

Minato's voice would ring through Gai's memory forever. He tried to gouge his eye out.

And it had to be explained to Gai that Minato meant the new eye, the transplanted eye. The one that had been from Obito.

Kakashi-kun suffered a mental collapse as soon as we got home, Minato had sighed. Gai had noticed Minato hadn't looked much better. He was sickly, pale, and had obviously been crying.

Gai had stayed with Kakashi, and come back to stay at Kakashi's side for three months, the time it took for Kakashi to be well enough to go home. Even then, Gai had taken to dogging Kakashi's steps, trailing his friend everywhere. And Kakashi had stopped complaining.

They'd been in the midst of deciding on a challenge when the Kyuubi ripped free from Kushina and went on a rampage. They'd been side-by-side when Kakashi was forced to stand back and watch Minato fight the Kyuubi alone. Had been the only thing keeping Kakashi from collapsing when they all felt Minato die.

Gai had been a physical and emotional, bright green, fast-talking crutch for Kakashi, ever since Minato's death. If Gai missed a day, Kakashi would inevitably slump over on his sofa and stare at the TV, not even watching anything, just looking at the black screen. Gai had found him that way often enough, whenever someone else – usually a well-meaning Genma – told Gai to give Kakashi room to breathe.

Kakashi didn't need room to breathe. He needed someone to keep him from drowning.

After a while – by the time they were twenty-five – Kakashi had gotten a little more stable. Stable enough that Gai didn't sometimes find Kakashi sleeping in the bathtub, stripped down to his boxers with an empty bottle of sake tipped over on the floor.

And Gai thought that was good. It was good that his friend wasn't sneaking out of his grasp and getting drunk, or spending all of his time staring at a TV that wasn't even on when Gai didn't rouse him and make him train.

Now they were twenty-eight, and Kakashi had just lost his first student, and been forced to give the other two away because he couldn't cope with Sasuke defecting…and Gai was terrified that Kakashi's old habits would slip back in.

He wanted Kakashi to move in with him, but Kakashi had told him, "Don't be ridiculous," in that apathetic drawl, and gone back to reading Icha Icha.

Gai wanted to take that as a sign of strength Kakashi hadn't had when Obito died and Minato died. But he was also afraid overestimating his friend would be a terrible mistake. No one had to remind him that Kakashi's father had committed suicide. No one had to spell out for him that a history of suicide coupled with Kakashi's past attempts at self-harm made his friend an extremely delicate person.

So he watched, trailing Kakashi all over the village like he used to.

Kakashi was visiting the memorial stone more again. He'd seen Kakashi do that every time the level of stress in their lives increased. It was a coping mechanism of some kind. Tracing the names inscribed onto the memorial seemed to bring Kakashi a level of peace. It was better than sake. Gai definitely did not want to see Kakashi passed out drunk in the bathtub.

It struck Gai as he watched Kakashi mumble at the memorial stone from his hiding place, not for the first time, that if he were subject to different circumstances, he could have told Kakashi his feelings. If he were a more naïve man, he would come out into the open right now. He'd stroll across to the memorial stone, wrap his arms around Kakashi's waist, and say, I love you. I always have, Kakashi, and now I'm going to take you home. And we're going to live happily ever after, because that's what rivals do.

But the only people Kakashi loved were here: dead people. People named Minato, Obito, and Rin.

Gai couldn't compete. He'd compete with Kakashi for imaginary points, compete for anything and everything, but he couldn't compete for Kakashi's love. He'd always been a sore loser, but being rejected in favor of dead people would be more than losing.

He didn't want to think about what that might be. Kakashi needed him, and he couldn't afford to be weak, too.