Author's Note: This is the Christmas-themed sequel to the fall story, Turning Over A New Leaf. It takes place in the same year, before the Third Shinobi World War has ended.
A Very Gai Christmas
Kakashi was walking home from a mission that had taken all but the barest breaths of chakra in his body. Typically, three streets away from his apartment building, he was ambushed.
Gai leapt out from behind a park bench. "Rival!"
"Hi," Kakashi said. He didn't stop walking.
"Where are you going?" Gai asked.
"Home. If you want to talk to me, you have to come along."
Gai quickly caught up with him and matched his pace, walking alongside. "That is no issue. I shall happily accompany you home."
Kakashi hoped that Gai didn't mean to follow him all the way into his residence. He desperately wanted to curl up in bed with Pakkun as a personal heater and go to sleep. "Maa, what's up?"
"Do you smell snowflakes in the air?" Gai asked.
"No," Kakashi said. He wished he had something to hide behind. Like a book or something. Then he could simply pretend he was too busy reading to talk.
"Look up!" Gai pointed at the sky. "Those clouds are pregnant with wintry delight!"
"If you say so," Kakashi said, not bothering to look up.
"Doesn't the holiday season inspire you?" Gai asked.
"No, why?" Kakashi asked. Focus on the street. Don't make eye contact. He put one foot in front of the other, staring straight ahead.
"Because it is December!"
"So?" Kakashi couldn't recall a single important event that happened during the month of December.
"So…this is the season for Christmas," Gai said, emphasizing the word with a small amount of frustration. "Have you not heard of this glorious gift-giving holiday?"
"I've heard of it," Kakashi said.
Out of the corner of his eye Kakashi saw Gai looking at him expectantly. He didn't know what Gai wanted from him. "It's not a very popular holiday in this part of the world, is it?"
"That's not the point," Gai said, his expression contracting in agony. "Popularity has nothing to do with it! How can people so hastily judge and dismiss a good idea?"
"I don't celebrate Christmas," Kakashi said. He figured that was why most people dismissed the idea of Christmas. It wasn't traditional.
"Why not?" Gai asked. "It seems like fun…"
Kakashi held in a sigh. "Because it's a foreign holiday, that's why. My family never celebrated Christmas. We celebrate New Year's like normal." Not that there was anyone left to celebrate with. Still, the fact was that the Hatake clan had celebrated New Year's, and never Christmas.
"But that's…" Gai counted on his fingers. "A whole week away from Christmas, and Christmas is three weeks away as it is! That's forever to wait for good things to come. And anyway, it's different. In Christmas –"
"I know what Christmas is, Gai." Kakashi sighed. "I don't need a lesson. I just don't think it's important."
Gai's eyes widened. "Not important?"
"I know, it's a shock to you," Kakashi said dryly. "But I'm really not interested."
"Why?" Gai asked. "Why doesn't getting presents and picking out presents for other people appeal to you?"
Kakashi scratched his temple and looked away. "I have a feeling we've had this discussion before." He was only one block away from his apartment complex. He could see the building looming temptingly.
"Well, we haven't," Gai said. Kakashi glanced at him. Gai was pouting obstinately.
"I mean that it's the same discussion we had when you asked me why I wouldn't go to the Turning Leaves Festival," Kakashi said. He plowed through with this discussion, no matter how hard it was to talk to Gai. It was either this or find himself involved in Gai's Christmas, since without a compelling argument Gai would simply assume his implicit agreement.
He also started walking faster, although his legs were weak and he felt exhausted. "Christmas is a family holiday. But it's unlike the festival, in which one can also go with friends. Christmas is only for families. So I'm not doing it because I can't. Not only does my family not celebrate Christmas, I am also the only living member of it. Unless you want to change your definition of Christmas, I'm not going to be participating. I don't know why you go through all this trouble about holidays anyway. Isn't life exciting enough for you without making up reasons to be excited?"
Kakashi turned around and stopped in his tracks. He hadn't been expecting that sound.
