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Six Vignettes

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1.

What surprises Gai most is how Kakashi loses the rest of Team 7; before any can really make sense of Sasuke's defection, both Sakura and Naruto have also been whisked away from Kakashi's care.

On the surface, the apprenticeships are expedient; Konohagakure requires more medic-nin, and Jiraiya may be the only shinobi capable of managing the kyuubi. And Kakashi himself is needed for missions unsuitable for his students. But underneath the underneath, the new arrangements are also a judgment. The elite genius Kakashi has been found wanting, and every jounin who has ever led a genin team knows it.


2.

Reconstruction is slow and noisy; many weeks pass before life settles into a semblance of old patterns. Still, Konohagakure feels oddly quiet to Gai when Jiraiya-sama and Naruto are gone; he never realized how much noise one boy created or how much he and the other adults kept one eye and one ear on the Fourth's legacy. Gai does his best to make up the difference—Lee contributes some decibels as well—but circumstances conspire against him. Tsunade assigns Kakashi a series of solo S-rank missions, and his eternal rival is almost never available for their once weekly spar. Their record remains tied at 52.


3.

Memories are an occupational hazard for the shinobi, especially for a generation that came of age during the third great war. Gai visits his dead at the cenotaph once a week. He pours sake for his sensei and leaves flowers for the others; he counts himself lucky that none of his students' names have been scratched onto the stone. Not yet.

And when Kakashi is away for an extended period, Gai leaves extra flowers for Rin and Obito. Most of the jounin know the names of Kakashi's ghosts, but Gai is one of the few who truly remembers them; they were his classmates at the academy when Kakashi was already a chuunin apprenticed to the future Fourth, and Gai knew Rin even before her cheeks were tattooed.

Gai wonders sometimes how Obito and Rin managed to recover Kakashi's buried humanity; he also wonders whether Konohagakure should curse or praise them for doing so.


4.

All shinobi are weapons, but Gai thinks Kakashi is more so than most. He is reminded of this when Asuma brings a half-conscious Kakashi home after a mission. Blood has dried in dark brown rings under Kakashi's fingernails and stiffened the cuff of his long shirt.

Gai doesn't ask how many chests Kakashi punched holes in that afternoon.

Kakashi's condition doesn't require medical attention, just rest, so Asuma and Gai bring Kakashi back to his apartment and dump him in his bed. Both jounin avoid looking at the framed photos on the windowsill.

"Six," says Asuma, as they lock the door behind them. "And he was going after the seventh when his chakra gave out."


5.

The new Hokage is not young, despite her appearance; before long, she will have to think of grooming a successor. The Third erred in waiting the second time around; the elders won't allow Tsunade to make the same mistake.

Kakashi's name invariably gets put forward when the jounin allow themselves to speculate about a future they probably won't live to see. Gai doesn't join these debates, but he thinks they are misguided. Oh, it's not Sasuke that will eliminate Kakashi from the running; even the Third lost a student. But Obito, Rin, and the Fourth are another matter. A Hokage's most precious people cannot be the dead.


6.

Lee bursts into Gai's apartment, all arms and legs and youthful clumsiness despite his new chuunin vest. "Gai-sensei! I saw Kakashi-sensei leaving the administrative building two minutes ago!"

At Gai's feet, the head of his turtle summon retreats a little into his shell.

Gai strikes a nice guy pose. It's only slightly out of habit; he is genuinely eager to resume his weekly spar. "Good job, Lee! Now onward to my eternal rival!"

The turtle disappears with a sarcastic remark and a poof of smoke. Neither teacher nor student misses him as they jump out the window and into the Konohagakure afternoon.