Gai stood with one hand on his hip and his other hand clenched in a determined thumbs up. He grinned at Kakashi's wariness. "You're missing the point. It's not about what the holiday means to people, it's about what the holiday means to me – and you. Individual people define their holidays. I'm not going to follow the traditional rules. Are you?"
"Gai…" Kakashi didn't know how to approach this argument.
Gai suddenly pointed at him. "It's a challenge!"
Kakashi wanted to hide behind something. "A challenge?"
Gai puffed out his chest. "I challenge you to come up with something I would like and present it to me as a super-special-secret package on the twenty-fifth of December – as I will be doing for you, Rival!" He laughed. "It will be a test of who knows which of us better!"
"I know you fine," Kakashi muttered. "I don't need a contest to prove it."
Gai's expression glowed triumphantly. "Then what would you get me as a gift that completely and uniquely encapsulates my most important essence?"
Kakashi knew Gai had won because he'd been dragged into this aspect of the conversation. "Maa…" He really didn't want to do this. Maybe if he blew off this question he'd be let off the hook. "You'd probably want more hideous orange leg warmers."
Gai laughed scornfully. "Guess again, my Eternal Rival!" He marched in place and gestured. "And these are leg weights, not leg warmers. You have failed to discern their purpose."
"I, ah…" Kakashi briefly thought of explaining that he was joking and then dismissed the idea. That would only get him good will in return. And he didn't want good will. He wanted to be left alone.
He turned around and started walking. "There is nothing good about winter time. It's cold, and I hate the snow. I wish it was summer all year round."
Gai was in front of him in a flash, blocking his way. "But then there wouldn't be hot chocolate and warm blankets and snow men –"
Kakashi grudgingly halted. "And I'd still like it better, because it would be summer." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and smiled, another plan forming in his head. "Maa, Gai, you don't really want to go to the trouble of picking something out for me for Christmas, do you?"
Gai drew himself up to his full height, looking offended. "Of course I do!"
"Nah, this is just another challenge to you," Kakashi said. "How about we do a challenge about something else?"
That caught Gai off guard. "Like what?"
"Like who can do the most laps in the snow without shivering," Kakashi said. "Without any winter clothing on. Then at least it will be finished. You'd be working on this gift challenge all month. We could do a challenge a week – at least – if you give up the gift idea. What do you say?"
A smile spread across Gai's face, and he crossed his arms. "I say no thank you."
Kakashi's face fell. "Why?"
Gai laughed. "Your insecurity surely shows that if I stick to this Christmas challenge, I might win. So I insist. Either accept the challenge or forfeit. But know this!" He gestured dramatically. "If you forfeit this challenge and admit my superiority, I shall tell the whole village that I know you better than you know me, and that will surely be true if you do not know what to get me for Christmas." He grinned. "So, what is it?"
"I know you like the back of my hand," Kakashi muttered. "This little 'thought' exercise of yours takes no thought at all."
"Then you won't be afraid to do it," Gai said.
Kakashi narrowed his eyes. "Fine."
He couldn't ask Gai's family what to get Gai. Gai had already admitted that his family was dead. But he could ask Gai's teammates for input, if he could just get Ebisu and Genma to talk to him. For some reason, Gai's teammates hated him. He'd never been able to figure that out. Indifference Kakashi could relate to. He felt indifferent about most members of the human race. But the dislike aimed his way by Ebisu and Genma was something else. In the end, he tried not to think too hard about it. He'd start making up reasons for them to hate him, and that wouldn't lead his thought space anywhere good.
"We meet here, on the twenty-fifth!" Gai pointed to the lamppost beside them. "Underneath this light fixture!"
"Why here?" Kakashi protested. "It's going to be cold."
"Because," Gai said. "This is where the challenge was issued, so this is where we must rejoin for the results."
That made about as much sense as anything else Gai had ever said. Kakashi hung his head. "Fine. But I'm going inside now." He pointed at his building.
Gai planted his hands on his hips. "Farewell, dear Rival! Three weeks hence, we shall meet again. Remember the date!"
"I'll remember," Kakashi muttered.
Gai disappeared in a flash.
Soon, the idea of Christmas impending nagged at him. After a couple days of seriously considering the idea of tracking down Gai and saying the challenge was off, his attention turned instead to putting forth the effort of gathering information.
Kakashi really didn't want to talk to Gai's teammates. However, Gai's sensei was an old man and a recluse, and wouldn't talk to anyone besides the students under his tutelage. He was infamously cranky.
It was simple enough to latch onto Genma's chakra signature and follow the signal. This led Kakashi to a familiar place: Ichiraku Ramen. Genma sat on one of the stools, a steaming bowl of ramen in front of him. He was just snapping apart his chopsticks.
Perfect, Kakashi thought. He sat down on the stool to Genma's right and ordered a bowl of ramen for himself. "Yo."
"Yo," Genma said disinterestedly. He started eating his ramen.
Kakashi watched him for a moment. How do I bring up the topic?
"Here's your ramen, Kakashi-san," Teuchi said cheerfully, serving Kakashi up the shrimp ramen he'd ordered.
"Thank you," Kakashi said automatically. He could see Ayame peeking at him, trying to be discreet. He quickly cast his genjutsu and pulled down his mask with a flick of his hand so fast no civilian would see it. The illusion of his mask in place, Kakashi contentedly dug into his ramen.
It amused him to see Ayame's expression contract in disbelief. Kakashi had never had the privilege of seeing what it looked like when he ate or drank through the illusion of his mask, but he imagined it must be quite a sight. Impossible, even.
Kakashi turned his attention back to Genma, all the while seeming to study his bowl of ramen. "So, what's up?"
"Nothing much," Genma said. He glanced at Kakashi. "Why?"
"Why?" Kakashi echoed.
"It's kind of suspicious that you're talking to me," Genma said.
"Not really," Kakashi said. "Is it suspicious that you happened to be eating ramen at the same time that I wanted some?"
"I guess not." Genma frowned and ate some more of his noodles.
"Do you celebrate Christmas?" Kakashi drawled. "I've been thinking about it this year, but I don't have any experience."
"Yeah…well…" Genma eyed him suspiciously. "Neither do I. What's your point, Hatake? It's not like we're friends or anything."
Kakashi shrugged. "Maa, well, I've noticed that our teams compete often. That's like having a friendship, isn't it?"
"Not really," Genma muttered.
Kakashi beamed, pretending not to hear. "Excellent. So what would you get Gai for Christmas, for instance?"
Genma laughed scornfully. "You mean you're actually going to get that loser something? He's been talking about Christmas all week, but I didn't think anyone would actually pay attention to him." He abandoned his ramen for the moment, turning to Kakashi and resting his elbow on the table.
"It's a thought exercise," Kakashi said, gritting his teeth. "He challenged me to come up with gifts for people that would show how well I know them. Gai-san is on the list. So I thought you would know: what kind of gift would epitomize Gai-san?"
"Just say you couldn't think of anything," Genma scoffed. "What's the big deal? His challenges are stupid, anyway." He went back to his ramen.
Kakashi was offended. Not only because Gai's own teammate would call Gai a loser, but also because Genma insulted Gai's challenges, and therefore Kakashi's willingness to engage in them at all. He ate his ramen to cover up his simmering emotions, making sure to suppress his chakra. "How would you know? Have you ever done any of them?"
"No, but he talks about them enough," Genma said. "I'm glad he doesn't bother me with them. I don't know how you stand it. He's such a little kid. I mean, we're Chunin now."
"Maa…I guess so." Kakashi was sick to his stomach, suddenly. He'd never imagined that Genma might despise Gai's antics. Genma seemed fairly laid back and immature himself.
"He doesn't need to be going around issuing people challenges." Genma dug in the bowl for the last of his noodles. "I mean, we're busy enough already with all the missions we take. Why doesn't he just relax when we're at home like a normal person? He's always going on about training and fighting and getting stronger and man, I can't take it anymore."
Kakashi blinked. "Well…" Now he felt a little ashamed of his own impatience with Gai.
Genma picked up his bowl and drank his broth. "Well, ja ne." He hopped up, paying for his bowl of ramen. "I guess it wasn't so bad, running into you."
Kakashi had to disagree. He felt horrible. He wasn't any closer to finding a gift for Gai, and he'd unintentionally encouraged the belief that he didn't like Gai.
Kakashi found Ebisu in the library.
Ebisu was organizing scrolls, making a note of them on a little pad of paper. This section of the library was disused and dusty. Kakashi wondered what Ebisu was doing here. He thought it was probably related to Ebisu's personal research, or his part-time job as one of the ninjas who worked in the jutsu library.
"Yes?" Ebisu asked without pausing in his work.
"I need help with a problem," Kakashi said. "Genma-kun couldn't help me, so I thought I'd ask you, Ebisu-san."
"Well, I'll do anything I can to help," Ebisu said graciously. He set aside the scroll he'd been examining and tucked the notepad and pencil inside his vest.
"Thank you." Kakashi smiled cheerfully. "So, how well do you know Gai?"
"Rather well, I should think," Ebisu said. "After all, we've been on the same team since we were genin. We graduated from the academy together."
"Good," Kakashi said. "Then you should be able to help me."
"What is this problem?" Ebisu asked, frowning. "Is this about Gai-san?"
"Ah…well, sort of," Kakashi said.
"I knew sooner or later you'd ask how to get rid of him," Ebisu said. He sighed. "Alas, that's the one problem I can't help you with. I've been trying to figure that out myself. He seems determined to bother those better than him, doesn't he? It seems he's a burden we geniuses have to learn to bear."
Kakashi had so many reactions to that he didn't know where to start. He swallowed them all out of pure rage and a driving need to have to his questions answered.
"How about an easier question?" Kakashi asked. He beamed. "What would you get Gai-san for Christmas?"
Ebisu nearly fell over with surprise. "W-What would I…?" He trailed off, staring at Kakashi with a slack expression.
"It's a thought exercise," Kakashi said helpfully.
"Oh. I see." The smirk reappeared on Ebisu's face as he regained his calm.
"Yeah…so, do you have any suggestions?" Kakashi asked. It took all of his skill as a ninja not to reveal his massive dislike and his desire for Ebisu's untimely end.
Ebisu adjusted his sunglasses, pushing them farther up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. "I suggest getting Gai-san some ninja lessons," he said flatly. "He is far behind with all of our team's exercises. He refuses to study the way our master wants him to, and instead spends all of his time strengthening his taijutsu and making foolish claims about a ninja being able to succeed on the strength of hard work alone. Hard work at what, I ask you? Looking the fool? He certainly does that rather well."
Kakashi knew instantly when he'd hit his limit to how much anger he could swallow. Looking the fool? You're a greater fool than anyone I've ever met. And if Gai could actually rely on either of you, he wouldn't constantly be chasing me down trying to get my attention! It's obvious why he doesn't spend time with his own team.
"You're just a know-it-all, aren't you?" Kakashi muttered.
"What did you say?" Ebisu demanded.
Kakashi smirked. "You know that if you attack me, I'll win, so you won't, will you, Ebisu-chan? Because you know everything. You know that with my lightning attack I can beat your earth attack, because you're a little bookworm. You also know that my strength and speed are greater than yours, because you're a bingo book browser, and you know that I have more chakra than you do."
"Then what do you need me for?" Ebisu hissed, furious and containing it so completely he was masking his chakra. "Find a gift for Gai by yourself. You seem quite the know-it-all yourself, Kakashi." He spat the name like a curse.
I hope I never need any favors from you, Kakashi found himself thinking. I'd rather choke to death than accept your help. He turned away and started walking. Ebisu didn't stop him.